Screwtape, Crowley, and their predecessors: the witty demon as an antimimetic device AND Thomas Mann’s modern monsters: the Gothic in Death in Venice and The black swan

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Victoria R. Hundley (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Anthony Cuda

Abstract: Within the Western tradition of narratives focused on representing demons, few artists have strayed from the hellish stereotype to introduce comic ones. Still fewer have managed to create what I will call the witty demon, whose representation, I suggest, is one that simultaneously entertains and threatens its audience. The witty demon fits more comfortably in a comedy than a tragedy but is equally at home in both secular and religious narratives. In the narratives I will discuss, the character is also male, sophisticated, and well-composed, with a few strategic exceptions. Ultimately, the witty demon is an oxymoron that performs his role subversively. This interpretation of a demon is unusual when compared to both mimetic and antimimetic predecessors. The focus of this study centers around two twentieth-century novels, The Screwtape Letters and Good Omens, and their place within the tradition of the literary demon. As I will show, The Screwtape Letters subverts tradition by fostering witty demons that inspire self-reflection and laughter, whereas Good Omens provides evidence of naturalization of the witty demon and still maintains its status as an unnatural narrative. AND It is only within recent decades that critics have attempted an intentional study of the Gothic in modernist fiction, so perhaps it is not surprising that scholarship on Thomas Mann’s use of the Gothic is not readily available. Examining the Gothic influence on traditional Romantic narratives in contrast to Thomas Mann's modern novellas shows how the Gothic adapts to support first Romantic and then modern aesthetics. Mary Shelley introduces the seminal Romantic Gothic monster in Frankenstein, and Stoker furthers the character type with his vampire in Dracula. Frankenstein’s monster and Dracula are powerful and undeniable villains, at least within their respective narratives. It is, however, more difficult to name the villains in Mann’s works, but features of the Gothic monster do surface throughout Death in Venice and The Black Swan, my foci in this essay. All three authors bring life to Gothic monsters by drawing attention to anatomic details such as predatory teeth, strong hands, unsettling eyes, odd skin color, as well as to cultural features like foreignness. Rather than collecting these traits in one monster, Mann breaks the Romantic Gothic monster into a set of aspects, which he then disperses among the modern characters and settings of Death in Venice and The Black Swan. In other words, Mann “fragments” the monsters from Frankenstein and Dracula. In so doing, I will contend, the German writer demonstrates the compatibility between the Gothic and modernism.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2019
Antimimetic, Gothic modernism, Modern Gothic monster, Romantic Gothic monster, Unnatural narrative, Witty demon
Lewis, C. S. $q (Clive Staples), $d 1898-1963. $t Screwtape letters
Gaiman, Neil. $t Good omens
Demonology in literature
Humor in literature
Mann, Thomas, $d 1875-1955. $t Tod in Venedig
Mann, Thomas, $d 1875-1955. $t Betrogene
Gothic fiction (Literary genre), German
Monsters in literature

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