Thesis Title

Recondite Reading: William Gaddis's Carpenter's Gothic and the Difficulties of Late Modernism

Date of Graduation

Fall 2004


Master of Arts in English



Committee Chair

James Jones


This thesis concerns the perceived difficulty of the novels of William Gaddis, and in particular with his novel Carpenter's Gothic (1985). It also addresses Gaddis's place in literary history and periodization based upon that difficulty. Almost all critics of Gaddis are surveyed as to their commentary on the difficulty of his works. The comments of critics are categorized as pertaining to three types of difficulty in Gaddis's work: the difficulty of readability, the difficulty of allusiveness, and the difficulty of ontological pessimism. Each operates at a different level of the reader's experience. The difficulty of readability obscures the reader's direct relationship with the text. The difficulty of allusiveness challenges the reader's knowledge of other texts. The difficulty of ontological pessimism complicates the reader's relationship to the world as a reader of a particular text. Next, three theorists of postmodernist literature, John Barth, Linda Hutcheon, and Brian McHale, are used to examine Gaddis's novel in terms of periodization. Barth's "Literature of Replenishment" differentiates between late modernist and postmodernist texts. Hutcheon's concept of complicitous critique examines the precarious political situation of postmodernist texts. McHale's theory of the ontological dominant differentiates modernism from postmodernism through the underlying philosophical outlook of each. In each case, Gaddis's novel is found to be a late modernist text with important postmodernist qualities that represent a change in the tenor of Gaddis's oeuvre. It is concluded that, because of his difficulty, Gaddis must be considered a late modernist author; however, he makes significant inroads into a postmodernist practice that makes his Carpenter's Gothic an interesting point in the history of literature in the second half of the twentieth century.


American fiction, American novels, Carpenter's Gothic, William Gaddis, late modernism, twentieth-century fiction, twentieth-century novels

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature


© Andrew P. Karr