The Abhuman City: Peter Ackroyd's Gothic Historiography of London

Ashleigh Prosser

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference paperChapterpeer-review


Robert Mighall has argued that the Gothic is a mode fundamentally concerned with history and geography (Mighall 2003, xiv). This chapter examines the ways in which the Gothic mode functions in Peter Ackroyd’s trilogy of London histories, London: The Biography; Thames: Sacred River; and London Under. To date, much of the scholarship concerning the Gothic in Ackroyd’s works has tended to focus on analyses of particular novels, while very little has been written with regard to its presence within his historical writing. Within these three companion volumes on London’s history, Ackroyd complicates the relationship between history and geography in the city by engaging with the language and tropes of the Gothic to explore what he believes to be ‘a Gothic genius loci of London fighting against the spirit of the classic’ (Ackroyd 2001, 580). By employing the discourses of monstrosity, spectrality, and the uncanny, Ackroyd anthropomorphically transforms the city into something akin to the abhuman monster of the Gothic mode. In these volumes, he argues that this abhuman London possesses an uncanny form of agency, a kind of spectral consciousness through which the city is able to influence its inhabitants. I will argue that this spectral consciousness is the key to understanding Ackroyd’s Gothic theory of the history of place, his historiography’s fusion of history and geography into a transhistorical palimpsest that is manifested through hauntings, traces, and uncanny returns.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Gothic and the Everyday: Living Gothic
EditorsLorna Piatti-Farnell, Maria Beville
Place of PublicationUnited Kingdom
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-137-40664-4
ISBN (Print)9781137406637, 978-1-349-48800-1
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Publication series

NamePalgrave Gothic
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan UK


Dive into the research topics of 'The Abhuman City: Peter Ackroyd's Gothic Historiography of London'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this