Gothic Literature: An Overview
Gothic Literature: An OverviewINTRODUCTION
ORIGINS OF THE GOTHIC
The origins of Gothic literature can be traced to various historical, cultural, and artistic precedents. Figures found in ancient folklore, such as the Demon Lover, the Cannibal Bridegroom, the Devil, and assorted demons, later populated the pages of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Gothic novels and dramas. In addition, many seventeenth- and eighteenth-century works are believed to have served as precursors to the development of the Gothic tradition in Romantic literature. These works include plays by William Shakespeare, such as Hamlet (c. 1600–01), and Macbeth (1606), which feature supernatural elements, demons, and apparitions, and Daniel Defoe's An Essay on the History and Reality of Apparitions (1727), which was written to support religion and discourage superstition by providing evidence of the existence of good spirits, angels, and other divine manifestations, and by ridiculing delusions and naive credulity. However, while these elements were present in literature and folklore prior to the mid-eighteenth century, when the Gothic movement began, it was the political, social, and theological landscape of eighteenth-century Europe that served as an impetus for this movement. Edmund Burke's treatise A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757) introduced the concept of increasing appreciation for the nature of experiences characterized by the "sublime" and "beautiful" by depicting and then engaging (vicariously) in experiences comprised of elements that are contrary in nature, such as terror, death, and evil. Writers composed Gothic narratives during this period largely in response to anxiety over the change in social and political structure brought about by such events as the French Revolution, the rise in secular-based government, and the rapidly changing nature of the everyday world brought about by scientific advances and industrial development, in addition to an increasing aesthetic demand for realism rather than folklore and fantasy. The Gothic worlds depicted fears about what might happen, what could go wrong, and what could be lost by continuing along the path of political, social, and theological change, as well as reflecting the desire to return to the time of fantasy and belief in supernatural intervention that characterized the Middle Ages. In some cases Gothic narratives were also used to depict horrors that existed in the old social and political order—the evils of an unequal, intolerant society. In Gothic narratives writers were able to both express the anxiety generated by this upheaval and, as Burke suggested, increase society's appreciation and desire for change and progress.
It is Horace Walpole's novel The Castle of Otranto (1764) that is generally acclaimed as the original work of Gothic literature—despite the fact that some of the Gothic trappings found in Walpole's work were present in works such as Tobias Smollett's The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom (1753)—because in his narrative Walpole brings together elements of the supernatural and horrific, and models his ruined castle setting after his real-life residence, Strawberry Hill, a modern version of a medieval castle. The characters in the novel try to succeed in the modern world and to adhere to the optimism and forward-looking agenda they have been asked to advance, but a dark, ancient evil from the distant past dooms them to failure. While the literary merits of Walpole's novel were challenged by many critics, the work inspired the reading public and authors alike, and works imitative of Otranto, written in what became known as the Gothic style, became extremely popular. Brother and sister John Aikin and Anna Laetitia (Aikin) Barbauld, in their Miscellaneous Pieces in Prose (1773), represent the intellectual and psychological mechanics of Gothic literature, and offer "Sir Bertrand, A Fragment," a story written in Gothic style, to illustrate their assertions. Ann Radcliffe, like Walpole, is considered one of the founders of the Gothic genre. Radcliffe began her career as a Gothic writer with the publication of her well-received novel The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne in 1789, and quickly followed up with the novels A Sicilian Romance and The Romance of the Forest published in 1790 and 1791, respectively. Radcliffe's 1794 novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho is regarded by many as the quintessential example of eighteenth-century fiction at its finest, and it is for this work that she is best known. Mrs. Eliza Parsons's Castle of Wolfenbach (1793) is an example of the melodramatic popular "shilling shocker," or "penny dreadful" type of Gothic fiction, a debased imitation of Radcliffe's style, characterized by gross excess and lack of literary skill, that was parodied by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey (1818). Parsons was one of many novelists, including Edward Bulwer-Lytton—held as an author of a more "elevated," or skilled example of the popular Gothic melodrama—who produced works of this kind. Other works considered classic examples of the Gothic novel are Matthew Gregory Lewis's The Monk (1796), and Charles Robert Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer (1820), both of which epitomize the stock Gothic character of the outsider, or social outcast, who must face the consequences of committing mortal sin.
The great Romantic poets Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, John Keats, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge also contributed to the Gothic tradition in literature, and, according to critic Fred Botting, produced "major innovations, or renovations of the genre" that "drew it closer to aspects of Romanticism." The Romantic writers, asserts Botting as well as other commentators, while utilizing the settings and devices developed by Walpole, Radcliffe, and others, focused and expanded upon the psychological, internal qualities of the protagonists, and dealt with such themes as the search for identity, desire versus duty, social alienation, and the search for truth. William Godwin, and his daughter, Mary Shelley, are the Romantic writers most closely associated with the Gothic tradition. Godwin's Things as They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams (1794) utilizes the Gothic tradition to indict political repression and protest the tyrannical rule of the day, while Shelley's Gothic in Frankenstein (1818) urges personal integrity and social responsibility in an age of scientific progress, and represents the anxiety produced by the disruption of the traditional, known natural world order.
While English writers are credited with founding the Gothic novel, Scottish writers such as James Hogg contributed heavily to the genre, and many English-language works were influenced by German literary traditions, particularly the works of such writers as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and E. T. A. Hoffmann. Sir Walter Scott's works reflect a German sensibility, and works such as his Waverly (1814)—as well as the works of others, including Walpole, Radcliffe, Shelley, Maturin, and Lewis—in turn inspired Charles Brockden Brown, Edgar Allan Poe, and James Fenimore Cooper, some of the most notable authors who developed what became the American Gothic tradition in literature. In addition, the English Gothic tradition influenced French authors, including Gaston Leroux, and Russian authors, including Fyodor Dostoevsky and Anton Chekhov. Since its inception, the Gothic genre in literature has undergone numerous changes and adaptations, but its essential role as a means of depicting humanity's deepest, darkest fears and otherwise unspeakable evils—both real and imagined—has endured.
John Aikin and Anna Laetitia (Aikin) Barbauld
Miscellaneous Pieces in Prose, by J. and A. L. Aikin (essays and fiction) 1773
Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. 4 vols. (novels) 1818
Charles Brockden Brown
Wieland; or, The Transformation (novel) 1798
Arthur Mervyn; or, Memoirs of the Year 1793. 2 vols. (novel) 1799–1800
Edgar Huntly; or, Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker. 3 vols. (novel) 1799
Eugene Aram: A Tale. 3 vols. (novel) 1832
The Last Days of Pompeii. 3 vols. (novel) 1834
Zanoni. 3 vols. (novel) 1842
Lucretia; or, The Children of Night. 3 vols. (novel) 1846
A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (essay) 1757
George Gordon Noel, Lord Byron
Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. A Romaunt (poetry) 1812
Manfred, A Dramatic Poem (play) 1817
"Chernyi monakh" ["The Black Monk"] (short story) 1894; published in the journal Artist
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Christabel: Kubla Khan, a Vision; The Pains of Sleep (poetry) 1816
James Fenimore Cooper
Lionel Lincoln; or, The Leaguer of Boston. 2 vols. (novel) 1825
An Essay on the History and Reality of Apparitions (essay) 1727
Dvoinik: Prikliucheniia gospodina Goliadkina [The Double: A Poem of St. Petersburg] (novel) 1846
Brat'ia Karamazovy [The Brothers Karamazov] (novel) 1880
Things as They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams. 3 vols. (novel) 1794
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Faust: Ein Fragment (poetry) 1790
Faust—Der Tragödie erster Teil [Faust. Part I; published in Faust: A Drama by Goethe and Schiller's "Song of the Bell"] (play) 1808
E. T. A. Hoffmann
Die Elixiere des Teufels. 2 vols. [The Devil's Elixir] (novel) 1815–16
The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (novel) 1824; republished as The Suicide's Grave, 1828
Poems (poetry) 1817
Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems (poetry) 1820
Le Fantôme de l'Opéra [The Phantom of the Opera] (novel) 1910
Matthew Gregory Lewis
The Monk: A Romance. 3 vols. (novel) 1796
Charles Robert Maturin
Fatal Revenge; or, The Family of Montorio. 3 vols. [as Dennis Jasper Murphy] (novel) 1807
The Milesian Chief: A Romance. 4 vols. [as Dennis Jasper Murphy] (novel) 1812
Bertram; or, The Castle of St. Aldobrand (play) 1816
Melmoth the Wanderer. 4 vols. (novel) 1820
Mrs. Eliza Parsons
Castle of Wolfenbach; A German Story. 2 vols. (novel) 1793
Edgar Allan Poe
Tamerlane and Other Poems. By a Bostonian (poetry) 1827
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, North America: Comprising the Details of a Mutiny, Famine, and Shipwreck, During a Voyage to the South Seas; Resulting in Various Extraordinary Adventures and Discoveries in the Eighty-fourth Parallel of Southern Latitude [published anonymously] (novel) 1838
Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque. 2 vols. (short stories) 1840
The Raven, and Other Poems (poetry) 1845
Tales by Edgar A. Poe (short stories) 1845
The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne: A Highland Story [published anonymously] (novel) 1789
A Sicilian Romance. 2 vols. [published anonymously] (novel) 1790
The Romance of the Forest: Interspersed with Some Pieces of Poetry. 3 vols. [published anonymously] (novel) 1791
The Mysteries of Udolpho, A Romance; Interspersed with Some Pieces of Poetry. 4 vols. (novel) 1794
The Italian; or, The Confessional of the Black Penitents. A Romance. 3 vols. (novel) 1797
Sir Walter Scott
The Lay of the Last Minstrel (ballad) 1805
Waverley; or, 'Tis Sixty Years Since. 3 vols. (novel) 1814
Hamlet (play) c. 1600–01
Macbeth (play) 1606
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. 3 vols. (novel) 1818; revised edition, 1831
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Zastrozzi, A Romance (novel) 1810
St. Irvyne; or, The Rosicrucian: A Romance [as "A Gentleman of the University of Oxford"] (novel) 1811
Alastor; or, The Spirit of Solitude, and Other Poems (poetry) 1816
The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom (novel) 1753
Dracula (novel) 1897
The Castle of Otranto, A Story (novel) 1764
JOHN AIKIN AND ANNA LAETITIA (AIKIN) BARBAULD (ESSAY DATE 1773)
SOURCE: Aikin, John and Anna Laetitia (Aikin) Barbauld. "On the Pleasure Derived from Objects of Terror, with Sir Bertrand, A Fragment." In Miscellaneous Pieces in Prose, by J. and A. L. Aikin, pp. 119-37. London: J. Johnson, 1773.
In the following essay, the Aikins delineate their theory to explain the psychological and intellectual processes involved in readers' enjoyment of Gothic literature. The Aikins provide a fragment of a Gothic story that can be read both for enjoyment and as a means of studying the theory advanced in the preceding essay.
["On the Pleasure Derived from Objects of Terror"]
That the exercise of our benevolent feelings, as called forth by the view of human afflictions, should be a source of pleasure, cannot appear wonderful to one who considers that relation between the moral and natural system of man, which has connected a degree of satisfaction with every action or emotion productive of the general welfare. The painful sensation immediately arising from a scene of misery, is so much softened and alleviated by the reflex sense of self-approbation attending virtuous sympathy, that we find, on the whole, a very exquisite and refined pleasure remaining, which makes us desirous of again being witnesses to such scenes, instead of flying from them with disgust and horror. It is obvious how greatly such a provision must conduce to the ends of mutual support and assistance. But the apparent delight with which we dwell upon objects of pure terror, where our moral feelings are not in the least concerned, and no passion seems to be excited but the depressing one of fear, is a paradox of the heart, much more difficult of solution.
The reality of this source of pleasure seems evident from daily observation. The greediness with which the tales of ghosts and goblins, of murders, earthquakes, fires, shipwrecks, and all the most terrible disasters attending human life, are devoured by every ear, must have been generally remarked. Tragedy, the most favourite work of fiction, has taken a full share of those scenes; "it has supt full with horrors"—and has, perhaps, been more indebted to them for public admiration than to its tender and pathetic parts. The ghost of Hamlet, Macbeth descending into the witches' cave, and the tent scene in Richard, command as forcibly the attention of our souls as the parting of Jaffeir and Belvidera, the fall of Wolsey, or the death of Shore. The inspiration of terror was by the antient critics assigned as the peculiar province of tragedy; and the Greek and Roman tragedians have introduced some extraordinary personages for this purpose: not only the shades of the dead, but the furies, and other fabulous inhabitants of the infenal regions. Collins, in his most poetical ode to Fear, has finely enforced this idea.
Tho' gentle Pity claim her mingled part,
Yet all the thunders of the scene are thine.
The old Gothic romance and the Eastern tale, with their genii, giants, enchantments, and transformations, however a refined critic may censure them as absurd and extravagant, will ever retain a most powerful influence on the mind, and interest the reader independently of all peculiarity of taste. Thus the great Milton, who had a strong bias to these wildnesses of the imagination, has with striking effect made the stories "of forests and enchantments drear," a favourite subject with his Penseroso; and had undoubtedly their awakening images strong upon his mind when he breaks out,
Call up him that left half-told
The story of Cambuscan bold; &c.
How are we then to account for the pleasure derived from such objects? I have often been led to imagine that there is a deception in these cases; and that the avidity with which we attend is not a proof of our receiving real pleasure. The pain of suspense, and the irresistible desire of satisfying curiosity, when once raised, will account for our eagerness to go quite through an adventure, though we suffer actual pain during the whole course of it. We rather choose to suffer the smart pang of a violent emotion than the uneasy craving of an unsatisfied desire. That this principle, in many instances, may involuntarily carry us through what we dislike, I am convinced from experience. This is the impulse which renders the poorest and most insipid narrative interesting when once we get fairly into it; and I have frequently felt it with regard to our modern novels, which, if lying on my table, and taken up in an idle hour, have led me through the most tedious and disgusting pages, while, like Pistol eating his leek, I have swallowed and execrated to the end. And it will not only force us through dullness, but through actual torture—through the relation of a Damien's execution, or an inquisitor's act of faith. When children, therefore, listen with pale and mute attention to the frightful stories of apparitions, we are not, perhaps, to imagine that they are in a state of enjoyment, any more than the poor bird which is dropping into the mouth of the rattlesnake—they are chained by the ears, and fascinated by curiosity. This solution, however, does not satisfy me with respect to the well-wrought scenes of artificial terror which are formed by a sublime and vigorous imagination. Here, though we know before-hand what to expect, we enter into them with eagerness, in quest of a pleasure already experienced. This is the pleasure constantly attached to the excitement of surprise from new and wonderful objects. A strange and unexpected event awakens the mind, and keeps it on the stretch; and where the agency of invisible beings is introduced, of "forms unseen, and mightier far than we," our imagination, darting forth, explores with rapture the new world which is laid open to its view, and rejoices in the expansion of its powers. Passion and fancy cooperating elevate the soul to its highest pitch; and the pain of terror is lost in amazement.
Hence, the more wild, fanciful, and extraordinary are the circumstances of a scene of horror, the more pleasure we receive from it; and where they are too near common nature, though violently borne by curiosity through the adventure, we cannot repeat it or reflect on it, without an over-balance of pain. In the Arabian nights are many most striking examples of the terrible joined with the marvellous: the story of Aladdin and the travels of Sinbad are particularly excellent. The Castle of Otranto is a very spirited modern attempt upon the same plan of mixed terror, adapted to the model of Gothic romance. The best conceived, and most strongly worked-up scene of mere natural horror that I recollect, is in [Tobias] Smollett's Ferdinand count Fathom; where the hero, entertained in a lone house in a forest, finds a corpse just slaughtered in the room where he is sent to sleep, and the door of which is locked upon him. It may be amusing for the reader to compare his feelings upon these, and from thence form his opinion of the justness of my theory. The following fragment, in which both these manners are attempted to be in some degree united, is offered to entertain a solitary winter's evening.
["Sir Bertrand, A Fragment"]
After this adventure, Sir Bertrand turned his steed towards the woods, hoping to cross these dreary moors before the curfew. But ere he had proceeded half his journey, he was bewildered by the different tracks, and not being able, as far as the eye could reach, to espy any object but the brown heath surrounding him, he was at length quite uncertain which way he should direct his course. Night overtook him in this situation. It was one of those nights when the moon gives a faint glimmering of light through the thick black clouds of a lowering sky. Now and then she suddenly emerged in full splendor from her veil; and then instantly retired behind it, having just served to give the forlorn Sir Bertrand a wide extended prospect over the desolate waste. Hope and native courage a while urged him to push forwards, but at length the increasing darkness and fatigue of body and mind overcame him; he dreaded moving from the ground he stood on, for fear of unknown pits and bogs, and alighting from his horse in despair, he threw himself on the ground. He had not long continued in that posture when the sullen toll of a distant bell struck his ears—he started up, and turning towards the sound discerned a dim twinkling light. Instantly he seized his horse's bridle, and with cautious steps advanced towards it. After a painful march he was stopt by a moated ditch surrounding the place from whence the light proceeded; and by a momentary glimpse of moon-light he had a full view of a large antique mansion, with turrets at the corners, and an ample porch in the centre. The injuries of time were strongly marked on every thing about it. The roof in various places was fallen in, the battlements were half demolished, and the windows broken and dismantled. A draw-bridge, with a ruinous gate-way at each end, led to the court before the building—He entered, and instantly the light, which proceeded from a window in one of the turrets, glided along and vanished; at the same moment the moon sunk beneath a black cloud, and the night was darker than ever. All was silent—Sir Bertrand fastened his steed under a shed, and approaching the house traversed its whole front with light and slow footsteps—All was still as death—He looked in at the lower windows, but could not distinguish a single object through the impenetrable gloom. After a short parley with himself, he entered the porch, and seizing a massy iron knocker at the gate, lifted it up, and hesitating, at length struck a loud stroke. The noise resounded through the whole mansion with hollow echoes. All was still again—He repeated the strokes more boldly and louder—another interval of silence ensued—A third time he knocked, and a third time all was still. He then fell back to some distance that he might discern whether any light could be seen in the whole front—It again appeared in the same place and quickly glided away as before—at the same instant a deep sullen toll sounded from the turret. Sir Bertrand's heart made a fearful stop—He was a while motionless; then terror impelled him to make some hasty steps towards his steed—but shame stopt his flight; and urged by honour, and a resistless desire of finishing the adventure, he returned to the porch; and working up his soul to a full steadiness of resolution, he drew forth his sword with one hand, and with the other lifted up the latch of the gate. The heavy door, creaking upon its hinges, reluctantly yielded to his hand—he applied his shoulder to it and forced it open—he quitted it and stept forward—the door instantly shut with a thundering clap. Sir Bertrand's blood was chilled—he turned back to find the door, and it was long ere his trembling hands could seize it—but his utmost strength could not open it again. After several ineffectual attempts, he looked behind him, and beheld, across a hall, upon a large staircase, a pale bluish flame which cast a dismal gleam of light around. He again summoned forth his courage and advanced towards it—It retired. He came to the foot of the stairs, and after a moment's deliberation ascended. He went slowly up, the flame retiring before him, till he came to a wide gallery—The flame proceeded along it, and he followed in silent horror, treading lightly, for the echoes of his footsteps startled him. It led him to the foot of another staircase, and then vanished—At the same instant another toll sounded from the turret—Sir Bertrand felt it strike upon his heart. He was now in total darkness, and with his arms extended, began to ascend the second stair-case. A dead cold hand met his left hand and firmly grasped it, drawing him forcibly forwards—he endeavoured to disengage himself, but could not—he made a furious blow with his sword, and instantly a loud shriek pierced his ears, and the dead hand was left powerless in his—He dropt it, and rushed forwards with a desperate valour. The stairs were narrow and winding, and interrupted by frequent breaches, and loose fragments of stone. The stair-case grew narrower and narower, and at length terminated in a low iron grate. Sir Bertrand pushed it open—it led to an intricate winding passage, just large enough to admit a person upon his hands and knees. A faint glimmering of light served to show the nature of the place. Sir Bertrand entered—A deep hollow groan resounded from a distance through the vault—He went forwards, and proceeding beyond the first turning, he discerned the same blue flame which had before conducted him. He followed it. The vault, at length, suddenly opened into a lofty gallery, in the midst of which a figure appeared, compleatly armed, thrusting forwards the bloody stump of an arm, with a terrible frown and menacing gesture, and brandishing a sword in his hand. Sir Bertrand undauntedly sprung forwards; and aiming a fierce blow at the figure, it instantly vanished, letting fall a massy iron key. The flame now rested upon a pair of ample folding doors at the end of the gallery. Sir Bertrand went up to it, and applied the key to a brazen lock—with difficulty he turned the bolt—instantly the doors flew open, and discovered a large apartment, at the end of which was a coffin rested upon a bier, with a taper burning on each side of it. Along the room on both sides were gigantic statues of black marble, attired in the Moorish habits, and holding enormous sabres in their right hands. Each of them reared his arm, and advanced one leg forwards, as the knight entered; at the same moment the lid of the coffin flew open, and the bell tolled. The flame still glided forwards, and Sir Bertrand resolutely followed, till he arrived within six paces of the coffin. Suddenly, a lady in a shroud and black veil rose up in it, and stretched out her arms towards him—at the same time the statues clashed their sabres and advanced. Sir Bertrand flew to the lady and clasped her in his arms—she threw up her veil and kissed his lips; and instantly the whole building shook as with an earthquake, and fell asunder with a horrible crash. Sir Bertrand was thrown into a sudden trance, and on recovering, found himself seated on a velvet sofa, in the most magnificent room he had ever seen, lighted with innumerable tapers, in lustres of pure crystal. A sumptuous banquet was set in the middle. The doors opening to soft music, a lady of incomparable beauty, attired with amazing splendor entered, surrounded by a troop of gay nymphs more fair than the Graces—She advanced to the knight, and falling on her knees thanked him as her deliverer. The nymphs placed a garland of laurel upon his head, and the lady led him by the hand to the banquet, and sat beside him. The nymphs placed themselves at the table, and a numerous train of servants entering, served up the feast; delicious music playing all the time. Sir Bertrand could not speak for astonishment—he could only return their honours by courteous looks and gestures. After the banquet was finished, all retired but the lady, who leading back the knight to the sofa, addressed him in these words:―
MRS. ELIZA PARSONS (NOVEL DATE 1793)
SOURCE: Parsons, Mrs. Eliza. "Castle of Wolfenbach; a German story." In Castle of Wolfenbach; a German story. In two volumes, pp. 1-9. London: Minerva Press, 1793.
Parsons is one of the "Northanger Novelists," a group of popular Gothic writers whose works Jane Austen is believed to have parodied in Northanger Abbey. The following excerpt is from Parson's best known novel.
The clock from the old castle had just gone eight when the peaceful inhabitants of a neighbouring cottage, on the skirts of the wood, were about to seek that repose which labour had rendered necessary, and minds blest with innocence and tranquillity assured them the enjoyment of. The evening was cold and tempestuous, the rain poured in torrents, and the distant thunders rolled with tremendous noise round the adjacent mountains, whilst the pale lightning added horrors to the scene.
ON THE SUBJECT OF …
JOHN AIKIN (1747–1822) AND ANNA LAETITIA (AIKIN) BARBAULD (1743–1825)
The brother and sister team of Dr. John Aikin and Anna Laetitita (Aikin) Barbauld produced the 1773 collection Miscellaneous Pieces in Prose, by J. and A. L. Aikin. Critical opinion has been divided over which author wrote which piece in the collection; "On the Pleasure Derived from Objects of Terror, with Sir Bertrand, a Fragment," an early and influential exploration of the nature and effects of terror in Gothic literature, has been attributed alternately to John and Anna. The essay offers an expansion of ideas introduced in prior literary treatises on the use of terror and the sublime in literature: Edmund Burke's A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757) and the anonymous ancient Greek text On the Sublime. The story fragment "Sir Bertrand" is a Gothic version of a chivalric tale, in which the title character encounters and "rescues" a female apparition trapped in a coffin inside of a ruined mansion. The fragment follows "On the Pleasure Derived from Objects of Terror" and concisely illustrates the arguments offered in the essay, allowing the reader to experience the phenomenon of a pleasurable response to a terrifyingly horrific narrative.
Pierre was already in bed, and Jaqueline preparing to follow, when the trampling of horses was heard, and immediately a loud knocking at the door; they were both alarmed; Pierre listened, Jaqueline trembled; the knocking was repeated with more violence; the peasant threw on his humble garment, and, advancing to the door, demanded who was there? "Two travellers, (answered a gentle voice) overtaken by the storm; pray, friend, afford us shelter." "O! (cried Jaqueline) perhaps they may be robbers, and we shall be murdered." "Pho! simpleton, (said Pierre) what can they expect to rob us of." He opened the door, and discovered a man supporting a lady who appeared almost fainting. "Pray, friend, (said the man) permit this lady to enter your cottage, I fear she has suffered much from the storm." "Poor soul, I am sorry for her; enter and welcome," (cried Pierre.) Jaqueline placed her wooden arm-chair by the chimney, ran for some wood, and kindled a blaze in a moment, whilst Pierre put the horse into a little out-house which held their firing and his working implements, and returned with a portmantua to the lady. They had only some bread and milk to offer, but they made it warm, and prevailed on their guest to take some. The man, who appeared an attendant, did the same. The lady soon got her clothes dry, but she wanted rest, and they had no bed to offer. One single room answered all their purposes of life; their humble bed was on the floor, in a corner of it, but though mean it was whole and clean. Jaqueline entreated the lady to lie down; she refused for some time, but growing faint from exhausted spirits and fatigue, she was compelled to accept the offer; the others sat silently round the fire: but, alas! horror and affliction precluded sleep, and the fair traveller, after laying about two hours, returned again to the fire-side, weary and unrefreshed. "Is there any house near this?" (demanded she.) "No, madam, (replied Jaqueline) there is no house, but there is a fine old castle just by, where there is room enough, for only one old man and his wife live in it, and, Lord help us, I would not be in their place for all the fine things there." "Why so?" (said the lady.) "O! dear madam, why it is haunted; there are bloody floors, prison rooms, and scriptions, they say, on the windows, to make a body's hair stand on end." "And how far from your cottage is this castle?" "A little step, madam, farther up the wood." "And do you think we could obtain entrance there?" "O, Lord! yes, madam, and thank you too: why the poor old souls rejoice to see a body call there now and then; I go sometimes in the middle of the day, but I take good care to keep from the fine rooms and never to be out after dark." "I wish, (said the lady) it was possible to get there." Pierre instantly offered his service to conduct her as soon as it was light, and notwithstanding some very horrible stories recounted by Jaqueline, she determined to visit this proscribed place.
When the morning came, the inhabitants of the cottage set out for the castle. The lady was so much enfeebled, from fatigue and want of rest, that she was obliged to be placed on the horse, and they found it very difficult to lead him through the thickets. They at length espied a fine old building, with two wings, and a turret on the top, where a large clock stood, a high wall surrounded the house, a pair of great gates gave entrance into a spacious court, surrounded with flowering shrubs, which lay broken and neglected on the ground, intermixed with the weeds which were above a foot high in every part.
Whilst the lady's attendant lifted her from the horse, Pierre repaired to the kitchen door where the old couple lived, which stood in one of the wings, and knocking pretty loudly, the old woman opened it, and, with a look of astonishment, fixed her eyes on the lady and her servant. "Good neighbour, (said Pierre) here is a great gentle-woman cruel ill; she wants food and sleep, we have brought her here, she is not afeared of your ghosts, and so therefore you can give her a good bed, I suppose." "To be sure I can, (answered Bertha, which was the woman's name) to be sure I can make a bed fit for the emperor, when the linen is aired: walk in, madam; you look very weak." Indeed the want of rest the preceding night had so much added to her former feeble state, that it was with difficulty they conveyed her into the kitchen. Bertha warmed a little wine, toasted a bit of bread, and leaving Jaqueline to attend the lady, she made a fire in a handsome bed-room that was in that wing, took some fine linen out of a chest and brought it down to air. "Dear, my lady, (cried she) make yourself easy, I'll take care of you, and if you ar'nt afeared, you will have rooms for a princess." Pierre and Jaqueline being about to return to their daily labour, found their kindness amply rewarded by the generosity of the stranger, who gave them money enough, they said, to serve them for six months. With a thousand blessings they retired, promising however to call daily on the lady whilst she staid at the castle, though their hearts misgave them that they should never see her more, from their apprehensions of the ghosts that inhabited the rooms above stairs. When the apartment was arranged, the lady was assisted by Bertha and laid comfortably to rest; she gave her some money to procure food and necessaries, and desired her servant might have a bed also. This the good woman promised, and, wishing her a good sleep, returned to the kitchen.
"God bless the poor lady, (said she) why she is as weak as a child; sure you must have come a great way from home." "Yes (answered Albert, the servant's name), we have indeed, and my poor lady is worn down by sorrow annd fatigue; I fear she must rest some time before she can pursue her journey." "Well, (said Bertha) she may stay as long as she likes here, no body will disturb her in the day time, I am sure." "And what will disturb her at night?" (asked Albert.) "O, my good friend, (answered she) no body will sleep in the rooms up stairs; the gentlefolks who were in it last could not rest, such strange noises, and groans, and screams, and such like terrible things are head; then at t'other end of the house the rooms are never opened; they say bloody work has been carried on there." "How comes it, then, (said Albert) that you and your husband have courage to live here?" "Dear me, (replied she) why the ghosts never come down stairs, and I take care never to go up o'nights; so that if madam stays here I fear she must sleep by day, or else have a ground room, for they never comes down; they were some of your high gentry, I warrant, who never went into kitchens." Albert smiled at the idea, but, resuming his discourse, asked the woman to whom the castle belonged? "To a great Baron, (said she) but I forget his name," "And how long have you lived here?" "Many a long year, friend; we have a small matter allowed us to live upon, a good garden that gives us plenty of vegetables, for my husband, you must know, is a bit of a gardener, and works in it when he is able." "And where is he now?" (said Albert) "Gone to the village six leagues off to get a little meat, bread and wine." "What! does he walk?" "Lord help him, poor foul, he walk! no, bless your heart, he rides upon our faithful little ass, and takes care never to overload her, as we don't want much meat, thank God. But where will you like to sleep? (added she;) will you go up stairs, or shall I bring some bedding in the next room?" Albert hesitated, but, ashamed to have less courage than his mistress, asked if there was any room near the lady's? "Aye, sure, (answered Bertha) close to her there is one as good as hers." "Then I will sleep there" (said he.) His good hostess now nimbly as she could, bestired herself to put his room in order, and was very careful not to disturb the lady. Albert was soon accommodated and retired to rest.
PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY (STORY DATE C. 1814)
SOURCE: Shelley, Percy Bysshe. "The Assassins." In Gothic Tales of Terror, Volume One: Classic Horror Stories from Great Britain, edited by Peter Haining. 1972. Reprint, pp. 308-26. Baltimore, Md.: Penguin Books, Inc., 1973.
The following excerpt is from a story written around 1814 but not published until after Shelley's death.
Where all is thus calm, the slightest circumstance is recorded and remembered. Before the sixth century had expired one incident occurred, remarkable and strange. A young man, named Albedir, wandering in the woods, was startled by the screaming of a bird of prey, and, looking up, saw blood fall, drop by drop, from among the inter-twined boughs of a cedar. Having climbed the tree, he beheld a terrible and dismaying spectacle. A naked human body was impaled on the broken branch. It was maimed and mangled horribly; every limb bent and bruised into frightful distortion, and exhibiting a breathing image of the most sickening mockery of life. A monstrous snake had scented its prey from among the mountains—and above hovered a hungry vulture. From amidst this mass of desolated humanity, two eyes, black and inexpressibly brilliant, shone with an unearthly lustre. Beneath the blood-stained eye-brows their steady rays manifested the serenity of an immortal power, the collected energy of a deathless mind, spell-secured from dissolution. A bitter smile of mingled abhorrence and scorn distorted his wounded lip—he appeared calmly to observe and measure all around—self-possession had not deserted the shattered mass of life.
The youth approached the bough on which the breathing corpse was hung. As he approached, the serpent reluctantly unwreathed his glittering coils, and crept towards his dark and loathsome cave. The vulture, impatient of his meal, fled to the mountain, that re-echoed with his hoarse screams. The cedar branches creaked with their agitating weight, faintly, as the dismal wind arose. All else was deadly silent.
At length a voice issued from the mangled man. It rattled in hoarse murmurs from his throat and lungs—his words were the conclusion of some strange mysterious soliloquy. They were broken, and without apparent connection, completing wide intervals of inexpressible conceptions.
'The great tyrant is baffled, even in success. Joy! joy! to his tortured foe! Triumph to the worm whom he tramples under his feet! Ha! His suicidal hand might dare as well abolish the mighty frame of things! Delight and exultation sit before the closed fates of death!—I fear not to dwell beneath their black and ghastly shadow. Here thy power may not avail! Thou createst—'tis mine to ruin and destroy.—I was thy slave—I am thy equal, and thy foe.—Thousands tremble before thy throne, who, at my voice, shall dare to pluck the golden crown from thine unholy head!' He ceased. The silence of noon swallowed up his words. Albedir clung tighter to the tree—he dared not for dismay remove his eyes. He remained mute in the perturbation of deep and creeping horror.
'Albedir!' said the same voice, 'Albedir! in the name of God, approach. He that suffered me to fall, watches thee;—the gentle and merciful spirits of sweet human love, delight not in agony and horror. For pity's sake approach, in the name of thy good God, approach, Albedir!' The tones were mild and clear as the responses of Aeolian music. They floated to Albedir's ear like the warm breath of June that lingers in the lawny groves, subduing all to softness. Tears of tender affection started into his eyes. It was as the voice of a beloved friend. The partner of his childhood, the brother of his soul, seemed to call for aid, and pathetically to remonstrate with delay. He resisted not the magic impulse, but advanced towards the spot, and tenderly attempted to remove the wounded man. He cautiously descended the tree with his wretched burthen, and deposited it on the ground.
A period of strange silence intervened. Awe and cold horror were slowly proceeding to the softer sensations of tumultuous pity, when again he heard the silver modulations of the same enchanting voice. 'Weep not for me, Albedir! What wretch so utterly lost, but might inhale peace and renovation from this paradise! I am wounded, and in pain; but having found a refuge in this seclusion, and a friend in you, I am worthier of envy than compassion. Bear me to your cottage secretly: I would not disturb your gentle partner by my appearance. She must love me more dearly than a brother. I must be the playmate of your children; already I regard them with a father's love. My arrival must not be regarded as a thing of mystery and wonder. What, indeed, but that men are prone to error and exaggeration, is less inexplicable, than that a stranger, wandering on Lebanon, fell from the rocks into the vale? Albedir,' he continued, and his deepening voice assumed awful solemnity, 'in return for the affection with which I cherish thee and thine, thou owest this submission.'
Albedir implicitly submitted; not even a thought had power to refuse its deference. He reassumed his burthen, and proceeded towards the cottage. He watched until Khaled should be absent, and conveyed the stranger into an apartment appropriated for the reception of those who occasionally visited their habitation. He desired that the door should be securely fastened, and that he might not be visited until the morning of the following day.
Albedir waited with impatience for the return of Khaled. The unaccustomed weight of even so transitory a secret, hung on his ingenuous and unpractised nature, like a blighting, clinging curse. The stranger's accents had lulled him to a trance of wild and delightful imagination. Hopes, so visionary and aerial, that they had assumed no denomination, had spread themselves over his intellectual frame, and, phantoms as they were, had modelled his being to their shape. Still his mind was not exempt from the visitings of disquietude and perturbation. It was a troubled stream of thought, over whose fluctuating waves unsearchable fate seemed to preside, guiding its unforeseen alternations with an inexorable hand. Albedir paced earnestly the garden of his cottage, revolving every circumstance attendant on the incident of the day. He re-imaged with intense thought the minutest recollections of the scene. In vain—he was the slave of suggestions not to be controlled. Astonishment, horror, and awe—tumultuous sympathy, and a mysterious elevation of soul, hurried away all activity of judgment, and overwhelmed, with stunning force, every attempt at deliberation or inquiry.
His reveries were interrupted at length by the return of Khaled. She entered the cottage, that scene of undisturbed repose, in the confidence that change might as soon overwhelm the eternal world, as disturb this inviolable sanctuary. She started to behold Albedir. Without preface or remark, he recounted with eager haste the occurrences of the day. Khaled's tranquil spirit could hardly keep pace with the breathless rapidity of his narration. She was bewildered with staggering wonder even to hear his confused tones, and behold his agitated countenance.
On the following morning Albedir arose at sunrise, and visited the stranger. He found him already risen, and employed in adorning the lattice of his chamber with flowers from the garden. There was something in his attitude and occupation singularly expressive of his entire familiarity with the scene. Albedir's habitation seemed to have been his accustomed home. He addressed his host in a tone of gay and affectionate welcome, such as never fails to communicate by sympathy the feelings from which it flows.
'My friend,' said he, 'the balm of the dew of our vale is sweet; or is this garden the favoured spot where the winds conspire to scatter the best odours they can find? Come, lend me your arm awhile, I feel very weak.' He motioned to walk forth, but, as if unable to proceed, rested on the seat beside the door. For a few moments they were silent, if the interchange of cheerful and happy looks is to be called silence. At last he observed a spade that rested against the wall. 'You have only one spade, brother,' said he; 'you have only one, I suppose, of any of the instruments of tillage. Your garden ground, too, occupies a certain space which it will be necessary to enlarge. This must be quickly remedied. I cannot earn my supper of tonight, nor of tomorrow; but thenceforward, I do not mean to eat the bread of idleness. I know that you would willingly perform the additional labour which my nourishment would require; I know, also, that you would feel a degree of pleasure in the fatigue arising from this employment, but I shall contest with you such pleasures as these, and such pleasures as these alone.' His eyes were somewhat wan, and the tone of his voice languid as he spoke.
As they were thus engaged, Khaled came towards them. The stranger beckoned to her to sit beside him, and taking her hands within his own, looked attentively on her mild countenance. Khaled inquired if he had been refreshed by sleep. He replied by a laugh of careless and inoffensive glee; and placing one of her hands within Albedir's, said, 'If this be sleep, here in this odorous vale, where these sweet smiles encompass us, and the voices of those who love are heard—if these be the visions of sleep, sister, those who lie down in misery shall arise lighter than the butterflies. I came from amid the tumult of a world, how different from this! I am unexpectedly among you, in the midst of a scene such as my imagination never dared to promise. I must remain here—I must not depart.' Khaled, recovering from the admiration and astonishment caused by the stranger's words and manner, assured him of the happiness which she should feel in such an addition to her society. Albedir, too, who had been more deeply impressed than Khaled by the event of his arrival, earnestly re-assured him of the ardour of the affection with which he had inspired them. The stranger smiled gently to hear the unaccustomed fervour of sincerity which animated their address, and was rising to retire, when Khaled said, 'You have not yet seen our children, Maimuna and Abdallah. They are by the waterside, playing with their favourite snake. We have only to cross yonder little wood, and wind down a patch cut in the rock that overhangs the lake, and we shall find them beside a recess which the shore makes there, and which a chasm, as it were the rocks and woods, encloses. Do you think you could walk there?'—'To see your children, Khaled? I think I could, with the assistance of Albedir's arm, and yours.'—So they went through the wood of ancient cypress, intermingled with the brightness of many-tinted blooms, which gleamed like stars through its romantic glens. They crossed the green meadow, and entered among the broken chasms, beautiful as they were in their investiture of odiferous shrubs. They came at last, after pursuing a path which wound though the intricacies of a little wilderness, to the borders of the lake. They stood on the rock which overhung it, from which there was a prospect of all the miracles of nature and of art which encircled and adorned its shores. The stranger gazed upon it with a countenance unchanged by any emotion, but, as it were, thoughtfully and contemplatingly. As he gazed, Khaled ardently pressed his hand, and said, in a low yet eager voice, 'Look, look, lo there!' He turned towards her, but her eyes were not on him. She looked below—her lips were parted by the feelings which possessed her soul—her breath came and went regularly but inaudibly. She leaned over the precipice, and her dark hair hanging beside her face, gave relief to its fine lineaments, animated by such love as exceeds utterance. The stranger followed her eyes, and saw that her children were in the glen below; then raising his eyes, exchanged with her affectionate looks of congratulation and delight. The boy was apparently eight years old, the girl about two years younger. The beauty of their form and countenance was something so divine and strange, as overwhelmed the senses of the beholder like a delightful dream, with insupportable ravishment. They were arrayed in a loose robe of linen, through which the exquisite proportions of their form appeared. Unconscious that they were observed, they did not relinquish the occupation in which they were engaged. They had constructed a little boat of the bark of trees, and had given it sails of interwoven feathers, and launched it on the water. They sat beside a white flat stone, on which a small snake lay coiled, and when their work was finished, they arose and called to the snake in melodious tones, so that it understood their language. For it unwreathed its shining circles and crept to the boat, into which no sooner had it entered, than the girl loosened the band which held it to the shore, and it sailed away. Then they ran round and round the little creek, clapping their hands, and melodiously pouring out wild sounds, which the snake seemed to answer by the restless glancing of his neck. At last a breath of wind came from the shore, and the boat changed its course, and was about to leave the creek, which the snake perceived and leaped into the water, and came to the little children's feet. The girl sang to it, and it leaped into her bosom, and she crossed her fair hands over it, as if to cherish it there. Then the boy answered with a song, and it glided from beneath her hands and crept towards him. While they were thus employed, Maimuna looked up, and seeing her parents on the cliff, ran to meet them up the steep path that wound round it; and Abdallah, leaving his snake, followed joyfully.
EDWARD BULWER-LYTTON (NOVELLA DATE 1826)
SOURCE: Bulwer-Lytton, Edward. "Glenallan." In Gothic Tales of Terror, Volume One: Classic Horror Stories from Great Britain, edited by Peter Haining. 1972. Reprint, pp. 408-30. Baltimore, Md.: Penguin Books, Inc., 1973.
The following excerpt is from a novella written in 1826, and is an example of Bulwer-Lytton's early work.
I was born in the county of ―. After my mother's death my father, who deeply lamented her loss, resolved to spend the remainder of his life in Ireland. He was the representative, and, with the exception of an only brother, the last of a long line of ancestry; and, unlike most ancient families still existing, the wealth of my father's family was equal to its antiquity. At an early period of life he had established a high reputation in that public career which is the proper sphere of distinction to the rich and the highborn. Men of eager minds, however, should not enter too soon into the world. The more it charms them at first, the more it wearies them at last; hope is chilled by disappointment, magnanimity depressed by a social perspective which artificially lessens even great characters and objects, tedium succeeds to energy, and delight is followed by disgust. At least so thought, and so found, my father before he was thirty; when, at the very zenith of his popular esteem, he retired from public life, to one of his estates in the West of England. It was there, at a neighbouring gentleman's, that he first saw and loved my mother, and it was there that all the patent softness of his nature was called forth.
Men of powerful passions who have passed the spring-time of youth without the excitement of that passion which is the most powerful of all, feel love perhaps with greater tenderness and force when at last it comes upon them. My father and mother had been married for several years; their happiness was only equalled by their affection, and, if anything could weaken the warmth of the thanksgiving my father daily offered to Heaven for the blessings he enjoyed, it was the reflection that there had been born no pledge to their attachment, and no heir to the name and honours of his forefathers. Justly proud of his descent from some of the most illustrious warriors and statesmen of his country, such a reflection might well cast a shade on the otherwise unbroken brightness of his married life. At last, however, in the eighth year of that life, my mother found herself pregnant, and the measure of my father's felicity was complete, as the time of her confinement approached. But on the day when I came into this world to continue the race of the Glenallans, my mother left it, for ever. This stroke fell the heavier on my father, because in the natural buoyancy of his character, he had never contemplated the possibility of such a calamity. He left England for six years, and travelled over the greater part of Europe. At the end of that time he returned, with the determination to withdraw himself completely from society, and devote all his time and intellect to the education of the son he had so dearly acquired. But as it was impossible for one so distinguished to maintain in his own country the rigid seclusion on which he was resolved, my father decided to fix his future abode in Ireland, upon the estate where his mother was born, and which in her right he inherited.
Though so young at the time of our departure from England, I can well remember many of the incidents of the journey, and never can I forget the evening when our travelling carriage stopped before those moss-grown and gigantic ruins which were the only remnants of the ancient power of the Tyrones.
It needed but a slight portion of my father's wealth to repair the ravages made by time and neglect in this ruined but still massive structure, and my future home soon assumed a more lively appearance. Although my father civilly but coldly declined all intercourse with the neighbouring gentry, the lower orders were always sure of finding a warm hearth and a bounteous board in the princely halls he had restored. His beneficence secured to him the affection of his peasantry, even amidst the perpetual disorders of one of the wildest parts of that unhappy country, and notwithstanding the abhorrence with which the existing Government was regarded by the surrounding population. My father's sole occupation was the management of my education. It was both the employment of his severer hours and the recreation of his lighter moments. He was not satisfied with making me a thorough classical scholar, but was particularly anxious to give me a perfect knowledge of the history and literature of my own country; to enlarge my views by habitual meditation; to make me familiar with the sciences of philosophy and political economy; and, in short, to bring me, as nearly as my abilities would permit, upon a par with himself.
Perhaps in his ardour to make me great, he forgot how necessary it was for my happiness to make me amiable. He suffered me to pay too little attention to the courtesies of society; and, thinking that it was impossible for a gentleman to be anything but a gentleman, he remembered not how many trifles, small in themselves but large in the aggregate, were required to lay a just claim to that distinction.
From the lessons of my father I used to turn to my private and lonely amusements. I in some degree inherited his aristocratic pride, and preferred even solitude to the intrusive familiarity of the servants and dependents, who were accustomed to join in the rural sports for which I felt no inclination. It was in solitary wanderings over wide and dreary plains, by rapid streams, amongst the ruins of ancient power, beneath the lofty cliffs, and beside the green and solemn waters of the Atlantic, that my mind insensibly assumed its habitual bias, and that my character was first coloured by the sombre hues which ever afterwards imbued it. As there were none to associate with me, my loneliness became my natural companion; my father I seldom saw, except at meals and during the time I was engaged with him in the studies he had appointed for me.
The effect of one great misfortune upon a mind so powerful as his was indeed extraordinary. Although during my mother's life he had given up all political activity, and lived in comparative retirement, yet he was then proud of preserving the ancient and splendid hospitality of the family, and whilst his house was the magnificent resort of all who were distinguished by their rank, their talents or their virtues, I have been told by those who then frequented it, that his own convivial qualities, his wit, his urbanity, his graceful and winning charm of manner were no less admired by his friends than his intellectual powers were respected by his rivals. But during the whole time that I can remember him, his habits were so reserved and unsocial that, but for his unbounded benevolence, he might have passed for an inveterate misanthropist. Although his love for me was certainly the strongest feeling of his heart, yet he never evinced it by an affectionate word or look. His manner was uniformly cold, and somewhat stern, but never harsh. From my earliest infancy I never received from him an unkind word or a reproach; nor did I ever receive from him a caress. In his gifts to me he was liberal to profusion, and as I grew up to manhood a separate suite of rooms and servants were allotted to me, far more numerous and splendid than those with which he himself was contented.
The only servant I ever admitted to familiar intercourse with me was an old man whose character was of a kind to deepen the gloom of those impressions I had already derived from other sources. He was a sort of living chronicle of horrors. He knew about every species of apparition and every kind of supernatural being, whether of Irish, English, or Scottish origin. The wildest tales constructed by the luxuriant genius of German romancers would have been tame in comparison with those of old Phelim. But of all the fictions he used to narrate, and I to revere as sacred and incontrovertible truths, none delighted me so much as those relating to my own ancestor, Morshed Tyrone, a wizard of such awful power that the spirits of earth, air, and ocean ministered to him as his slaves, and the dead walked restless rounds to perform his bidding. I can remember well how the long winter evenings were spent, by the flickering light of the turf fire, in descriptions of the midnight orgies and revels, held perhaps in the very room where Phelim and I were then sitting. I can remember well the thrilling delight with which I used to watch for the hour when I laid aside what seemed to me the cold and airy beauties of Virgil, or the dry and magisterial philosophy of Seneca (the two books my father at this time most wished me to study), that I might listen to those terrific legends. Well, too, can I remember the not all undelightful fear which crept upon me when they were over, and I was left to the dreary magnificence of my solitary apartment.
As I grew up, so far from discarding or wearing out these impressions, so inconsistent with the ideas of the eighteenth century, they grew with my growth, and strengthened with my strength. In the old library I discovered many treatises on the existence of witchcraft. Some of them went so far as to hint at the means of acquiring that dreadful art without the penalties which superstition has attached to it; others were filled with astrological speculations, and to these treasures, which I carefully removed to my own rooms, I was continually adding every work I could procure upon the subject of my favourite pursuits. Still as I read, the ardour of penetrating further into the mysteries hidden from human eyes so powerfully increased, that at last I used to steal forth on certain nights to the lonesome abodes of the dead; and, amidst the corruption of mortality and the horrors of the charnel, I have sometimes watched till morning for the attainment of frightful secrets from which my mind in its ordinary healthful condition would have shrunk with repugnance.
This unnatural state of mind, however, could not last when nothing sustained it but the chimeras of a disordered imagination; and what perhaps conduced more than anything else to restore me to my senses was a long and violent illness, caused by a severe cold caught in one of my midnight expeditions. During several weeks I was confined to my bed, and then the long dormant kindness of my father's nature seemed to revive. A mother's fondest care could not have surpassed the unceasing vigilance, the anxious tenderness, with which he watched and soothed me. He poured forth, for my amusement, the varied stores of a mind rich in the knowledge of men as well as books; and the astonishing fund of information thus lavished for my enjoyment made me conscious of my own mental defects, and anxious to recover the time I had squandered in eccentric reverie. As soon as I was convalescent I fell into a more regular and instructive course of reading: I discarded old Phelim from my confidence, cleared my shelves of their unhallowed lumber, and seemed in a fair way to flow on with the rest of the world's stream in the calm current of ordinary life. Alas, it was not to be!
I have been thus diffuse in the narrative of my earliest years, because it is in that period of life that the character is stamped. It is then we sow the seeds we are to reap hereafter.
I had attained my eighteenth year, and was beginning to think it time to mix somewhat more with my equals, when my father sent for me one morning at an hour which was not the usual time for our daily meeting. Since my recovery he had gradually relapsed into his former habits of reserve, although when we were alone his manner was warmer and his conversation more familiar. I was somewhat surprised at the message, but more surprised by the extraordinary agitation in which I found him when I entered his study.
'Redmond,' said he, 'I believe you have never heard me mention my brother. Perhaps you did not know that I had so near a relation. I have learnt today that he is dead.' Here my father paused, evidently much affected, and I gained time to recover from my surprise at hearing in the same breath of the existence and death of so close a connection.
'In very early youth,' continued my father, 'an unfortunate quarrel arose between us, partly caused by my brother's change of political party for reasons which I thought either frivolous or mercenary. The breach was widened, however, by a very imprudent marriage on his part, at which my family pride revolted; and he, disgusted at what he deemed (not perhaps unjustly, as I have since imagined) my heartless arrogance, resented so warmly some expressions I had used in the first moment of mortification that he forswore for ever my friendship and alliance. Thus we parted, never to meet again. He withdrew to France; and from that time to this my information respecting him has been slight and trivial. Today I received an official letter informing me of his death and enclosing one from himself, in which, after lamenting our long separation, he recommends (and in terms I dare not refuse to comply with) his only son to my care and affection. I shall therefore write at once to this young man, inviting him to Castle Tyrone, and assuring him of my future solicitude. I have sent for you, Redmond, to acquaint you with this decision and to prepare you for a companion about your own age, who will, I trust, relieve the tedium you must often have felt in the unbroken solitude of our lonely life here.' With these words my father dismissed me.
I will pass over my reflections and anticipations, my fears and hopes, in reference to the prospect of this addition to our home life. During the whole morning of the day when our guest was expected, my father was in a state of silent agitation, as unusual to him as it was surprising to me, although I largely shared it. At length the carriage was seen at a distance; it approached, and a young man leapt lightly down from it. My father received him with a warmth quite foreign to the usual coldness of his manner, and entered into a long conversation with him about his own father. During this conversation I employed myself in taking a minute survey of my new acquaintance.
ON THE SUBJECT OF …
EDWARD BULWER-LYTTON (1803–1873)
Bulwer-Lytton was a popular Victorian author, renowned for his proficiency in several literary genres and his adaptability to diverse themes and styles. His most successful early work, the historical novel The Last Days of Pompeii (1834), depicts the quasi-Gothic villain Arbaces, a lustful priest of Isis who eventually kidnaps the heroine. In the occult romance Zanoni (1842), the eponymous antihero is a supernaturally gifted immortal who vies with the artist Glyndon for the love of the heroine while allowing his associate Mejnour to guide Glyndon towards occult enlightenment. Glyndon's progress is interrupted when reckless disobedience leads him to an encounter with the fearsome Dweller of the Threshold. Zanoni's powers ebb away as his commitment to the heroine grows, and he loses her after his own fateful confrontation with the same demon. Zanoni is ultimately redeemed when he takes the heroine's place after she is condemned to death by guillotine by the Revolutionary Tribunal in Paris. In his novel A Strange Story (1862), Bulwer-Lytton develops a dramatic conflict between the representatives of two diametrically opposed forces: Dr. Allen Fenwick is a man of science, and thus a man of reason, unable to believe in anything which is not tangible; his alter ego, Margrave, is a charming practitioner of the occult, determined to control powerful, unseen forces to obtain a potion which will ensure him eternal youth. He manages to persuade Dr. Fenwick to help him achieve his goal, and in the process is destroyed by the demonic forces he sought to manipulate without any regard to his soul. Fenwick's fate is different, for he emerges unscathed due to his acknowledgement of the inexplicable. These characters are symbolic of Bulwer-Lytton's objections to the theory of evolution; and, through Fenwick's acceptance of the existence of the unknown, the author asserts his own faith in Christianity. Although Bulwer-Lytton's literary subjects brought him great popularity, critics were largely unsympathetic, and his reputation declined rapidly after his death.
Ruthven Glenallan was in person small, but the proportions of his figure were perfectly symmetrical. He could scarcely be called handsome, but in his dark and dazzling eye, and in his brilliant smile, there was a power greater perhaps than that of beauty. He had been brought up from childhood in the most polished societies of Italy, and the winning grace of Continental manners was visible in all his gestures and expressions. Except my father, I have never known any person with such varied powers of conversation, or so able to charm and dazzle without apparent effort. Yet at times there was in his countenance a strange and sinister expression, which assumed a more suspicious appearance from the sudden and sparkling smiles immediately succeeding it if he thought himself observed. This peculiarity, however, I did not immediately perceive. For the next week we were inseparable. We walked and talked together, we accommodated our dissimilar habits to each other's inclinations, and we seemed to be laying the foundation of a lasting intimacy. Little as my father was accustomed to observe how those around him passed their time, he was evidently pleased with our friendship; and one morning, when I went to ask his advice about a course of reading on the commerce and politics of America, he said to me: 'I am much gratified by the affection which you and Ruthven feel for each other; the more so, as I am now convinced of what I have always hoped, that you would be but little affected by the loss of a part of that overflowing wealth which will be yours when I am gone. You are aware that a very small portion of my estate is entailed, and I can therefore, without injury to you, bequeath to Ruthven enough for his future independence. Though his father's fortune was not large, his expenditure almost rivalled that of the foreign princes with whom he associated, and at his death little or nothing could be saved from the wreck of his fortune. The least I can do, therefore, to compensate for any fault I have committed towards my brother will be to give to his son a small moiety from the superfluous riches of my own.' I need not say what was my answer; it was, I hope, what it ought to have been.
EDITH BIRKHEAD (ESSAY DATE 1921)
SOURCE: Birkhead, Edith. "Introductory." In The Tale of Terror: A Study of the Gothic Romance, pp. 1-15. New York: E. P. Dutton & Company, 1921.
In the following essay, an introduction to her influential study of Gothic literature, Birkhead traces the use of terror in literature, beginning in ancient times.
The history of the tale of terror is as old as the history of man. Myths were created in the early days of the race to account for sunrise and sunset, storm-winds and thunder, the origin of the earth and of mankind. The tales men told in the face of these mysteries were naturally inspired by awe and fear. The universal myth of a great flood is perhaps the earliest tale of terror. During the excavation of Nineveh in 1872, a Babylonian version of the story, which forms part of the Gilgamesh epic, was discovered in the library of King Ashurbanipal (668-626 b.c.); and there are records of a much earlier version, belonging to the year 1966 b.c. The story of the Flood, as related on the eleventh tablet of the Gilgamesh epic, abounds in supernatural terror. To seek the gift of immortality from his ancestor, Ut-napishtim, the hero undertakes a weary and perilous journey. He passes the mountain guarded by a scorpion man and woman, where the sun goes down; he traverses a dark and dreadful road, where never man trod, and at last crosses the waters of death. During the deluge, which is predicted by his ancestor, the gods themselves are stricken with fear: "No man beheld his fellow, no more could men know each other. In heaven the gods were afraid … They drew back, they climbed up into the heaven of Anu. The gods crouched like dogs, they cowered by the walls."1 Another episode in the same epic, when Nergal, the god of the dead, brings before Gilgamesh an apparition of his friend, Eabani, recalls the impressive scene, when the witch of Endor summons the spirit of Samuel before Saul.
When legends began to grow up round the names of traditional heroes, fierce encounters with giants and monsters were invented to glorify their strength and prowess. David, with a stone from his sling, slew Goliath. The crafty Ulysses put out the eye of Polyphemus. Grettir, according to the Icelandic saga, overcame Glam, the malevolent, death-dealing vampire who "went riding the roofs." Beowulf fearlessly descended into the turbid mere to grapple with Grendel's mother. Folk-tales and ballads, in which incidents similar to those in myths and heroic legends occur, are often overshadowed by terror. Figures like the Demon Lover, who bears off his mistress in the fatal craft and sinks her in the sea, and the cannibal bridegroom, outwitted at last by the artfulness of one of his brides, appear in the folk-lore of many lands. Through every century there glide uneasy spirits, groaning for vengeance. Andrew Lang2 mentions the existence of a papyrus fragment, found attached to a wooden statuette, in which an ancient Egyptian scribe addresses a letter to the Khou, or spirit, of his dead wife, beseeching her not to haunt him. One of the ancestors of the savage were-wolf, who figures in Marryat's Phantom Ship, may perhaps be discovered in Petronius' Supper of Trimalchio. The descent of Bram Stoker's infamous vampire Dracula may be traced back through centuries of legend. Hobgoblins, demons, and witches mingle grotesquely with the throng of beautiful princesses, queens in glittering raiment, fairies and elves. Without these ugly figures, folk-tales would soon lose their power to charm. All tale tellers know that fear is a potent spell. The curiosity which drove Bluebeard's wife to explore the hidden chamber lures us on to know the worst, and as we listen to horrid stories, we snatch a fearful joy. Human nature desires not only to be amused and entertained, but moved to pity and fear. All can sympathise with the youth, who could not shudder and who would fain acquire the gift.
From English literature we gain no more than brief, tantalising glimpses of the vast treasury of folk-tales and ballads that existed before literature became an art and that lived on side by side with it, vitalising and enriching it continually. Yet here and there we catch sudden gleams like the fragment in King Lear:
Childe Roland to the dark tower came.
His word was still Fie, Foh and Fum,
I smell the blood of a British man.
or Benedick's quotation from the Robber Bridegroom:
It is not so, it was not so, but, indeed, God forbid that it should be so,
which hint at the existence of a hoard as precious and inexhaustible as that of the Nibelungs. The chord of terror is touched in the eerie visit of the three dead sailor sons "in earthly flesh and blood" to the wife of Usher's well, Sweet William's Ghost, the rescue of Tam Lin on Halloween, when Fairyland pays a tiend to Hell, the return of clerk Saunders to his mistress, True Thomas's ride to Fairyland, when:
For forty days and forty nights,
He wade through red blood to the knee,
And he saw neither sun nor moon,
But heard the roaring of the sea.
The mediaeval romances of chivalry, which embody stories handed down by oral tradition, are set in an atmosphere of supernatural wonder and enchantment. In Malory's Morte d'Arthur, Sir Lancelot goes by night into the Chapel Perilous, wherein there is only a dim light burning, and steals from the corpse a sword and a piece of silk to heal the wounds of a dying knight. Sir Galahad sees a fiend leap out of a tomb amid a cloud of smoke; Gawaine's ghost, with those of the knights and ladies for whom he has done battle in life, appears to warn the king not to begin the fight against Modred on a certain day. In the romance of Sir Amadas, the ghost of a merchant, whose corpse the knight had duteously redeemed from the hands of creditors, succours him at need. The shadow of terror lurks even amid the beauty of Spenser's fairyland. In the windings of its forests we come upon dark caves, mysterious castles and huts, from which there start fearsome creatures like Despair or the giant Orgoglio, hideous hags like Occasion, wicked witches and enchanters or frightful beings like the ghostly Maleger, who wore as his helmet a dead man's skull and rode upon a tiger swift as the wind. The Elizabethan dramatists were fascinated by the terrors of the invisible world. Marlowe's Dr. Faustus, round whose name are clustered legends centuries old concerning bargains between man and the devil, the apparitions and witches in Macbeth, the dead hand, the corpse-like images, the masque of madmen, the tomb-maker and the passing-bell in Webster's sombre tragedy, The Duchess of Malfi, prove triumphantly the dramatic possibilities of terror. As a foil to his Masque of Queens (1609) Ben Jonson introduced twelve loathly witches with Até as their leader, and embellished his description of their profane rites, with details culled from James I.'s treatise on Demonology and from learned ancient authorities. In The Pilgrim's Progress, Despair, who "had as many lives as a cat," his wife Diffidence at Doubting Castle, and Maul and Slaygood are the ogres of popular story, whose acquaintance Bunyan had made in chapbooks during his ungodly youth. Hobgoblins, devils and fiends, "sturdy rogues" like the three brothers Faintheart, Mistrust and Guilt, who set upon Littlefaith in Dead Man's Lane, lend the excitement of terror to Christian's journey to the Celestial City. The widespread belief in witches and spirits to which Browne and Burton and many others bear witness in the seventeenth century, lived on in the eighteenth century, although the attitude of the "polite" in the age of reason was ostensibly incredulous and superior. A scene in one of the Spectator essays illustrates pleasantly the state of popular opinion. Addison, lodging with a good-natured widow in London, returns home one day to find a group of girls sitting by candlelight, telling one another ghost-stories. At his entry they are abashed, but, on the widow's assuring them that it is only the "gentleman," they resume, while Addison, pretending to be absorbed in his book at the far end of the table, covertly listens to their tales of "ghosts that, pale as ashes, had stood at the feet of the bed or walked over a churchyard by moonlight; and others, who had been conjured into the Red Sea for disturbing people's rest."3 In another essay Addison shows that he is strongly inclined to believe in the existence of spirits, though he repudiates the ridiculous superstitions which prevailed in his day;4 and Sir Roger de Coverley frankly confesses his belief in witches. Defoe, in the preface to his Essay on the History and Reality of Apparitions (1727) states uncompromisingly: "I must tell you, good people, he that is not able to see the devil, in whatever shape he is pleased to appear in, he is not really qualified to live in this world, no, not in the quality of a common inhabitant." Epworth Rectory, the home of John Wesley's father, was haunted in 1716–17 by a persevering ghost called Old Jeffrey, whose exploits are recorded with a gravity and circumstantial exactitude that remind us of Defoe's narrative concerning the ghostly Mrs. Veal in her "scoured" silk. John Wesley declares stoutly that he is convinced of the literal truth of the story of one Elizabeth Hobson, who professed to have been visited on several occasions by supernatural beings. He upholds too the authenticity of the notorious Drummer of Tedworth, whose escapades are described in chapbooks and in Glanvill's Sadducismus Triumphatus (1666), a book in which he was keenly interested. In his journal (May 25th, 1768) he remarks:
It is true that the English in general, and indeed most of the men of learning in Europe, have given up all accounts of witches and apparitions, as mere old wives' fables. I am sorry for it; and I willingly take this opportunity of entering my solemn protest against this violent compliment which so many that believe the Bible pay to those who do not believe it.
The Cock Lane ghost gained very general credit, and was considered by Mrs. Nickleby a personage of some importance, when she boasted to Miss La Creevy that her great-grandfather went to school with him—or her grandmother with the Thirsty Woman of Tutbury. The appearance of Lord Lyttleton's ghost in 1779 was described by Dr. Johnson, who was also disposed to believe in the Cock Lane ghost, as the most extraordinary thing that had happened in his day.5 There is abundant evidence that the people of the eighteenth century were extremely credulous, yet, in literature, there is a tendency to look askance at the supernatural as at something wild and barbaric. Such ghosts as presume to steal into poetry are amazingly tame, and even elegant, in their speech and deportment. In Mallet's William and Margaret (1759), which was founded on a scrap of an old ballad out of The Knight of the Burning Pestle, Margaret's wraith rebukes her false lover in a long and dignified oration. But spirits were shy of appearing in an age when they were more likely to be received with banter than with dread. Dr. Johnson expresses the attitude of his age when, in referring to Gray's poem, The Bard, he remarks: "To select a singular event and swell it to a giant's bulk by fabulous appendages of spectres and predictions has little difficulty, for he that forsakes the probable may always find the marvellous. And it has little use; we are affected only as we believe; we are improved only as we find something to be imitated or declined." (1780.)
The dictum that we are affected only as we believe is open to grave doubt. We are often thrown into a state of trepidation simply through the power of the imagination. We are wise after the event, like Partridge at the play:
No, no, sir; ghosts don't appear in such dresses as that neither … And if it was really a ghost, it could do one no harm at such a distance, and in so much company; and yet, if I was frightened, I am not the only person.6
The supernatural which persisted always in legends handed down from one generation to another on the lips of living people, had not lost its power to thrill and alarm, and gradually worked its way back into literature. Although Gray and Collins do not venture far beyond the bounds of the natural, they were in sympathy with the popular feelings of superstitious terror, and realised how effective they would be in poetry. Collins, in his Ode on the Superstitions of the Scottish Highlands, adjures Home, the author of Douglas, to sing:
how, framing hideous spells,
In Sky's lone isle, the gifted wizard-seer
Lodged in the wintry cave with Fate's fell spear
Or in the depths of Uist's dark forests dwells,
How they whose sight such dreary dreams engross
With their own vision oft astonished droop
When o'er the wintry strath or quaggy moss
They see the gliding ghosts unbodied troop.
Burns, in the foreword to Halloween (1785), writes in the "enlightened" spirit of the eighteenth century, but in the poem itself throws himself whole-heartedly into the hopes and fears that agitate the lovers. He owed much to an old woman who lived in his home in infancy:
She had … the largest collection in the country of tales and songs concerning devils, ghosts, fairies, brownies, witches, warlocks, spunkies, kelpies, elf-candles, dead-lights, wraiths, apparitions, cantraips, giants, enchanted towers, dragons and other trumpery. This cultivated the latent seeds of poetry, but had so strong an effect on my imagination, that to this hour, in my nocturnal rambles, I sometimes keep a sharp look-out in suspicious places; it often takes an effort of philosophy to shake off these idle terrors.7
Tam o'Shanter, written for Captain Grose, was perhaps based on a Scottish legend, learnt at the inglenook in childhood, from this old wife, or perhaps
By some auld houlet-haunted biggin
Or kirk deserted by its riggin,
from Captain Grose himself, who made to quake:
Ilk ghaist that haunts auld ha' or chamer,
Ye gipsy-gang that deal in glamor,
And you, deep-read in hell's black grammar, Warlocks and witches.
In it Burns reveals with lively reality the terrors that assail the reveller on his homeward way through the storm:
Past the birks and meikle stane
Where drunken Charlie brak's neck-bane;
And through the whins, and by the cairn
Where hunters fand the murdered bairn
And near the thorn, aboon the well
Where Mungo's mither hanged hersell.
For sheer terror the wild, fantastic witch-dance, seen through a Gothic window in the ruins of Kirk-Alloway, with the light of humour strangely glinting through, has hardly been surpassed. The Ballad-collections, beginning with Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765), brought poets back to the original sources of terror in popular tradition, and helped to revive the latent feelings of awe, wonder and fear. In Coleridge's Ancient Mariner the skeleton-ship with its ghastly crew—the spectre-woman and her deathmate—the sensations of the mariner, alone on a wide, wide sea, seize on our imagination with irresistible power. The very substance of the poem is woven of the supernatural. The dream imagery is thrown into relief by occasional touches of reality—the lighthouse, the church on the cliff, the glimpses of the wedding, the quiet song of the hidden brook in the leafy month of June. We, like the mariner, after loneliness so awful that
Scarce seemèd there to be,
welcome the firm earth beneath our feet, and the homely sound of the vesper bell. In Christabel we float dreamily through scenes as unearthly and ephemeral as the misty moonlight, and the words in which Coleridge conjures up his vision fall into music of magic beauty. The opening of the poem creates a sense of foreboding, and the horror of the serpent-maiden is subtly suggested through her effect on Christabel. Coleridge hints at the terrible with artistic reticence. In Kubla Khan the chasm is:
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover.
The poetry of Keats is often mysterious and suggestive of terror. The description of the Gothic hall in The Eve of St. Agnes:
In all the house was heard no human sound;
A chain-drooped lamp was flickering by each door;
The arras, rich with horseman, hawk and hound,
Fluttered in the besieging wind's uproar;
And the long carpets rose along the gusty floor;
the serpent-maiden, Lamia, who
Seemed at once some penanced lady elf,
Some demon's mistress, or the demon's self;
the grim story in Isabella of Lorenzo's ghost, who
Moaned a ghostly undersong
Like hoarse night-gusts sepulchral briers along.
all lead us over the borderland. In a rejected stanza of the Ode on Melancholy, he abandons the horrible:
Though you should build a bark of dead men's bones
And rear a phantom gibbet for a mast,
Stitch shrouds together for a sail, with groans
To fill it out, blood-stained and aghast;
Although your rudder be a dragon's tail
Long severed, yet still hard with agony,
Your cordage, large uprootings from the skull
Of bald Medusa, certes you would fail
To find the Melancholy—
Keats's melancholy is not to be found amid images of horror:
She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die,
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
In La Belle Dame sans Merci he conveys with delicate touch the memory of the vision which haunts the knight, alone and palely loitering. We see it through his eyes:
I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all:
They cried—'La Belle Dame sans Merci
Hath thee in thrall!'
I saw their starv'd lips in the gloam
With horrid warning gaped wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
On the cold hill's side.
From effects so exquisitely wrought as these it seems almost profane to turn to the crude attempts of such poets as "Monk" Lewis or Southey to sound the note of terror. Yet they too, in their fashion, played a part in the "Renascence of Wonder." Coleridge, fascinated by the spirit of "gramarye" in Bürger's Lenore, etherealised and refined it. Scott and Lewis gloried in the gruesome details and spirited rhythm of the ballad, and in their supernatural poems wish to startle and terrify, not to awe, their readers. Those who revel in phosphorescent lights and in the rattle of the skeleton are apt to o'erleap themselves; and Scott's Glenfinlas, Lewis's Alonzo the Brave and the Fair Imogene and Southey's Old Woman of Berkeley fall into the category of the grotesque. Hogg intentionally mingles the comic and the terrible in his poem, The Witch of Fife, but his prose-stories reveal his power of creating an atmosphere of diablerie, undisturbed by intrusive mockery. In the poem Kilmeny, he handles an uncanny theme with dreamy beauty.
From the earliest times to the present day, writers of fiction have realised the force of supernatural terror. In the Babylonica of Iamblichus, the lovers evade their pursuers by passing as spectres; the scene of the romance is laid in tombs, caverns, and robbers' dens, a setting remarkably like that of Gothic story. Into the English novel of the first half of the eighteenth century, however, the ghost dares not venture. The innate desire for the marvellous was met at this period not by the novel, but by oral tradition and by such works as Galland's translation of The Arabian Nights, the Countess D'Aulnoy's collection of fairy-tales, Perrault's Contes de ma Mère Oie. Chapbooks setting forth mediaeval legends of "The Wandering Jew," the "Demon Frigate," or "Dr. Faustus," and interspersed with anecdotes of freaks, monsters and murderers, satisfied the craving for excitement among humbler readers.8 Smollett, who, in his Adventures of Ferdinand, Count Fathom (1753), seems to have been experimenting with new devices for keeping alive the interest of a picaresque novel, anticipates the methods of Mrs. Radcliffe. Although he sedulously avoids introducing the supernatural, he hovers perilously on the threshold. The publication of The Castle of Otranto in 1764 was not so wild an adventure as Walpole would have his readers believe. The age was ripe for the reception of the marvellous.
The supernatural had, as we have seen, begun to find its way back into poetry, in the work of Gray and Collins. In Macpherson's Ossian, which was received with acclamation in 1760–3, the mountains, heaths and lakes are haunted by shadowy, superstitious fears. Dim-seen ghosts wail over the wastes. There is abundant evidence that "authentic" stories of ghostly appearances were heard with respect. Those who eagerly explored Walpole's Gothic castle and who took pleasure in Miss Reeve's well-trained ghost, had previously enjoyed the thrill of chimney-corner legends. The idea of the gigantic apparition was derived, no doubt, from the old legend of the figure seen by Wallace on the field of battle. The limbs, strewn carelessly about the staircase and the gallery of the castle, belong to a giant, very like those who are worsted by the heroes of popular story. Godwin, in an unusual flight of fancy, amused himself by tracing a certain similitude between Caleb Williams and Bluebeard, between Cloudesley and The Babes in the Wood,9 and planned a story, on the analogy of the Sleeping Beauty, in which the hero was to have the faculty of unexpectedly falling asleep for twenty, thirty, or a hundred years.10
Mrs. Radcliffe, who, so far as we may judge, did not draw her characters from the creatures of flesh and blood around her, seems to have adopted some of the familiar figures of old story. Emily's guardian, Montoni, in The Mysteries of Udolpho, like the unscrupulous uncle in Godwin's Cloudesley, may well have been descended from the wicked uncle of the folk tale. The cruel stepmother is disguised as a haughty, scheming marchioness in The Sicilian Romance. The ogre drops his club, assumes a veneer of polite refinement and relies on the more gentlemanlike method of the dagger and stiletto for gaining his ends. The banditti and robbers who infest the countryside in Gothic fiction are time-honoured figures. Travellers in Thessaly in Apuleius' Golden Ass, like the fugitives in Shelley's Zastrozzi and St. Irvyne, find themselves in robbers' caves. The Gothic castle, suddenly encountered in a dark forest, is boldly transported from fairyland and set down in Italy, Sicily or Spain. The chamber of horrors, with its alarming array of scalps or skeletons, is civilised beyond recognition and becomes the deserted wing of an abbey, concealing nothing worse than one discarded wife, emaciated and dispirited, but still alive. The ghost-story, which Ludovico reads in the haunted chamber of Udolpho, is described by Mrs. Radcliffe as a Provençal tale, but is in reality common to the folklore of all countries. The restless ghost, who yearns for the burial of his corpse, is as ubiquitous as the Wandering Jew. In the Iliad he appears as the shade of Patroclus, pleading with Achilles for his funeral rites. According to a letter of the younger Pliny,11 he haunts a house in Athens, clanking his chains. He is found in every land, in every age. His feminine counterpart presented herself to Dickens' nurse requiring her bones, which were under a glass-case, to be "interred with every undertaking solemnity up to twenty-four pound ten, in another particular place."12 Melmoth the Wanderer, when he becomes the wooer of Immalee, seems almost like a reincarnation of the Demon Lover. The wandering ball of fire that illuminates the dusky recesses of so many Gothic abbeys is but another manifestation of the Fate-Moon, which shines, foreboding death, after Thorgunna's funeral, in the Icelandic saga. The witchcraft and demonology that attracted Scott and "Monk" Lewis, may be traced far beyond Sinclair's Satan's Invisible World Discovered (1685), Bovet's Pandemonium or the Devil's Cloyster Opened (1683), or Reginald Scot's Discovery of Witchcraft (1584) to Ulysses' invocation of the spirits of the dead,13 to the idylls of Theocritus and to the Hebrew narrative of Saul's visit to the Cave of Endor. There are incidents in The Golden Ass as "horrid" as any of those devised by the writers of Gothic romance. It would, indeed, be no easy task to fashion scenes more terrifying than the mutilation of Socrates in The Golden Ass, by the witch, who tears out his heart and stops the wound with a sponge which falls out when he stoops to drink at a river, or than the strange apparition of a ragged, old woman who vanishes after leading the way to the room, where the baker's corpse hangs behind the door. Though the title assumes a special literary significance at the close of the eighteenth century, the tale of ter-ror appeals to deeply rooted instincts, and belongs, therefore, to every age and clime.
1. Frazer, Folklore of the Old Testament, I. iv. § 2.
2. Cock Lane and Common Sense, 1894.
3. Spectator, No. 12.
4. Spectator, No. 110.
5. Boswell, Life of Johnson, June 12th, 1784.
6. Tom Jones, Bk. xvi. ch. v.
7. Letter to Dr. Moore, Aug. 2, 1787.
8. Ashton, Chapbooks of the Eighteenth Century, 1882.
9. Advertisement to Cloudesley, 1830.
10. Preface to Mandeville, Oct. 25, 1817.
11. Letters, vii. 27.
12. The Uncommercial Traveller.
13. Odyssey, xi.
[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]
[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]
[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]
[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]
[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]
[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]
[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]
[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]
[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]
[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]
JOHN PAUL RIQUELME (ESSAY DATE FALL 2000)
SOURCE: Riquelme, John Paul. "Toward a History of Gothic and Modernism: Dark Modernity from Bram Stoker to Samuel Beckett." Modern Fiction Studies 46, no. 3 (fall 2000): 585-605.
In the following essay, Riquelme examines the relationship between the Gothic and Modernism in literature.
The Gothic Imaginary and Literary Modernism
The Gothic imaginary in its diverse literary embodiments has come to be understood as a discourse that brings to the fore the dark side of modernity (Botting 2). As narrative, it is the black sheep of the Anglo-American novel, which has generally been taken to concern marriage and the contexts that make marriage possible.1 Although Gothic narratives regularly focus on marriage or on social and sexual relations between the sexes, often those relations are threatened or abrogated, as in Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story (1765) and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818; revised 1831). Gothic sexuality may also take a bizarre form, as in Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897), a form that raises anthropological issues in arresting ways. Some of those issues were already present less insistently in the earliest Gothic narratives, because the threat to marriage, family, and home amounts to a threat to the stability and the future of culture. That dark threat comes from inside.
ON THE SUBJECT OF …
EDMUND BURKE (1729?–1797)
Widely recognized as the founder of modern Anglo-American conservatism, Burke is considered by many the most important and influential English statesman and political writer of the eighteenth century. In his speeches and essays he addressed major issues of his time, including the precepts of the American and French revolutions, the two-party political system, principles of economic reform, and the rights of government versus the rights of the individual.
Born in Dublin to middle-class parents of different faiths—his father an Anglican attorney and his mother a staunch Roman Catholic—Burke was a sickly child who spent much of his boyhood reading and studying. Although raised in his father's faith, he developed an early appreciation for the plight of oppressed Irish Catholics. In his teens he attended a Quaker boarding school in County Kildare before entering Trinity College in Dublin in 1744. After receiving his bachelor of arts degree in 1748, Burke remained at Trinity for some time to continue work on an independent study of human responses to aesthetics, a field that had interested him since his first reading of the anonymous first-century Greek treatise On the Sublime. Revised and expanded several years later and published as A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757), Burke's study anticipated the nineteenth-century Romantic interest in the Gothic.
The historical origins of Gothic writing in the eighteenth century are simultaneously political and aesthetic. Rising along with the English novel during the same decades that are the prelude to Romanticism, the Gothic in its narrative form engages issues of beauty, the character of the sublime and the grotesque, the political dynamics of British culture (especially with regard to the kind of social change that comes to be represented by the French Revolution), the quality of being English (including the holding of anti-Catholic religious attitudes), the structure of the economy (especially concerning property in a market economy and gift-exchange), and the place of women in hierarchies of power. Stylistically, the Gothic has always been excessive in its responses to conventions that foster the order and clarity of realistic representations, conventions that embody a cultural insistence on containment. The essentially anti-realistic character of Gothic writing from the beginning creates in advance a compatibility with modernist writing. That compatibility begins to take a visible, merged form in the 1890s in Britain. In the development of the Gothic after the French Revolution, the characteristics and issues apparent in Gothic writing of the eighteenth century carry forward into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but they are significantly transformed, intensified, and disseminated by interactions with national literatures and political events outside England. Eventually they are affected by the historical development of modernity in wider than national arenas, including colonial and postcolonial situations.
The influence of Edgar Allan Poe, for example, on British and Irish writers, including Oscar Wilde, is often mediated by his reception among the French, who read him in Charles Baudelaire's translation. The anthropological perspectives that Poe's American stories sometimes evoke, which emerge from a social situation involving slavery, resonate for Irish writers and for others facing racial, ethnic, class, and gender prejudice in colonial and postcolonial contexts. Poe also affects Samuel Beckett through Baudelaire in Beckett's concern in his late prose, especially Ill Seen Ill Said (1981), with mal, or evil, which derives in part from Baudelaire's Les fleurs du mal (1857). Because Beckett's postmodern sense of ill includes an excessively minimal, apparently inept way of writing, his response to historical evil in post-Enlightenment, European culture after World War II and the Holocaust combines with an aesthetics that challenges expectations concerning beauty, narrative structure, and realism. For Beckett, seeing, that is, recognizing, the ill around and within us requires and enables a mode of saying, or writing, that reflects the illness rather than pretending to be sane, undisturbed, and undisturbing. As does Wilde in The Picture of Dorian Gray, Beckett invites us to recognize our own faces in his portrayal of ill. This is the kind of recognition that Gothic writing has frequently offered. Early in its history, the Gothic is structurally and implicitly a negative version of pastoral because of its turn to foreign locales that are threatening and bizarre. It later relocates the antipastoral setting and its implications much closer to home: on native soil, on board ship, in the sanitarium, in the library, in the house, in the bedroom, in the schoolroom, in the mind, and in language.
Critics have yet to explore extensively the ways in which elements of the Gothic tradition have become disseminated in the writings of the long twentieth century, from 1880 to the present.2 The lineaments of a yet-to-be-written history of the modern Gothic begin to emerge in the essays published in this issue. In choosing the rubric Gothic and Modernism, I have linked the Gothic with literary modernism, an influential body of writing and writers generally associated with the first half of the twentieth century whose limits and defining character remain to be convincingly described by critics of literature and culture. Tracing the modern development of Gothic provides new perspectives on literary modernism and on our own modernity. In the long twentieth century, the Gothic and Modernism influence each other and share certain developments.
The origins of literary modernism lie in Britain at the end of the nineteenth century, a time when important Gothic writing was being published. The development of Gothic writing as a discourse of modernity that influences the formation of literary modernism in 1890s Britain reaches a crucial moment with the publication of three seminal texts within a few years of each other: Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), Stoker's Dracula (1897), and Henry James's The Turn of the Screw (1898). Each draws in distinctive, transforming ways on the tradition of Gothic writing that stretches back, on the Irish side, through Sheridan Le Fanu's "Carmilla" (1872) to C. S. Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer (1820), and on the English side, through Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), the work of the Brontë sisters (1840s), and Shelley's Frankenstein to Gothic tales by Anne Radcliffe, Walpole, and others in the eighteenth century. In addition, as I have mentioned, the American Gothic of Poe in French translation has its effect on writers and artists of the 1890s and later in England and elsewhere.
The Gothic influence on modernism and on twentieth-century writing in English in general is various and evident outside high cultural production in detective fiction, horror stories, and science fiction, as well as in other media, especially film. The close relation of Gothic writing to some popular cultural forms has contributed to the comparatively dismissive attitude toward the Gothic in academic studies of canonical literature. Such skepticism has obscured the significance of Gothic traditions for literary modernism. Among modernist authors of high cultural standing, W. B. Yeats and Joseph Conrad provide early examples of writers who draw significantly on Gothic traditions and motifs, often in ways that set into play exotic elements carrying orientalist implications concerning identity, nation, empire, and anthropological issues. But the exotic representations need not be regarded as primarily orientalist in character; that is, they participate in an exotic cultural imaginary that, like the Gothic imaginary, is frequently a vehicle for staging and challenging ideological thinking rather than a means of furthering it.
Yeats's theory of masks, of self and anti-self, which he takes initially from Wilde, places the double at the center of his writing and thinking. Yeats's image of the dancer, particularly as a version of Salomé, is a development of Wilde's exotic Gothic drama that leads eventually to Yeats's plays for dancers, which fuse aspects of the Japanese Noh theatre with Irish characters and include spirits and ghosts.3 Yeats's prophetic writings and investigations into the occult also include Gothic elements. Conrad's writings, which concern centrally the dark side of modernity, regularly present aspects of the Gothic translated to locations in which agents of empire experience disturbing encounters with nature and with indigenous peoples that challenge their sanity and their ideas about civilization. Most obviously among Conrad's works, Heart of Darkness (1902) concerns the dark double that is one truth about civilization and modernity. In The Secret Sharer (1910), the ship becomes a haunted space when it is invaded by a ghost-like character who is eventually exorcised. The plot of Lord Jim (1900) turns on an unidentified object or being that literally goes bump in the night.
A similar collision causes a car accident in E. M. Forster's A Passage to India (1924). That novel's narrative hinges on a mysterious experience involving eerie echoes, the doubling of images in mirror-like walls, and the threat of sexual violation across the races in the darkness of the Marabar Caves. There are mad characters and haunted spaces in Virginia Woolf's narratives (Mrs. Dalloway ; "A Haunted House" ), and the dead can sometimes continue to speak, including a dead insect in "The Death of the Moth." Toni Morrison's ghosts, as in Beloved (1987), invite comparisons with earlier emanations in Gothic writings. In a modernist transformation of the works of Poe and other Gothic precursors, one of William Faulkner's most memorable novels, Absalom! Absalom! (1936), concerns the fall of a house. In The Waste Land (1922), T. S. Eliot alludes memorably to Dracula in the figure of the bats crawling upside-down down a wall (5.380-82).4 In addition, by championing revenge tragedies as a critic and drawing on them in his poetry, Eliot established this unromantic dramatic form more prominently in the canon of English literature.5 Filled as they are with anger, madness, and vengeance, revenge tragedies are central precursors for Gothic narrative and poetry, to which they bear evident kinship. Wilde understood the connection when he wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray, which includes a scene in which Lord Henry Wotton compares Sybil Vane's suicide by poison to "a strange lurid fragment from some Jacobean tragedy, […] a wonderful scene from Webster, or Ford, or Cyril Tourneur" (255). In Thomas Hardy's poetry, the voice of the dead is heard, including that of a dead woman who speaks as "Not Only I" in the poem of that title, which anticipates Seamus Heaney's "The Bog Queen."
The crossing of boundaries into darkness by these authors and many others throughout the twentieth century is frequent and emphatic. The refusal of conventional limits and the critical questioning of cultural attitudes often proceed within a Gothic structuring of elements or with a Gothic inflection. The transformations, adaptations, and other prominent traces of the Gothic in modern writing indicate the persistence of a cluster of cultural anxieties to which Gothic writing and literary modernism, along with postcolonial writing and some popular forms of expression, continue to respond. The dark side of the discourse and experience of modernity is evident in all these cultural forms.
The 1890s: Mona Lisa, Other Vampires, and Dark Doubles
The history of Gothic writing since 1880 begins with Stevenson, Stoker, Wilde, James, and Hardy, and it finds one of its concluding moments after 1980 in the late prose of Beckett. Among the major texts drawing on Gothic traditions published in the 1890s, Stoker's Dracula has captured our collective attention most intensely and persistently. Like the face of Mona Lisa, the vampire has become a pervasive cultural icon in the past hundred years. The representation of Mona Lisa as an embodiment of the vampire occurs in Walter Pater's famous description of her in his essay on Leonardo (1869) in Studies in the History of the Renaissance (1873):
She is older than the rocks among which she sits; like the vampire, she has been dead many times, and learned the secrets of the grave; and has been a diver in deep seas, and keeps their fallen day about her; and trafficked for strange webs with Eastern merchants: and, as Leda, was the mother of Helen of Troy, and, as Saint Anne, the mother of Mary; and all this has been to her but the sound of lyres and flutes, and lives only in the delicacy with which it has moulded the changing lineaments, and tinged the eyelids and the hands.
The passage is of note in the present context because Yeats reprints a portion of it set up as free verse as the first item in his The Oxford Book of Modern Verse, 1892–1935, though the passage was not originally published as verse and does not fall within the chronological limits of the anthology. Yeats's modernist reinscription of Pater places the vampire and the artist-scientist's representation of woman at the origins of a modern literary sensibility.
Dracula is a vividly memorable instance of the modern Gothic, with its doublings and pairings among the characters, its concern with property, its use of sacramental elements from Catholicism, its ambiguous representations of gender, its antifeminist details, its shifts of locale to and from England, and its jagged, stylistically mixed narration. For Pater, the vampire is Mona Lisa's dark double, one truth about her. Stoker carries the connection forward when he names his primary women characters Mina and Lucy, for Mina-Lucy also find their counterpart in the vampire. Central to Dracula's modernity is the way it implicates female characters, male vampire hunters, and readers in the darkness that we might wish to assign primarily to the nonhuman creature. Dracula provides a model, replicated in later works, for the emergence of hybridity as the character of the future and of modern experience. In this regard, the mixed blood of Mina Harker's child at the book's end is comparable to the mixed character of the foetus carried by Lilith Iyapo, the protagonist of Octavia Butler's science fiction novel, Dawn (1987), after her sexual encounters with an alien. It is an open question whether the cultural anxieties that underlie both Dracula and Dawn have altered or abated significantly in the past hundred years.
The doubling characteristic of Gothic writing evokes the mixed, ambiguous, character of human experience, which holds the potential for both destructive and creative transformation.6 In Dracula and in Dawn, the doubling involves the enigmatic duplication with a difference of human reproduction that yields a creature who differs from us but not entirely. We do and do not recognize ourselves as we respond ambivalently to the new hybrid emerging in the narratives of these texts, a hybrid whose origin lies within us. As Lord Henry says of the unspoken ambivalence roused by Dorian Gray, he is "the type of what the age is searching for, and what it is afraid it has found" (384). Doubling of characters in various ways plays an emphatic role in The Turn of the Screw, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and works by Stoker prior to Dracula. As Joseph Valente argues in his essay, "'Double Born': Bram Stoker and the Metrocolonial Gothic," doubling occurs in a repetitive, insistent way in Stoker's early story, "The Dualitists; or the Death Doom of the Double Born" (1887), which appeared a decade before Dracula. Valente's argument carries implications for Gothic's relation to modern literature, for he brings together the Gothic and colonial writing as distinguishable but related and sometimes conceptually overlapping discourses of modernity. Drawing implicitly on postcolonial theoretical commentaries about colonial situations and their aftermath, Valente argues for a reading of Stoker's work in which the position of Ireland as a metropolitan colony plays a key role in channeling the Gothic toward modernism. Valente identifies an extreme and revealing colonial situation, that of the Anglo-Irish, in which Stoker is involved. The already in-between character of the Anglo-Irish, together with Stoker's even more thoroughly mixed heritage, contributes to Stoker's finding himself aligned with both conqueror and vanquished, ruler and subjects in a way that enables him to "devise a Gothic estate called the 'double born'."
In that modality of the Gothic, which depends on an ambivalence of a structural kind, Stoker is able to take advantage of Gothic's potential for a critique of ideology. He does so by harnessing its characteristic doubling to a critical engagement with binary opposites that support hierarchical thinking. That engagement is not Stoker's reflection and acceptance of ruling attitudes but a modernist probing of them in which the potential for delusion, destruction, and self-destruction vividly emerge. Valente's reading bears directly on our understanding of Dracula as a book in which Stoker reveals the destructive logic of identity (including, by implication, identitarian politics7) and social hierarchy.8 Valente has focused on a moment in which modernism begins to come into being through the melding of Gothic with the kind of anticolonial thinking that has become familiar to us a century later in postcolonial literature, theory, and history. The anthropological issues concerning the character of the human are as evident in this modernist form of the Gothic, written in this case by an Irish colonial author, as they are in postcolonial literature. Those issues come forward most obviously in Stoker's short story when the events turn toward infanticide and parricide. In this strange, blatantly violent story, the dynamics of the double involve the hybridity of colonial identity in representa-tions that expose the destructive character of antagonistic oppositions. As is the case with all the other modern Irish writers who present doubling emphatically in their works, including Wilde, Yeats, and James Joyce, Stoker's sensibility arises from a cultural situation characterized by oppositions of a violent, destructive kind. Like these other Irish writers, he presents at times the destructive and self-destructive character of conflictual doubling, and at times the possibility of a hybridity that might transform conflict into a disquieting, risky merger, whose results are unpredictable. The former comes through most strongly in "The Dualitists," while the latter emerges in Mina Harker's androgynous tendencies and in the mixed character of her child.
In the first of the major texts of modern Gothic to be published in the 1890s, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde, like Stoker, brings a critical eye to bear on his society by means of the doubling that often characterizes Gothic writing. Poe influences both the doublings and the echoic strategies of the novel. As I argue in the opening essay of this issue, "Oscar Wilde's Aesthetic Gothic: Walter Pater, Dark Enlightenment, and The Picture of Dorian Gray," the novel's complex doublings and role shiftings blur distinctions between good and bad. The blurring contributes to engaging and implicating the reader in ways that anticipate Dracula. Wilde's novel is an important precursor for later narratives of consumption and violence, including American Psycho (1991), whose central characters embody an ugliness hiding deceptively beneath an attractive social veneer. More explicitly than he does in Salomé, and in a domestic rather than an exotic setting, Wilde provides a Gothic rendering of Walter Pater's aestheticism in a work that fuses aesthetic issues with political and moral concerns.9 In the case of Dorian Gray, by embedding the myth of Echo and Narcissus in the narrative, he produces an early instance of "the mythical method," a strategy that Eliot identifies in later writings by Yeats and Joyce.10 Wilde brings out the dark implications of the pursuit of beauty as a narcissistic activity that represents in his narrative the hypocritical tendencies of British society at their worst. He takes an important step into modernism when he gothicizes the aesthetic and aestheticizes the Gothic. The merger enables Wilde to distance himself from Pater by writing a text that transforms realistic writing in complexly echoic and mythic ways in order to explore anthropological issues and reveal delusive, self-destructive aspects of the society the book addresses.
Hardy will likely seem out of place in a discussion of late Victorian and early modernist Gothic that invokes centrally works by Wilde, Stoker, and James, but he is not. In his introduction to The Oxford Book of Modern Verse, Yeats tellingly associates Wilde with Hardy in comments on Wilde's "The Ballad of Reading Gaol" (1898), implying that both Hardy and Wilde react against Pater. Wilde's poem is itself a response to a Gothic precursor, Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." Like many later modernist challenges to Romantic tendencies, Wilde's poem proceeds by stressing material circumstances and by introducing literal counters for Romantic figures.
But the Gothic association of Hardy and Wilde is based on more than their responses to Pater and to Romanticism. In Hardy's late fiction, Tess Durbeyfield is in some salient regards comparable to Salomé, and Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891) is nearly contemporaneous with Wilde's play. The novel presents a temporally distant pastoral world undergoing a modernization that had already transformed it by the 1890s. Its story of a young woman who suffers because of two modern men, the narcissistic, deluded offspring of a mercantile family and a religious family, contains Gothic elements that become increasingly insistent as the narrative progresses.
The threat to women and to marriage from members of the aristocracy and religious orders so frequent in earlier Gothic narratives (which Herod's and John the Baptist's misogyny in Salomé; repeats) takes modern form in Tess's story, while other Gothic elements remain more immediately recognizable. The superstition of the d'Urberville coach, the menacing portraits of Tess's female ancestors, the narrator's suggestion that her mailed and male ancestors committed acts of violence against young women, and the association she has with the tomb of her forebears all anticipate the intensified Gothic aspect of her story's final chapters. In "Phase the Seventh," her husband returns virtually from the dead, her estrangement from her body makes her, like the vampirized Lucy Westenra, a kind of walking dead person ("like a corpse" ), she murders her lover in a rage, and she and her husband find their way first to a deserted mansion and then to the eerie, enigmatic, echoic space of Stonehenge, where she sleeps on what may once have been a sacrificial altar. Like Salomé, her exotic counterpart, Tess is executed after taking revenge on a man. Hardy, however, refuses the exotic as a vehicle for his tale of violence against and by women, choosing instead to merge Gothic elements with realistic ones in a tale of madness and revenge. The merger brings the Gothic into a modern embodiment by insisting that the truth about social realities is carried in those Gothic elements and that the Gothic is inseparable from the realistic. In Tess, the Gothic is not rendered as a fantasy located in a safely distant country; rather, it is incarnate in the English countryside, where it resides and abides. Despite Tess's execution, her presence lingers in the shape of her younger sister. Like the partly imaginary Wessex in relation to the literal south of England, and like Tess Durbeyfield in relation to Tess of the d'Urbervilles, the realistic story has a twin in its Gothic double. The veneer of fantasy and a distance from historical realities has become as thin and transparent in Hardy's representations of Wessex as it is in Faulkner's later tales of Yoknapatawpha County. In its double character as a mingling of realistic and antirealistic, Hardy's narrative anticipates the dual character of later modernist works influenced by the Gothic, including those of Conrad and Faulkner.
In "Oxford's Ghosts: Jude the Obscure and the End of the Gothic," Patrick O'Malley makes clear some of the transforming ways that Hardy responds to the Gothic tradition after Tess with the publication of his other great novel of the 1890s, Jude the Obscure. O'Malley brings out a salient modernist use of tropes in Hardy's writing when he describes the literalizing of Gothic elements in Jude. As in the fusing of the Gothic and the realistic in Tess, in Jude two apparently different universes are brought together in an ostensibly realistic narrative. As in Dracula, the Gothic is here and now in England in Hardy's narrative. That is so quite literally in the architecture that defines its urban spaces, but as O'Malley points out it is also present in the medievalism that Hardy calls up, a medievalism that asks to be understood in direct relation to Catholicism. Hardy both responds to the issues and traditions of Gothic writing and brings the anti-Catholic aspects of the Gothic to life by evoking in the narrative antagonistic debates around Catholicism in nineteenth-century England. The Catholic threat is alive in Hardy's England, and like Van Helsing in Dracula, Sue Bridehead becomes associated with Catholic ritual. This aligning of individuals and groups with Catholicism in order to raise doubts about the soundness of their beliefs and the moral justification of their actions is typical of the Gothic. By not displacing his narrative to a distant site, Hardy participates in the domesticating of the Gothic that is evident as well in The Picture of Dorian Gray and Dracula. All these writers bring the Gothic home. As O'Malley says explicitly, instead of being foreign, the Gothic has become all too familiar: "The Gothic as a genre has collapsed into the contemporary novel, because the Gothic, indeed, has come home to England."
By contrast with Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey, who, in O'Malley's formulation, "rejects Gothic traditions concerning sexual and religious deviance as foreign to English national identity," Hardy assimilates those characteristics into British cultural inheritance. In particular, O'Malley characterizes Jude as a "Radcliffean Gothic novel gone wrong," in which Sue Bridehead, like Mina Harker in Dracula and Lilith Iyapo in Dawn, does not ultimately resist sexual contact that is a kind of horror. In his revision of Radcliffe, Hardy both reverses the meaning of sexual deviance and makes escape impossible. At the same time, the difference between Catholic and Protestant is effaced, as it also is in Dracula. The monster turns out to be incarnated in a conventional figure of authority. In other modern writing that emerges from the Gothic, including the works of Stoker and Conrad, it is often difficult to distinguish the threat from those who oppose it or the criminals from the police. In Jude, the threat is no literal monster (as if a monster ever could be literal) but an apparently ordinary schoolteacher. Phillotson's twisted manipulations and desires differ from the overt violence of later novels, such as American Psycho, but their toll on human life is palpable. As O'Malley rightly asserts, "The Gothic has not only entered England but it has also subsumed the naturalized life of English citizens." A central text of the modern English novel has fused with a dark Gothic double. The horror is now clearly part of marriage itself.
Gothic Popular Forms and Barely Regulated Madness: Westerns, Detective Fiction, Pornohorror
Escape is no more possible for Letty Mason, the protagonist of Dorothy Scarborough's anti-Western, The Wind (1925), than it was for Sue Bridehead in Jude the Obscure or will be for Lilith Iyapo in Dawn. As in the major works of modern Gothic published in the 1890s, in the anti-Western that Susan Kollin describes in "Race, Labor, and the Gothic Western: Dispelling Frontier Myths in Dorothy Scarborough's The Wind," the potential for a critique of ideology emerges from Gothic elements. As it does in Stoker's metrocolonial Gothic writing, a colonial situation contributes to the character of the anti-Western. Kollin sketches a merger of Gothic and transformed colonial elements in which the British colonial adventure story develops through the Western into an anti-Western that includes prominent Gothic details. The Gothic aspects bring out the negative side of the ambivalence concerning the frontier already present in the Western. In The Wind, the result is a narrative in which Gothic elements in the presentation of both nature and character have the effect of challenging frontier myths, including myths of nation building that depend on the innocence of white females. Through doublings characteristic of Gothic narrative, in this distinctively American meshing of the Gothic, the colonial, and the frontier, blurred distinctions of race and class bring out the Western's dark side. As Kollin explains, in Scarborough's narrative concerning indigenous characters, females, and property relations, the territorial conquest of Empire is displaced to an American situation in which the taking on of Gothic roles by indigenous figures contributes not to the furthering of ideology but to its dismantling.
In "'I'm in the Business Too': Gothic Chivalry, Private Eyes, and Proxy Sex and Violence in Chandler's The Big Sleep," Charles Rzepka also explores a transformation of the Western, specifically in a work of American detective fiction in which a cowboylike, knightly hero appears in a Gothic urban adventure story. Citing both Joyce Carol Oates's and Leslie Fiedler's complaints about Raymond Chandler's detective stories, Rzepka establishes firmly the connection to the Gothic. Fiedler sees in Chandler's writing a descendant of a male Gothic tradition that tends toward the pornographic, while Oates calls his work an example of a misogynistic "demonic anti-pastoral" (34). That latter phrase could be applied to many works of Gothic writing, since we enter not the Forest of Arden but the Castle of Otranto, or, in The Big Sleep, the Sternwood mansion, where we encounter madness, violence, or both. As is regularly the case with the Gothic, Chandler's work raises issues about the defining limits of civilization and of the human. The limits of the human come up implicitly in various kinds of figurative boundary crossings in Chandler's novel, especially ones involving insects and plants in relation to human beings. The orchids in General Sternwood's hothouse have flesh that seems nearly human, and he thinks of himself as a spider.
Rzepka defends Chandler against some of the criticisms leveled against his work by arguing that he actualizes the potential for the critique of ideology within the Gothic, specifically by providing a vantage point for criticizing his own cultural context that invites readers to recognize their complicity. The disagreement among Chandler's readers points to an issue of general relevance: the extent to which a work that includes violence and prejudicial representations stages cultural tendencies for us to recognize and judge rather than simply affirms those tendencies and makes them vicariously available. This issue regularly arises in the response to Gothic texts. In Rzepka's reading of The Big Sleep, a doubling structure typical of Gothic enables us to recognize how difficult it can be to distinguish ostensibly good from ostensibly bad. As a consequence, we recognize our own complicity in the cultural attitudes that give rise to the narrative's events. Good and evil are set in parallel in ways that make differentiating them absolutely an impossibility. Eddie Mars, the crime boss, is General Sternwood's criminal counterpart, and Mars's occasional hitman, Canino, is Marlowe's double, whom Marlowe kills, as Canino has killed others. We may well prefer Marlowe, but he has killed. As with Tess's murder of Alec d'Urberville, which some readers applaud, and the staking of Lucy Westenra in Dracula, Chandler's narrative invites us to condone an act of extreme violence.
Readers will not, by contrast, accept the violence against men and women that Patrick Bateman perpetrates in the novel by Bret Easton Ellis that Ruth Helyer writes about in "Parodied to Death: The Postmodern Gothic of American Psycho." We resist the invitation to identify with Bateman, despite the first-person narration. Even though we do not cheer Bateman, we do recognize him as one of us. Rzepka points out that in the wake of the economic transformations in the United States at the end of the nineteenth century, American detective fiction had home-grown replacements for the foreign aristocratic villains of early Gothic narratives. Instead of Radcliffe's Montoni, we have industrialists and other members of an economic ruling class. In Ellis's novel of pornographic horror, the villain also comes from within the culture. As the title indicates, he is an American, specifically, part of the American elite, someone with money who, like Lord Henry Wotton or Dorian Gray in The Picture of Dorian Gray, thinks he can do what he wants with impunity. The details concerning conspicuous consumption in both Wilde's novel and Ellis's create a clear connection between them. Bateman is at one with some of the defining aspects of his culture, including the market economy. He works on Wall Street and, like Dorian Gray, embodies the deluded, self-serving ideal whose ugly truth is the hidden image of the culture's barely suppressed self-knowledge. As Helyer points out, the monster turns out to be the person next door.
Like Dracula, American Psycho is centrally about sanity, including the extent to which the feeling of being sane can be a self-congratulatory, self-serving delusion. Many of the characters in Stoker's narrative keep journals in an endeavor to record their experiences in a written form that confirms that they remain in control of their faculties and their actions. In the book's final chapter, Van Helsing congratulates himself on his sanity, just before he violates the graves of three female vampires and mutilates their bodies. In both Dracula and American Psycho, the gruesome killing of females appears to generate a feeling of sanity and being under control for the male perpetrator of the violence. The gory details of American Psycho are an extreme development in Gothic writing that suggests that madness is always close at hand in Gothic narratives. D. W. Harding argued persuasively that underlying the apparently controlled, unruffled surface of language and narrative in Jane Austen's novels we sense something that challenges and requires control: hatred.11 By contrast with this "regulated hatred," the barely regulated turbulence underlying Gothic narrative understood as a dark version of the novel is not hatred but something more extreme and more difficult to control: madness.
In American Psycho, the barely regulated madness of Gothic writing frequently loses its regulated veneer. Bateman's efforts to retain his sense of his own sanity are themselves symptoms of madness, though he does not recognize them for what they are. Rather than keeping a journal, he videotapes his own acts and watches them repeatedly. Repetitions suggest both loss of control, the inability to stop imitating, stop repeating, stop watching, but also an attempt to retain or gain control, as with his repetitions while working out. As Helyer suggests, Ellis uses imitation and repetition in a self-conscious appropriation of Gothic elements that is also a postmodern process of seemingly endless repetition. When Bateman observes himself, he becomes his own double, the observer of his representations of himself, as do the vampire hunters who write in Dracula. He shares with Dorian Gray the darkly narcissistic desire to watch himself becoming something bestial.
The excesses of American Psycho might appear to put it in a class virtually by itself or to make it a parody of horror narrative, like the movie Scream (1996), in which the genre of the horror movie is frequently called up through horror movies that characters watch on television or talk about. But the tendency toward excess is typical of the Gothic, which regularly comes close to parody or self-parody. The excessive, overtly artificial quality of the Gothic, as in its counterpart, the pastoral, enables us to recognize a staging of cultural tendencies rather than a capitulation to them. In the violence against women in American Psycho, as in the antifeminist conversations in The Picture of Dorian Gray, we recognize that prejudicial thinking and behavior are being put on display in ways that we are more likely to judge than to accept. The exaggerations are also part of American Psycho's postmodern character, which, as Helyer comments, borders at times on the comical. But the mutilation of women is not comical. It is tempting to claim that American Psycho goes further in the graphic character of its violence against women than any text normally considered as part of the Gothic tradition. But it would be hard to maintain persuasively that anything in Ellis's novel exceeds Dr. Seward's gratuitously bloody depiction in Dracula of the vampire hunters' violation of Lucy Westenra's corpse, whose heart they stake before cutting off the head and stuffing its mouth with garlic. Earlier still in the tradition of the Gothic, Victor Frankenstein chops up the female being that he is well on the way to creating. Though his act is not presented in vivid detail, it need not be in order to have a strong effect.
By its emphasis on blood, Ellis's novel does seem to go even further than Dracula, in which, according to the zoophagous Renfield, "the blood is the life." We encounter blood in American Psycho in many scenes, along with other bodily fluids. Rather than only drinking blood and ingesting insects and small animals, Bateman eats human flesh, both raw and cooked. But the difference merely raises more explicitly the issue of cannibalism that is already evident in Stoker's narrative. Concerning this particular violation of cultural imperatives, both books resemble Thomas Harris's The Silence of the Lambs (1988), whose central character's name, Hannibal Lector, suggests both "cannibal" and "reader." The fascination some readers experience in response to books as extreme as American Psycho may well depend on a felt connection between those words.
The Gothic and Language: M. R. James and Samuel Beckett
In the works of M. R. James, the beast also turns out to be within and in close proximity to readers, since James's spooks often inhabit the reading room. When the house of books turns out to be haunted, how can the act of reading not also be? In James's stories, books can sometimes kill. James may well have remembered that Dorian Gray complains to Lord Henry Wotton that a book Wotton had given him was poisonous and implores him not to give the book to others. I have grouped James with Beckett because of his connection to the Irish Gothic and because his stories, like Beckett's style, locate the darkness within language. Although English, James was strongly influenced by Irish Gothic writing, which he knew well.12 His edition of Sheridan Le Fanu's stories, Madam Crowl's Ghost and other Tales of Mystery (1923), revived interest in the Irish writer at the same time that Eliot was writing about revenge tragedy.
As Penny Fielding's "Reading Rooms: M. R. James and the Library of Modernism" makes clear, the library is an institution devoted to collecting and classification, as well as one that rests on the importance of language, a defining aspect of the human. Like the museum, the zoo, and the encyclopedia, the library represents a categorizing tendency within the Western conception of knowledge that works to maintain sanity and order, or an impression of sanity and order. Accomplishing its mission depends on registering and cataloging by means of distinctions that, like Cartesian coordinates, enable the creating of a map-like coherence and intelligibility to help us feel we know where we are and what we are. The library functions in part to contain and control what otherwise would be a chaotic, even mad, jumble. Despite that mission, as Fielding indicates, in James's work there are dark forces and dark corners even in this enlightening institution. It seems that the mad double that the process of containment is attempting to tame and suppress is actually brought into being or inflamed by the attempt. In that regard, it is worth recalling that Dracula is a creature of the library. His books enable him to learn what he needs to know in order to invade England successfully. Dracula's library functions as a colonial British library, established by the English during imperial expansion for educational purposes to teach indigenous peoples how to think and behave in the English way. But the resulting acts of mimicry to which such libraries contribute can be a mask for subversion and resistance.13 The library can be the location for revolutionary activity. Karl Marx had a regular spot in the Reading Room of the British Library, where he worked on Capital. In short, the library's rationalized system of classification does not guarantee the results produced by users of books, results that the rational impulse may well not recognize as orderly or sane.
The emphasis in twentieth-century thought on language as the primary factor differentiating humans from animals, culture from nature, arises in part as a politically and intellectually resistant response to Social Darwinism's claim that culture can be understood using evolutionary concepts on analogy with nature. According to that emphasis, language makes us human and presumably makes thought, including rationality, and civilization possible. But language and the cultural imperative to collect and to classify to which it is tied in the library are unable to account for some aspects of experience, including the threat that in James's stories lives in the midst of the institution. That threat, which is neither intelligible nor eradicable, seems to live within language and within the institutions of culture.
The suspicion that language contains or fosters an uncontrollable, destructive excess emerges from Beckett's late writings as Graham Fraser reads them in "'No More Than Ghosts Make': The Hauntology and Gothic Minimalism of Beckett's Late Work." As in M. R. James, in Beckett we encounter a textualizing of the ghost and the threat, a linking of ghost and threat to language. In Beckett, however, the counterpart and response to the threat of and in language is a spectralizing of the text, whose substance is reduced to language that is virtually disembodied. By eschewing realism and attenuating representation, Beckett's late work engages us more on the level of the signifier than as narrative. The Beckettian Gothic invites us to know ourselves in its spectral qualities, but not by holding a mirror up to a social situation whose details we recognize as our own. This form of the Gothic has been stripped bare, become the ghost of itself in a minimalist art.
Fraser describes details that enable a reading of Beckett's late prose work, Ill Seen Ill Said, as "a distilled, high modernist pastiche of the Gothic novel," whose features include a spectral woman dressed in black and a ramshackle cabin that appears to be both animate and evil, observed by an inquisitorial eye. But more important than the details of narrative in this poststructural reading of Beckett's Gothic is the spectral doubling of observing eye and character, whose blurred boundaries point to the hauntology, or logic of the specter, in Beckett's writing. With this haunting double, the conceptual resemblance to Dracula emerges, for the woman is neither conclusively alive nor dead. Beckett's style for incarnating his postmodern version of the undead, in which the boundary between the real and its opposite, between the living and the dead, between the actual and the imagined, becomes obscured, poses a challenge for conceptions of language that insist on referential, determinate meanings. When such meanings are displaced by the echoing voices of allusion and by the ghostly voices of their own opposites, the classifying bases that underlie the Cartesian illusions of the library and the unified, sane, self-possessed self become unstable. The language of Beckett's late prose is a hybrid that, by effacing distinctions between opposites, undermines the possibility of classification and hierarchy of the sort that the library's system supports. It is even difficult to classify Beckett's own writing with confidence using conventional categories of literary genres and national language. Where in the library or the bookstore do we put him: with Irish authors? with French or Francophone authors? with poets? with novelists? with dramatists? Yeats turned Pater's prose into verse by an editorial act. Beckett's style blurs the distinctions between prose and poetry in advance of any editing or reading.
Beckett responds to the excessive desire to know more, the desire that drives Victor Frankenstein to generate his monstrous double and that takes many readers to the library, with a ghostly echo that refuses excess by providing the minimum and "no more." He avoids the trap of projecting or attempting to become any ideal that society thinks it wants by taking the Gothic as far beyond the domain of the feasible as it has ever gone and is likely ever to go. By refusing to struggle against the ghost and the dark double, since the struggle only generates or spreads the darkness, Beckett comes as close as anyone could in language to putting the specter within us to rest in its unquiet grave.
1. Although the essays in this issue and my introduction focus primarily on narrative, Gothic writing, a mode that crosses the boundaries of literary genres, includes both drama and poetry. For discussions of contemporary examples of the Gothic in the visual arts as well as literature, see Grunenberg.
2. The most ambitious attempt to provide an overview of modern Gothic writing and discussions of individual texts is David Punter's The Modern Gothic. Punter's discussion of the relation of Gothic writing to realism is particularly salutary; see 185-86. For discussions of twentieth-century Gothic writing that deal primarily with relations between Gothic and postmodernism, see Sage and Smith.
3. Yeats discusses the Noh theatre in his introduction to Pound and Fenollosa's Certain Noble Plays of Japan.
4. The allusion is confirmed in a letter from the poet's wife, Valerie Eliot, published in the TLS (18 May 1973), cited in Wolf 47.
5. Eliot included a number of his essays concerning revenge tragedy in Selected Essays, New Edition (1950). Many of the relevant essays are available in Eliot's Essays on Elizabethan Drama. Even "Tradition and the Individual Talent" (1919), probably the most widely reprinted literary essay in English of the twentieth century, cites a lengthy passage from The Revenger's Tragedy by Middleton (then attributed to Tourneur).
6. For a general commentary on the double in literature, see Karl Miller's Doubles.
7. In "Location and Home in Beckett, Bhabha, Fanon, and Heidegger," I discuss briefly the disagreement within postcolonial theory concerning alternatives to realism and identity politics as a repetition of disagreements earlier in the twentieth-century about modernism's antirealistic character and its tendency to dissolve the self; see 543-44.
8. In fact, Valente intends his discussion of Stoker's story to provide an entrée for a commentary on Dracula, which will be available in his forthcoming Unlocking Dracula's Crypt.
9. I discuss Wilde's response to Pater in Salomé; in "Shalom/Solomon/Salomé."
10. Eliot uses the term in his review of Joyce's Ulysses, "Ulysses, Order, and Myth," originally published in The Dial (November, 1923).
11. See D. W. Harding, "Regulated Hatred: An Aspect of the Work of Jane Austen."
12. W. J. McCormack develops the notion of the "Irish Gothic" in his introduction to the section of The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, "Irish Gothic and After (1820–1945)."
13. Concerning the dynamics of an imitation that resists and transforms its model, see Homi K. Bhabha's "Of mimicry and man: The ambivalence of colonial discourse" in his The Location of Culture 85-92.
Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994.
Botting, Fred. Gothic. London: Routledge, 1996.
Eliot, T. S. Essays on Elizabethan Drama. 1956. New York: Harcourt, 1960.
――――――. Selected Essays, New Edition. 1950. New York: Harcourt, 1965.
――――――. "Ulysses, Order, and Myth." James Joyce: Two Decades of Criticism. Ed. Seon Givens. New York: Vanguard, 1963. 198-202.
Grunenberg, Christoph, ed. GOTHIC: Transmutations of Horror in Late Twentieth Century Art. Cambridge: MIT P, 1997.
Harding, D. W. "Regulated Hatred: An Aspect of the Work of Jane Austen." Jane Austen: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Ian Watt. Englewood Cliffs: Prenctice-Hall, 1963. 166-79.
Hardy, Thomas. Tess of the d'Urbervilles. 1891. Ed. John Paul Riquelme. Boston: Bedford Books, 1998.
McCormack, W.J. "Irish Gothic and After (1820–1945)." The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing. Vol. II. Ed. Seamus Deane. Derry: Field Day Publications, 1991. 831-54.
Miller, Karl. Doubles: Studies in Literary History. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1987.
Oates, Joyce Carol. "The Simple Art of Murder." New York Review of Books 21 Dec. 1995: 32-40.
Pater, Walter. The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry. 1893. 4th ed. Ed. Adam Phillips. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1986. Rpt. of Studies in the History of the Renaissance. 1873.
Punter, David. The Modern Gothic. London: Longman, 1996. Vol. 2 of The Literature of Terror: A History of Gothic Fictions from 1765 to the Present Day. London: Longman, 1996.
Riquelme, John Paul. "Location and Home in Beckett, Bhabha, Fanon, and Heidegger." The Centennial Review 42 (1998): 541-68.
――――――. "Shalom/Solomon/Salomé;: Modernism and Wilde's Aesthetic Politics." The Centennial Review 39 (1995): 575-610.
Sage, Victor and Allan Lloyd Smith, eds. Modern Gothic: A Reader. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1996.
Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. 1891. The Portable Oscar Wilde. Ed. Richard Aldington. New York: Viking, 1965.
Wolf, Leonard, ed. The Essential Dracula. New York: Plume, 1993.
Yeats, William Butler. Introduction. The Classic Noh Theatre of Japan. New York: New Directions, 1959. 151-63. Rpt. of Certain Noble Plays of Japan. Ed. Ezra Pound and Ernest Fenollosa. 1916.
MONTAGUE SUMMERS (ESSAY DATE 1938)
SOURCE: Summers, Montague. "The Romantic Feeling." In The Gothic Quest: A History of the Gothic Novel. 1938. Reprint, pp. 17-59. New York: Russell & Russell, 1964.
In the following excerpt from his widely studied analysis of Gothic literature, originally published in 1938, Summers surveys the evolution of Gothic art, architecture, and literature through the eighteenth century.
The word "Gothic," which was to play so important a part in later days, and which now has so very definite and particular a meaning (especially in relation to literature) originally conveyed the idea of barbarous, tramontane and antique, and was merely a term of reproach and contempt. From its application to architecture—and Gothic building, as we shall see, was long enough held in very low esteem—it came to connote almost anything mediæval, and could be referred to almost any period until the middle, or even the end, of the seventeenth century. In such extension, of course, it comes loosely to signify little more than old-fashioned, grannam and out-of-date.1
In reference to architecture, the sovran disdain with which Gothic was regarded is repeatedly emphasized. John Evelyn, a virtuoso of the most cultured talent, writing An Account of Architects & Architecture, in A Parallel of Architecture Both Ancient & Modern by Roland Freart Sr De Chambray, folio, 1664, in his Epistle Dedicatory instructs Sir John Denham: "You will know, that all the mischiefs and absurdities in our modern Structures proceed chiefly from our busie and Gotic triflings in the Composition of the Five Orders." Gothic is unworthy to be called an Order, those who envisaged it were "low and reptile Souls" severely to be reprobated on account of the "idle and impertinent Grotesks, with which they have ever infected all our Modern Architecture" (p. 3), and no words are bad enough for those who dare "to Engotish (as one may say) after their own capricious Humour" (p. 5). Evelyn speaks of "Arched Doors or Windows" (p. 131), and observes, "This Barbarity therefore we may look upon as purely Gotique."
The great Sir Christopher Wren in his ample description of and notes upon S. Paul's Cathedral, printed in Parentalia, folio, 1750,2 speaks of abandoning "the Gothick Rudeness of the old Design" for "a good Roman Manner." His aim was "a Cathedral-form … so rectified, as to reconcile, as near as possible, the Gothick to a better Manner of Architecture; with a Cupola, and above that, instead of a Lantern, a lofty Spire, and large Porticoes." He remarks: "This we now call the Gothick Manner of Architecture (so the Italians called what was not after the Roman Style) tho' the Goths were rather Destroyers than Builders; I think it should with more reason be called the Saracen style…. The Crusado gave us an Idea of this Form." In England, Salisbury is "one of the best patterns of Gothick-building." He again insists "what we now vulgarly call the Gothick, ought properly and truly to be named the Saracenick Architecture refined by the Christians," and developed from "Mosques, Caravansaras, and Sepulchres" built by Mohammedans.
Sir Christopher Wren quotes with warm approval Evelyn,3 and speaks of buildings demolished by "the Goths, Vandals, and other barbarous Nations … introducing in their stead, a certain fantastical and licentious Manner of Building, which we have since called Modern or Gothick. Congestions of heavy, dark, melancholy and monkish Piles, without any just Proportion, Use, or Beauty, compared with the truly ancient … a judicious Spectator is rather distracted or quite confounded, than touched with that Admiration, which results from the true and just Symmetry, regular Proportion, Union, and Disposition." In final condemnation Wren sums up Gothic Cathedrals as "vast and gigantick Buildings indeed, but not worthy the Name of Architecture."
We are the less surprised then to find that the Augustan Addison, who incidentally in his Remarks on Several Parts of Italy, etc. In the Years, 1701,1702, 1703, never misses an opportunity of lewdly aspersing the manners and impiously reviling the religion of the country in which he was a stranger, shook his head sadly enough when he saw the Certosa4 of Pavia. He perforce allowed "the convent of Carthusians" to be "very spacious and beautiful," yet added, "Their church is extremely fine, and curiously adorned, but of a Gothic structure."5 When he approaches Siena he is rabid with resentment: "There is nothing in this city so extraordinary as the Cathedral, which … can only be looked upon as one of the master-pieces of Gothic Architecture. When a man sees the prodigious pains and expence, that our fore-fathers have been at in these barbarous buildings, one cannot but fancy to himself what miracles of Architecture they would have left us, had they been only instructed in the right way; for when the devotion of those ages was much warmer than that of the present, and the riches of the people much more at the disposal of the Priests, there was so much mony consumed on these Gothic Cathedrals, as would have finished a greater variety of noble buildings, than have been raised either before or since that time.
One would wonder to see the vast labour that has been laid out on this single Cathedral … nothing in the world can make a prettier show to those who prefer false beauties, and affected ornaments, to a noble and majestick simplicity." And this of the Duomo with its black and white chequered marbles, memorials of the Sorrowful and Joyful Mysteries of Our Lady, whereby, as she told S. Bridget, "her life was ever divided between grief and happiness," the Duomo with the Capella del Voto, the bronze work of Beccafumi, Donatello's statue of S. John Baptist, Neroccio's S. Catharine, and the wonderful mosaics of that pavement!
The fact is that the antipathy of Wren and Addison to Gothic does not consist in any mere matter of taste or liking, but sets much deeper than that; it is psychological. Wren, unconsciously perhaps, betrays the secret when he speaks of "monkish Piles" without any use. The Gothic Cathedral was an aspiration towards God, a place where the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Altar might be ever offered to the Father. The Gothic Cathedral was built for the Mass and on account of the Mass. Minds of the type of Wren and Addison had no conception of the Christian Sacrifice; what they supposed the Catholic Faith to be they loathed. Their churches were empty lecture-rooms, "luminous and disencumbered" to echo Addison's approving phrase. Here was no priest, but a preacher who should discourse lukewarm logic and moral common-sense to his auditors. It was all very didactic and very respectable, and it would be difficult to imagine anything more utterly lacking in any sense of religion.
The classicists were wont to hold up Horace as the supreme master and model, not Horace of the Odes and Satires, not even a genuine Horace of the De Arte Poetica, but a Horace who had been tailored in the velvet court-coat and made to wear the mighty periwig of the "regent of Parnassus," Nicolas Boileau Despréaux.
As we might expect, Boileau uses the word gothique in sternest reprobation, as for example when in his famous ninth Satire he lashes the clerk who in the parterre for "quinze sous" can
Traiter de visigoths tous les vers de Corneille.
In England, too, the use of the word was soon conveniently extended from its direct application to architecture, and Dryden in his critical preface containing A Parallel betwixt Painting and Poetry, to The Art of Painting, 4to, 1695, his English prose translation of Charles Alphonse du Fresnoy's Latin poem De Arte Graphica,6 precisely says: "The Gothique manner, and the barbarous ornaments, which are to be avoided in a picture, are just the same with those in an ill-ordered play. For example, our English Tragi-comedy must be confessed to be wholly Gothique, notwithstanding the success which it has found upon our theatre." (How unjust Dryden is to his own genius here is an inquiry we must waive as impertinent to our matter.)7 Again, he defines: "All that has nothing of the Ancient gust is call'd a barbarous or Gothique manner." Echoing these very words the vaguely philosophical third Earl of Shaftesbury in his Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions and Times (1711) writes: "We are not so Barbarous or Gothick as they pretend." Bishop Burnet in his History of his Own Time (published posthumously 1723–34) described the temper of Charles XII as growing "daily more fierce and Gothick."
"Ah Rustick, ruder than Gothick," cries Mrs. Millamant to the loutish Sir Wilfull in The Way of the World, 1700; and well nigh half a century later Mrs. Western rebuked her irate brother with "O! more than Gothick ignorance!" Tom Jones, vii, chapter 3. In 1773 Mrs. Hardcastle complains of her good spouse's "Gothic vivacity," whilst a modish young lady in The Example; or, the History of Lucy Cleveland (1778) deemed "husband" a "gothic word." In Miss Cuthbertson's Rosabella; or, A Mother's Marriage, 5 volumes, 1817, Mrs. O'Dowd with horror speaks of Rotherhithe whither she has accompanied her husband, Captain O'Dowd, on business as "Gothland" (Vol. III, p. 254), and in the same novel we hear that the Marchioness of Quizland cried shame on Lady Townhurst's rusticity, declaring "it was Gothic barbarity to patronize children." Even as late as 1841, in his novel The Parish Clerk, J. T. Hewlett spoke of eating dinner "at the gothic hour of one o'clock." Very rarely was there any adverse comment upon the extended use of the word 'Gothic,' although it is true that a reviewer in the Gentleman's Magazine, July, 1778, takes exception to the description of The Champion of Virtue (The Old English Baron) as a Gothic story, since Englishmen of the days of King Henry V and King Henry VI were certainly not Goths.8 Wisely enough Clara Reeve ignored such futile pedantry, and in good set terms made it plain that her literary offspring was intended "to unite the most attractive and interesting circumstances of the ancient Romance and modern Novel," and that it was "distinguished by the appellation of a Gothic story, being a picture of Gothic times and manners." In The Novice of Saint Dominick, 4 volumes, 1806, by Miss Sydney Owenson (afterwards Lady Morgan), chapter V, the pious and learned lady Magdelaine de Montmorell exclaims: "female sanctity is, I am afraid, a treasure still rarer than female genius, to be found in this Gothic age."
The term 'Gothic.' so long slandered and traduced, found at length a learned and powerful defender in Bishop Richard Hurd of Worcester (1720–1808),9 whose Letters on Chivalry and Romance, published anonymously in 1762, must be accounted not only a work of paramount importance in the history of English romanticism, but also regarded as among the finest critical essays of our literature. Bishop Hurd was greatly influenced by Joseph and Thomas Warton, yet he is something far more than the mere disciple of the two brothers, for his pages in every period show a forceful originality, conviction, and matured reflection, whilst he goes much further than they had ventured openly to advance.
The very first of the twelve Letters boldly throws down the gauntlet with its opening words: "The ages, we call barbarous, present us with many a subject of curious speculation. What, for instance, is more remarkable than the Gothic Chivalry? or than the spirit of Romance, which took its rise from that singular institution?" A little later in the same letter he observes: "The greatest geniuses of our own and foreign countries, such as Ariosto and Tasso in Italy, and Spenser and Milton in England, were seduced by these barbarities of their forefathers; were even charmed by the Gothic Romances. Was this caprice and absurdity in them? Or, may there not be something in the Gothic Romance peculiarly suited to the views of a genius, and to the ends of poetry? And may not the philosophic moderns have gone too far, in their perpetual ridicule and contempt of it?" To answer which questions he proposes as the Subject and Plan to explain the rise, progress and genius of Gothic Chivalry. "Reasons, for the decline and rejection of the Gothic taste in later times must be given." In the third Letter Hurd notes the several Characteristics of Chivalry; the passion for arms; the spirit of enterprise; the honour of knighthood; the rewards of valour; the splendour of equipages; their romantic ideas of justice; their passion for adventures; their eagerness to run to the succour of the distressed; the pride they took in redressing wrongs, and removing grievances; their courtesy, affability, and that refined gallantry, which carried the notions of chastity, the fairest and strongest claim of the female sex, to so platonic an elevation; and above all, the "character of Religion." Every one of these characteristics, under a varied form, but yet plain to distinguish, is to be found in the Gothic Novel, the "character of Religion" becoming an intense pre-occupation with the cloister, abbots, monks, nuns, friars, convents, priories and the anchoret's retreat. The fourth Letter draws some very striking parallels between the old Romances and the poems of Homer, "circum-stances of agreement between the heroic and gothic manners,"10 and the author commences the fifth Letter by emphasizing "that the resemblance between the heroic and Gothic ages is very great." In the sixth Letter he justly remarks that "so far as the heroic and Gothic manners are the same, the pictures of each, if well taken, must be equally entertaining. But I go further, and maintain that the circumstances, in which they differ, are clearly to the advantage of the Gothic designers." Not a few of his contemporaries must have been horrified when they read these sentences, nor would their amaze decrease, when, speaking of the manners of the feudal age, he adds that as Homer was a citizen of the world, could the poet have seen the manners of the feudal age he would certainly have preferred them to Grecian manners, "And the grounds of this preference would, I suppose, have been 'The improved gallantry of the feudal times; and the superior solemnity of their superstitions.'" This last phrase is very significant, and strikes the key-note of much that was to follow in novel and romance. As to religious machinery, "for the more solemn fancies of witchcraft and incantation, the horrors of the Gothic were above measure striking and terrible. The mummeries of the pagan priests were childish, but the Gothic Enchanters shook and alarmed all nature. We feel this difference very sensibly in reading the antient and modern poets. You would not compare the Canidia of Horace with the Witches in Macbeth. And what are Virgil's myrtles dropping blood to Tasso's enchanted forest?" With a tribute of enthusiastic praise to the "terrible sublime" of Shakespeare, he continues: "I can't but think that, when Milton wanted to paint the horrors of that night (one of the noblest parts in his Paradise Regained) which the Devil himself is feigned to conjure up in the wilderness, the Gothic language and ideas helped him to work up his tempest with such terror…. And without more words you will readily apprehend that the fancies of our modern bards are not only more gallant, but, on a change of the scene, more sublime, more terrible, more alarming, than those of the classic fablers. In a word, you will find that the manners they paint, and the superstitions they adopt, are the more poetical for being Gothic."
The seventh Letter considers in some detail the effect of the Gothic upon Spenser11 and Milton. No doubt each of these bards kindled his poetic fire from classic lore, but when most inflamed they are the more particularly rapt with the Gothic fables of chivalry. With regard to Shakespeare too, whose "genius kept no certain rout, but rambled at hazard into all the regions of human life and manners … one thing is clear, that even he is greater when he uses Gothic manners and machinery, than when he employs classical." The eighth Letter entirely cuts the ground from under the feet of Wren and Evelyn. "When an architect examines a Gothic structure by Grecian rules he finds nothing but deformity. But the Gothic architecture had its own rules, by which when it comes to be examined, it is seen to have its merit, as well as the Grecian. The question is not, which of the two is conducted in the simplest or truest taste: but, whether there be not sense and design in both, when scrutinized by the laws on which each is projected.
The same observation holds of the two sorts of poetry. Judge of the Faery Queen by the classic models, and you are shocked with its disorder: consider it with an eye to its Gothic original, and you find it regular. The unity and simplicity of the former are more complete: but the latter has that sort of unity and simplicity, which results from its nature.
The Faery Queen then, as a Gothic poem, derives its Method, as well as the other characters of its composition, from the established modes and ideas of chivalry.
… So that if you will say anything against the poet's method, you must say that he should not have chosen this subject. But this objection arises from your classic ideas of Unity, which have no place here; and are in every view foreign to the purpose." There is, in fact, not the classic Unity, "which consists in the representation of one entire action," but "an Unity of another sort, an unity resulting from the respect which a number of related actions have to one common purpose. In other words, It is an unity of design, and not of action."
The Gothic Novel,—The Romance of the Forest, The Mysteries of Udolpho, The Italian, for example—has this unity of design.
In the ninth Letter the author considers the beauties of Tasso, which afford a fresh confirma-tion of the point upon which he principally insists, The pre-eminence of the Gothic manners and fictions, as adapted to the ends of poetry [and certainly romance] above the classic.
Bishop Hurd with urbanest satire just laughs out of court my Lord Shaftesbury and his critical cant upon the tritest theme—"it is not to be told with what alacrity and self-complacency he flourishes upon it" in his Soliloquy or Advice to an Author, 1710. "The Gothic manner, as he calls it," is the favourite object of my Lord's raillery. This ingenious nobleman is so perfectly enamoured "of his noble antients," whose spirit and precepts he misunderstands, that he will fight any man who contends there may be other elegances and beauties in literature besides those in the behalf of which he jousts so slashingly.
The cold Boileau "happened to say something of the clinquant of Tasso; and the magic of this word, like the report of Astolfo's horn in Ariosto, overturned at once the solid and well-built reputation of the Italian poetry."
This potent word occurs in the ninth of Boileau's satires, A Son Ésprit, where he attacks a whole catalogue of poets, almost as long as Homer's list of ships, and unmercifully belabours the courtier-wits:
Tous les jours, à la cour, un sot de qualité
Peut juger de travers avec impunité;
À Malherbe, à Racan, préférer Théophile,
Et le clinquant du Tasse, à tout l'or de Virgile.
You are, no doubt, a vastly superior critic, Monsieur Nicolas Boileau Despréaux, but did it never occur to you that a man may yield to none in his devotion to Vergil, and yet may love and admire Tasso also?
Yet "the clinquant of Tasso" became a sort of watchword among the critickins. On a sudden nothing was heard but this abracadabra, and the respectable Mr. Addison, "who gave the law in taste here, took it up and sent it about the king-dom in his polite and popular essays."
These considerations lead to some very pointed remarks in regard to those who profess so exactly to follow what they are pleased to call nature: "But the source of bad criticism, as universally of bad philosophy, is the abuse of terms. A poet, they say, must follow Nature; and by Nature we are to suppose can only be meant the known and experienced course of affairs in this world. Whereas the poet has a world of his own, where experience has less to do, than consistent imagination.
He has, besides, a supernatural world to range in. He has Gods, and Faeries, and Witches at his command: And,
―――――――――O! who can tell
The hidden pow'r of herbes, and might of magic spell?
Spencer, B. i, C. 2
Thus in the poet's world, all is marvellous and extraordinary; yet not unnatural in one sense, as it agrees to the conceptions that are readily entertained of these magical and wonder-working Natures.
This trite maxim of following Nature is further mistaken in applying it indiscriminately to all sorts of poetry."
Sublime and creative poetry and romance may be regarded as a species addressing itself solely or principally to the Imagination. Therefore the poet or romantic writer may say: "I leave to the realist, to the classicist (so-called) the merit of being always broad awake, always in their dull sober senses; The divine dream (Homer's "theios oneiros"),12 and mystic fancy are among the noblest of my prerogatives."
The cry of the Augustans was: Magic and enchantment are senseless things. This crass materialism is met by the simple truth that witchcraft is a very real and terrible thing, for we are wiser in this than they; that the supernatural is all about and around us ever; that the veil trembles and is very thin.
The concluding Letters sum up and emphasize with a few general reflexions and particular applications Hurd's views upon Gothic Romance.
One of the writer's strongest arguments—although never explicitly advanced as such—lies in the fact that he on no occasion expresses himself narrowly, as one who wishes entirely to banish and disallow any school of poetry save the chivalrous and romantic; he freely acknowledges the legitimate claim and position of classical poetry, he merely refuses to grant it a monopoly and an exclusive tyranny of place and power. He urges and insists that Gothic poetry shall be judged by its own standards, by its own particular claims, method, and end.
In the direct opposite to this catholic spirit consists one of the many, perhaps the greatest of the many, weaknesses of Addison and his followers. We may take Addison, as being the most influential, to typify a school. Addison has the hall-mark of the completest prig. He steadfastly refuses to allow worth or beauty in poem or prose which he conceives as not conforming to the stereotyped rules and prejudices that had become in the world of letters a kind of canon law. Any author who does not speak the polite and popular cant is disbarred. This is the very essence of egotistical Philistinism, and if it so ill befits a writer such as Addison, who had parts, what are we to think when we meet it in men of a much lesser grade and narrower intellects such as Thomas Babington Macaulay? It were superfluous to dwell upon the point since this latter writer, both as critic and historian, is now so badly blown upon and generally discredited.
Gibbon has justly declared that he could mention "few writers more deserving of the great though prostituted name of the critic" than Richard Hurd, and to over-estimate the importance of the Letters on Chivalry and Romance in the history of English letters is almost impossible. The anonymous publication of the book did not burst with a sudden resonance in literary circles and compel clamant attention in every quarter, but its influence very swiftly coursed and permeated the channels of taste and thought. The change thereafter was immediate. There had, of course, already been symptoms of a certain vacillation of fashion, but this transition was incalculably accelerated by the authoritative pronouncements and acknowledged learning of so eminent a man as Hurd, for the authorship of the Letters was no great secret. Not merely did a few scholars, a few poets, a handful of critics echo his dicta and range themselves beneath his banner, but a Gothic flavour rapidly became fashionable with all classes of society.
Following closely in the footsteps of their father, who died in 1745, and who is by no means an unimportant name in the history of the revival of romanticism, the Rev. Thomas Warton of Philander, an Imitation of Spencer, and the two Runic Odes, the Warton brothers, Joseph and Thomas, were already known as ardent romanticists, and as early as 1746 Joseph in the Advertisement prefixed to his Odes fairly challenged didactic poetry, and declared his conviction that "the fashion of moralizing in verse has been carried too far," asserting that "he looks upon Invention and Imagination to be the chief faculties of a Poet."
It might be an exaggeration to say that Thomas Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry which appeared in three volumes, February, 1765, was a performance inspired by the Letters on Chivalry and Romance, since early in 1761 he was in treaty with Dodsley concerning the publication of a collection of old ballads, but Hurd's championship of the Gothic immensely helped and encheered him, although the original Preface is apologetic to the last degree, and as is well known he polished, printed and pruned the ballads in a perfectly preposterous fashion. The Reliques were not much approved of by Hurd himself, and Percy found little encouragement from many of the most eminent literary men, but for all that the success of his collections was overwhelming, and the reading public vehemently applauded, whilst Walpole, on February 5th, 1765, acknowledged "the flattering and agreeable present of the Reliques of Ancient Poetry" in a letter13 of most cordial compliment, requesting the honour of the editor's acquaintance, and protesting, "If it should ever lie within my slender power to assist your studies or inquiries, I hope, Sir, you will command me. I love the cause, I have a passion for antiquity …" A second edition of the Reliques was called for in 1767; a third in 1775; but the fourth did not appear until 1794. The influence of the Reliques upon the younger generation was openly acknowledged by such men as Scott and Wordsworth. It should, however, be remarked that Matthew Gregory Lewis for his ballads, The Tales of Wonder, The Tales of Terror, and others drew his inspiration from contemporary Germany, from Bürger, Schiller, Goethe, and from J. G. von Herder's Stimmen der Völker in Liedern.
Whatever we may think of Ossian to-day, and myself I sometimes imagine that even the few of us who yet linger to read with real enjoyment and admiration Macpherson's perfervid rhetoric and lyrical flights are hardly able to judge his very remarkable work with completest candour, there can be no question that the Ossianic poems created an ineffaceable impression upon the age. Nor can a book be without deep significance which was hailed with enthusiasm by Gray, David Hume, John Home, and many another eminent name; which gave Herder such extraordinary pleasure; which strongly influenced Goethe and Schiller; which was imitated by Coleridge and Byron; which was praised and carefully studied by Chateaubriand, "épicurien à l'imagination catholique," as Sainte-Beuve14 once named him.
Dr. Hugh Blair, in his essay A Critical Dissertation on the Poems of Ossian, the Son of Fingal (1763), defined Ossian's two principal characteristics as tenderness and sublimity. "The events recorded are all serious and grave; the scenery throughout, wild and romantic. The extended heath by the seashore; the mountains shaded with mist; the torrent rushing through a solitary valley; the scattered oaks, and the tombs of warriors overgrown with moss, all produce a solemn attention in the mind, and prepare it for great and extraordinary events." The same might be said of numberless Gothic novels. Ossian's address to the Sun, his lament over the Desolation of Balclutha, the Songs of Selma, and many passages more, are repeated and but little varied again and again in romantic fiction.
The spectres of Ossian which, Dr. Drake said, seem to "rush upon the eye with all the stupendous vigour of wild and momentary creation," have their ghostly progeny in the thousand phantoms of a thousand Castles.
In that poignant scene in Mrs. Charlotte Smith's Emmeline; or, The Orphan of the Castle, when Lady Adelina walking in the woods encounters Fitz-Edward, quite naturally comes the phrase: "The wind blew chill and hollow among the half-stripped trees, as they passed through the wood; and the dead leaves rustled in the blast. 'Twas such a night as Ossian might describe."
There are even, one might truly say, many Caledonian Gothic novels which show the influence of Ossian, another and entirely separate thing from the imitation of Sir Walter Scott, although some daring spirits essayed a commixture of the two. Mrs. Radcliffe's first book, The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne, "A Highland Story," 1789; Horsley Curties' The Scottish Legend, or The Isle of St. Clothair, 1802; Mrs. Helme's St. Clair of the Isles: or, The Outlaws of Barra, "A Scottish Tradition," 1803; and William Child Green's The Prophecy of Duncannon, or, The Dwarf and the Seer, "A Caledonian Legend," 1824; all show a certain indirect Ossianic influence, whilst Otho and Rutha, 1781, is servilely imitative.
The impetus given to the Romantic Movement by the two Wartons by Percy, and by Ossian, was very great, and had far-reaching consequences, but it was Hurd's Letters15 which not only vindicated Gothicism but made the Gothic fashionable. In 1749, as we have already seen, Squire Western's sister used the epithet "Gothick"16 as a term of unqualified opprobrium and contempt; seventeen years later, in 1766, the wealthy Mrs. Heidelberg, "the very flower of delicacy and cream of politeness," invites Lord Ogleby to take a dish of tea or "a sullabub warm from the cow" in her "little Gothic dairy, fitted up entirely in my own taste," whilst the old city merchant, Sterling, who apes luxury and courts the mode, builds a spire in a field against a tree to terminate the prospect—"One must always have a church, or an obelisk, or something to terminate the prospect, you know"—and spends one hundred and fifty pounds to put his ruins in proper repair, so that "you would think them ready to tumble on your head."
The famous, but unfinished Sir Bertrand, which so powerfully impressed Leigh Hunt, is too obviously inspired by The Castle of Otranto, and the introductory essay On the Pleasure Derived from Objects of Terror was certainly suggested by the work of Bishop Hurd, as indeed were other discourses in this kind such as On Romances, an Imitation, and An Enquiry into those Kinds of Distress which Excite Agreeable Sensations, appearing in the same collection Miscellaneous Pieces in Prose, by J. and A. L. Aikin, 1773. Sir Bertrand has often been ascribed to Anna Laetitia Aikin (who married in 1774 the Rev. Rochemont Barbauld), but Miss Lucy Aikin in her Memoir prefixed to Mrs. Barbauld's Works, 1825, specifically gives the fragment to Dr. Aikin, and the essay on pleasurable terror to Miss Aikin. Walpole, it is true, in a letter to Robert Jephson, January 27th, 1780, wrote of The Castle of Otranto:17 "Miss Aikin flattered me even by stooping to tread in my eccentric steps. Her Fragment, though but a specimen, showed her talent for imprinting terror"; but Miss Lucy's testimony is conclusive, and it is borne out by Leigh Hunt who comments that John Aikin was "a writer from whom this effusion was hardly to have been looked for," Book in a Corner, 1849; and who was assuredly at no pains to advance his authorship of Sir Bertrand.
Miss Aikin in her essay shrewdly observed the positive pleasure which arises from curiosity. Imagination thus stimulated "rejoices in the expansion of its powers." A supernatural terror is on a higher psychological plane than terror aroused by natural objects of repulsion. When there is excess of pain scenes of terror drive "too near our common nature"; it is far more agreeable when the circumstances are "wild, fanciful and extraordinary." This is a true difference, and nicely discerned. We do not, however, stay now to consider this very vital point, since there will be much more to say on the subject and more pertinently when considering the work of Mrs. Radcliffe.
John Aikin set out to combine both kinds of terror in Sir Bertrand, which Walpole thought "excellent," but although it must remain a question of opinion, I cannot persuade myself that the Fragment achieves success. The commencement is striking. A knight, as he wanders in darkness over a desolate and dreary moor, hears the sullen tolling of a bell, whose funeste curfew guides him by the aid of a flickering light to "an antique mansion" with turrets at the coins. All is wrapped in darkness. He enters to grasp a death-cold hand, which he severs with one stroke of his sabre. Mysterious armed figures menace him, and he sees a hideous chevalier "thrusting forwards the bloody stump of an arm." Eventually he gains a far chamber where a lady in a shroud and black veil arises from a coffin. As he kisses her the horrid enchantment dissolves, and he finds himself set at a banquet in a splendid room, when the lady thanks him as her deliverer. Here the fragment ends. The opening is, as I have said, a powerful piece of work and grue, but the story rapidly loses, and the wakening kiss with its reminiscences of La Belle au Bois Dormant is utterly incongruous, bringing the whole structure to the ground. We are not with Amadis and Esplandian now.
1. In the reign of Charles II the current phrase was "the old Elizabeth way." Thus Lady Dupe, in Dryden's Sr Martin Mar-all (acted 1667) describes old Moody as one who "stands up for the old Elizabeth way in all things." In The Gentleman Dancing-Master (acted in 1672) Mrs. Flirt, arranging her ménage, is quick to tell Monsieur: "Don't you think we'll take up with your old Queen Elizabeth furniture as your Wives do."
2. Parentalia, folio, 1750, pp. 282, 297, 304, 306, 308.
3. An Account of Architects and Architecture, folio, 1664, p. 9.
4. Founded by Gian Galeazzo Visconti. The façade (1491) is one of the world's loveliest things. The interior paintings are mostly by Borgognone, although there are examples of the work of Perugino, Mantegna, Pordenone, and other artists.
5. My quotations are from the edition in The Works of the Honourable Joseph Addison, Esq., four volumes, London, Tonson, 1721, Vol. II, p. 10; and Sienna, pp. 135-6.
6. Du Fresnoy, 1611–65. De Arte Graphica was published posthumously at Paris three years after his death with a French prose translation by De Piles.
7. Dryden even speaks of his own The Spanish Fryar as "unnatural mingle," although he acknowledges his partiality to the play. Yet there can be a regular as well as an irregular and unfitting alternation of gravity and mirth, as Dryden shows us in his masterpiece of drama, Don Sebastian. Here our pleasure during the lighter episodes in no way encroaches upon our concernment for the tragic scenes.
8. The Castle of Otranto might, of course, be criticized along the same lines.
9. His editions of Horace, Ars Poetica, 1749, and Epistola ad Augustum, 1751, were warmly praised by Warburton. In 1776 Hurd, then Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry (translated to Worcester, 1781), was appointed preceptor to the Prince of Wales, and in 1783 he was offered the Primacy, which he declined.
10. Letters on Chivalry, 1762, p. 32. "Nay, could the very castle of a Gothic giant be better described than in the words of Homer:
High walls and battlements the courts inclose,
And the strong gates defy a host of foes."
Od. B. xvii, ver. 318
Udolpho in the Odyssey!
It does not appear to me that Hurd owes anything to Sainte-Palaye's Mémoires sur l'ancienne Chevalerie, 2 vols., 1759, (Vol. III, 1781), although he may, of course, have known the book.
11. The Spenserian revival in the eighteenth century, important as it is in its influence upon Romanticism, must barely be indicated in a brief word. It is interesting to note that Oldham (1653–83) wrote a Satyr, "The Person of Spencer is brought in, Dissuading the Author from the Study of Poetry." The Augustans hardly understood "Old Spenser," who, as Addison was pleased to write, failed to "charm an understanding age," Account of the Greatest English Poets, 1694. Prior thought that he had imitated the Spenserian stanza, but he could not even make the colouring look like Spenser's. In 1713 Samuel Croxall published a political satire as An Original Canto of Spencer, and in 1715 appeared an edition of Spenser edited by John Hughes, who ventured to say that to compare The Fairie Queene "with the novels of antiquity, would be like drawing a parallel between the Roman and the Gothick architecture." Towards the middle of the eighteenth century, however, many imitations of Spenser appeared, such, for example, as the three poems of William Thompson, who was a complete romanticist in spirit and form. Richard Owen Cambridge (1717–1702) imitated Spenser in his Archimage, as did Gilbert West in his On the Abuse of Travelling, 1839, with which Gray was "enraptured and enmarvailed." William Shenstone (1714–63) is deservedly famous for his "ludicrous imitation" The School-Mistress (the final revision is 1742); and there were many other mock-Spenserian poems, such as Christopher Pitt's The Jordan, the subject of which finds a parallel in Francesco Berni's capitolo In Lode dell'Orinale. In 1748 appeared James Thomson's The Castle of Indolence, in one passage of which, Canto II, stanza 52, the poet speaks of "my master Spenser." Moses Mendez, a professed admirer of Thomson, published The Seasons in 1751, and a few years later The Squire of Dames, which latter in particular shows a close study and no tepid appreciation of Spenser. In 1754 appeared that very important critical study, Thomas Warton's Observations on the Faery Queene.
12. Iliad, II, 22. Leaf and some scholars read 'oulos,' 'baneful,' Autenrieth-Keep. Pope translates, "the flatt'ring Dream."
13. Letters of Horace Walpole, Toynbee, 1904, Vol. VI, pp. 181-3
14. Chateaubriand et son groupe, t. I, p. 89.
15. Samuel Jackson Pratt (who wrote chiefly under the name Courtney Melmoth) in his Family Secrets, Literary and Domestic, 5 vols., 1797, has a disquisition, The use and abuse of the ancient romance, Chapter XLVI, Vol. I, pp. 359-70 (see also the two following chapters), which is of considerable interest, and in which the very proper praise is significant.
16. It is worth noting that in Mrs. Behn's The Emperor of the Moon (acted in 1687), 4to, 1687, II, 3, some splendid Masking Habits are described as "à la Gothic and Uncommune." A little later we have: "Enter Charmante and Cinthio, dress'd in their Gothic Habits."
17. Letters of Horace Walpole, ed. Toynbee, 1904, Vol. XI, p. 113. Miss Aikin had visited Strawberry Hill on June 14th, 1774. "She desired to see the Castle of Otranto," and, says Walpole, "I let her see all the antiquities of it." On April 8th, 1778, Walpole, in a letter to Mason, remarked, "Mrs. Barbut's Fragment was excellent," but, as he was not even at the pains to learn the lady's correct name, he is hardly to be relied upon as regards the authorship. Letters of Horace Walpole, ed. Toynbee, 1904, Vol. IX, p. 217, where the footnote is slightly inaccurate, Sir Bertrand not Don Bertrand.
[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]
ON THE SUBJECT OF …
SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE (1772–1834)
Widely considered one of the most significant poets and critics in the English Romantic movement, Coleridge is best known for the poems "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," "Kubla Khan," and "Christabel," and one volume of criticism, Biographia Literaria; or, Biographical Sketches of My Literary Life and Opinions (1817). In 1796 Coleridge met the poet William Wordsworth, with whom he had corresponded casually for several years, and in 1798 they collaborated on Lyrical Ballads, a volume of poetry that was recognized in the twentieth century as the first literary document of English Romanticism. "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," the tale of a seaman who kills an albatross, intertwines reality and fantasy as well as a variety of religious and supernatural images to depict a moving spiritual journey of doubt, renewal, and eventual redemption. Coleridge's "Kubla Khan" was published with a note explaining the strange circumstances of its composition: Coleridge wrote that he fell asleep while reading an account of how the Chinese emperor Kubla Khan had ordered the building of a palace within a walled garden. Three hours later, Coleridge awoke and began to write down the several hundred lines which he claimed to have composed during his sleep. However, he found that the rest of the poem had disappeared from his mind. In a later note appended to the text, he added that his dream was induced by opium and that it was "a sort of reverie." Though Coleridge himself dismissed "Kubla Khan" as a "psychological experiment," the poem is now considered a forerunner of the work of the Symbolists and Surrealists in its presentation of the unconscious. In Coleridge's other poetic fragment, "Christabel," he combined exotic images with Gothic romance to create an atmosphere of terror and to treat themes of evil and guilt in a setting pervaded by supernatural elements. Most critics now contend that Coleridge's inability to sustain the poem's eerie mood prevented him from completing it.
[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]
[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]
[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]
[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]
[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]
[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]
[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]
[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]
[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]
LOUIS S. GROSS (ESSAY DATE 1989)
In the following essay, Gross illustrates the unique character of American Gothic literature and differentiates it from European Gothic literature.
Gothic narrative has always looked backward; the past is its beginning and end. When Horace Walpole erected his literary monument The Castle of Otranto in 1764, he established the Gothic as a genre dependent on notions of the European past—very much part of the ideological temper of his time. In that conflict between the self-creation of what is called the Age of Reason and the old "dark" days of superstition and corruption, the Gothic chose the romance of the past. In Walpole's time, the word "Gothic" denoted the crude, barbarous, and medieval, just those attributes proper English folk attributed to old Catholic Europe. Walpole embraced these disdainful labels and, free from the prevailing aesthetic notions, imagined a past fully to his liking. His estate, Strawberry Hill, was a later attempt to objectify that imaginative creation, but Otranto's legacy has been more far-reaching.
For bourgeois English readers of the Gothic, the genre allowed a glimpse of the mystery and corruption of the past fully congruent with their political and religious biases. Because these tales of oppression and terror are set in other places and other times, English readers need not have directly applied these fears to their own time, a safety valve perhaps necessary in an England uneasily viewing the revolutions in France and America. In any case, the early Gothic novel became associated with a distant historical setting and an antiquarian sensibility.
Not surprisingly, America has not been an emotionally resonant setting for English Gothicism; the barbarity of America is not tempered by a past redolent of sweet corruption. For the American Gothicist, however, our past is the focus of intense emotional reflection. While Gothic narrative in America may be as formulaic as in Europe, our approach to time and setting is strikingly different. American gothicists do not remove their characters to Italy, Spain, France, or the other centers of English Gothic mystery; they shriek and faint in familiar surroundings and near the readers' own time. Certain periods have a special attraction—the colonial and revolutionary—but the escape to the past has not as far to go; history constrains the American Gothic as much as it feeds it. What this means for American Gothic narrative is that we have a unique ability to review our past within the Gothic mode. Our native literature was formed at the time when the Gothic romance tradition held readers in thrall, and unlike English readers who turned the Gothic vision outward to another people and another age, our Gothic turns inward to illuminate its own people and their age. American Gothic narrative, then, is less romantic and more disturbing than its English models.
Is the Gothic novel but a type of the historical novel? George Lukacs dismisses the idea: "In the most famous 'historical novel' of the eighteenth century, Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, history is likewise treated as mere costumery: it is only the curiosities and oddities of the milieu that matter, not the artistically faithful image of a concrete historical epoch. What is lacking in the so-called historical novel before Sir Walter Scott is precisely the specifically historical, that is, derivation of the individuality of characters from the historical peculiarity of their age."1 By such a definition, the English Gothic novel is not so much historical as scenic. And American Gothic narrative? Lukacs discusses only one bona fide American historical novelist—James Fenimore Cooper. He sees Cooper's Leatherstocking Saga as a type of the Scott novel: "Cooper portrays the enormous historical tragedy of those early colonizers who emigrated from England to preserve their freedom, but who themselves destroy this freedom by their own deeds in America."2
Cooper's designation as historical novelist is supported by Robert Clark in History, Ideology and Myth in American Fiction, 1832–52. Clark also writes, "One of the principal reasons for offering a novel as historical is to remove from fiction the taint of the lie. The tendency to collapse history into romance deprived the author of the ability to claim that his fiction was above reproach because true to the known record,… the American novelist was not eager to call himself a romancer, the more so since 'the romance' carried all the pejorative significations of falseness and deceit which the word has conveyed from Johnson's day to this."3 For Clark, Cooper considered himself a historian not a romancer. Yet we know from Cooper's own words that he considered America "thin" in both historical and romantic substance. Alan Holder writes, "Though he complained in Notions of the Americans that there were 'no annals for the historian' in our country, and 'no obscure functions for the writer of romance,' he attempted to create significant images of the American past."4 He created the images by claiming the prerogatives of both the historian and romancer; the elements of the "known record" and the "deceit" of the imaginative recreation merge in the act of inscription so that the individual character's personal history becomes a metaphor for national history.5 When the "deceitful" elements of the plot are distinctly Gothic, one discovers a radically different way of reading a "historical" narrative. Take the example of Cooper's Lionel Lincoln (1825).
Lionel Lincoln is one of the darkest portraits of national identity ever painted, particularly striking as a work to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Battles of Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill. It was to be the first in a series of stories on the Revolution.6 Cooper seems to have been in financial and emotional distress at the time of its inception: hounded by creditors, suffering from digestive disorders, recovering from an attack of sunstroke, and mourning the recent death of his son Fenimore. While these personal sorrows are reflected in the work's agonized father-son relationship, Cooper also devised an intensely researched historical background for the story, asserting that the battle scenes were "as faithfully described as is possible to have been done by one who was not an eyewitness of those important events."7 This documented history and its struggle with Cooper's overlay of Gothic plot and vision give the novel a nightmarish, and wholly American, sense of dread.
As in the similarly uneasy preface to Brockden Brown's Wieland, the author of Lionel Lincoln speaks in his preface of his calm and steady character, his disdain for spookery: "He is indebted to no garrulous tale-teller for beguiling the long winter evenings; in ghosts he has no faith; he never had a vision in his life, and he sleeps too soundly to dream."8 Yet tales, ghosts, visions, and dreams are at the heart of his novel, and the complacent author who wishes "to live in peace and hopes to die in the fear of God" (LL, 211) is also present in scenes of savagery and despair. The double voice of the Gothicist who attempts to distance himself from his vision is as much a structural principle here as the disjunction between documented historical fact and the imaginative metaphors of familial and national identity that give the work its uniquely Gothic view of history.
The novel tells the story of Lionel Lincoln, a young American who has lived for many years in England and who, in 1775, returns to his natal town of Boston as a major in the British army. The Boston to which he returns is in the first stages of revolutionary insurrection. The young man's attempts to understand the land he has left and his search for family ties are woven together in a tapestry of forbidding gloom and violence.
The plot is structured around a series of oppositions, the first of which involves Great Britain and the American colony. The British are presented as wary soldiers, unable to fathom the depth of the colonialist anger. Their first sight of Boston shows "sullen ships" and the "broad, silky folds of the flag of England" covering a mob of Americans plotting violent revolution. From the opening passages on, Cooper paints a picture of political and moral instability, where the fear is located in the very real possibility of violence and destruction. This is the perception of the British soldiers. The colonials also see a dark picture of oppression and violence. Neither side is presented as morally superior, nor is Cooper intent on giving the reader a civics lesson. These people are determined adversaries in a deadly struggle. They have a clear allegiance to a cause and therefore are not material for Gothic transformation. Instead, they form the backdrop of reality upon which the historical novel depends; the Gothic hero, Lionel Lincoln, and the mystery surrounding him serve the transforming needs of Gothic narrative.
While the political/historical dimension of this novel is concerned with the conflict between the mother country and her rebellious child, the personal/historical dimension involves a young man born in the uneasy state of national duality. He describes himself as an American "by birth, but an Englishman by habit and education" (LL, 213). His role in returning to Boston is as representative of the oppressor and defender of those "habits" he has adopted. The people he meets may be categorized by their response to the call for revolution. Cooper presents a wide-ranging group of Americans, some bent on freedom at any cost, others desiring a more decorous appeal for justice, still others content to remain British subjects. All are involved in a momentous historical decision, but it is only for Lionel Lincoln that personal and national identity are at stake; he is the one for whom this return signals a desire for understanding how the past affects the present. In him, political and familial identification are made to take the same course, and it is through him that the Gothic vision brings the narrative's oppositions together.
The Gothic components of this narrative are dependent on the mysterious figure of a deranged old man named Ralph, who haunts Lionel as intensely as any ghost one might meet in this genre. He first confronts Lionel on board the ship bringing British soldiers to Boston, and is immediately associated with the rebels' hatred of British occupation: "Will the day ever arrive,… when those flags shall be lowered, never to rise again in this hemisphere?" (LL, 213). Ralph also introduces the theme of familial identity when he castigates Lionel's description of his English "habits and education": "Accursed be the habits, and neglected the education, which would teach a child to forget its parentage!" (LL, 213). These two themes, the historical birth of a nation and the birth of personal identity, surge through the work, and it is Ralph's haunting presence that places Lionel Lincoln at the center of this movement.
Lionel's next meeting with Ralph is as eerie a Gothic encounter as Cooper was to write. Lionel is searching out the meeting places of the revolutionaries and is led by the half-witted boy Job to Beacon Hill:
Job shook his head threateningly as he looked up and said, "Don't let Ralph hear you say anything ag'in liberty!"
"Ralph, who is he lad? your genius! Where do you keep the invisible, that there is danger of his overhearing what I say?"
"He's up there in the foot," said Job, pointing significantly toward the foot of the beacon, which a dense volume of vapor was enwrapping, probably attracted by the tall post that supported the grade.
Lionel gazed at the smoky column for a moment, when the mists began to dissolve, and amid their evolutions he beheld the dim figure of his aged fellow-passenger. The old man was still clad in gray, which harmonized so singularly with the mists as to impart a look almost ethereal to his wasted form.
Ralph's speech in this scene also places him directly in the tradition of Gothic seers: "Come hither, Lionel Lincoln, to the foot of this beacon, where you may gather warnings, which, if properly heeded, will guide you through many and great dangers unharmed" (LL, 231). Lionel indeed recognizes Ralph as almost "a being of another world." The warning Ralph gives is to avoid the places where the revolutionaries meet; as a soldier of His Majesty, Lionel is an enemy to the cause. He also introduces the metaphor of the parent-child relationship as a metaphor for the ruler and the ruled in the following exchange with Ralph: "We are the subjects of one king; children who own a common parent." "I will not reply that he has proved himself an unnatural father," said the old man calmly" (LL, 231). Thus the twin themes of national and familial identity are woven together for Lionel and the reader by the Gothic vision of the narrative.
Ralph's haunting stature in this work is reinforced by his function as the voice of memory and recollection: "Look at me,… I have seen most of this flourishing country a wilderness; my recollection goes back into those periods when the savage, and the beast of the forest, contended with our fathers for much of that soil which now supports its hundreds of thousands in plenty; and my time is to be numbered, not in years but in ages. For such a being, think you there can be yet many months, or weeks, or even days in store?" (LL, 244). In remembering America's past, he embodies Lionel's future national identity. Yet this voice of American rebellion is unequivocally sinister and frightening. For most of the plot Lionel and his friends think Ralph a madman, a dangerous lunatic. He is often glimpsed by the red glare of the fires near the revolutionary camps and seems to live for revenge against England that seems as personal as it is political. In short, he is neither heroic nor kind nor respectable, and this is the character Cooper chooses as the leader of the American struggle for independence. Much of the criticism directed at the book by early critics reveals the uneasiness with which Ralph was viewed as a leader of the American Revolution.9 He is far from the idealized hero a country would embrace.
Such criticism fails to consider the Gothic vision of the work. Ralph exists as a haunting figure for Lionel; he is important to the text only as he reflects the turmoil of America on the brink of revolution. Lionel himself is the quintessential Gothic hero: young, unruffled, rather complacent. He is not unsympathetic to the plight of the colonists, he is merely unable to comprehend the desire for separation, perhaps because he has so much attached himself to England and what it represents. He has family in Boston, staunch loyalists all, but does not concern himself with what Ralph calls the "nightly convulsion" to come: "'I cannot admit the signs of the times to be quite so portentous as your fears would make them,' said Lionel, smiling a little proudly" (LL, 244). It is through this young man's education into the chaos of his world that the novel accomplishes the integration of the Gothic and historical modes.
The Boston to which Lionel returns is obviously an externalized city of night, illuminated by revolutionaries carrying lamps to secret meetings with the air of a witches' sabbath about them. Like his literary cousin Robin in Hawthorne's "My Kinsman, Major Molineux," Lionel is a deeply divided character, given to following the lead of his companions. The reason for Ralph's hold on Lionel is just that sense of extreme suggestiveness or instability that mark a Gothic protagonist. It is through the blurring of distinctions between the imaginary frightful and the actual frightful that Lionel turns a personal identity crisis into a national one.
The novel's most famous scene is a perfect illustration of Cooper's blending of the Gothic and historical modes. Late one evening Lionel, out on patrol, finds himself at Cobb's Hill, where the English have stationed their cannons by a graveyard. Lionel moves through the mist-shrouded area only to come upon Job:
"Job loves to come up among the graves, before the cocks crow; they say the dead walk when living men sleep."
"And would you hold communion with the dead, then?"
"Tis sinful to ask them many questions, and such as you do not should be made in the Holy Name,…"
"Hush!" said Lionel—what noise is that?"…..
"There's no noise but the moaning of the wind in the bay, or the sea tumbling on the beaches of the islands."
"Tis neither," said Lionel; "I heard the low hum of a hundred voices, or my ears have played me falsely."
"May the spirits speak to each other," said the lad—"they say their voices are like the rushing winds."
Lionel passed his hand over his brow, and endeavored to recover the tone of his mind, which had been strangely disordered by the solemn manner of his companion, and walked slowly from the spot, closely attended by the silent changeling.
In this remarkable passage, the distant hum of warfare and the voices of the dead mingle in the "disordered" imagination of a young soldier revisiting the places of his youth. The concreteness of the historical setting and the imaginative evocation of fearful mystery are here drawn together so that our perception of the past is inextricably linked with our expectations of the Gothic: in effect, the act of meditating on the past becomes a Gothic exercise.
Another passage that illustrates Cooper's recasting of the historical novel occurs in chapter 15 of Lionel Lincoln. Here, Lionel, unable to shake off the fear of his visit to Cobb's Hill, has a nightmare:
When the heavy sleep of morning fell upon his senses, visions of the past and future mingled with wild confusion in the dreams of the youthful soldier. The form of his father stood before him…. While his heart was warming at the sight, the figure melted away, and was succeeded by fantastic phantoms, which appeared to dance among the graves on Cobb's Hill, led along in these gambols, which partook of the ghastly horrors of the dead, by Job Pray, who glided among the tombs like a being of another world. Sudden and loud thunder then burst upon them, and the shadows fled into their secret places, from whence he could see … some glassy eyes and spectral faces, peering out upon him, as if conscious of the power they possessed to chill the blood of the living…. Lionel arose from his bed,… in a vain effort to shake off the images that had haunted his slumbers.
"Ha!" he muttered to himself, "I have been dreaming by halves—these are but the sounds of no fancied tempest, but cannon, speaking most plainly to the soldier!"
In this dream passage we see the way in which the "real" place and circumstance of revolutionary Boston become a part of the "imaginative" fears of Lionel Lincoln: the personal remembrance of the father mingles with the dead on Cobb's Hill who scatter at the report of British cannon.
The weight of the past is an oppressive force in Gothic narrative. Characters either are made to suffer the results of old sins or curses (The Castle of Otranto, Wieland, The House of the Seven Gables, The Marble Faun, Poltergeist) or to replicate the lives lived in some shadowy past (Dracula, The Turn of the Screw, Vertigo, Psycho, Marnie, Salem's Lot). In either case, the people and events of the past cling to the minds of these characters, enveloping them in guilt and madness. Critics have long supposed the Gothic to be a genre marked by Oedipal fears stemming from the political and religious upheavals of the eighteenth century.10 The revolt against God and King established by the American and French revolutions triggered tremendous repressive fears about the Father's power, and the exhilaration at overthrowing patriarchal figures met with an equally intense sense of fear, shame, and guilt at such revolt. This dual emotion of attraction and revulsion is a familiar one in the Gothic novel where revolt, whether manifested as a turning to evil or a straining of the limits of acceptable social structure, is punished swiftly, even if such revolt is justifiable in moral terms.
This equivocal view regarding revolution and revolutionary figures denies the possibility of reading Gothic fiction as purely politically subversive. Aside from the fact that the Gothic does not affirm anything and, therefore, does not posit social change as the answer to social ills, its sense of suffering and dissolution as punishment for demonic transformation undercuts its prescience regarding the causes of revolt. Much of European Gothic narrative is set in the medieval period precisely because it is perceived as a time of political and religious oppression. The falsity of such a perception in historical terms has little to do with its resonance in imaginative terms. Likewise, the Victorian period has become synonymous with a Gothic view because it is perceived as a period of repression, guilt, and injustice. This view has become so emotionally potent that modern Gothic narratives use the Victorian setting as shorthand representation for the Gothic vision: Sweeney Todd, Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Mysteries of Winterthurn, and The Elephant Man are only a few. Cooper's Ralph is, then, fulfilling a proper Gothic function in this novel: the demonically transformed man who haunts the narrative and is marked by suffering and despair. That he seems to be the figurehead of the Boston revolt is perfectly in keeping with the Gothic's exhilaration in and fear of revolt.
Ralph not only externalizes the spirit of revolution, he holds the key to the mystery of Lionel Lincoln's past. Lionel has returned to Boston filled with longing for the father who disappeared many years before. No one will give him information except to say that his father returned to England and was not heard of again. Only Ralph takes much interest in the young man, sinister though much of it is. This interest is explained late in the novel when Ralph is revealed as the father Lionel has awaited.
Ralph's unmasking reveals his lost years as spent incarcerated in an English madhouse, put there by the scheming family whose fortunes he did not add to his. His escape from the asylum enabled him to travel back to America. What is so interesting about this typical Gothic plot device is the equation Ralph makes between his imprisonment by English keepers and America's "imprisonment" by Great Britain. Just as he has thrown off the chains of bondage, so he exhorts the colonists to do so. In other words, his patriotic stance is an extension of his dementia, for the years of imprisonment have robbed him of his reason. He also manages to sway Lionel's English convictions by threatening to tell him all: "'Thou shalt have all thou askest, Lionel Lincoln, and more,' returned Ralph … 'provided thou will swear eternal hatred to that country and those laws, by which an innocent and unoffending man can be leveled with the beasts of the field, and be made to rave even at his Maker, in the bitterness of his sufferings.' 'More than that—ten thousand times more than that, will I swear—I will league with this rebellion—… '" (LL, 397).
This vow of hatred and revenge is Ralph's legacy to Lionel, and his gradual movement to a double allegiance is halted only by the arrival of his father's keeper from England who promptly engages the raving Lincoln in a fight during which the old man again analogizes his imprisonment with American rebellion: "'Vengeance is holy!' cried the maniac, bursting into a shout of horrid laughter at his triumph, and shaking his gray locks till they flowed in wild confusion around his glowing eyeballs; 'Urin and thrummin are the words of glory! Liberty is the shout! Die, damned dog! die like the fiends in darkness, and leave freedom to the air!'" (LL, 405). Ralph is stabbed by the jailor and dies near the body of his bastard son Job, who has been murdered by English soldiers.
Ralph Lincoln's final moments are counter-point to the continuing battle raging in the streets of Boston, where the Americans are about to force a British retreat. The mystery of Lionel's identity resolved, he immediately retreats from his sympathetic position to the colonials and plans a return home to the England that shaped him and imprisoned his father. The final passages relate the thriving fortunes of Lionel and his wife in England where, we are told, they lived in "sweetest concord" till the "eruption of the French Revolution." As at the conclusion of Wieland, characters flee America, scene of mysterious revelations and upheavals, to take refuge in the bosom of the mother country and to make reparation for having doubted her.
While America is singularly lacking in the rich supernatural beings of the European tradition—werewolf, vampire, zombie—we do have the complex figure of the Indian, once thought a race of demons, and the haunting legacy of the Salem witch trials. From Charles Brockden Brown and Nathaniel Hawthorne to Arthur Miller, the blood of witches has nurtured many an American tale of terror. Of those narratives set in the Salem of that time, Esther Forbes's A Mirror for Witches (1928) is perhaps the most extraordinary. The work is presented as an account of the progress of a young witch, told by a narrator living near the time of the actual events. Less well known than Hawthorne's explorations of this phenomenon, Forbes's novel is equally harrowing in its depiction of colonial America, and subtle in exposing the societal mechanism necessary to sustain an ideology.
The work is given its unique style by the narrative voice. The narrator is convinced that witches did exist, and to support this begins his chronicle with a list of examples "To Show Doll Bilby not alone among Women in her preference for Evil. The Cases of Ry, Goose, Leda, Danae, etc., cited."11 The narrative voice is at once established as an alien one, deliberately toying with the reader's associations with other witch chroniclers like Cotton Mather by maintaining a believing tone in the narrative that is often undercut by an irony of the author's making. While Esther Forbes is certainly not supporting the belief in witches, she is quite successful in creating a narrator who does, and the subtle tension between the chroni-cler and the imaginative artist is established early in the text: "A few years later, Christie Goose, a single woman of upwards forty years, suddenly flew lunatic—and that upon the Lord's Day. Then she did confess that each night and every night, the Devil, wickedly assuming the shape Mr. Oates, God's minister at Crumplehorn, Oxon., came to her through the window. This fact amazed Crumplehorn, for Goose was of all women most pious, and had sat for years in humble prayerfulness at the feet of Mr. Oates. Some were astonished that even a devil should find need for this same Goose, who was of hideous aspect" (M, 28).
The sly hints of Forbes's irony are seldom though significantly felt through the narrative. An "estimable church woman" falls from a ladder and believes it is a trick of the devil. Why was she on the ladder? She was spying on her serving girl and a male servant in the hayloft. A villager wishes to marry his son to a wealthy woman thought by some to be a witch. The old man ignores the dangers: "He cared more that his son should have a great property in this world than that his son should be saved for the next. He was not an evil man, for he was a deacon in the Church" (M, 16-17). These and other touches of skepticism give the narrative a complexity that disturbs as much as any of the terrors of the plot. The conjunction of historical recreation and modern nightmare prevents the reader from emotionally dissociating himself from the text.
The participants in this historical pageant are disaffected English men and women, many of them religious outcasts seeking personal liberty in the New Land. Throughout the text, Forbes indicates the essentially alienated feelings of these early Americans towards their new home, a land full of unknown terror. They are still tied to the folk traditions of their past, and ruled by a strong sense of sin within the community. While a number of these characters are stereotypically dour, hypocritical Puritan types, others offer a more "reasoned" and compassionate voice. Basically, the characters may be grouped by their reactions to three symbols of mystery and power: the forest, the Indian, and Doll Bilby.
The forest is a place of dark evil for the village, and as the dwelling of the Indian, a habitation for Satan and his followers:
To the west, beyond the rough pastures, and too close for a wholesome peace of mind, was a forest of a size and terror such as no Englishman could conceive of unless he had actually seen it. It stretched without break farther than man could imagine, and the trees of it were greater than the masts of an admiral or the piers of a cathedral. Yet it was always a green and gloomy night in this forest, and over all was silence, unbreakable. Many thought the tawny savages who lived within were veritable devils, and that somewhere within this vastness, Satan himself might be found.
The few villagers who venture into this transforming haunted spot are the object of social ostracism: Goody Greene's talents as an herbalist gain her widespread enmity because she "associates herself with the heathen tawny savages and thus learns arts—doubtless often evil arts—from them" (M, 19). That Greene's respect and affection for the Indians permits her these unusual liberties, no one considers. Instead, she is reported to the Church elders who tell her, "it is better for a woman to keep her own house than to go abroad through the woods alone and no one knows on what errand" (M, 17).
The voice of reason in the novel belongs to Zacharias Zelley, a middle-aged Englishman come to Cowan Corners to preach the Gospel in a nonconformist fashion. Zelley's response to the fear of the forest and its Indians is to offer his view of God in the New World: "'For,' he said, 'we left the Devil behind in England. Seek God in the heart of this majestic and awful forest—not the Devil…. Let us leave him there in the Old England, but in the New keep our eyes pure and open against the coming of the Lord" (M, 8). As it turns out, Zelley's theology is no more able to protect him from the terrors of the plot than the superstitious folk he opposes. Greene and Zelley are representative of the individual in conflict with the group perception, and as such could either be visionaries or outlaws. They are branded the latter, not only because they do not see the Devil's hoofprints under every leaf, but because of their affection for Doll Bilby, the locus of demonic transforming power in this text.
Doll is everything the Puritan fears: wild, natural, uninhibited, sensual, and foreign. Alone of the people in Cowan Corners, she is a European: her parents were charged with witchcraft in their native Brittany. Our introduction to her associates her with social ostracism and religious intolerance. As her parents burn at the stake, a compassionate English tradesman carriers her in his arms to comfort her. His decision to raise the child as his own is met by a curse flung by the officiating priest: "Take the child be gone. She was born of a witch-woman and will grow to witchcraft and do much harm—but in England among the heretics. Be gone."12 The priest's prediction does, in fact, come true but more as an illustration of the ways in which ideology depends on the internalizing of oppression than as prophecy.
The strangeness of Doll Bilby's looks and conduct make her an object of loathing for the people of Cowan Corners. Forbes makes clear the extent to which jealousy and sexual desire color their reaction to Doll. Her wild black hair, shining black eyes, and lithe shape draw both the wandering eyes of the young men and the reproachful ones of the young women. Doll's stepmother's jealousy over Mr. Bilby's love for Doll sets her against the child from the start. Much of the evidence against Doll comes from Hannah Bilby, whose hysterical pregnancies and neurasthenia are attributed to Doll's malefic powers.
Her sexual attractiveness also contributes to her legend. She is seen in the company of a large black bull who roams the fields. This symbol of desire especially haunts the dreams of Titus Thumb, Doll's suitor and enforced fiancé. His desire for Doll is a horror to him, at once drawing her to him and confirming his belief in her demonic nature. Just as Hannah projects onto Doll her jealousy and bitterness, so Titus makes Doll a monster of sinful lust. In fact, for much of the text Doll is only a receptacle for the fears and desires of the villagers. The title, A Mirror for Witches, while ostensibly referring to the glass into which Doll is seen staring, actually refers to Doll as a mirror-image of those good citizens of Cowan Corners whose sacrificial offering she becomes.
Doll is also associated with the forest and the Indian, first by her friendship with Goody Greene and, secondly, by her habit of taking solitary walks through the forest. Her relationship with Greene is the first major sign that she is submitting to the group perception of herself. She hopes that Greene will tell her tales of witchcraft and evil, so she might know how a witch acts. She frequents the forest hoping to meet the Devil and hear his will for her. Doll's pathetic attempts to play what she comes to believe is her role only serve to convince the village that she is indeed a witch. One of the tropes of Gothic narrative that Forbes exploits here is the suffocating inability to be seen as the victim when it is against the wishes of the characters representing authority (for example, the police chief in Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street  who will not believe his daughter's terror at being chased by "the boogeyman"). Her delight in the mystery and dark beauty of the forest—just those qualities that make it stand out against the drab village—lead her to the narrative's central incident, Doll's vision in the forest (M, 63).
Much of Doll's confusion about her witch nature revolves around why she receives no sign from Satan marking her his own, another mirror inversion of the believer's anguish at the silence of God. Late in the narrative, Doll, bereft of the one kind face she knows, that of her dead father, spends the night deep in the forest. Here she has a vision which the narrator acknowledges alternates between wakefulness and sleep and is, therefore, of ambiguous nature. The vision includes manifestations of supernatural folklore, friends, goblins, vampires and the like but also images of Doll's past. She awakens from this vision fully accepting her demonism: "She called upon her Father in Hell, thanking him that he had made manifest to her visible proof of his greatness…. She called upon all that vast host of evil things, blessed them, and promised to serve them" (M, 9). At this point, Doll has no alternative but to live out the fearful prophecy of the priest at Mont Höel and her role in the drama of life in Cowan Corners.
While the bleakness of Doll's tale is unsparingly presented, the text does posit one faint glimpse of light in the picture: the possibility of love to alter circumstances. The one road of escape from the horrors of Mont Höel is that of simple affection, and in this particular text, love for the Other. Jared Bilby's love for Doll gives her, and the reader, practically the only glimpse of sustaining affection in Cowan Corners. Bilby finds Doll a wild, frightened little creature, scorned by all, but his kindness transforms her: "The captain coaxed and petted her, urged her to eat, and quieted her with his hands. So by love he restored her to humanity" (M, 12). In the Bilby home, where she is treated to blows and neglect, Mr. Bilby alone dares to kiss "a wide hobgoblin mouth which many a Christian would fear to kiss" (M, 72). This last hope of escape from the horror of cruelty and ignorance is given a particular voice by Zacharias Zelley: "In his praying Mr. Zelley (so it was observed) twice asked with particular passion that the old hatreds, the old jealousies, and the old, cruel superstitions might be left behind, and that in the new land, the spirit of man might break forth as a chick breaks the egg" (M, 19). With the death of Mr. Bilby, however, such hope disappears. Ironically, it is Bilby's sudden death that provides the charge upon which Doll is tried for witchcraft.
The pathetically weak hope of redeeming love is also evident in Doll's relations with two other kindly characters, Goody Greene and Mr. Zelley. Greene is another outsider, a strange old woman whose cordial relations with the Indian marks her as evil: "The Indians venerated her, calling her 'White Mother' and 'Moon-Woman.' She went even into the great forest with more safety than any man. She was loving towards these peoples and had much traffic with them,…" (M, 51). Doll is responsible for even greater hostility to Greene from the villagers; the old woman's kindness does not exempt her from the Salem hangings. Zacharias Zelley is a more complex character; he is the narrative's Gothic protagonist, the man utterly transformed by his brush with the Other. Apart from his significance as the voice of belief in a new order, Zelley is revealed as a "good" man by a number of small details, the most telling of which is his response to the Quakers.
In the passage describing Doll's trial, the narrator shows us the Meeting House, the community's center of justice and righteousness, the holy place set against the evil forest:
By the windows and doores of the Meeting House were nailed the grim and grinning heads of wolves, freshly slain. In the stocks before the Meeting House were two Quaker women, the one in an extremity of despair and cold (for there was some ice on the ground) and the other brazen, screaming out profanities and laughing in her disgrace. Upon the roof-walk paced back and forth Captain Buzzey of the train-band troop, beating his drum in great long rolls, summoning all to come and worship.
One of Forbes's slyest touches, this passage indicates the intolerance and ferocity of the Cowan Corners society. Zelley's humanity is set against this cruelty.
Instead of listening to the discussions in the noon-house, he went out of doors and stood before the evil women in the stocks, exhorting them in the name of Christ Jesus to repent and be forgiven. Theodate Gookin, a stout child, mocked them and pelted them with small apples. This action of the child enraged Mr. Zelley more than had the foul blasphemies of the Quakers. He roughly ordered Theodate to lay off his warm overcoat. This he spread kindly over the back of the most insufferable of the blasphemers. By which act of charity, he stilled her lying tongue….
Zelley's charity does not save him. The kind man is destroyed by his association with Doll, first by her hysterical assertions of her witch power and second, by the knowledge that the town now suspects him of evildoing; later in the text we are told that Zelley was tried in the Salem witch-hunts. The paralyzing realization of his helplessness leaves him doubting everything he has lived for and the God he has worshipped.
For Doll herself, love is a fierce determination to force Satan to reveal himself. When she comes upon an escaped convict in the forest, she takes him for her Master, and surrenders herself to him. By this time convinced of her demonic nature, she awaits the birth of her demon-child and the replication of her own childhood. She had embraced her role with passionate engagement and "wanted no other God than Lucifer and no Heaven,… Hell was her true home—her Paradise."13 Guarded by the only villager to risk it, a fiercely ugly old vagabond of indeterminate gender, Doll dies in a visionary ecstasy of welcoming demons. The child is born dead.
The triumph of Forbes's novel is its relentless revelation of the construction and defense of ideology by terror. This glimpse into the American past is as historically "correct" as one might expect from a member of the Antiquarian society, a woman deemed "a novelist who wrote like a historian and a historian who wrote like a novelist."14 What she has given us is a text set in the period which, for Americans, fulfills the emotional function of the Middle Ages for British Gothicists, a time perceived as defined by darkness and moral corruption. A Mirror for Witches is certainly a historical novel of the kind Lukacs discusses—its characters are what they are in response to their time—but what the novel most impresses upon us is the implication of our Puritan ideology for the Other—in this work for women, people of color, aliens, sexual marginals, and nonconformists of all kinds. In revealing a fierce terrorism at the heart of America's founding ideology, Forbes makes history itself the bearer of sickness that she obviously means us to relate to our own time. In this, she continues the vision of Lionel Lincoln and other American Gothic narratives that see history as a long nightmare from which we wake only fitfully and tremble.
1. George Lukacs, The Historical Novel (Lincoln and London: The University of Nebraska Press, repr. 1983), p. 19.
2. The Historical Novel, p. 65.
3. Robert Clark, History, Ideology and Myth in American Fiction, 1823–52 (London: The Macmillan Press, Ltd., 1984), p. 48.
4. Alan Holder, The Imagined Past: Portrayals of Our History in Modern American Literature (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1980), p. 13.
5. The Leatherstocking Saga is an example of the technique in which the journey of Natty Bumpo is a metaphorical reflection of America's development.
6. Background on the composition of Lionel Lincoln from "Historical Introduction" to the edition of the novel published in 1984 by the State University of New York, Albany Press, pp. xv-xl.
7. "Historical Introduction," p. 211.
8. James Fenimore Cooper, Lionel Lincoln (New York: Peter Fenelon Collier, Publisher, 1893), p. 210. All subsequent text references, designated by LL, are to this edition.
9. See pp. xxiv-xxv of "Historical Introduction" for critical commentary by Cooper's contemporaries. We must also remember that Cooper was, in political terms, an ardent supporter of Jeffersonian democracy—at least in his waking hours. What we find in Lionel Lincoln is the nightmare equivalent of the Jeffersonian dream.
10. See Devendra Varma's The Gothic Flame (New York: Russell and Russell, 1966) and David Punter's The Literature of Terror (London: Longman Group, Ltd., 1980) for discussion of this theme.
11. Esther Forbes, A Mirror for Witches (New York: Dell Publishing Co., Inc., 1969), p. 5. All subsequent text references, designated by M, are to this edition.
12. Forbes's writing in this passage is obviously a homage to Hawthorne and "Young Goodman Brown," though that earlier story is less concerned with a political view of history than a glimpse of the terrors of radical subjectivity.
13. American Women Writers, ed. Lina Mainiero (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1968), v. 2, p. 63.
14. [Obituary, New York Times, August 13, 1967, p. 80.]
ERIC SAVOY (ESSAY DATE 1998)
SOURCE: Savoy, Eric. "The Face of the Tenant: A Theory of American Gothic." In American Gothic: New Interventions in a National Narrative, edited by Robert K. Martin and Eric Savoy, pp. 3-19. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1998.
In the following essay, Savoy discusses various literary theories and analyses of the Gothic in American literature.
"Think of him," she said, placing a finger against the front-view portrait of the blond young man. "Think of those eyes. Coming toward you." Then she pushed the pictures back into their envelope. "I wish you hadn't shown me."
Truman Capote, In Cold Blood
A "theory" of gothic cultural production in the United States is necessarily invested in a poetics of terror—a tropics, a recurring turn of language. If such generally structuring turns are most strikingly conceptualized in particular moments, then this brief excerpt from Capote's work suggests the multiple, inevitable, and even casual ways in which narrative might take a decidedly gothic turn. These chilling words are spoken by Marie Dewey—the wife of Alvin Dewey, an agent of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation—late in 1959 as she studies the photographs of two men who, without apparent motive, murdered a farm family "on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call 'out there'" (3). While the photographs give a face, a human agency, to a crime whose horror lies in its absence of meaning and its distance from the rationally explicable, her discourse betrays the desire to situate the static image of the face in a narrative, a desire from which she immediately recoils. What is most striking in Marie Dewey's language—what is most suggestive of the gothic turn—is her syntax of reiterated imperative. "Think of …" insists upon both the imaginative reconstruction of a historical event—a moment just prior to violent annihilation—and what might be called "being out there," an intuitive, visceral knowledge of terrible affect that approaches the experiential. In the queerly hybrid "nonfiction novel" that Capote attempted in the writing of In Cold Blood, Marie Dewey's brief appearance signifies both the act of reading "America" and the writerly turn toward the fascination of the fearful, a fascination that, she implies, ought not to be indulged but inexorably is.
Her fleeting comments suggest that the gothic tendency in American culture is organized around the imperative to repetition, the return of what is unsuccessfully repressed, and, moreover, that this return is realized in a syntax, a grammar, a tropic field. Once instigated, Marie Dewey's impulse to narrate the body that violates and the violated body can only escalate in the structure of haunting textual return: the photograph of Richard Hickock's face, especially his eyes, gives her what might be colloquially called a "turn," which is turned into a narrative obligation, which subsequently recurs in the rumor that Hickock bequeathed his eyes "'to an eye doctor. Soon as they cut him down, this doctor's gonna yank out his eyes and stick them in somebody else's head'" (338). This final gothic turn provides a compositional vanishing point in which there is no vanishing; horrific history acquires a body, a face, a figure that recedes into futurity. The failure of repression and forgetting—a failure upon which the entire tradition of the gothic in America is predicated—will be complete in those conscious eyes. Such a return is not merely monstrous and unthinkable, it is uncanny. And the writing of the uncanny is the field—or, more precisely, the multivalent tendency—of American gothic, an imaginative requirement by which, as Leslie Fiedler pointed out, "the past, even dead, especially dead, could continue to work harm" (131).
In the thirty years since the publication of Love and Death in the American Novel, Fiedler's genealogy of American gothic has remained vitally suggestive; indeed, his broad connections between historiography and psychoanalysis have shaped the parameters of subsequent conceptualization. He insists on the absolute centrality of the gothic in American literature, for "until the gothic had been discovered, the serious American novel could not begin; and as long as that novel lasts, the gothic cannot die" (143), while gesturing toward its essentially paradoxical status in "America," that eighteenth-century construction "pledged to be done with ghosts and shadows, committed to live a life of yea-saying in a sunlit, neoclassical world" (144). Influenced by his argument that "the whole tradition of the gothic is a pathological symptom rather than a proper literary movement" (135), much post-Fiedlerian analysis has been preoccupied with accounting for the role of the gothic as a negation of the Enlightenment's national narratives. Maggie Kilgour and Anne Williams, whose work in British contexts is often applicable to American ones, understand both the binary logics that have required a darkness as the Enlightenment's Other and the interlinearity of gothic cultural production and the rise of psychoanalysis. Williams argues, via Foucault, that "Enlightenment thought characteristically ordered and organized by creating institutions to enforce distinctions between society and its other…. Like the haunted Gothic castle, the Freudian discourse of self creates the haunted, dark, mysterious space even as it attempts to organize and control it" (248). Kilgour's declaration that "psychoanalysis is a late gothic story" (221) surveys the cultural matrix that enabled the narrativization of irrepressible Otherness.
In the American scene, it may be that broad generalizations about the gothic—overshadowed as they are by the genealogical tracing of British and continental influences—have reached a limit of conceptual or explanatory usefulness, and further particularization is urgently required. Louis S. Gross is surely right to read the gothic as a "demonic history text" (2) in Redefining the American Gothic and to grasp its "common thread" as "the singularity and monstrosity of the Other: what the dominant culture cannot incorporate within itself, it must project outward onto this hated/desired figure" (90). However, this observation raises the question of how the project of narrating "Otherness"—which indeed is a "dominant" cultural mode—embodies a "figure" that it "cannot incorporate within itself." I suggest that the difficult task of such incorporation—of gesturing toward that which resists an explicit lexicon—has situated American gothic continuously in a tropic field that approaches allegory: the gothic is most powerful, and most distinctly American, when it strains toward allegorical translucency. Given the thinness, the blankness of the American historical past and much of the American landscape, allegory—which is not, properly speaking, a "figure" but which is supremely conducive to the ghostly figures that we commonly associate with gothic, particularly prosopopoeia—provided a tropic of shadow, a kind of Hawthornian "neutral territory" in which the actual is imbued with the darkly hypothetical, a discursive field of return and reiteration. It is, of course, the lesson of Melville that nothing is so terrible as nothingness itself, the absence of a coherently meaningful symbolic: it is precisely the semantic impoverishment of allegory, the haunting consequences of its refusal of transparency, that impelled American gothic's narrativization of Otherness toward its insubstantial shadows, and vice versa.
Like allegory, the gothic is a fluid tendency rather than a discrete literary "mode," an impulse rather than a literary artifact. Such thinking seems to prompt Anne Williams's refusal to consider the gothic—"a 'something' that goes beyond the merely literary"—as simply a genre, a tradition, or a set of conventions; rather, in asking "what noun would 'Gothic' appropriately modify," she suggests the term "complex," which denotes "an intersection of grammar, architecture and psychoanalysis" (23-24). A model of gothic "complexity" that tends toward allegory—and I shall have more to say about the particular figures that are generated by allegory—is a useful corollary to theories of the historiographical orientation of gothic narrative.
"American gothic" does not exist apart from its specific regional manifestations; the burden of a scarifying past is more typical of New England and southern gothic than, for example, that of the prairies, yet common to all is a narrative site that tends to be an epistemological frontier in which the spatial division between the known and the unknown, the self and the Other, assumes temporal dimensions. The gothic cannot function without a proximity of Otherness imagined as its imminent return; consequently, allegory's rhetoric of temporality—its gesturing toward what cannot be explicitly recovered—aspires to a narrative of the return of the Other's plenitude on a frontier in which "geography" supplements the impossibilities of language, of both national and personal historiography.
According to David Mogen, Scott P. Sanders, and Joanne B. Karpinski, "gothicism must abide on a frontier—whether physical or psychical"; despite the specific locatability of frontiers in various cultural moments, American gothic historiography generally "derives from [a] conflict between the inscripted history of civilization and the history of the other, somehow immanent in the landscape of the frontier" (17, my emphasis). A symbolic Otherness that is "somehow immanent," that must be figured forth in narrative, suggests the resonance between gothic historiography and the haunting insubstantialities of allegorical trope. Also conducive to the allegorical corollary—a mode of narrative that is organized around semiotic gaps or "rifts"—is their model of the historical matrix that is inhabited by the gothic. "Gothicism results," they argue,
when the epic moment passes, and a particular rift in history develops and widens into a dark chasm that separates now from what has been. The his tory that suffers this rift is the inscripted past, the literal re-presentation to ourselves of a [hi]story that integrates people, events, and places, and makes of the world and its landscape a locale … whose experience is comfortable, confident, coherent and known. This inscripted history is privileged; it functions as the logocentric past…. When we become aware of breaks in the logocentric history, of gaps in the authorized text of the past, the inscriptions of another history break through into meaning.
ON THE SUBJECT OF …
FLANNERY O'CONNOR (1925–1964)
O'Connor is considered one of the foremost short story writers in American literature. She was an anomaly among post-World War II authors—a Roman Catholic from the Biblebelt South whose stated purpose was to reveal the mystery of God's grace in everyday life. O'Connor chose to depict salvation through shocking, often violent action upon characters who are spiritually or physically grotesque. In her fiction O'Connor frequently criticizes the materialism and spiritual apathy of contemporary society, faulting modern rationalism for its negation of the need for religious faith and redemption. Employing scenes and characters from her native southern environment, she depicts the violent and often bizarre religiosity of Protestant fundamentalists as a manifestation of spiritual life struggling to exist in a nonspiritual world. The protagonists of both of O'Connor's novels—Hazel Motes in Wise Blood (1952) and Francis Marion Tarwater in The Violent Bear It Away (1960)—experience intense spiritual conflict. Often considered "Christhaunted" characters, they are tormented by visions of God and the devil and by the temptation to deny the reality of their revelations. Critics have described O'Connor's protagonists as grotesque in personality, inclined to violence, and isolated and frustrated by their spiritual struggle. Reflecting the religious themes of her novels, a recurrent motif in O'Connor's thirty-one short stories is that of divine grace descending in an often bizarre or violent manner upon a spiritually deficient main character. She often depicts a rural domestic situation suddenly invaded by a criminal or perverse outsider—a distorted Christ figure who redeems a protagonist afflicted with pride, intellectualism, or materialism. In one of O'Connor's best-known stories, "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" (1955), a smugly self-complacent grandmother is shocked into spiritual awareness by a murderer who kills first her family and then her. While sometimes faulted for gratuitous use of the grotesque, O'Connor is almost universally admired, if not fully understood.
This model suggests that logocentric historiography is an essentially nostalgic mode, if nostalgia is understood as a will to sustained cultural coherence, a desire for the seamless authenticity of national narrative; the fracturing of this mode by the irruption of "another history" is explained by Mogen, Sanders, and Karpinski as an ever-widening "dark chasm," a spatial or structural metaphor that, once again, evokes an allegorical temporality. This chasm is opened by the strategies of gothic signification, for it is not simply the case that a horrific "alternate" history emerges as a cohesive or fully explanatory corrective that is superimposed upon nostalgic history. Rather, it irrupts by fits and starts in a semiotic that is fragmentary, one that is more suggestive than conclusive. As such, the gothic "turn" toward compelling but unthematizable narrative might be conceptualized as the emergence of the Lacanian Real, which, according to Judith Butler, "is that which resists and compels symbolization" (70). The congruent and compatible strangenesses of gothic and allegorical image manifest what Anne Williams describes as "a pattern of anxiety about the Symbolic" and reveal "the fragility of our usual systems of making sense of the world," for "an extraordinary number of Gothic conventions … imply disorder in the relations of signifiers and signifieds" (70-71).
While gothic narrative emphatically refuses nostalgia, it seems to be the case that nostalgic representations of "America" veer toward the gothic with remarkable frequency; invariably associated with self-consciously "late" cultural production, this turn problematizes nostalgia's simplicity by invoking a darker register that, ironically, emerges as the very consequence of nostalgic modes of knowing. A prototype might be Henry James's return to America at the turn of the century: his late writing explores the contrast between sunny myths of return and the pull toward a tropics of devastation and the attractive threat of a hypothetical, unlived American life. Such contrasts recur but in very different terrains: in the spring of 1996, the highly popular film Twister locates the terrible in the vertical that descends from the sky upon the horizontal stretch of America from Iowa to Oklahoma, geographically contiguous with the mythic "West" that, according to Jonathan Raban, is a "bleak and haunted landscape" that "looks like a landscape in an allegory" (81). While its primary nostalgic referent is The Wizard of Oz, the narrative turns and twists in its uneven course toward gothic historicity.
In one spectacular sequence, a tornado spirals through the face of a cinematic screen at the Galaxy Drive-In, upon which is projected the most memorable scene from Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film of Steven King's novel The Shining. In a perfect moment of ironic congruence, the tornado destroys the image of Jack Nicholson axing through a door, behind which Shelley Duvall cowers in terror. The point of this intertextual strategy is thoroughly allegorical; while it is in keeping with a long tradition in American gothic of attributing terrible violence to the muteness of landscape, it "explains" this terror by juxtaposing nature—literally—against cinematic culture, against what it is not, in an escalating spiral of signification that laminates the Symbolic into a coherent order even as it blows it apart. Twister's framing of the cinematic screen—the cultural face fleetingly inhabited by Nicholson and then imploded—mediates an exchange of attribute between human and natural agency in an aesthetics of the gothic sublime; the tornado itself veers toward allegory, a personification of the qualities of Nicholson's performance which David Thomson describes as "the wicked naughty boy, the thwarted genius, the monster of his own loneliness. No one else could have been so daring and yet so delicate" (546). Yet, such a maneuver is not entirely new; it represents a further development of what Fiedler called "the grafting of Jamesian sensibility onto the Southern gothic stem" (476). Such are the strange, defamiliarizing uses of the gothic in a late culture that wants nostalgia simultaneously to have a playful edge and to approach the unthinkable.
If allegory is the strangest house of fiction, haunted by a referentiality that struggles to return in a narrative mode that is committed to repress what it is compelled to shadow forth (for allegory's suspension between avowal and disavowal must somehow fail to repress if it is going to "work"), then it is not surprising that the house is the most persistent site, object, structural analogue, and trope of American gothic's allegorical turn. Consider a partial catalog of American gothic houses: Poe's House of Usher, Hawthorne's Cus-tom House, James's house on the "jolly corner," Sutpen's Hundred, Stephen King's Castle Rock, and Capote's Kansan farmhouse are structures whose solid actuality dissolves as they accommodate (and bring to spectacular figure) a psychic imperative—the impossibility of forgetting. In accounting for this imperative, Freud reveals the gothic origins of his conceptual lexicon by bringing forward the gothic's major architectural metaphor; to illustrate his theory of the uncanny (das Unheimliche) as "something repressed which recurs"—resonant with "Shelling's definition of the uncanny as something which ought to have remained hidden but has come to light"—he points out that some languages "can only render the German expression "an 'unheimlich house' by 'a haunted house'" and suggests that "this example [is] perhaps the most striking of all, of something uncanny" ("The Uncanny" 241).
Freud's illustration seems to confirm the participation of psychoanalysis in gothic epistemology and narrative structures; he asserts that "psychoanalysis, which is concerned with laying bare these hidden forces, has itself become uncanny to many people" ("The Uncanny" 243). What is the status, the discursive materialization, of such "hidden forces" in narrative? Can language ever "lay bare" the Other? The entire tradition of the gothic suggests that a "haunting" return requires a poetics of the ephemeral and the indistinct. Crucially important for this project of conceptualizing the gothic as a tropic field is the narrowing focus of Freud's translation across languages and cultures, the figurative turn toward a spatialized, "architectural" psyche in the slide of signifiers from unheimlich to "uncanny" and its gothic equivalent, "haunted." If the Freudian text, and its translation, might be understood as allegorizing the uncanny in its figurative turns, then it does so under the auspices of the gothic's tendency to generate an allegorical sign—a human agency, a prosopopoeia—that returns the repressed Other to the vitally performative.
The psychic "house" turns toward the gothic only when it is "haunted" by the return of the repressed, a return that impels spectacular figures. More specifically, prosopopoeia may be conceptualized as the master trope of gothic's allegorical turn, because prosopopoeia—the act of personifying, of giving face to an abstract, disembodied Other in order to return it to narrative—disturbs logocentric order, the common reality of things. Paul de Man observes not only that "prosopopoeia is hallucinatory," because "to make the invisible visible is uncanny" (49), but also that such uncanny trope generates epistemological incoherence: "it is impossible to say whether prosopopoeia is plausible because of the empirical existence of dreams and hallucinations or whether one believes that such a thing as dreams and hallucinations exists because language permits the figure of prosopopoeia. The question 'Was it a vision or a waking dream?' is destined to remain unanswered. Prosopopoeia undoes the distinction between reference and signification upon which all semiotic systems … depend" (49-50). This theory can be broadly extended to the gothic's allegorical turn, which, in complicating the "distinction between reference and signification," veers away from the clarity of denotation toward the ghostly realm of connotation: accordingly, the gothic registers a trauma in the strategies of representation as it brings forward a traumatic history toward which it gestures but can never finally refer.
Paradoxically, the various kinds of trauma represented by the gothic—the proximity of Otherness which occasions allegorical approximation—constitute both a return and a loss, and the gothic might be broadly conceptualized as a cultural ritual of inscribing the loss of coherent ego formation, the negation of national imaginary, and the fragmentation of linguistic accountability. For the uncanniness of the gothic is simultaneously terrible and melancholy, and the conjunc-tion of fear and sorrow is powerfully annihilating of the ego's investment in things as they comfortably "are." This conjoined gothic affect is to be located not exclusively in the irruption of the id or in Lacan's revision of the death drive that posits the id's overwhelming of the ego but perhaps more immediately in the agency of the super-ego. This is suggested by a striking repetition in Freud's diverse writings that move toward the conceptualization of the super-ego. In his 1919 essay on "The Uncanny," he takes up the gothic figure of the double, which he seems to understand as an allegorization of the splitting of the ego: while the double originates in primary narcissism, its Otherness becomes "the uncanny harbinger of death" in later stages. "A special agency is slowly formed there, which is able to stand over against the rest of the ego, which has the function of observing and criticising the self." This "special agency" is arguably the site of the uncanny return of the repressed both in psychosis and in the paranoid gothic, for "in the pathological cases of being watched, this mental agency becomes isolated, dissociated from the ego … able to treat the rest of the ego like an object" ("The Uncanny" 235). The superegotistical double emerges into discourse, into narrative, through allegorical personification, a turn that entails both the loss of a coherent self and the fracturing of a transparent, clearly referential lexicon of the self, a turn that marks loss as terrible. Previously, in his 1917 essay on "Mourning and Melancholia," Freud explained that melancholia arises from the traumatic loss not of an object but in regard to the ego, and he did so in virtually the same language. The "melancholic's disorder," he argues, manifests when "one part of the ego sets itself over against the other, judges it critically, and, as it were, takes it as its object" ("Mourning" 256). If gothic trauma can be understood as the imminence of the ego's violation, as something to be scared of, then such possibility is signifiable only through the tropic turn toward the hypothetical face of the Other, a face that haunts the house of the psyche and its allegorical narrativization.
The doubleness of American gothic's allegorical impulse—which represents "trauma" in a traumatized discourse that splits the sign from the referent—appears early in the tradition, most remarkably in Poe's architecture of remembering and return, "The Fall of the House of Usher." Poe's "house" might be called a master text for the subsequent history of American gothic, both in its sense of what might accrue as "story" and its indirect strategies of narration, the complex that Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick describes as "the difficulty the story has in getting itself told" (14). The content of Gothic story remains radically inaccessible: the occasion of the Ushers' melancholia inheres in the strange relation between Roderick Usher and his sister, Madeline, a historical dimension that lies in the realm of the proscribed and the unspeakable and as such is not subject to recovery. Consequently, the narrative must gesture toward the absent explanatory core of the story by organizing a tension between two allegorical currents. The first represents what might be called the volition toward repression: Madeline must die, and her body must be interred in the deepest recess of the house. The second represents the return of the repressed secret, the rise of the Real, the irruption of history in Madeline's ascent as revenant, uncannily anticipated by, or predicated upon, the act of reading an old romance.
In the work of conceptualizing a poetics of American gothic, the narrative trajectory of Poe's "House" is less important than the allegorical signs it generates, the most striking of which occurs in the final moment of Madeline's interment, when the narrator allows himself to gaze upon her face:
we partially turned aside the yet unscrewed lid of the coffin, and looked upon the face of the tenant. A striking similitude between the brother and sister now first arrested my attention; and Usher, divining, perhaps, my thoughts, murmured out some few words from which I learned that the deceased and himself had been twins, and that sympathies of a scarcely intelligible nature had always existed between them. Our glances, however, rested not long upon the dead—for we could not regard her unawed.
(329, my emphasis)
This passage sustains and is organized around a complex resistance between its literal level—the gaze upon the face of the dead—and its allegorization of this gaze as an act of intuitive, incomplete historical reconstruction. As a sign, the countenance of Madeline Usher remains stubbornly mute in its somatic materiality, yet Poe's "gothic" emerges precisely as such only when this sign turns faintly toward prosopopoeia and generates the narrator's allegory of reading, a moment in which Poe's writing performatively gestures toward the reading of the gothic text by hermeneutic energy in the text. I regard this passage as typical of how American gothic requires a discursive matrix of preterition: an unspeakable, irrecoverable historical preterite is marked, and its consequences brought forward to the present, only in a species of circumlocution. Thus, Madeline's face becomes the text of the double, the twin, the Other, inscribed with the faint traces of an illegible history of "sympathies of a scarcely intelligible nature." Poe anticipates the fullness of prosopopoeia, Madeline's return as revenant, in the metaphor of tenancy, of a house within the House of Usher: Madeline is not completely consigned to the realm of the dead, nor is her historical significance; a mere "tenant" of the coffin, she will return to consciousness. Perhaps it is a critical inevitability to read an allegorical sign allegorically, that is, to situate it as a suggestive trope in an explanatory narrative of one's own; I argue that the entire tradition of American gothic can be conceptualized as the attempt to invoke "the face of the tenant"—the specter of Otherness that haunts the house of national narrative—in a tropics that locates the traumatic return of the historical preterite in an allegorically preterited mode, a double talk that gazes in terror at what it is compelled to bring forward but cannot explain, that writes what it cannot read. Such a model might go far in expanding the American grain of the gothic that Donald A. Ringe sees as fully realized in Poe's refusal to "vacillate … between the rationally explained and the frankly supernatural" and his assumption of "a position that can best be called noncommittal" (151). If American gothic flourished in the noncommittal strategies of the allegorical, then the overarching tendency of the gothic has been toward a suspension between the immediacy of terrible affect and its linguistic and epistemological unaccountability.
The prevailing tendency of critical discourse to explain gothic's allegorical strategies by a reversion to allegory itself suggests the tenacious power that gothic tropologies and epistemologies continue to exercise. In particular, the architectural metaphor of the haunted house is frequently transferred from its gothic origin—where, as I have suggested, it functions simultaneously as site and structure of narrative, as the vehicle for representing the return of the repressed Other and the prosopopoeial mode of its signification—to deconstructive and queer theoretical projects. Here, the "house" denotes both the text that is inhabited by the specters of referentiality and the subject who is haunted by the repudiated Other. It is not surprising that Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's model of homosexuality's closet and its epistemological rigors emerged from her work in The Coherence of Gothic Conventions (1980), where she locates the gothic convention's requirement that the "self is spatialized": at issue within this architectural model is self-knowledge, which is urgently compelled even as it is preterited. In the turn toward personification allegory, "it is the position of the self to be massively blocked off from something to which it ought normally to have access…. The inside life and the outside life have to continue separately, becoming counterparts rather than partners [which creates] a doubleness where singleness should be" (12-13). She compares the occluded knowledges of gothic narrative to "the Watergate transcripts. The story does get through, but in a muffled form, with a distorted time sense, and accompanied by a kind of despair about any direct use of language" (15).
Sedgwick's model of the psychically spatialized self is predicated upon the social construction of "normative" and "Other," and the function of the gothic is to trouble "the stable crystalline relation … that enforces boundaries with a proscriptive energy" (38). The gothic disrupts the regulatory relations of proscription by returning the "blocked off" Other from the temporal field of the preterite to signification: in this sense, the gothic might seem to arise when the will to preterition fails. Yet, while preterition resembles a discursive tactic of repression, the two are not identical; more accurately, the "muffled form" of the gothic is constituted by the double impulses of preterition, which, as a particular manifestation of allegory, articulates indirectly what it cannot obliterate. Suspended between a knowledge that is blocked and a knowledge that is repudiated, preterition tracks and mobilizes, marks the course while it serves as a discursive recourse, of "return" across violated boundary. As both "form" and "content" of narrative, it figures the uncanny while it uncannily figures, which might explain why the gothic houses the Freudian "uncanny" in the several senses connoted by the adjective "queer," an adjective that strains toward prosopopoeial nomination.
Predictably, the recent queer theoretical project conceptualizes the interplay between repression and preterition by redeploying the allegorical tropes of the gothic, in particular by personifying the haunting "Other." Diana Fuss broadly surveys the domain of queer critique through a revisionist cartography of the unstable borders between heterosexuality and homosexuality: "[e]ach is haunted by the other, but … it is the other who comes to stand in metonymically for the very occurrence of haunting and ghostly visitations." Current work in the field of gender and sexuality, she observes, reveals "a certain preoccupation with the figure of the homosexual as specter and phantom, as spirit and revenant, as abject and un-dead." Thus, she concludes in a statement that marks the convergence of the queer and the tropic field of the gothic, "homosexual production emerges … as a kind of ghost-writing, a writing which is at once a recognition and a refusal" (3-4). It is ironic, perhaps, that the current academy—driven by the imperative to illuminate the margins of America's national narratives, to bring the occluded and excluded others of sexual, gendered, and racialized difference to presence—performs its revisionist work in the conventional house of the gothic's allegorical structuration, epistemology, and tropic discourse. However, these cultural and discursive returns indicate not a failure of the critical imagination but rather the revolutionary potential of American gothic, its long history of accommodating new interventions.
This introductory overview of the representational strategies of the gothic—and their persistence in American cultural work of various kinds—concludes in Iowa, where this collection of essays originates. Much of the preceding argument about the gothic's straining toward allegory, its historiographical matrix of prosopopoeial return that attempts to invoke "the face of the tenant," is suggested by Grant Wood's 1930 painting, American Gothic, the national icon under which this text is produced. In keeping with the general refusal to interrogate the national symbolic, Grant Wood's art was dismissed as simplistic, as merely regional, as naively realistic, until a major retrospective of his work in 1983–84 shifted the current of reception. A subsequent flurry of commentary responded to Wood's implication that the Midwest, in the words of Donald B. Kuspit, "is fertile with more than neat rows of wheat and corn" (139): Thomas Lawson detects "an edge of unsettledness" in Wood's career that bespeaks "a claustrophobia of the spirit among the rolling fields" (77), while Kuspit sees Wood as a painter of "an inward strangeness" whose enduring subject is "a powerful psychological undertow … under the veneer of Social Realism" and whose mode is a "temptation by allegory" (141). The doubleness of allegory is suggested, too, by Karal Ann Marling's opinion that American Gothic inflects nostalgia through irony to frame a "tension between modernism and tradition, between corrosive self-knowledge and delusional retrospection" (97). Representational "tensions," like an inconclusive or incomplete turn toward allegory that fails fully to achieve its semiotic, are critical models that are solicited by the liminal, the indirect, the shadow of signification that is cast by American Gothic. As James M. Dennis observes, the figures in Grant's painting
[Image not available for copyright reasons]
"are permanently armed against any conclusive speculation as to what they stand for…. The spectator therefore confronts interminably the quiescent couple that haunts the national imagination" (85).
American Gothic achieves, among other things, an allegorization of American gothic: like all allegories, its silence inheres in the gap between signification and reference, but, more particularly, this allegory sustains a paradoxically illuminating silence in the space between the planes of composition, between foreground and background, between the couple's performance of preterition and the historical preterite that resides in the "Carpenter Gothic" house. Wood's subject is less the stubborn hardness of a mythic prairie character than what Fiedler calls "the pastness of the past" (137), the inexplicable, melancholy continuity between historical suffering and the visible textures of the present. According to Wanda M. Corn, Grant Wood intended American Gothic to be primarily a study in vertical composition: the architecture of Carpenter Gothic "appealed to Wood because of its … emphatic design—particularly the verticals … and the Gothic window, prominently placed in the gable. With his fondness for repeating geometries, Wood immediately envisioned a long-faced and lean couple, 'American Gothic people,' he called them, to complement the house and echo its predominantly vertical lines" (129).
I would argue, however, that the energy of the painting is divided between its upward reach—the vanishing point above the gothic arch and the gable peak—and its inward reach that laminates the silent couple to the supplementary resonance of the house across a supremely suggestive narrative gap. If this painting strains toward allegory, then it does so by invoking the historical preterite that resides in that house and haunts the national couple, a preterite that, typically, is preterited. As such, the house allegorizes historical consciousness itself, subject to the imminent irruption, the proximate quality, of the not-forgotten. Grant Wood's American Gothic suggests the regional precision, the very specificity, of the gothic's recurring manifestations: it belongs to what Jonathan Raban calls "that sad and unlamented West where bitterness and fury were the natural offspring of impossibly great expectations" (62); like all gothic, it haltingly brings forward the underside, the Otherness, of the narratives of national self-construction. The sign of the house yearns not for reconciliation with the past but for inhabitation by the past, the ghosts of return, as it strains toward prosopopoeia. It leaves us more or less in Capote's "out there," attending to the "whisper of wind voices in the wind-bent wheat" (343).
Butler, Judith. Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex." New York: Routledge, 1993.
Capote, Truman. In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences. New York: Random House, 1965.
Corn, Wanda M. Grant Wood: The Regionalist Vision. New Haven: Yale UP, 1983.
de Man, Paul. The Resistance to Theory. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1986.
Dennis, James M. Grant Wood: A Study of American Art and Culture. 2nd ed. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 1986.
Fiedler, Leslie. Love and Death in the American Novel. New York: Doubleday, 1960, rpt. 1992.
Freud, Sigmund. "Mourning and Melancholia." On Metapsychology: The Theory of Psychoanalysis, vol. 11 of The Penguin Freud Library. Trans. James Strachey et al. New York: Penguin, 1984, 245-268.
――――――. "The Uncanny." The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 17. Trans. James Strachey et al. London: Hogarth Press, 1955, rpt. 1991, 219-252.
Fuss, Diana. "Introduction: Inside/Out." Inside/Out: Lesbian Theories, Gay Theories. Ed. Diana Fuss. New York: Routledge, 1991.
Gross, Louis S. Redefining the American Gothic. Ann Arbor: UMI Research P, 1989.
Kilgour, Maggie. The Rise of the Gothic Novel. London: Routledge, 1995.
Kuspit, Donald B. "Grant Wood: Pathos of the Plain." Art in America 72.3 (March 1984): 138-143.
Lawson, Thomas. "Grant Wood: Whitney Museum of American Art." Artforum 22.3 (November 1983): 77.
Marling, Karal Ann. "Don't Knock Wood." Art News 82.7 (September 1983): 94-99.
Mogen, David, Scott P. Sanders, and Joanne B. Karpinski, eds. Frontier Gothic: Terror and Wonder at the Frontier in American Literature. Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1993.
Poe, Edgar Allan. Poetry and Tales. Ed. Patrick F. Quinn. New York: Library of America, 1984.
Raban, Jonathan. "The Unlamented West." New Yorker, May 20, 1996, 60-81.
Ringe, Donald A. American Gothic: Imagination and Reason in Nineteenth-Century Fiction. Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 1982.
Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. The Coherence of Gothic Conventions. New York: Arno, 1980.
Thomson, David. A Biographical Dictionary of Film. Rev. ed. London: André Deutsch, 1994.
Williams, Anne. Art of Darkness: A Poetics of Gothic. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1995.
RONALD PAULSON (ESSAY DATE AUTUMN 1981)
SOURCE: Paulson, Ronald. "Gothic Fiction and the French Revolution." ELH 48, no. 3 (autumn 1981): 532-54.
In the following essay, Paulson examines the Gothic novel's connection to the French Revolution in terms of the treatment of rebellion and sexuality in such works as The Monk, Northanger Abbey, and Frankenstein.
In Chapter 5, Volume II, of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey Henry Tilney regales Catherine Morland with his version of the Gothic fantasy she loves to read. When she arrives at Northanger Abbey, he says, she will be taken by the housekeeper "along many gloomy passages, into an apartment never used since some cousin or kin died in it about twenty years before."1 She will discover that the door has no lock, and shortly (a couple of nights later) there will be a violent storm. "Peals of thunder so loud as to seem to shake the edifice to its foundation will roll around the neighbouring mountains—and during the frightful gusts of wind which accompany it, you will probably think you discern (for your lamp is now extinguished) one part of the hanging more violently agitated than the rest." These details are punctuated by "Will not your heart sink within you?" The next step is to lift the tapestry, try the door found behind it, and proceed into "a small vaulted room." The walk through several such chambers reveals a dagger, some drops of blood, torture instruments, and an old cabinet in a secret drawer of which is found a roll of paper: "you seize it—it contains many sheets of manuscript—you hasten with the precious treasure into your own chamber, but scarcely have you been able to decipher 'Oh! thou—whomsoever thou mayst be, into whose hands these memoirs of the wretched Matilda may fall'—when your lamp suddenly expires in the socket, and leaves you in total darkness."
Certain elements of Ann Radcliffe's Gothic are here, including the passivity of the sensitive heroine, the labyrinthine passages and chambers through which she wanders, the violent storm, and the perusal of written documents that record experiences with which she never herself makes contact. Elsewhere in Northanger Abbey, the Gothic fiction is reflected in vocabulary—in, for example, Isabella's "amazing" or "inconceivable, incredible, impossible!" or Catherine's remark, "Udolpho [is] the nicest book in the world," to which Henry replies, "The nicest;—by which I suppose you mean the neatest. That must depend upon the binding" (p. 107). The adjective is just another sort of exaggeration, another expression of a point of view, a way of looking at the world as if it were a book.
Henry Tilney himself, we have learned in an earlier chapter (I, Chap. XIV), is a reader of history ("Yes, I am fond of history," he says). Catherine reads history only "as a duty, but it tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me" (p. 108), whereas from Gothic novels she presumably gains comfort. Henry, however, has his own Quixotic version of sensibility: he is a student of the Picturesque, believing that a "beautiful" sky does not signify good weather but a drawable picture. He instructs Catherine in these mysteries until she views "the country with the eyes of persons accustomed to drawing"—and at length "voluntarily rejected the whole city of Bath, as unworthy to make part of a landscape" (pp. 110-11).
At this point in the conversation, Tilney moves from the subject of the Picturesque to politics, "and from politics, it was an easy step to silence." It is in this context—of the Gothic, history, the Picturesque, and politics—that Catherine remarks, "I have heard that something very shocking indeed, will soon come out of London … more horrible than any thing we have met with yet"—by which of course she means the publication of a new Gothic novel. Miss Tilney, however, thinks she means a riot. It is left to Henry to explain the discrepancy between a new publication "in three duodecimo volumes, two hundred and seventy-six pages in each, with a frontispiece to the first," and (in a fantasy parallel to the Gothic fantasy I have quoted above) "a mob of three thousand men assembling in St. George's Fields; the Bank attacked, the Tower threatened, the streets of London flowing with blood, a detachment of the 12th Light Dragoons …" and so on (pp. 112-113). This was written in 1797 or 1798 when Austen if not Tilney was thinking of history: the Gordon Riots of 1780 and the French Revolution of 1789.2
In the context of Northanger Abbey the irony is that the exaggeration of the sign falls short of the grim reality. But precisely what reality? The lies of the Thorpes and the fantasy of General Tilney as wife-murderer generated by the Gothic-infatuated Catherine turn out to signify, but not something close to the sign, not a Gothic but rather a worse, because more banal, more historical evil—one perhaps like the French Revolution itself: General Tilney's abrupt dismissal of Catherine because he thinks she will interfere with his dynastic plans for Henry.3
In Northanger Abbey there is posited something we might call the real, or the thing itself, and then something else we can call the word, and Austen shows that they can only come together in formalized, conventionalized ways.4 We notice the difference between the Gothic fiction and history, but also the similarity. General Tilney is indeed the reality beneath Manfred, Montoni, and the other Gothic villains: a man concerned with property, heirs, and wealth; a man who tries unscrupulously to preserve his family and fortune against the incursions of a penniless outsider, who in fact does disrupt it. In the real world, the Gothic casts up (or is bettered by) the reality of a General Tilney or a French Revolution in which, in Burke's terms, penniless parvenues infiltrate the aristocratic family—or the royal family itself, ultimately breaking through its doors into the bedroom of the queen—and ravish the wife-mother-daughter.5 The principal elements are the same: the Gothic only supplies the metaphors and the gushing response of the safely distant spectator, who hears the storm (remembering perhaps the metaphors of natural upheaval—hurricanes and erupting volcanoes—that were immediately applied to the Revolution), notices the bloody daggers and racks, and reads—or starts to, until her candle is extinguished—a letter from an actual participant.
ON THE SUBJECT OF …
PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY (1792–1822)
Known as a major English Romantic poet, Shelley lived a brief but colorful life. Before the age of twenty Shelley had published two wildly improbable Gothic novels, Zastrozzi (1810) and St. Irvyne (1811), and two collections of verse. Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire (1810), written with his sister, continued in the Gothic mode. In what is usually regarded as his masterpiece, the verse drama Prometheus Unbound (1819), Shelley combines myth, political allegory, psychology, and theology to transform the Aeschylean myth of Prometheus the fire-giver into an allegory on the origins of evil and the possibility of regenerating nature and humanity through love. The verse drama The Cenci (1819) is based on the history of a sixteenthcentury Italian noble family, and depicts the evil Count Cenci's rape of his daughter, Beatrice, who determines to murder him, seeing no other means of escape from continued violation, and is executed for parricide. Although Shelley hoped for a popular success on the English stage, his controversial treatment of the subject of incest outraged critics, preventing the play from being produced. In 1814 Shelley, who was married, fell in love and eloped with Mary Godwin, the sixteen-year-old daughter of the radical English philosopher William Godwin and author and reformer Mary Wollstonecraft. He continued to provide for his first wife and their two children, but lived with Mary. In the summer of 1816, Shelley met Lord Byron, with whom he developed an enduring friendship that proved an important influence on the works of both men. In the fall of that same year, following his first wife's suicide, Shelley legalized his relationship with Mary. In 1822 Shelley and his companion, Edward Williams, drowned when their boat capsized in a squall off the coast of Lerici, Italy. Shelley's body was cremated on the beach in a ceremony conducted by his friends Byron, Leigh Hunt, and Edward John Trelawny. His ashes, except for his heart, which Byron plucked from the fire, were buried in the Protestant cemetery in Rome.
The Gothic did in fact serve as a metaphor with which some contemporaries in England tried to come to terms with what was happening across the Channel in the 1790s. The first Revolutionary emblem was the castle-prison, the Bastille and its destruction by an angry mob, which was fitted by Englishmen into the model of the Gordon Riots of nine years before. But if one way of dealing with the Revolution (in its earliest stages) was to see the castle-prison through the eyes of a sensitive young girl who responds to terror in the form of forced marriage and stolen property, another was to see it through the case history of her threatening oppressor, Horace Walpole's Manfred or M.G. Lewis' Ambrosio—the less comforting reality Austen was heralding in the historical phenomena of London riots. In Lewis' The Monk (1795) the two striking phenomena dramatized are first the explosion—the bursting out of his bonds—of a repressed monk imprisoned from earliest childhood in a monastery, with the havoc wreaked by his self-liberation (assisted by demonic forces) on his own family who were responsible for his being immured; and second, the bloodthirsty mob that lynches—literally grinds into a bloody pulp—the wicked prioress who has murdered those of her nuns who succumbed to sexual temptation. Both are cases of justification followed by horrible excess: Ambrosio deserves to break out and the mob is justified in punishing the evil prioress, but Ambrosio's liberty leads him to the shattering of his vow of celibacy, to repression, murder, and rape not unlike the compulsion against which he was reacting; and the mob not only destroys the prioress but (recalling the massacres of September 1792) the whole community and the convent itself:
The incensed Populace, confounding the innocent with the guilty, had resolved to sacrifice all the Nuns of that order to their rage, and not to leave one stone of the building upon another…. They battered the walls, threw lighted torches in at the windows, and swore that by break of day not a Nun of St. Clare's order should be left alive…. The Rioters poured into the interior part of the Building, where they exercised their vengeance upon every thing which found itself in their passage. They broke the furniture into pieces, tore down the pictures, destroyed the reliques, and in their hatred of her Servant forgot all respect to the Saint. Some employed themselves in searching out the Nuns, Others in pulling down parts of the Convent, and Others again in setting fire to the pictures and furniture, which it contained. These Latter produced the most decisive desolation: Indeed the consequences of their action were more sudden, than themselves had expected or wished. The Flames rising from the burning piles caught part of the Building, which being old and dry, the conflagration spread with rapidity from room to room. The Walls were soon shaken by the devouring element: The Columns gave way: The Roofs came tumbling down upon the Rioters, and crushed many of them beneath their weight. Nothing was to be heard but shrieks and groans; the Convent was wrapped in flames, and the whole presented a scene of devastation and horror.6
The end, of course, as it appeared to Englishmen in 1794–remembering Thomas Paine's words ("From a small spark, kindled in America, a flame has arisen, not to be extinguished")7 and the imagery of light and fire associated with the Revolution—was the destruction of the revolutionaries themselves in the general collapse.
I do not mean to suggest that Ann Radcliffe or Monk Lewis was producing propaganda either for or against the French Revolution. Lewis' treatment of the lynching scene, for example, is far removed from the morally clear-cut renderings of anticlericalism exemplified by the drames monacals popular in the theaters of Revolutionary Paris. In one of these plays—de Menuel's Les Victimes cloîtrées of 1791, which Lewis saw, admired, and translated—the wretched prisoners held in the dungeons below a convent are finally rescued by a Republican mayor brandishing the tricouleur. Lewis exploits the dramatic resonances of the Revolution and its anti-clericalism, but simultaneously portrays the rioting mob as blood-thirsty, completely out of control, animal-like in its ferocity. The convent of St. Clare represents corruption, superstition, and repression, but its overthrowers, no more admirable than the tyrants, are capable of the same atrocities or worse. In the same way, many observers (conservative and otherwise) by 1793 saw the brutally oppressed masses of France usurping the tyrannical roles of their erstwhile oppressors.8
In his critical essay "Idée sur les romans" (1800) the Marquis de Sade, who considered The Monk superior to all other works of its kind, asserted that the bloody upheavals of the French Revolution had rendered everyday reality so horrific that contemporary writers necessarily had to invoke the supernatural and demonic realms for material which could still shock or startle their readers. I do not think there is any doubt that the popularity of Gothic fiction in the 1790s and well into the nineteenth century was due in part to the widespread anxieties and fears in Europe aroused by the turmoil in France finding a kind of sublimation or catharsis in tales of darkness, confusion, blood, and horror.
The Gothic, however, had existed from the 1760s onward, and we are talking about a particular development in the 1790s, a particular plot which was either at hand for writers to use in the light of the French Revolution, or was in some sense projected by the Revolution and borrowed by writers who may or may not have wished to express anything specifically about the troubles in France. As a descendent of Walpole's Manfred, for example, Ambrosio has to be seen as a conflation of rebelling son and tyrant father. Manfred was the servant who murdered his master in order to usurp the family castle—or the castle of his father or older brother, in later versions of the story—and then sacrificed his own children to retain his property. But Ambrosio is notably unconcerned with property—only with liberty of a sexual sort. This is why he is sympathetic in a way that Manfred is not, even given Walpole's assurances that Manfred is otherwise a great soul. Ambrosio's story is of his insane, uncontrolled rush into freedom and, incidentally, of its consequences, which include repression of other people's liberty for the end of self-gratification. In short, The Monk is about the act of liberation, whereas The Castle of Otranto was about a man's attempt to hold together his crumbling estate and cheat others of their rightful inheritance. One is a fable of revolution, the other of the ancien régime.
The earlier phase produced fictions that continued to be copied throughout the period of the Revolution. Not long after the notorious September Massacres, the Monthly Review attacked a Gothic novel called The Castle of St. Vallery in the following terms:
Of all the resources of invention, this, perhaps, is the most puerile, as it is certainly among the most unphilosophical. It contributes to keep alive that superstition which debilitates the mind, that ignorance which propagates terror, and that dread of invisible agency which makes inquiry criminal.9
The critic sees the Gothic practiced in this novel as the representation of tyranny which was a central contribution of the pre-1789 genre, and so an example of everything the French Enlightenment and Revolution was seeking to correct. He detects nothing of either the analysis of unrestrained energy that appears in some of Radcliffe's work of the 1790s or the representation of the energy of revolution itself in The Monk. Many such writers simply ignored the fact of the French Revolution. As John Garrett writes of one of these, Mary Meeke, her "conservatism was based on a belief that the 1789 revolution was some sort of aberration of history," and so she continued to portray France of the ancien régime as if nothing had happened.10
Other writers were concerned about the significance of the events in France. But the castle as prison was already implicit in The Castle of Otranto and Radcliffe's Castles of Athlin and Dynbayne (1789), and it may have been only this image and this frame of mind that made the Fall of the Bastille an automatic image of revolution for French as well as English writers. By the time The Mysteries of Udolpho appeared (1794), the castle, prison, tyrant, and sensitive young girl could no longer be presented naively; they had all been sophisticated by the events in France.
At this point another strand of novel, the novel of reform (the so-called "Jacobin" novel), joins the Gothic in the representation of tyranny and revolution. The Gothic tended to be the form adopted by those who were either against or merely intrigued by the Revolution, or by problems of freedom and compulsion. The reformers Godwin, Holcroft, Bage, and Inchbald are for the Revolution; they call their works "Things as they Are," "Man as he Is" or "Man as he is Not"; they avoid the Gothic and theatrical trappings Burke associated with the Revolution; they have a sometimes dismaying singleness of purpose and go straight to the contemporary Englishman, the General Tilney, illustrating Arthur Young's insistence that "The true judgment to be formed of the French revolution, must surely be gained, from an attentive consideration of the evils of the old government."11 This was, of course, what the English Jacobins usually represented in their novels, tracts, and poems, for their real subject was not France but forms of compulsion in England.
Gothic and Jacobin novels had a similar ancestry in Richardson's Pamela and Clarissa; both show the family as a compulsive force on the children, in particular on the marriageable daughter or the young wife. The distinction is rather between a novel about the tyranny seen from the point of view of the helpless (most helpless because female) individual, and a novel about the rebel. William Godwin's Things as They Are: or the Adventures of Caleb Williams appeared just a year before The Monk, combining the two fictions in a more schematic, more coherent form. The relationship between Falkland and Caleb is the same explored by Inchbald and Holcroft between society the cruel hunter and the suffering individual, its victim. But by the time Godwin was writing, the French Terror had cast its shadow on libertarian dreams, and his work reflects that constant potential for simple inversion of the persecutor-persecuted relationship which events in Paris had so terribly exemplified.
In his initial, discursive response to the Revolution, Political Justice (1793), Godwin argued that "the great cause of humanity" is hindered by both the ancient tradition of Burkean thought (in his Reflections on the Revolution in France of 1790) and by the "friends of innovation." He focuses on the second, bringing to bear Burke's own argument that "to dragoon men into the adoption of what we think right is an intolerable tyranny": the French have shown that to overthrow tyranny is to have to become greater tyrants themselves.12 Godwin's own point is that the orderly process of growing philosophical awareness—a passive process—was dangerously interrupted by the Revolution, and perhaps directed into the wrong channels. His second point is that "Coercion first annihilates the understanding of the subject upon whom it is exercised, and then of him who employs it." For Caleb Williams, in his way, becomes as much a persecutor (and ultimately a murderer) as his master—and is eventually brought to commit similar crimes through an equally obsessive concern to protect the "honour" he no longer possesses.
The potentially invertible relationship in Caleb Williams is between two wholly isolated beings who play out their equally agonizing parts in a series of physical and psychological hunts and flights, wherein they repeatedly exchange the roles of persecutor and victim, hunter and hunted. Their final miserable realization of the simultaneity of both roles in their natures (each having previously viewed only the other as the real persecutor) results in the climactic moment in the novel when Falkland collapses into Caleb's arms and confesses to the murder of Tyrrel—and when Caleb realizes that his own awakened sense of guilt and responsibility must deny him the possibility of ever receiving any happiness from his long-desired liberty.
Both The Monk and Caleb Williams offer embryonic versions of the titanic Romantic hero who comes into being with the blurring of the old black-white morality of earlier Gothic fiction.13 This figure is in part characterized, as was the French Revolution, by the appalling ease with which his nature could be inverted, either by assuming the vices of the tyrant he has overthrown, or by a simple shift of moral perspective. Ambrosio seen from one point of view is the cruel hypocrite, matricide, and incestuous rapist, who lets no barrier stand between him and the fulfillment of his lust; but from another he is the helpless, passive victim of his repressive environment and of Satanic persecution, rendered vulnerable by his miseducation, seduced by a demon, tricked into ravishing his own sister, driven to sell his soul when an earthly reprieve is at hand, and finally betrayed and destroyed by the Arch-Fiend.
II. Crowd and Cabal
Some of the ambivalent feelings we have registered to Ambrosio, Caleb, and the crowd that destroys the prioress and her convent can be sensed in the meditations of a first-hand witness to the early stages of the Revolution. Arthur Young argues that release—the violent, destructive explosion of release Lewis depicts in Ambrosio—was a consequence of oppression, signifying only in relation to that original oppression. He asks whether it is "really the people to whom we are to impute" the excesses they are committing:
—Or to their oppressors who had kept them so long in a state of bondage? He who chooses to be served by slaves, and by ill-treated slaves, must know that he holds both his property and life by a tenure far different from those who prefer the service of well treated freemen; and he who dines to the music of groaning sufferers, must not, in the moment of insurrection, complain that his daughters are ravished, and then destroyed; and that his sons throats are cut.14
The fact that neither Lewis nor Godwin stresses the cruelty of the masters of Ambrosio and Caleb does not alter the general point that the revolt is understood only in terms of the oppression against which it acts. As to the crowd, which does react against specific and monstrous cruelty on the part of the prioress (who, after all, is a minor character in the novel), Young admonishes: "Let it be remembered that the populace in no country ever use power with moderation; excess is inherent in their aggregate constitution …" (p. 516).
From the Fall of the Bastille to the September Massacres, and to the levée en masse and Napoleon's armies, this crowd is in many ways the central phenomenon of the Revolution. The crowd, with the related terms "natural sovereignty" and "General Will" (or Burke's "swinish multitude"), was among the most ambiguous concepts to arise from the Revolution. Ambrosio, it should be recalled, was at the very outset presented as a spell-binding orator, the master of the crowd that later proves beyond mastering. The crowd, the mobile vulgus, was an image that was ready to hand in the literature of conservative Anglo-Catholic royalists like Dryden and Swift, but materialized by the Gordon Riots and the actual events in France. With this past history, and with its own development in France, the crowd merged with the conflicting or overlapping fictions of, on the one hand, the cabal or small secret society that governs the crowd and determines events, or, on the other, the single great man who expresses in himself the General Will.
The disturbances in Ireland, for example, the Times of 22 February 1793 reported, "arise from the pure wantonness of a set of desperadoes called Defenders … encouraged and abetted by a secret junto, that like the French Jacobins, wish to throw all government into confusion…." The largest such fiction was the one woven by the Abbé Augustin de Barruel, who argued that the illuminati masterminded the whole Revolution. As J. M. Roberts has written in his Mythology of the Secret Societies:
Educated and conservative men raised in the tradition of Christianity, with its stress on individual responsibility and the independence of the will, found conspiracy theories plausible as an explanation of such changes: it must have come about, they thought, because somebody planned it so.15
Such myths as plots of the Freemasons, philosophes, and illuminati were "an attempt to impose some sort of order on the bewildering variety of changes which suddenly showered upon Europe with the Revolution and its aftermath." The assumption of individual agency (as opposed to the more popular modern explanation of social and economic determinism) is evident not only in the allegorizations of revolution as the actions of a single man—an Ambrosio—but also in the comforting retreat to Satanic responsibility in the Miltonic fictions of rebellion in heaven and in the Garden of Eden—in Rosario-Matilda, the Devil who in fact determines all the events that Ambrosio seemed responsible for.
The crowd could thus mean either complete uncontrol of unruly passions or the carrying out of the designs of a single man or a very small group of schemers—or even diabolic possession or inspiration. The historical villain (as in many of the theories Barruel collects) is the Duc d'Orléans type (Philippe Egalité), the cadet who wants power himself and therefore topples the rightful older brother or cousin by masterminding a plot that moves the crowd (Satan in heaven, jealous of the raising of his "brother" Christ, or Schedoni in Radcliffe's The Italian), and is himself swept away by the tempest he has unleashed. The force then becomes the Jacobin Club or a Robespierre, who eventually loses his own head, and ultimately a Napoleon.
General Tilney (or Montoni or Schedoni) and the rioters are, of course, polarities: one concerned with the preservation and the other with the destruction of property, but both with its appropriation. Tilney is the malign individual, the Radcliffe villain; the rioters, something she only hints at in the vague figures of the sexually threatening soldiers of Montoni whom Emily fears (in this sense related to Burke's mob that threatens Marie Antoinette), are mere misdirected action, chance, the natural force of a crowd—in some ways even more terrifying to contemplate. Both, however, were historical phenomena, not exactly unthinkable before 1789, but largely Gothic fantasies or satiric exaggerations. Taken together, however, they represent the two chief explanations offered for the phenomenon of the Revolution by conservative theorists, the spokesmen of counter-revolution.
The sense of unresolved mystery that was one aspect of the Gothic fiction of Walpole, Clara Reeve, and Radcliffe also fitted the way many contemporaries "read" the Revolution. The feeling the reader has in Gothic fiction is of never knowing exactly where he is, where he is going, or what is happening. This is a feeling which corresponds to the puzzlement of the protagonist too, whether a passive Emily or an active plotter like Ambrosio. The Gothic describes a situation in which no one can understand or fathom anyone else's motives or actions. The narrative structure the Gothic inherited, and carried to its greatest degree of subtlety in Radcliffe's novels (and of formal innovation in Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer and Hogg's Confessions of a Justified Sinner), was one involving a theme of communication, the unresolved difficulty of understanding actions; this was expressed in the aposiopesis of Sterne's and Mackenzie's novels, in the authentic manuscript lost in gun-wadding or hair curlers, the resort to typographical excesses, and the alternative accounts that leave the reader as uncertain of the responsibility for the protagonist's actions as the protagonist himself. This is, of course, also a feature of the sublime style, "where half is left out to be supplied by the hearer"—and so a logical and syntactical obscurity joins revolution and sublimity.16
Behind all of this obscurity, however, is the elaborate plot, masterminded but slipping out of control, which involves the overthrow of a property owner. When the Revolution itself came, and as it progressed, it was precisely this inability to make out the events on a day-to-day basis, but with the suspicion of personal skulduggery beneath each new changing-hands of property, that made the Gothic novel a roughly equivalent narrative form. But this is not to say that the Revolution produced no plot structures of its own. There was a discernible scenario that began with the Fall of the Bastille and progressed to the march on and back from Versailles, the flight to Varennes, the September Massacres, the Terror, Thermidore, Brumaire, and so on. Even Waterloo was followed, for Englishmen, by Peterloo, an ironic, domestic extension. Depending on what stage one looked back from, he had a different structure, though it was increasingly colored on the dark side by the Terror, by the further disillusionment of the Directory, and by the threat to national security of the Empire.
Behind all of this was a new sense of history, of what could or should happen in history, and what history was in fact about. From being about the kings, it became, in certain ways, about larger groups of subjects and their attempts to come to terms with, or create a new order from, the disorder consequent upon the overthrow of the old established order. The process was one of evolution or revolution, probably of both, involving circular motion but in a spiral that was either ascending or descending, as Caleb overthrows while at the same time becoming Falkland, as Orc overthrows and then becomes Urizen, and so on. The standard features that emerged were the rebellion itself with the enormous possibilities and hopes it opened up; this was followed by a stage of delusion, dangerous and unforeseen consequences, and disillusionment.17
III. Sentimental Response and Sexual Energy
It is difficult not to agree with Nelson Smith that in many ways Emily St. Aubert is used by Radcliffe in precisely the critical way Jane Austen uses Catherine Morland.18 The (remote) potential of Ambrosio in Emily is broached at the beginning in M. St. Aubert's death-bed warning to her, "do not indulge in the pride of fine feeling" or "ill-governed sensibility," which is dangerous to its possessor and to others as well; and it is materialized at the end in the nun Agnes' expostulation to Emily based on her own slip from sentiment into sexual passion. In general, however, Radcliffe contrasts Emily's gentle sentiments in Udolpho with the "fierce and terrible passions … which so often agitated the inhabitants of this edifice," "those mysterious workings, that rouse the elements of man's nature into tempest." Emily's, she assures us,
was a silent anguish, weeping, yet enduring; not the wild energy of passion, inflaming imagination, bearing down the barriers of reason and living in a world of its own.19
The terms I have emphasized are precisely those applied by contemporaries like Burke to the Revolution. The deeply intuitive feelings of Emily are the quiet English virtues of the spectator of sublime overthrow across the Channel; the "wild energy" of Montoni is what Burke associates with the French rabble. Both derive from the sentimental novel, but one is the delicate sensibility of a Toby Shandy or a Harley, the friendship and compassion that can join parental duty, justice, and prudence; the other is the dangerous love of a Clarissa, even the benevolence of a Charles Surface, and the "Jacobin" view that "It is the quality of feeling that sanctifies the marriage; not, as the anti-Jacobins were to have it, the other way around."20
Emily is therefore, as Mary Poovey has argued, the susceptible young spectator who might be seduced by the real center of energy into becoming another Agnes; and this center of energy, Montoni, is based on a need to dominate that draws on the conventions of both Gothic and revolutionary mythology.21 There is, in short, a distinction between misperception—believing a General Tilney to be a Montoni, or (to take Blake's contemporary case, in "The Tyger") a lamb to be a tiger, a gallant French Revolution to be a bloodthirsty uprising or vice versa—and exploitation either of the sensitive soul by others or of others by the sensitive soul expanded until out of control. Emily is obviously the former, but this is because she never allows herself to slip completely out of control, and because Radcliffe has already given us this rebel figure in the male villain, whose motives are unrelievedly bad.
If Radcliffe produces a fiction about a spectator of revolutionary activity who can be confused by her experience, whose response though virtuous is both ambivalent and liable to the temptation to misperceive, then Lewis' Monk reproduces the exhilarating but ultimately depressing experience of the revolutionary himself.
I have already rehearsed the trajectory of Ambrosio's explosion of energy. Although this pact with the Devil introduces the Faustus story, it is significant that Ambrosio does not want the intellectual, spiritual, or specifically political power we associate with the Enlightenment. He wants only sexual power. The world of the Enlightenment no longer represented intellectual knowledge; the Revolution had, in Burke's and Lewis' terms, exposed the reality under Enlightenment to be unrestrained sexual "knowledge." Faustus' Mephistopheles becomes Ambrosio's Matilda. It is Ambrosio's desire for her that drags him into the world of Lucifer, and his lust for Antonia that draws him further into the Satanic power. At the same time, Raymond's violent love for Agnes permits the supernatural to penetrate the human world, for it is as he waits to elope with her and consummate his desire that the Bleeding Nun appears to him in her place. In The Monk it is the unleashing of repressed sexual desires that shatters the barrier between the natural and supernatural worlds.
Caleb Williams is also a Faustus figure, who describes his "crime" or "offence" as a "a mistaken thirst of knowledge."22 Although he is, unlike Ambrosio, in pursuit of an intellectual goal—knowledge of his master's crime—he describes his obsessive quest in sexual terms. Such words as "pleasures," "pains," "perpetual stimulus," "insatiable desire," "satisfaction," and "gratification"—all directed to the subject of his quest—have sexual resonances. When he realizes that Falkland is the murderer, he says "My blood boiled within me"—as we are told that Ambrosio's "blood boiled in his veins" when he looked upon Rosario-Matilda's bosom. "I was conscious to a kind of rapture for which I could not account," Caleb goes on. "I was solemn, yet full of rapid emotion, burning with indignation and energy." Based on Godwin's brilliant insight into the nature of the servant-master relationship for both parties, Caleb's almost sexual curiosity releases all the darker potentialities of Falkland's inner self, and lays Caleb open to inhuman pursuit and persecution, as well as to the corruption of his own nature.
Man searches for body equivalents for any important, unexplained phenomenon, from unordered nature to economics to revolutions. But there is probably some connection between love and revolution in the political experience itself—or at least in the mind (or vocabulary) of the person who writes about revolution, who is imaginatively recreating the experience. "Revolution is the sex of politics," as H. L. Mencken said. But if at the outset the most common metaphor was of sexual release—whether spring's bursting buds (in Paine's Rights of Man) or Blake's Orc breaking his chains and raping his tyrant-captor's daughter—by the end it had become images of parturition, of giving birth to creatures like Victor Frankenstein's, regarded as (depending on the point of view) a victim or a monster.
IV. The Retrospect of Frankenstein
The plot of The Monk can be seen as a version of the revolutionary scenario as far as the Terror; Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818, the year in which Northanger Abbey was finally published) was to some extent a retrospect on the whole process through Waterloo, with the Enlightenment-created monster leaving behind its wake of terror and destruction across France and Europe, partly because it had been disowned and misunderstood and partly because it was created unnaturally by reason rather than love in the instinctive relationships of the Burkean family.
One aspect of Shelley's fable we can see by recalling her remarks, on her elopement journey across France in July 1814, on the swath of devastation cut across France by the Russian troops following Napoleon's retreat from Moscow.23 The Cossack terror was in some sense the final consequence of Napoleon's—ultimately the French Revolution's, or the French ancien régime's—Frankenstein monster. In this crescendo of destruction can be read an allegory of the French Revolution, the attempt to recreate man and the disillusionment and terror that followed, not ending until Waterloo in 1815, the year between the Shelleys' two trips to Switzerland.24
We also know that Mary Shelley read in 1815 the Abbé Barruel's Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire du jacobinisme (1797–98) as well as her mother Mary Wollstonecraft's Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution (1794). In the first of these, Barruel uncovered sources of the Revolution in the occult practices of the Freemasons, the illuminati, and the Albigensians, Manicheans, and Assassins.25 Victor Frankenstein initially apprentices himself spiritually to Cornelius Agrippa, Albertus Magnus, and Paracelsus, and he goes off to college at Ingoldstadt. Munich or Heidelberg would have been closer to his home in Geneva, but Ingoldstadt (as Shelley knew from the Histoire du jacobinisme) was where Adam Weishaupt, the symbolic arch-demon of revolutionary thought, founded the Bavarian illuminati in 1776, and from this secret society supposedly grew the French Revolution. The illuminati were sworn to further knowledge for the betterment of mankind, no matter what the cost or the means. The words of M. Waldman to Victor could have been Weishaupt's own: "These [Agrippa and Paracelsus] were men to whose indefatigable zeal modern philosophers were indebted for most of the foundations of their knowledge…. The labours of men of genius, however erroneously directed, scarcely ever fail in ultimately turning to the solid advantage of mankind."26
We can feel the pervasive influence of Barruel, who saw the essence of the illuminati and of the Revolution he believed they propagated to be atheism, universal anarchy, and the destruction of property.27 The three elements of the Frankenstein syndrome are the aim to replace God the creator with man, to destroy the family and its ties, and to destroy property and human life. Barruel offered an extremely symbolic explanation (down to the detection of the Masonic triangle in the guillotine blade, invented by Dr. Guillotine, a Freemason), one that could be called Gothic in its bias toward historical explanations and extreme causality, on devious and secret plotting, and on pseudo-science and occult philosophy.
The reading of her mother's book on "the Origin and Progress" of the Revolution was for Mary Shelley a way of connecting the personal and the public reality of history with Barruel's Gothic fictions of origins. Mary Wollstonecraft, writing about this "revolution, the most important that has ever been recorded in the annals of man," made it very clear that its cruelties were the consequence of the ancien régime. From the court's imprisonment of representatives to the assembly, the troops' crushing public demonstrations, and the king's substituting retaliation for justice, she says,
we may date the commencement of those butcheries, which have brought on that devoted country so many dreadful calamities, by teaching the people to avenge themselves with blood!28
The origin of the Revolutionary bloodbath was in the cruelty of the tyrant himself, much as Arthur Young and Godwin had asserted. Percy Shelley offered the same explanation in his preface to The Revolt of Islam (1817–18): "Can he who the day before was a trampled slave suddenly become liberal-minded, forbearing, and independent?" And he wrote in his review of Frankenstein:
Treat a person ill, and he will become wicked. Requite affection with scorn:—let one being be selected, for whatever cause, as the refuse of his kind—divide him, a social being, from society, and you impose upon him the irresistible obligations—malevolence and selfishness.29
If these texts were the ambience, the immediate experience behind Mary Shelley's writing was the trauma of her giving birth to a dead child in February or March 1815 and the memory of her own birth, which had killed her mother nearly twenty years before in 1797.30 Birth trauma is one of the central concerns of Frankenstein, as it was metaphorically of Wollstonecraft's history of the "Origin and Progress" of the Revolution, and in Mary Shelley the points of view of the parent and child merged.
Private and public life first joined in Mary Wollstonecraft's love affair with Gilbert Imlay (as it had also in Wordsworth's with Annette Vallon), their idyll in Paris during the Revolution, and his betrayal of her at the same time the Revolution itself betrayed her. The result was the commonplace similitude between revolution and sexual love. Wollstonecraft's recovery was through her relationship with Godwin, and this time the offspring was Mary Shelley—in whose birth (the symbolic joining of these two revolutionary spirits) the mother died, leaving Mary with the trauma of seeming rejection by the mother-creator, as well as by the father who held her responsible for the death of his beloved wife. At the age of four she was further rejected by her father when he took Mary Jane Clairmont as his second wife.31 Now to the guilt of having killed her mother was added the birth and death of her own first child, and the birth in January 1816 of her second (who survived until 1819), not long before the trip to Switzerland, and at a time when she was seeing the French Revolution in its final stage: political reaction following the rejected and rejecting Revolution.
The construction of the monster, as of the makeshift, nonorganic family, is the final aspect of the Frankenstein plot. Burke's conception of the state as organic and of the Revolution as a family convulsed was joined by Mary Shelley with the fact of her own "family," the haphazard one in which she grew up with other children of different mothers and with a stepmother.32 This creation of a family of children by some method other than natural, organic procreation within a single love relationship is projected onto the Frankenstein family, a family assembled by the additive process of adoptions and the like, and so to Victor's own creation of a child without parents or sexual love. The autochthonous family, made up of bits and pieces, a substitute for organic growth, begins with Victor's father and leads to his own putting together of his creature from a variety of different bodies. The construction of the "child" is then followed by its rejection by its "father"; and then by the creature's desire for a proper mate in order to carry on its own line, the "father's" refusal, and the creature-son's systematic destruction of the father's whole family—including his bride (who would have been the mother had there been one).
The conventional tyrannical family (Turkish in this case) is contrasted with the new rational family Frankenstein projects:
A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve their's.
Frankenstein predictably sees himself as the father who "deserves" the gratitude of his children more "completely" than any other, and in saying so becomes the tyrant himself. As an allegory of the French Revolution, his experiment corresponds to the possibility of ignoring the paternal (and maternal) power by constructing one's own offspring out of sheer reason, but it shows that the creator is still only a "father" and his creation another "son" locked in the same love-tyranny relationship Mary's own father had described so strikingly in Caleb Williams (another book Mary had reread as she undertook her novel).
We have by now distinguished two phases of the Revolution, one seen from the point of view of a lover, and the other from the point of view of the child of the union. These are not as distinct as they might at first appear. The first is an Oedipus, or, in Blake's terms, the Orc who becomes a rival to his father; and the second is Electra or Polyneices, the child of the incestuous union, the offspring of the Revolution. It is precisely this juxtaposition (or conflation) of points of view, including the parallel one of the author (expressed again, looking back from the Preface of 1831, when she says, "And now, once again, I bid my hideous progeny go forth and prosper"), that distinguishes Frankenstein as a fictional work.
The description of the creator and his creature looking at each other in turn (pp. 52, 53), and thereafter reporting the same scenes from their respective viewpoints, inevitably evokes the passage in Burke's Philosophical Enquiry (1757) in which, as an example of how the sublime operates, Milton's Satan and Death are described as if facing each other, each seeing the other from his own point of view, as mutual challengers.33 There is, of course, no mother in the case of Frankenstein's creature, and so no Sin of the Satan-Sin-Death paradigm, because Victor thinks he can create out of himself alone (as Satan originally did Sin). But the mutually destructive conflict proves to be over the creature's mate, and the victim is Victor's own mate. As in Burke's example, Sin is the invisible third party standing between the father and son.
The world seen by creator and creature is constructed of the most familiar image patterns of the Revolution, beginning with Barruel's illuminati. The word illuminé; was, of course, radically ambiguous, "used by people in diametrically opposed ways" as reason and as revelation, as right and as wrong, as royal authority and as human liberty.34 When Victor reads Cornelius Agrippa, he finds that a "new light seemed to dawn upon my mind" (p. 32), and this is the familiar illumination which (in terms similar to Paine's) becomes fire in the thunderstorm that first suggests the idea of how to galvanize inert matter into life:
on a sudden I beheld a stream of fire issue from an old and beautiful oak, which stood about twenty yards from our house; and so soon as the dazzling light vanished, the oak had disappeared, and nothing remained but a blasted stump. When we visited it the next morning, we found the tree shattered in a singular manner. It was not splintered by the shock, but entirely reduced to thin ribbands of wood. I never beheld any thing so utterly destroyed.
This description of lightning-electricity as both life-giving and utterly destructive, aimed at "an old and beautiful oak," is a final echo of the vocabulary in which Shelley's mother and her opponents (in particular Burke with his British oak) had described the Revolution. The effect is that of the crowd's vengeance in The Monk, but the image leads into the Promethean associations of light and fire, benevolence and destruction. (Napoleon was associated with Prometheus by Byron and by his own propaganda machine.)
The creature is born into light, so strong that "I was obliged to shut my eyes" (p. 97), and darkness and light alternate as he closes and opens his eyes. While light allows him to move about and "wander on at liberty," it leads him to seek relief in its opposite: "The light became more and more oppressive to me; and, the heat wearying me as I walked, I sought a place where I could receive shade" (p. 98). His enlightenment-oriented master, we recall, was given to remarking that "Darkness had no effect upon my fancy" (p. 47).
As the creature's eyes become "accustomed to the light" so that he can now "perceive objects in their right forms," he comes upon light in its next higher incarnation, fire:
I … was overcome with delight at the warmth I experienced from it. In my joy I thrust my hand into the live embers, but quickly drew it out again with a cry of pain. How strange, I thought, that the same cause should produce such opposite effects.
Frankenstein's monster runs the gamut of the associations of birth, springtime, and the heat that becomes destructive fire, found in so many of the writings of the Revolution. His birth is described as a kind of emergence into spring, and his progress is to the beautiful spot of the cottagers, from winter to spring (p. 111), followed by the disastrous confrontation and dispersal of himself and the foster-family he had tried to join. Victor describes his own breakdown following the "birth" of the monster, and then his recovery, in terms of the seasons:
I perceived that the fallen leaves had disappeared, and that the young buds were shooting forth from the trees that shaded my window. It was a divine spring; and the season contributed greatly to my convalescence. I felt also sentiments of joy and affection revive in my bosom….
The irony is that Victor fails to recognize the connection between his production of the monster and this rebirth and the conventional imagery going back to Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft of the Revolution seen from a positive point of view as the beautiful. Victor sees it instead as the terrible, the sublime, the threatening, and the tragedy of his reaction is that, like Burke, he turns the creature into the sublime destructive force he reads into his aesthetic response to it—when his response presumably should rather have been that of a sensitive parent. What is needed is the beautiful love of a mother, not the sublime fear of a father.
The warmth of spring ends, however, as destructive and then self-destructive fire. The creature tells us that he is going to end his life on a funeral pyre at the North Pole:
Soon these burning miseries will be extinct. I shall ascend my funeral pile triumphantly, and exult in the agony of the torturing flames. The light of that conflagration will fade away; my ashes will be swept into the sea by the winds. My spirit will sleep in peace….
And having said this, he makes off on his ice raft, and the novel ends: "He was soon borne away by the waves, and lost in darkness and distance"—a final sublime object.
It seems not possible to write about the Revolution and avoid the aesthetic categories first introduced by Burke in his Reflections. Victor has made the creature out of beautiful features, but the scale is too large and the juxtapositions ugly—and the whole inspires terror. Thus, as Victor says when he sees the creature for the first time instilled with life: "the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart" (p. 53). And the beautiful cottage, its surrounding scenery, "the perfect forms of my cottagers" (as the creature says), and Safie with her "countenance of angelic beauty and expression" (pp. 109, 112), are set against the looming presence of the monster which destroys the locus amoenus and disperses this, another family.
Mary Shelley is summing up all we have seen about the Gothic as a fiction in which to describe the French Revolution. The positive representations of the Revolution tended to stop—insofar as they remained positive and did not move on to the next phase of response—at the burst of sexual energy, which was creation. Beyond that, Paine, Price, Blake, and others suggested a vaguely pastoral life, an ideal of a Golden Age of leisure defended by Godwin and predictably attacked by Malthus, Crabbe, and Burke. The negative, dark side of the Revolution thus not unnaturally tended to fall into the fiction of the Gothic; and this suited Burke's way of thinking in his Reflections, for precisely what was being destroyed was the beautiful, passive, feminine, chivalric, pastoral world that is embodied in the maiden fleeing down dimly lit, tortuous corridors, followed by the active, masculine, sublimely aggressive force of the French revolutionaries who threatened the queen and abducted, humiliated, and overthrew her husband, the father of his people, the king.
1. The Novels of Jane Austen, ed. R. W. Chapman (London, 1923), V, 158-60. Page numbers cited in the text refer to this edition.
2. Part of the context of the passage is the sort of response a revolutionary sympathizer like Richard Brinsley Sheridan made to the rumors being bandied about. He tells his fellow Members of Parliament with mock seriousness "that there was a plan for taking the Tower by the French; after which, the whole of our constitution was to be overturned, and the Royal Family were to be murdered. At the head of this plot was to be placed that most execrable character, Marat…." There were also to be attempts to poison the New River (which supplied London with its water). But the insurrection in fact comes down to the planting of a Liberty Tree by some schoolboys: "Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane," as Sheridan concludes (Speeches, 1816, III, 89-91).
3. As John K. Mathison put it: "From the gothic novels, Catherine had come to believe in the possibility of cruelty, violence, and crime that her sheltered life had shown no signs of" ("Northanger Abbey and Jane Austen's Conception of the Value of Fiction," ELH, 24 , 149). See also Marily Butler, Jane Austen and the War of Ideas (Oxford, 1975), for an interesting account of the background of Austen's novels in anti-Jacobin fiction.
4. At one point Henry tells Catherine, "I consider a country-dance as an emblem of marriage," and fills in the analogies. "But they are such very different things!—" says Catherine, the reader of Gothic romances (p. 76). Tilney extends the comparison to other details, and we remember that his view is through most of the novel normative of the real as opposed to Gothic fictions. "[B]ut still they are so very different," Catherine, however, responds again; and indeed they are. Both Henry and Catherine are right. They are talking about the relation of the sign or the representation to reality—which finds a particularly interesting case in the French Revolution.
5. See Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790); and Paulson, "Burke's Sublime and the Representation of Revolution," in Culture and Politics from Puritanism to the Enlightenment, ed. Perez Zagorin (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1980), pp. 241-70.
6. The Monk, ed. Howard Anderson (London, 1973), pp. 357-58.
7. Rights of Man, Pt. II (1792; rpt. London, 1969), p. 232. On the imagery of light, to which we shall return, see Paulson, "Turner's Graffiti: The Sun and its Glosses," in Images of Romanticism, ed. Karl Kroeber and William Walling (New Haven, 1978), pp. 171-83.
8. The caricaturist James Gillray presents equally undifferentiated images (as to good and evil) of Louis XVI and the canaille who abuse him (French Democrats surprising the Royal Family, 27 June 1792).
9. Quoted by Robert D. Mayo in his Introduction to George Moore's Grasville Abbey (1797; Arno Press ed., 1974), p. x.
10. Introduction to Count St. Blancard by Mary Meeke (1795; Arno Press ed., 1977), p. xv.
11. Travels during the Years 1787, 1788, and 1789 (Dublin, 1793), II, 517. For the Jacobin novel, see Butler, pp. 29-87; Gary Kelly, The English Jacobin Novel 1780–1805 (Oxford, 1976); and Paulson's review of Kelly in Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly, 11 (1978), 293-97.
12. Political Justice, ed. Isaac Kramnick (London, 1978), pp. 262, 639; see also pp. 639-41.
13. See Robert C. Hume, "Gothic Versus Romantic: A Revaluation of the Gothic Novel," PMLA, 84 (1969), 282-90.
14. Young, Travels, II, 515, 516.
15. Mythology of the Secret Societies (London, 1972), p. 10 (on Barruel in general, see pp. 188-202); and Barruel, Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire du jacobinisme (1797–98; English eds. also published in 1797–98).
16. Abraham Cowley, quoted by Martin Price, "The Sublime Poem: Pictures and Powers," Yale Review, 58 (1969), 206.
17. A related, more specific progression, which was one way of reading the events, began with moderate leaders who had intended no violence or mass upheaval but were swept away by the movement they unleashed. The "moderates," by upsetting the existing order, released other forces of society: in Paris, the mob, the Jacobin clubs, and the politicians who wanted equality of taxes and representation; in the country, the naturally conservative peasants who rose in agrarian revolt.
18. Nelson C. Smith, "Sense, Sensibility and Ann Radcliffe," SEL, 12 (1973), 577-90. See also Mary Poovey, "Ideology in The Mysteries of Udolpho," Criticism, 21 (1979), 307-30.
19. The Mysteries of Udolpho, ed. Bonamy Dobrée (London, 1966), p. 329.
20. Butler, p. 28. Sheridan's indulgence toward Charles Surface in School for Scandal was attacked by Henry Mackenzie in Anecdotes and Egotisms, ed. H. W. Thompson (London, 1927), p. 204, and by the anti-Jacobins Robert Bisset (Douglas, or the Highlander , III, 111-14) and Charles Lucas (The Infernal Quixote , I, 252).
21. Poovey, passim.
22. Caleb Williams, ed. David McCracken (London, 1970), p. 133.
23. History of a Six Weeks' Tour through a Part of France, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland (1817), pp. 19-24.
24. We should also recall Mary Shelley's account of her visit to Versailles, and of seeing a particular boar hunt illustrated in a book in the royal library, and of reading into it the origin of a chain of events that had only now come to an end in the prostration of France (Mary Shelley's Journal, ed. Frederick L. Jones [Norman, OK, 1947], I, 63).
25. Tracing the Assassins through Gibbon and his sources, Mary then read Louis Maimbourg's History of Dualism. She seems to have been interested in 1815 and 1816 in the relationship of Enlightenment thought to the interest in occultism and psychic phenomena that immediately preceded the Revolution (Mary Shelley's Journal, I, 19).
26. Frankenstein, ed. James Rieger (New York, 1974), pp. 42-43. Page numbers cited in the text refer to this edition, which is based on the first edition of 1818.
27. Roberts, Mythology of the Secret Societies, p. 196. See also Clarke Garrett, "Joseph Priestley, the Millenium, and the French Revolution," Journal of the History of Ideas, 34 (1973), 51-66.
28. Historical and Moral View, pp. 56-57.
29. The Complete Poetical Works of Shelley, ed. Thomas Hutchinson (Oxford, 1904), p. 36; Shelley's Prose, ed. D. L. Clark (Albuquerque, 1966), pp. 307-8.
30. See Ellen Moers, Literary Women: The Great Writers (New York, 1976), pp. 91-100; Mary Shelley's Journal, I, 40-41; and her letter to T. J. Hogg, 6 March 1815, in Shelley and his Circle, ed. K. N. Cameron and D. H. Reiman (Cambridge, MA, 1970), III, 453.
31. She later recalled the "excessive and romantic attachment to my father," which she said the second Mrs. Goodwin "had discovered" (The Letters of Mary W. Shelley, ed. Frederick L. Jones [Norman, OK, 1944], II, 88).
32. Godwin's second wife, Mary Jane Clairmont, was a widow with two children of her own. Additional members of the "family" were Fanny Imlay (Mary Wollstonecraft's illegitimate child by Gilbert Imlay) and William, the child of Godwin's second marriage.
33. Burke, Philosophical Enquiry, Pt. II, Sect. III-IV, ed. J. T. Boulton (London, 1958), pp. 58-64.
34. Roberts, p. 134.
ALISON MILBANK (ESSAY DATE 1994)
SOURCE: Milbank, Alison. "From the Sublime to the Uncanny: Victorian Gothic and Sensation Fiction." In Gothick Origins and Innovations, edited by Allan Lloyd Smith and Victor Sage, pp. 169-79. Atlanta: Rodopi, 1994.
In the following essay, Milbank explores the development of Gothic fiction in the Victorian period through analyses of "sensation fiction" and through the use of feminist literary theory.
This paper begins by tracing an extremely schematic double genealogy for gothic writing of the Victorian period in texts from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, then focuses on the tales and novels of Wilkie Collins and Sheridan Le Fanu. To illuminate the various binary oppositions by which the paper is structured, I shall employ concepts of the sublime, especially as found in Freud, and also in the work of the feminist philosopher and psychoanalyst, Luce Irigaray. My primary concern is with the production of sexual difference in gothic writing.
One can discern two contrasting strands of Gothic in the 1790's and beyond. First, the 'female' Gothic, which takes the subjectivity of the endangered, aristocratic heroine as its hermeneutic, and charts her incarceration in castle or convent. Her body is threatened with violation and death, but she resists, succeeds in escaping the tyrant's power, and is finally revealed as the true heir. Ann Radcliffe is the exemplar of this tradition, and authors of both sexes in the ranks of the Minerva Press imitate her romances. Even Maturin tries his hand at the form, but without the same emphasis on feminine expression. Secondly, the 'male' Gothic delineates ingress rather than egress, especially entrance into private domestic space, such as the woman's bedroom, the convent and the female body by a transgressive masculine protagonist like Ambrosio in Matthew Lewis's The Monk (1796), who contemplates copulation in a convent mortuary, or the resource-ful debauchees of de Sade's One Hundred and Twenty Days of Sodom, who set out to break every sexual taboo. In their different ways, Maturin, Hogg and Godwin continue this emphasis on the guilty transgressor. Horace Walpole, author of the earlier tale, The Castle of Otranto (1764) and the drama, The Mysterious Mother (1768), can be seen as engenderer of both 'female' and 'male' forms, which co-exist in often uneasy relation in his work. But as Manfred's daughter, Matilda, in Otranto, dies at her father's hand, sacrificed to his passion for Isabella, so the 'female' elements of his work are subsumed by his greater interest in the range and extremity of masculine passion.
The next binary opposition which is to be brought into play is taken from Sigmund Freud. It is noticeable, both before and after David Morris's influential article on gothic sublimity, how frequently Freud's essay, 'On the Uncanny', with its elegant presentation of the return of repressed material as an uncanny, literally 'unhomely' experience is invoked by commentators on the Gothic.1 As Freud emphasises, the uncanny can only be felt when that which has been repressed is allowed to surface, and to be represented.2 If incest, for example, a common trope of the Gothic, is presented in the desire of Manfred in Otranto, or the unfortunate result of Ambrosio's rape of Antonia in The Monk, then it cannot, as David Morris argues in his article, be sublime, since the sublime is precisely the point at which representation fails. The sublime is that which cannot be represented. Indeed, the uncanny in a text acts often to turn what might be sublime back into the beautiful.3
However, at the same time that Freud was completing his modernist uncanny essay, he was also embarking on a rather more postmodern work, 'Beyond the Pleasure Principle', in which the death instincts are introduced as in agonistic struggle with those of eros, and resistance to symbolisation produces a sublime.4 Now if the use of the uncanny can be said to characterise the 'male' Gothic's supernatural incursions, its transgressions and forced repetitions by means of which the tabooed is brought into representation, then 'Beyond the Pleasure Principle' more closely interacts with what I have described as 'female' Gothic, with its structure of sexual antagonism, its presentation of gaps in consciousness, its death fears and its delight in the sublime as that which 'subjects' the human being. In Lewis's The Monk, in Godwin's Caleb Williams (1794), and in Melmoth the Wanderer (1820), there is indeed a sublime, which is located in the ambitious reach of the hero or anti-hero; in Ambrosio's oratory, Melmoth's agonies, Falkland's superhuman stature. Theirs is the sublime described by Longinus and the civic humanists, but it is a sublime that has come adrift from its audience, so that it no longer overcomes its hearers to empower them, but merely dominates them.5 Rather it is an antisublime and a parody. In Radcliffe by contrast, the sublime is often a shared, equalising experience, as when Adeline and the la Lucs gaze upon the Alps in The Romance of the Forest (1791), or Emily, St Aubert and Valancourt behold the Pyrenees. Even Elena, viewing the landscape from the confinement of an Apennine convent in The Italian (1797) can invoke an absent community of taste by sublime response. For this aesthetic is not merely a matter of individual emotion, but of universal claim.6
It is in this context that one can begin to make distinctions in the area of Victorian Gothic. It is, I believe, the 'male' Gothic and the mock-sublime, infused with such democratic materials as trial accounts, police reports and popular ballads, that finds its articulation in the 'sensation' fiction of the mid-nineteenth century by writers such as Wilkie Collins, Charles Reade and Mary Braddon. These novels combine extreme situations with detailed contemporary settings. They set in train excessive emotions and perverse mental states, which are expressed primarily in action, as the protagonists pit themselves against social convention and legal process. Whereas the male protagonist of the earlier form was justified to some extent by the excess of his passions, or the lack of free range for his abilities, so these later, often female characters are shown to be excluded from social presence and positioning as women by unjust laws and social hypocrisy. They become housebreakers, forcing ingress to gain control by marriage to a powerful man, and the taboos they break are those of sexual conduct and private morality, and the laws concerned with these, such as bigamy. They are also not above a little burglary, blackmail, and forgery. Predicated upon the production of bodily effect, of sensations, the novels depend upon the devices of the uncanny—doubles, disguises, repetitions and horror. This last effect, unlike terror, is the dread of understanding what one fears; it is the fear of knowledge, rather than ignorance. In contrast to the works of less 'pure' sensationalists, such as Dickens, whose pages have more than their fair share of death scenes, the sensation novel avoids death, or, as in the case of Lady Audley's husband thrown by her down a well, involves deaths that turn out not to be fatal. Even in Collins's The Woman in White (1860), the villains do not, after all, need to murder their destined victim, Anne Catherick, since she dies naturally. Instead, the typical sensation 'murder' is that of Fosco: 'With my vast resources in chemistry, I might have taken Lady Glyde's life. At immense personal sacrifice, I followed the dictates of my own ingenuity, my own humanity, my own caution—and took her identity instead.'7
The form's playfulness with identities, assumed and denied, and the deliberate act of transgression performed by its heroines, has given it a privileged status in some feminist criticism. Magdalen Vanstone, the ambiguous heroine of Collins's No Name (1862), is the paradigm of liberal feminist virtue because she 'acts for herself … using men to her advantage rather than subordinating herself to them. Though her conscious goal is to regain the name and inheritance unjustly taken from her, she is more profoundly rebelling against the fragility and emptiness of conventional feminine identity'.8 This verdict is shared by a number of writers on Collins. The plot of No Name is engendered by the lately discovered illegitimacy of two orphans, one of whom, Magdalen Vanstone, becomes an actress to gain money to mount an amatory assault in disguise on the cousin who inherited her name and fortune. After his death she disguises herself again, as a housemaid, to gain access to a family trust, only to be discovered, fall ill in East London, and be rescued by an admirer, Captain Kirke, who marries her.
The 'sensations' of the narrative lie in the dizzy rapidity of plot and counter-plot of opposing groups, as the heroine's shady uncle works to deceive Noel Vanstone's watchful housekeeper, and effect an elopement. Magdalen acts passively, as her uncle instructs her: she is far from the independent heroine of feminist criticism; rather, she is the source of the uncanny in the novel. This is first located in her facial features, with their opposing characteristics that defy union: the eyes 'incomprehensively and discordantly light', the firm chin showing stability contrasted to a giddy mobility of expression. The dislocation of the parts of her body fetishises it, making it an erotic focus by its very contradictions, which is a technique Collins uses for Marian Halcombe in The Woman in White, and the siren Lydia Gwilt in Armadale (1866).
This uncanniness is shown in a second way in Magdalen's lack of name or identity which causes her to assume her various roles. First, she becomes an actress not on the public stage with a company but rather in a semi-private setting in which she gives a series of 'At Home's. She acts her former self, as a young lady entertaining her family and friends with songs and monologues. Her second role is as vamp, and her third, as housemaid, exposes her to mild sexual liberties by her employer and fellow servant. It completes her objectification. To much recent criticism this role-playing de-stabilises assured categories of womanhood. But the novel's ending suggests quite another purpose is thereby served. Magdalen questions Kirke about his response to reading her account of her adventures: 'Say what you think of me with your own lips.'9 He does not reply with words of admiration, but bends down to close her lips with a kiss, thus assuring her of her sexual if not her moral perfection. Rather the two are revealed as one and the same. What the transgressions of the sensation heroine so often produce is a demystification of the feminine other, whose public antics only serve to render her the more nubile. In the case of Magdalen Vanstone, her essaying of the roles of actress, vamp and maid prepares her perfectly for marriage, in which they will be 'privatised'. No longer uncanny, now that she has been re-assimilated by a name, she is revealed as the beautiful, the formed, in contrast to the Unform of Kant's version of the sublime. Time and again in Collins's work, rising to an apogee in The New Magdalen's marriage of the prostitute and the clergyman, the uncanny, displaced woman (or jewel, in The Moonstone), is restored to patriarchal ordering, and her errancy is but a necessary stage in the construction of her value on the sexual market.
In The Woman in White, Collins's most traditional gothic tale, one seems to be closer to the Radcliffean tradition, but there is present the same uncanniness applied to the female characters, especially to Laura Fairlie, whose face evokes a sense of something lacking to the narrator. This is a classic case of repression, since it is her resemblance to her illegitimate half-sister, Anne Catherick, herself a blank 'woman in white', that causes the effect. The transgressive act of adultery has made two daughters where there should have been but one. The novel's villain, Count Fosco, plays indeed with the term, 'the sublime', which he constantly applies to Marian Halcombe, but its use serves to undercut her authority, especially when one finds an invocation to 'the sublime Marian' in Fosco's intervention in Marian's own diary, at the point when she has lost control of the plot, and of her own narrative. Fosco com-mends his wife for sublimity precisely because of her subjection to him.10 Both the use of the uncanny and the mock-sublime presage the phallocentric closure of the novel, when Laura's lack, after she has lost name, position and character is filled by her low-born lover's recreation of her, while she lives under his protection. Both heroines are displaced on the novel's last page by the new male 'Heir of Limmeridge'.
The 'female' Gothic does, however, find a voice in Victorian fiction, notably in Charlotte Brontë's fiction, in which entry into the gothic plot of enclosure creates a self of value, and in Dickens's excursions into gothic terrain in Esther Summerson's narrative in Bleak House (1852–3), and his re-writing of The Mysteries of Udolpho in Little Dorrit (1855–7). But the most Radcliffean writer then active was undoubtedly J. Sheridan Le Fanu, editor of the Dublin University Magazine. His shorter fiction, mainly concerned with the super-natural, consists of exercises in an extreme version of 'male' Gothic, in which a guilty man's secrets are disclosed by ghostly invasion, and his self-narrative deconstructed into damnation. However, just as Freud's work on the uncanny leads to what I should describe as a sublime—something 'beyond the pleasure principle—so Le Fanu's uncanny, supernatural tales give way to longer fictions mainly concerned with the escape of the aristocratic heroine of virtue from imprisonment in the time-locked great house, and from the burden of inherited guilt. In Wylder's Hand (1864), the union of 'male' and 'female' forms is attempted, leading to a bizarre ending (for a Victorian novel) in which the two heroines, romantically unattached, are glimpsed by the narrator adrift on the Venetian Lido, still wedded to their family loyalties as the doge is to the sea, but exiled from their own house because of their awareness of its guilty history. They escape the narrator's comprehension, and remain unassimilated by his text. The Rose and the Key (1871) goes further in its denunciation of the evils of the present as well as a past social system. Maud Vernon sets off innocently, like Maturin's Stanton, for a country house visit, only gradually to realise that her genteel, though eccentric, companions are lunatics, and that her mother has had her made an inmate in an asylum. Le Fanu so develops this theme about the relative normality and domesticity of the place as to suggest that the social order itself is a Foucaldian prison, and Maud's eventual release has, perforce, an apocalyptic quality.
However, it is in Uncle Silas: A Tale of Bartram-Haugh (1864) that Le Fanu's work most closely follows Radcliffe, to whose heroine, Adeline de Montalt, his heroine compares herself. It also contains his most extended version of the sublime in its apocalyptic form. In Uncle Silas, the young heiress, Maud Ruthyn, moves on her father's death from one isolated great house to another, even more isolated, and indeed, ruinous mansion, and the care of her uncle who had once been suspected of a bookmaker's death, so lives retired. The murder is proved by a later replication, when Silas's son enters Maud's room to kill her by means of the same window machinery. Her malign governess accidentally murdered in her stead, Maud flees death and the house for freedom.
Unlike the sensation novels of Collins and Braddon, Le Fanu's novel, which he entitled a 'tragic romance', is obsessed with the idea of death, which is the frame of the heroine's speculation. Elizabeth Bowen has therefore described Maud Ruthyn as death's self-chosen bride. The two brothers Ruthyn have mortuary associations, and Silas once appears like a corpse, leading a recent television adaptor of the novel to associate Maud's death fears with repressed incestuous desires. This would be a reading of Uncle Silas in terms of the uncanny. But Maud's father's Swedenborgian friend tries to lead the young child Maud's gaze beyond the frame of death, and its house, the tomb. He leads the motherless girl to a high wall, then behind it, to see the scene of bucolic felicity it hides. Next he takes her to her mother's mausoleum, and asks her what she sees:
'Oh that—that place where poor mama is?'
'Yes, a stone wall with pillars, too high for either you or me to see over…. But Swedenborg sees beyond it, over and through it, and has told me all that concerns us to know. He says your mama is not there.'
'She is taken away!' I cried, starting up, and with streaming eyes, gazing on the building which, tho' I stamped my foot in my distraction, I was afraid to approach.
'Oh is mama taken away? Where is she? Where have they brought her to?'11
Like Mary Magdalene at the tomb of Christ, the child can only imagine a materialistic explanation of an empty tomb. Her thoughts refuse to move beyond the fact of death, and the return of the ghost, to the sublime vision. Death for Maud is uncanny, and this uncanniness and fear of the supernatural precludes her understanding of the material threats which actually face her. Similarly, this passage with its use of a wall to image death, suggests that the house itself is a barrier to perception. It is, after all, the balustrade of Knowl that provides the Swedenborgian with his first analogy. At Bartram-Haugh, whenever Maud tries to look out beyond the house through the window her breath mists the glass, and she sees nothing.
In Freud's 'Beyond the Pleasure Principle', the death instincts and repetition are in some way directly related, as movement occurs only to re-establish an original stability.12 Similarly, Le Fanu's protagonist moves house only to repeat the forms and situation of her earlier residence. She also reinforces the sense of repetition by her frequent attempts to show resemblances between her father and her uncle. This fact runs counter to a conventional Freudian reading of the novel purely in terms of the projection of repressed characteristics of Austin Ruthyn, and in terms of incest and the uncanny.13 For Maud, as Dr Bryerly and Cousin Monica Knollys try to indicate, Silas is uncanny, a riddle, a Rembrandt portrait only partially emerging from shadow, because Maud refuses to allow his malign character and to separate him from her father, and the latter's system of values. Far from creating a victimised self as part of a paranoid fantasy, as W. J. McCormack claims, Maud's belated realisation of her intended murder is necessary in order for her to achieve any action, to move out of her frozen stasis.
There is another repetitious journey, as Maud is taken, as she believes, to France, but in fact in a circle back to Bartram-Haugh, and close confinement while her death is prepared. This final series of repetitions is what enables her to cease viewing death as uncanny, and to face its reality. She confronts her uncle: 'I think I must have looked like a phantom newly risen from the grave. 'What's that? Where do you come from?' 'Death! Death!' was my whispered reply, as I froze with terror where I stood.'14 Maud becomes herself a representation of death, the final taboo, and it is this assumption of uncanny status that enables her to move beyond the uncanny perspective. For as the false window of her prison opens, and the murderer enters, Maud truly looks on death, but also beyond it. In the Pauline language that Le Fanu uses elsewhere, she moves from seeing 'in a glass darkly', to vision 'face to face'. This direct sight is, in St Paul, only possible out of this world, in the world to come, at the eschaton.
But this novel has another revelation to make, as well as a spiritual one. Maud's escape from the great house is an escape from death, but also from the confinement of the house and its patriarchal authority, which is revealed as murderous. House and tomb are indeed revealed as one and the same. With the patriarchal house goes also its uncanny aesthetic, to which Maud had been equally in thrall, and the death/pleasure/repetition nexus of her earlier fears. In the 1947 film version of the novel, Lord Ilbury, Maud's suitor, is allowed to carry her away to safety. The account of her flight in the novel itself is quite different. There, it is her devoted friend Meg, the keeper's daughter, who at risk to her own life manages the escape. Maud's haven is not her lover's arms but the house of her elderly cousin Monica, a woman. In the paeon of praise in the book's conclusion, only one man's name, that of Dr Bryerly, is included in a female pantheon of cousins, friends and servants. The members of this list are both the recipients of the heroine's affection and also the first-fruits of a world outside the collapsed culture of the great house. (For in Le Fanu the woman escapes not from private house to the public domain like a sensation protagonist, but from a ruined feudal social order.)
Freud ends Civilisation and its Discontents with a hope that the other of the two 'Heavenly Powers', eternal Eros, will make an effort to assert himself in the struggle with his equally immortal adversary'.15 It is Eros which alone opposes stasis and death in Freud, and it is love alone, Maud Ruthyn notes in her narrative, that can, as St Paul says, be eternal when hope and faith 'vanish into sight'. At the end of Uncle Silas it is women's love for each other that can resist the deathly power of patriarchal control and point to a new order, a new heaven and earth, an eschatological sublime. It is a sublime because, despite the paradisal landscape of the novel's conclusion, it is incomplete, unrepresentable except in the language of the Book of Revelation. As Jean-Francois Lyotard, speaking for Kant, says of the concept: 'this feeling demands, and in a sense promises community. But this community is yet to be. It is not realized.'16
In her Ethique de la difference sexuelle, Luce Irigaray posits a new model of rapport between the sexes, not to be achieved through the female sublime and the awareness, as one finds in Lacan, of the unrepresentable supplementary nature of female jouissance.17 In Lacan, woman is the lack of a lack, and continually uncanny, just as she is continually desirable. She appears sublimely other because of her repression of her castration. The Ethique gestures towards a female transcendent, what Irigaray terms, eschatologically, a parousie, but I do not believe that this is the opening of the sublime, for this transcendent is to be represent-able in language.18 Rather, in her turn to Descartes's siting of the origin of the passions in admiration, in wonder, is located Irigaray's human sublime. She suggests the original admiration or wonder that the sight of the other's difference evokes is the point of the possibility of a new ethical and sexual relation between them.19 The sexes are not in themselves sublime, indeed, they are all too representable, but the point of difference between them is illimitable.
This is the point at which Irigaray's work can bear upon 'female' Gothic, both Radcliffean and Victorian. By excessive emphasis on feminine integrity and on sexual difference, both of which are asserted (and constructed) at the moment of threat, the 'female' Gothic is engendered. And in Irigaray and 'female' Gothic alike, the 'gap' is what is brought into representation. Through the representation of this sublime difference, and through the new family experience of mothering which usually follows the heroine's escape from the tyrant, she is able, to use Irigaray's phrase, to be 'reborn in her desire' as a woman, and to consider entering upon an equalised sexual relation.20
Irigaray has been accused of feminine essentialism, which is unfair for a number of reasons, not least her assertion that we have no idea in what the feminine might consist.21 Most importantly, Irigaray seeks the feminine not in some abject pre-Oedipal maternal wholeness but in language. The feminine needs to be represented, to be symbolised. It is sexual difference itself at which one wonders, not just the female sublime. This too is a project on which the 'female' Gothic can be said to have embarked. In her early novel of 1790, A Sicilian Romance, Radcliffe's heroine, Julia, in escaping from her father's plans for a forced marriage penetrates a series of caves where she finds her mother. She had believed that her mother died many years before, but she was, in reality, locked by her cruel husband in the vaults under the house so that he could make another marriage. Julia does not remain in maternal nostalgia for oneness but releases her mother into social presence and speech, and thereby herself into sexual fulfilment. Caroline Helstone in Brontë's Shirley similarly finds a silent and self-punishing mother whom she leads into public acknowledgement, while Maud Ruthyn's mother is allowed to flee the tomb for the ascent of fantastic mountains, 'peopled with human beings translated into the same image, beauty and splendour'.22
I have tried to suggest that the 'female' Gothic has a Utopian project, one based on an awareness of the sublime as an empowering aesthetic, which yet allows full place to a sense of loss and rupture, and to the subjected nature of the human. The Slovenian Lacanian, Slavoj Zizek regards the unsymbolisable Real of the Lacanian sublime as itself a trauma, an antagonism, that produces a tragic subject.23 But the 'female' gothic tradition places a positive ethical and erotic value on that very antagonism, so that we may less tragically repeat the Lacanian mantra: 'ne pas ceder sur son desir'.
1. Sigmund Freud, 'The Uncanny', in The Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Standard Edition, ed. James Stratchey and Anna Freud, Vol. XVII 1917–1919 (London: Hogarth Press, 1955), pp. 217-56. Employers of the uncanny concept in Victorian Gothic criticism include Albert Hutter, 'Dreams, Transformations, and Literature: The Implications of Detective Fiction', Victorian Studies, 19, no. 2 (December 1975), pp. 181-209; Peter Brooks, Reading For the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative (New York: Columbia, 1984), especially the chapter on Great Expectations; Patrick Brantlinger, 'What is "Sensational" about the Sensation Novel?', Nineteenth Century Fiction, 37, no. 1 (June, 1982), pp. 1-28; and Diane Sadoff, 'Locus Suspectus: Narrative, Castration and the Uncanny', Dickens Studies Annual, 13 (1984), 207-30. David B. Morris's article, 'Gothic Sublimity' is to be found in the special issue on the sublime of New Literary History, 16, no. 2 (Winter, 1985), pp. 299-320.
2. Freud, 'The Uncanny', Ibid, p. 249.
3. Burke's A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Idea of the Sublime and the Beautiful is often accused by modern commentators of precisely this move. See Francis Ferguson, 'The Sublime of Edmund Burke', Glyph 8 (1981), pp. 62-78.
4. 'Beyond the Pleasure Principle', Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vol XVIII (1921–1922), pp. 3-64.
5. The author of Longinus's On the Sublime states that the orator's words 'exercise an irresistible power of mastery and get the upper hand with every member of the audience', p. 107 in Classical Literary Criticism, tr. T. S. Dorsh (Harmonsworth: Penguin, 1974).
6. See Jean-Francois Lyotard, 'Complexity and the Sublime' in ICA Documents 4: Postmodernism (London: Free Press, 1989), p. 23, on the Kantian sublime in this respect.
7. Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White, ed Harvey Sucksmith, (Oxford, 1980), p. 581.
8. Richard Barickman, Susan MacDonald and Myra Stark, Corrupt Relations: Dickens, Thackeray, Trollope, Collins and the Victorian Sexual System (New York: Columbia 1982), p. 121. Nina Auerbach's Woman and Demon: The Life of a Victorian Myth (New York: Columbia, 1979) and Sue Lonoff's Wilkie Collins and His Victorian readers: A Study in the Rhetoric of Authorship (New York: AMS, 1985) share this view of Magdalen Vanstone.
9. No Name, (New York: Dover, 1978), p. 609.
10. The Woman in White, p. 267 and p. 562.
11. Uncle Silas: A Tale of Bartram-Haugh, ed W. J. McCormack (Oxford, 1981), p. 13.
12. 'Beyond the Pleasure Principle', p. 36.
13. See W. J. McCormack, Sheridan Le Fanu and Victorian Ireland (Oxford: Clarendon, 1980).
14. Uncle Silas, p. 410.
15. Freud, Civilisation and Its Discontents, Complete Psychological Works, Vol 21, p. 145. 'But who can forsee with what successs and what result?' was added in 1931, with reference to the rise of Hitler.
16. Lyotard, 'Complexity and the Sublime', p. 23.
17. Luce Irigaray, Ethique de la difference sexuelle (Paris: 1984).
18. Ibid, p. 139.
19. Ibid, pp. 75-77, especially p. 77: "Un exces resiste: son existence et son devenir comme lieu qui permet l'alliance et/par la resistance a l'assimilation ou la reduction au meme."
20. Ibid., p. 141.
21. On Irigary and essentialism see Elizabeth Grosz, Jacques Lacan: A Feminist Introduction (London: Routledge, 1990), and Margaret Whitford, Philosophy in the Feminine (London: Routledge, 1991).
22. Uncle Silas, p. 410.
23. Slavoj Zizeck, The Sublime Object of Ideology (London: Verso, 1989), p. 3. Zizeck's is, of course, an Hegelian reading of Lacan in terms of Hegel's own reading of tragedy.
DEIDRE LYNCH (ESSAY DATE SPRING 2001)
SOURCE: Lynch, Deidre. "Gothic Libraries and National Subjects." Studies in Romanticism 40, no. 1 (spring 2001): 29-48.
In the following essay, Lynch analyzes the role of libraries in revealing expressions of national identity within the Gothic tradition.
This domain of phantasms is no longer the night, the sleep of reason, or the uncertain void that stands before desire, but, on the contrary, wakefulness, untiring attention, zealous erudition…. Henceforth, the visionary experience arises from the black and white surface of printed signs, from the closed and dusty volume that opens with a flight of forgotten words…. The imaginary now resides between the book and the lamp.
—Michel Foucault, "Fantasia of the Library"
In a Gothic novel, to enter the chambers a household sets aside for its reading and writing is to be recruited into a genealogical plot. The secret cabinets of Gothic libraries house memorials and legacies. To visit them is to stumble on wills made by dead fathers; long lost certificates of marriage; musty manuscripts; even, as in The Mysteries of Udolpho, the miniature-portrait of an unknown lady, concealed within a bag of coins—raw materials, all, for narratives of reproduction and succession. Walter Scott, not just an aficionado of old spectre-stocked mansions, but also romanticism's most indefatigable bibliographer, can be counted on to comply with a basic rule of this literature: while surrounded by books, ink, and paper the protagonists of Gothic fiction embark on their projects of memory and mourning. These projects establish the terms on which the generations will be linked and on which the living will relate to the family dead.
And when Gothic protagonists use the Gothic library as they are meant to, when they read, they are haunted. One site in which Ann Radcliffe's Emily St. Aubert remembers the dead and, seeing spectres, receives assurance that the dead remember her, is the library of La Vallée. Re-entering it after an absence from home, Emily finds her way to the armchair in which her father had been accustomed to read and sees a book lying open as he had left it. "She immediately recollected that St. Aubert, on the evening before his [final] departure from the chateau, had read to her some passages from this, her favourite author. The circumstance now affected her extremely; she looked at the page, wept, and looked again. To her the book appeared sacred and invaluable, and she would not have … closed the page … for the treasures of the Indies."1 The passage presages a pattern in the scenes that follow, in this novel and those of Radcliffe's many romantic-era imitators: a pattern in which the supernatural will, to paraphrase Foucault, reside between the book and the lamp. Later, for instance, Emily's manservant Ludovico will use a book picked up "in an obscure corner of the Marquis' library" to kill time as he stands watch in a room rumoured to be haunted (551). It is, or so it appears, his very act of reading that raises the chateau's ghosts: the narrator implies that once Ludovico ceases to regard the characters on the printed page, he instead sees the space before him filled by the spectral shape of the dead. The audience invited to put themselves in Ludovico's place are reminded of how as readers they also are enlisted in a process characterized by periodic disappearances and apparitions, a process in which, time and again, the book as object, the thing of paper that one grasps in one's hands, will, as one is engrossed by one's reading, cease to be a material reality, while the ideas this book "contains" will begin "to exist" and to be embodied in their turn.
Alerted to the uncanny aspects that attend on this everyday phenomenology, readers of Gothic fictions learn to associate the textual and the spectral. What Radcliffe's reference in the earlier passage of Udolpho to "the treasures of the Indies" suggests as well is another point crucial to my argument: that the page the character regards in these episodes of phantasmagoria can be a legacy. Within these narratives, so often geared to resecuring the line of succession and the transmission of property, even the time of reading is given the reader by the dead. Literature is a family trust.
This leads me to the second way I have to identify the Gothic libraries at issue in my essay—and leads me, too, to the terms in which this rereading of the Gothic might also reopen the question of Scott's role in instituting the discipline of literary studies and with it the category of "English Literature," which he helps equip with a canon, history, and tradition. (This is a question often engaged of late, but in work that tends to underestimate Scott's debt to the female practitioners of the Gothic and to overlook the emotional baggage—the melancholy, trepidation, and even aggressivity—that freights the project of canon formation almost as much as it freights the ghost-seeing that this "English Literature" depicts and abets.)2 As writing erected "within the archive,"3 Gothic fictions themselves do the cultural work of a library, the institution dubbed the national library in particular. Gothic fictions make us contemplate not only family origins but also literary sources—and, crucially, make us contemplate them in tandem. It is, of course, a critical commonplace that, in its obsessing over the secrets of the child bed, the Gothic gives voice to the culture's anxieties about procreation, about the slippage between kinship arrangements and individuals' sexual desires. My aim here, while preserving the feminism that informs that scholarship, is to relocate the base from which we investigate that anxiety over reproduction. What if the home base for our discussions of Gothic convention were not the bedroom but rather the library? To answer this question, I'll be aligning the Gothic with other (often North Briton-monopolized) institutions of national cultural formation (the ballad collection, the anthology, "lives" of the poets and the novelists)—those projects of literary revivalism that so often proved irresistible for Scott, who frequently seems to have dreamt of single-handedly reissuing "English" in its entirety.4
The Gothic novelists conceive of themselves as the target market for enterprises of this kind, and they advertise their bibliophilia. Scarcely canonical themselves, they are among the period's chief exemplars of canon-love. Their texts are remarkable accordingly for the density of their intertextual allusions. The Castle of Wolfenbach, in Eliza Parsons' 1793 Minerva Press novel of that name, is typical of its domiciliar kind in being endowed to excess, as a neighbor complains, with "'bloody floors, prison rooms, and [in]scriptions, they say, on the windows to make a body's hair stand on end.'"5 We know that, with its endowment of "[in]scriptions," the typical Gothic text resembles that house. It is crowded with quotations and epigraphs from Shakespeare and Milton and the graveyard poets. This writing self-consciously offers itself to British readers as the site where they may claim their ancestral birthright.
The books-within-books I called attention to earlier are the conventional media of that self-consciousness, of the interrogation of literary reading that is a central drama for the Gothic.6 And we know—because it is as if these novelists all did business with the same props department, because horror movies have likewise made the Gothic library a standard element in their mise-enscène—how any one of these books should look. Its dilapidated state, quaint woodcuts, and mildew will announce the fact that it has survived generations of readers, a longevity that casts into relief the truncated life expectancy accorded mere humans. My hope in this essay is that by tracing to its eighteenth-century origin this conventional source of Gothic suspense—the moment when the protagonist pries up the cover of the old book and begins to read—I will be able to demonstrate how this figure of reading (which is also a figure of what it means to probate one's cultural "inheritance") functioned in the program the first Gothic novels pursued both self-consciously and equivocally via their modelling of canon-love: that of addressing their audience as a nation.
This reconstruction will involve me in a dispute with recent accounts of the geopolitics of the Gothic and attempts to specify the real object of the terror this tradition mobilizes. Cannon Schmitt and Judith Halberstam agree on how best to name that terror. They call it xenophobia. Schmitt, for instance, proposes that even or especially when set in foreign parts—the Black Forest or Catholic Italy—the Gothic functions as a "mechanism of Englishness, a technology of national subject-formation that works to confirm identification between English readers and 'English' characters and characteristics."7 In this account of the novels' Continental settings, nationality requires a foil to set it off. The Gothic makes itself useful, accordingly, by purveying a mode of distinguishing us from them. It seems pertinent, however, that these exotic Continental settings also invite writers like Radcliffe to use them in fantasies about romances' power to establish communal systems of belief. Indeed, the distinctive feature that links the Gothic's array of alien nations is the capacity that each has to be internally self-identical, that each has to be a nation. Italy, hence, is the site where a "taste for classic story [descends] to the peasants of the country," as Radcliffe's Emily discovers (421). And romance—"inventions which had captivated the … imagination in every rank of society in a former age" (552)—operate there as the media of cultural integration: "they sung of the wars of the Moors against Charlemagne and then of the woes of Orlando: afterwards the measure changed, and the melancholy sweetness of Petrarch succeeded" (177). Because, in Italy, literary history is, literally, in the very air a Gothic heroine breathes, floating on the breath of the "people," such encounters with romance's ubiquity suggest for me a dynamic of projection: one in which Italians figure not so much as demonized outsiders to "Englishness" but rather as exemplars of the unified interpretive community that a nation sufficiently enamoured of "English Literature" might be. So, although in this essay I'll be following recent scholarship in associating the Gothic with the advent of a new and specifically cultural nationalism, my intent here is not to demonstrate, as it does, the efficiency with which the Gothic machinery terrorizes its protagonists and readers into a more secure because more xenophobic national identity. My attention to what happens with reading, quotation, and structures of address in this fiction has left me unconvinced that the Gothic simply gives form to what terrifies the national community. In my account, the Gothic also gives form to that which terrifies in the idea of a national community, of a literary nation especially, and that which mystifies as well.
ON THE SUBJECT OF …
WILLIAM HARRISON AINSWORTH (1805–1882)
Ainsworth was a Victorian novelist who helped popularize historical and criminal fiction in the nineteenth century. The widespread appeal of his early works gave Ainsworth celebrity status and immediate entrance into social and literary circles; his friendships with numerous authors and artists, including Charles Lamb and Charles Dickens, as well as his lavish dinners and weekend retreats, established him as the most noted literary host of his time.
With few exceptions, Ainsworth's novels readily fall into two categories: the Newgate novels, notable for their criminal heroes, and the historical romances, characterized by Ainsworth's unusual mix of antiquarian detail and improbable, dramatic action. Rookwood (1834), a Newgate novel, features among its subplots the career of Dick Turpin and is the work which brought to final formulation the legend of that notorious highwayman. The supernatural aspects of the novel are focused on the curse which afflicts the family of the novel's eponymous hero and the ominous signs which embody its threats and visitations. Windsor Castle (1843) is a tale of the court of Henry VIII, which includes the fates of the much-married king's first three wives. A Gothic element is added by means of the symbolic figure of Herne the Hunter, who has become the Devil's instrument as a result of a pact made in the distant past. In Ainsworth's incomplete Gothic novel Auriol; or, The Elixer of Life (1865), written in imitation of Charles Robert Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer, the hero is gifted with eternal youth by the elixir of life discovered by his grandfather, but in order to maintain his unnatural perfection, he must offer sacrifices to the Devil at ten-year intervals under the tutelage of the villainous Rougemont.
Though Ainsworth is not ranked as a first-rate author by modern scholars, his works and the early critical reactions to them are valued as evidence of the social and literary climate during his era.
As archives conserving the national subject's literary legacy, Gothic fictions reinstate those premises about the temporality, the locality, and the commonness of culture that underwrite the very concept of a national literature. I'm going to argue that it's equally the case that, in this guise, these fictions literalize those premises and thereby make them strange. Radcliffe and her Minerva Press imitators/rivals—women such as Eliza Parsons and Eleanor Sleath—have an investment in reproducing and transmitting the nation's literary legacy. There is no disputing this. Nonetheless, the plots of inheritance that originate in their Gothic libraries can uncannily defamiliarize the idioms of filiation and consanguinity that were deployed as the writer's nationality and voice came to be reconceptualized as bequests from the dead.
The canon love that these women stage is, I want to stress, a more Gothic event, more pressured by occult influences (unconscious desire, secret guilt) than the happy, hygienic (and voluntarist) affair we customarily have in mind when espousing our "love of literature." For this reason, an account of the eerie literal-mindedness with which they render the nation as a dead poets' society may also enrich recent discussions of how "Celtic cultural workers represented the 'ghosts in the machine' of English print culture"—not just by revivifying that dead metaphor, but also by illuminating the affective elements of fantasy and wish within that cultural work. And, conversely, the (feminine) devotion the Radcliffean Gothic brings to the task of collecting and preserving literary remnants appears less pious when evaluated in conjunction with the hard-headed opportunism these discussions ascribe to those Scottish professors, antiquaries, and (not least) historical novelists, who, less colonial subjects than savvy "colonizer[s] of 'English,'" devised through their invention of the English literary tradition a new "technology of access to the imperial clerisy."8
Hazlitt accused the Waverley Novels of necromantically administering "charms and philtres to our love of legitimacy."9 But what the Wizard of the North seems to have learned by heeding the ghostly voices in, and of, the Gothic is that being haunted is a compromise formation: the canon-love that is staged within the haunted Gothic library is, like the forms of national-cultural allegiance it underwrites, an ambivalent affair.
Let me turn now to those ghostly voices that haunt the scene of Gothic reading. In the second half of the eighteenth century, Britons developed new ways of canonizing writing and of harnessing texts to the myths of racial purity and continuous, unitary identity that underpin modern nation-states. Trevor Ross's account of the debate leading to the 1774 decision in the copyright case of Donaldson v. Becket suggests one way the consumption of literature was reconceived in this period. It was revalued for how it enabled citizens to probate their common cultural inheritance. When the House of Lords refused to grant the London booksellers a perpetual term of copyright, resisting the booksellers' demand that all others' (and especially "invading" Scots') rights to publish Thomson's Seasons be postponed for eternity, the Lords' rhetoric in effect declared classic Literature a national property. Henceforth, British literature "belonged to the British people."10 The decision, which scholars have described as one that effectively institutes the idea of the public domain, clarified that copyright should not in the long term impose limits on what Justice Yates called "this gift": "books are by the author's publication of them irrevocably given to the public."11 The canon—now understood as, in effect, a national trust fund, as the epitome of the gift that keeps giving—was the Briton's birthright.
"Shall we not endeavor to secure to future generations, entire and unchanged, their birthright in Milton, in Addison, and Swift?" asked Thomas Sheridan at the time when the first salvos in the literary property debate were being fired.12 The endeavor Sheridan promoted was buttressed by the growing prominence in criticism of historicist approaches. Criticism's discussions of the tradition had formerly been devoted to prizing poems for how they encouraged additional poetizing. The function of criticism, that is, was to facilitate ongoing cultural production. Once reoriented, however, criticism was in the eighteenth century harnessed to a new desire to look backward: to see texts as means of linking the present generation to the generations preceding it. To this end, source studies (which cast the author under investigation as some one's posterity in his turn) became standard parts of the literary critic's arsenal. That the business of the critic was redefined along these lines intimates how the critic's object had also altered. In the mid-century a transvaluation of literary antiquity brought about a state of affairs in which it really was the case that the best poet was a dead poet: a spectralization of "English" I'll engage shortly. Mideighteenth-century commentators abandoned the progressive framework that they had worked within hitherto and that associated the writing of England's past with an irredeemable linguistic unruliness and obscurity. In its place, we have something like Samuel Johnson's test of time—his proposal that the only reliable way to appraise the author is to ascertain whether, "outliving his century," he can retain the fidelity of multiple generations of readers. Such an arrangement effectually forestalls any claim writing by the living might make to value.13
Poetic succession ceased in the later eighteenth century to be merely "a trope of legitimation among poets themselves," becoming instead, as Ian Duncan writes, "the property of an expanding reading public."14 As Duncan implies, there was nothing new about the practice of invoking a metaphor of "legitimacy" to authorize a work of literature. Yet in the later-eighteenth-century context, some old family trees of literary history became newly important. To think about that significance, and to shift our attention from the ways in which the relation of reader to book altered in the mid-century to the ways in which the relation of book to book was transformed as well, we might juxtapose a pair of Gothic libraries: the first, the setting for the opening chapter of Charlotte Smith's 1788 Emmeline, or, the Orphan of the Castle; the second, the "Green Chamber" of Scott's 1816 The Antiquary.
Having delivered proof after proof of its heroine's "natural good breeding," Smith's novel concludes, as we expect it will, with the discovery of Emmeline's legitimacy and her restoration to the estate that is her birthright. It begins correspondingly, with a parable of canon formation that evidences how the metaphorics of literary legitimacy and the literary legacy had been revivified. It seems utterly appropriate that when we first glimpse Emmeline, our foundling heroine should be exploring the castle's ruined library, where books "of all ages" are likewise to be found. There she salvages those works not yet injured by time. They are, of course, (no surprises here either): "Spencer and Milton, two or three volumes of the Spectator, and [sic] old edition of Shakespeare, and an odd volume or two of Pope." She cleans off the dust and removes them to the room which the village carpenter has equipped with a shelf, "on which, with great pride of heart, she placed her new acquisitions." Emmeline has reconstituted the line of literary succession, and her canon-making prefigures the manner in which Smith throughout the novel will align questions of pedigree, the disposition of property, and nationality. (Ultimately, this heroine's discovery of the documents certifying her parents' marriage, in a chest that, among other "silent memorials of the dead," also houses "several pieces of poetry," will save her from the marriage to a foreigner and the expatriation that her plotting persecutors have arranged for her.)15
Its most notable furnishing an ancient tapestry to which a modern hand has added a border embroidered with Chaucerian verses, the Green Chamber in The Antiquary enables a plot twist that attests at once to Scott's determination to make haunting something like a family affair and to a parallel determination to make literature something like a family heirloom. When Scott's foundling hero Lovel, in numerous respects a Gothic heroine manquée, enters the room with his host, the eponymous antiquary, neither is in the frame of mind requisite for the ghostseeing that is de rigeur for the chamber's inmates; both characters are instead indulging a lovelorn melancholy that Scott represents through a quotation from the Lyrical Ballads ("The Fountain"). For Lovel, however, this deficit in what Scott (describing the reader of the Gothic) elsewhere calls "that secret and reserved feeling of love for the marvellous and supernatural" proves temporary.16 As, respectively, modern and bygone specimens of the vernacular tradition, the quotations that are juxtaposed here to provide the episode with its mottoes bear witness to Wordsworth's and Chaucer's kinship as national poets.17 In comparable fashion, the episode also drops a hint about the foundling's filiation; for, by the end of the chapter, the Oldbucks' family ghost, "Aldobrand Oldenbuck," has appeared in the young man's dream, with book in hand, exactly as he has appeared in the Green Chamber on previous occasions.18 And this mark of favor from Monkbarns' most permanent resident, its ancestral dead, is extended—as Scott intimates via the conclusion that discloses Lovel's parentage which proves his legitimacy and makes his fortune—because Lovel virtually is family. The first love of Lovel's long dead mother, readers learn in the novel's last pages, was the present representative of the Oldbuck family, the eponymous antiquary himself. The idea of appending Chaucerian verses to the Green Chamber's tapestry was her own home-making, historicizing touch.
Lovel in these pages is also restored to the real estate of his biological father, but within Scott's novel that restoration is made to appear a mere copy of the earlier reunion of one "kindred spirit" to the other that occurs when Lovel and Oldbuck bond over old books, a bond that rewrites genealogy, virtually, as surrogacy. Scott arranges for fictions and the fictitious (dreams and poems and the idea of a fellowship founded on shared consumer preference) to make common cause with sacralized notions of pedigree, patrimony, and home(land).19
Comparable alliances organized the discipline of English Literature at its inception. In fact, those fantastically parthenogenic genealogies that remain the stock in trade of our curricula, and make it seem as if Chaucer begat Shakespeare, who begat Milton, and so forth, could accommodate with particular ease the narratives that the period devised to intensify the identity politics of a new age of nations. For, in some measure, it was by being placed within the discourse of family—being accommodated to the fiction of patrilineal succession—that the work of literature became national. This is not surprising. After all, the genealogical metaphor that renders the history of writing as a tradition, and remakes the history of writers as a history of an uninterrupted family line, also underpins Edmund Burke's conception of nationality as a matter of inbred filial sentiments and of "the nation as self-inheriting, continuously bequeathing … national character to itself."20 In his 1790 Reflections on the Revolution in France Burke defined the nation as a concentrically ordered web of kinship relations: "To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to … is the first principle … of public affections." The central claim of his Reflections is that "It has been the uniform policy of our constitution to claim and assert our liberties, as an entailed inheritance derived to us from our forefathers, and to be transmitted to our posterity."21 The new idea of a literary tradition seems to promise something similar to what Burke wants for the nation and what he finds when he considers the entailed estate, property that cannot be alienated from a particular kin group. Like the entailed estate, the literary legacy promises a subordination of alterity to unity, an elision of past and present, and progress without change.
Cultural nationalism demands that literature reproduce nationality. An episode in the reception history of Ossian's (or James Macpherson's) Fingal, which shows how the idea of cultural tradition was freighted with anxieties of its own, also shows how such a demand could rest on reproductive politics of the most familiar, familial kind. Macpherson, of course, was accused of having been over-zealous in his efforts to fill in the blanks in the literary family tree. In 1786 James Boswell used tellingly anxious terms when he contemplated the possibility that, in Ossian, Macpherson might have invented rather than recovered a new forefather. Defenders of Macpherson's honesty and Fingal's authenticity had previously conceded that some passages in that epic might indeed have originated not with Ossian but with his editor and translator. At the same time, those defenders had declined to distinguish the emendations from those passages that were authentic Ossianic creations. Their equivocation disgusted Boswell. One source of this disgust is registered when, expressing it, Boswell shifts the topic from an illegitimate text to illicit sex: "Antiquaries and admirers of [Fingal] may complain, that they are in a situation similar to that of the unhappy gentleman whose wife informed him, on her death-bed, that one of their reputed children was not his; and, when he eagerly begged her to declare which of them it was, she answered, 'That you shall never know,' and expired, leaving him in irremediable doubt as to them all."22
The ingredients of a Gothic novel are assembled in Boswell's anecdote. Boswell gives us a dead mother, he gives us a deathbed revelation of child bed secrets, and he gives us an illegitimate child who from this moment forward must feel, as the Radcliffean heroine does, that "there was a mystery in her birth dishonorable to her parents" (Udolpho 650). Worried about being cheated of his cultural birthright as a British reader, Boswell seems almost to contemplate his own retroactive bastardizing. That the worries of this nationalist reader should converge with the genealogical crises of all the possibly illegitimate children populating the Gothic makes sense—at least so I've been attempting to demonstrate. Boswell's contemporaries—to recapitulate—saw the literary canon reconstituted as a category that comprised old works only. They witnessed the resurrection of much old literature, valued as the nation's lines of communication with its dead, dead with the animating power to bring Britain to life and to imaginary community. A new, historicizing focus on writing's life in time at once exemplified and contributed to the new urgency about reproducing old works, and to legitimate themselves, new texts began then to display their elegiac relation to works from the past. And henceforth the most legitimate reading was that which proved one's continuing, filial attachment to those who had gone before.
When writing and reading English Literature become (to borrow Esther Schor's punning phrase) ways of "bearing the dead," of embracing the pleasures and burdens of living with the past, do we not encounter something like a wish to be haunted? Romantic-period culture makes ghosts and authors interchangeable—the morning after a night spent in a haunted mansion one character in Scott's Woodstock (1826) tells another that "Chaucer" is not (as his less literate companion infers from the name) a spectral "'huntsman,'" but "'one of those wonderful fellows … who live after they are buried and whose words haunt our ears after their bones are long mouldered in the dust.'" And within that culture's dramas of canon-love it remains uncertain whether such a recasting of authorship is meant principally to empower the author, emancipating him from mortality, or rather to enthrall the reader. "Why should Milton and Shakespeare … die?" asked William Godwin in his 1809 Essay on Sepulchres, his scheme for marking the graves of heroes and poets and through these commemorative arrangements enabling a more thorough-going remembering of the nation's dead. "Perhaps yet they shall not wholly die … some spirit shall escape from [Milton's] ashes, and whisper to me things unfelt before."23 There is something scary about the manner in which death here seems to breach the boundary between writer and reader: Godwin's reference to a whisper brings a dead John Milton up close. Are the tutelary spirits of "English Literature" friendly ghosts? Canon formation, Joseph Roach has written, using terms that suggest that our cherishing of dead poets might in fact be meant to disarm them, "serves the function that 'ancestor worship' once did." "The English classics help control the dead to serve the interests of the living."24
I don't wish to overlook how, as Boswell's analogy testifies, communications controlling the dead could also serve as mandates for the control of female bodies. And at the close of this essay I shall return briefly to that perennial topic of the female Gothic, the gender injustice implicit in the idea of a cultural patrimony. First, let me discuss in more specific terms how Gothic conventions provided writers and readers with the means of accommodating the transformation of canonical literature that I've been reconstructing. If a figure like Chaucer had, at the start of the eighteenth century, been condescended to for belonging to "the infancy of English poetry," his imperfections written off with a reference to the primitive time in which he lived and the observation that "we must be children before we grow into men," the supernatural communications with the canon that organize Gothic fictions indicate how the order of generations was later to be transposed.25 Following that reversal the works inside the tradition were endowed with the mysterious authority that parents exert within the oedipal household, the authority of those who pre-exist us.
The Gothic is where the nationalized literary tradition writes a story about itself. Gothic authors take dictation from tradition. As showcases for quotations from the classics, as well as for lyric poems their protagonists compose extemporaneously, these books must have seemed like antholo-gies to their first readers. Gothic authors also literalize the terms in which cultural nationalism reimagines the reader as a national subject. Thus within a novel like Eliza Parsons' The Mysterious Warning (1796), texts literally represent legacies, bequests from the dead. Reading here is situated in a strange time of posthumousness. Death in Parsons' novel is the precondition for the delivery of the packet that contains the sinning wife's confession. Fatalities are the pretexts that send Parsons' protagonist into the libraries of dilapidated castles, where he is wont to discover manuscripts—on one occasion, he finds with a guilty thrill, a manuscript that is addressed to him (to "The stranger, who calls himself Ferdinand").26 These are manuscripts we read too, over Ferdinand's shoulder as it were. In effect, death publishes the text that allows the novel's readers to keep reading. In this time-frame made strange by what we might call the eerie "every-when-ness" of written language, reading represents an elegiac activity—or séance—by definition.27 The very form of the Gothic novel can, furthermore, seem a parable of its age's literary revivalism. As they enclose stories within stories and mobilize the convention of frame and embedded tales, Gothic texts appear as scaled-down simulations of that literary tradition that was itself being reconceptualized in terms of seriality, sequels, and resurrections.
The Gothic text's epigraphs and the fragments of quoted poetry that interrupt its descriptions also help to make it the print equivalent of the soundscapes Scott loves—those ancient mansions, described in his essay on Walpole, whose halls "echo to the sounds of remote generations." The voices of the remote generations of those ancestors the anthologists called "The British Poets" are to be found at the outermost levels of the Gothic and the Waverley novel alike. They are displayed in the books' chapter headings. But poetry also finds its home in the interior confines of the character's subjectivity—in lyric poems, spontaneously composed by the heroine or hero, that document inner selves. Some of the most haunting effects of Gothic fiction arise when this distinction between outside and inside is collapsed, hauntingly.28 Shakespeare has the first word in Eleanor Sleath's novel The Nocturnal Minstrel (1810)—a quotation from Twelfth Night gives Sleath her epigraph for chapter 1. "That strain again!—it had a dying fall; Oh, it came o'er my ear like the sweet South."29 Yet beyond representing the antique authority who legitimates the novel's literariness, the dead bard resurrected so as to give cultural capital to the living, Shakespeare also seems, a haunting presence, to have stolen into the characters' reveries. When we move past that initial chapter heading in Sleath's novel, the heroine's first words seem to respond to the question the epigraph poses tacitly—"what music is that?" And yet this question is one the character cannot ever consciously have heard. Her words feel like the result of subliminal suggestion. The subject on which the Baroness Fitzwalter speaks is the mysterious music that has been heard in the neighborhood of her castle, the musician, like the echo, eluding efforts of location. Ultimately the nocturnal minstrel will be discovered—he is the Baroness' husband, falsely reported dead months before the novel's opening. The web of associations at work here links a character's mournful fidelity to her beloved with something we would like to think of as more impersonal, the reader's fidelity to Shakespeare. It links both modes of feeling to the phantasmatic, for, as one might expect, the eerie possibility the novel flirts with is that the music has no earthly point of origin, that the nocturnal minstrel is a ghost. It's as if the Shakespearean words that supply the epigraph raise the spectre. It's as if they are the spectre.30
The land is full of noises. The murmurings of the dead poets are in the air. In an Enquirer essay of 1797 William Godwin chose strangely spooky terms to write of the national literature's secret ministry. "I cannot tell what I should have been, if Shakespear or Milton had not written. The poorest peasant in the remotest corner of England, is probably a different man from what he would have been but for these authors." The influence that the national poets exert on the individual in modern times, Godwin goes on to explain, is so far-reaching as to affect even those who have never heard Shakespeare's or Milton's names: the inspiration "passes from man to man, till it influences the whole mass."31 The account of the origins of collective life evoked by Godwin's exercise in literary appreciation has its scary aspects: there is not much in the way of public spirit, or social contract, or even agency here. Instead there is a kind of fetishism that makes books into the actors and authors of collective life. The national subject Godwin portrays does not exactly take possession of his birthright. Instead, this national subject is possessed in turn. He is ghost-written by Tradition. Eliciting our paranoia, Godwin makes a statement about literary works's spectral influence across time and space that we re-encounter in the echo chambers of a Gothic novel, transposed to a still more eerie register.
So far, my description of the conventions shared by the practitioners of the Radcliffean Gothic and the Author of "Waverley" has emphasized the literal terms in which these writers keep faith with the ideas of literary tradition and national culture devised by their contemporaries. I've emphasized how they set their characters loose in poetry's echo chamber; how they portray texts as legacies and readers as mourners. I've also suggested that this literalism can have the ironic effect of rendering their contemporaries' national subjects unfamiliar and uncanny. This effect becomes apparent if we consider the Gothic convention of attributing a malign power to pieces of writing. Gothic narratives practice their own brand of fetishism as they endow writing per se with value and power, doing so at some cost to the ideal of an autonomous self. For frequently in these narratives, it is the chance finding of a book or a poem that inaugurates plot. It is texts that monopolize the supernatural power to begin: that text can be a lyric poem that (like an apparition) looms out of nowhere and thwarts readers' efforts to reconnect it to an origin or author. Think of the sonnet that Emily discovers penciled on the wall of the fishing house at the start of The Mysteries of Udolpho (7), and whose discovery appears to be mortal to Emily's parents, who sicken and die soon after. Or that text can be a book that has been ejected outside the edifice of linear history, like the volume that somehow falls into the hands of Victor Frankenstein and recreates him as that anachronistic creature, a living "disciple of Paracelsus" in this "enlightened and scientific" eighteenth century.32 Yet in representing the disruptive power of these texts the Gothic is also registering some of the new literary history's prize tenets. Under the new arrangements, what makes a work of literature literary is that it aspires to decontextualization. Its value no longer measured solely by its effects in its own time, the classic is supposed both to document and to escape its cultural context, much as Milton's and Shakespeare's works do when, "whispering things unfelt before," these living-dead poets proleptically script the feelings Godwin will feel next.
In a letter she wrote as Godwin's Essay on Sepulchres was going to press, Mary Lamb speculated about the motives propelling Godwin in his desire to raise monuments to "the former and future great men." The cultural nationalism that comes to fore when Godwin imagines a whole nation deriving their identities from the dead poets and allied to one another through their canon-loving comes in Lamb's account to seem a feeling rooted in Godwin's fear of the consequences that follow from the formation of other sorts of collectivities, who have other definitions of their common birthright. Lamb clarifies, that is, how Godwin's project allows him to cope with revolutionary times and does so as she describes, sneeringly, his scheme: "This wooden slab & white cross to be perpetuated to the end of time. To survive the fall of empire & the destruction of cities by means of a map, which was, in case of an insurrection among the people … to be carefully preserved; & then, when things got again into their usual order, the white-cross-wooden-slab-makers were to go to work again and set them in their former places."33
I referred earlier to the fetishism that the Gothic practices in making books the origin of plot. Godwin's claim, in the Enquirer essay, that Shakespeare and Milton touch "us all" enshrines (as does the rhetoric of the pamphleteers who declared their works the "property" of the nation) another almost supernatural notion of the canonical text. This supernaturalism, familiar to us (the basis of our discipline), portrays the classic as a perennially renewable and indeed magically unlimited resource. This canonical text cannot be exhausted by consumption (even by the conspicuous consumption we might associate with the profligate quotation practices of a Radcliffe or a Scott). It instead represents a resource that perpetually reproduces itself so as to meet an everescalating level of demand. It is in part in this fetishized guise that it functions for romantic nationalism as the image of a transhistorical cultural continuity, as well as of cultural unity. Engaging the strangely fearful modes of canon-loving at work within the Gothic library seems to me a good way to become alerted to the mystifications at work in that nationalist idea of a cultural capital given to all. A visit to a Gothic library can alert us to how the charismatic idea of the canon as common property (an idea that has force, perhaps, by virtue of being propped on our infantile memories of boundless, unconditional love) obscures people's dependence on finite resources whose distribution is far from equitable. In these Gothic novels—where the ruined library of the castle can seem like an unenclosed commons—the book can seem to evade the ties to particular persons that constitute a system of private property. It blurs the distinctions between the meum and the tuum.
In fact, books tend, as I've noted, simply to fall into the hands of Gothic characters—out of the blue, as gifts from heaven. For both Gothic gentry and Gothic servants, castles may be counted on to contain spaces where one might "chance" to find an "ancient legend"; "an obscure corner," where a book may have "fallen." No one exhibits much compunction about appropriating these volumes. Books are there for the finding. (In this respect, too, books seem magical: dissociated utterly from the human labors that normally are involved in their making.) Etiquette permits Gothic characters to act as if it were certain that there would always be reading matter enough to go around. When Eliza Parsons' Matilda returns from her foray into the haunted chambers of the Castle of Wolfenbach, which turn out to be the dwelling place of the lady of the castle, whom the world has long believed to be dead, the aged housekeeper asks her what she has seen. Her answer delivers only part of the truth: "'An excellent library …' replied Matilda … 'I intend to sit there very often and shall borrow some books'" (1: 15). It is also a maxim of the Gothic that lovers should be expected to make themselves free with the books of those they love: we are to expect conduct like that of Udolpho's Valancourt, who without her sayso leaves a volume of Petrarch for Emily to find in her private library and pockets another book in exchange. We might align the commonness that these novels ascribe to books with the manner in which they likewise arrange for their castles and abbeys to have a strangely skewed relation to the institution of private property. It is this relation that makes these edifices suitable haunts—or squats—for smugglers, for banditti and, above all, for those figures who in the Gothic epitomize dispossession—all those mothers who, having produced heirs for their husbands and so outlived their usefulness are fated to live on in these ruins in a ghostly manner, one that actualizes the civil death legally required of female Britons.
Nonetheless, a castle in the Rhineland isn't Crusoe's desert island: it isn't a terra nullius, any more than it is an unenclosed common. In fact, there is a striking contradiction between, on the one hand, the suspension of the rights of ownership that enables those buildings and books to be used in the ways I've delineated and, on the other hand, the zeal that the conclusions to these novels bring to the task of restoring property rights and securing legacies for their protagonists. In some ways, the book culture portrayed in this fiction literalizes (as does the fiction's proclivity for quoting the classics) that notion of the canonical text as a common, "national" property and as an infinitely renewable resource that transcends its grounding in material finitude. In an essay in ecocriticism entitled "Reading Habits," Marlon Ross writes of how idealizing accounts of our "primary sources" and their availability in "the public domain" operate to distract us from the fact that the resources for literacy as such—education, the money to buy books, the paper and ink and time it takes to write them—are unevenly distributed across and within cultures: "To become a member of the reading public … is to become free to consume reading materials as though there were no limit to the materials consumed. This concept of the reading public would make it more appropriate to be dubbed the reading private…. The materials and labor silently consumed in the reading act were once common property, and the moment of private consumption can never restore these common properties to their former public condition."34
Ross's observations underline the tensions mobilized when cultural nationalism invokes a nation of readers, or when, in particular, Godwin in his Essay on Sepulchres envisions a populace united by its mourning for bards who are no more. The discrepancy between nationalism's tropes of a common cultural heritage and the harsh realities of an inequitable distribution of property is the reason that we can imagine how, in addition to responding to the prospect of "an insurrection among the people," Godwin's description of the loving fellowship produced by our mass séance with Shakespeare's and Milton's ghosts might in fact contribute to such insurrection. The stories of reading recounted in the Gothic novel, however, actually document that discrepancy, doing so in measure as they alternately suspend and enforce the rules of ownership. The glimpses those stories offer of a different moral economy suggest that the Gothic authors are in fact hyper-conscious of just who benefits and who is excluded when the dead poets endow the living and when the national literature is rendered a family trust. And so these architects of Gothic libraries illuminate the social production of the categories of the literary and the traditional.
If canon-love in the main is a dark romantic affair involving self-estrangement, captivation, and subjection, it is still important to acknowledge the psychic utility that attaches to this conception of literary reading as gothic: how a portrait of a haunted reader might, for instance, compensate for the aggression involved in so strenuously insisting in the first place on authors' death, on their spectral insubstantiality. When these Englishwomen writing at the turn of the nineteenth century quote (or appropriate?) the words of the father-ghosts of the English canon they can, in short, look both reverential and self-serving. Their seemingly faithful inscriptions of the national canon, in addition to being considered as the testimonies with which they probate their cultural legacy, might as appropriately be seen as greedy raids on an empowering system. In this context, the canon appears both a "museum of wonderful relics" and "a store of commodities to trade in."35 Walter Scott's descriptions of the uses to which he puts his literary legacies mediate, of course, between these options. It's characteristic of a Waverley novel to take magically acquired "crocks of gold, secret fountains and hidden treasures … unpredictable and limitless fortunes" and set such windfalls of romance against the humdrum book-keeping required of the novelist who pursues "the business of fiction according to a trademan's code."36
From the practitioners of the Radcliffean Gothic Scott learned what it meant to inherit one's nationality and language from a dead poets' society. He learned that such possessions are also signs of possession.37 But it is worth emphasizing that—given the legitimist protocols of the literary legacy—no woman's writing career could assume the shape that Scott's did: a process in which the raw materials of tradition were converted into writing, that writing was exchanged for money, and that money was converted back into the trappings of tradition.38 Scott could envision himself in the posthumous terms that Woodstock conjures with when its Roundheads and Cavaliers marvel over how Shakespeare's and Chaucer's words "'haunt our ears'" (in fact, the book's allusions to the living-dead "conjurers" do double duty as an insider's joke about the Wizard of the North ). For, as Lockhart insisted, his father-in-law was "the founder of the Abbotsford Museum"; and, building that Gothic library, he could already imagine the future in which "his children's children should thank the founder."39
Beyond recovering the traces of their ambivalent engagement with the emergence of a loveable literary nation, I want to note in concluding how, as commentaries on this notion of the library as a birthright, Gothic writings might illuminate later developments in literary studies and the history of literary pedagogy especially. In 1924, in the tellingly-titled English for the English, a phrase whose tautology I've tried to problematize, one founder of the English education movement, George Sampson, argued for the curricular centrality of literary appreciation by issuing the following warning: "Deny to working class children any common share in the immaterial and presently they will grow into the men who will demand, with menaces, a communism of the material."40 In a double guise—as a site of possession in the supernatural sense, but also, as Sampson suggests despite himself, as a site that keeps alive a record of disinheritance and dispossession—in its guise as, in short, the literature classroom, the Gothic library haunts our practice still.
1. Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho, ed. Bonamy Dobrée (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1966) 104. Subsequent references to Udolpho are to this edition and appear parenthetically in the text.
2. Fiona Robertson's Legitimate Histories: Scott, Gothic, and the Authorities of Fiction (Oxford: Clarendon, 1994) is the exception. Robertson's emphasis is on Scott's engagement with both the narrative structure of Gothic fictions and the skeptical attitude toward historiographical legitimacy that this structure expresses. But, as I aim to show, Scott also recognizes in the Gothic a way of discussing canonical legitimacy.
3. Foucault, "Fantasia of the Library," in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice, ed. Donald F. Bouchard, trans. Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1977) 92.
4. One scheme, undertaken with James Ballantyne's blessing, would have involved a one-hundred-volume reissue of "The British Poets" and an output of a new magna opera of novelists and dramatists to match. See John Sutherland, The Life of Walter Scott: A Critical Biography (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995) 128-29.
5. Eliza Parsons, The Castle of Wolfenbach (London: Folio, 1968) 1: 3. Subsequent references are to this edition and appear parenthetically in the text.
6. Garrett Stewart makes a similar observation about the Gothic fiction of the late nineteenth century: see Dear Reader: The Conscripted Audience in Nineteenth-Century British Fiction (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1996), ch. 13.
7. Cannon Schmitt, Alien Nation: Nineteenth-Century Gothic Fictions and English Nationality (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1997) 39; Judith Halberstam, Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters (Durham, N.C.: Duke UP, 1995).
8. Janet Sorensen, The Grammar of Empire in Eighteenth-Century British Writing (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000) 112; Ian Duncan, "North Britain, Inc.," Victorian Literature and Culture 23 (1995): 346. See also Robert Crawford, Devolving English Literature (Oxford: Clarendon, 1992) and Crawford's edited anthology The Scottish Invention of English Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999).
9. William Hazlitt, The Spirit of the Age: or Contemporary Portraits (London: Henry Colburn, 1825) 151.
10. Trevor Ross, "Copyright and the Invention of Tradition," Eighteenth-Century Studies 26 (1992): 24. Samuel Johnson describes the trade in reprints carried out by Alexander Donaldson, the Edinburgh bookseller, as "an invasion of what [the Booksellers of London] had ever considered to be secure": see James Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. R. W. Chapman, rev. ed. (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1970) 310.
11. Cited in Ross, "Copyright" 7. Ross quotes Yates's dissenting opinion in Millar v. Taylor (1769), upheld when this decision by the Court of King's Bench was overturned by the House of Lords in the case of Donaldson v. Becket.
12. Thomas Sheridan, British Education, cited in John Guillory, Cultural Capital: The Problem of Literary Canon Formation (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1993) 101.
13. See Jonathan Kramnick's discussion of Johnson's Preface to Shakespeare: Making the English Canon: Print-Capitalism and the Cultural Past, 1700–1770 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998) 198-210, and Trevor Ross, The Making of the English Literary Canon, from the Middle Ages to the Late Eighteenth Century (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's UP, 1998). As Kramnick notes, because eighteenth-century canon-making took shape as a turn to antiquity it also effectually took shape as a turn away from a body of works significantly less "restricted in the gender and social class of the author." Following John Guillory, Kramnick insists that it is reductive to see canon formation as entailing an expulsion, i.e., of women writers, but he concedes that "[f]or many [eighteenth-century] critics, this restriction was precisely the point" (Making the English Canon 9).
14. Ian Duncan, Modern Romance and Transformations of the Novel (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992) 4.
15. Charlotte Smith, Emmeline, or, The Orphan of the Castle (London: Pandora, 1988) 6-7, 384.
16. The quotation is from Scott's account of the sensations produced in the reader by The Castle of Otranto: the hypothetical reader Scott conjures here is a new version of the ghost-seeing Lovel. See "Horace Walpole," Ballantyne's Novelists' Library, vol. 5 (1832), anthologized in Ioan Williams, ed., Sir Walter Scott on Novelists and Fiction (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1968) 87.
17. In fact, as David Hewitt notes in his new edition of The Antiquary, that section of the verses embroidered on the tapestry which is known as "The Floure and the Leafe" is no longer attributed to Chaucer, but instead to an anonymous (and possibly female) poet of his era. See his "Explanatory Notes," in Walter Scott, The Antiquary, ed. David Hewitt, intro. David Punter (London: Penguin, 1998) 389.
18. On the earlier occasion that we hear about, the ghost led the town clerk, who had been assigned the Green Chamber for his sleeping quarters, to the cabinet that concealed the original deed to the property of Monkbarns. The ghost's guidance enabled the Old-buck descendants to win their lawsuit and ensured that his estate remained family property.
19. I am indebted here to Yoon Sun Lee's rereading of The Antiquary and her insight into the fraught relation between a conservative narrative of national history that emphasizes "the transmission of priceless legacies," and an antiquarianism that was situated in scandalous proximity to a marketplace in which everything had a price: see "A Divided Inheritance: Scott's Antiquarian Novel and the British Nation," ELH 64.2 (1997): 537-67; I quote 539.
20. I quote Lee's gloss on Burke in "A Divided Inheritance" 539. See also my "Domesticating Fictions and Nationalizing Women: Edmund Burke, Property, and the Reproduction of Englishness," in Romanticism, Race, and Imperial Culture, 1780–1834, ed. Alan Richardson and Sonia Hofkosh (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1996) 40-71.
21. Reflections on the Revolution in France, ed. Conor Cruise O'Brien (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968) 136, 119.
22. James Boswell, A Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, L. L. D., ed. Peter Levi (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984) 400-401.
23. Esther Schor, Bearing the Dead: The British Culture of Mourning from the Enlightenment to Victoria (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1994); Walter Scott, Woodstock; or, The Cavalier: A Tale of the Year 1651 (New York: D. Appleton, 1877) 237; William Godwin, Essay on Sepulchres (London: W. Miller, 1809) 76. Subsequent references to Woodstock appear parenthetically in the text.
24. Joseph Roach, Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance (New York: Columbia UP, 1996) 77.
25. Dryden, Preface to Fables, Ancient and Modern (1700), cited in Kramnick 18.
26. Eliza Parsons, The Mysterious Warning: A German Tale (London: Lane, 1792) 1: 261.
27. See Karen Swann, "The Strange Time of Reading," European Romantic Review 9.2 (1998): 275-82; Hillel Schwartz, The Culture of the Copy: Striking Likenesses, Unreasonable Facsimiles (New York: Zone, 1996) 279.
28. Scott, "Horace Walpole" 88. On epigraphs, quotations, and poetizing in the Gothic, see Gary Kelly, English Fiction of the Romantic Period, 1789–1830 (London: Longman, 1989) 54-55; cf. Mary A. Favret, "Telling Tales about Genre: Poetry in the Romantic Novel," Studies in the Novel 26.3 (1994): 281-300.
29. Eleanor Sleath, The Nocturnal Minstrel, or, The Spirit of the Wood (New York: Arno, 1972) 1: 1.
30. It is no accident, either, that this ghost's First Folio has a place of pride in the haunted chambers of Woodstock; what this way of furnishing his haunted mansion suggests is that, as much as his female predecessors, Scott is well aware of the traditional identification of Shakespeare with the role of Hamlet's Ghost.
31. William Godwin, "Of Choice in Reading," in The Enquirer: Reflections on Education, Manners, and Literature (rpt; New York: August M. Kelley, 1965) 140.
32. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus, ed. Maurice Hindle (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1992) 45.
33. Mary and Charles Lamb: Poems, Letters, and Remains, ed. W. Carew Hazlitt (London: Chatto and Windus, 1874) 76; my emphasis.
34. "Reading Habits: Scenes of Romantic Miseducation and the Challenge of Ecoliteracy," in Lessons of Romanticism, ed. Thomas Pfau and Robert F. Gleckner (Durham, N.C.: Duke UP, 1998) 145.
35. I am tweaking here an opposition that Ian Duncan sets out in order to distinguish Adam Smith's functionalist understanding of literary discourse—one that apprehends the belles lettres as a "resource for improvement"—from Johnson's self-consciously nostalgic orientation toward the classics: see "Adam Smith, Samuel Johnson, and the institutions of English," in The Scottish Invention of English Literature 42.
36. Kathryn Sutherland, "Fictional Economies: Adam Smith, Walter Scott and the Nineteenth-Century Novel," ELH 54 (1987): 100.
37. I draw here on Marjorie Levinson's description of John Keats's relation to the canon: see Keats's Life of Allegory (Oxford: Blackwell, 1988) 19.
38. This description of Scott's career is Kathryn Sutherland's: see "Fictional Economies" 106.
39. J. G. Lockhart, Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott, 7 vols. (Edinburgh: Robert Cadell; London: John Murray, 1837) 4: 12; 2: 359.
40. Quoted in James Donald, "Beyond Our Ken: English, Englishness, and the National Curriculum," in Dialogue and Difference: English in the Nineties (London: Routledge, 1989) 15.
Frank, Frederick S. Gothic Fiction: A Master List of Twentieth Century Criticism and Research. Westport, Conn.: Meckler Corp., 1988, 193 p.
Full-length bibliography of twentieth-century criticism on Gothic fiction.
Anderson, Howard. "Gothic Heroes." In The English Hero, 1660–1800, edited by Robert Folkenflik, pp. 205-21. East Brunswick, N.J.: University of Delaware Press and Associated University Press, 1982.
Analyzes and compares the depiction of heroes in several Gothic novels, including The Mysteries of Udolpho, The Italian, The Castle of Otranto, and The Monk.
Avsey, Ignat. "The Gothic in Dostoevskii and Gogol: The British Connection." In The Gothic-Fantastic in Nineteenth-Century Russian Literature, edited by Neil Cornwell, pp. 211-34. Atlanta: Rodopi, 1999.
Delineates the Gothic in works by Fyodor Dostoevsky and Nikolai Gogol and illustrates how these Russian authors were influenced by Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto.
Beers, Henry A. "The Gothic Revival." In A History of English Romanticism in the Eighteenth Century, pp. 221-64. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., Ltd., 1899.
A seminal work that traces the impetus for and the development of the Gothic Revival in eighteenth-century England.
Brantlinger, Patrick. "Gothic Toxins: The Castle of Otranto, The Monk, and Caleb Williams." In The Reading Lesson: The Threat of Mass Literacy in Nineteenth-Century British Fiction, pp. 25-48. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.
Illustrates the ways in which the novels of Horace Walpole, William Godwin, and Matthew Gregory Lewis were viewed as a threat to morality and intellect by English society in the period following the French Revolution.
Brown, Marshall. "A Philosophical View of the Gothic Novel." Studies in Romanticism 26, no. 2 (summer 1987): 275-301.
Studies Immanuel Kant's influence on the development of the Gothic novel, particularly in terms of the role of reason.
――――――. "From the Transcendental to the Supernatural: Kant and the Doctors." Bucknell Review 39, no. 2 (1996): 151-69.
Examines Immanuel Kant's treatment of self-consciousness in his writings and how this relates to the treatment of the self and other in the Gothic novel.
Carson, James P. "Enlightenment, Popular Culture, and Gothic Fiction." In The Cambridge Companion to the Eighteenth-Century Novel, edited by John Richetti, pp. 255-76. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Delineates the Gothic novel's relationship to popular culture.
Clarke, George Elliott. "Racing Shelley; or, Reading The Cenci as a Gothic Slave Narrative." European Romantic Review 11, no. 2 (spring 2000): 168-85.
Analyzes Shelley's The Cenci in terms of the author's use of Gothic conventions and the work's relationship to the slave narrative.
Clemens, Valdine. "Precedents for 'Gothic' Fear: Medieval Life, Jacobean Drama, and Eighteenth-Century Attitudes." In The Return of the Repressed: Gothic Horror from The Castle of Otranto to Alien, pp. 15-28. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999.
Depicts the political, social, intellectual, and artistic traditions that preceded the rise in popularity of Gothic novels in England.
De Bruyn, Frans. "Edmund Burke's Gothic Romance: The Portrayal of Warren Hastings in Burke's Writings and Speeches on India." Criticism: A Quarterly for Literature and the Arts 29, no. 4 (fall 1987): 415-38.
Compares Edmund Burke's treatment of history—particularly his treatment of the figure of Warren Hastings—to the Gothic tradition and to the works of Jane Austen.
Donaldson, Susan V. "Making a Spectacle: Welty, Faulkner, and Southern Gothic." Mississippi Quarterly 50, no. 4 (fall 1997): 567-83.
Compares the portraits of women created by William Faulkner and Eudora Welty, noting that while Faulkner imposes cultural ideas of femininity on his Southern characters, Welty creates characters who resist placement in traditional roles and themes.
Ellis, Markman. The History of Gothic Fiction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press Ltd., 2000, 261 p.
Discusses the main topics and themes in Gothic literature and traces the development of the genre from the late eighteenth century to the twentieth century.
Gamer, Michael. "Confounding Present with Past: Romanticism, Lyrical Ballads, and Gothic Romance." Poetica: An International Journal of Linguistic-Literary Studies 39-40 (1994): 111-38.
Explores the literary and historical relationship of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Lyrical Ballads to the Gothic romance.
――――――. Romanticism and the Gothic: Genre, Reception, and Canon Formation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000, 255 p.
Examines the relationship of gothicism in the eighteenth century to the classification of the cultural status and genre of literary works.
Goh, Robbie B. H. "(M)Othering the Nation: Guilt, Sexuality and the Commercial State in Coleridge's Gothic Poetry." Journal of Narrative Theory 33, no. 3 (fall 2003): 270-91.
Studies how Samuel Taylor Coleridge's treatment of sexuality in his Gothic poetry provides commentary on social and political issues of his time, particularly displacement and economic challenges.
Hadley, Michael. The Undiscovered Genre: a Search for the German Gothic Novel. Berne, Germany: Peter Lang, 1977, 155 p.
Investigates the origins and existence of the German Gothic novel, or Schauerroman, and the Germanic sources for the English Gothic novel.
Haggerty, George E. "The Gothic Novel, 1764–1824." In The Columbia History of the British Novel, edited by John Richetti, pp. 200-46. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.
Offers a literary and historical overview of the development of the Gothic novel in England.
Hennessy, Brendan. The Gothic Novel. Harlow: Longman for the British Council, 1978, 60 p.
A critical overview of Gothic novels. Includes a bibliography.
Hogle, Jerrold E. "The Gothic Ghost as Counterfeit and Its Haunting of Romanticism: The Case of 'Frost at Midnight.'" European Romantic Review 9, no. 2 (spring 1998): 283-92.
Examines Samuel Taylor Coleridge's use of the ghost and Gothic conventions in "Frost at Midnight," and how this relates to the Romantic literary tradition.
――――――. The Undergrounds of The Phantom of the Opera: Sublimation and the Gothic in Leroux's Novel and its Progeny, pp. 2-62. New York: Palgrave, 2002.
Analyzes the various versions of The Phantom of the Opera, and illustrates how each adaptation of the work represents the cultural beliefs and norms of the society and era during which it is created.
Holbrook, William C. "The Adjective 'Gothique' in the Eighteenth Century." Modern Language Notes 56, no. 7 (November 1941): 498-503.
Detailed analysis of the cultural and linguistic traditions that led to the origination of the adjective "gothique" in eighteenth-century France.
Horner, Avril, ed. European Gothic: A Spirited Exchange, 1760–1960. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 2002, 260 p.
Collection of critical essays that illustrate the French, German, Russian, and Spanish influences on the development of the Gothic novel.
Hume, Robert D. "Gothic versus Romantic: A Re-valuation of the Gothic Novel." PMLA 84, no. 2 (March 1969): 282-90.
A seminal essay that defines the nature of the Gothic novel, contrasting it with works in the Romantic tradition.
Komaromi, Ann. "Unknown Force: Gothic Realism in Chekhov's 'The Black Monk.'" In The Gothic-Fantastic in Nineteenth-Century Russian Literature, edited by Neil Cornwell, pp. 257-75. Atlanta: Rodopi, 1999.
Analyzes the gothicism in Anton Chekhov's short story "Chernyi monakh" ("The Black Monk").
MacAndrew, Elizabeth. The Gothic Tradition in Fiction. New York: Columbia University Press, 1979, 289 p.
Full-length study of major themes and figures in nineteenth-century English Gothic fiction.
Madoff, Mark. "The Useful Myth of Gothic Ancestry." Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 9 (1979): 337-50.
Surveys the use of Gothic themes and figures in eighteenth-century English fiction.
Malin, Irving. "American Gothic Images." Mosaic 6, no. 3 (1973): 145-71.
Traces the use of "the castle, the voyage, and the masquerade" in American literature.
McIntyre, Clara. "Were the Gothic Novels Gothic?" PMLA 36, no. 4 (December 1921): 644-67.
Examines the classification of works of literature as Gothic.
Miles, Robert. Gothic Writing 1750–1820: A Genealogy. London: Routledge, 1993, 258 p.
Provides historical and social context surrounding eighteenth-century Gothic literature.
Mudge, Bradford K. "'Excited by Trick': Coleridge and the Gothic Imagination." Wordsworth Circle 22, no. 3 (summer 1991): 179-84.
Explores the influence of the Gothic novel evidenced in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poetry.
――――――. "The Man with Two Brains: Gothic Novels, Popular Culture, Literary History." PMLA 107, no. 1 (January 1992): 92-104.
Discusses the Gothic novel's place in literary history and its role in shaping popular culture.
Oates, Joyce Carol. Introduction to American Gothic Tales, edited by Joyce Carol Oates, pp. 1-9. New York: Plume, 1996.
Surveys the American landscape, beginning in Colonial times, the role that this landscape played in the development of American Gothic literature, and the places of the various works she has collected in the volume within the American Gothic tradition.
Perry, J. Douglas. "Gothic as Vortex: The Form of Horror in Capote, Faulkner, and Styron." Modern Fiction Studies 19 (1973): 153-67.
Proposes that in addition to the commonality of themes and images, American Gothic fiction also uses traditional structures and techniques to create a concentric series of events, drawing the reader into an intense interaction between human communities that exist inside and outside the novel.
Peterfreund, Stuart. "Keats's Debt to Maturin." Wordsworth Circle 13, no. 1 (winter 1982): 45-49.
Studies the sources of the Gothic conventions in Keats' "The Eve of St. Agnes" in Charles Robert Maturin's Manuel.
Platzner, Robert L., and Robert D. Hume. "'Gothic versus Romantic': A Rejoinder." PMLA 86, no. 2 (March 1971): 266-74.
Scholarly exchange of analysis and ideas originally offered by Hume in his 1969 PMLA article, "Gothic versus Romantic: A Revaluation of the Gothic Novel."
Punter, David. "Ossian, Blake and the Questionable Source." In Exhibited by Candlelight: Sources and Developments in the Gothic Tradition, edited by Valeria Tinkler-Villani, Peter Davidson, and Jane Stevenson, pp. 25-41. Athens: Rodopi, 1995.
Studies the gothicism of Blake's poem "Ossian," and the sources for the poem in the Ossian Poems of James Macpherson.
――――――. "Modern Perceptions of the Barbaric: Mervyn Peake, 'Isak Dinesen,' John Hawkes, Joyce Carol Oates, James Purdy, William Burroughs, Thomas Pynchon, J. G. Ballard, Robert Coover, Angela Carter." In The Literature of Terror: A History of Gothic Fictions from 1765 to the Present Day, Vol. 2, pp. 119-44. Essex, England: Longman, 1996.
Surveys the use of what Punter terms "the barbaric" in the works of several modern authors of Gothic and horror fiction.
Roberts, Marie. Gothic Immortals: The Fiction of the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross. London: Routledge, 1990, 239 p.
Traces the connection between "Rosicrucian authors"—William Godwin, Mary Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Charles Robert Maturin, and Edward Bulwer-Lytton—and the secret society known as The Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross.
Sabor, Peter. "Medieval Revival and the Gothic." In Cambridge History of Literary Criticism, IV: The Eighteenth Century, edited by H. B. Nisbet and Claude Rawson, pp. 470-88. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Discusses the criticism of works in the medieval revival tradition, including Gothic fiction.
Schleifer, Ronald. "Rural Gothic: The Sublime Rhetoric of Flannery O'Connor." In Frontier Gothic: Terror and Wonder at the Frontier in American Literature, edited by David Mogen, Scott P. Sanders, and Joanne B. Karpinski, pp. 175-86. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1993.
Maintains that O'Connor effectively uses the backdrop of the rural South and combines it with elements of the supernatural to present a world of powerful possibilities in her fiction.
Shelden, Pamela J., and Kurt Paul. "Daylight Nightmares." Gothic 1, no. 1 (June 1979): 1-6.
Contrasts the German and American expression of the Romantic tradition in Gothic literature.
Smith, R. J. The Gothic Bequest: Medieval Institutions in British Thought, 1688–1863. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987, 231 p.
Considers the various returns to medieval aesthetic during periods of great change in Europe between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries.
Thompson, G. Richard. "Introduction: Gothic Fiction of the Romantic Age: Context and Mode." In Romantic Gothic Tales, 1790–1840, pp. 1-54. New York: Harper & Row, 1979.
Investigates the political and social context surrounding Gothic literature during the Romantic age, as well as the conventions utilized in the literature of this period.
Tompkins, J. M. S. "The Gothic Romance." In The Popular Novel in England, 1770–1800, pp. 243-95. London: Constable, 1932.
Study of the Gothic novel's themes, techniques, and conventions, focusing on Ann Radcliffe's novels.
Trott, Nicola. "Wordsworth's Gothic Quandary." Charles Lamb Bulletin 110 (April 2000): 45-59.
Interprets the association between Gothic fiction and Wordsworth's Lyrical Ballads.
Varma, Devendra P. The Gothic Flame: Being a History of the Gothic Novel in England: Its Origins, Efflorescence, Disintegration, and Residuary Influences, pp. 1-22. London: Arthur Barker, 1957.
A comprehensive study of the Gothic novel in England.
Wiesenfarth, Joseph. Gothic Manners and the Classic English Novel. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988, 235 p.
Explores the connection of the Gothic novel to the English novel of manners by applying the theories of Mikhail Bakhtin.
Wilczynski, Marke. "From Edwards to Slosson: Typology, Nature, and the New England Domestic Gothic." Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: An International Review of English Studies, no. 36 (2001): 303-09.
Examines the use of Gothic conventions in the works of nineteenth-century New England authors, such as in the short stories of Annie Trumbull Slosson.
Williams, Anne. Art of Darkness: A Poetics of Gothic. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995, 311 p.
Surveys the Gothic in English and Irish literature.