Gothic Themes, Settings, and Figures
Gothic Themes, Settings, and FiguresINTRODUCTION
HAUNTED DWELLINGS AND THE SUPERNATURAL
PSYCHOLOGY AND THE GOTHIC
Gothic literature has influenced and inspired several subgenres of literature, including the supernatural tale, the ghost story, horror fiction, and vampire literature. Many critics have analyzed the connections between these subgenres and the Gothic tradition, as well as some of the most widely-discussed themes, figures, and settings found in Gothic literature and works in these various subgenres.
While belief in the supernatural served as the basis for the mythologies of early civilizations, and afterward remained an enduring aspect of world folklore, it was not until the nineteenth century that a substantial body of works evolved that focused upon the otherworldly as a source of horror. Although Gothic novelists often included supernatural incidents in their works, they also pursued other concerns, particularly those related to eighteenth-century morals and manners. Such concerns precluded the single-minded focus and inventiveness of their successors in portraying weird and ghostly phenomena. The Gothic novel was characterized by intricate but often loosely constructed plots and subplots, stock characters such as the naive young woman and the lascivious male villain, and a medieval setting, such as a haunted, ruined castle. In contrast, nineteenth-century supernatural fiction often takes the form of the short story, which critics agree is better suited to achieving the effect of horror, and features more thoroughly developed characters and contemporary settings.
The growth of popular magazines increased the proliferation of supernatural tales, and "penny dreadfuls" provided the working class with serialized tales of the macabre, such as Varney the Vampire; or, The Feast of Blood (1847), written by either Thomas Peckett Prest or James Malcolm Rymer. Alternatively, some critics assert that, rather than serving as an escapist diversion from rigid social norms, the ghost story, advancing the idea that wrongdoers and eccentrics incur the wrath of ghosts, defended the status quo by discouraging rebellion against one's position in society. Nineteenth-century supernatural fiction has also been viewed as a reaction against the materialism and rationalist philosophy that accompanied the rapid social changes brought about by the industrial revolution, during which an older, more stable way of life, with its traditional ways of thinking, was eclipsed by technological progress and the routines of urban life. The struggle between religion and science became an important issue as new theories that challenged traditional beliefs were advanced, most prominently Charles Darwin's speculations on human evolution.
Although a few commentators have maintained that a literalistic belief in the supernatural has always been, and will always be, a prerequisite for the creation and enjoyment of horror tales, most critics propose special reasons to explain the relatively recent phenomenon of supernatural fiction as a literary form. Among these reasons, one is most often given: the nineteenth century was an age of scientific and technological advancement that had distanced itself from many of the superstitions of the past; as a consequence, it was precisely these superstitions, exiled from the progressive consciousness of the day, that emerged in the works of literature. A corollary to this theory states that because earlier societies assumed the supernatural as part of the cosmic order, its manifestations could not inflict that dread peculiar to modern humanity. This explanation has been most prominently articulated by Sigmund Freud in his 1919 essay "Das Unheimlich" ("The Uncanny"), and is based on the assumption that beneath the surface of civilized skepticism survive all the irrational beliefs of humanity's past. Thus, a common storyline in Gothic and horror fiction involves an unbelieving protagonist to whom it is proven—with unpleasant consequences—that some aspect of the supernatural is true.
While supernatural fiction emerged as a distinct literary form in the Victorian era, it was also during this period that the focus of the genre began to shift away from confrontations with ghostly phenomena toward character psychology. Supernatural fiction had often addressed, albeit unwittingly, the concerns of the inchoate field of psychology by rendering unresolved inner conflict in a symbolic manner that is exemplified in the standard plot of a murderer haunted by the ghost of his victim, which then represents the murderer's guilty conscience. Critics commonly read such works as Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) and those in Arthur Machen's The Great God Pan and the Inmost Light (1894) as allegories of humankind's struggle with instinctual needs and drives, laying bare the dark side of the human soul. Many observers maintain that supernatural fiction underwent a significant change when Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu introduced, with his "Green Tea" (1869), the apparition that may in fact be a product of the mind. This type of story was later developed with great success by Henry James in his novella The Turn of the Screw (1898). Thus, the legacy of supernatural fiction, somewhat paradoxically, has been a tendency among modern fiction writers to favor psychological horrors over those that have their roots in the archaic and essentially pastoral lore based on the existence of the supernatural.
Despite all contentions that supernatural fiction suffered a decline in the early decades of the twentieth century, this literary genre has continued to flourish and grow in popularity, assisted by television and movie adaptations and imitations. Although some might contend that it has radically changed in quality and substance, becoming merely a source of income for hack writers who exploit the more sensationalistic aspects of the form, horror fiction has always been allied to the lower types of commercial literature, from the "shilling shockers" of the Gothic period to the mass-market "pageturners" of the present day. Even those authors who are recognized as the most profound and artistic practitioners of literary supernaturalism, such as Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft, are often criticized as hopelessly vulgar and categorized far below the level of serious artists. At the same time, the highest examples of the supernatural genre have endured for the same reason as the more accepted classics of literature—their power to express through the medium of language some significant aspect of human experience. In the perception of many readers and critics, the works of such authors as Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, and Walter de la Mare do not "transcend" the essential traits of supernatural fiction but rather bring them to perfection. As Lovecraft stated in his 1945 study Supernatural Horror in Literature: "The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. These facts few psychologists will dispute, and their admitted truth must establish for all time the genuineness and dignity of the weirdly horrible tale as a literary form."
The theme of the doppelgänger (the double, or "second self") is prominent in nineteenth-century literature, from stories by E. T. A. Hoffmann in Germany to works of Robert Louis Stevenson in Great Britain, Edgar Allan Poe in the United States, and countless others. Although stories as ancient as the Greek myth of Narcissus feature characters' fascination with their mirror images, and numerous folk tales center on the mysterious relation between a person and his or her shadow, the double as a dominant element in an artistic work was the creation of the German Romantics. Critics commonly note the appearance of the double in such earlier works as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's drama Faust (1808), presenting in Siebenkäs and his friend Leibgeber two intimately connected figures who are clearly meant to be taken as aspects of a single personality. Subsequently the German fantasist and musician Hoff-mann imaginatively and forcefully exploited the artistic potential of doubling in numerous short stories, including "Der Sandmann" (1817; "The Sandman"), and in the novel Die Elixiere des Teufels (1815–16; The Devil's Elixir), which explores the power of demonic forces over a person's existence. Hoffmann conjured up the doppelgänger, or double: a tangible and wholly independent embodiment of sinister powers. Hoffmann's doubles draw from both human psychology and belief in the supernatural, reflecting nineteenth-century interest in scientific psychology but also retaining a link to occult traditions. As writers strove to explain duality according to the laws of reason and common sense, the double became an important metaphor of humankind's struggle to reconcile opposing inner forces, such as destructiveness and creativity. Moreover, as the consequences of the industrial revolution became apparent, writers increasingly began to express in their works the idea of the divided self as a reaction to unnatural pressures exerted on the individual by an alienating society. Many works, such as Guy de Maupassant's "Le Horla" (1886), Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Fyodor Dostoevsky's Dvoinik: Prikliucheniia gospodina Goliadkina (1846; The Double: A Poem of St. Petersburg), Poe's "William Wilson" (1840), and Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), feature doubles.
While the vampire can be traced throughout literary history and world folklore to antiquity, vampirism as the focus of narrative and theme in works of literature first became prominent in the early nineteenth century. John William Polidori's novella The Vampyre, published in 1819, is generally considered to be the first work of vampire fiction and introduced several traits of the literary vampire, including a deathlike countenance and hypnotic powers. This work sparked popular interest, and a deluge of vampire stories followed, most prominently Varney the Vampyre. Another influential work of vampire literature was Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's "Carmilla" (1871–72), which depicted a lesbian relationship between vampire and victim, further expanding the conventions of vampirism to include an ambiguous sexual attraction between predator and prey, the vampire's aversion to religious symbols, and aspects of sadism. With the publication of Bram Stoker's Dracula in 1897, the popular conception of vampires and their portrayal in literature became codified, resulting in the familiar stereotype of an aristocratic bloodsucker who preys upon beautiful young women. Stoker's novel has been the focus of diverse social, psychological, and historical interpretations. Many critics, for example, have asserted that the work is an admonition against deviant sexual behavior, emphasizing the association between vampires and the subversion of Christian and Victorian morality. Although much twentieth- and twenty-first-century vampire fiction incorporates characteristics of the nineteenth-century vampire, commentators have noted a trend toward depictions of vampires as sympathetic and morally ambiguous characters, such as Louis in Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire (1976), which contrasts with the traditional image of the vampire as threatening and thoroughly evil. Both as character and as symbol, critics find that the vampire in literature serves to reflect society's views on sexuality, death, religion, and the role of women, and functions as a psychological metaphor for humanity's most profound fears and desires.
Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. 4 vols. (novels) 1818
Orra: a Tragedy, in Five Acts (play) 1812
The Damnation Game (novel) 1985
The Hellbound Heart (novella) 1986; published in the collection Night Visions 3, edited by George R. R. Martin; published separately, 1988
★Vathek (novel) 1787
The Empty House, and Other Ghosts (short stories) 1906
Ancient Sorceries, and Other Tales (short stories) 1927
The Dance of Death, and Other Tales (short stories) 1927
The Tales of Algernon Blackwood (short stories) 1938
Wuthering Heights [as Ellis Bell] (novel) 1847
Charles Brockden Brown
Edgar Huntly; or, Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker. 3 vols. (novel) 1799
Zanoni. 3 vols. (novel) 1842
Lucretia; or, The Children of Night. 3 vols. (novel) 1846
A Strange Story. 2 vols. (novel) 1862
George Gordon Noel, Lord Byron
The Giaour: A Fragment of a Turkish Tale (poetry) 1813
Childe Harold's Pilgrimage: Canto the Third (poetry) 1816
Manfred, A Dramatic Poem (verse drama) 1817
Don Juan, Cantos I-XVI. 6 vols. (poetry) 1819–24
Suzy McKee Charnas
The Vampire Tapestry (novel) 1980
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Christabel: Kubla Khan, a Vision; The Pains of Sleep (poetry) 1816
Zofloya; or, The Moor: A Romance of the Fifteenth Century. 3 vols. (novel) 1806
Blood is Not Enough: Seventeen Stories of Vampirism (short stories) 1989
A Whisper of Blood (short stories) 1991
Walter de la Mare
Ghost Stories (short stories) 1936
Thomas De Quincey
Confessions of an English Opium Eater (novel) 1821; published in two parts in London Magazine; published in book form, 1822
Bleak House (novel) 1853
"The Signal-Man" (short story) 1866; published in Mugby Junction
Dvoinik: Prikliucheniia gospodina Goliadkina [The Double: A Poem of St. Petersburg] (novel) 1846
Brat'ia Karamazovy [The Brothers Karamazov] (novel) 1880
Arthur Conan Doyle
The Parasite (novel) 1894
"Das Unheimlich" ["The Uncanny"] 1919; published in the journal Imago
Things as They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams. 3 vols. (novel) 1794
St. Leon: A Tale of the Sixteenth Century. 4 vols. (novel) 1799
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Faust: Ein Fragment (play) 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
Marquis von Grosse
Genius [Horrid Mysteries] (short stories) 1796
"The Birthmark" (short story) 1843; published in the journal Pioneer
The House of the Seven Gables, A Romance (novel) 1851
E. T. A. Hoffmann
Die Elixiere des Teufels. 2 vols. [published anonymously; The Devil's Elixir] (novel) 1815–16
†"Der Sandmann" ["The Sandman"] (short story) 1817
The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (novel) 1824; republished as The Suicide's Grave, 1828
‡"Adventure of the German Student" [as Geoffrey Crayon] (short story) 1824
The Lottery; or, The Adventures of James Harris (short stories) 1949
The Haunting of Hill House (novel) 1959
The Two Magics: The Turn of the Screw, Covering End (novellas) 1898
Carrie: A Novel of a Girl with a Frightening Power (novel) 1974
'Salem's Lot (novel) 1975
The Mist (novella) 1980; published in the collection Dark Forces, edited by Kirby McCauley
The Tommyknockers (novel) 1987
The Recess; or, A Tale of Other Times. 3 vols. (novel) 1783
Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
Uncle Silas: A Tale of Bartram-Haugh. 3 vols. (novel) 1864
"Green Tea" (short story) 1869; published in the journal All the Year Round
"Carmilla" (short story) 1871–72; published serially in the journal Dark Blue
Matthew Gregory Lewis
The Monk: A Romance. 3 vols. (novel) 1796
The Captive: A Scene in a Private Mad-House (play) 1803
H. P. Lovecraft
#"At the Mountains of Madness" (short story) 1936; published in the journal Astounding Stories
Supernatural Horror in Literature (criticism) 1945
The Great God Pan and The Inmost Light (short stories) 1894
Hell House (novel) 1971
Charles Robert Maturin
Melmoth the Wanderer: A Tale. 4 vols. (novel) 1820
Guy de Maupassant
‖"Le Horla" ["The Horla"] (short story) 1886; published in the journal Le Gil Blas; revised version published in 1887
The Epicurean. A Tale (novel) 1827
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
§"William Wilson" (short story) 1840
"The Oval Portrait" (short story) 1842; published in the journal Graham's Magazine
"The Gold Bug" (short story) 1843; published in two installments in the journal Dollar Newspaper
"A Tale of the Ragged Mountains" (short story) 1844; published in the journal Godey's Lady's Book
The Raven, and Other Poems (poetry) 1845
Tales by Edgar A. Poe (short stories) 1845
John William Polidori
The Vampyre; a Tale (novella) 1819; published in the journal New Monthly Magazine
Thomas Peckett Prest or James Malcolm Rymer
★★Varney the Vampire; or, The Feast of Blood (novel) 1847
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
The Champion of Virtue. A Gothic Story (novel) 1777; republished as The Old English Baron, 1778
G. W. M. Reynolds
Faust: A Romance of the Second Empire (novel) 1847
Wagner the Wehr-wolf (novel) 1857
Interview with the Vampire (novel) 1976
The Vampire Lestat (novel) 1985
The Queen of the Damned (novel) 1988
The Witching Hour (novel) 1990
The Vampire Armand (novel) 1998
Blood Canticle (novel) 2003
Regina Maria Roche
Children of the Abbey (novel) 1798
Dante Gabriel Rossetti
"Hand and Soul" (short story) 1850; published in the journal the Germ
††"St. Agnes of Intercession" (unfinished short story) c. 1850
‡‡"The Portrait" (poem) 1869
Sir Walter Scott
Rokeby: A Poem (poetry) 1813
Waverley; or, 'Tis Sixty Years Since. 3 vols. (novel) 1814
##The Keepsake for 1829 (short stories) 1828
Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft (nonfiction) 1830
Hamlet (play) c. 1600–01
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
Carrion Comfort (novel) 1989
Robert Louis Stevenson
Treasure Island (novel) 1883
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (novella) 1886
Dracula (novel) 1897
Dracula's Guest, and Other Weird Stories (short stories) 1914
The Hunger (novel) 1981
Communion: A True Story (nonfiction) 1987
The Wild (novel) 1991
George Sylvester Viereck
The House of the Vampire (novel) 1907
The Castle of Otranto, A Story (novel) 1764
The Mysterious Mother. A Tragedy (play) 1768
The Picture of Dorian Gray (novel) 1890; first published in the journal Lippincott's Monthly Magazine; revised edition, 1891
C. Q. Yarbro
Hotel Transylvania: A Novel of Forbidden Love (novel) 1978
The Palace: A Historical Horror Novel (novel) 1979
Blood Games: A Novel of Historical Horror (novel) 1980
★ The unauthorized translation of Vathek was published as An Arabian Tale, 1786.
† This story was included in the collection, Nachtstücke, herausgegeben von dem Verfasser der Fantasiestücke in Callots Manier, Vol. 1, published anonymously, 1817.
‡ This story was first published in the collection Tales of a Traveller. 2 vols., in 1824.
# This story was written in 1931, and was collected in At the Mountains of Madness and Other Novels in 1985.
‖ This story was first published in an earlier version as "Lettre d'un fou" ("Letter from a Madman") in 1885.
§ This story was published in the collection Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, 1840.
★★ Authorship of this novel has been alternately attributed to Thomas Peckett Prest and James Malcolm Rymer.
†† This unfinished story was begun in 1850 and was not published during Rossetti's lifetime. It was included in the collection The Works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1911.
‡‡ This sonnet was published in the collection Poems, 1869.
## This collection includes the short stories "My Aunt Margaret's Mirror," "The Tapestried Chamber; or, The Lady in the Sacque," and "The Laird's Jock."
SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE (POEM DATE 1809)
SOURCE: Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. "The Three Graves: A Fragment of a Sexton's Tale." In Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Selected Poems, edited with an introduction and notes by Richard Holmes, pp. 69-80. New York: Penguin Group, 1994.
The following poem was composed by Coleridge in 1797, and first published in the journal The Friend in 1809. Coleridge explains in his preface that his own fragment of this ballad is based upon a poem (which Coleridge summarizes) written by William Wordsworth.
"The Author has published the following humble fragment, encouraged by the decisive recommendation of more than one of our most celebrated living Poets. The language was intended to be dramatic; that is, suited to the narrator; and the metre corresponds to the homeliness of the diction. It is therefore presented as the fragment, not of a Poem, but of a common Ballad-tale. Whether this is sufficient to justify the adoption of such a style, in any metrical composition not professedly ludicrous, the Author is himself in some doubt. At all events, it is not presented as poetry, and it is in no way connected with the Author's judgment concerning poetic diction. Its merits, if any, are exclusively psychological. The story which must be supposed to have been narrated in the first and second parts is as follows:—
"Edward, a young farmer, meets at the house of Ellen her bosom-friend Mary, and commences an acquaintance, which ends in a mutual attachment. With her consent, and by the advice of their common friend Ellen, he announces his hopes and intentions to Mary's mother, a widow-woman bordering on her fortieth year, and from constant health, the possession of a competent property, and from having had no other children but Mary and another daughter (the father died in their infancy), retaining for the greater part her personal attractions and comeliness of appearance; but a woman of low education and violent temper. The answer which she at once returned to Edward's application was remarkable—'Well, Edward! you are a handsome young fellow, and you shall have my daughter.' From this time all their wooing passed under the mother's eye; and, in fine, she became herself enamoured of her future son-in-law, and practised every art, both of endearment and of calumny, to transfer his affections from her daughter to herself. (The outlines of the Tale are positive facts, and of no very distant date, though the author has purposely altered the names and the scene of action, as well as invented the characters of the parties and the detail of the incidents.) Edward, however, though perplexed by her strange detractions from her daughter's good qualities, yet in the innocence of his own heart still mistook her increasing fondness for motherly affection; she at length, overcome by her miserable passion, after much abuse of Mary's temper and moral tendencies, exclaimed with violent emotion—'O Edward! indeed, indeed, she is not fit for you—she has not a heart to love you as you deserve. It is I that love you! Marry me, Edward! and I will this very day settle all my property on you.' The Lover's eyes were now opened; and thus taken by surprise, whether from the effect of the horror which he felt, acting as it were hysterically on his nervous system, or that at the first moment he lost the sense of the guilt of the proposal in the feeling of its strangeness and absurdity, he flung her from him and burst into a fit of laughter. Irritated by this almost to frenzy, the woman fell on her knees, and in a loud voice that approached to a scream, she prayed for a curse both on him and on her own child. Mary happened to be in the room directly above them, heard Edward's laugh, and her mother's blasphemous prayer, and fainted away. He, hearing the fall, ran upstairs, and taking her in his arms, carried her off to Ellen's home; and after some fruitless attempts on her part toward a reconciliation with her mother, she was married to him.—And here the third part of the Tale begins.
"I was not led to choose this story from any partiality to tragic, much less to monstrous events (though at the time that I composed the verses, somewhat more than twelve years ago, I was less averse to such subjects than at present), but from finding in it a striking proof of the possible effect on the imagination, from an idea violently and suddenly impressed on it. I had been reading Bryan Edwards's account of the effects of the Oby witchcraft on the Negroes in the West Indies, and Hearne's deeply interesting anecdotes of similar workings on the imagination of the Copper Indians (those of my readers who have it in their power will be well repaid for the trouble of referring to those works for the passages alluded to); and I conceived the design of shewing that instances of this kind are not peculiar to savage or barbarous tribes, and of illustrating the mode in which the mind is affected in these cases, and the progress and symptoms of the morbid action on the fancy from the beginning.
"The Tale is supposed to be narrated by an old Sexton, in a country church-yard, to a traveller whose curiosity had been awakened by the appearance of three graves, close by each other, to two only of which there were grave-stones. On the first of these was the name, and dates, as usual: on the second, no name, but only a date, and the words, 'The Mercy of God is infinite.'"
The grapes upon the Vicar's wall
Were ripe as ripe could be;
And yellow leaves in sun and wind
Were falling from the tree.
On the hedge-elms in the narrow lane
Still swung the spikes of corn:
Dear Lord! it seems but yesterday—
Young Edward's marriage-morn.
Up through that wood behind the church,
There leads from Edward's door
A mossy track, all over boughed,
For half a mile or more.
And from their house-door by that track
The bride and bridegroom went;
Sweet Mary, though she was not gay,
Seemed cheerful and content.
But when they to the church-yard came,
I've heard poor Mary say,
As soon as she stepped into the sun,
Her heart it died away.
And when the Vicar join'd their hands,
Her limbs did creep and freeze:
But when they prayed, she thought she saw
Her mother on her knees.
And o'er the church-path they returned—
I saw poor Mary's back,
Just as she stepped beneath the boughs
Into the mossy track.
Her feet upon the mossy track
The married maiden set:
That moment—I have heard her say—
She wished she could forget.
The shade o'er-flushed her limbs with heat—
Then came a chill like death:
And when the merry bells rang out,
They seemed to stop her breath.
Beneath the foulest mother's curse
No child could ever thrive:
A mother is a mother still,
The holiest thing alive.
So five months passed: the mother still
Would never heal the strife;
But Edward was a loving man
And Mary a fond wife.
"My sister may not visit us,
My mother says her nay:
O Edward! you are all to me,
I wish for your sake I could be
More lifesome and more gay.
"I'm dull and sad! indeed, indeed
I know I have no reason!
Perhaps I am not well in health,
And 'tis a gloomy season."
'Twas a drizzly time—no ice, no snow!
And on the few fine days
She stirred not out, lest she might meet
Her mother in the ways.
But Ellen, spite of miry ways
And weather dark and dreary,
Trudged every day to Edward's house,
And made them all more cheery.
Oh! Ellen was a faithful friend,
More dear than any sister!
As cheerful too as singing lark;
And she ne'er left them till 'twas dark,
And then they always missed her.
And now Ash-Wednesday came—that day
But few to church repair:
For on that day you know we read
The Commination prayer.
Our late old Vicar, a kind man,
Once, Sir, he said to me,
He wished that service was clean out
Of our good Liturgy.
The mother walked into the church—
To Ellen's seat she went:
Though Ellen always kept her church
All church-days during Lent.
And gentle Ellen welcomed her
With courteous looks and mild:
Thought she, "What if her heart should melt,
And all be reconciled!"
The day was scarcely like a day—
The clouds were black outright:
And many a night, with half a moon,
I've seen the church more light.
The wind was wild; against the glass
The rain did beat and bicker;
The church-tower swinging over head,
You scarce could hear the Vicar!
And then and there the mother knelt,
And audibly she cried—
"Oh! may a clinging curse consume
This woman by my side!
"O hear me, hear me, Lord in Heaven,
Although you take my life—
O curse this woman, at whose house
Young Edward woo'd his wife.
"By night and day, in bed and bower,
O let her curséd be!!!"
So having prayed, steady and slow,
She rose up from her knee!
And left the church, nor e'er again
The church-door entered she.
I saw poor Ellen kneeling still,
So pale! I guessed not why:
When she stood up, there plainly was
A trouble in her eye.
And when the prayers were done, we all
Came round and asked her why:
Giddy she seemed, and sure, there was
A trouble in her eye.
But ere she from the church-door stepped
She smiled and told us why:
"It was a wicked woman's curse,"
Quoth she, "and what care I?"
She smiled, and smiled, and passed it off
Ere from the door she stept—
But all agree it would have been
Much better had she wept.
And if her heart was not at ease,
This was her constant cry—
"It was a wicked woman's curse—
God's good, and what care I?"
There was a hurry in her looks,
Her struggles she redoubled:
"It was a wicked woman's curse,
And why should I be troubled?"
These tears will come—I dandled her
When 'twas the merest fairy—
Good creature! and she hid it all:
She told it not to Mary.
But Mary heard the tale: her arms
Round Ellen's neck she threw;
"O Ellen, Ellen, she cursed me,
And now she hath cursed you!"
I saw young Edward by himself
Stalk fast adown the lee,
He snatched a stick from every fence,
A twig from every tree.
He snapped them still with hand or knee,
And then away they flew!
As if with his uneasy limbs
He knew not what to do!
You see, good sir! that single hill?
His farm lies underneath:
He heard it there, he heard it all,
And only gnashed his teeth.
Now Ellen was a darling love
In all his joys and cares:
And Ellen's name and Mary's name
Fast-linked they both together came,
Whene'er he said his prayers.
And in the moment of his prayers
He loved them both alike:
Yea, both sweet names with one sweet joy
Upon his heart did strike!
He reach'd his home, and by his looks
They saw his inward strife:
And they clung round him with their arms,
Both Ellen and his wife.
And Mary could not check her tears,
So on his breast she bowed;
Then frenzy melted into grief,
And Edward wept aloud.
Dear Ellen did not weep at all,
But closelier did she cling,
And turned her face and looked as if
She saw some frightful thing.
To see a man tread over graves
I hold it no good mark;
'Tis wicked in the sun and moon,
And bad luck in the dark!
You see that grave? The Lord he gives,
The Lord, he takes away:
O Sir! the child of my old age
Lies there as cold as clay.
Except that grave, you scarce see one
That was not dug by me;
I'd rather dance upon 'em all
Than tread upon these three!
"Aye, Sexton! 'tis a touching tale."
You, Sir! are but a lad;
This month I'm in my seventieth year,
And still it makes me sad.
And Mary's sister told it me,
For three good hours and more;
Though I had heard it, in the main,
From Edward's self, before.
Well! it passed off! the gentle Ellen
Did well nigh dote on Mary;
And she went oftener than before,
And Mary loved her more and more:
She managed all the dairy.
To market she on market-days,
To church on Sundays came;
All seemed the same: all seemed so, Sir!
But all was not the same!
Had Ellen lost her mirth? Oh! no!
But she was seldom cheerful;
And Edward looked as if he thought
That Ellen's mirth was fearful.
When by herself, she to herself
Must sing some merry rhyme;
She could not now be glad for hours,
Yet silent all the time.
And when she soothed her friend, through all
Her soothing words 'twas plain
She had a sore grief of her own,
A haunting in her brain.
And oft she said, I'm not grown thin!
And then her wrist she spanned;
And once when Mary was down-cast,
She took her by the hand,
And gazed upon her, and at first
She gently pressed her hand;
Then harder, till her grasp at length
Did gripe like a convulsion!
"Alas!" said she, "we ne'er can be
Made happy by compulsion!"
And once her both arms suddenly
Round Mary's neck she flung,
And her heart panted, and she felt
The words upon her tongue.
She felt them coming, but no power
Had she the words to smother;
And with a kind of shriek she cried,
"Oh Christ! you're like your mother!"
So gentle Ellen now no more
Could make this sad house cheery;
And Mary's melancholy ways
Drove Edward wild and weary.
Lingering he raised his latch at eve,
Though tired in heart and limb:
He loved no other place, and yet
Home was no home to him.
One evening he took up a book,
And nothing in it read;
Then flung it down, and groaning cried,
"O! Heaven! that I were dead."
Mary looked up into his face,
And nothing to him said;
She tried to smile, and on his arm
Mournfully leaned her head.
And he burst into tears, and fell
Upon his knees in prayer:
"Her heart is broke! O God! my grief,
It is too great to bear!"
'Twas such a foggy time as makes
Old sextons, Sir! like me,
Rest on their spades to cough; the spring
Was late uncommonly.
And then the hot days, all at once,
They came, we knew not how:
You looked about for shade, when scarce
A leaf was on a bough.
It happened then ('twas in the bower,
A furlong up the wood:
Perhaps you know the place, and yet
I scarce know how you should,)
No path leads thither, 'tis not nigh
To any pasture-plot;
But clustered near the chattering brook,
Lone hollies marked the spot.
Those hollies of themselves a shape
As of an arbour took,
A close, round arbour; and it stands
Not three strides from a brook.
Within this arbour, which was still
With scarlet berries hung,
Were these three friends, one Sunday morn,
Just as the first bell rung.
'Tis sweet to hear a brook, 'tis sweet
To hear the Sabbath-bell,
'Tis sweet to hear them both at once,
Deep in a woody dell.
His limbs along the moss, his head
Upon a mossy heap,
With shut-up senses, Edward lay:
That brook e'en on a working day
Might chatter one to sleep.
And he had passed a restless night,
And was not well in health;
The women sat down by his side,
And talked as 'twere by stealth.
"The Sun peeps through the close thick leaves,
See, dearest Ellen! see!
'Tis in the leaves, a little sun,
No bigger than your ee;
"A tiny sun, and it has got
A perfect glory too;
Ten thousand threads and hairs of light,
Make up a glory gay and bright
Round that small orb, so blue."
And then they argued of those rays,
What colour they might be;
Says this, "They're mostly green"; says that,
"They're amber-like to me."
So they sat chatting, while bad thoughts
Were troubling Edward's rest;
But soon they heard his hard quick pants,
And the thumping in his breast.
"A mother too!" these self-same words
Did Edward mutter plain;
His face was drawn back on itself,
With horror and huge pain.
Both groaned at once, for both knew well
What thoughts were in his mind;
When he waked up, and stared like one
That hath been just struck blind.
He sat upright; and ere the dream
Had had time to depart,
"O God, forgive me!" (he exclaimed)
"I have torn out her heart."
Then Ellen shrieked, and forthwith burst
Into ungentle laughter;
And Mary shivered, where she sat,
And never she smiled after.
GEORGE GORDON NOEL, LORD BYRON (NOVEL FRAGMENT DATE 1819)
SOURCE: Byron, George Gordon Noel, Lord. "Fragment of a Novel." In Three Gothic Novels: The Castle of Otranto, Vathek, The Vampyre, edited by E. F. Bleiler, pp. 287-91. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1966.
The following novel fragment, written in 1816 but first published as an appendix to Byron's Mazeppa in 1819, served as John Polidori's inspiration and model for his novella, The Vampyre. Byron composed the fragment during the competition between Polidori, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, and himself, during which Mary Shelley produced her 1818 novel, Frankenstein.
June 17, 1816
"In the year 17—, having for some time determined on a journey through countries not hitherto much frequented by travellers, I set out, accompanied by a friend, whom I shall designate by the name of Augustus Darvell. He was a few years my elder, and a man of considerable fortune and ancient family: advantages which an extensive capacity prevented him alike from undervaluing or overrating. Some peculiar circumstances in his private history had rendered him to me an object of attention, of interest, and even of regard, which neither the reserve of his manners, nor occasional indications of an inquietude at times nearly approaching to alienation of mind, could extinguish.
ON THE SUBJECT OF …
GEORGE GORDON NOEL, LORD BYRON (1788–1824)
Despite Lord Byron's enormous influence in Europe—both Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Aleksander Pushkin considered him a master poet—his work was not favorably received in his native England until almost a century after his death. Continued interest in Byron's work is as rooted in the examination of his controversial personality and exploits as in the literary merits of his work. Byron's most notable contribution to Romanticism is the Byronic hero, a character type that was influenced by the Gothic hero-villains in novels by such authors as Horace Walpole, Matthew Gregory Lewis, William Beckford, and Mary Shelley. The Byronic hero has been likened to Byron himself, and is a melancholy man, often with a dark past, who eschews societal and religious strictures and seeks truth and happiness in an apparently meaningless universe. The title character of Byron's first verse drama, Manfred (1817), is a quintessential Byronic hero: consumed by his own sense of guilt for an incestuous relationship with his sister, Astarte, he finally seeks peace through his own death. The drama is set in the Alps where Manfred lives in a Gothic castle. Tortured by his guilt, Manfred invokes six spirits associated with earth and the elements, and a seventh who determines Manfred's personal destiny. Byron composed a novel fragment during the famous "ghost-story sessions" in 1816 when Mary Shelley is purported to have composed Frankenstein; this novel fragment served as the inspiration and impetus for John Polidori's The Vampyre. This novel fragment and the other works Byron composed between 1812 and 1818 (prior to the 1819 publication of Don Juan, his most highly respected work) contain many elements of the Gothic tradition, including ruined settings, tortured characters, and encounters with the supernatural. These works include the three "Turkish tales"—The Giaour (1813), The Bride of Abydos (1813), and The Corsair—, Lara (1814), and the first two cantos of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1812).
"I was yet young in life, which I had begun early; but my intimacy with him was of a recent date: we had been educated at the same schools and university; but his progress through these had preceded mine, and he had been deeply initiated into what is called the world, while I was yet in my novitiate. While thus engaged, I heard much both of his past and present life; and, although in these accounts there were many and irreconcilable contradictions, I could still gather from the whole that he was a being of no common order, and one who, whatever pains he might take to avoid remark, would still be remarkable. I had cultivated his acquaintance subsequently, and endeavoured to obtain his friendship, but this last appeared to be unattainable; whatever affections he might have possessed seemed now, some to have been extinguished, and others to be concentred: that his feelings were acute, I had sufficient opportunities of observing; for, although he could control, he could not altogether disguise them: still he had a power of giving to one passion the appearance of another, in such a manner that it was difficult to define the nature of what was working within him; and the expressions of his features would vary so rapidly, though slightly, that it was useless to trace them to their sources. It was evident that he was a prey to some cureless disquiet; but whether it arose from ambition, love, remorse, grief, from one or all of these, or merely from a morbid temperament akin to disease, I could not discover: there were circumstances alleged which might have justified the application to each of these causes; but, as I have before said, these were so contradictory and contradicted, that none could be fixed upon with accuracy. Where there is mystery, it is generally supposed that there must also be evil: I know not how this may be, but in him there certainly was the one, though I could not ascertain the extent of the other—and felt loth, as far as regarded himself, to believe in its existence. My advances were received with sufficient coldness: but I was young, and not easily discouraged, and at length succeeded in obtaining, to a certain degree, that common-place intercourse and moderate confidence of common and every-day concerns, created and cemented by similarity of pursuit and frequency of meeting, which is called intimacy, or friendship, according to the ideas of him who uses those words to express them.
"Darvell had already travelled extensively; and to him I had applied for information with regard to the conduct of my intended journey. It was my secret wish that he might be prevailed on to accompany me; it was also a probable hope, founded upon the shadowy restlessness which I observed in him, and to which the animation which he appeared to feel on such subjects, and his apparent indifference to all by which he was more immediately surrounded, gave fresh strength. This wish I first hinted, and then expressed: his answer, though I had partly expected it, gave me all the pleasure of surprise—he consented; and, after the requisite arrangement, we commenced our voyages. After journeying through various countries of the south of Europe, our attention was turned towards the East, according to our original destination; and it was in my progress through these regions that the incident occurred upon which will turn what I may have to relate.
"The constitution of Darvell, which must from his appearance have been in early life more than usually robust, had been for some time gradually giving away, without the intervention of any apparent disease: he had neither cough nor hectic, yet he became daily more enfeebled; his habits were temperate, and he neither declined nor complained of fatigue; yet he was evidently wasting away: he became more and more silent and sleepless, and at length so seriously altered, that my alarm grew proportionate to what I conceived to be his danger.
"We had determined, on our arrival at Smyrna, on an excursion to the ruins of Ephesus and Sardis, from which I endeavoured to dissuade him in his present state of indisposition—but in vain: there appeared to be an oppression on his mind, and a solemnity in his manner, which ill corresponded with his eagerness to proceed on what I regarded as a mere party of pleasure little suited to a valetudinarian; but I opposed him no longer—and in a few days we set off together, accompanied only by a serrugee and a single janizary.
"We had passed halfway towards the remains of Ephesus, leaving behind us the more fertile environs of Smyrna, and were entering upon that wild and tenantless tract through the marshes and defiles which lead to the few huts yet lingering over the broken columns of Diana—the roofless walls of expelled Christianity, and the still more recent but complete desolation of abandoned mosques—when the sudden and rapid illness of my companion obliged us to halt at a Turkish cemetery, the turbaned tombstones of which were the sole indication that human life had ever been a sojourner in this wilderness. The only caravansera we had seen was left some hours behind us, not a vestige of a town or even cottage was within sight or hope, and this 'city of the dead' appeared to be the sole refuge of my unfortunate friend, who seemed on the verge of becoming the last of its inhabitants.
"In this situation, I looked round for a place where he might most conveniently repose:—contrary to the usual aspect of Mahometan burial-grounds, the cypresses were in this few in number, and these thinly scattered over its extent; the tombstones were mostly fallen, and worn with age:—upon one of the most considerable of these, and beneath one of the most spreading trees, Darvell supported himself, in a half-reclining posture, with great difficulty. He asked for water. I had some doubts of our being able to find any, and prepared to go in search of it with hesitating despondency: but he desired me to remain; and turning to Suleiman, our janizary, who stood by us smoking with great tranquillity, he said, 'Suleiman, verbana su,' (i.e. 'bring some water,') and went on describing the spot where it was to be found with great minuteness, at a small well for camels, a few hundred yards to the right: the janizary obeyed. I said to Darvell, 'How did you know this?'—He replied, 'From our situation; you must perceive that this place was once inhabited, and could not have been so without springs: I have also been here before.'
"'You have been here before!—How came you never to mention this to me? and what could you be doing in a place where no one would remain a moment longer than they could help it?'
"To this question I received no answer. In the mean time Suleiman returned with the water, leaving the serrugee and the horses at the fountain. The quenching of his thirst had the appearance of reviving him for a moment; and I conceived hopes of his being able to proceed, or at least to return, and I urged the attempt. He was silent—and appeared to be collecting his spirits for an effort to speak. He began—
"'This is the end of my journey, and of my life;—I came here to die; but I have a request to make, a command—for such my last words must be.—You will observe it?'
"'Most certainly; but I have better hopes.'
"'I have no hopes, nor wishes, but this—conceal my death from every human being.'
"'I hope there will be no occasion; that you will recover, and―'
"'Peace!—it must be so: promise this.'
"'Swear it, by all that―' He here dictated an oath of great solemnity.
"'There is no occasion for this. I will observe your request; and to doubt me is―'
"'It cannot be helped,—you must swear.'
"I took the oath, it appeared to relieve him. He removed a seal ring from his finger, on which were some Arabic characters, and presented it to me. He proceeded—
"'On the ninth day of the month, at noon precisely (what month you please, but this must be the day), you must fling this ring into the salt springs which run into the Bay of Eleusis; the day after, at the same hour, you must repair to the ruins of the temple of Ceres, and wait one hour.'
"'You will see.'
"'The ninth day of the month, you say?'
"As I observed that the present was the ninth day of the month, his countenance changed, and he paused. As he sat, evidently becoming more feeble, a stork, with a snake in her beak, perched upon a tombstone near us; and, without devouring her prey, appeared to be steadfastly regarding us. I know not what impelled me to drive it away, but the attempt was useless; she made a few circles in the air, and returned exactly to the same spot. Darvell pointed to it, and smiled—he spoke—I know not whether to himself or to me—but the words were only, "Tis well!'
"'What is well? What do you mean?'
"'No matter; you must bury me here this evening, and exactly where that bird is now perched. You know the rest of my injunctions.'
"He then proceeded to give me several directions as to the manner in which his death might be best concealed. After these were finished, he exclaimed, 'You perceive that bird?'
"'And the serpent writhing in her beak?'
"'Doubtless: there is nothing uncommon in it; it is her natural prey. But it is odd that she does not devour it.'
"He smiled in a ghastly manner, and said faintly, 'It is not yet time!' As he spoke, the stork flew away. My eyes followed it for a moment—it could hardly be longer than ten might be counted. I felt Darvell's weight, as it were, increase upon my shoulder, and, turning to look upon his face, perceived that he was dead!
"I was shocked with the sudden certainty which could not be mistaken—his countenance in a few minutes became nearly black. I should have attributed so rapid a change to poison, had I not been aware that he had no opportunity of receiving it unperceived. The day was declining, the body was rapidly altering, and nothing remained but to fulfil his request. With the aid of Suleiman's ataghan and my own sabre, we scooped a shallow grave upon the spot which Darvell had indicated: the earth easily gave way, having already received some Mahometan tenant. We dug as deeply as the time permitted us, and throwing the dry earth upon all that remained of the singular being so lately departed, we cut a few sods of greener turf from the less withered soil around us, and laid them upon his sepulchre.
"Between astonishment and grief, I was tearless."
JOHN WILLIAM POLIDORI (NOVELLA DATE 1819)
SOURCE: Polidori, John William. The Vampyre: A Tale. 1819. Reprinted in The Vampyre and Other Tales of the Macabre, edited with an introduction and notes by Robert Morrison and Chris Baldick, pp. 265-83. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
The following excerpt is from Polidori's novella, written in 1816 and first published in 1819 in New Monthly Magazine.
Next morning Aubrey set off upon his excursion unattended; he was surprised to observe the melancholy face of his host, and was concerned to find that his words, mocking the belief of those horrible fiends, had inspired them with such terror.—When he was about to depart, Ianthe came to the side of his horse and earnestly begged of him to return, ere night allowed the power of these beings to be put in action—he promised. He was, however, so occupied in his research that he did not perceive that day-light would soon end, and that in the horizon there was one of those specks which in the warmer climates so rapidly gather into a tremenduous mass and pour all their rage upon the devoted country.—He at last, however, mounted his horse, determined to make up by speed for his delay: but it was too late. Twilight in these southern climates is almost unknown; immediately the sun sets, night begins; and ere he had advanced far, the power of the storm was above—its echoing thunders had scarcely an interval of rest—its thick heavy rain forced its way through the canopying foliage, whilst the blue forked lightning seemed to fall and radiate at his very feet. Suddenly his horse took fright, and he was carried with dreadful rapidity through the entangled forest. The animal at last, through fatigue, stopped, and he found, by the glare of lightening, that he was in the neighbourhood of a hovel that hardly lifted itself up from the masses of dead leaves and brushwood which surrounded it. Dismounting, he approached, hoping to find some one to guide him to the town, or at least trusting to obtain shelter from the pelting of the storm. As he approached, the thunders, for a moment silent, allowed him to hear the dreadful shrieks of a woman mingling with the stifled exultant mockery of a laugh, continued in one almost unbroken sound; he was startled: but, roused by the thunder which again rolled over his head, he with a sudden effort forced open the door of the hut. He found himself in utter darkness; the sound, however, guided him. He was apparently unperceived; for though he called, still the sounds continued, and no notice was taken of him. He found himself in contact with some one, whom he immediately seized, when a voice cried 'again baffled,' to which a loud laugh succeeded, and he felt himself grappled by one whose strength seemed superhuman: determined to sell his life as dearly as he could, he struggled: but it was in vain: he was lifted from his feet and hurled with enormous force against the ground:—his enemy threw himself upon him, and kneeling upon his breast, had placed his hands upon his throat, when the glare of many torches penetrating through the hole that gave light in the day, disturbed him—he instantly rose and, leaving his prey, rushed through the door, and in a moment the crashing of the branches, as he broke through the wood, was no longer heard.—The storm was now still; and Aubrey, incapable of moving, was soon heard by those without.—They entered; the light of their torches fell upon the mud walls, and the thatch loaded on every individual straw with heavy flakes of soot. At the desire of Aubrey they searched for her who had attracted him by her cries; he was again left in darkness; but what was his horror, when the light of the torches once more burst upon him, to perceive the airy form of his fair conductress brought in a lifeless corse. He shut his eyes, hoping that it was but a vision arising from his disturbed imagination; but he again saw the same form, when he unclosed them, stretched by his side. There was no colour upon her cheek, not even upon her lip; yet there was a stillness about her face that seemed almost as attaching as the life that once dwelt there:—upon her neck and breast was blood, and upon her throat were the marks of teeth having opened the vein:—to this the men pointed, crying, simultaneously struck with horror, 'a Vampyre, a Vampyre!' A litter was quickly formed, and Aubrey was laid by the side of her who had lately been to him the object of so many bright and fairy visions, now fallen with the flower of life that had died within her. He knew not what his thoughts were—his mind was benumbed and seemed to shun reflection and take refuge in vacancy—he held almost unconsciously in his hand a naked dagger of a particular construction, which had been found in the hut.—They were soon met by different parties who had been engaged in the search of her whom a mother had soon missed.—Their lamentable cries, as they approached the city, forewarned the parents of some dreadful catastrophe.—To describe their grief would be impossible; but when they ascertained the cause of their child's death they looked at Aubrey and pointed to the corpse.—They were inconsolable; both died broken-hearted.
Aubrey being put to bed was seized with a most violent fever, and was often delirious; in these intervals he would call upon Lord Ruthven and upon Ianthe—by some unaccountable combination he seemed to beg of his former companion to spare the being he loved.—At other times he would imprecate maledictions upon his head, and curse him as her destroyer. Lord Ruthven chanced at this time to arrive at Athens, and, from what-ever motive, upon hearing of the state of Aubrey, immediately placed himself in the same house and became his constant attendant. When the latter recovered from his delirium he was horrified and startled at the sight of him whose image he had now combined with that of a Vampyre; but Lord Ruthven by his kind words, implying almost repentance for the fault that had caused their separation, and still more by the attention, anxiety, and care which he showed, soon reconciled him to his presence. His Lordship seemed quite changed; he no longer appeared that apathetic being who had so astonished Aubrey; but as soon as his convalescence began to be rapid, he again gradually retired into the same state of mind, and Aubrey perceived no difference from the former man, except, that at times he was surprised to meet his gaze fixed intently upon him with a smile of malicious exultation playing upon his lips; he knew not why, but this smile haunted him. During the last stage of the invalid's recovery, Lord Ruthven was apparently engaged in watching the tideless waves raised by the cooling breeze, or in marking the progress of those orbs, circling, like our world, the moveless sun;—indeed he appeared to wish to avoid the eyes of all.
Aubrey's mind, by this shock, was much weakened, and that elasticity of spirit which had once so distinguished him now seemed to have fled for ever.—He was now as much a lover of solitude and silence as Lord Ruthven; but much as he wished for solitude, his mind could not find it in the neighbourhood of Athens; if he sought it amidst the ruins he had formerly frequented, Ianthe's form stood by his side—if he sought it in the woods, her light step would appear wandering amidst the underwood, in quest of the modest violet; then suddenly turning round would show, to his wild imagination, her pale face and wounded throat with a meek smile upon her lips. He determined to fly scenes, every feature of which created such bitter associations in his mind. He proposed to Lord Ruthven, to whom he held himself bound by the tender care he had taken of him during his illness, that they should visit those parts of Greece neither had yet seen. They travelled in every direction, and sought every spot to which a recollection could be attached; but though they thus hastened from place to place yet they seemed not to heed what they gazed upon.—They heard much of robbers, but they gradually began to slight these reports, which they imagined were only the invention of individuals, whose interest it was to excite the generosity of those whom they defended from pretended dangers. In consequence of thus neglecting the advice of the inhabitants, on one occasion they travelled with only a few guards, more to serve as guides than as a defence.—Upon entering, however, a narrow defile, at the bottom of which was the bed of a torrent, with large masses of rock brought down from the neighbouring precipices, they had reason to repent their negligence—for, scarcely were the whole of the party engaged in the narrow pass, when they were startled by the whistling of bullets close to their heads, and by the echoed report of several guns. In an instant their guards had left them, and placing themselves behind rocks had begun to fire in the direction whence the report came. Lord Ruthven and Aubrey, imitating their example, retired for a moment behind a sheltering turn of the defile; but ashamed of being thus detained by a foe, who with insulting shouts bade them advance, and being exposed to unresisting slaughter, if any of the robbers should climb above and take them in the rear, they determined at once to rush forward in search of the enemy.—Hardly had they lost the shelter of the rock, when Lord Ruthven received a shot in the shoulder that brought him to the ground.—Aubrey hastened to his assistance, and no longer heeding the contest or his own peril, was soon surprised by seeing the robbers' faces around him; his guards having, upon Lord Ruthven's being wounded, immediately thrown up their arms and surrendered.
By promises of great reward, Aubrey soon induced them to convey his wounded friend to a neighbouring cabin, and having agreed upon a ransom he was no more disturbed by their presence, they being content to merely guard the entrance till their comrade should return with the promised sum for which he had an order.—Lord Ruthven's strength rapidly decreased; in two days mortification ensued, and death seemed advancing with hasty steps.—His conduct and appearance had not changed; he seemed as unconscious of pain as he had been of the objects about him; but towards the close of the last evening his mind became apparently uneasy, and his eye often fixed upon Aubrey, who was induced to offer his assistance with more than usual earnestness—'Assist me! you may save me—you may do more than that—I mean not my life, I heed the death of my existence as little as that of the passing day; but you may save my honour, your friend's honour.'—'How, tell me how; I would do any thing,' replied Aubrey. 'I need but little—my life ebbs apace—I cannot explain the whole—but if you would conceal all you know of me, my honour were free from stain in the world's mouth—and if my death were unknown for some time in England—I—I—but life.'—'It shall not be known.'—'Swear!' cried the dying man, raising himself with exultant violence, 'Swear by all your soul reveres, by all your nature fears, swear that for a year and a day you will not impart your knowledge of my crimes or death to any living being in any way, whatever may happen, or whatever you may see.'—His eyes seemed bursting from their sockets: 'I swear!' said Aubrey; he sunk laughing upon his pillow and breathed no more.
Aubrey retired to rest, but did not sleep; the many circumstances attending his acquaintance with this man rose upon his mind, and he knew not why; when he remembered his oath a cold shivering came over him, as if from the presentiment of something horrible awaiting him. Rising early in the morning he was about to enter the hovel in which he had left the corpse, when a robber met him, and informed him that it was no longer there, having been conveyed by himself and comrades, upon his retiring, to the pinnacle of a neighbouring mount, according to a promise they had given his lordship, that it should be exposed to the first cold ray of the moon that rose after his death. Aubrey was astonished, and taking several of the men, determined to go and bury it upon the spot where it lay. But, when he had mounted to the summit he found no trace of either the corpse or the clothes, though the robbers swore they pointed out the identical rock on which they had laid the body. For a time his mind was bewildered in conjectures, but he at last returned, convinced that they had buried the corpse for the sake of the clothes.
Weary of a country in which he had met with such terrible misfortunes, and in which all apparently conspired to heighten that superstitious melancholy that had seized upon his mind, he resolved to leave it, and soon arrived at Smyrna. While waiting for a vessel to convey him to Otranto, or to Naples, he occupied himself in arranging those effects he had with him belonging to Lord Ruthven. Amongst other things there was a case containing several weapons of offence, more or less adapted to ensure the death of the victim. There were several daggers and ataghans. Whilst turning them over, and examining their curious forms, what was his surprise at finding a sheath apparently ornamented in the same style as the dagger discovered in the fatal hut; he shuddered; hastening to gain further proof, he found the weapon, and his horror may be imagined when he discovered that it fitted, though peculiarly shaped, the sheath he held in his hand. His eyes seemed to need no further certainty—they seemed gazing to be bound to the dagger; yet still he wished to disbelieve; but the particular form, the same varying tints upon the haft and sheath were alike in splendour on both, and left no room for doubt; there were also drops of blood on each.
He left Smyrna, and on his way home, at Rome, his first inquiries were concerning the lady he had attempted to snatch from Lord Ruthven's seductive arts. Her parents were in distress, their fortune ruined, and she had not been heard of since the departure of his lordship. Aubrey's mind became almost broken under so many repeated horrors; he was afraid that this lady had fallen a victim to the destroyer of Ianthe. He became morose and silent, and his only occupation consisted in urging the speed of the postilions, as if he were going to save the life of some one he held dear. He arrived at Calais; a breeze, which seemed obedient to his will, soon wafted him to the English shores; and he hastened to the mansion of his fathers, and there, for a moment, appeared to lose, in the embraces and caresses of his sister, all memory of the past. If she before, by her infantine caresses, had gained his affection, now that the woman began to appear, she was still more attaching as a companion.
Miss Aubrey had not that winning grace which gains the gaze and applause of the drawing-room assemblies. There was none of that light brilliancy which only exists in the heated atmosphere of a crowded apartment. Her blue eye was never lit up by the levity of the mind beneath. There was a melancholy charm about it which did not seem to arise from misfortune, but from some feeling within, that appeared to indicate a soul conscious of a brighter realm. Her step was not that light footing, which strays where'er a butterfly or a colour may attract—it was sedate and pensive. When alone, her face was never brightened by the smile of joy; but when her brother breathed to her his affection, and would in her presence forget those griefs she knew destroyed his rest, who would have exchanged her smile for that of the voluptuary? It seemed as if those eyes,—that face were then playing in the light of their own native sphere. She was yet only eighteen, and had not been presented to the world; it having been thought by her guardians more fit that her presentation should be delayed until her brother's return from the continent, when he might be her protector. It was now, therefore, resolved that the next drawing room, which was fast approaching, should be the epoch of her entry into the 'busy scene'. Aubrey would rather have remained in the mansion of his fathers, and fed upon the melancholy which overpowered him. He could not feel interest about the frivolities of fashionable strangers, when his mind had been so torn by the events he had witnessed; but he determined to sacrifice his own comfort to the protection of his sister. They soon arrived in town, and prepared for the next day, which had been announced as a drawing room.
The crowd was excessive—a drawing room had not been held for a long time, and all who were anxious to bask in the smile of royalty, hastened thither. Aubrey was there with his sister. While he was standing in a corner by himself, heedless of all around him, engaged in the remembrance that the first time he had seen Lord Ruthven was in that very place—he felt himself suddenly seized by the arm, and a voice he recognized too well, sounded in his ear—'Remember your oath.' He had hardly courage to turn, fearful of seeing a spectre that would blast him, when he perceived, at a little distance, the same figure which had attracted his notice on this spot upon his first entry into society. He gazed till his limbs almost refusing to bear their weight, he was obliged to take the arm of a friend, and forcing a passage through the crowd, he threw himself into his carriage, and was driven home. He paced the room with hurried steps, and fixed his hands upon his head, as if he were afraid his thoughts were bursting from his brain. Lord Ruthven again before him—circumstances started up in dreadful array—the dagger—his oath.—He roused himself, he could not believe it possible—the dead rise again!—He thought his imagination had conjured up the image his mind was resting upon. It was impossible that it could be real—he determined, therefore, to go again into society; for though he attempted to ask concerning Lord Ruthven, the name hung upon his lips, and he could not succeed in gaining information. He went a few nights after with his sister to the assembly of a near relation. Leaving her under the protection of a matron, he retired into a recess, and there gave himself up to his own devouring thoughts. Perceiving, at last, that many were leaving, he roused himself, and entering another room, found his sister surrounded by several, apparently in earnest conversation; he attempted to pass and get near her, when one, whom he requested to move, turned round, and revealed to him those features he most abhorred. He sprung forward, seized his sister's arm, and, with hurried step, forced her towards the street: at the door he found himself impeded by the crowds of servants who were waiting for their lords; and while he was engaged in passing them, he again heard that voice whisper close to him—'Remember your oath!'—He did not dare to turn, but, hurrying his sister, soon reached home.
Aubrey became almost distracted. If before his mind had been absorbed by one subject, how much more completely was it engrossed, now that the certainty of the monster's living again pressed upon his thoughts. His sister's attentions were now unheeded, and it was in vain that she intreated him to explain to her what had caused his abrupt conduct. He only uttered a few words, and those terrified her. The more he thought, the more he was bewildered. His oath startled him;—was he then to allow this monster to roam, bearing ruin upon his breath, amidst all he held dear, and not avert its progress? His very sister might have been touched by him. But even if he were to break his oath, and disclose his suspicions, who would believe him? He thought of employing his own hand to free the world from such a wretch; but death, he remembered, had been already mocked. For days he remained in this state; shut up in his room, he saw no one, and ate only when his sister came, who, with eyes streaming with tears, besought him, for her sake, to support nature. At last, no longer capable of bearing stillness and solitude, he left his house, roamed from street to street, anxious to fly that image which haunted him. His dress became neglected, and he wandered, as often exposed to the noon-day sun as to the midnight damps. He was no longer to be recognized; at first he returned with the evening to the house; but at last he laid him down to rest wherever fatigue overtook him. His sister, anxious for his safety, employed people to follow him; but they were soon distanced by him who fled from a pursuer swifter than any—from thought. His conduct, however, suddenly changed. Struck with the idea that he left by his absence the whole of his friends, with a fiend amongst them, of whose presence they were unconscious, he determined to enter again into society, and watch him closely, anxious to forewarn, in spite of his oath, all whom Lord Ruthven approached with intimacy. But when he entered into a room, his haggard and suspicious looks were so striking, his inward shudderings so visible, that his sister was at last obliged to beg of him to abstain from seeking, for her sake, a society which affected him so strongly. When, however, remonstrance proved unavailing, the guardians thought proper to interpose, and, fearing that his mind was becoming alienated, they thought it high time to resume again that trust which had been before imposed upon them by Aubrey's parents.
Desirous of saving him from the injuries and sufferings he had daily encountered in his wanderings, and of preventing him from exposing to the general eye those marks of what they considered folly, they engaged a physician to reside in the house, and take constant care of him. He hardly appeared to notice it, so completely was his mind absorbed by one terrible subject. His incoherence became at last so great, that he was confined to his chamber. There he would often lie for days, incapable of being roused. He had become emaci-ated, his eyes had attained a glassy lustre;—the only sign of affection and recollection remaining displayed itself upon the entry of his sister: then he would sometimes start, and, seizing her hands, with looks that severely afflicted her, he would desire her not to touch him. 'Oh, do not touch him—if your love for me is aught, do not go near him!' When, however, she inquired to whom he referred, his only answer was—'True! true!' and again he sank into a state, whence not even she could rouse him. This lasted many months: gradually, however, as the year was passing, his incoherences became less frequent, and his mind threw off a portion of its gloom, whilst his guardians observed, that several times in the day he would count upon his fingers a definite number, and then smile.
The time had nearly elapsed, when, upon the last day of the year, one of his guardians entering his room, began to converse with his physician upon the melancholy circumstance of Aubrey's being in so awful a situation when his sister was going next day to be married. Instantly Aubrey's attention was attracted; he asked anxiously to whom. Glad of this mark of returning intellect, of which they feared he had been deprived, they mentioned the name of the Earl of Marsden. Thinking this was a young earl whom he had met with in society, Aubrey seemed pleased, and astonished them still more by his expressing his intention to be present at the nuptials, and desiring to see his sister. They answered not, but in a few minutes his sister was with him. He was apparently again capable of being affected by the influence of her lovely smile; for he pressed her to his breast, and kissed her cheek, wet with tears, flowing at the thought of her brother's being once more alive to the feelings of affection. He began to speak with all his wonted warmth, and to congratulate her upon her marriage with a person so distinguished for rank and every accomplishment; when he suddenly perceived a locket upon her breast; opening it, what was his surprise at beholding the features of the monster who had so long influenced his life. He seized the portrait in a paroxysm of rage, and trampled it under foot. Upon her asking him why he thus destroyed the resemblance of her future husband, he looked as if he did not understand her—then seizing her hands, and gazing on her with a frantic expression of countenance, he bade her swear that she would never wed this monster, for he―But he could not advance—it seemed as if that voice again bade him remember his oath—he turned suddenly round, thinking Lord Ruthven was near him, but saw no one. In the meantime the guardians and physician, who had heard the whole, and thought this was but a return of his disorder, entered, and forcing him from Miss Aubrey, desired her to leave him. He fell upon his knees to them, he implored, he begged of them to delay but for one day. They, attributing this to the insanity they imagined had taken possession of his mind, endeavoured to pacify him, and retired.
Lord Ruthven had called the morning after the drawing room, and had been refused with every one else. When he heard of Aubrey's ill health, he readily understood himself to be the cause of it: but when he learned that he was deemed insane, his exultation and pleasure could hardly be concealed from those among whom he had gained this information. He hastened to the house of his former companion, and, by constant attendance, and the pretence of great affection for the brother and interest in his fate, he gradually won the ear of Miss Aubrey. Who could resist his power? His tongue had dangers and toils to recount—could speak of himself as of an individual having no sympathy with any being on the crowded earth, save with her to whom he addressed himself;—could tell how, since he knew her, his existence had begun to seem worthy of preservation, if it were merely that he might listen to her soothing accents;—in fine, he knew so well how to use the serpent's art, or such was the will of fate, that he gained her affections. The title of the elder branch falling at length to him, he obtained an important embassy, which served as an excuse for hastening the marriage, (in spite of her brother's deranged state,) which was to take place the very day before his departure for the continent.
Aubrey, when he was left by the physician and his guardian, attempted to bribe the servants, but in vain. He asked for pen and paper; it was given him; he wrote a letter to his sister, conjuring her, as she valued her own happiness, her own honour, and the honour of those now in the grave, who once held her in their arms as their hope and the hope of their house, to delay but for a few hours, that marriage, on which he denounced the most heavy curses. The servants promised they would deliver it; but giving it to the physician, he thought it better not to harass any more the mind of Miss Aubrey by, what he considered, the ravings of a maniac. Night passed on without rest to the busy inmates of the house; and Aubrey heard, with a horror that may more easily be conceived than described, the notes of busy preparation. Morning came, and the sound of carriages broke upon his ear. Aubrey grew almost frantic. The curiosity of the servants at last overcame their vigilance, they gradually stole away, leaving him in the custody of an helpless old woman. He seized the opportunity, with one bound was out of the room, and in a moment found himself in the apartment where all were nearly assembled. Lord Ruthven was the first to perceive him: he immediately approached, and, taking his arm by force, hurried him from the room, speechless with rage. When on the staircase, Lord Ruthven whispered in his ear—'Remember your oath, and know, if not my bride to day, your sister is dishonoured. Women are frail!' So saying, he pushed him towards his attendants, who, roused by the old woman, had come in search of him. Aubrey could no longer support himself; his rage, not finding vent, had broken a blood-vessel, and he was conveyed to bed. This was not mentioned to his sister, who was not present when he entered, as the physician was afraid of agitating her. The marriage was solemnized, and the bride and bridegroom left London.
Aubrey's weakness increased; the effusion of blood produced symptoms of the near approach of death. He desired his sister's guardians might be called, and when the midnight hour had struck, he related composedly what the reader has perused—he died immediately after.
The guardians hastened to protect Miss Aubrey; but when they arrived, it was too late. Lord Ruthven had disappeared, and Aubrey's sister had glutted the thirst of a Vampyre!
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H. P. LOVECRAFT (ESSAY DATE 1945)
SOURCE: Lovecraft, H. P. "The Aftermath of Gothic Fiction." In Supernatural Horror in Literature. 1945. Reprint edition, edited by E. F. Bleiler, pp. 36-44. New York: Dover, 1973.
In the following essay, first published in 1945, renowned horror and science fiction writer Lovecraft surveys the development of the Gothic in major and minor literary works written during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
ON THE SUBJECT OF …
H. P. LOVECRAFT (1890–1937)
H. P. Lovecraft is widely considered the most important literary supernaturalist of the twentieth century and one of the greatest in a tradition that originated with the Gothic novelists of the eighteenth century and was perpetuated throughout the nineteenth century by authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, and Arthur Machen. Like these literary forebears, Lovecraft practiced an essentially popular form of writing, the evolution of which he traced in the critical history Supernatural Horror in Literature (1945). Combining elements of the lowest pulp melodrama with the highest imaginative artistry, Lovecraft's "weird tales" have become classics of an enduring branch of literature, and among authorities in this province he is regarded as a peer of his Gothic predecessors. Lovecraft's stories are commonly divided into three types: those influenced by the Irish fantasist Lord Dunsany, a diverse group of horror narratives set in New England, and tales sharing a background of cosmic legendry usually referred to as the "Cthulhu Mythos." One of the most important and controversial issues in Lovecraft criticism is that regarding nomenclature for his Mythos stories. Various labels have been employed, from the broad designations of "horror" and "Gothic" to more discriminating terms such as "supernormal" and "mechanistic supernatural." At the source of this diverse terminology is the fact that, while these works clearly belong to the tradition of Gothic literature, Lovecraft did not make them dependent on the common mythic conceits associated with this tradition—ghosts, vampires, witches, werewolves, and other figures of folklore—and even when they do appear in his work, these entities are often modified to function against a new mythical background, one whose symbolism emphasizes the philosophical over the psychological. The question of how to describe tales whose effect derives from the violation of the laws of nature rather than those of personal or public morality was somewhat resolved by Lovecraft himself when he applied the term "weird" to such works.
Meanwhile other hands had not been idle, so that above the dreary plethora of trash like Marquis von Grosse's Horrid Mysteries (1796), Mrs. Roche's Children of the Abbey (1798), Mrs. Dacre's Zofloya; or, the Moor (1806), and the poet Shelley's schoolboy effusions Zastrozzi (1810) and St. Irvine (1811) (both imitations of Zofloya) there arose many memorable weird works both in English and German. Classic in merit, and markedly different from its fellows because of its foundation in the Oriental tale rather than the Walpolesque Gothic novel, is the celebrated History of the Caliph Vathek by the wealthy dilettante William Beckford, first written in the French language but published in an English translation before the appearance of the original. Eastern tales, introduced to European literature early in the eighteenth century through Galland's French translation of the inexhaustibly opulent Arabian Nights, had become a reigning fashion; being used both for allegory and for amusement. The sly humour which only the Eastern mind knows how to mix with weirdness had captivated a sophisticated generation, till Bagdad and Damascus names became as freely strewn through popular literature as dashing Italian and Spanish ones were soon to be. Beckford, well read in Eastern romance, caught the atmosphere with unusual receptivity; and in his fantastic volume reflected very potently the haughty luxury, sly disillusion, bland cruelty, urbane treachery, and shadowy spectral horror of the Saracen spirit. His seasoning of the ridiculous seldom mars the force of his sinister theme, and the tale marches onward with a phantasmagoric pomp in which the laughter is that of skeletons feasting under arabesque domes. Vathek is a tale of the grandson of the Caliph Haroun, who, tormented by that ambition for super-terrestrial power, pleasure and learning which animates the average Gothic villain or Byronic hero (essentially cognate types), is lured by an evil genius to seek the subterranean throne of the mighty and fabulous pre-Adamite sultans in the fiery halls of Eblis, the Mahometan Devil. The descriptions of Vathek's palaces and diversions, of his scheming sorceress-mother Carathis and her witch-tower with the fifty one-eyed negresses, of his pilgrimage to the haunted ruins of Istakhar (Persepolis) and of the impish bride Nouronihar whom he treacherously acquired on the way, of Istakhar's primordial towers and terraces in the burning moonlight of the waste, and of the terrible Cyclopean halls of Eblis, where, lured by glittering promises, each victim is compelled to wander in anguish for ever, his right hand upon his blazingly ignited and eternally burning heart, are triumphs of weird colouring which raise the book to a permanent place in English letters. No less notable are the three Episodes of Vathek, intended for insertion in the tale as narratives of Vathek's fellow-victims in Eblis' infernal halls, which remained unpublished throughout the author's lifetime and were discovered as recently as 1909 by the scholar Lewis Melville whilst collecting material for his Life and Letters of William Beckford. Beckford, however, lacks the essential mysticism which marks the acutest form of the weird; so that his tales have a certain knowing Latin hardness and clearness preclusive of sheer panic fright.
But Beckford remained alone in his devotion to the Orient. Other writers, closer to the Gothic tradition and to European life in general, were content to follow more faithfully in the lead of Walpole. Among the countless producers of terrorliterature in these times may be mentioned the Utopian economic theorist William Godwin, who followed his famous but non-supernatural Caleb Williams (1794) with the intendedly weird St. Leon (1799), in which the theme of the elixir of life, as developed by the imaginary secret order of "Rosicrucians," is handled with ingeniousness if not with atmospheric convincingness. This element of Rosicrucianism, fostered by a wave of popular magical interest exemplified in the vogue of the charlatan Cagliostro and the publication of Francis Barrett's The Magus (1801), a curious and compendious treatise on occult principles and ceremonies, of which a reprint was made as lately as 1896, figures in Bulwer-Lytton and in many late Gothic novels, especially that remote and enfeebled posterity which straggled far down into the nineteenth century and was represented by George W. M. Reynold's Faust and Wagner the Wehr-Wolf. Caleb Williams, though non-supernatural, has many authentic touches of terror. It is the tale of a servant persecuted by a master whom he has found guilty of murder, and displays an invention and skill which have kept it alive in a fashion to this day. It was dramatized as The Iron Chest, and in that form was almost equally celebrated. Godwin, however, was too much the conscious teacher and prosaic man of thought to create a genuine weird masterpiece.
His daughter, the wife of Shelley, was much more successful; and her inimitable Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus (1817) is one of the horror-classics of all time. Composed in competition with her husband, Lord Byron, and Dr. John William Polidori in an effort to prove supremacy in horror-making, Mrs. Shelley's Frankenstein was the only one of the rival narratives to be brought to an elaborate completion; and criticism has failed to prove that the best parts are due to Shelley rather than to her. The novel, somewhat tinged but scarcely marred by moral didacticism, tells of the artificial human being molded from charnel fragments by Victor Frankenstein, a young Swiss medical student. Created by its designer "in the mad pride of intellectuality," the monster possesses full intelligence but owns a hideously loathsome form. It is rejected by mankind, becomes embittered, and at length begins the successive murder of all whom Frankenstein loves best, friends and family. It demands that Frankenstein create a wife for it; and when the student finally refuses in horror lest the world be populated with such monsters, it departs with a hideous threat "to be with him on his wedding night." Upon that night the bride is strangled, and from that time on Frankenstein hunts down the monster, even into the wastes of the Arctic. In the end, whilst seeking shelter on the ship of the man who tells the story, Frankenstein himself is killed by the shocking object of his search and creation of his presumptuous pride. Some of the scenes in Frankenstein are unforgettable, as when the newly animated monster enters its creator's room, parts the curtains of his bed, and gazes at him in the yellow moonlight with watery eyes—"if eyes they may be called." Mrs. Shelley wrote other novels, including the fairly notable Last Man; but never duplicated the success of her first effort. It has the true touch of cosmic fear, no matter how much the movement may lag in places. Dr. Polidori developed his competing idea as a long short story, The Vampyre; in which we behold a suave villain of the true Gothic or Byronic type, and encounter some excellent passages of stark fright, including a terrible nocturnal experience in a shunned Grecian wood.
In this same period Sir Walter Scott frequently concerned himself with the weird, weaving it into many of his novels and poems, and sometimes producing such independent bits of narration as The Tapestried Chamber or Wandering Willie's Tale in Redgauntlet, in the latter of which the force of the spectral and the diabolic is enhanced by a grotesque homeliness of speech and atmosphere. In 1830 Scott published his Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft, which still forms one of our best compendia of European witch-lore. Washington Irving is another famous figure not unconnected with the weird; for though most of his ghosts are too whimsical and humorous to form genuinely spectral literature, a distinct inclination in this direction is to be noted in many of his productions. The German Student in Tales of a Traveller (1824) is a slyly concise and effective presentation of the old legend of the dead bride, whilst woven into the comic tissue of The Money Diggers in the same volume is more than one hint of piratical apparitions in the realms which Captain Kidd once roamed. Thomas Moore also joined the ranks of the macabre artists in the poem Alciphron, which he later elaborated into the prose novel of The Epicurean (1827). Though merely relating the adventures of a young Athenian duped by the artifice of cunning Egyptian priests, Moore manages to infuse much genuine horror into his account of subterranean frights and wonders beneath the primordial temples of Memphis. De Quincey more than once revels in grotesque and arabesque terrors, though with a desultoriness and learned pomp which deny him the rank of specialist.
This era likewise saw the rise of William Harrison Ainsworth, whose romantic novels teem with the eerie and the gruesome. Capt. Marryat, besides writing such short tales as The Werewolf, made a memorable contribution in The Phantom Ship (1839), founded on the legend of the Flying Dutchman, whose spectral and accursed vessel sails for ever near the Cape of Good Hope. Dickens now rises with occasional weird bits like The Signalman, a tale of ghastly warning conforming to a very common pattern and touched with a verisimilitude which allied it as much with the coming psychological school as with the dying Gothic school. At this time a wave of interest in spiritualistic charlatanry, mediumism, Hindoo theosophy, and such matters, much like that of the present day, was flourishing; so that the number of weird tales with a "psychic" or pseudoscientific basis became very considerable. For a number of these the prolific and popular Edward Bulwer-Lytton was responsible; and despite the large doses of turgid rhetoric and empty romanticism in his products, his success in the weaving of a certain kind of bizarre charm cannot be denied.
The House and the Brain, which hints of Rosicrucianism and at a malign and deathless figure perhaps suggested by Louis XV's mysterious courtier St. Germain, yet survives as one of the best short haunted-house tales ever written. The novel Zanoni (1842) contains similar elements more elaborately handled, and introduces a vast unknown sphere of being pressing on our own world and guarded by a horrible "Dweller of the Threshold" who haunts those who try to enter and fail. Here we have a benign brotherhood kept alive from age to age till finally reduced to a single member, and as a hero an ancient Chaldaean sorcerer surviving in the pristine bloom of youth to perish on the guillotine of the French Revolution. Though full of the conventional spirit of romance, marred by a ponderous network of symbolic and didactic meanings, and left unconvincing through lack of perfect atmospheric realization of the situations hinging on the spectral world, Zanoni is really an excellent performance as a romantic novel; and can be read with genuine interest by the not too sophisticated reader. It is amusing to note that in describing an attempted initiation into the ancient brotherhood the author cannot escape using the stock Gothic castle of Walpolian lineage.
In A Strange Story (1862) Bulwer-Lytton shows a marked improvement in the creation of weird images and moods. The novel, despite enormous length, a highly artificial plot bolstered up by opportune coincidences, and an atmosphere of homiletic pseudo-science designed to please the matter-of-fact and purposeful Victorian reader, is exceedingly effective as a narrative; evoking instantaneous and unflagging interest, and furnishing many potent—if somewhat melodramatic—tableaux and climaxes. Again we have the mysterious user of life's elixir in the person of the soulless magician Margrave, whose dark exploits stand out with dramatic vividness against the modern background of a quiet English town and of the Australian bush; and again we have shadowy intimations of a vast spectral world of the unknown in the very air about us—this time handled with much greater power and vitality than in Zanoni. One of the two great incantation passages, where the hero is driven by a luminous evil spirit to rise at night in his sleep, take a strange Egyptian wand, and evoke nameless presences in the haunted and mausoleum-facing pavilion of a famous Renaissance alchemist, truly stands among the major terror scenes of literature. Just enough is suggested, and just little enough is told. Unknown words are twice dictated to the sleep-walker, and as he repeats them the ground trembles, and all the dogs of the countryside begin to bay at half-seen amorphous shadows that stalk athwart the moonlight. When a third set of unknown words is prompted, the sleep-walker's spirit suddenly rebels at uttering them, as if the soul could recognize ultimate abysmal horrors concealed from the mind; and at last an apparition of an absent sweetheart and good angel breaks the malign spell. This fragment well illustrates how far Lord Lytton was capable of progressing beyond his usual pomp and stock romance toward that crystalline essence of artistic fear which belongs to the domain of poetry. In describing certain details of incantations, Lytton was greatly indebted to his amusingly serious occult studies, in the course of which he came in touch with that odd French scholar and cabbalist Alphonse Louis Constant ("Eliphas Levy"), who claimed to possess the secrets of ancient magic, and to have evoked the spectre of the old Grecian wizard Apollonius of Tyana, who lived in Nero's times.
The romantic, semi-Gothic, quasi-moral tradition here represented was carried far down the nineteenth century by such authors as Joseph Sheridan LeFanu, Wilkie Collins, the late Sir H. Rider Haggard (whose She is really remarkably good), Sir A. Conan Doyle, H. G. Wells, and Robert Louis Stevenson—the latter of whom, despite an atrocious tendency toward jaunty mannerisms, created permanent classics in Markheim, The Body Snatcher, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Indeed, we may say that this school still survives; for to it clearly belong such of our contemporary horror-tales as specialise in events rather than atmospheric details, address the intellect rather than the impressionistic imagination, cultivate a luminous glamour rather than a malign tensity or psychological verisimilitude, and take a definite stand in sympathy with mankind and its welfare. It has its undeniable strength, and because of its "human element" commands a wider audience than does the sheer artistic nightmare. If not quite so potent as the latter, it is because a diluted product can never achieve the intensity of a concentrated essence.
Quite alone both as a novel and as a piece of terror-literature stands the famous Wuthering Heights (1847) by Emily Brontë, with its mad vista of bleak, windswept Yorkshire moors and the violent, distorted lives they foster. Though primarily a tale of life, and of human passions in agony and conflict, its epically cosmic setting affords room for horror of the most spiritual sort. Heathcliff, the modified Byronic villain-hero, is a strange dark waif found in the streets as a small child and speaking only a strange gibberish till adopted by the family he ultimately ruins. That he is in truth a diabolic spirit rather than a human being is more than once suggested, and the unreal is further approached in the experience of the visitor who encounters a plaintive child-ghost at a bough-brushed upper window. Between Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw is a tie deeper and more terrible than human love. After her death he twice disturbs her grave, and is haunted by an impalpable presence which can be nothing less than her spirit. The spirit enters his life more and more, and at last he becomes confident of some imminent mystical reunion. He says he feels a strange change approaching, and ceases to take nourishment. At night he either walks abroad or opens the casement by his bed. When he dies the casement is still swinging open to the pouring rain, and a queer smile pervades the stiffened face. They bury him in a grave beside the mound he has haunted for eighteen years, and small shepherd boys say that he yet walks with his Catherine in the churchyard and on the moor when it rains. Their faces, too, are sometimes seen on rainy nights behind that upper casement at Wuthering Heights. Miss Brontë's eerie terror is no mere Gothic echo, but a tense expression of man's shuddering reaction to the unknown. In this respect, Wuthering Heights becomes the symbol of a literary transition, and marks the growth of a new and sounder school.
S. T. JOSHI (ESSAY DATE WINTER 1994)
SOURCE: Joshi, S. T. "Shirley Jackson: Domestic Horror." Studies in Weird Fiction 14 (winter 1994): 9-28.
In the following essay, Joshi surveys Jackson's works, noting the difficulties inherent in attempting to classify them by genre, and discussing Jackson's horrific inversion of societal ideals of human relationships and homelife in her works, particularly in The Haunting of Hill House.
Shirley Jackson (1916–1965)1 and Ramsey Campbell are the two leading writers of weird fiction since Lovecraft. In making this assertion I am not merely bypassing other writers who, at least in their own minds, aspire to that title—in particular the best-selling quartet of Stephen King, Peter Straub, Anne Rice, and Clive Barker—but am making the problematical assertion that Jackson is a weird writer at all. It is true that only one of her novels is avowedly supernatural—the masterful Haunting of Hill House (1959)—while others are weird only slightly or not at all; it is also true that perhaps at most fifteen or twenty of her hundredodd short stories can be said to belong either to the weird tale or to the mystery story or to science fiction.2 Certainly there is nothing supernatural about "The Lottery" (1948), whose impact rests on the very possibility of its occurrence. But I wish to place Jackson within the realm of weird fiction not only for the nebulous reason that the whole of her work has a pervasive atmosphere of the odd about it, but, more importantly, because her entire work is unified to such a degree that distinctions about genre and classification become arbitrary and meaningless. Like Arthur Machen, Shirley Jackson developed a view of the world that informed all her writing, whether supernatural or not; but that world view is more akin to the cheer-less and nihilistic misanthropy of Bierce than to Machen's harried anti-materialism. It is because Shirley Jackson so keenly detected horror in the everyday world, and wrote of it with rapier-sharp prose, that she ranks as a twentieth-century Bierce.
Jackson's world view does not extend into the realm of metaphysics: it is not possible to deduce from her work any coherent conception of the nature of the universe. She is wholly and avowedly concerned with human relationships, and it is from their complexities that both horror and the supernatural emerge in her work. Both early and late in her career Jackson was affirming that, at least for her, the supernatural is a metaphor for human beings' relation to the world. Consider a remark in 1948:
I have had for many years a consuming interest in magic and the supernatural. I think this is because I find there so convenient a shorthand statement of the possibilities of human adjustment to what seems to be at best an inhuman world … everything I write [involves] the sense which I feel, of a human and not very rational order struggling inadequately to keep in check forces of great destruction, which may be the devil and may be intellectual enlightenment.
In 1962 she wrote in a lecture:
Just remember that primarily, in the story and out of it, you are living in a world of people. A story must have characters in it; work with concrete rather than abstract nouns, and always dress your ideas immediately. Suppose you want to write a story about what you might vaguely think of as "magic." You will be hopelessly lost, wandering around formlessly in notions of magic and incantations; you will never make any forward progress at all until you turn your ideas, "magic," into a person, someone who wants to do or make or change or act in some way. Once you have your first character you will of course need another to put into opposition, a person in some sense "antimagic"; when both are working at their separate intentions, dragging in other characters as needed, you are well into your story.
("Notes for a Young Writer" [C 153-54])
It is entirely possible, then, that a proper startingpoint for the study of Jackson's fiction from a weird perspective may not be her actual weird work but those tales for which she gained an entirely different following: her family chronicles collected in Life among the Savages and Raising Demons.
The strain of autobiography that is so dominant throughout Jackson's work can be traced to her very earliest writing. Her first professionally published story, "My Life with R. H. Macy" (L), appears to be a lightly fictionalised account of a job she had as a saleswoman at Macy's department store. The stories she wrote about her family date no earlier than 1948, several years after she began her literary career; but they continued at a fairly constant pace to the end of her life. Jackson admitted to her parents that many of these stories were potboilers:
They are written simply for money and the reason they sound so bad is that those magazines won't buy good ones, but deliberately seek out bad stuff because they say their audiences want it. I simply figure that at a thousand bucks a story, I can't afford to try to change the state of popular fiction today…. I won't write love stories and junk about gay young married couples, and they won't take ordinary children stories, and this sort of thing is a compromise between their notions and mine … and is unusual enough so that I am the only person I know of who is doing it.
This dismissal of her domestic fiction may be somewhat disingenuous: to be sure, they brought in needed income ($1000 per story came in very handy in supporting four children, as Hyman, a university professor, never made much money of his own from his literary criticism), but the zest, vigour, and wit with which they are written testify to their importance to Jackson. Even if many of these tales are written with the sort of coy, innocuous, and resolutely cheerful tone expected in fiction for women's magazines in the 1950s, they nevertheless contain certain disturbing undercurrents that may subvert their surface hilarity.
James Egan, in a thoughtful essay that attempts to reconcile Jackson's domestic fiction and her weird work, sees a twofold division of her work, as "either the expression of an idyllic domestic vision or the inversion of that vision into the fantastic and Gothic" (Egan 15). I am fundamentally in agreement with this assessment, but it may require a little more shading. Especially when we examine the chronology of Jackson's short fiction, we will find that the domestic stories themselves undergo a gradual modification—brought on, perhaps, by her marital problems or simply by the fact that her children grew up and no longer exhibited that affinity to "magic" (O 209) which Jackson thought the very young reveal—so that the later domestic fiction now and then displays a brooding irony and even misanthropy that brings it surprisingly close in tone to her other work. Although Jackson appears to pay lip service to the conventions of middleclass life in the 1950s, the vibrancy of her writing, the flawlessly exact capturing of her children's idiosyncrasies, and above all Jackson's complete lack of sentimentalism make these stories pungent and vivid even today. I am not sufficiently interested in their sociological implications, but I imagine that much interesting work could be done on gauging how exactly these tales do or do not reflect the stereotypes of their class and time.
What I am interested in is the degree of their veracity; that is, the extent to which they are unvarnished or faithful transcriptions of actual events in Jackson's life and in the life of her family. It is, of course, naive to imagine that any autobiographical writing simply relates events as they occurred; and Jackson's remark that these stories allowed her to see her children "through a flattering veil of fiction" (O 119) may be all we need to infer that her domestic fiction, no less than her other work, is in some sense a creation of the imagination. Egan's reference to this work as "idyllic" is correct insofar as Jackson systematically attempts to present what may in reality have been highly traumatic events as the source of harmless jest—her son being struck by a car, for instance, in which he suffered a concussion and some broken bones.
The importance of this domestic fiction—as regards her other work, at any rate—rests in its manipulation of very basic familial or personal scenarios that would be utilised in her weird work in perverted and twisted ways: things like riding a bus, employing a maid, taking children shopping, going on vacation, putting up guests, and, in general, adhering—or seeming to adhere—to the "proper conduct" expected of her as a middle-class housewife. It is interesting that her function as a writer is almost never mentioned in these works, or if it is, it is to poke fun at it as an anomaly for a wife with four children. "The Third Baby's the Easiest" captures the idea perfectly, as Jackson registers with a desk clerk at the hospital:
"Age?" she asked. "Sex? Occupation?"
"Writer," I said.
"Housewife," she said.
"Writer," I said.
"I'll just put down housewife," she said.
An earlier sketch, "Fame" (1948), amusingly tells of a gossip columnist who phones Jackson and is interested in everything about her except the fact that her first novel is soon to be issued by a major New York publisher.
It is important to note, however, that this body of domestic fiction really does underggo some significant changes over the years; it is in no sense a monolithic block of determined cheer. Some cracks begin to appear as early as "Lucky to Get Away" (1953), in which Jackson emphatically betrays a weariness with the unending round of housework required of her as a mother, especially one whose husband contributes nothing to the household chores:
I got to feeling that I could not bear the sight of the colored cereal bowls for one more morning, could not empty one more ashtray, could not brush one more head or bake one more potato or let out one more dog or pick up one more jacket. I snarled at the bright faces regarding me at the breakfast table and I was strongly tempted to kick the legs out from under the chair on which my older son was teetering backward.
The humour in this passage is, surely, a little sardonic.
Three other pieces show that Jackson's relationship with her husband might not have been one of unending bliss. One of the many curious things about these stories is the infrequency with which her husband even appears: they are all about herself and her children, and when her husband does make an appearance it is almost always as a clumsy buffoon ("The Life Romantic", "The Box"). In "Queen of the May" the tone becomes a little more sinister: the jealousy Jackson felt toward her husband (a known philanderer) is much in evidence:
"Daddy is going to see a lot of girls," Sally told Barry. She turned to me. "Daddy likes to look at girls, doesn't he?"
There was a deep, enduring silence, until at last my husband's eye fell on Jannie. "And what did you learn in school today?" he asked with wild enthusiasm.
Still odder and still more bitter is "One Last Chance", in which a husband announces somewhat sheepishly that an old flame of his will be dropping by (in fact she cancels her plans and never arrives), tactlessly and unintentionally suggesting that this woman is much prettier and a better cook than his wife. Finally, "On Being a Faculty Wife" (1956) is astonishingly vicious in its portrayal of callow young girls worshipping the distinguished professor while his wife is brushed aside as a useless (and unattractive) ornament.
Some of the later, uncollected domestic fiction comes off sounding a little tired: Jackson must have realised that her material was running dry, especially as her children were growing up into the less superficially "cute" stage of young adulthood. Indeed, a late piece, "Karen's Complaint" (1959), is quite poignant in depicting Jackson's sense of loneliness and aimlessness as her youngest child begins to go to school and she faces the prospect of an empty house for the first time in nearly two decades. However haphazardly her household appeared to be run, she took evident pride in providing a loving home for her husband and children. It is exactly this sense of togetherness and warmth that is obtrusively lacking in her other fiction. Where the reality of her own family lay, no one but she herself could have answered: perhaps all the carefree and well-adjusted children in her domestic fiction were themselves imaginary—her greatest fantasy.
Domestic into Weird
The transformation of some incidents found in the domestic fiction into something very different and much more disturbing can occasionally occur with scarcely an alteration save that of context. The textbook example of this is the story "Charles". Here, of course, the transition has occurred in the reverse direction, as the story was first published in a magazine and gathered in The Lottery before being reprinted in Life among the Savages. In its earlier two contexts the story is subtly menacing and rather grim: her son Laurie (mentioned by name in all three versions), attending kindergarten, tells of a strange boy, Charles, who is by turns extremely unruly and even evil ("'Today Charles hit the teacher' … 'He kicked the teacher's friend'" [L 71-72]) and excessively well-behaved. Later, when Jackson meets Laurie's teacher, she finds out that there is no Charles in the class. I shall return to the implications of this story later, but here I wish to note what a remarkably different atmosphere this story has when it is buried in the genial confines of Life among the Sav-ages: there the whole tale comes off as simply another prank by her cute but headstrong son, whereas in the former instances one has the strong sensation that her son may well have serious problems of adjustment.
Another means for effecting the transition from domestic to weird, or vice versa, is omission. A very peculiar tale, "The House", was reprinted in Life among the Savages—but not all of it. The latter portion was excised, no doubt because it is precisely here that the tale veers off into suggestions of the supernatural. At the outset it is difficult to ascertain whether, in its magazine appearance, this story is genuinely autobiographical, since Jackson never refers to her husband or children by name. In any case, the story concerns her family moving into an old, somewhat ramshackle, and faintly sinister house in New England (the precise location is never specified in the original appearance). The narrative of fixing up the house for habitation and moving in is told with mild humour—certainly not with the overt hilarity of pieces like "Look, Ma, We're Moving!" (1952) or "Worldly Goods"—but with an undercurrent of the strange. The house seems almost animate:
There was a door to an attic that preferred to stay latched, and would latch itself no matter who was inside; another door hung by custom slightly ajar, although it would close good-humoredly for a time when some special reason required it. We had five attics, we discovered, built into one another; one of them kept bats, and we shut that one up; another one, light and cheerful in spite of a small window, liked to be a place of traffic and became a place to store things temporarily.3
The house controls its inhabitants, not the inhabitants the house. It is on its sufferance that they are there at all. All this may be only mildly disturbing; but then an old lady comes to pay a visit:
"It's a lovely old house," I said.
"Do you think so?" She turned quickly to look at me. "Do you really think it's a lovely old house?"
"We're very happy here." "I'm glad." She folded her hands and smiled again. "It's always been such a good house," she said. "The old doctor always used to say it was a good house."
"The old doctor?"
"I see they kept the pillars, after all," she said, nodding. "We always thought they gave the house character."
"There was a hornets' nest in one," I said weakly. Doctor Ogilvie had built the house in 1816!4
The first passage I quoted above was included in Life among the Savages, but again context robs it of any undertones of the weird; and that reprint breaks off the tale shortly thereafter. If anything, this story could be a model of Jackson's ability to transform the events of her own life into weird fiction.
Jackson's work returns time and again to certain fundamental domestic themes, sometimes in an autobiographical manner, sometimes in a mainstream manner, and sometimes in a weird manner. I again emphasise that these distinctions are arbitrary and nebulous; it takes only a small touch to push a story from one of these groups to another, and some stories remain resolutely averse to clear categorisation.
Consider, for example, the number of stories by Jackson involving the hiring of a maid. There are at least four such tales, and they all play startling variations of tone and mood upon this one theme. Chronologically the first is "Tootie in Peonage" (1942; C), one of Jackson's earliest stories. It tells of a young woman, Tootie Maple, whom the narrator hires to help with the housework. It is an amusing tale of how Tootie has too many other pressing things to do—painting her toenails, finishing the latest issue of True Confessions—to get down to her actual duties; but the real object of satire is the housewife who hired her, who lacks the strength of will either to order Tootie to do her work or to fire her. The next maid story, "Family Magician" (1949), is a rather odd and benign weird tale about a maid, Mallie, who appears to fulfil her household responsibilities through magic. The tale is not of much note save in being Jackson's first avowedly supernatural work. Then comes "Monday Morning", incorporated in Life among the Savages and similar in tone to "Tootie in Peonage". In this explicitly autobiographical and quite amusing story we read of the maid Phoebe, who shows up more than an hour late. Then we come to the extremely nasty "Strangers in Town" (1959). The tale does not focus upon the maid, named Mallie (as in "Family Magician"), but it is clear that this maid too has supernatural powers: she gathers an acorn, a mushroom, and a scrap of grass and makes a stew out of them.
The simple act of riding a bus or train and travelling to a strange location—usually a big city—has generated a number of Jackson's most powerful stories, whether weird or otherwise. We have seen the innocuous version of this in chapter 4 of Raising Demons, in which Jackson relates taking her children to New York; other tales are much more ominous. "The Tooth" (1949; L) is a queer and meandering story of a young woman who travels to New York to see a dentist; I confess to being at a loss what point this story is trying to make, but the atmosphere of shimmering, dream-like fantasy that was to become a Jackson trademark finds its first genuine embodiment here. "Pillar of Salt" (1948; L) involves a nearly identical scenario, although here a couple from New Hampshire comes to New York for a vacation. The emphasis is, inevitably, on the wife, whose appreciation of the city oscillates between amazement and condescension (looking at a set of miniature milk bottles being sold as toys, she notes archly, "We get our milk from cows" [L 177]). Gradually the giganticism, pace, and impersonality of the city overwhelm her, and her plight is keenly encapsulated by her utter inability to cross a busy street even when the light is with her:
The minute the light changes, she told herself firmly; there's no sense. The light changed before she was ready and in the minute before she collected herself traffic turning the corner over-whelmed her and she shrank back against the curb. She looked longingly at the cigar store on the opposite corner, with her apartment house beyond; she wondered, How do people ever manage to get there, and knew that by wondering, by admitting a doubt, she was lost.
"The Bus" (1965; C) finally takes this topos into the realm of the supernatural. An old woman is dropped off at the wrong stop late at night, eventually catches a ride on a truck to some dismal-looking roadhouse, and, as the atmosphere becomes at once more menacing and more unreal, the old woman imagines herself a child in her room, looks in a closet, and finds her old doll speaking to her: "'Go away, old lady, go away, old lady, go away'" (C 200). At this point the old woman wakes up—it was all a dream and she is still on the bus! Not content with this trite device, Jackson gives it a further predictable twist by having the old woman get off at the same wrong stop as before.
Several other stories speak of the peculiar vulnerability of people on vacation, away from their friends and their familiar environment. "The Summer People" (1949; C) is a mordant tale about an elderly couple who decide to stay on in their summer cottage past Labor Day, something they have never done before. The dour countryfolk of the region appear to resent this decision—"'Nobody ever stayed at the lake past Labor Day before'" (C 73)—and insidiously conspire against them: the couple cannot get kerosene or ice, the mail suddenly stops, the groceries can't be delivered, and so on. This masterful story is worth considering in several other respects, but the gradual isolation of the couple, as one by one the locals turn against them through sheer inaction, is harrowing. There is, of course, nothing supernatural about this tale, but a work like this makes the strongest possible case for the inclusion of the non-supernatural horror story as a genuine subset of the weird tale.
"The Lovely Night" (1952; retitled "A Visit" in C) introduces the supernatural in the subtlest way. A college girl, Margaret, goes with her friend Carla Rhodes to the latter's palatial home, whose location is never specified. Initially it all seems idyllic:
Carla stopped before the doorway and stood for a minute, looking first behind her, at the vast reaching gardens and the green lawn going down to the river, and the soft hills beyond, and then at the perfect grace of the house, showing so clearly the long-boned structure within, the curving staircases and the arched doorways and the tall thin lines of steadying beams, all of it resting back against the hills, and up, past rows of windows and the flying lines of the roof, on, to the tower …
The tale develops a powerful atmosphere of weirdness through the deliberately artificial dialogue—it is as if all the characters know they are in a work of fiction. Carla's brother Paul arrives; Margaret spends much time with him. She goes up to the tower and has an enigmatic talk with Carla's grandmother. Throughout the story Mrs Rhodes is weaving a tapestry of the house. This is the end of the tale:
"You will not leave us before my brother comes again?" Carla asked Margaret.
"I have only to put the figures into the foreground," Mrs. Rhodes said, hesitating on her way to the drawing room. "I shall have you exactly if you sit on the lawn near the river."
"We shall be models of stillness," said Carla, laughing. "Margaret, will you come and sit beside me on the lawn?"
What does this mean? What is the significance of Paul's remark that "'without this house I could not exist'" (C 119)? Is this not a pun, meaning that neither he nor the entire family can live without (i.e. outside of) the house? And isn't Margaret now being woven into the fabric of the house by way of the tapestry? This exquisite and haunting tale—a fantastically transmogrified version of a visit Dylan Thomas paid to Jackson's home in Westport, Connecticut (O 151-52)—exemplifies the "quiet weird tale" at its pinnacle. And, of course, it embodies a theme that we can already see is a dominant one in Jackson's work and perhaps also her life: the manner in which a house can subsume its occupants.
Language, Truth, and Horror
Many of Jackson's stories turn on the statements uttered by her characters: is what they are saying true? What if, Jackson asks in a number of tales, there is some sort of insane conspiracy to deceive a single individual? Such stories are almost unclassifiable: we cannot know if the supernatural actually comes into play because ambiguity is maintained to the end as to the truth of the matter. Nevertheless, some of her most powerful tales revolve around simple utterances by individual characters, which, when taken together, potentially suggest some horrific and irrational victimisation of an individual who is frequently somewhat disturbed to begin with. The standard distinction between what might be called interior and exterior supernaturalism (i.e., that occurring within the confines of an individual's mind and that occurring in the external world) seems to collapse here, or even to fuse together: it is as if Jackson is suggesting that the supernatural falls specifically upon those individuals whose hold on reality is itself shaky.
Jackson's very first story, "Janice" (1938; C) already starts the pattern. This mordant shortshort story is nothing more than a page of dialogue held by the title character, a college student, with some of her friends: she is telling each of them that she "nearly killed herself" (C 41) by carbon monoxide poisoning. Is this actually the case? Is it anything more than an attempt at self-dramatisation? When the first-person narrator suddenly obtrudes with the pointed query, "How did it feel to be dying, Jan?", Janice can only reply with a meaningless and stereotypical remark: "Gee, funny. All black" (C 42). It is the first of many stories in which the veracity of characters' utterances is subtly impugned without any concrete statement ever being made by the narrator one way or the other.
"Charles" also fits this pattern, although at the end we are clearly led to believe that "Charles" is nothing more than a sort of fictitious dummy to whom Laurie is attributing his own unruliness in school: his teacher remarks, "We had a little trouble adjusting, the first week or so … but now he's a fine little helper. With occasional lapses, of course" (L 74), which corresponds exactly to the cycle of "Charles's" good and bad moments in school. Doubt still remains, however, whether Laurie (or anyone) actually committed the acts he fastens upon Charles: some may still be exaggerated or, indeed, entirely imaginary.
Several of Jackson's best tales involve the harrowing question of a mad (because unmotivated, wholly malicious, and, conceivably, supernaturally inspired) conspiracy on the part of seemingly unrelated individuals—perhaps the entire world—to cause mental or emotional pain to some hapless individual. It is here that the suggestion of the veracity of the characters' statements is of the greatest importance, but it is also the most hopelessly irresolvable. The effect is extremely unnerving.
The celebrated tale "The Daemon Lover" (1949; L) is one of the best of this type. This story inaugurates a curious thread in the stories in The Lottery (and elsewhere) in which the figure of James Harris, the Daemon Lover, flits in and out of stories, seemingly at random. To my mind, however, not much can be made of this: the name Harris appears in several stories in the collection, and sometimes it is specified as James or Jim Harris; but I do not think that in the end it amounts to much save a sort of in-joke that has no particular point. Jackson herself admitted to being haunted by a daemon lover, from as early as her college years, and she describes it in a sketch as follows (she was in a noncapitalisation phase at this point):
but all i remember is that i met him (somewhere where was it in the darkness in the light was it morning were there trees flowers had i been born) and now when I think about him i only remember that he was calling margaret, as in loneliness margaret margaret, and then (did i speak to him did he look at me did we smile had we known each other once) i went away and left him (calling to me after me) calling margaret margaret.
This is poignant enough, and the several stories she wrote about a daemon lover all have this same quality of bittersweet unreality; but the interconnexions she attempts to forge by dropping the name Harris in the Lottery collection do not add up to a coherent whole.
But "The Daemon Lover" is an exquisite piece. It introduces us to the most easily recognisable character-type in all Jackson's work: the lonely, weak-willed, sensitive, overly imaginative, and possibly psychotic young woman who usually ends her pitiable and meaningless existence in madness or suicide. This figure recurs with such obsessive frequency in her stories that one is tempted to see in it Jackson's imaginative view of herself, however much or little it may have coincided with the reality of her personality. In "The Daemon Lover" we encounter such a figure in Margaret, who awakes one morning in her shabby one-room apartment awaiting the arrival of James Harris, to whom she is to be married. We are already a little uneasy, since we learn that she has known Harris only for a month; and our fears seem confirmed when he fails to show up at her apartment at the appointed time. She begins to look for him, reaching the building where he had borrowed the apartment of a Mr and Mrs Royster for the last month. Finding the Roysters, who have just returned, she asks about James. Mrs Royster's reaction is not reassuring: "'O Lord … What'd he do?'" (L 18). At least this appears to confirm Harris' existence, however tenuously. But the Roysters do not really know him—he was a friend of a friend. Margaret begins to ask the neighbourhood shopowners whether they have seen a man answering Harris' description. No one has. Finally she so pesters a news-agent that he confesses to have seen him:
"Now I don't know for sure, mind you, but there might have been someone like your gentleman friend coming by this morning."
"About ten," the newsdealer agreed. "Tall fellow, blue suit. I wouldn't be at all surprised."
"Which way did he go?" she said eagerly. "Uptown?"
"Uptown," the newsdealer said, nodding. "He went uptown. That's just exactly it. What can I do for you, sir?"
This is the critical point of the story: is the man admitting to having seen Harris only to get rid of the pestiferous Margaret? Why does he agree with such alacrity to having seen him at the time and place she insists he must have seen him? From this point the story devolves into either a paranoid fantasy or an evil conspiracy, or perhaps both: the florist admits that Harris bought flowers (wouldn't a man going to his wedding buy flowers for his bride?); the shoe shine man admits he shined Harris' shoes (a natural thing for a bridegroom to do), and he directs Margaret to a street (not hers) where he says he saw Harris go; a boy at the corner says he saw Harris go in a building across the street. Margaret goes in and hears voices behind a door. The tale ends inconclusively (as it must) and agonisingly:
She knew there was someone inside the other apartment, because she was sure she could hear low voices and sometimes laughter. She came back many times, every day for the first week. She came on her way to work, in the mornings; in the evenings, on her way to dinner alone, but no matter how often or how firmly she knocked, no one ever came to the door.
Have all these people lied to her? If so, why? Do they all hate her and wish to torture her emotionally? Or are they simply cheerful sadists? This is the most frightening prospect of the story, more frightening than the prospect that Margaret has imagined much of her relationship with Harris: how can people be so irresponsibly evil?
"The Daemon Lover" has an atmosphere of wistful pathos that somehow works in tandem with the conte cruel horror of the tale; another story, "The Renegade" (1948; L), is pure conte cruel. A family from the city, the Walpoles, have moved to a placid-seeming country town and seem to be settling in nicely. Then Mrs Walpole receives a call from a neighbour: the Walpoles' dog has been killing this person's chickens; something must be done. Mrs Walpole cannot believe it of her gentle pet. Soon the story is all over the town (the phone is on a party line), and everyone has remedies for stopping a dog from killing chickens. These remedies become more and more hideous: you can chain the dog; you can tie a dead chicken around its neck until it rots, so that the dog hates chicken; you can place it in a pen with some chicks and a mother hen who is sure to scratch the dog's eyes out; or you could put around the dog's neck a collar that has spikes on the inside, and when the dog approaches a chicken you pull on a rope attached to the collar, and (as Mrs Walpole's own son notes with glee), "The spikes cut her head off" (L 65). Which one is it to be?
In this tale it is a little clearer that the townspeople have conspired to tease Mrs Walpole mercilessly, although other questions remain unclear: did the dog actually kill chickens (it is true that the dog comes into the house with blood on its legs—but what does this mean? was the dog somehow framed?), and why have the townspeople ganged up on Mrs Walpole like this? As to the latter, Mrs Walpole "wondered briefly if Mr. White had maliciously blamed Lady because they were city folk, and then thought, No, no man around here would bear false witness against a dog" (L 61). What Jackson has done in this story, and in others of this type, is to make us doubt every single utterance made by every character in the tale; at the same time, we are inexorably made to think the worst of all the characters. In this instance, the townspeople are either liars of sadists or both; and the worst part of it is, of course, that her own children are infected with this blood-lust against a dog and happily imagine the many tortures one could inflict upon it to cure it of this reprehensible habit.
The odd story "The Intoxicated" (1949; L) might perhaps be studied in this context. Here a man who finds himself bored at a party wanders into the kitchen, meeting the hostess' daughter Eileen, a girl of seventeen. She is writing a paper about the future of the world; but she doesn't think the world has much of a future. Rather harrowingly, she chronicles the destruction of civilisation—or, at least, this phase of it:
"Somehow I think of the churches as going first, before even the Empire State building. And then all the big apartment houses by the river, slipping down slowly into the water with the people inside. And the schools, in the middle of Latin class maybe, while we're reading Caesar." She brought her eyes to his face, looking at him in numb excitement. "Each time we begin a chapter in Caesar, I wonder if this won't be the one we never finish. Maybe we in our Latin class will be the last people who ever read Caesar."
The worst thing about it is that she seems so certain of it; and this raises the query: What if she is right? This story somehow reminds me of Margaret St Clair's famous tale, "The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes", although in that tale the boy is undoubtedly clairvoyant and knows that the world will end, whereas in "The Intoxicated" we are left only with the unnerving thought that the girl is either right (in which case the world will end) or that she is wrong (in which case she is insane) or that she is having a little fun (in which case she is a sadist). None of these is very reassuring. Here again Jackson is simply trying to jolt us out of our conventional ways of thinking—and a tiresome party is the perfect backdrop for such an enterprise.
I might as well study Jackson's one genuine science fiction (or at least futuristic) story, "Bulletin" (1954), here, for it not only follows up on the theme of "The Intoxicated" (the future of civilisation) but indirectly exemplifies the same issues of language, truth, and horror as the other stories I have been discussing. This very brief tale is surprisingly difficult to interpret. Let us bypass the very crude mechanics of the story: a clumsy editor's note informing us that certain documents have come back in a time machine that was sent into the early twenty-second century, although the scientist who went in the machine did not return. The first document we find is a fragment of a newspaper dating from May 8, 2123; this indicates little save that the people of that time were given to pompous and empty circumlocution (hardly a unique trait!). A letter from a boy to his parents has the spellings "haveing", "cokies" (for cookies), "loveing", and the like, implying either that the boy was illiterate (and perhaps, by extension, the rest of the society?) or that these spellings had by then become standard. The most interesting and problematical document is a high-school or college history exam. Here we find that the twenty-second century has fallen into irremediable confusion about the past, citing such figures as "George Washingham", "Sinclair (Joe) Lewis", and "Sergeant Cuff" (as if he were a real individual). Then there are a series of statements that one is to mark either true or false, and this is where things get complicated. Take this statement: "The aboriginal Americans lived above-ground and drank water." This is obviously true, but carries the suggestion that the people of the twenty-second century do not live above-ground or drink water: in a single sentence an entire mode of future existence is potently suggested. But consider this statement: "The hero Jackie Robinson is chiefly known for his voyage to obtain the golden fleece." The point is not whether this is true or false; the point is: What if the people of the future think it to be true? Given their other errors, this is entirely conceivable. Even if the future society knows this to be false, the very manner in which the statement is framed suggests that Jackie Robinson is now regarded as some sort of hero, perhaps in some religious fashion. Other statements carry similarly disturbing implications. But the clincher is at the end. The final document is a card giving someone's weight (presumably the scientist's) and a meaningless machine-generated fortune. But the editor of these documents professes to find this silly thing "of great significance". And it suddenly becomes clear that the time machine was not sent forward from our time into the future but backward from an infinitely farther future, in which people's grasp of the events of our time and before must be even poorer than the twenty-second century's if they cannot correctly identify an insignificant weight and fortune card.
Shirley Jackson once wrote that she took to writing out of loneliness:
when i first used to write stories and hide them away in my desk i used to think that no one had ever been so lonely as i was and i used to write about people all alone. once i started a novel … but i never finished because i found out about insanity about then and i used to write about lunatics after that. i thought i was insane and i would write about how the only sane people are the ones who are condemned as mad and how the whole world is cruel and foolish and afraid of people who are different.
It is conceivable that this single utterance encompasses nearly the whole of her fiction, and loneliness may be the single most dominant theme in her work. But note again what a contrast the domestic fiction presents: in that body of work she herself is not lonely because she has her lively and energetic children (I have already noted how infrequently her husband appears in these works); and although she and her family may be isolated from the rest of the community (as in reality they were because of their intellectualism and, it must be admitted, Jackson's snobbishness [O 183-84]), they still participate with gusto in such social rituals as shopping, moving, celebrating Christmas, and participating in sports. If the domestic fiction therefore benignly papers over the true loneliness of Jackson and her family, her other fiction scathingly lays it bare with such force that the tales become genuinely horrific.
Loneliness appears to be manifested in these stories in two parallel ways, as in the domestic fiction: 1) the loneliness of an individual within a wider group (whether that be a family, a community, or the world); and 2) the loneliness of a family within a wider group. In both categories we find some of Jackson's most memorable and terrifying work.
We have already noted individual loneliness in a number of tales—the partygoer in "The Intoxicated", Margaret in "The Daemon Lover", the niece in "The Little House". The opening paragraph of "The Intoxicated" encapsulates the idea perfectly:
He was just tight enough and just familiar enough with the house to be able to go out into the kitchen alone, apparently to get ice, but actually to sober up a little; he was not quite enough of a friend of the family to pass out on the living-room couch. He left the party behind without reluctance, the group by the piano singing "Stardust," his hostess talking earnestly to a young man with thin clean glasses and a sullen mouth; he walked guardedly through the dining-room, where a little group of four or five people sat on the stiff chairs reasoning something out carefully among themselves …
By implication, the man's loneliness is a product both of his own volition (he does not want to join the singers) and of rebuffs by others (the hostess clearly does not wish to be interrupted in her tête-à-tête with the young man; the people in the dining room are discussing something "among themselves", leaving no room for anyone else), and we will find this sort of dichotomy frequently in Jackson. A surprising number of individuals or families will withdraw themselves from society, washing their hands of it entirely; this tendency reaches its apex in We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962). But can we truly be certain that this self-imposed hermitry is solely a result of misanthropy? Might it perhaps not conceal a longing for acceptance that has finally turned to what Lovecraft called the "bitterness of alienage"?
I am not at all certain that "The Lottery" (1948; L) ought to be considered in this precise context, but I may as well do so here as anywhere. Whereas this tale seems generally to convey the notion of a community that wilfully isolates an individual within it, Jackson herself appears to have had different ideas. Judy Oppenheimer writes: "She always refused to answer the question put to her by thousands of readers, 'What is "The Lottery" really about?'—but to a good friend she confided very matter-of-factly that it had, of course, been about the Jews" (O 72). Respectful as I generally am to authors' statements about their own work, in this case I must frankly declare Jackson to be mistaken. "The Lottery" cannot be about anti-Semitism because of the fundamental randomness of the procedure by which an individual from the community is selected to die. In any case, the community depicted in the story appears racially and culturally homogeneous, and the individual chosen for death—Mrs Hutchinson—differs in no appreciable way from the other citizens. Indeed, it is exactly this randomness that is the source of horror in the story. Another comment by Jackson seems a little more on target: "I suppose I hoped, by setting a particularly brutal rite in the present and in my own village, to shock the readers with a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general inhumanity of their own lives" (O 131). Even this I am not inclined to accept wholly, and in fact Jackson's best commentary on her story may be a stray remark in Hangsaman: "Another instance … of ritual gone to seed" (H 62).
For ritual is at the heart of the story—a meaningless, stupid ritual whose original rationale, whatever it may have been, has now been entirely forgotten. This is made clear by an elderly person's statement that the neighbouring town wants to give up the lottery (the implication, obviously, is that the lottery is a widespread if not universal phenomenon):
Old Man Warner snorted. "Pack of crazy fools," he said. "Listening to the young folks, nothing's good enough for them. Next thing you know, they'll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work any more, live that way for a while. Used to be a saying about 'Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.' First thing you know, we'd all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There's always been a lottery," he added petulantly.
The lottery has become so inveterate that it has given rise to an axiom. This axiom, "Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon", suggests that the original purpose of the lottery was as a fertility rite, something akin to what Thomas Tryon described at the conclusion of Harvest Home (1973); but the need for bountiful crops must have long passed, and yet the lottery continues, much as we might say "Bless you" when someone sneezes, even though we have entirely forgotten and perhaps would no longer even believe in what the expression really means (one must be blessed lest one expel one's soul while sneezing). It is "ritual gone to seed". And it is the young people of the neighbouring town who wish to give up the lottery: they are less under the sway of mindless convention than the old people. Indeed, when Old Man Warner remarks at the end, "It's not the way it used to be … People ain't the way they used to be" (L 218), he means that now some people are actually taking pity on the victim or, at least, are not taking pride in having the victim chosen from one's own family (the remark previous to his is: "A girl whispered, 'I hope it's not Nancy'" [L 218]).
The artistry of "The Lottery" is indeed remarkable, although there is some justice to some readers' complaints of authorial deceit. One reader wrote to The New Yorker, "I resent being tricked into reading perverted stories like 'The Lottery'" (C 231); however naive and conventional this response may be, it underscores the fact that Jackson goes out of her way to conceal the climax by a narrative tone that at the outset is placid, benign, and innocuous almost to excess. Subtle little points throughout the narrative cause unease, however, in particular the matter of why the family that has apparently won the first part of the lottery (the family from whom the person is to be killed is chosen first, then the individual from that family) seems unhappy about being chosen. If they have won a lottery, shouldn't they be pleased? And it is only one more of Jackson's perversions of domestic bliss that the children of the town take the greatest glee in stoning the victim to death.
I have stated that "The Lottery" is nonsupernatural, and of course the actual events are indeed so; but in a strange way this tale may be weird without being supernatural, by merely postulating the existence of the lottery in this town and in at least several others. There are, of course, no lotteries of this sort and never have been. In this sense the story embodies in the most literal way a trait I have described in the weird tale: the refashioning of reality. "The Lottery" is clearly set in the present day and in a world we are all seemingly familiar with; but the mere existence of the lottery, and the clear implication that it has been in practice for decades or centuries, depict Lovecraft's "violation of natural law" in the simple sense of portraying the real world as other than we know it in this one regard.
I think that the central theme of The Haunting of Hill House is also individual loneliness, although it could be studied from a number of other perspectives. The focus of this rich, complex, poignant, and atmospheric work—at once the greatest of Jackson's novels and her greatest contribution to weird fiction—is Eleanor Vance, perhaps Jackson's most delicately etched portrait of the weak-willed, love-starved woman. Eleanor has been chosen—along with Luke Sanderson and Theodora (she claims to have no last name)—by Dr John Montague, an avowed investigator of "supernatural phenomena" (HH 5), to explore Hill House because of her apparent sensitivity to the weird or occult: when younger she had evidently experienced some poltergeist phenomena. Her previous life (she is thirty-two) has been wretched: up to a few months before coming to Hill House she had to take care of her sick mother, and she now suffers guilt because she thinks she may have contributed to her death by being negligent; she does not get along with her married sister (indeed, it is stated at the outset that she "hated" [HH 7] her) and is forced covertly to take the car they jointly own when the sister refuses to allow her to use it to drive to Hill House.
I am at the moment not interested in many of the supernatural phenomena recounted in the novel; I here wish to clarify not merely Eleanor's loneliness (she admits this herself: "'I am always afraid of being alone'" [HH 113]) but her low estimation of herself:
Eleanor found herself unexpectedly admiring her own feet. Theodora dreamed over the fire just beyond the tips of her toes, and Eleanor thought with deep satisfaction that her feet were handsome in their red sandals; what a complete and separate thing I am, she thought, going from my red toes to the top of my head, individually an I, possessed of attributes belonging only to me. I have red shoes, she thought—that goes with being Eleanor; I dislike lobster and sleep on my left side and crack my knuckles when I am nervous and save buttons. I am holding a brandy glass which is mine because I am here and I am using it and I will have a place in this room. I have red shoes and tomorrow I will wake up and I will still be here.
This is all a little harried: she is seizing upon anything she can find to validate her existence. Has Eleanor only really begun to live—to lead a full, emotionally satisfying life—since coming to Hill House? Such is surely the implication of the following:
Suddenly, without reason, laughter trembled inside Eleanor; she wanted to run to the head of the table and hug the doctor, she wanted to reel, chanting, across the stretches of the lawn, she wanted to sing and to shout and to fling her arms and move in great, emphatic, possessing circles around the rooms of Hill House; I am here, I am here, she thought. She shut her eyes quickly in delight and then said demurely to the doctor, "And what do we do today?"
What this passage also suggests is her growing identification with Hill House—she is possessing it or it is possessing her. Early on the doctor says: "'Hill House has a reputation for insistent hospitality; it seemingly dislikes letting its guests get away'" (HH 48-49). Eleanor ominously echoes this idea when she says, "'I don't think we could leave now if we wanted to'" (HH 54).
The Shakespearean tag "Journeys end in lovers meeting" glides through this novel like an elusive ritornello, but what is its true implication? If it is Eleanor's journey that is at an end here (and this is clearly the case, as at the beginning we experience the long trip to Hill House through her eyes), who is her lover? Is it Theodora, with whom she becomes very close—to the point that Theodora must wear Eleanor's clothes when her own are found covered with red paint like blood? Is it Luke, who seems to be dallying with both women? Or is it the house itself? Perhaps it is all three. Toward the end it becomes clear that Luke, finding Eleanor's behaviour increasingly odd, prefers the company of Theodora. Is Eleanor jealous of Theodora? Why else is she suddenly filled with an "uncontrollable loathing" (HH 112) of her?
It is here that some of the supernatural manifestations gain their importance. At one point the guests find some crude writing on the wall: "HELP ELEANOR COME HOME" (HH 103). The wording is significant: it is not "Help Eleanor go home" or "get home"; the implication is that Eleanor is already home or on the way home (at Hill House), and that some sort of spiritual transition must take place so that she feels at home here. Other weird events also seem to single out Eleanor, until finally she appears to begin cracking under the strain. One night she leaves her bedroom to meander through the house; her absence is noted by the others and they look for her, but she refuses to reveal her whereabouts: "Eleanor clung to the door and laughed until tears came into her eyes; what fools they are, she thought; we trick them so easily" (HH 163). Who is the "we" but she and Hill House? Journeys end in lovers meeting. When the others persuade her to leave, she cries defiantly, "Hill House belongs to me" (HH 173), and as she leaves the driveway she turns abruptly and smashes her car into a tree, echoing the fate of the last occupant of Hill House eighteen years before, whose "horse bolted and crushed him against the big tree" (HH 49). What life would Eleanor have had if she had left? "'It's the only time anything's ever happened to me'" (HH 171).
At this point it is worth studying the general supernaturalism of the novel. In a lecture written a year prior to the publication of the novel, "Experience and Fiction" (C), Jackson discusses the research and composition of the novel at length. I am not sure that this essay is of any genuine help in elucidating the work, although it contains some wry features, as when Jackson comes down to her study one morning and finds the words "DEAD DEAD" in her own handwriting (C 213), which she takes as a sign that she was destined to write a ghost story. In any case, we learn both from this essay and from the facts of her biography that Jackson had always had an interest in the supernatural, and indeed both she herself and her children made no secret of the fact that she actually believed in the supernatural (O 37, 125). She had an extensive collection of books on witchcraft, and in preparation for her novel she read much about hauntings, including papers by the Society for Psychic Research. And yet, I am forced to admit that the supernatural manifestations in The Haunting of Hill House in many cases seem random, unmotivated, and unexplained. What is the significance of the cold spot in the hallway? of the knocking heard intermittently at night on people's doors? of "some animal like a dog" (HH 95) seen by Dr Montague? It is all very well for the doctor to say that "'psychic phenomena are subject to laws of a very particular sort'" (HH 48), but those laws are never specified nor are the psychic events actually experienced at Hill House ever plausibly accounted for or harmonised within the overall scheme of the novel. It appears that they are meant merely to enhance the atmosphere of weirdness as a backdrop to the story of Eleanor Vance. I also think it was a mistake for Jackson to introduce Montague's obnoxious and overbearing wife and her pompous and bumbling assistant toward the end; considerable cheap satire is had at their expense, but the atmosphere of the novel is close to being shattered by their obtrusive presence. Nevertheless, The Haunting of Hill House remains a masterwork in the field, if only for exhibiting some of the most meticulous character portrayal in weird fiction and for its overwhelming sense of inevitable doom.
ON THE SUBJECT OF …
FRIEDRICH VON SCHILLER (1759–1805)
One of the preeminent German authors of the nineteenth century, Schiller is esteemed as an adept lyricist and theoretician whose works are informed by his conviction that the writer should strive not only to entertain, but also to instruct and improve his audience. He was an immensely popular poet during his life, but is best remembered for his dramas. Of these, his early plays reflect his affinity with the Sturm und Drang movement, which championed the passionate expression of emotional and spiritual struggle, and emphasize both his idealism and his concern for human freedom; his later plays are characterized by more realistic, moral, and Classical subjects and forms. Schiller's impact upon the Gothic and Romantic traditions was the immense popularity and influence of his drama Die Räuber (1781; The Robbers) and his novel fragment Der Geisterseher (1789; The Ghost-Seer; or, The Apparitionist) upon such writers as Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, William Wordsworth, and John Keats.
Schiller completed The Robbers in 1781. The play is an imaginative and often violent glorification of a rebel who, along with a band of thieves, attempts to overthrow a corrupt political order. Unable to find a publisher, Schiller printed the play anonymously at his own expense, and it soon attracted the attention of Wolfgang von Dalberg, director of the Mannheim National Theater, who staged it that same year. The Robbers was both popular and controversial. Reviewers debated the morality of its characters, and Schiller, jailed for two weeks, was forbidden to publish further due to the revolutionary fervor the play allegedly inspired.
A final contribution to the individual loneliness theme is Jackson's last published story, "The Possibility of Evil" (1965). This story of an aristo-cratic old woman who writes anonymous poison pen letters to other citizens so as to keep her town "clean and sweet" is a trifle obvious, but is redeemed by its unrelenting viciousness. In the end she is detected and someone repays her in kind by destroying her cherished rose garden and writing an anonymous note: "LOOK OUT AT WHAT USED TO BE YOUR ROSES." Jackson's biographer Judy Oppenheimer believes, incredibly, that Jackson identified with the old woman: "Shirley wanted to see herself … as a proper lady, sure of her place, who sent forth her terrible messages to the world yet remained anonymously secure" (O 272). But surely we are meant to loathe the old woman for her spitefulness and her injustice: "Miss Strangeworth never concerned herself with facts; her letters all dealt with the more negotiable stuff of suspicion." And the irony is a little heavy-handed:
She had been writing her letters … for the past year. She never got any answers, of course, because she never signed her name. If she had been asked, she would have said that her name, Adela Strangeworth, a name honored in the town for so many years, did not belong on such trash. The town where she lived had to be kept clean and sweet, but people everywhere were lustful and evil and degraded, and needed to be watched; the world was so large, and there was only one Miss Strange-worth left in it.
The Bird's Nest might be studied here, even though I fear it is the least successful of Jackson's novels. This work might have been a powerful vehicle for the study of loneliness and the concomitant desire to refashion oneself—for who can be lonelier than a person with multiple personalities?—but the execution is severely flawed. This story of Elizabeth Richmond, who is diagnosed as having four separate personalities—Elizabeth (timid and colourless), Beth (sweet but fragile), Betsy (childishly petulant and potentially violent), and Bess (the most evil of all, a frightening megalomaniac)—is marred by structural clumsiness, poor writing, and a feeble conclusion. Jackson makes several mistakes of judgment. Each of the five long chapters is narrated from a different point of view: the first chapter is omniscient, the second and fourth from the perspective of the psychiatrist brought in to treat Elizabeth, the third (most interestingly) through Betsy's eyes, and the fifth from the point of view of Elizabeth's Aunt Morgen. The psychiatrist's narrative tone—flippant, pretentious, cheaply ironic—seriously impedes the progress of the novel, which in any case (as with all Jackson's novels save the last two) tends to meander and digress. In chapter 2 the reproduction of the psychiatrist's transcript of a discussion with Elizabeth and her various personalities sounds excessively clinical, robbing the scene of the emotive power it might have had if it had been presented more novelistically. And the lame conclusion, in which Elizabeth is magically cured and her personalities integrated, is a woeful anticlimax. Indeed, toward the end the atmosphere changes almost in spite of Jackson's wishes from grim intensity to farce as we watch Elizabeth's four personalities successively assert themselves and take four baths consecutively (B 335-37). Eventually we are led to understand the origin of the entire personality split: Elizabeth, jealous of her mother's lover (who hates her [B 236]), has caused her mother's death in an altercation and is now suppressing the memory. Jackson may have erred here also on the side of vagueness, as the background is sketched hazily and fragmentarily, so that the connexion between Elizabeth's relationship with her mother and her split personality is never adequately clarified.
Jackson's incomplete novel, Come Along with Me (1965; C), is the most forthright example of a character leaving the past behind. A middle-aged woman whose husband has died decides to unburden herself of all the impedimenta of her prior existence and start afresh:
So that was how I started out. I'd thought about it for a long time of course—not that I positively expected I was going to have to bury Hughie, but he had a good life—and everything went the way I used to figure it would. I sold the house, I auctioned off the furniture, I put all the paintings and boxes in the barn, I erased my old name and took my initials off everything, and I got on the train and left.
She takes up a new name, Angela Motorman, almost at random, and, in response to her landlady's query as to her occupation, she remarks: "'I dabble in the supernatural'" (C 18). What this means, apparently, is that from the age of twelve she has heard voices from the dead (C 24-26). The fragment ends after Angela gives a rather inconclusive and unsatisfying séance. I have no idea where this novel was going to go—even what we have seems a little disjointed and unfocused—or whether the supernatural would actually have come into play; but this novel might for once have portrayed a strong, self-controlled figure rather than the birdlike victims so characteristic of Jackson's other work.
The tales that focus on the loneliness or isolation of a family within a community do not differ appreciably in tone from those involving indi-vidual loneliness. It might be thought that these tales would be tempered somewhat with hope, in the sense that the family members at least have themselves even if the rest of the world rejects them, whereas the lonely individuals have no one to turn to in their isolation; but in fact these tales can be even grimmer than the others, and several of them represent Jackson's most pungent excursions into satire and misanthropy. This is either because the family unit cannot provide any significant comfort to its members in the face of the overwhelming hostility of the outside world, or because the family itself is torn by tragedy and in-fighting, so that individuals may feel an added layer of loneliness—both within the family and without.
Consider "The Renegade". The horror of this story lies not merely in the implication that an entire community has, with gleeful vindictiveness, turned against a household because of its supposed chicken-killing dog, but that the family is now being destroyed from within as the children embrace the prospect of killing the dog:
Mrs. Walpole looked at them, at her two children with their hard hands and their sunburned faces laughing together, their dog with blood still on her legs laughing with them. She went to the kitchen doorway to look outside at the cool green hills, the motion of the apple tree in the soft afternoon breeze.
"Cut your head right off," Jack was saying.
"Strangers in Town" (1959) is Jackson's vendetta against the townsfolk who ostracised her when she accused a favourite grade-school teacher of beating her children (see O 213-15). This crude and obvious story is fueled by nothing but hatred, to the point that Jackson's artistry completely forsakes her. Told from the point of view of small-minded neighbours who cannot tolerate a strange family's unconventional ways (they don't seem to do any cooking; they dance the night away), this story is simply void of subtlety:
"Foreign ways!" I said. "You're heathen, wicked people, with your dancing and your maid, and the sooner you leave this town, the better it's going to be for you. Because I might as well tell you"—and I shook my finger right at her—"that certain people in this town aren't going to put up with your fancy ways much longer, and you would be well advised—very well advised, I say—to pack up your furniture and your curtains and your maid and cat and get out of our town before we put you out."
"'All She Said Was "Yes"'" (1962) is much superior, speaking poignantly of a curious young girl whose parents have been killed in an auto accident. It bears relationships to "The Intoxicated" in that it suggests that the girl is clairvoyant; and like that story, it is told from the point of view of an individual who fails to perceive the girl's powers. This tale is also a little obvious (there is no ambiguity, as in "The Intoxicated", whether the girl really can see into the future or not), and a predictable ending does not help matters: the girl tells her neighbour repeatedly not to go on a boat, but the neighbour pays no attention and the story concludes: "we're all going to go on a cruise." But the delicate portrayal of the central figure—an unattractive, tight-lipped, morose girl who knew that her parents would die and is accordingly not shocked but merely saddened and stupefied, and now totally alone in the world—makes this one of Jackson's later triumphs.
The Sundial may be mentioned here, although I wish to study it more extensively elsewhere. This mad and disturbing tale of a large and wealthy family convinced that the external world will shortly come to an end, with only its house preserved, displays at once the Halloran family's isolation from the world and the internal dissensions that cause it to be a microcosm of the unruly outside world they are purportedly leaving behind. The Hallorans' withdrawal from the world, even before they take up their insane view of the world's imminent destruction, is entirely self-generated:
The character of the house is perhaps of interest. It stood upon a small rise in ground, and all the land it surveyed belonged to the Halloran family. The Halloran land was distinguished from the rest of the world by a stone wall, which went completely around the estate, so that all inside the wall was Halloran, all outside was not. The first Mr. Halloran … was a man who, in the astonishment of finding himself suddenly extremely wealthy, could think of nothing better to do with his money than set up his own world. His belief about the house … was that it should contain everything. The other world, the one the Hallorans were leaving behind, was to be plundered ruthlessly for objects of beauty to go in and around Mr. Halloran's house; infinite were the delights to be prepared for its inhabitants.
But this isolation fails to weed out the disharmonies of the world, as we shall see elsewhere. Much of the effectiveness of this book lies in how Jackson totally ignores the outside world, as if it has already ceased to exist. Everything is focused on the house and its occupants; even when some of those occupants have come from that outside world, it is completely forgotten once they enter the house. Background information on the characters is deliberately lacking, as if they had no prior existence before coming to the house. And in the one instance where a character—Maryjane, the daughter-in-law of the domineering Mrs Halloran—attempts to escape the house, the scene is depicted in so bizarre a manner that we are uncertain of its reality—and Maryjane, bootlessly trying to flee to the nearby town on foot, finds that she has unwittingly returned to the very house she sought to leave. It is needless to remark that Jackson wisely ends the novel without resolving the issue of whether the world will in fact end.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle is, of course, Jackson's grimmest and nastiest portrayal of family isolation. The Blackwood family has been shattered by tragedy: all but three members of the household died by poisoning six years prior to the novel's opening, and one of the survivors, Constance Blackwood, is blamed by the townspeople for the murders even though she was tried and found innocent. She now lives in her spectral house with her younger cousin Mary Katherine (called Merricat) and her uncle Julian, himself crippled from the effects of the poison. Next to the Hallorans in The Sundial, this is Jackson's weirdest family. Merricat is the focus of the tale: she alone ventures to the town for groceries and other household needs, enduring the taunts of the townsfolk but in turn hating and despising them. It is clear that we are meant to sympathise wholeheartedly with the Blackwoods and to hate the townspeople as they hate them, and as they are hated in turn by them. But what are we to make of the family's snobbishness?
Anyone who came to see us, properly invited, came up the main drive which led straight from the gateposts on the highway up to our front door. When I was small I used to lie in my bedroom at the back of the house and imagine the driveway and the path as a crossroad meeting before our front door, and up and down the driveway went the good people, the clean and rich ones dressed in satin and lace, who came rightfully to visit, and back and forth along the path, sneaking and weaving and sidestepping servilely, went the people from the village.
One might be inclined to say that Jackson is introducing a significant ambiguity to suggest that the Blackwoods and the townspeople are both blameworthy for the ostracism they inflict upon each other; but I do not believe this to be the case. We have already seen that Jackson herself looked down upon the townsfolk of Bennington, and her views are identical to Merricat's; she is clearly portraying the attitude here as entirely admirable (it in fact connects with what happens later in the novel), and it is simply unfortunate that Jackson could not predict the disapproval that later generations would have of this sort of snobbishness. In any case, the rest of the novel compels us to find the townspeople wholly responsible for the events that follow, in particular when the townspeople, in a fit of irrational anger, destroy much of the house while putting out a fire that has started inside it. It is at this point that we learn a truth that scarcely any reader could have failed to guess, although Jackson evidently intends it as a stunning surprise: Merricat was the poisoner of her family.
The novel does not end here, however. In what is both a horrific and a heart-rending twist of Jackson's domestic fiction, the two cousins (Julian has now died) continue in their quiet defiance of the townsfolk by trying to resume their lives even when most of their property—furniture, clothes, utensils, food, even much of the house itself—is devastated. When Constance, successfully locating two teacups with their handles intact, remarks, "We will take our meals like ladies … using cups with handles" (W 144), we are evidently to regard this as a reaffirmation of the "good breeding" the women have received, a wholly admirable attempt to preserve one's dignity in the face of disaster.
There is, of course, nothing supernatural about We Have Always Lived in the Castle; if anything, it is a mystery story, although the mystery is not very cleverly executed and is by no means the focus of the novel. By any normal criteria it cannot be considered a weird tale, even though it manipulates after a fashion the topos of the haunted house, doing so from the unique perspective of the inhabitants of the house rather than of outsiders seeking to penetrate its mysteries. There is, however, a rather odd way in which perhaps the weird does enter into this novel, and it is this which I now wish to consider.
"Nothing has the power to hurt which doesn't have the power to frighten" (O 42): this single utterance by Shirley Jackson may be all the justification we need to consider some of her darkest and most vicious work, otherwise wholly non-supernatural, as anomalous contributions to the weird tale. Maurice Lévy remarked of Ambrose Bierce that "One is almost tempted to believe that one day he decided to instill fear into his contemporaries by hatred, to gain revenge on them",5 and Jackson seems very frequently inspired by the same motivation. Indeed, from this perspective it is possible to consider a very wide array of works—from Juvenal (notably the fifteenth satire, on cannibalism in Egypt) to Swift6 to Evelyn Waugh's A Handful of Dust (1934)7—as quasi-weird, because they are all driven by such daemonic misanthropy that they not only hurt but frighten. Perhaps it is this feature that will allow us to sneak in We Have Always Lived in the Castle through the back door of the weird.
It is interesting that The Sundial seems to have been singled out by reviewers for its misanthropy. Harvey Swados snorted: "While Miss Jackson is an intelligent and clever writer, there rises from her pages the cold fishy gleam of a calculated and carefully expressed contempt for the human race" (O 218). There are two problems with this utterance: one, the whole of Jackson's work is refreshingly misanthropic; two, the assumption here (as I have noted in connexion with Bierce) is that there is something necessarily wrong with misanthropy. I do not know that Jackson anywhere offers an explicit philosophical defence of misanthropy, but perhaps she need not have done so: her work makes it obvious that she had little patience for the stupid, the arrogant, the pompous, the complacently bourgeois, the narrowminded, and the spiteful—in other words, she hates all those people whom there is every good reason to hate. Since, therefore, I do not acknowledge any prejudice against misanthropy, I can only relish the exquisite nastiness with which Jackson ordinarily displays it. Such a tale as "Strangers in Town" is to be criticised not because it is misanthropic but because in this instance Jackson's blind hatred has resulted in a failure of that artistry and subtlety uniformly evident in the rest of her work.
The celebrated (but uncollected) "One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts" is worth discussing in this context. This spectacularly nasty story has, in its quiet way, some stupendous implications. A man leaves home in the morning and seems intent on accomplishing nothing but good: he keeps an eye on a boy while his mother runs an errand; he advises a man looking for an apartment as to the availability of one he has just seen; he actually gives a cab driver money and advice for betting on horses. Most remarkably of all, he intentionally stops a young man and a young woman on the street, introduces them to each other, and gives them money to take the day off and have a good time. He is benevolence itself. He comes home, meets his wife, and tells her how his day went. She tells him about hers:
"I had a little nap this afternoon, took it easy most of the day. Went into a department store this morning and accused the woman next to me of shoplifting, and had the store detective pick her up. Sent three dogs to the pound—you know, the usual thing."
They plan the next day:
"Fine," said Mr. Johnson. "But you do look tired. Want to change over tomorrow?"
"I would like to," she said. "I could do with a change."
"Right," said Mr. Johnson.
With such ease can people be sadistically mean and superhumanly philanthropic in turn! The one seems as good a way of passing the time as the other. But the true message of the story, beyond the implication that misanthropy and benevolence can be sloughed off and put on like a cloak, is the idea of manipulation: both misanthropy and benevolence involve a fascistic manipulation of human beings as if they were puppets; and perhaps Jackson's real misanthropy is directed here not at the couple but at the spineless and stupid people who allow the couple to do their dirty or good work with such insouciance.
Manipulation of this sort is what Mrs Orianna Halloran attempts in The Sundial. There may perhaps be some justification in singling out this novel for its misanthropy, since here there are no admirable or likeable characters at all, and each of them is portrayed in the most vitriolic manner: Mrs Halloran, domineering, arrogant, and possibly the murderer of her own son so that no one can stand in the way of her control of the household; Mr Halloran, her husband, broken, feebleminded, lost in dreams of the past; Aunt Fanny, flighty and confused but startlingly bucking Orianna's authority at unexpected moments; Maryjane, an airhead who only wants control of the house and property for herself; Miss Ogilvie, an utterly ineffectual longtime family retainer; Essex, a sycophant who seeks only to forward his own cause; Augusta Willow, a blowsy matron who wants nothing more than to marry off her two sullen daughters, Julia and Arabella; Gloria, a possibly disturbed young woman with apparently precognitive powers; even little Fancy, Maryjane's young daughter, whose sweet exterior hides a lust for power and control scarcely less intense than that of Mrs Halloran.
This is the eccentric crowd Jackson gathers for her pseudo-apocalyptic tale; and it can scarcely be doubted that, if nothing else, it represents the most extreme contrast possible with the love, warmth, and unity of Jackson's own family as recorded (with perhaps no little exaggeration) in her domestic fiction. The ease with which everyone is convinced—or claims to be convinced—of Aunt Fanny's notion that the world will end (she claims to have heard it from the spirit of her dead father) is certainly meant is a testament to human stupidity. It is conceivable, however, that Mrs Halloran only goes along with the idea as a means of maintaining control of the household, since she immediately begins laying down orders on preparing for the disaster and makes it abundantly clear that she will be the queen of the new civilisation that the family will have to found once all the other people in the world are eliminated.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle is Jackson's most unrestrainedly misanthropic work. Here hatred is everywhere: "The people of the village have always hated us" (W 11); "I wished they were dead" (W 15); "our father said they [the villagers] were trash" (W 17). Let us hear what Merricat feels for the townsfolk:
I wish you were all dead, I thought, and longed to say it out loud. Constance said, "Never let them see that you care," and "If you pay any attention they'll only get worse," and probably it was true, but I wished they were dead. I would have liked to come into the grocery some morning and see them all, even the Elberts and the children, lying there crying with the pain and dying. I would then help myself to groceries, I thought, stepping over their bodies, taking whatever I fancied from the shelves, and go home, with perhaps a kick for Mrs. Donell while she lay there. I was never sorry when I had thoughts like this; I only wished they would come true. "It's wrong to hate them," Constance said, "it only weakens you," but I hated them anyway, and wondered why it had been worth while creating them in the first place.
That last sentence rather reminds me of Lucretius' celebrated utterance against the argument from design: Quidve mali fuerat nobis non esse creatis? ("What harm would it have been had we never been created?") (De Rerum Natura 5.174). In any case, I actually believe we are meant to agree with Merricat's sentiments here, outrageous as they seem: note that when Constance chides her for hating the townsfolk, it is not because such a hatred is abstractly immoral but that "it only weakens you". Constance is recommending a sort of bland indifference as an even purer form of misanthropy than active hatred. The whole novel, in any event, asks us to sympathise with the Blackwoods and not the townsfolk.
Anyone who has written works with such titles as "The Lovely House", "The House", "Louisa, Please Come Home", "The Little House", "Home", The Haunting of Hill House, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle must find great inspiration from dwellings. These tales by no means exhaust the catalogue of "house" stories in Jackson's work, and we must add at least The Sundial and, indeed, both volumes of domestic fiction to the list.
Those domestic volumes are again the logical starting-point for the analysis of the house theme in Jackson. It is not simply that the house functions benignly in these books whereas it is sinister, evil, confining, and inhibiting in her other work; the relation is again more complex than that. Recall our discussion of "The House" (1952), the quasi-supernatural tale whose first section alone was included at the very beginning of Life among the Savages. It is no surprise that the supernatural component of the story would be excised in its new setting; but the mere context has robbed the house in the story of its subtly evil character. The narrative of moving into this imposing but ramshackle house takes on a seriocomic quality, as in the book Jackson's children play a greater role, dispersing the potentially chilling atmosphere with their boisterous high spirits. The message is clear: in the domestic fiction a house is not in itself a cheering and heartwarming environment, but becomes so through the love and closeness of the family occupying it. It is exactly these emotions that are lacking in Jackson's other work, whether it be in such a non-supernatural satire as The Road through the Wall or in a quasi-supernatural one as The Sundial. In both these instances the house becomes cold and unwelcoming only because the inhabitants themselves exhibit these same feelings toward each other.
Even in those stories in which the house itself remains relatively passive, the hostility of its occupants or of the outside community render the house something akin to a prison. Neither "The Summer People" nor "The Little House" focuses upon the house as such; but in both tales it takes on foreboding qualities. In the former the elderly couple's summer house becomes a virtual tomb when the couple decides to extend its stay beyond Labor Day. In the latter, the spitefulness of eldery neighbours causes a perfectly innocuous house to appear a death-trap to its new owner, who flees in terror.
And yet, to Jackson's mind—at once conditioned to the domestic pieties of the 1950s and rebelling against them—the house is an unavoidable fixture regardless of what dire qualities it takes on. Even at the beginning of We Have Always Lived in the Castle Constance is afraid of leaving the house (W 29), although it has become, for all practical purposes, a grave for her. Her life after the poisoning of her family has been reduced to its walls—with, perhaps, fleeting moments on the grounds—but she regards it at least as a haven against the scorn of the townspeople. And even after much of the house is burned and rendered uninhabitable, Constance and Merricat choose to remain there, calmly and even whimsically reshaping their lives to within an even smaller compass. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is Jackson's most searing parody of domesticity: all the things that made the domestic stories so wholesome and touching—love between the family members; the antics of children; the comical excess of furniture, toys, and food; the sense of belonging to a community—have here been perverted. And yet, Constance and Merricat seem strangely content with their impoverished circumstances; and indeed, is it really so bad? They at least have each other.
In The Sundial even this comfort is lacking. Each member of this lunatic household clings, like Constance and Merricat, to the belief that the house alone will represent safety and sanctuary even when the rest of the world is destroyed; but amongst the occupants themselves there is no harmony, only struggles for supremacy, covert affairs, and bungled attempts to escape. Because the outside world so rarely figures in this novel, the house itself becomes the world—it is as if there really is nothing beyond it. Is Jackson saying that the rest of the world functions as the Halloran household does? Is there no harmony or love to be found anywhere?
The Haunting of Hill House is, of course, Jackson's most profound and searching treatment of the house theme; its opening paragraph sets the tone, and I cannot resist quoting it in spite of its celebrity:
No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream: Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.
I confess, however, to an uncertainty as to what this is exactly supposed to mean. It is interesting that here insanity is linked to the perception of "absolute reality": I am not so much concerned with quoting T. S. Eliot ("Human kind cannot bear very much reality") as with ascertaining the precise applicability of the remark. Hill House is a place where the superficial masks and deceptions of life are stripped off: it is where Eleanor comes to terms with the wretchedness of her prior life, sees through the sham of Luke's and Theodora's arch lightheartedness, and realises that she belongs here—because, in fact, she belongs nowhere. A later passage might shed further light on this enigmatic opening:
This house, which seemed somehow to have formed itself, flying together into its own powerful pattern under the hands of its builders, fitting itself into its own construction of lines and angles, reared its great head back against the sky without concession to humanity. It was a house without kindness, never meant to be lived in, not a fit place for people or for love or for hope. Exorcism cannot alter the countenance of a house; Hill House would stay as it was until it was destroyed.
Curiously, the remark that the house "was not a fit place for … love" is perhaps contradicted by the denouement, for in its twisted way Hill House does love Eleanor—it wants her, it won't let her leave, it perhaps kills her when she tries to go away.
But if whatever walks in Hill House walks alone, are we not to see in this Jackson's ultimate metaphor for loneliness? A house should represent safety, comfort, welcome; but in this house, as Dr Montague notes, "'the intention is, somehow, to separate us'" (HH 96)—to render each person alone and lonely. If Jackson sees togetherness as the natural and desirable state for human beings, then Hill House, which causes loneliness, is an abomination and even a paradox; if it makes no "concession to humanity", then it has defied the very beings who have created it and inverts the purposes for which it was built.
What do we make of Shirley Jackson? Is she a weird writer even in part? That second question I am still unable to answer in any definitive way, save to note the obvious supernaturalism in a fairly representative core of her work. If The Haunting of Hill House is one of the greatest haunted house novels ever written, if "The Lottery" is among the cruellest non-supernatural horror stories ever written, what do we do with something so nebulous as The Sundial or "The Lovely House"? I hope, at any rate, to have suggested the tightly knit unity of Jackson's work, its constant reworking of the interlocking themes of domesticity and loneliness, love and hate, madness and sanity, society and the individual; and I hope we can now see how each of these threads is pursued successively in tales that, from the point of view of genre, might be termed supernatural, non-supernatural, mainstream, or autobiographical. It is true that Jackson, even in her avowedly supernatural work, presents no coherent metaphysics: her supernatural manifestations fail to suggest any putative reordering of the cosmos. But if she lacks the cosmic perspective of a Lovecraft, a Blackwood, or a Dunsany (or, indeed, of a Ramsey Campbell or T. E. D. Klein), if her focus is solely on human characters and human relationships, with even the supernatural phenomena subservient to or symbols for these relationships, then she at least distinguishes herself by the intensity, accuracy, and subtlety of her portrayal of human concerns; as with Bierce, her pitiless and sardonic exposing of human weakness makes her a horrific satirist who does not require the supernatural to arouse fear and horror. Her icy prose, clinical detachment, and utterly refreshing glee at the exhibition of human greed, misery, and evil ought to give her a high rank in general literature; that she chose to devote even a part of her talents to the weird is something for which we ought all to be grateful.
1. Jackson's year of birth is usually given as 1919, a date she herself gave in later years; but her biographer, Judy Oppenheimer, has determined that Jackson was actually born on December 14, 1916, and that 1919 was given as the year of her birth so that she could seem to be younger than her husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman (see O 11, 88).
2. An excellent and comprehensive bibliography of Jackson's short work can be found in Joan Wylie Hall's recent volume, Shirley Jackson: A Study of the Short Fiction (1993). In my bibliography I include only important uncollected items. For books, asterisks indicate the edition cited in the text.
3. "The House", Woman's Day 15, No. 8 (May 1952): 116.
4. Ibid., p. 118.
5. Lovecraft: A Study in the Fantastic, tr. S. T. Joshi (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1988), p. 14.
6. See Dale J. Nelson, "Arthur Jermyn Was a Yahoo: Swift and Modern Horror Fiction", Studies in Weird Fiction No. 7 (Spring 1990): 3-7.
7. A chapter from this novel, "Du côté de chez Todd", has frequently been included in horror anthologies under the title "The Man Who Liked Dickens". It is one of the nastiest contes cruels ever written.
The Bird's Nest. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1954. Rpt. The Magic of Shirley Jackson. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1966, pp. 147-380. [B]
Come Along with Me. Ed. Stanley Edgar Hyman. New York: Viking, 1968. Rpt. New York: Popular Library, n.d. [C]
Hangsaman. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1951. Rpt. New York: Popular Library, 1976. [H]
The Haunting of Hill House. New York: Viking, 1959. Rpt. New York: Popular Library, 1977. [HH]
Life among the Savages. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1953. Rpt. The Magic of Shirley Jackson. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1966, pp. 383-530. [LS]
The Lottery. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1949. Rpt. New York: Popular Library, n.d. [L]
Raising Demons. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1957. Rpt. The Magic of Shirley Jackson. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1966, pp. 531-753. [RD]
The Road through the Wall. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1948.
The Sundial. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1958. Rpt. New York: Ace, n.d. [S]
We Have Always Lived in the Castle. New York: Viking, 1962. Rpt. New York: Popular Library, n.d. [W]
II. UNCOLLECTED SHORT STORIES AND ARTICLES
"'All She Said Was "Yes."'" Vogue 140, No. 8 (1 November 1962): 142-43, 169, 171, 174-75.
"Behold the Child among His Newborn Blisses." In Cross-Section: A Collection of New American Writing, ed. Edwin Seaver. New York: L. B. Fisher, 1944, pp. 292-98.
"The Birthday Party." Vogue 141, No. 1 (1 January 1963): 118, 145-46, 149, 154. (Rev. version of "Pajama Party".)
"Bulletin." Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction 6, No. 3 (March 1953): 46-48. Rpt. The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction: Fourth Series, ed. Anthony Boucher. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1955, pp. 182-85.
"Daughter, Come Home." Charm 60, No. 3 (May 1944): 75, 94-95.
"Fame." The Writer 61, No. 8 (August 1948): 265-66.
"Family Magician." Woman's Home Companion, September 1949, pp. 23, 92-93, 98, 100.
"A Great Voice Stilled." Playboy 7, No. 3 (March 1960): 57-58, 91.
"Home." Ladies' Home Journal 82, No. 8 (August 1965): 64-65, 116, 118.
"Journey with a Lady." Harper's 205, No. 1 (July 1952): 76-81. Rpt. Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine 31, No. 6 (June 1958) (as "This Is the Life").
"Karen's Complaint." Good Housekeeping 149, No. 5 (November 1959): 38, 40, 42, 46.
"The Lost Kingdom of Oz." Reporter 21, No. 10 (10 December 1959): 42-43.
"The Lovely Night." Collier's 125, No. 14 (8 April 1950): 15, 66-68.
"The Missing Girl." Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction 13, No. 6 (December 1957): 42-52.
"The Omen." Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction 14, No. 3 (March 1958): 118-30.
"On Being a Faculty Wife." Mademoiselle 44, No. 2 (December 1956): 116-17, 135-36. In RD (in part).
"One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts." Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction 8, No. 1 (January 1955): 53-61. Rpt. The Best American Short Stories 1956, ed. Martha Foley. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1956, pp. 195-204.
"The Possibility of Evil." Saturday Evening Post 238, No. 25 (18 December 1965): 61-64, 68-69.
"Root of Evil." Fantastic 2, No. 2 (March-April 1953): 124-29, 162. Rpt. Fantastic 18, No. 5 (June 1969): 123-27, 140.
"The Strangers." Collier's 129, No. 19 (10 May 1952): 24, 68-71.
"Strangers in Town." Saturday Evening Post 231, No. 48 (30 May 1959): 18, 76-77, 79.
"The Wishing Dime." Good Housekeeping 129, No. 3 (September 1949): 35, 223-28.
Egan, James. "Sanctuary: Shirley Jackson's Domestic and Fantastic Parables." Studies in Weird Fiction No. 6 (Fall 1989): 15-24.
Friedman, Lenemaja. Shirley Jackson. Boston: Twayne, 1980.
Hall, Joan Wylie. Shirley Jackson: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1993.
Oppenheimer, Judy. Private Demons: The Life of Shirley Jackson. New York: Putnam's, 1988. [O]
Parks, John G. "Chambers of Yearning: Shirley Jackson's Use of the Gothic." Twentieth Century Literature 30 (1984): 15-29.
DAVID A. OAKES (ESSAY DATE WINTER 1999)
SOURCE: Oakes, David A. "Ghosts in the Machines: The Haunted Castle in the Works of Stephen King and Clive Barker." Studies in Weird Fiction 24 (winter 1999): 25-33.
In the following essay, Oakes highlights the modernization and transformation of the traditional Gothic setting of the haunted castle in works by Stephen King and Clive Barker.
Imagine, for a moment, that you are sitting down to read Stephen King's disturbing short novel, The Mist. However, instead of being a frightening tale of a group of people trapped in a grocery store by a sinister mist that hides fantastic creatures, you find the novel to be a mildly amusing diversion because it tells how the mist engulfs and traps David Drayton and his friends in a castle. Envision how strange King's "Trucks" would be if the truck stop being besieged by the vehicles was a large castle. What if Clive Barker's "The Hellbound Heart" did not require the use of a puzzle box to summon the Cenobites, but, rather, demanded that the characters travel to the ruins of an ancient fortress to summon these strange entities? Or suppose that Arnie Cunningham, in King's Christine, purchased and decided to repair a castle possessed by a ghost rather than the cursed red-and-white Plymouth Fury? Although the haunted castle was a crucial, even indispensable, element of early works of Gothic literature, the use of it in an unchanged form in contemporary settings can considerably lessen the impact of the tale or the fear generated by the events of the story. Thus, in order for Gothic fiction to remain an effective genre, the haunted castle needs to evolve and change to continue to be relevant to readers in different times and societies.
The genre of Gothic fiction is a literature of destabilization in that it inspires its readers to ask questions about themselves, their society, and the cosmos surrounding them. Further, it serves as a cultural artifact, reflecting the concerns and fears not only of the time in which it is written, but also of the time in which it is read. Gothic literature is defined not only by what effects it has on readers, but also by a series of elements that appear time and again in works of this genre. The most prominent and common element of Gothic literature is the haunted castle and its later derivations. The haunted castle often serves as the center of supernatural activity, acts as a symbol of the past, and functions as the main source of danger and suspense within a work of Gothic fiction. In his 1927 study, The Haunted Castle, Eino Railo notes that the castle serves as a "scene of innumerable horrors, capable of touching the imagination each time we see it" (7). He believes that the haunted castle
plays an exceedingly important part in [Gothic fiction]; so important, indeed, that were it eliminated the whole fabric of romance would be bereft of its foundation and would lose its predominant atmosphere.
The importance of this element comes, in part, from the connection of the term "Gothic" with architecture in the eighteenth century. Many of the earliest works of Gothic literature, such as Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, are set in the Middle Ages or the Renaissance, and therefore utilize a castle as the setting for the events of the story.
As cultural artifacts, many works of Gothic fiction change the way in which the haunted castle is presented in order to remain relevant to their time and setting. Even in the earliest works of Gothic literature, the haunted castle undergoes changes and appears in different manifestations. For example, Eino Railo notes that Clara Reeve in The Old English Baron is the writer who, "for the first time," makes "deliberate use of an empty suite of rooms [that is] supposed to be haunted" (8). Another manifestation of the haunted castle appears in the form of "the old abbey and monastery" as can be seen in Matthew Gregory Lewis's The Monk. Similarly, Charles Brockden Brown, the first American Gothic writer, transforms the haunted castle into a wilderness, a realm of spirits and fantastic events, as he adapts the Gothic form to an American setting. Other writers of the nineteenth century, such as J. Sheridan LeFanu and Ambrose Bierce, change the haunted castle into a haunted house, in part, so their tales could be placed in contemporary settings.
Furthermore, as Railo notes, as time passes the
haunted room becomes the laboratory of workers of magic, of alchemists, the secret research room of a modern scientist—becomes, in general, the mysterious hidden chamber where the terrifying element is housed. Each age fashions this centre of suspense to conform with its own new experiences and inventions, but for the reader aware of its history it is an easy task to strip off the modern equipment, when it stands confessed as merely a new rendering of the old picture of the haunted castle.
Thus, in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the haunted castle becomes the laboratory of an ambitious scientist. This particular manifestation again appears in Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Birthmark". Further, the process continues in the twentieth century with the haunted house of Shirley Jackson's 1959 tale, The Haunting of Hill House, and the merging of the haunted house and laboratory in Richard Matheson's 1971 novel, Hell House. It manifests itself as a lost city in H. P. Lovecraft's 1931 novel, At the Mountains of Madness. Although its forms appear vastly different from those in the eighteenth century, the haunted castle continues to serve as crucial tool in the process of destabilization. Indeed, this element of Gothic fiction can continue to be found in the works of such late twentieth-century Gothic writers as Stephen King and Clive Barker. The haunted castle appears in a vast array of forms in King's fiction: a red-and-white 1958 Plymouth Fury in Christine, a grocery store in The Mist, and a flying saucer in The Tommyknockers. Clive Barker presents the haunted castle as a man's private hell in "Down, Satan!", a puzzle box in "The Hellbound Heart", and as an ancient wizard in The Damnation Game. These manifestations play a vital role in laying the foundation for creating fear in each tale. Moreover, they not only demonstrate the genius of King and Barker in adapting this element for a twentieth-century setting, but also illustrate why Gothic literature continues to exist as a unique and identifiable genre.
Although the haunted castle has proven to be a very adaptable element in the works of various Gothic writers, it has often been limited in one way—it remains at a fixed location, necessitating the bringing of the characters to that particular site. However, Stephen King removes this limitation in Christine by presenting the haunted castle in the form of a car. Indeed, the use of the Plymouth Fury is particularly effective because it invokes a cultural artifact by calling upon the fascination many teenagers, especially males, feel for cars:
Engines. That's something else about being a teenager. There are all these engines, and somehow you end up with the ignition keys to some of them and you start them up but you don't know what … they are or what they're supposed to do. There are clues, but that's all…. They give you the keys and some clues and they say, Start it up, see what it will do, and sometimes what it does is pull you along into a life that's really good and fulfilling, and sometimes what it does is pull you right down the highway to hell and leave you mangled and bleeding by the roadside.
Tony Magistrale observes in Landscape of Fear that the car acts as "a great mirror of America itself", representing "prosperity" and "an infatuation with … speed" (46). There are, however, disturbing aspects to this fascination because this haunted car also illustrates how this captivation with an object can lead to disaster if it comes to dominate a person's life as it does the young Arnie Cunningham.
Further, Christine functions as a symbol of the past because the vehicle was first made in the 1950s, a time within American mythology that is often viewed as a golden age of prosperity when things were simpler and less complicated. Indeed, the car plays upon desires to return to a simpler time, and demonstrates their dangers. It can transport the people within its confines back to the 1950s. Dennis Guilder experiences such a trip on a ride with Arnie:
Arnie stopped at intersections where we should have had the right-of-way; at others, where traffic lights glowed red, he cruised Christine mildly through without even slowing. On Main Street I saw Shipstad's Jewelry Store and the Strand Theater, both of them torn down in 1972 to make way for the new Pennsylvania Merchants Bank. The cars parked along the street—gathered here and there in clumps where New Year's Eve parties were going on—all seemed to be pre-60s … or pre-1958. Long portholed Buicks. A DeSoto Firelite station wagon with a body-long blue inset that looked like a check-mark…. Ramblers, Packards, a few bullet-nosed Studebakers, and once, fantastical and new, an Edsel.
Roland D. LeBay views the 1950s as a golden age, a time when he finds happiness in a new car that fulfills his dreams. Passengers see visions of the era LeBay loves, but it is one that has vanished forever. The visions within Christine are illusions, real only for Christine and LeBay. The haunted car is a trap for Arnie, drawing him back to a time that no longer exists, and removing him from the present to live in an illusory world, one that will not allow him to grow as a person and one that essentially dooms him to destruction.
One of the most important aspects of Christine is its mobility. The Plymouth Fury becomes the home of the ghost of its first owner, Roland D. LeBay, after his death. It serves as the central locus of the supernatural activity within the novel, and this car also opens some unusual possibilities in using the fantastic. An automobile is not limited to one location, magnifying Christine's threat because it can attack people in remote locations instead of waiting for individuals to enter its domain like the ghost of Emeric Belasco in Matheson's Hell House. The car's mobility proves to be particularly disturbing, for it means that there are no safe havens into which people can retreat to escape the influence of the fantastic. In the case where the haunted castle's manifestation is at a fixed location, the vast majority of the people usually enjoy a degree of safety if they do not venture to that place. Yet, in Christine's case, the car may seek people out in their homes or in locations that would ordinarily be considered secure. Moreover, the vehicle's ability to regenerate itself means that it can take a tremendous amount of damage and still continue to run, allowing it to penetrate areas, such as a brick house, that may seem inaccessible.
Another destabilizing aspect of Christine's mobility and regenerative abilities comes at the end of the novel. King concludes with hints that Christine appears to restore herself again after being smashed to pieces by a truck. Dennis Guilder speculates that the haunted car has returned:
Of course it's impossible, but it was all impossible to start with.
I keep thinking of George LeBay in Ohio.
His sister in Colorado.
Leigh in New Mexico.
What if it's started again?
What if it's working its way east, finishing the job?
Saving me for last?
[LeBay's] single-minded purpose.
His unending fury.
In these lines, King not only suggests that the supernatural power of this haunted car cannot be dispelled, but also, unlike a haunted castle or house, this force can seek out and hunt down new victims, meaning that there may be no escape from Christine.
Stephen King's The Mist presents another variation on the haunted castle in that he presents two different candidates for the manifestation of this element within the tale. The creation of the mist itself and its subsequent engulfing of towns and cities transforms civilized areas into wilderness. Any area within the confines of the mist basically becomes a haunted wilderness, filled with the unknown and danger. King demonstrates this fact through the dire fates of those, such as Brent Norton and The Flat-Earth Society, who refuse to accept the reality of the mist and the creature within it and foolishly choose to venture forth into its confines:
And from out of the mist there came a high, wavering scream. It was impossible to tell the sex of the screamer…. The howl was abruptly cut off. There was no sound at all for what seemed to be forever. Then the old lady cried out—this time there could be no doubt about who it was.
"Git it offa me!" she screamed. "Oh my Lord my Lord get it—"Then her voice was cut off, too.
The dangerous creatures lurking within the mist's confines make venturing forth into its confines an extremely dangerous proposition, especially given the fact that humans are deprived of their primary source of protection from danger—their vision.
Yet, although King surrounds the survivors who are trapped in the grocery store with what amounts to a haunted wilderness, he also makes the supermarket into a haunted castle. When confronted by the dangers within the mist, a large number of people decide to wait within the confines of the store because it provides the food and drink they need to survive. This method of survival, waiting for the danger to pass, while not as foolhardy as the one chosen by Brent Norton, is still presented as a hazardous choice. The people trapped in the mist do not simply deal with small creatures; they also face gargantuan beasts such as the one David Drayton and his companions see as they attempt to escape the confines of the mist:
It was six-legged, I know that … and clinging to it were scores, hundreds, of those pinkish "bugs" with the stalk-eyes. I don't how big it actually was, but it passed directly over us. One of its gray, wrinkled legs smashed down right beside my window, and Mrs. Reppler said later she could not see the underside ofits body, although she craned her neck up to look. She saw only two Cyclopean legs going up and up into the mist like living towers until they were lost to sight.
Given the size of this creature and others like it in the mist, the supermarket is only a temporary safe haven. The novel rejects inaction; the people who stay in the grocery store accept a new reality, but still hide from the world rather than trying to escape it. A refusal to struggle against the unknown is a capitulation to fear. The people who stay leave themselves at the mercy of the unknown instead of taking control of their destiny, and also almost turn themselves into living ghosts, figments of a vanished society who will simply wait to die. Indeed, as David Drayton and his friends depart in his "Scout", he drives past the supermarket and sees "at each loophole there were two or three pales face, staring out at us" (147). There is good reason these faces are "pale" for, in all probability, it will only be a matter of time before they actually die, ending the living death to which they have consigned themselves.
Within The Mist, the best option for surviving the haunted castle and wilderness is to simply escape them. The people in the grocery store live in a haunted castle, becoming living ghosts who desperately yearn to return to their familiar, lost world. The mist transforms civilized areas into a wilderness full of threatening predators. The only hope for restoration is for individuals to confront their fears and journey into that wilderness in the hope that they may somehow escape it. David Drayton and his friends are the only ones who are brave enough to make an effort to find the limits of the mist. Indeed, even if they do not ultimately escape the confines of the mist, a possibility which each reader must determine since King makes the ending ambiguous, they are still the only ones who have a chance to survive.
Like H. P. Lovecraft's "The Dreams in the Witch House" and Richard Matheson's Hell House, King's The Tommyknockers is a variation on the haunted house tale. King also follows their lead by linking science, technology, and the supernatural in presenting his haunted house as a flying saucer. However, whereas Lovecraft and Matheson use science to explain the supernatural, King does not; he simply uses a scientific and technological environment as a setting for the supernatural. The flying saucer has been buried near Haven for millions of years, and the aliens are dead:
They're dead, Gard! Your Tommyknockers were real enough, but they were mortal, and this ship has been here for at least fifty million years. The glacier broke around it! It covered it but it couldn't move it. Not even all those tons of ice could move it…. They're dead, Gard.
However, the ghosts of the aliens linger in their vessel, waiting to possess new bodies. Jim Gardener actually calls the ship "a haunted house whose demons might still walk between the walls and in the hollow places" (500).
This flying saucer represents the past because it is millions of years old; but King reinforces the idea by establishing a series of similarities between the aliens and humanity. The parallels between the races make the aliens a mirror of the worst aspects of human civilization. One parallel emerges from the capacity of both species for violence. Many people, like Jim and Bobbi Anderson, assume an intelligent race of aliens will be benevolent, but this idea soon falls apart:
Remember how we always assumed a technologically advanced race of beings would be, if one made contact with us? We thought they'd be smart like Mr. Wizard and wise like Robert Young on Father Knows Best. Well, here's the truth, Bobbi. The ship crashed because they were having a fight….
Look, Bobbi. See how dark the claws are. That's blood, or whatever they had inside them. It's on the claws because they did most of the damage. The place sure as shit didn't look like the bridge of the starship Enterprise before it crashed. Just before it hit, it probably looked more like a free-for-all cock-fight out behind some redneck's barn. This is progress, Bobbi?
The discovery of these corpses reveals a race as capable of extreme violence as humanity. King presents a disillusioning vision that intelligent races may not leave behind dark traits as they become more advanced.
Indeed, this alien society shares one of humanity's most abhorrent and despicable institutions—slavery. One room in the flying saucer is "full of hammocks suspended in metal frames" which contain the dead bodies of aliens "CHAINED" inside them (619). The aliens keep members of their own race as "galley slaves" to be the "ship's drive" (619). The novel reinforces the bond between the aliens and humans by showing how the people of Haven do not hesitate to use slaves as well:
He [Jim] was unable to take his eyes from the leftrear corner of the shed, where Ev Hillman, Anne Anderson, and Bobbi's good old beagle Peter had somehow been hung up on posts in two old galvanized steel shower cabinets with their doors removed. They hung there like slabs of beef on meathooks. But they were alive …
A thick black cord which looked like a high-voltage line or a very big coaxial cable ran out of the center of Anne Anderson's forehead. A similar cable ran out of the old man's right eye. And the entire top of the dog's skull had been peeled away; dozens of smaller cords ran out of Peter's exposed and pulsing brain.
Ev, Anne, and Peter are "living batteries" (575). The use of slaves by the aliens and humanity is disturbing because supposedly civilized and advanced societies use this barbaric institution, raising one of the most troubling and tragic periods of the past. Furthermore, the flying saucer also poses a threat to the future because if the aliens succeed in completing their takeover of Haven, the excavation of their ship, and, perhaps, the conquest of the Earth, human society will change into a civilization that is a reflection of the darkest aspects of its past and present.
The haunted castle takes on many different forms, such as a car or flying saucer, in Stephen King's works of Gothic fiction, but it takes on some of its strangest and most imaginative manifestations in the works of Clive Barker. Barker presents one unusual variation in his short story, "Down, Satan!", where he depicts a man who constructs his own private hell. An important aspect of Gregorius' New Hell is the fact that it does not appear to have a long history because it is a new creation. Yet this building does come to be endowed with a far longer history than many of the haunted castles that appear in other works of Gothic fiction. The New Hell is based on one of the oldest legends created by humanity. Many ancient cultures, including the Greek and Roman civilizations, have their own versions of Hell where those who commit evil deeds are punished for their sins. Indeed, in constructing his Hell, Gregorius consults "the great libraries of the world … for descriptions of hells both secular and metaphysical" along with "museum vaults … for forbidden images of martyrdom" (186). Moreover, "no stone was left unturned if it was suspected something perverse was concealed beneath" (186-87). Gregorius' New Hell, although a product of human technology and twisted ingenuity, embodies a long tradition of infernal images and tortures. Furthermore, Gregorius specifically desires to build a "modern inferno" that is "so monstrous that the Tempter would be tempted, and come to roost there like a cuckoo in a usurped nest" (186). The New Hell also comes to be embodied with a sense of antiquity because it has been designed to attract the oldest source of evil within the Judaeo-Christian tradition.
However, a far more disturbing possibility emerges from the story than the New Hell serving as the haunted castle, and attracting Satan to establish a new, terrifying dominion on Earth. Barker suggests that the true haunted castle may be the twisted mind of Gregorius who envisions this New Hell, and becomes its overlord after its completion. After he has been left alone in New Hell, Gregorius believes that he detects the presence of Satan in "noises" he hears "from the lower depths" (188). Although he believes he hears these sounds, he never discovers Satan, and Barker presents the references to these noises in the context of their being heard by Gregorius, raising the possibility that he may be imagining it. Indeed, when he is arrested, Gregorius himself, along with a "few disciples whom he'd mustered over the years", is the actual master of New Hell, seeing to it that "there was not a torture device in the building they had not made thorough and merciless use of" (190). Barker raises the disturbing notion, as other writers of Gothic fiction such as Edgar Allan Poe have done before, that the ultimate haunted castle lies within the human mind. The possibility exists that all the suffering and evil that takes place in New Hell do not come from Satan, but from the twisted mind of one wealthy individual who possesses the wherewithal to make his dark visions into a reality. Indeed, perhaps the most frightening idea to emerge from "Down, Satan!" is that humans no longer need the Devil because we have become as efficient and as creative in the production of evil and suffering as Lucifer himself.
One important aspect of the haunted car in King's Christine comes from mobility. Clive Barker also presents two variations of the haunted castle that can move from place to place in "The Hellbound Heart" and The Damnation Game. A small puzzle box known as the Lemarchand Configuration serves as the locus of supernatural activity within "The Hellbound Heart". One important aspect of the Lemarchand Configuration is its mobility, as it can be easily transported from one user to another as well as to different locations, enabling the Cenobites and the Order of the Gash to claim new voyagers into the greater realms of pleasure and pain. Indeed, just as Gregorius creates his own haunted castle, those who choose to use the puzzle box often do so of their own free will. For example, Frank undergoes extensive preparation in summoning the Cenobites, including having "a jug of his urine—the product of seven days' collection" on hand "should they require some spontaneous gesture of self-defilement" (187). Such preparations indicate that Frank chooses to follow this path, leading to his own destruction and eternal suffering for his spirit. Thus, the Lemarchand Configuration not only gives Barker the opportunity to present strange entities from another realm, but also allows him to comment again on the darkness that lurks within human beings.
The Lemarchand Configuration, by virtue of its mobility and its ability to summon the Cenobites, also transforms the location where it is opened into a manifestation of the haunted castle. It changes the room and the house where Frank summons them into the world into a haunted realm filled with the horrors created by a group of ancient entities who dwell in another dimension. In fact, even after the Cenobites depart Frank's room, the taint of the ritual remains to bring renewed suffering to others in the right circumstances. Barker describes such an occurrence after Frank restores himself to a semblance of life when his brother, Rory, bleeds in the room where the summoner had been dragged to damnation:
He [Frank] had been lucky. Some prisoners had departed from the world without leaving sufficient sign of themselves from which, given an adequate collision of circumstances, their bodies might be remade. He had. Almost his last act, bar the shouting, had been to empty his testicles onto the floor. Dead sperm was a meager keepsake of his essential self, but enough. When dear brother Rory (sweet butter-fingered Rory) had let his chisel slip, there was something of Frank to profit from the pain. He had found a fingerhold for himself, and a glimpse of strength with which he might haul himself to safety.
Summoners of the Cenobites, such as Frank, condemn themselves to eternal suffering, but if they manage to break free of this other dimension, they can bring pain and misery to innocent people. After Frank returns, his lover, Julia, seeks out victims for him to feast on in order to restore his body. Rory becomes a unwitting victim, and Frank's niece, Kirsty, also almost becomes consumed by her uncle's efforts at restoration. Thus, although summoners of the Cenobites may deserve their fate because they freely chose their destiny, the potential is there for the taint of this darkness to expand and claim innocent victims, suggesting that seekers of new experiences must be careful lest they bring harm to those who do not deserve it.
The embodiment of the haunted castle in Barker's The Damnation Game, a centuries-old wizard known as Mamoulian, shares many similarities with the Lemarchand Configuration in terms of those who seek him out. Those individuals who seek out Mamoulian, like those who summon the Cenobites, often do so of their own free will, whether that emerge from a desire to explore new areas of life or to engage in the ultimate game of chance. Joseph Whitehead, the man who serves as the focus of Mamoulian's wrath within the novel, seeks the wizard out for the ultimate game of chance after the thief hears rumors about an individual who "never lost a game, and who came and went in this deceitful city like a creature who was not, perhaps, even real" (6). And since Mamoulian is a living entity, it is easier for him to bring harm to innocents who happen to get in his way in his quest for vengeance on Whitehead than those who accidently stumble upon the Cenobites.
Mamoulian, like the Lemarchand Configuration, can also taint and transform the areas where he dwells or travels, making them into centers of supernatural power. Barker makes an important observation when he notes that "most of" the "miracles" caused by the immense powers of the Last European "were slipped with such cunning behind the facade of ordinary life that only the sharpest-sighted, or those in search of the unlikely, caught a glimpse of the Apocalypse showing its splendors to a sun-bleached city" (277). He illustrates the changes Mamoulian can make in an environment when he describes Whitehead's estate. Barker makes the house seem like a throwback to the Middle Ages because the menace of Mamoulian drives Whitehead to adopt a siege mentality and to protect himself with guard dogs, video monitors, and electric fences "topped by sharpened steel struts" and "crowned with spirals of barbed wire" (65-66). In effect, even though Mamoulian may not be physically present at Whitehead's estate, his threat haunts Whitehead to such a degree that he changes what should be a comfortable, palatial estate into a fortress where he cowers behind multiple defenses, hiding from the specter of his past.
Barker puts another interesting twist into the character of Mamoulian: not only can the Last European warp areas by virtue of his presence, but he also serves as a location unto himself, as he can bring individuals into a realm located within him:
Finally, the thief understood. This place, which he'd glimpsed in the sauna at the Sanctuary, existed within the European. These ghosts were creatures he'd devoured. Evangeline! Even she. They waited, the tattered remains of them, in this no-man's-land between flesh and death, until Mamoulian sickened of existence and lay down and perished. Then they too, presumably, would have their liberty. Until then their faces would make that soundless O at him, a melancholy appeal.
Mamoulian possesses the power to create a world within himself where he can trap human souls, reinforcing his role as the manifestation of the haunted castle within the novel and the center of the supernatural power and suspense in the tale.
Stephen King and Clive Barker have both made use of manifestations of the haunted castle within their fiction. Their use of this element of Gothic demonstrates the genre's ability to adapt itself to contemporary settings. Instead of an ancient mouldering fortress, the haunted castle appears as a car, a flying saucer, a puzzle box, and even a human wizard. However, the importance of the haunted castle does not simply emerge from its versatility. It also comes from the important role it can play in developing the overall themes of a particular work of Gothic fiction. Stephen King and Clive Barker make the haunted castle far more than the locus of supernatural events or a symbol of the past. King, for example, uses Christine, the haunted car, to comment on the obsession people can develop for cars and the dangers of becoming fixated with the past. In The Tommyknockers, the flying saucer serves as a reflection of the dark side of human society, and of the dangers human society may face in the future if it should follow this same path. Clive Barker's New Hell in "Down, Satan!" makes the disturbing suggestion that the evil that lurks within humans may be greater than the darkness of Satan. Similarly, the Lemarchand Configuration of "The Hellbound Heart" exposes the dangers to innocents that may arise from those who recklessly seek to explore the limits of human knowledge and endurance. The appearance of the haunted castle within the fiction of Stephen King and Clive Barker in a multiplicity of different forms is a reflection of the ability of writers of the Gothic genre to mould and shape its elements to suit a constantly changing world. Indeed, this mutability demonstrates that Gothic literature will continue to be a vibrant and effective genre in the future.
Barker, Clive. The Damnation Game. New York: Charter, 1988.
――――――. "Down, Satan!" In The Inhuman Condition. New York: Pocket, 1987. 183-91.
――――――. "The Hellbound Heart." In Night Visions: The Hellbound Heart. New York: Berkley, 1988.
Birkhead, Edith. The Tale of Terror: A Study of the Gothic Romance. London: Constable & Company, Ltd, 1921.
Botting, Fred. Gothic. New York: Routledge, 1996.
Hume, Kathryn. Fantasy and Mimesis: Responses to Reality in Western Literature. New York: Methuen, 1984.
King, Stephen. Christine. New York: Signet, 1983.
――――――. The Mist. In Skeleton Crew. New York: Signet, 1986.
――――――. The Tommyknockers. New York: Signet, 1988.
MacAndrew, Elizabeth. The Gothic Tradition in Fiction. New York: Columbia University Press, 1979.
Railo, Eino. The Haunted Castle: A Study of the Elements of English Romanticism. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1927.
Varma, Devendra P. The Gothic Flame. London: Arthur Barker, 1957.
ROBERT MIGHALL (ESSAY DATE 1999)
SOURCE: Mighall, Robert. "Haunted Houses I and II." In A Geography of Victorian Gothic Fiction: Mapping History's Nightmares, pp. 78-129. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
In the following excerpt, Mighall studies how the "theme of the ancestral curse was adapted by the Gothic fiction of the nineteenth century" to explore the manifestation of hereditary disease—a new topic in scientific literature of the time—using the device of the haunted house.
Those who have quitted the world, and those who are not arrived at it, are as remote from each other as the utmost stretch of mortal imagination can conceive: What possible obligation, then, can exist between them; what rule or principle can be laid down, that of two non-entities, the one out of existence, and the other not in, and who can never meet in this world, the one should control the other to the end of time?
(Thomas Paine, Rights of Man)
'Oh, Bertram-Haugh! how came you by those lofty walls? Which of my ancestors had begirt me with an impassable barrier in this horrible straight?'
(J. Sheridan Le Fanu, Uncle Silas, 1864)
The previous chapter examined the emergence of an Urban Gothic in the first half of the nineteenth century, showing how many of the properties, effects, and rhetorical positions identified in the eighteenth-century tradition were transported and adapted to the representation of modern urban spaces. This suggests continuity as well as divergence, demonstrating the mobility of the Gothic fictional mode. The present chapter will continue with this emphasis on mobility, development, and 'transportation', by exploring how something that was largely excluded from both the Radcliffian and the Reynoldsian traditions, a Gothic located in the world inhabited by the reader, was realized in works from the mid-Victorian period. What these works have in common is their use of the idea of a family curse, an explicit or implicit adherence to the moral employed by Horace Walpole in the first Gothic novel, that the sins of the father will be visited upon the children to the third and fourth generation. According to David Punter, this became 'perhaps the most prevalent theme of Gothic fiction'.1 How the theme of the ancestral curse was adapted by the Gothic fiction of the nineteenth century is the subject of this chapter, which explores the various media—supernatural, pathological, and legalistic—that are used to convey unwelcome legacies in Victorian Gothic fiction….
The [excerpted portion of this chapter from A Geography of Victorian Gothic Fiction] will identify the key features of curse narratives and legatory fictions, and show how these are adapted by writers around the mid-century to explore new domains for malevolent legacy—principally in the diseased bodies of descendants. It will show how in works by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Margaret Jane Hooper, and Wilkie Collins, the supernatural mechanisms and devices of earlier tales of family curses are refigured through a materialist emphasis on pathological function. In Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables (1851), Hooper's The House of Raby (1855), and Collins's 'Mad Monkton' (1855), hereditary disease is the ghost that haunts the present descendants of a House, an emphasis that indicates the contemporaneity of these works, appearing at a time when medical science was just beginning to look to hereditary etiologies to explain moral dysfunction….
Haunted Houses I: Legends and Legacies
A cursed family inherits an unwelcome legacy. History moves on, progress is made, enlightenment replaces barbarism and superstition, but still the curse—initiated by sacrilege, usurpation, or some unspecified dark deed—inexorably visits its punishment on successive generations. Curse narratives show how crimes belonging to the ancestral past can blight both the present and the future. They often adapt the theme of generational conflict which is central to early Gothic romances such as Lewis's The Monk (1796) and Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer (1820). Both novels, which have a common source in Diderot's La Religieuse (1770, English translation 1797), feature aristocratic parents attempting to expiate their own sins by dedicating their innocent offspring to religious houses. The experiences of Lewis's Agnes and Maturin's Monçada extend the parental persecution plot of the Gothic, by using a legalistic mechanism to bind the lives of the present generation to the misguided customs of the past. Once this mechanism is established, the parents need not actively torment their children further (sadistic Superiors are more than happy to act in loco parentis in this respect), and need not even live beyond this binding contract to blight their children's happiness. Curse narratives develop this legatory plot by locating the source of disorder in the more distant past. Here it is often the great-grandfather or a more distant ancestor still who torments his innocent descendants, 'haunting' the present with the consequences of his crimes. The individual's immediate parents may be as enlightened and affectionate as the reader would wish, but are as much victims of the ancestral past as their own children.
'Family Portraits' (1812) by Jean Baptiste Benoit Eyries is a typical curse narrative, and which helps to identify the key properties that are developed and adapted in the hands of Victorian writers. Its plot is extremely tangled, involving complex wills and curses which determine the fortunes of two ancient families, the Meltheims and the Wartbourgs. Whilst its immediate setting is the end of the eighteenth century, the fortunes of the present generation are rigidly determined by the legacies of tenth-century progenitors.
ON THE SUBJECT OF …
URSULA K. LE GUIN (1929–)
Acclaimed for her contributions to fantasy, science fiction, and children's literature, Le Guin is a highly respected author often credited with expanding the scope of the fantasy genre by combining conventional elements of science fiction with more traditional literary techniques. She is known for creating fictional worlds in works that express her conviction that humans must live in balance and harmony both with one another and with their environment. Central to all of Le Guin's writing is the importance of individual moral responsibility, played out by her characters as they face difficult choices and navigate conflicting demands that directly impact the state of balance—or imbalance—in their world. Le Guin's works are noted for their mythic creativity, elegant prose style, complex characterization, vibrant imagery, and for their feminist themes and concerns. Recipient of numerous literary awards, including multiple Nebula and Hugo awards, Le Guin is best known for her novels, including The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), The Dispossessed (1974), and her Earthsea cycle—A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), The Tombs of Atuan (1971), The Farthest Shore (1972), and Tehanu (1990).
LeGuin's short stories, including those collected in The Birthday of the World and Other Stories (2002) have been noted by critics as evocative of the Gothic tradition because of their use of the supernatural and fantastic, their preoccupation with death, and their revolutionary spirit.
The tale opens with a familiar situation. 'Ferdinand … the last branch of the ancient family of Meltheim' is encouraged by his mother to marry Clothilde de Hainthal.2 However, Ferdinand, who 'never thought of this union but with regret', has fallen in love with Emily, daughter of Count Wartbourg and the sister of a schoolfriend; but inevitably,
His mother refused to consent to his marriage with Emily: her husband having, she said, on his death-bed, insisted on his wedding the baron of Hainthal's daughter, and that she should refuse her consent to any other marriage. He had discovered a family secret, which forced him peremptorily to press this point, on which depended his son's welfare, and the happiness of his family; she had given her promise, and was obliged to maintain it, although much afflicted at being compelled to act contrary to her son's inclinations.
Thus despite the tale being set in the near present, a tenth-century 'family secret' effects a dramatic crux similar to those narratives situated on the Gothic 'cusp'—the 'family' threatens to drag youth back into the past, into an arranged marriage founded on the perpetuation of lineal interests and decrees. A curse can bring the tenth to the eighteenth or nineteenth century.
The family secret which imperils Ferdinand's romantic hopes turns out to be an elaborate curse associated with portraits that have hung in the ancestral gallery for generations. One dates from the tenth century and has supernatural powers, causing the death of Ferdinand's sister by falling on her. Behind the portrait is discovered a parchment which identifies the subject as Bertha de Hainthal, the distant ancestor of the young woman Ferdinand's parents wish him to marry. Juliana's death (like Walpole's Conrad's who expired by similar means) is in fulfilment of part of Bertha's curse in expiation for her sins. These involved her betrayal of her lover Ditmar de Wartbourg (an ancestor of Emily), by marrying Bruno de Hainthal. To complicate matters further, Ditmar has hatched a few curses of his own and has a similarly troublesome portrait which is instrumental in causing the death of all male members bar one of his own family in each generation. Ditmar's curse is in expiation for his murder of Bertha's husband and their male child. He walled the former up in a tower on his estate. Ditmar's malevolent legacy involves not only the lineal pruning of the 'branches of his house, without being able to annihilate the trunk' (38-9), but stipulates that should the tower in which he walled Bruno be pulled down then the male trunk will also perish. This occurs when Emily's brother, who has learned of the curse, 'sacrif[iced] himself to release his house from the malediction that hung over it' (39). This event brings about the opening of an old trunk containing the deeds of the Wartbourg family. A number of old parchments are read, and the outcome is that Ferdinand is not only entitled to marry Emily (according to the circumstances relating to his ancestry as revealed in Ditmar's will), but he also inherits the Wartbourg estate on the death of the male heir.
Despite its baffling complexities and contrivances, 'Family Portraits' is worth considering as it assembles a number of conventions central to curse narratives. Because they are aided by supernatural means, the edicts of an ancestral curse are generally inflexible and rigidly deterministic.3 Departing from the Radcliffian plot, the thought of disobeying the family over the choice of spouse is not considered. Happiness is secured only because the children's desires happen to comply with the conditions of the will/curse. These curses, in expiation for sins, involve generations of casualties, and are only curtailed by the noble sacrifice of the male heir who pulls down the ancestral edifice symbolizing centuries of misery. The curse formula involving ancestral iniquity generally absolves the living protagonists from agency or blame.
One further important convention of curse narratives found in 'Family Portraits' is the ancestral portrait. The portrait of Ditmar enables Ferdinand to identify the ghost which he witnesses carrying out the conditions of the curse, bestowing a fatal kiss on the Count de Wartbourg's youngest sons. Thus when the source of disorder is from the distant past a means of recognition is necessary. The portrait of Bertha also serves to identify the malevolent agent of the Meltheim's ancestral legacy, and the absurdly literal-minded fulfilment of her prophecy—the portrait doing the deed itself—implies the importance of this means to identification. The portrait 'represents' Bertha both in the mimetic and the legal sense. When it is no longer the immediate parents who wield the dead hand of the past, such devices serve to remind by whose agency the past haunts the present.4
A particularly striking and effective use of this motif is found in what is perhaps the most famous story of an ancestral curse, Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables (1851). Hawthorne's novel plays a key role in bringing the curse narrative up to date and into the middle of the nineteenth century. Furthermore, its North American setting helps draw attention to the mobility of the Gothic mode, and the significant adaptations this key Gothic theme of the ancestral curse underwent in the nineteenth century (the significance of the North American context will be discussed shortly).
The House of the Seven Gables is haunted by the past, by the dark deed upon which it was founded. Legend records how in the seventeenth century Colonel Pyncheon's acquisition of Matthew Maule's land, upon which he built his dynastic edifice, was not unconnected with the latter's execution for witchcraft. At his death Maule uttered a curse that God, in retribution for his crimes, 'will give [Pyncheon] blood to drink!'5 This is one of the few incidents in the legend which is supported by 'history, as well as fireside tradition' (8), and appears to have been fulfilled when the old Colonel dies with a bloody mouth on the very day the mansion is open to view. Subsequent events appear to confirm that this retribution has become hereditary—at least two descendants die in identical circumstances. These ancestral repetitions appear to endorse the 'fireside' traditions which keep the legend of Maule's curse alive.6 They also correspond with the moral of the tale which is established in the author's 'preface' (which recalls Walpole's own from the Castle of Otranto): 'the truth, namely, that the wrong-doing of one generation lives into the successive ones … [and] becomes a pure and uncontrollable mischief' (2).7 However, the supernatural phenomena associated with this legend are handled with extreme cautiousness. Almost all references to the curse or to events which appear to confirm its agency are qualified by being designated 'tradition', 'gossip', 'the popular imagination', 'wild, chimney-corner legend[s]', or 'ancient superstitions' (7, 20, 21, 197, 124). Even these traditions and rumours are pronounced 'doubtful', 'absurdities', or 'ridiculous' (238, 189, 279). And yet despite this narratorial 'distancing' these legends are apparently confirmed by events.
If the Seven-Gabled mansion is not actually a haunted house, it is a building haunted by its 'House', by its lineage. The House of the Seven Gables is also the Pyncheon 'House'—the lineage which extends from the Old Colonel to the Pyncheon of Today and his son, who reputedly gather to haunt the house at midnight. According to Lawrence Stone, 'it was the relation of the individual to his lineage which provided a man of the upper classes in a traditional society with his identity'. Stone defines lineage as 'relations by blood or marriage, dead, living, and yet to be born, which collectively form a "house"'.8 A 'House' was therefore both the ancestral seat, and the family associated with it who took and preserved its identity from its ancestors. An ancestral portrait gallery makes this conflation between architectural fabric and 'blood' visible. Its portraits function rather like genealogical 'growth rings' for the mansion itself, testimony to the antiquity of the house (building) and of the House (family).
Hawthorne's tale of the 'aristocratic' Pyncheons is partly a demystification of this relationship, which it explores from a number of angles. The Pyncheon mansion is often personified. The narrator compares its front to 'a human countenance, bearing the traces of … the long lapse of mortal life, and accompanying vicissitudes, that have passed within' (5), and suggests that the house itself was 'like a great human heart, with a life of its own, and full of rich and sombre reminiscences' (27). Both similes are encouraged by an awareness of the building's antiquity, that generations have been born, lived, and died there: 'the very timbers were oozy, as with the moisture of a heart' (27). In Clifford's view, this architectural absorption is far from beneficial; as he exclaims: 'There is no such unwholesome atmosphere as that of an old home, rendered poisonous by one's defunct forefathers and relatives!' (261). As these remarks suggest, the 'unwholesome' exchange between house and lineage is reciprocal. Thus the narrator remarks how Hepzibah 'had dwelt too much alone—too long in the Pyncheon-house—until her very brain was impregnated with the dryrot of its timbers' (59). If buildings can 'ooze' with human memories it is only fair that long-dwelling inhabitants should acquire architectural maladies.
The metaphorical conflation between building and lineage is explored further in an extended conceit which compares Judge Jaffrey's character with 'a tall and stately edifice':
Behold, therefore, a palace! Its splendid halls and suites of spacious apartments are floored with a mosaic-work of costly marbles [etc] … With what fairer and nobler emblem could any man desire to shadow forth his character? Ah; but in some low and obscure nook—some narrow closet on the ground floor, shut, locked, and bolted, and the key flung away—or beneath the marble pavement, in a stagnant water-puddle, with the richest pattern of mosaic-work above—may lie a corpse, half-decayed, and still decaying, and diffusing its death-scent all through the palace!
This is the corollary to the anthropomorphic depiction of the Pyncheon house 'oozing' with its inhabitants' lineage. As this image indicates, the Pyncheon House is founded on a crime; as Jaffrey inherits his character from his ancestor so he inherits the 'death-scent' of the Colonel's original crime. In other words, if Judge Jaffrey is a house, he is a haunted one, haunted by the curse which he perpetuates by his actions. As 'the Pyncheon of Today' his body provides the site for the past to haunt the present. Once more, an ancestral portrait serves an important function in this respect. The portrait of the old Puritan Pyncheon, which has hung in the room in which he died for two centuries, is literally the focal point of the tale. It conceals the lost deeds which encourage the 'Pyncheon of today' in every generation to reenact his ancestor's course of greed, treachery, and single-minded ambition. The portrait of the old Puritan allows successive generations to identify the Pyncheon of Today. This physical recognition enables the perpetuation of the legend of the 'moral' resemblance and the repetition of ancestral crime. When Hepzibah is confronted by Judge Jaffrey who seeks to wrest from Clifford the secret of 'untold wealth', the narrator remarks: 'Never did a man show stronger proof of the lineage attributed to him, than Judge Pyncheon, at this crisis, by his unmistakable resemblance to the picture in the inner room' (232). Without the portrait to allow for physical recognition such 'genealogical' memories would probably die out. Moral patterns are suggested by the recurrence of physical traits. The body and its reproduction in descent thus enables the perpetuation of the legend of the curse. Judge Pyncheon's body provides the site for the crimes and consequences of the ancestral past to visit the present. Hawthorne thus focuses on the relationship between House and house to suggest a new site for ancestral haunting. A haunted body is a diseased body, a house haunted by its lineage is similarly diseased.9 This is confirmed in the conclusion when Holgrave diagnoses the 'curse' as hereditary apoplexy, observing how 'This mode of death has been an idiosyncrasy with his family, for generations past … Old Maule's prophecy was probably founded on a knowledge of this physical predisposition in the Pyncheon race' (304). What looked like 'witchcraft' was really a shrewd insight into an hereditary predisposition to a pathological trait. This focus provides a materialist alternative to the 'wild, chimney-corner legends' which attribute the ancestral repetitions to supernatural agents.
Although the present study is largely concerned with British fiction, Hawthorne's tale is included here to demonstrate the mobility of the Gothic, its ability to be transported from one geopolitical environment to another. It can serve as a test case for the historical and political determinants informing the shift from an exotic to a domestic Gothic fictional mode. Hawthorne himself was acutely aware of the importance of setting for Gothic fiction, or at least Gothic occurrences. As he asserts in the Preface to his later novel The Marble Faun (1861), which is set in the traditional Gothic locality of Italy, 'Romance and poetry, like ivy, lichens and wall-flowers, need Ruin to make them grow.' And, as his readers knew, there were no castle ruins, 'no shadow, no antiquity, no mystery, no picturesque and gloomy wrong', in the 'broad and simple daylight' of America.10 And yet Hawthorne's own works belie this (self-consciously ironic) statement. For shadows, (relative) antiquity, and picturesque and gloomy wrongs do cloud the broad daylight of the New England location of the seven-gabled mansion. The Pyncheon 'House' (lineage) carries this heavy Gothic burden through the medium of reproduction and pathology. When the body serves as the locus for ancestral guilt, and when the supernatural curse is adapted to more material circumstances, then geopolitical and historical context are potentially immaterial. The historical and ideological determinants of this transportation, that which enabled a middle class 'domestic' Gothic, will now be considered.
One of the ways Hawthorne achieves this transportation of the Gothic, from gloomy Europe to sunny America, is his representation of the Pyncheons' 'aristocratic' pretensions, and the way this is associated with the morbidity which really distinguishes their lineage. For example, Hepzibah's pride in her family's 'aristocratic' impracticability, which she considers an 'hereditary trait', is described by the narrator as 'a morbid one, such as is often generated in families that remain long above the surface of society' (77-8). Even the 'aristocratic' chickens which resemble their owners so much, are a race in decline: 'All of them were pure specimens of a breed which had been transmitted down as an heirloom in the Pyncheon family … the hens … had a queer, rusty, withered aspect, and a gouty kind of movement … It was evident that the race had degenerated, like many a noble race besides, in consequence of too strict a watchfulness to keep it pure' (88-9). This passage underlines the theme of inheritance which is central to the narrative, but it does this by reducing it to a biological function. The hens are anthropomorphized by the references to their 'aristocratic lineage' (90); but this also serves as a reminder that aristocrats are animals and their claims to distinction are as much biological as ideological. 'Blue Blood' is a fiction which is nonetheless premissed upon a function of reproduction (reproducing ancestral honour).11 The example of the hens is extended to 'many a noble race besides', further endorsing the association between aristocratic 'heirlooms', nobility and disease, which the text uses to shift the scene of haunting from the supernatural to the somatic sphere. However, whilst its principal function is to comment on the decline of the Pyncheons, it implies that their condition is not unusual, but is actually a consequence of their caste mentality. Through such emphases, Hawthorne makes a political point, using physiology and pathology to stigmatize the caste politics of the 'nobility'.
Hawthorne's representations concur with contemporary comment on the problems of heredity. For example, George Man Burrows's Commentaries on Insanity (1828) remarks how 'Among the highest ranks, hereditary insanity is more common than among the lower; for the former most frequently contract marriage with their own rank, or even with their own family'.12 An exclusive concern with caste inevitably involves degrees of endogamy, and therefore, for many observers, degeneration. The pride which characterizes the villains of Gothic romance, and which impels them to pursue their disastrous dynastic campaigns, here points to a physiological, or, what would later be termed, a 'eugenic' lesson. As Henry Belinaye observed in 1832: 'The marriages arranged among the higher classes, from motives of convenience or family interest, are seldom so prolific as those founded on mutual choice.'13 The reason for this circumstance? For Belinaye, successful reproduction requires mutual affection. To demonstrate this he observes how 'In vain the hated tyrants of Florence, the latter Medici, had recourse to every method to perpetuate their line; they have bequeathed to the world nothing but a warning, and the remembrance of a name' (67). Like the Gothic novelist, the physiologist turns to the historical past for a dramatic incident of domestic disorder. He equates the lack of affection in marriage (a consequence of politic alliances) with tyrannies worthy of Walpole's Manfred, and draws a 'biological' lesson from this stock theme of the fall of a House. In this case it is reproductive rather than poetic or divine retribution which effects this decline. Whilst Gothic novelists stigmatize arranged marriages based on aristocratic pride as unfeeling and unnatural, and dramatize their effects on sensitive protagonists, physicians are more concerned with the disastrous biological consequences of such unions. When medicine rediscovered heredity towards the middle of the nineteenth century, it found in the practices of the nobility conspicuous examples of familial practices which institutionalized a regard for lineage, transmission, and entailment. Add to this the understanding that the mysteries of hereditary transmission are easier to detect in their dysfunctional and pathological forms (pathology serving a similar function to the ancestral portrait in this respect), and the parallels between Gothic and physiological discourse occurring here are easier to account for.14 A family curse or ancestral taint is the dark underside of the principle of inheritance, both depict versions of what Michel Foucault terms 'alliance gone bad'. Foucault's work can help explain this historical concurrence.
Foucault's La Volonté de savoir (1976) famously charts what he calls the deployment of sexuality, an historical circumstance which he attributes to a bourgeois project to define its own 'class body', in contradistinction to the practices of the nobility.15 This, as Robert Miles has suggested, can illuminate aspects of Gothic fiction, principally its focus on family dynamics and generational conflicts. According to Miles, 'there is a neat fit between The History of Sexuality's clash between the deployments of "alliance" and "sexuality" and Gothic writing's typical conflict between the father's dynastic ambitions and the children's romantic love'.16 As seen in earlier examples, Gothic fiction often dramatizes this conflict by depicting what could be termed inverted 'family romances', where children born to aristocratic parents struggle to establish their domestic arrangements on more democratic models, based on 'affection' and natural relations. In Foucauldian terms, this figures a conflict between the older claims of 'alliance' and the interests of an emergent concept which he identifies as 'sexuality'. The fundamental difference between the older, aristocratic model of 'alliance' (characterized by primogeniture, arranged marriages, and the entailment of property) and the model of sexuality (with its emphasis on romantic love, choice, and familial affection), is that the former looked to the past for validation, while the latter staked its hopes on the future.
The foundation of the aristocratic model of alliance was the family. Through the practice of primogeniture, the ancestry, status, and name of the family or 'House' was perpetuated. According to Foucault, it was also in and around the family that 'sexuality' first became problematic. For him, 'the family, the keystone of alliance, was the germ of all the misfortunes of sex' (Foucault, III). Through the problematics of familial relations, and by means of what Foucault characterizes as a 'reflux movement' (39), 'normal' sexuality was defined. By recognizing the dangers inherent within sexuality (the dangers of consanguinity, of debilitating practices, and misdirected passions) a stable and well-regulated and productive sexuality was imagined. As S. G. Howe remarked when he surveyed the products of ancestral guilt in the asylums of Massachusetts in 1848:
The moral to be drawn from the prevalent existence of idiocy in society, is, that a very large class of persons ignore the conditions upon which alone health and reason are given to men, and consequently they sin in various ways … they overlook the hereditary transmission of certain morbid tendencies, or they pervert the natural appetites of the body into lusts of divers kinds,—the natural emotions of the mind into fearful passions, and thus bring down the awful consequences of their own ignorance and sin upon the heads of their unoffending children.17
Howe's concern is with the correct deployment of sexuality, with the appropriate regulation of the body's 'natural' impulses. In the violation of these laws is witnessed the 'perverted' and degenerate form of the idiot, the outcome of dysfunctional inheritance. Bourgeois sexuality challenges aristocratic 'alliance', by appropriating the themes and obsessions of the latter to identify the morbid and dysfunctional operations of its own concerns. In the individual failures of the bourgeoisie's (expansive) project are found its opposites: bodies tied to the past and doomed to extinction. The perverse or diseased bourgeois was figured as an example of 'alliance gone bad' (Foucault, 109).
These dynamics can be identified in Gothic curse narratives, which show the 'House' of the aristocracy in ruins. What was implicit, metaphorical, or merely suggested in Hawthorne's House of the Seven Gables—that hereditary illness can be used as a modern version of the supernatural curse—is made explicit in Jane Margaret Hooper's The House of Raby; Or, Our Lady of Darkness, published in 1854. The narrative of Hooper's novel is dynastic and 'generational', following the fortunes of two families across four generations. The title refers to the Raby family, rather than its ancestral seat which is called Carleton Castle. This intense familial focus is reinforced in the titles given to each book: Introductory; Marriage and Birth; Parents and Children; The Last Generation of a Noble House. As these titles suggest, the narrative follows the decline of the House of Raby, while the theme of heredity provides its structure, dramatic, and moral conflict, and its suspense.
The tale is narrated in the present by Frank Hastings, but incorporates epistolary material and anecdotes from the late eighteenth century. The lives of members of the noble Rabys and the solidly middle-class Hastings are bound together through at least three generations. Henry Hastings, Frank's grandfather was a schoolfriend of Frederick, sixth earl of Carleton and later became Rector on his friend's estate. The earl falls in love with Henry's sister Margaret, but a parental interdiction prevents the marriage. A familiar situation. However, in this case it is Margaret's father, the Reverend Hastings who opposes the match:
Against the young man himself they had nothing to say; they believed him to be noble, amiable, truthful, every way worthy to be Henry's friend; but against his marriage with one of their daughters they had two reasons to urge. First, they knew a great deal of the viscount's father, and firmly believed him to be insane. His disease, they expected, would show itself sooner or later in his son; or, passing over him, would reappear in his children.—Secondly, they believed that a marriage in her own rank of life would be a happier one for their daughter.18
Here we find a novel twist to the familiar theme of domestic happiness thwarted by parental prohibition. It is now the middleclass parent who raises objections which implicitly equate class identity with pathology. This reverses the earlier pattern, implying that social ascent would mean biological decline. Ancestry and family pride are no longer the issue, it is the health of future progeny which dictates bourgeois domestic policy. This situation also adapts the situation of the curse plot to new and overtly physiological uses. Frederick's father, like many a Gothic ancestor, has left a malevolent legacy for his descendants. His 'madness', like Maule's curse, is almost exclusively the preserve of rumour, gossip, or folk memory. It is largely a consequence of his behaviour, which followed a suitably Gothic pattern:
Francis, fifth Earl of Carleton, was what all the world called a very strange man—an oddity. Some few who knew a little of his private life, said he was the victim of an uncontrolled temper, a domestic tyrant, a misanthrope, a miser … and a few of the plain-speaking kind had been heard to say, that the Earl of Carleton was madder than many a man in Bedlam. He had had a gentle wife whom he killed with terror; and he had often frightened his child into fits … It would be a useless and revolting task to give any further particulars of the earl's domestic conduct … [At the death of his wife, he] shut up Carleton Castle and went abroad, where he was occasionally heard of by English travellers, as the hero of stories that made their hair stand on end.
The earl is cast in the Gothic mould of a Manfred or Mazzini, 'killing' his wife, tyrannizing and terrifying his household, and indulging in unspecified dark or immoral deeds: in short, exemplifying a 'Gothic' antithesis of a well-regulated domestic ideal. Whatever the truth of the situation, the wicked earl's behaviour has left a legacy of rumour and scandal which blights the happiness of his son. However, what earlier took the form of a supernatural curse is refigured in wholly material terms: in this scientific and rational age, the legacies of ancestral crime are carried in the bodies of descendants. The curse haunting the House of Raby is hereditary insanity.
Margaret regretfully abides by her father's decision, and the text endorses her act of renunciation. It is applauded as a noble and necessary sacrifice for the greater good. Like curse narratives which depict supernatural agents, The House of Raby is somewhat pessimistic in its outlook. Ancestral crimes demand expiation, and this means innocent victims—those who inherit the taint, and those who renounce domestic happiness from a sense of duty. In a generational narrative this pattern can repeat itself with relentless determination.19 Margaret remains unmarried, while Frederick eventually seeks solace in a marriage of convenience with his cousin. This is effected by his aunt Lady Morton, who deliberately ignores the rumours of insanity to secure for her daughter 'an earldom and forty thousand a year' (i. 221). Aristocrats are less scrupulous than their bourgeois counterparts about what would later be termed 'eugenic' considerations. Practices associated with the nobility, what Foucault terms 'alliance', are thus implicitly associated with the pathological mechanism which serves the function of a curse in this tale. The rumours of his father's insanity (combining Gothic cruelty with the stereotypical aristocratic rakishness) compelled the sensible bourgeois to prohibit a union with the son. An aristocrat faced with the same situation pursues the traditional policies of her class and thus perpetuates the curse of the past. By transforming the Gothic curse into a pathological function, The House of Raby, like the medical discourse contemporary with it, depicts 'alliance gone bad'. Male twins are born of this union and towards the end of his first year Arundel, the second son, exhibits symptoms of the mental illness with which he is 'cursed' for the rest of his life.
Margaret Hastings, having renounced domestic happiness, devotes her time to the study of insanity, and spends her life looking after the brilliant but unstable Arundel, the son of her former lover. She reads up in Pinel and the German alienists, and helps out at a local asylum. Her responsible and useful work stands in marked contrast to the selfish motives of the noble family which her own family supports through each generation. The years pass and another Margaret Hastings is born. She grows up in her aunt's company, and imbibes her namesake's sense of duty, industry and skill in caring for the afflicted. And like her aunt she falls in love with a Raby, developing an ill-fated passion for Arundel, who, notwithstanding his taint, is a noble and progressive landowner who devotes his energy and money to improving the lot of the people on his estates. Like her namesake, young Margaret suppresses her love and devotes her life to a similar course of dutiful renunciation. The love turns out to be reciprocal, but both renounce its physical consummation, and spend their days in a Platonic union. As Arundel declares:
I shall be the last of the Rabys. The old name had better die. It stands for something that has passed out of existence … If nobility obliges a man to do anything—it obliges me to sacrifice my individual feelings and affections for the good of the community—and to accept the sacrifice … We will have no child to ask us, 'Why was I born to this accursed inheritance?… Father! mother! I do not thank you for a life like this!… I know not what dreadful deeds I may commit when the demon takes possession of me! Life like this is a disgrace to earth!
With a pathological 'curse' the sacrifice demanded no longer involves the pulling down of an ancestral tower and the release of a soul in torment ('Family Portraits'), the 'House' which is pulled down is the tainted lineage of the Raby family itself. Like the tenth-century tower associated with the supernatural curse of the Wartbourgs, the 'House' of Raby 'stands for something that has passed out of existence'—the customs and domestic policies of the aristocracy. As Arundel tells young Margaret: 'In reality, my nature is inferior to yours. I am precocious, irregular, incomplete,—diseased. You are neither before nor behind your age—regular, complete—normal.—This is the will of God!' (iii. 22, original emphasis). Arundel inherits the curse of ancestral crime, but is free from the ideological principles from which such a curse originates. His democratic and progressive inclinations instil in him a sense of responsibility, and thus he ends the curse. It is the body which carries the curse, and therefore 'exorcism' is achieved through reproductive renunciation. The occasion for the above speech is Arundel's resolution to adopt Frank Hastings, the narrator, as the heir to the Raby estate. His decision to let the name die is a self-consciously political one, found-ing a progressive dynasty free from the legacy of the past. As Arundel declares, with the lapse of the earldom:
The wealth of the Rabys will enrich other houses, and there will be no more of our race … God's will be done … I look to you, my boy to found a new race—better fitted to these later times than our old one….
May the house of Hastings excel in all honourable things the house of Raby;—then will its last son have succeeded in converting the evil of his own lot into a blessing for the rest of the world.
The (biological) fall of one House means the rise of 'a new race—better fitted to these later times'. The responsible, industrious, and healthy Hastings are thus rewarded for their self-sacrificing sense of duty. Twice the Hastings are tested and twice they renounce immediate gratification of desire for the greater good. If this is read in Foucauldian terms, it displays a recognition of 'the menaces of heredity', and the conversion of the evil of a racism 'organized for basically conservative ends', to a 'dynamic racism, a racism of expansion' (Foucault, 124, 125). In the fourth generation a Hastings joins the Raby family, but does so by overcoming 'birth', the problematic of the narrative. The House of Raby presents a familiar Gothic scenario of ancestral crime, expiation, and renunciation. However, it uses this to focus upon a (predominantly realist) drama of domestic conflict which centres around issues of sexuality (the basis of the two Margarets' and Arundel's sacrifices), and shows how the legacies of the past ('alliance' and ancestral pride), can survive to blight the happiness of the present generation. 'Sexuality' is thus menaced by the spectre of its antithesis, which survives in corrupted form as a pathological pedigree.
As in The House of the Seven Gables, the 'Gothic' and supernatural aspects of the narrative are lightly handled and largely figurative. They operate on the level of metaphor or analogy. For example, Carleton Castle is twice compared to Udolpho (i. 19; iii. 71), while Arundel's taint is invariably referred to as his 'curse'. There is also talk of a haunted east wing. Its 'ghost' is reputedly Arundel's grandmother, the wife of the wicked earl who was imprisoned there for attempting to escape his domestic tyranny. Her ghost haunts the window from which she attempted to make her escape. The events of this legend (which resembles that of the 'Ghost's Walk' in Dickens's Bleak House), are recounted by a suitably Gothic house-keeper, Old Cuthbert who was in the old earl's service. The narration occurs when this wing is opened up for the first time since the poor woman's death. Arundel's mother and the younger Margaret Hastings aged 10, explore the apartments just as twilight descends. Unbeknown to them at the outset, it is the anniversary of the countess's ill-fated attempt to escape. As Cuthbert narrates the legend in the gathering gloom, Gothic expectations are established. They are fulfilled when a ghostly face appears at that very window. It turns out to be Arundel who manifests his first major outbreak of insanity in this incident. His pale vacant face, which resembles his grandmother's, staring in at that window on that night understandably encourages the witnesses to imagine it is the apparition. Until they discover their mistake the narrative momentarily admits the possibility of the supernatural. This conflation of the supernatural with the pathological is significant. It shows that the 'curse' which follows the wicked deeds of the Gothic grandfather and which give rise to the ghostly legend, now resides in the body of his descendant which is 'haunted' by its legacy in a pathological form. In this way, the pathological appropriates the supernatural mechanism of cursed inheritance, while paying a tribute to its earlier discursive provenance in its allusions to Gothic conventions.
The situation of the pathological being inserted into the space established by a supernatural mechanism is a common feature of curse narratives from the mid-nineteenth century. It is central to Wilkie Collins's tale 'Mad Monkton', first published in 1855 as 'The Monktons of Wincot Abbey'. 'Monkton' involves both an ancient legend about an old family, and a modern rational discourse on the strain of madness which also haunts the Monkton race. These two interpretations or authorities compete for hermeneutic supremacy in the narrative. But whilst the modern rational explanation appears to be triumphant, the reader is perhaps left with some doubts.
It is commonly believed that Alfred Monkton, the last of a great Catholic family, has inherited the taint of insanity which had been in his family for generations; the consequence of some 'crime committed in past times by two of the Monktons, near relatives'.20 Monkton wishes to marry Miss Elmslie, but her guardian refuses his consent on the grounds of the Monkton family taint. When the guardian dies, the lovers prepare for their nuptials. Arrangements for the wedding are suspended, however, by what appears to be an outbreak of the Monkton madness. This takes a most peculiar form, and is reported by the narrator, Monkton's only friend who is also the son of Miss Elmslie's guardian. Monkton confides to the narrator that he cannot marry until he has buried his rakish uncle who died in a duel, but whose body lies unburied somewhere near Rome. Monkton is haunted by the 'phantom' of this uncle, which reminds him of his duty and never leaves his side. This duty actually conforms to an ancient prophecy or curse associated with the Monktons, that if one of their line remains unburied, then the Monktons will die out with that generation. Monkton believes in the prophecy and its ghostly harbinger, and sets out to restore his uncle's body to its place in the Monkton's ancestral vault. He will not marry until he has accomplished this.
Therefore, whilst it is no longer his 'madness' which acts as a bar to matrimony, the prophecy which invokes another form of ancestral curse works to the same effect. If its warnings are ignored it will mean the end of the Monkton race. A by now familiar situation: the present and (reproductive) future is menaced by ancestral legacies which imperil its domestic happiness. However in this case there is an alternative cause or agent of this legacy. The supernatural and psychiatric are conjoined; it is the narrator's task to separate them. He is responsible for transforming the supernatural into the pathological, Gothic into Realism, and a legend into a 'case'. As he reasons
It was plain that the real hallucination in the case now before me, lay in Monkton's conviction of the truth of the old prophecy, and in his idea that the fancied apparition was a supernatural warning to him to evade its denunciations. And it was equally clear that both delusions had been produced, in the first instance, by the lonely life he had led, acting on a naturally excitable temperament, which was rendered further liable to moral disease by an hereditary taint of insanity.
(71, my emphasis)
In this way a pathological discourse on hereditary insanity helps to explain why a 'case' believes in an ancestral prophecy. It is this belief which informs the narrator's 'diagnosis' of Monkton. Monkton's belief in the legend which threatens the end of his race, and thus his domestic happiness, is used as evidence for, or a 'symptom' of, hereditary insanity. Thus a supernatural curse enables, but is at the same time conquered or invalidated by, a clinical discourse which shares its emphasis on ancestry, entailment, and the effects on future generations. But only one version can be allowed authority in the text, as both cannot be true. The two versions of the curse mechanism face each other in epistemological combat. The outcome depends entirely on discursive or generic criteria. Or, in other words, whether the narrative is to function as a legend or a 'case'.
A further complication is the narrator's rash promise to help Monkton find his uncle's corpse. This troubles the narrator, who is very much his father's son, sharing his sense of (eugenic) responsibility: 'Supposing that with my help he found Mr Monkton's body, and took it back with him to England, was it right in me thus to lend myself to promoting the marriage which would most likely follow these events—a marriage which it might be the duty of everyone to prevent at all hazards?' (71). By going along with one form of ancestral curse—the supernatural one—he is compelled to ignore the claims of another—the belief that Monkton's acts are the consequence of his inherited insanity. Thus whilst he supports the interests of the latter—the now familiar duty of preventing a union which would perpetuate this taint—he finds himself furthering the cause of its antagonist—the project which validates the supernatural, but which serves to confirm for the narrator the tradition that the Monkton race is mad.
At first, the supernatural appears to be in the ascendant. They discover the unburied corpse of Stephen Monkton, and the prophecy appears to be authenticated. Clearly troubled by these occurrences, the narrator refers to these 'striking coincidences which [appear] to attest' the truth of the prophecy (100). But fate is against the Monktons, and the ship taking the uncle's remains to his ancestral vault goes down in a storm. Monkton immediately contracts what is diagnosed as 'brain fever', and settles into a decline. A physician who attends him states that 'He may get the better of the fever, but he has a fixed idea, which never leaves him night or day, which has unsettled his reason, and which will end in killing him …' (101). The supernatural prophecy thus becomes an idée fixe, a concept so popular with nineteenth-century alienists. Monkton's fever proves fatal, appearing to confirm the prophecy. But the narrative is reluctant to accept this interpretation, and strives to allow the pathological explanation precedence. Therefore, in the last stage of his illness Monkton loses all memory of the prophecy and of the events in Italy. Pathology thus makes a final bid for dominance over superstition, as Monkton dies of a 'fever' rather than a 'curse'. As Monkton is the only person who believed in the prophecy, his loss of memory enables this suppression. This textual forgetting of the Gothic 'ancestry' of the medical model thus allows the latter to gain epistemological supremacy in the narrative. The rationalistic explanation can only function if the cultural memory of an ancestral curse is wiped from the protagonist's consciousness and from the text. The tale ends with a visit to the ancestral vault and its ominous empty space: a troubling reminder of the ancient prophecy which the modern discourse on pathological taint has superseded only by appropriating its logic and its consequences.
Both Hooper's and Collins's texts were mentioned in an article entitled 'Hereditary Influence, Animal and Human' appearing in the Westminster Review in 1856. The article, which was republished the following year in the Journal of Psychological Medicine and Mental Pathology, was by George Henry Lewes, and took stock of the recent interest in the question of heredity, while reviewing important monographs on this subject. Lewes also observed how the theme of 'hereditary taint' had been recently handled in prose fiction. Among the books he mentions are The House of Raby, Constance Herbert, by Geraldine Jewsbury (1855)21 and Collins's 'Monkton'. But Lewes takes these writers to task, complaining that: 'artists are not bound to be physiologists, and are assuredly bad law givers in such cases. As artists, they employ their permitted licence in simplifying the problem of insanity to suit their stories …'. By implying that 'the transmission of the malady is inevitable [they] teach questionable doctrine, because they teach it by means of fallacious facts'.22 For Lewes finds many reasons to deny that an hereditary taint is 'certain' to be transmitted. This was the view of most commentators on the question up until the mid-century, who still stressed the ameliorative benefits of a sound regimen to combat an hereditary taint. Within a few years, however, the trend in mental pathology would move towards a more deterministic model, one which comes closer to the novelist's more dramatic emphasis. Indeed, the same number of the Journal of Psychological Medicine and Mental Pathology (1857), in which Lewes's article was reprinted includes Forbes Winslow's abridgement of B. A. Morel's Traite des Dégénérescences (1857), the most influential work in establishing a more pessimistic view of transmission and decline.23 The following year, S. G. Howe's On the Causes of Idiocy appeared in a British imprint. And in 1860 Henry Maudsley published his first major article on hereditary insanity, appropriately enough on Edgar Allan Poe, where he expounds for the first time the (scientific) lesson that he would preach for the next forty years: that 'the sins of the fathers [are] visited on the children unto the third and fourth generation'.24 These influential writers, to varying degrees, stress the accumulative effects of ancestral vice or disease, and the stern law of their entailment. If the Gothic fictions of Hooper, Jewsbury, and Collins 'transcend[ed] the limits of art' (Lewes, 400) they also anticipated the current of medical thought.
1. Punter, The Literature of Terror (London: Longman, 1980), 52.
2. Eyries, Tales of the Dead: The Ghost Stories of the Villa Diodati, trans. Terry Hale (Chislehurst: Gothic Society, 1992), 20.
3. I have encountered only two tales of family curses in which the conditions of the curse are not met to the letter, Stephen Cullen's The Castle of Inchvally (1796) and Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902), and in both the supposed portents turn out to be hoaxes.
4. For the reasons enumerated, ancestral portraits often appear in tales involving family curses. In The Castle of Otranto Manfred is haunted by the resemblance between Theodore and his ancestor Alfonso; in Dickens's Bleak House (1853–4), which includes the curse of the 'Ghost's Walk', Guppy detects the resemblance between Lady Dedlock and Esther Summerson when he encounters her portrait. Ancestral portraits also feature in late 19th-cent. works featuring family curses, including Robert Louis Stevenson's 'Ollala' (1885), Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891), chs. 34 and 35, and Conan Doyle's Hound of the Baskervilles (1902). How writers developed this theme in late-Victorian Gothic will be discussed in the next chapter. On the motif of the 'haunted portrait' see Theodore Ziolkowski, Disenchanted Images: A Literary Iconography (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977); see also Maria M. Tartat, 'The Houses of Fiction: Toward a Definition of the Uncanny', Comparative Literature, 33 (1981), 167-82.
5. Hawthorne, The House of the Seven Gables, ed. Milton R. Stern (New York: Penguin, 1986), 8.
6. On Hawthorne's Gothic 'repetitions' in this text see Eugenia C. Delamotte, Perils of the Night: A Feminist Study of Nineteenth-Century Gothic (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 113-14.
7. On how Hawthorne's text compares with, and departs from Otranto see Ronald T. Curran, '"Yankee Gothic": Hawthorne's "Castle of Pyncheon"', Studies in the Novel, 8 (1976), 69-80; on Hawthorne and the Gothic tradition see Jane Lundblad, Nathaniel Hawthorne and the Tradition of Gothic Romance (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1946).
8. Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage in England, 1500–1800 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1990), 29, 28-9. See also Jean-Louis Flandrin, Families in Former Times: Kinship, Household and Sexuality, trans. Richard Southern (1976; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 1-33.
9. On Hawthorne's combination of the Gothic and the scientific in his depiction of the 'atmosphere' of the House of the Seven Gables see Jonathan Arac, Com-missioned Spirits: The Shaping of Social Motion in Dickens, Carlyle, Melville and Hawthorne (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1979), 97-103.
10. Hawthorne, The Marble Faun, ed. Richard H. Brodhead (New York: Penguin, 1990), 3.
11. On this and other aspects of 'Aristocratic Ideology', its tensions and erosion, and its relationship to the emergence of the novel, see Michael McKeon, The Origins of the English Novel, 1600–1740 (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1988), 131-75.
12. Burrows, Commentaries on the Causes, Forms, Symptoms, and Treatment, Moral and Medical of Insanity (London: Thomas and George Underwood, 1828), 104.
13. Belinaye, The Sources of Health and Disease in Communities; or, Elementary Views of Hygiene (London: Treuttel & Würtz & Richter, 1832), 66.
14. On how 'Degeneration makes heredity visible' see Laura Otis, Organic Memory: History and the Body in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994), 60.
15. Michel Foucault, The Will to Knowledge, trans. Robert Hurley originally as The History of Sexuality: An Introduction as vol i of his proposed four part study (1979; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1998), 124.
16. Miles, Gothic Writing 1750–1820: A Genealogy (London: Routledge, 1993), 15.
17. Howe, 'Supplement to Report on Idiocy', Report Made to the Legislature of Massachusetts, Upon Idiocy (Boston: Collidge & Wiley, 1848), 56-7; republished as On the Causes of Idiocy (Edinburgh: Maclachlan & Stewart, 1858).
18. [Hooper], The House of Raby: Or, Our Lady of Darkness, 3 vols. (London: Chapman & Hall, 1854), i. 145. The novel was published anonymously, and reissued in 1874 in a slightly revised form in one volume under Mrs Hooper's name.
19. Compare with Brontë's Wuthering Heights (1848), and Hardy's The Well-Beloved (1892), other 'generational' narratives. On fiction as repetition in these and other texts see J. Hillis Miller's Fiction and Repetition: Seven English Novels (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1982).
20. Collins, 'Mad Monkton', in Mad Monkton and Other Tales, ed. Norman Page (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), 39. On Collins and psychiatry see Jenny Bourne Taylor, In the Secret Theatre of the Home: Wilkie Collins, Sensation Narrative, and Nineteenth-Century Psychology (London: Routledge, 1988).
21. Jewsbury's novel shares similarities with both Hooper's and Collins's. Like Raby it is 'generational', showing how the 'eugenic' mistakes of one generation live on into the next; like 'Monkton', an hereditary taint of insanity is complicated by a pre-existing curse for sacrilege. Geraldine Jewsbury, Constance Herbert, 3 vols. (London: Hirst & Blackett, 1855).
22. Lewes, 'Hereditary Influence, Animal and Human', Journal of Psychological Medicine and Mental Pathology, 10 (1857), 384-402, 400.
23. On the importance of Morel's work see Ruth Friedlander, 'Benedict-Augustin Morel and the Development of the Theory of Dégénérescence (the Introduction of Anthropology into Psychology)', unpublished Ph.D. thesis (University of California at San Francisco, 1973); Ian Dowbiggin, 'Degeneration and Hereditarianism in French Medicine 1840–90: Psychiatric Theory as Ideological Adaption', in William F. Bynum and Roy Porter (eds.), The Anatomy of Madness, vol. i (London: Routledge, 1988), 185-229; Otis, Organic Memory, 49-53. For the best survey of degenerationist thought see Daniel Pick, Faces of Degeneration: A European Disorder, c.1848–c.1918 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989). For developments in Victorian psychiatry and the emergence of 'positivist' and hereditarian emphases, see Vieda Skultans, Madness and Morals: Ideas on Insanity in the Nineteenth Century (London: Routledge, 1975); Andrew Scull, The Most Solitary of Afflictions: Madness and Society in Britain, 1700–1900 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993).
24. Maudsley, 'Edgar Allan Poe', Journal of Mental Science, 6 (1859–60), 328-69, 340. Maudsley's article offers intriguing possibilities for exploring the relationship between fictional and medical discourses with regard to the theme of hereditary taint. It is self-consciously 'literary', and evokes the authority of Nathaniel Hawthorne on how 'The weaknesses and defects, the bad passions, the mean tendencies, and the moral diseases which lead to crime, are handed down from one generation to another, by a far surer process of transmission than human law has been able to establish', ibid. 341. However, Hawthorne's narrator from Seven Gables had only 'implied' this, whilst for Maudsley it had become a fact.
SIGMUND FREUD (ESSAY DATE 1919)
SOURCE: Freud, Sigmund. "The Uncanny." In The Uncanny, by Sigmund Freud, translated by David McLintock, pp. 123-62. New York: Penguin, 2003.
In the following excerpt from an essay first published in Imago in 1919 as "Das Unheimlich" and considered the quintessential work on the subject of the uncanny, Freud defines the uncanny, provides examples of how it is exemplified in E. T. A. Hoffmann's story "The Sandman," and explains how the uncanny functions within the context of human psychology.
If we now go on to review the persons and things, the impressions, processes and situations that can arouse an especially strong and distinct sense of the uncanny in us, we must clearly choose an appropriate example to start with. E. Jentsch singles out, as an excellent case, 'doubt as to whether an apparently animate object really is alive and, conversely, whether a lifeless object might not perhaps be animate'. In this connection he refers to the impressions made on us by waxwork figures, ingeniously constructed dolls and automata. To these he adds the uncanny effect produced by epileptic fits and the manifestations of insanity, because these arouse in the onlooker vague notions of automatic—mechanical—processes that may lie hidden behind the familiar image of a living person. Now, while not wholly convinced by the author's arguments, we will take them as a starting point for our own investigation, because he goes on to remind us of one writer who was more successful than any other at creating uncanny effects.
'One of the surest devices for producing slightly uncanny effects through story-telling,' writes Jentsch, 'is to leave the reader wondering whether a particular figure is a real person or an automaton, and to do so in such a way that his attention is not focused directly on the uncertainty, lest he should be prompted to examine and settle the matter at once, for in this way, as we have said, the special emotional effect can easily be dissipated. E. T. A. Hoffmann often employed this psychological manoeuvre with success in his imaginative writings.'
This observation, which is undoubtedly correct, refers in particular to Hoffmann's story 'The Sand-Man', one of the 'Night Pieces' (vol. 3 of Hoffmann's Gesammelte Werke in Grisebach's edition), from which the doll Olimpia found her way into the first act of Offenbach's opera The Tales of Hoffmann. I must say, however—and I hope that most readers of the story will agree with me—that the motif of the seemingly animate doll Olimpia is by no means the only one responsible for the incomparably uncanny effect of the story, or even the one to which it is principally due. Nor is this effect enhanced by the fact that the author himself gives the Olimpia episode a slightly satirical twist using it to make fun of the young man's overvaluation of love. Rather, it is another motif that is central to the tale, the one that gives it its name and is repeatedly emphasized at crucial points—the motif of the Sand-Man, who tears out children's eyes.
A student named Nathaniel, with whose childhood memories this fantastic tale opens, is unable, for all his present happiness, to banish certain memories connected with the mysterious and terrifying death of his much-loved father. On certain evenings his mother would send the children to bed early with the warning 'The Sand-Man is coming.' And sure enough, on each such occasion the boy would hear the heavy tread of a visitor, with whom his father would then spend the whole evening. It is true that, when asked about the Sand-Man, the boy's mother would deny that any such person existed, except as a figure of speech, but a nursemaid was able to give him more tangible information: 'He is a bad man who comes to children when they won't go to bed and throws a handful of sand in their eyes, so that their eyes jump out of their heads, all bleeding. He then throws their eyes in his bag and takes them off to the half-moon as food for his children. These children sit up there in their nest; they have hooked beaks like owls, and use them to peck up the eyes of the naughty little boys and girls.'
Although little Nathaniel was old and sensible enough to dismiss such grisly details about the Sand-Man, fear of this figure took root even in him. He resolved to find out what the Sand-Man looked like, and one evening, when another visitation was due, he hid in his father's study. He recognized the visitor as a lawyer named Coppelius, a repulsive person of whom the children were afraid when he occasionally came to lunch. He now identified Coppelius with the dreaded Sand-Man. In the remainder of this scene the author leaves us in doubt as to whether we are dealing with the initial delirium of the panic-stricken boy or an account of events that must be taken as real within the world represented in the tale. The boy's father and the visitor busy themselves at a brazier that emits glowing flames. Hearing Coppelius shout 'Eyes here! eyes here!' the little eavesdropper lets out a scream and reveals his presence. Coppelius seizes him and is about to drop red-hot grains of coal in his eyes and then throw these into the brazier. The father begs him to spare his son's eyes. This experience ends with the boy falling into a deep swoon, followed by a long illness. Whoever favours a rationalistic interpretation of the Sand-Man is bound to ascribe the child's fantasy to the continuing influence of the nurse-maid's account. Instead of grains of sand, red-hot grains of coal are to be thrown into the child's eyes, but in either case the purpose is to make them jump out of his head. A year later, during another visit by the Sand-Man, the father is killed by an explosion in his study, and the lawyer Coppelius disappears from the town without trace.
Later, as a student, Nathaniel thinks he recognizes this fearful figure from his childhood in the person of Giuseppe Coppola, an itinerant Italian optician who hawks weather-glasses in the university town. When Nathaniel declines to buy one, Coppola says, 'So, no weather-glass, no weather-glass! I've got lovely eyes too, lovely eyes.' Nathaniel is at first terrified, but his terror is allayed when the eyes he is offered turn out to be harmless spectacles. He buys a pocket spyglass from Coppola and uses it to look into the house of Professor Spalanzani, on the other side of the street, where he catches sight of Olimpia, the professor's beautiful, but strangely silent and motionless daughter. He soon falls so madly in love with her that he forgets his wise and level-headed fiancée, Clara. But Olimpia is an automaton, for which Spalanzini has made the clockwork and in which Coppola—the Sand-Man—has set the eyes. The student comes upon the two quarrelling over their handiwork. The optician has carried off the eyeless wooden doll; the mechanic, Spalanzani, picks up Olimpia's bleeding eyes from the floor and throws them at Nathaniel, from whom he says Coppola has stolen them. Nathaniel is seized by a fresh access of madness. In his delirium the memory of his father's death is compounded with this new impression: 'Hurry—hurry—hurry!—ring of fire—ring of fire! Spin round, ring of fire—quick—quick! Wooden doll, hurry, lovely wooden doll, spin round—'. Whereupon he hurls himself at the professor, Olimpia's supposed father, and tries to strangle him.
Having recovered from a long, serious illness, Nathaniel at last seems to be cured. He finds his fiancée again and plans to marry her. One day they are out walking in the town with her brother. The tall tower of the town hall casts a huge shadow over the market-place. Clara suggests that they go up the tower together while her brother remains below. At the top, her attention is drawn to the curious sight of something moving along the street. Nathaniel examines this through Coppola's spyglass, which he finds in his pocket. Again he is seized by madness and, uttering the words 'Wooden doll, spin round', he tries to cast the girl down from the tower. Her brother, hearing her screams, comes to her rescue and quickly escorts her to the ground. Up above, the madman runs around shouting out 'Ring of fire, spin round'—words whose origin is already familiar to us. Conspicuous among the people gathering below is the lawyer Coppelius, who has suddenly reappeared. We may assume that it was the sight of his approach that brought on Nathaniel's fit of madness. Some of the crowd want to go up the tower and overpower the madman, but Coppelius says laughingly: 'Just wait. He'll come down by himself.' Nathaniel suddenly stands still, catches sight of Coppelius and, with a cry of 'Yes! Lovely eyes—lovely eyes', throws himself over the parapet. Moments later he is lying on the pavement, his head shattered, and the Sand-Man has vanished in the milling crowd.
This brief summary will probably make it clear beyond doubt that in Hoffmann's tale the sense of the uncanny attaches directly to the figure of the Sand-Man, and therefore to the idea of being robbed of one's eyes—and that intellectual uncertainty, as Jentsch understands it, has nothing to do with this effect. Uncertainty as to whether an object is animate or inanimate, which we were bound to acknowledge in the case of the doll Olimpia, is quite irrelevant in the case of this more potent example of the uncanny. It is true that the author initially creates a kind of uncertainty by preventing us—certainly not unintentionally—from guessing whether he is going to take us into the real world or into some fantastic world of his own choosing. He is of course entitled to do either, and if he chooses, for instance, to set the action in a world in which spirits, demons and ghosts play a part, as Shakespeare does in Hamlet, Macbeth and Julius Caesar and, rather differently, in The Tempest and A Midsummer Night's Dream, we must yield to his choice and treat his posited world as if it were real for as long as we submit to his spell. But in the course of Hoffmann's tale this uncertainty disappears; it becomes clear that the author wants us too to look through the spectacles or the spyglass of the demon optician, and even, perhaps, that he has looked through such an instrument himself. For, after all, the conclusion of the tale makes it clear that the optician Coppola really is the lawyer Coppelius1 and so also the Sand-Man.
There is no longer any question of 'intellectual uncertainty': we know now that what we are presented with are not figments of a madman's imagination, behind which we, with our superior rationality, can recognize the sober truth—yet this clear knowledge in no way diminishes the impression of the uncanny. The notion of intellectual uncertainty in no way helps us to understand this uncanny effect.
On the other hand, psychoanalytic experience reminds us that some children have a terrible fear of damaging or losing their eyes. Many retain this anxiety into adult life and fear no physical injury so much as one to the eye. And there is a common saying that one will 'guard something like the apple of one's eye'. The study of dreams, fantasies and myths has taught us also that anxiety about one's eyes, the fear of going blind, is quite often a substitute for the fear of castration. When the mythical criminal Oedipus blinds himself, this is merely a mitigated form of the penalty of castration, the only one that befits him according to the lex talionis. Taking up a rationalis-tic stance, one may seek to reject the idea that the fear of damaging the eyes can be traced back to the fear of castration; one finds it understandable that so precious an organ as the eye should be guarded by a commensurate anxiety. Indeed, one can go further and claim that no deeper mystery and no other significance lie behind the fear of castration. Yet this does not account for the substitutive relation between the eye and the male member that is manifested in dreams, fantasies and myths; nor can it counter the impression that a particularly strong and obscure emotion is aroused by the threat of losing the sexual organ, and that it is this emotion that first gives such resonance to the idea of losing other organs. Any remaining doubt vanishes once one has learnt the details of the 'castration complex' from analyses of neurotic patients and realized what an immense part it plays in their mental life.
Moreover, I would not advise any opponent of the psychoanalytic view to appeal to Hoffmann's story of the Sand-Man in support of the contention that fear for the eyes is something independent of the castration complex. For why is this fear for the eyes so closely linked here with the death of the father? Why does the Sand-Man always appear as a disruptor of love? He estranges the unfortunate student from his fiancée, and from her brother, his best friend; he destroys the second object of his love, the beautiful doll Olimpia, and even drives him to suicide just when he has won back his fiancée and the two are about to be happily united. These and many other features of the tale appear arbitrary and meaningless if one rejects the relation between fear for the eyes and fear of castration, but they become meaningful as soon as the Sand-Man is replaced by the dreaded father, at whose hands castration is expected.2
We would therefore venture to trace back the uncanny element in the Sand-Man to the anxiety caused by the infantile castration complex. Yet as soon as we conceive the idea of ascribing the emergence of the sense of the uncanny to an infantile factor such as this, we cannot help trying to derive other examples of the uncanny from the same source. 'The Sand-Man' also contains the motif of the apparently animate doll, which was singled out by Jentsch. According to him we have particularly favourable conditions for generating feelings of the uncanny if intellectual uncertainty is aroused as to whether something is animate or inanimate, and whether the lifeless bears an excessive likeness to the living. With dolls, of course, we are not far from the world of childhood. We recall that children, in their early games, make no sharp distinction between the animate and the inanimate, and that they are especially fond of treating their dolls as if they were alive. Indeed, one occasionally hears a woman patient tell how, at the age of eight, she was still convinced that her dolls were bound to come to life if she looked at them in a certain way, as intently as possible. Here too, then, the infantile factor is easily demonstrated. But, oddly enough, 'The Sand-Man' involved the evocation of an old childhood fear, whereas there is no question of fear in the case of a living doll: children are not afraid of their dolls coming to life—they may even want them to. Here, then, the sense of the uncanny would derive not from an infantile fear, but from an infantile wish, or simply from an infantile belief. This sounds like a contradiction, but possibly it is just a complication, which may further our understanding later on.
E. T. A. Hoffmann is the unrivalled master of the uncanny in literature. His novel Die Elexiere des Teufels [The Elixirs of the Devil] presents a whole complex of motifs to which one is tempted to ascribe the uncanny effect of the story. The content is too rich and intricate for us to venture upon a summary. At the end of the book, when the reader finally learns of the presuppositions, hitherto withheld, which underlie the plot, this leads not to his enlightenment, but to his utter bewilderment. The author has piled up too much homogeneous material, and this is detrimental, not to the impression made by the whole, but to its intelligibility. One must content oneself with selecting the most prominent of those motifs that produce an uncanny effect, and see whether they too can reasonably be traced back to infantile sources. They involve the idea of the 'double' (the Doppelgänger), in all its nuances and manifestations—that is to say, the appearance of persons who have to be regarded as identical because they look alike. This relationship is intensified by the spontaneous transmission of mental processes from one of these persons to the other—what we would call telepathy—so that the one becomes co-owner of the other's knowledge, emotions and experience. Moreover, a person may identify himself with another and so become unsure of his true self; or he may substitute the other's self for his own. The self may thus be duplicated, divided and interchanged. Finally there is the constant recurrence of the same thing, the repetition of the same facial features, the same characters, the same destinies, the same misdeeds, even the same names, through successive generations.
The motif of the double has been treated in detail in a study by O. Rank.3 This work explores the connections that link the double with mirror-images, shadows, guardian spirits, the doctrine of the soul and the fear of death. It also throws a good deal of light on the surprising evolution of the motif itself. The double was originally an insurance against the extinction of the self or, as Rank puts it, 'an energetic denial of the power of death', and it seems likely that the 'immortal' soul was the first double of the body. The invention of such doubling as a defence against annihilation has a counterpart in the language of dreams, which is fond of expressing the idea of castration by duplicating or multiplying the genital symbol. In the civilization of ancient Egypt, it became a spur to artists to form images of the dead in durable materials. But these ideas arose on the soil of boundless self-love, the primordial narcissism that dominates the mental life of both the child and primitive man, and when this phase is surmounted, the meaning of the 'double' changes: having once been an assurance of immortality, it becomes the uncanny harbinger of death.
The concept of the double need not disappear along with this primitive narcissism: it may acquire a new content from later stages in the evolution of the ego. By slow degrees a special authority takes shape within the ego; this authority, which is able to confront the rest of the ego, performs the function of self-observation and self-criticism, exercises a kind of psychical censorship, and so becomes what we know as the 'conscience'. In the pathological case of delusions of observation it becomes isolated, split off from the ego, and discernible to the clinician. The existence of such an authority, which can treat the rest of the ego as an object—the fact that, in other words, man is capable of self-observation—makes it possible to imbue the old idea of the double with a new content and attribute a number of features to it—above all, those which, in the light of selfcriticism, seem to belong to the old, superannuated narcissism of primitive times.4
Yet it is not only this content—which is objectionable to self-criticism—that can be embodied in the figure of the double: in addition there are all the possibilities which, had they been realized, might have shaped our destiny, and to which our imagination still clings, all the strivings of the ego that were frustrated by adverse circumstances, all the suppressed acts of volition that fostered the illusion of free will.5
However, after considering the manifest motivation behind the figure of the double, we have to own that none of this helps us understand the extraordinary degree of uncanniness that attaches to it, and we may add, drawing upon our knowledge of pathological mental processes, that none of this content could explain the defensive urge that ejects it from the ego as something alien. Its uncanny quality can surely derive only from the fact that the double is a creation that belongs to a primitive phase in our mental development, a phase that we have surmounted, in which it admittedly had a more benign significance. The double has become an object of terror, just as the gods become demons after the collapse of their cult—a theme that Heine treats in 'Die Götter im Exil' ['The Gods in Exile'].
The other disturbances of the ego that Hoffmann exploits in his writings are easy to judge in accordance with the pattern set by the motif of the double. They involve a harking back to single phases in the evolution of the sense of self, a regression to times when the ego had not yet clearly set itself off against the world outside and from others. I believe that these motifs are partly responsible for the impression of the uncanny, though it is not easy to isolate and specify the share they have in it.
The factor of the repetition of the same thing will perhaps not be acknowledged by everyone as a source of the sense of the uncanny. According to my own observations it undoubtedly evokes such a feeling under particular conditions, and in combination with particular circumstances—a feeling, moreover, that recalls the helplessness we experience in certain dream-states. Strolling one hot summer afternoon through the empty and to me unfamiliar streets of a small Italian town, I found myself in a district about whose character I could not long remain in doubt. Only heavily made-up women were to be seen at the windows of the little houses, and I hastily left the narrow street at the next turning. However, after wandering about for some time without asking the way, I suddenly found myself back in the same street, where my presence began to attract attention. Once more I hurried away, only to return there again by a different route. I was now seized by a feeling that I can only describe as uncanny, and I was glad to find my way back to the piazza that I had recently left and refrain from any further voyages of discovery. Other situations that share this feature of the unintentional return with the one I have just described, but differ from it in other respects, may nevertheless produce the same feeling of helplessness, the same sense of the uncanny. One may, for instance, have lost one's way in the woods, perhaps after being overtaken by fog, and, despite all one's efforts to find a marked or familiar path, one comes back again and again to the same spot, which one recognizes by a particular physical feature. Or one may be groping around in the dark in an unfamiliar room, searching for the door or the light-switch and repeatedly colliding with the same piece of furniture—a situation that Mark Twain has transformed, admittedly by means of grotesque exaggeration, into something irresistibly comic.
In another set of experiences we have no difficulty in recognizing that it is only the factor of unintended repetition that transforms what would otherwise seem quite harmless into something uncanny and forces us to entertain the idea of the fateful and the inescapable, when we should normally speak of 'chance'. There is certainly nothing remarkable, for instance, about depositing a garment in a cloakroom and being given a ticket with a certain number on it—say 62—or about finding that the cabin one has been allocated bears this number. But the impression changes if these two events, of no consequence in themselves, come close together, so that one encounters the number 62 several times in one day, and if one then observes that everything involving a number—addresses, hotel rooms, railway carriages, etc.—invariably has the same one, at least as part of the whole. We find this 'uncanny', and anyone who is not steeled against the lure of superstition will be inclined to accord a secret significance to the persistent recurrence of this one number—to see it, for instance, as a pointer to his allotted life-span. Or suppose one is occupied with the writings of E[wald] Hering,6 the great physiologist, and that within the space of a few days one receives letters from two people named Hering, posted in different countries, although one has had no previous dealings with anyone of that name. An ingenious scientist has recently sought to show that such occurrences are subject to certain laws—which would necessarily remove the impression of the uncanny. I will not venture to pronounce on whether he has succeeded.7
How the uncanny element in the recurrence of the same thing can be derived from infantile psychology is a question that I can only touch upon here; I must therefore refer the reader to another study, now awaiting publication, which treats the subject in detail, but in a different context. In the unconscious mind we can recognize the dominance of a compulsion to repeat, which proceeds from instinctual impulses. This compulsion probably depends on the essential nature of the drives themselves. It is strong enough to override the pleasure principle and lend a demonic character to certain aspects of mental life; it is still clearly manifest in the impulses of small children and dominates part of the course taken by the psychoanalysis of victims of neurosis. The foregoing discussions have all prepared us for the fact that anything that can remind us of this inner compulsion to repeat is perceived as uncanny.
But now, I think, it is time to turn away from these relationships, which are in any case difficult to pass judgement on, and seek out unequivocal cases of the uncanny, which may be expected, once analysed, to determine the validity of our hypothesis once and for all.
In Schiller's poem Der Ring des Polykrates ('The Ring of Polykrates') the guest turns away in horror because he sees his friend's every wish instantly fulfilled and his every care at once removed by fate. His host has become 'uncanny'. The reason he himself gives—that whoever is excessively fortunate must fear the envy of the gods—still seems obscure to us, its meaning being veiled in mythology. So let us take an example from a much simpler setting. In the case history of a patient suffering from obsessional neurosis8 I recorded that he had once visited a hydropathic institution and found that his health improved greatly. However, he was sensible enough to attribute this improvement not to the healing properties of the water, but to the location of his room, which was next to the office of a very kind nurse. So, on returning for a second visit, he asked for the same room, only to be told that it was already occupied by an old gentleman. Whereupon he gave vent to his annoyance with the words, 'Then he should be struck dead!' A fortnight later the old gentleman did suffer a stroke. My patient found this an 'uncanny' experience. The impression of the uncanny would have been even stronger if a much shorter interval had elapsed between his uttering the words and the untoward event that followed, or if he had been able to report numerous similar experiences. In fact, he was never at a loss for such corroboration. Indeed, not only this patient, but every obsessional neurotic I have studied, could tell similar stories about themselves. They were not at all surprised when, perhaps after a long interval, they ran into someone about whom they had only just been thinking. They would regularly get a letter by the morning post from a friend of whom they had said, only the night before, 'He's not been heard of for ages.' In particular, accidents and deaths rarely happened without having flitted through their minds a short while before. They would describe this phenomenon in the most modest terms, claiming to have 'presentiments' that 'usually' came true.
One of the uncanniest and most widespread superstitions is fear of the 'evil eye', which has been thoroughly investigated by the Hamburg oculist S. Seligmann.9 It appears that the source of this fear has never been in doubt. Anyone who possesses something precious, but fragile, is afraid of the envy of others, to the extent that he projects on to them the envy he would have felt in their place. Such emotions are betrayed by looks,10 even if they are denied verbal expression, and when a person is prominent owing to certain striking characteristics, especially if these are of an undesirable kind, people are ready to believe that his envy will reach a particular intensity and then convert this intensity into effective action. What is feared is thus a covert intention to harm, and on the strength of certain indications it is assumed that this intention can command the necessary force.
These last examples of the uncanny depend on the principle that I have called 'the omnipotence of thoughts', a term suggested to me by a patient. We can no longer be in any doubt about where we now stand. The analysis of cases of the uncanny has led us back to the old animistic view of the universe, a view characterized by the idea that the world was peopled with human spirits, by the narcissistic overrating of one's own mental processes, by the omnipotence of thoughts and the technique of magic that relied on it, by the attribution of carefully graded magical powers (mana) to alien persons and things, and by all the inventions with which the unbounded narcissism of that period of development sought to defend itself against the unmistakable sanctions of reality. It appears that we have all, in the course of our individual development, been through a phase corresponding to the animistic phase in the development of primitive peoples, that this phase did not pass without leaving behind in us residual traces that can still make themselves felt, and that everything we now find 'uncanny' meets the criterion that it is linked with these remnants of animistic mental activity and prompts them to express themselves.11
This is now an appropriate point at which to introduce two observations in which I should like to set down the essential content of this short study. In the first place, if psychoanalytic theory is right in asserting that every affect arising from an emotional impulse—of whatever kind—is converted into fear by being repressed, it follows that among those things that are felt to be frightening there must be one group in which it can be shown that the frightening element is something that has been repressed and now returns. This species of the frightening would then constitute the uncanny, and it would be immaterial whether it was itself originally frightening or arose from another affect. In the second place, if this really is the secret nature of the uncanny, we can understand why German usage allows the familiar (das Heimliche, the 'homely') to switch to its opposite, the uncanny (das Unheimliche, the 'unhomely') (p. 134), for this uncanny element is actually nothing new or strange, but something that was long familiar to the psyche and was estranged from it only through being repressed. The link with repression now illuminates Schelling's definition of the uncanny as 'something that should have remained hidden and has come into the open'.
It now only remains for us to test the insight we have arrived at by trying to explain some other instances of the uncanny.
To many people the acme of the uncanny is represented by anything to do with death, dead bodies, revenants, spirits and ghosts. Indeed, we have heard that in some modern languages the German phrase ein unheimliches Haus ['an uncanny house'] can be rendered only by the periphrasis 'a haunted house'. We might in fact have begun our investigation with this example of the uncanny—perhaps the most potent—but we did not do so because here the uncanny is too much mixed up with the gruesome and partly overlaid by it. Yet in hardly any other sphere has our thinking and feeling changed so little since primitive times or the old been so well preserved, under a thin veneer, as in our relation to death. Two factors account for this lack of movement: the strength of our original emotional reactions and the uncertainty of our scientific knowledge. Biology has so far been unable to decide whether death is the necessary fate of every living creature or simply a regular, but perhaps avoidable, contingency within life itself. It is true that in textbooks on logic the statement that 'all men must die' passes for an exemplary general proposition, but it is obvious to no one; our unconscious is still as unreceptive as ever to the idea of our own mortality. Religions continue to dispute the significance of the undeniable fact of individual death and to posit an afterlife. The state authorities think they cannot sustain moral order among the living if they abandon the notion that life on earth will be 'corrected' by a bet-ter life hereafter. Placards in our big cities advertise lectures that are meant to instruct us in how to make contact with the souls of the departed, and there is no denying that some of the finest minds and sharpest thinkers among our men of science have concluded, especially towards the end of their own lives, that there is ample opportunity for such contact. Since nearly all of us still think no differently from savages on this subject, it is not surprising that the primitive fear of the dead is still so potent in us and ready to manifest itself if given any encouragement. Moreover, it is probably still informed by the old idea that whoever dies becomes the enemy of the survivor, intent upon carrying him off with him to share his new existence. Given this unchanging attitude to death, one might ask what has become of repression, which is necessary if the primitive is to return as something uncanny. But it is there too: so-called educated people have officially ceased to believe that the dead can become visible as spirits, such appearances being linked to remote conditions that are seldom realized, and their emotional attitude to the dead, once highly ambiguous and ambivalent, has been toned down, in the higher reaches of mental life, to an unambiguous feeling of piety.12
Only a few remarks need now be added to complete the picture, for, having considered animism, magic, sorcery, the omnipotence of thoughts, unintended repetition and the castration complex, we have covered virtually all the factors that turn the frightening into the uncanny.
We can also call a living person uncanny, that is to say, when we credit him with evil intent. But this alone is not enough: it must be added that this intent to harm us is realized with the help of special powers. A good example of this is the gettatore,13 the uncanny figure of Romance superstition, whom Albrecht Schaeffer, in his novel Josef Montfort, has turned into an attractive figure by employing poetic intuition and profound psychoanalytic understanding. Yet with these secret powers we are back once more in the realm of animism. In Goethe's Faust, the pious Gretchen's intuition that Mephisto has such hidden powers is what makes him seem so uncanny:
Sie fühlt, dass ich ganz sicher ein Genie,
Vielleicht wohl gar der Teufel bin.
[She feels that I am quite certainly a genius, perhaps indeed the very Devil.]
ON THE SUBJECT OF …
SIGMUND FREUD (1856–1939) AND "THE UNCANNY"
Freud is considered one of the most influential and controversial thinkers of the twentieth century for his development of the theories and methodologies of psychoanalysis. Central to his theory is the concept of the unconscious, which he describes as a primitive region of the psyche containing emotions, memories, and drives that are hidden from and repressed by the conscious mind. Freud's formulation of a method for retrieving and analyzing repressed psychic material established psychoanalysis as an indispensable form of therapy in treating neurotic disorders, many of which were first identified by Freud and his followers. Freud has also exerted a profound influence on the broader culture of the twentieth century, inspiring artists, writers, critics, and filmmakers. Many of the psychoanalytic terms that Freud coined, such as "narcissism," "repression," and "transference," have entered the vernacular of several languages. Despite the widespread application of the principles of psychoanalysis in the field of psychology, Freud's writings continue to ignite controversy in such diverse disciplines as feminist literary theory, linguistics, and hermeneutics.
In his essay "The Uncanny" (1919)—first published in Imago as "Das Unheimliche"—Freud considers literature in a discussion of the effects of the fantastic. He analyzes E. T. A. Hoffman's story "The Sandman" as a means of elucidating the idea of the uncanny, and particularly the theme of the doppelgänger, or double, as an aspect of the uncanny in literature. Freud posits animism, omnipotence of thought, regression, unintended repetition, and childhood castration anxieties as the psychological sources of the sense of the unreal, and concludes with a summary of the subjective experience of the uncanny as a revisiting of childhood experiences and associations, and the temporary resurgence of primitive explanatory beliefs in the face of the seemingly inexplicable.
The uncanny effect of epilepsy or madness has the same origin. Here the layman sees a manifestation of forces that he did not suspect in a fellow human being, but whose stirrings he can dimly perceive in remote corners of his own personality. The Middle Ages attributed all these manifestations of sickness consistently, and psychologically almost correctly, to the influence of demons. Indeed, it would not surprise me to hear that psychoanalysis, which seeks to uncover these secret forces, had for this reason itself come to seem uncanny to many people. In one case, when I had succeeded—though not very quickly—in restoring a girl to health after many years of sickness, I heard this myself from the girl's mother long after her recovery.
Severed limbs, a severed head, a hand detached from the arm (as in a fairy tale by Hauff), feet that dance by themselves (as in the novel by A. Schaeffer mentioned above)—all of these have something highly uncanny about them, especially when they are credited, as in the last instance, with independent activity. We already know that this species of the uncanny stems from its proximity to the castration complex. Some would award the crown of the uncanny to the idea of being buried alive, only apparently dead. However, psychoanalysis has taught us that this terrifying fantasy is merely a variant of another, which was originally not at all frightening, but relied on a certain lasciviousness; this was the fantasy of living in the womb.
Let us add something of a general nature, which is, strictly speaking, already contained in what we have previously said about animism and the superannuated workings of our mental apparatus, but seems to call for special emphasis. This is the fact that an uncanny effect often arises when the boundary between fantasy and reality is blurred, when we are faced with the reality of something that we have until now considered imaginary, when a symbol takes on the full function and significance of what it symbolizes, and so forth. This is at the root of much that is uncanny about magical practices. The infantile element about this, which also dominates the mental life of neurotics, is the excessive stress that is laid on psychical reality, as opposed to material reality—a feature that is close to the omnipotence of thoughts. During the isolation of the Great War, I came across a number of the English Strand Magazine. In it, among a number of fairly pointless contributions, I read a story about a young couple who move into a furnished flat in which there is a curiously shaped table with crocodiles carved in the wood. Towards evening the flat is regularly pervaded by an unbearable and highly characteristic smell, and in the dark the tenants stumble over things and fancy they see something undefinable gliding over the stairs. In short, one is led to surmise that, owing to the presence of this table, the house is haunted by ghostly crocodiles or that the wooden monsters come to life in the dark, or something of the sort. It was a quite naïve story, but its effect was extraordinarily uncanny.
To conclude this collection of examples, which is certainly not exhaustive, I will mention an experience culled from psychoanalytic work, which, unless it rests on pure coincidence, supplies the most pleasing confirmation of our conception of the uncanny. It often happens that neurotic men state that to them there is something uncanny about the female genitals. But what they find uncanny ['unhomely'] is actually the entrance to man's old 'home', the place where everyone once lived. A jocular saying has it that 'love is a longing for home', and if someone dreams of a certain place or a certain landscape and, while dreaming, thinks to himself, 'I know this place, I've been here before', this place can be interpreted as representing his mother's genitals or her womb. Here too, then, the uncanny [the 'unhomely'] is what was once familiar ['homely', 'homey']. The negative prefix un- is the indicator of repression.
1. On the derivation of the name, pointed out by Frau Dr Rank: coppella = 'assay-crucible' (the chemical operations during which the father meets his death); coppo = 'eye-socket'. [In the first edition of 1919 this note occurs where it does now, but in subsequent German editions (except the students' edition) it appears, no doubt erroneously, after the second mention of the name Coppelius in the previous paragraph.]
2. In fact, the writer's imaginative handling of his material has not thrown the constituent elements into such wild confusion that their original arrangement cannot be reconstructed. In the story of Nathaniel's childhood, his father and Coppelius represent the father-imago, which, owing to its ambivalence, is split into two opposing parts; the one threatens him with blinding (castration), while the other, the good father, successfully intercedes for his sight. The piece of the complex that is most subject to repression, the death-wish directed against the bad father, finds expression in the death of the good father, for which Coppelius bears the blame. In Nathaniel's later life as a student, this pair of fathers is represented by Professor Spalanzani and the optician Coppola. The professor himself belongs to the father-series, while Coppola is seen as identical with the lawyer Coppelius. They once worked together at the mysterious brazier; now they have collaborated in constructing the doll Olimpia; the professor is also called her father. This twofold collaboration reveals them as two parts of the father-imago, which means that both the mechanic and the optician are the fathers not only of Olimpia, but of Nathaniel too. In the frightening childhood scene Coppelius, after refraining from blinding the boy, had proceeded, by way of experiment, to unscrew his arms and legs—to work on him, in other words, as a mechanic would work on a doll. This strange feature, which falls quite outside anything we know about the Sand-Man, brings a new equivalent of castration into play; it also points to the inner identity of Coppelius and his later counterpart, the mechanic Spalanzani, and prepares us for the interpretation of Olimpia. This automaton cannot be anything other than a materialization of Nathaniel's feminine attitude to his father in his early childhood. Her fathers, Spalanzani and Coppola, are merely new versions—reincarnations—of Nathaniel's two fathers. Spalanzani's otherwise incomprehensible statement that the optician had stolen Nathaniel's eyes (see above) in order to set them in the doll becomes significant as evidence of the identity of Olimpia and Nathaniel. Olimpia is, so to speak, a complex that has been detached from Nathaniel and now confronts him as a person; the control that this complex exercises over him finds expression in his senseless, compulsive love for Olimpia. We are justified in describing such love as narcissistic, and we understand that whoever succumbs to it alienates himself from his real love-object. Yet the psychological truth that a young man who is fixated on his father by the castration-complex becomes incapable of loving a woman is demonstrated by many analyses of patients, the content of which, while less fantastic than the story of the student Nathaniel, is scarcely less sad.
E. T. A. Hoffmann was the child of an unhappy marriage. When he was three, his father left his small family and never lived with them again. The evidence that Grisebach assembles in his biographical introduction to the works shows that the writer's relation to his father was always one of the sorest points in his emotional life.
3. O. Rank, 'Der Doppelgänger', Imago III, 1914.
4. I believe that when poets complain that two souls dwell in the human breast, and when popular psychologists talk of the splitting of the human ego, what they have in mind is the division under discussion, belonging to ego-psychology, between the critical authority and the rest of the ego, rather than the opposition, discovered by psychoanalysis, between the ego and whatever is unconscious and repressed. True, the difference is blurred because the derivatives of what has been repressed are foremost among the things that are condemned by self-criticism.
5. In H. H. Ewers' story Der Student von Prag ['The Student of Prague'], which supplies Rank with the starting point for his study of the double, the hero promises his beloved that he will not kill his opponent in a duel, but on his way to the duelling-ground he meets his double, who has already dispatched his rival.
6. [In the Gesammelte Werke this writer is wrongly given the initial 'H'.]
7. P. Kammerer, Das Gesetz der Serie (Vienna 1919).
8. 'Bemerkungen über einen Fall von Zwangsneurose' ['Notes upon a Case of Obsessional Neurosis'] [II.B] (Gesammelte Werke, vol. VII).
9. Der böse Blick und Verwandtes (2 vols, Berlin 1910/1911).
10. [In German 'the evil eye' is der böse Blick, literally 'the evil look'.]
11. On this topic see Freud's study Totem und Tabu ['Totem and Taboo'] (1913) section III of which deals with animism, magic and the omnipotence of thoughts. Here the author remarks, 'It seems that we ascribe the character of the uncanny to those impressions that tend to confirm the omnipotence of thoughts and animistic thinking in general, though our judgement has already turned away from such thinking.'
12. Cf. op. cit. on 'taboo and ambivalence'.
13. [Literally the 'thrower' (of bad luck), or 'the one who casts' (the evil eye).]
OTTO RANK (ESSAY DATE 1941)
SOURCE: Rank, Otto. "The Double as Immortal Self." In Beyond Psychology, by Otto Rank, pp. 62-101. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1958.
In the following excerpt from an essay first published in 1941, Rank outlines the concept of the double as a symbol of the supernatural, or "immortal," self.
Our view of human behaviour as extending beyond individual psychology to a broader conception of personality indicates that civilized man does not act only upon the rational guidance of his intellectual ego nor is he driven blindly by the mere elemental forces of his instinctual self. Mankind's civilization, and with it the various types of personality representing and expressing it, has emerged from the perpetual operation of a third principle, which combines the rational and irrational elements in a world-view based on the conception of the supernatural. This not only holds good for primitive group-life carried forward on a magical world-view, but is still borne out in our highly mechanized civilization by the vital need for spiritual values. Man, no matter under how primitive conditions, never did live on a purely biological, that is, on a simple natural basis. The most primitive people known to us show strange and complicated modes of living which become intelligible only from their supernatural meaning.
Although this has been recognized by modern anthropologists, most of them—not unlike the psychologists—look down on this supernatural world-view as an interesting relic of the primitive's belief in magic which we discarded long ago as superstition. Sir James Frazer, in the last volume of his encyclopedic history of magic, The Golden Bough, considers it "a dark chronicle of human error and folly, of fruitless endeavor, wasted time and blighted hopes."1 Freud, for his part, in comparing primitive superstition with neurotic behaviour merely brought to light the survival of irrational forces in modern man2 and thereby proved the inadequacy of rational psychology to explain primitive man's world-view. It signifies little when some advanced writers, in thrusting aside those scientific classifications, seem ready to admit that we ourselves are just as superstitious as the primitive; in fact, are still primitive beneath the surface. Such an admission smacks too much of reform, hence, seems to have a frightening rather than a liberating effect. The fear of this "primitiveness" within ourselves is obviously the result of an unsuccessful attempt to deny it. Be that as it may, this primitivity, which we are able to admit so readily, is to a large extent the product of our own imagination. That is to say, what we really have in common with our remote ancestors is a spiritual, not a primitive self, and this we cannot afford to admit because we pride ourselves on living on a purely rational plane. In consequence, we reject those irrational life forces as belonging to our primitive past instead of recognizing them in our present spiritual needs. In this sense is to be understood my earlier conception of the supernatural as the really human element, in contradistinction to the biological life which is natural (homo naturalis). My human interpretation conceives of the supernatural as basically identical with what we call "culture," which is after all made up of things non-existent in nature. I mean by that not only all spiritual values of mankind, from the early soul belief to religion, philosophy and its latest offspring psychology, but also social institutions. These too were originally built up to maintain man's supernatural plan of living, that is, were meant to guarantee his self-perpetuation as a social type.
Thus we distinguish in the development of culture and the simultaneous creation of the civilized self three layers: the supernatural, the social and the psychological. The biological self of natural procreation is denied from the beginning, since it implies the acceptance of death. In this sense, the earliest magical world-view was for primitive man not a consoling illusion in his difficult struggle for biological survival but an assurance of eternal survival for his self. This man-made supernatural world-view forms the basis of culture, since man had to support himself increasingly with more and more concrete symbols of his need for immortalization. The most powerful instrument for the creation of his own cultural world was religion as expressed in cult ("culture"), from which spring the fine arts, as well as architecture, drama and literature; in a word, the sum of what survives the short span of one personal life-time. Specialists in the fields of archeology, anthropology and sociology are re-constructing from relics of bygone civilizations the characteristic patterns of various culture periods….
In order to show how culture develops, neither geographically nor anthropologically but from that inner spiritual need, we will confront in the following pages the dynamic personality of modern man with its remotest but still living ancestor, the spiritual self of primitive man. This primitive material we are introducing not in an historical or explanatory sense but merely as illustrative of survivals in modern man, who, having created civilization and with it an over-civilized ego, disintegrates by splitting up the latter into two opposing selves. Those two aspects of the self which in modern man are opposing and fighting each other provide, to be sure, the original raw material for his personality makeup. Yet it makes all the difference whether they are united in the expression of a total personality or driven by conflicting strivings between the two selves, manifested as the antimony of acting or "thinking and feeling." Such dichotomy of conflict, interfering with full living and functioning, is not to be confused with the basic dualism between the natural and spiritual self which was dynamically balanced in the magic world-view. The primitive and modern material concerning the Double, which we are confronting in this chapter, will show how a positive evaluation of the Double as the immortal soul leads to the building-up of the prototype of personality from the self; whereas the negative interpretation of the Double as a symbol of death is symptomatic of the disintegration of the modern personality type. Such a complete reversal, as is borne out by our juxtaposition of folk-loristic and literary tradition, betrays a fundamental change in man's attitude towards life from a naïve belief in supernatural forces which he was certain could be influenced by magic to a "neurotic" fear of them, which he had to rationalize psychologically.
As early as 1914, before the emotional shock of the World War upset the foundations of an over-rationalized civilization, I published an essay on the literary motif of the Double,3 the structural analysis of which laid bare the irrational roots of human psychology in primitive magic. Such development of a respectable science from earlier superstitious beliefs cannot be surprising or embarrassing when we remind ourselves that from time immemorial man was forced to protect himself against the unknown forces of nature by pretending to be able to control them in one form or another. Centuries before our Western science of astronomy was established, the high priests of Oriental religion practised astrology in order to foresee and thus direct the destiny of their people; this very science, in fact, was made possible by an objective observation of planets, which, in the ancient civilizations of the East, emerged from such subjective interpretation of the firmament. Likewise, our science of chemistry was developed from the mysterious experiments of medieval alchemists, determined to outdo nature by producing gold, indeed, creating life itself in their cauldrons. Whether or not these scientific children of a later age are willing to acknowledge their uneducated parents, we should not hesitate to trace their ancestry and their heritage, especially with such a problem child as we have found psychology to be.
As a student, having fallen under the spell of the new scientific psychology, I became aware in its early days of the inadequacy of rational psychology—even that of the unconscious—to explain the unchanging effect of an age-old theme throughout the centuries. More than twenty-five years ago, I happened to see a moving-picture which revived the theme of the Double—famous since the days of Greek mythology and drama—in a more phantastic realism than has ever been possible on the stage. The popularity of this eternal tragi-comedy of errors caused by man's encounter with his double has, however, as is the case with many renowned literary motifs, been periodic. Just as the subject of antagonism between brothers was typical for the literary epoch at the end of the eighteenth century, and the motif of incestuous love between brother and sister characteristic for the Elizabethan age, so it was in the era of German Romanticism that the theme of the Double was in vogue. The renewed interest shown then in the old "Double" of stage-fame, whose humorous entanglements with himself had become subjected to a psychological scrutiny by introspective novelists, cannot be sufficiently accounted for by their eccentric personalities alone. Similar currents in German philosophy at that time suggest that a deeper reason is to be found in the mentality of a whole period once more questioning the identity of the Self. After Kant—"the Philosopher of the Revolution"—had systematized the mentality of the bourgeois type, the underlying principle of self-determination was carried to its individualistic extreme by the romantic philosophers. Disappointed at the actual results of the French Revolution, the romantics outdid Kant, who had taught that the laws of nature had been legislated by the mind. This idealistic conception they applied to the whole pattern of historical development which they conceived of as identical with the growth of self-consciousness. Hence, the true object of knowledge could only be self-knowledge. On that basis they justified personal, class and national aspirations as being evolved from the development of the Self, construed by Fichte as ethical, by Hegel, as logical and by Schelling as aesthetical.
It is not surprising to find that this philosophic self-centredness of the Romantic epoch appears reflected in its contemporary literature. In fact we find these romantic authors interpreting the theme of the Double as a problem of the Self, that is to say, they first looked at it from a psychological point of view. Their choice of the subject of dual personality for the probing into the depth of the human Self, resulted undoubtedly from their own inner split personality, characteristic of the romantic type—hence the conflicting and frustrated emotions of the romantic, a paradoxical type shaped by the repercussions of the French Revolution and glorifying Napoleon, who emerged victorious after it, as the ideal super-man. Once more man had become aware of the irrational forces within himself, the artistic expression of which he had to justify intellectually by subscribing to a new philosophy of the Self.
While this preoccupation with the Self accounts for the romantic's obsession with the subject of the Double, the explanation for the typical form in which this motif persistently appears from Antiquity to the present day has to be derived—beyond the psychology of the individual—from ancient traditions and primitive folk beliefs. Since the plot of the above-mentioned film, "The Student of Prague," drawn from the well-known "Story of the Lost Reflection" by the famous romanticist, E. T. A. Hoffman, combined practically all the old motifs inherent in the subject, I choose to perform what might be called an autopsy on this generalized literary motif. The hero, a reckless libertine, in one of his desperate moods sells his own reflection to a human impersonation of the Devil, only to realize too late the vital importance of his seemingly useless image in the mirror. This, to his bewilderment, takes on an independent life of its own; it follows its former owner, interfering with his social ambitions and his amorous affairs until it becomes a real persecutor driving its victim to suicide. The gruesome death of the hero is brought about through his final attempt to end this terrifying persecution by killing his alter-ego, thereby destroying his own self. Those phantastic happenings take on an uncanny feature with the appearance of the double—played in the film by the same actor as the youthful image of the hero, who himself is aging and has adopted moral standards contrary to those of his former self. The encounters of these conflicting selves at crucial moments in the hero's life provide the necessary complications for a plot, the moral of which seems to imply: a man's past—represented in the film by the hero's own youthful image—is so intimately bound to his vital being that misfortune befalls him if he tries to detach himself too completely from it.
While some writers, like Robert Louis Stevenson in his Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, dramatized this moral aspect of the subject in a hero possessed by an evil self, others, like Dostoievski, in his early story "The Double" (1846) elaborated its psychological intricacies to a point reaching the clinical exactness of a study in paranoic persecution and megalomania. In such psychological and moralistic presentations of the Double, their authors are dealing with illusions in a more or less split personality, whereas in other stories the double appears concretely personified by an identical protagonist, as in Edgar Allan Poe's tale, "William Wilson," where the hero's namesake acts as his guardian angel. In German romanticism, however, this same motif, namely, two figures appearing in identical form like twins has been elaborated upon in a truly morbid fashion. Jean Paul, the father of romantic fiction, especially, dwells in his complicated plots on pathological types whose identify becomes confused with that of their doubles. In his most noted work, Titan, he is said to have derided Fichte's philosophy of the Self by carrying his transcendental idealism ad absurdum. One of the most pathological figures in this novel cannot look at any part of his body without being seized by the dread of his double, a fact which drives him into such a rage that he breaks all the mirrors reflecting his despised self; no wonder he dies insane—with Fichte's phrase of identity on his lips.
Compared to such extravagancies in vogue during the Romantic period, other presentations in which the hero sells his reflection to the Devil or loses his shadow, as in the famous story of Peter Schlemihl (known to English readers from Howitt's translation), appear, despite the hero's tragic fate, naive, not to say, fairy-tale like. There seems inherent in the subject itself a dual aspect which permits its treatment in different forms, varying from the naive comedy of errors enacted between identical twins to the tragic, almost pathological loss of one's real self through a superimposed one. Bearing in mind these duofold potentialities of our subject, we turn to the constant symbolism which this theme—no matter how greatly elaborated upon—has preserved throughout the ages: namely, the presentation of the second self by one's own shadow or reflection. This motif I have traced back, in my essay on the Double referred to, to ancient traditions and folk beliefs which may be considered man's first conception of the soul. Numerous superstitions regarding one's shadow or image still prevalent in all parts of our civilized world correspond to widespread tabus of primitives who see in this natural image of the self the human soul….
In confronting those ancient conceptions of the dual soul with its modern manifestation in the literature of the Double, we realize a decisive change of emphasis, amounting to a moralistic interpretation of the old soul belief. Originally conceived of as a guardian angel, assuring immortal survival to the self, the double eventually appears as precisely the opposite, a reminder of the individual's mortality, indeed, the announcer of death itself. Thus, from a symbol of eternal life in the primitive, the double developed into an omen of death in the self-conscious individual of modern civilization. This revaluation, however, is not merely due to the fact that death no longer could be denied as the end of the individual existence but was prompted by the permeation of the whole subject of immortality with the idea of evil. For the double whom we meet after the completion of this developmental cycle appears as a "bad," threatening self and no longer as a consoling one. This change was brought about by the Christian doctrine of immortality as interpreted by the church, which presumed the right to bestow its immortality on the good ones and exclude the bad ones. At a certain period during the Middle Ages this fear of being doomed on Judgment Day—that is, of not participating in the eternal life of the good—became epidemic in the cult of the Devil, who in essence is nothing but a personification of the moralized double. His origin in the old soul belief is still shown in numerous stories where the hero sells his shadow or reflection to an impersonation of the Devil in order to gain worldly pleasures. This common folk-belief of a soulless Devil eager to secure a good man's immortal soul by seducing him to evil has been immortalized in Goethe's "Faust." The artist took the traditional folk-tale and lifted it from its superstitious entanglements into a human struggle for self-immortalization through work, that is, self-realization.
Similar revaluations in the history of famous literary subjects4 point to a social function of the artist who humanizes traditional folk-beliefs by animating them with his own spiritual struggle for immortality. What enables the creative writer to express his inner dualism—Goethe through Faust speaks directly of the two souls in his bosom—without being too much thwarted by its conflicting struggle, is not, as modern psychology suggests, simply a matter of degree.5 Though both the artist and the neurotic are beset by similar conflicts, it does not mean much to explain the one type by the other. The irrational forces which are operating in both types are striving for some kind of rationalized, that is, accepted form of expression. The neurotic fails in that attempt inasmuch as his productions remain irrational, whereas the artist is able and permitted to present his creation in an acceptable form justifying the survival of the irrational in the midst of our over-rationalized civilization. This cultural function, which I have always considered the main distinction of the artist,6 is borne out in the treatment of the Double-motif as it was developed in the works of prominent authors. There can be no doubt that it is the same exaggerated fear of death threatening the destruction of the Self which the artist has in common with the neurotic. Yet the creative type, in dealing with this fundamental problem of the Self, achieves his personal justification by performing his cultural function—to revive the spiritual values of irrational forces for his generation and thus promote their continuity. Hence, the astounding limitation of literary inventiveness and the seeming monotony of ever-recurring plots. We have to turn from the content of literature to its function in order to appreciate that the artist's imaginative faculty is shown not so much in the invention of new motifs as in recapturing the true spirit of popular tradition to which his irrational self is sensitive.
It is for this reason that we find the most popular stories of the Double based on current folk-belief. At the same time, it is not surprising to find pathological elements, such as the hero's persecution by his double, introduced by modern authors whose creative sensibility responds likewise in morbid moods to the threat of irrational elements. It is almost as if the primitive curse of overstepping the tabus, which protected the double, has struck the artist daring to gain immortality by creating a profane image of his spiritual self. Some of these authors while writing their stories felt death, as it were, on their heels. Stevenson was severely ill from a hemorrhage when, in a dream, he conceived the essential scenes of his Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. This first draft, however, he burned as unsatisfactory and hastened to re-write the whole story, a feat which he accomplished in three days, presumably not to lose it again but actually for fear of his failing health. "I drive on with Jekyll," he wrote in a letter, "bankruptcy at my heels."7 Guy de Maupassant wrote his gruesome account of a spectre, "Le Horla," seemingly at the beginning of his fatal illness. The common assumption that the author was already insane when he wrote this story has recently been refuted by his former valet Francois.8 Francois, who at the age of seventy-eight still refers to his late master as "Monsieur," said that Maupassant was perfectly lucid at the time he wrote the book, in August, 1887. When he sent the novel to the publisher, he told Francois that before a week had elapsed all Paris would be saying he was crazy. Actually, it was not until 1891, four years later, that Maupassant began to feel insanity coming on; when he realized he could no longer retain his right state of mind, he attempted suicide by cutting his throat. This typical outcome of persecution by the double, although precipitated by the author's illness, was by no means caused by it. Throughout his life Maupassant had been struggling against the "Intimate Enemy," which he had long recognized as a double personality in himself. Like Poe and Hoffman, he also suffered from hallucinations which he described in his work.
There exists one account of an actual experience of this sort which Maupassant had in 1889 and which he related that same evening to a friend. He was sitting at his desk in his study, having given strict orders that no one was to be admitted. Suddenly he had the impression that someone had opened the door. He turned around and to his great astonishment saw his own self enter and sit down in front of him, resting his head on his hand. All that Maupassant wrote on this occasion was dictated to him by his double. Having finished, he rose and the phantom vanished. This account9 sounds like a scene from his Le Horla which, however, must be considered an intuition rather than a recording of another such actual experience. Of Poe, it is well known that he died at the early age of thirty-seven in a fit of delirium tremens. His story, "William Wilson," is generally regarded as a confession, since it pictures the fate of a man ruined by gambling and drinking, who finally, despite the efforts of his better self to save him, kills himself. Many years before his end, Poe also suffered from various obsessions and nameless apprehensions; he was troubled by a persecution mania and had delusions of grandeur. In his recent book, Edgar Allan Poe; a Study in Genius,10 Joseph Wood Krutch considers the famous stories and poems not as works of artifice but as more or less disguised expressions of queer realities in Poe's life, particularly since it is known that many of his ideas came to him in visions and hallucinations.
Of all the authors who introspectively recognized an early split in their personality, no one probably was more driven by the fear of death than was Dostoievski. While still a student at the Polytechnic, he suffered from slight fits, probably epileptic, and was afraid of being buried alive, as was Poe, likewise a victim of epilepsy. In many passages of his works, Dostoievski has described his later "grand mal" in masterly fashion. Before going into the aura, he was able to catch a glimpse of the "happiness that could not be experienced in ordinary life and of which no other man could have an idea…. This sensation is so powerful, so agreeable, that one would give ten years for a few seconds of such felicity, and perhaps even one's life." After each fit, however, he was terribly depressed and felt himself a criminal. During the last days of his life to Petrograd, he wrote: "I have had an attack lasting ten days and for five days since I have been prostrated. I am a lost man—my reason has really suffered and that is the truth—I know it. My nervous confusion has often brought me near to madness." He not only experienced these states of unconsciousness frequently but having been condemned to death as a revolutionist and graced only at the last minute, he actually died, so to speak, a living death, described in The Idiot. His feeling of being constantly persecuted by death, which even seems to account for the expressionism of his hectic style,11 cannot be explained as the result of those abnormal experiences alone, but is the most fundamental feature of his personality make-up. According to Merejkovsky, the theme of the Double was for Dostoievski his main personal problem: "Thus all his tragic and struggling pairs of real people who appear to themselves as complete entities are presented as two halves of a third divided personality—halves which, like the doubles, seek themselves and pursue themselves." This is carried out in the most grandiose manner in his last and greatest novel, The Brothers Karamazov, where Smerjakov is pictured as the double of his brother Ivan, the two not only usually appearing together and discussing the same subjects but being inseparably united by a favorite motif of Dostoievski's, the idea of the potential criminal. This double (says Ivan) "is only a personification of myself, in fact only a part of myself … of my lowest and stupidest thoughts and feelings." In some of the omitted passages of The Possessed, Stavrogin, still trying to convince himself that his hallucination of the double is subjective and not the Devil, says: "I don't believe in him, do not yet believe. I know that this is only myself in different manifestations, splitting myself and talking to myself. But he is determined to become an independent Devil, so that I have to believe in his existence." In this last work of Dostoievski, the hero Ivan propounds the author's moral philosophy in a poetic vision of the Devil, who is presented as a creation of man in his own image. Before Ivan becomes insane, the Devil appears to him and declares himself his double; Ivan, however, refuses to recognize the reality of the apparition. "You are an illusion, a malady, a deception, but I do not know how to destroy you. You are an hallucination, you are only a manifestation of myself, that is to say, of my thoughts and of my most abominable thoughts at that. All that has been long since dead, all the opinions that I uttered long ago, you bring up here as if they were new."
Here we find ourselves again confronted with the meaning of the double, as a representative of the individual's past. Originally, the double was an identical self (shadow, reflection), promising personal survival in the future; later, the double retained together with the individual's life his personal past; ultimately, he became an opposing self, appearing in the form of evil which represents the perishable and mortal part of the personality repudiated by the social self. Those three essential stages in the development of the ideas on the double we find epitomized in the successive treatment of this theme in three of Dostoievski's masterpieces: his early story, "The Double," his most fascinating study, The Possessed, and his last and maturest work, The Brothers Karamazov. Dostoievski himself has confessed that Goliadkin, the paranoiac hero of his early novel, was the mouthpiece of his own feelings. The author had planned to rewrite this too-revealing account but evidently felt compelled to treat the same subject in a more objective manner. In this, his second story of a double, called "The Youth," the hero is definitely characterized as a case of split personality who describes himself in the following words: "You know, I seem to duplicate myself, to divide myself into two parts—actually double myself and I'm terrified of this doubling. I feel as if my double were standing next to me; one is oneself sober and sensible and the double absolutely wants to do something silly, sometimes something very funny; and then one suddenly realizes that one actually wants to do this oneself. God knows why, one wants it somehow involuntarily, one resists it and yet one wants it with all one's will power." Interestingly enough, Dostoievski closes his description of Versilov's split by a self-conscious remark which indicates that the author has familiarized himself with the current literature on psychopathology: "What is the double really?" he asks. "He is—at least according to a medical book of an expert that I consulted lately on this subject—nothing but the first stage of insanity which may end in disaster, a dualism between feeling and willing." Following the above-sketched development of the idea of the double in three successive characters of Dostoievski's main works, Professor D. Tschizewskij, exiled in Prague after the revolution, concludes in his philosophical interpretation of The Double in Dostojevskij12 that they represent the artist's protest against nineteenth-century rationalism, according to which man only exists in the material world and in a material sense. The double breaking through as he does in Dostoievski's characters is evidence of the uncertainty an individual feels when confronted with a more real existence opened up in the face of unknown forces. The first witness, Goliadkin, appears as a more passive victim of this principle, in that the rational forces are crushing him from without, whereas Stavrogin and his fully developed successor, Ivan Karamazov, are consumed by their rationalism from within.
This literary development of the Double-motif shows how its moralistic revaluation of folktradition is accompanied by an intellectual interpretation in literature aimed to counteract its threatening irrational power. In giving the main folk-belief a tragic form, the artist not only disposes of his irrational self in his work but at the same time enables the public to detach itself from both the writer and his creation. Such artistic transformation of a primitive motif differs, however, from the historical detachment of scientific classification in that it appears as a living expression of powerful personalities still under the spell of those irrational forces. In giving them form, that is, rational expression, the artist enables the public to feel sufficiently removed from the irrational elements to dare vicariously to participate in them. This dual rôle of the public explains the fascination great tragedies have for us, in that we not only take part in the hero's human suffering but by the same token participate in the superhuman greatness for which he suffers. Our form of tragedy as the offspring of early Greek cult and ritual still performs the same spiritual function as did those religious ceremonies: that of temporarily uniting the "commoner" with irrational life-forces from which the average man in his daily existence had to be protected by all sorts of strict tabus. On certain festive occasions, however, when those tabus were lifted, the priests and kings permanently endowed with the sacred duty of preserving that essential life-force communicated it to the people. It is from such seasonal renewal of the irrational self in the spiritual ceremonies of magic participation that culture developed. Culture is derived from "cult," not only linguistically but also functionally, that is, as a continuous translation of supernatural conceptions into rational terms. Culture, then, is conceived of here as an expression of the irrational self seeking material immortalization in lasting achievements. In this sense, culture serves a dual function: it preserves the old spiritual life-values in a more permanent form, independent of the seasonal re-creation, and at the same time provides a more direct and permanent participation of the average group member in the creation and maintenance of its symbols.
1. Aftermath, The Macmillan Co., N. Y., 1937.
2. Totem and Tabu, Moffat Yard, N. Y., 1913.
3. "Der Doppelgaenger," "Imago," 1914. Reprinted, Internationaler psychoanalytischer Verlag, Vienna, 1925. French translation under the title, "Don Juan, Une étude sur le Double," Paris, 1932.
4. See my book, Don Juan, Une Étude sur le Double, Paris, 1932.
5. My differing viewpoint is fully documented in Art and Artist, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., N. Y., 1932.
6. Der Kuenstler, Internationaler psychoanalytischer Verlag, Wien, 1907.
7. Balfour, Sir Graham. The Life of Robert Louis Stevenson, Charles Scribner's Sons, N. Y., 1901.
8. In an interview with "Paris Soir," July 3, 1933.
9. Quoted from Sollier, Les phénomènes d'Autoscopie, Paris, 1913.
10. Alfred A. Knopf, N. Y., 1926.
11. "In these rapidly sketched, mobile, fluctuating descriptions of Dostoievski's, one feels the hurried impressionism and abnormal clarity of a consciousness already anticipating the approach of insensibility. In his descriptions we find a completely unique form of realism of an epileptic, and one who has suffered the death sentence." (Grossman, L., in his recent edition of Dostoievski's works in Russian.)
12. Reichenberg, 1933.
DAVID PUNTER (ESSAY DATE 1989)
SOURCE: Punter, David. "Narrative and Psychology in Gothic Fiction." In Gothic Fictions: Prohibition/Transgression, edited and with an afterword by Kenneth W. Graham, pp. 1-27. New York: AMS, 1989.
In the following essay, Punter assesses Gothic fiction within the context of the psychoanalytic theories of Melanie Klein.
In this essay, I want to try to bring together some of the crucial features of Gothic fiction with one or two of the insights to be derived from psychoanalysis, but psychoanalysis of a particular kind: the school of psychoanalysis particularly associated with Melanie Klein, the so-called British School, which is also sometimes referred to under the heading of "object-relations psychology." In trying for this connection I am not simply practising an arbitrary yoking together of the heterogeneous. I believe that Kleinian psychoanalysis is very important, for several reasons. Mainly, I take it to be capable of generating accounts of what it might mean to be human. What I mean by that is that the Kleinian approach is one which does not shirk the complexity of the connections between thought and feeling; it does not shrink from owning to the destructiveness which proves so frequently disastrous to the best-intended schemes of political and social progress; it attempts to describe the growth of the individual in ways which assume that, from the outset, the individual lives and moves and has his or her being in a recognisably constituted social world.
It is, perhaps, highly polemical in these times to say this; but I believe that, in these respects, Kleinian analysis stands in stark contrast to the more popular neo-Freudianism associated with the name of Jacques Lacan. There are many things one could say about this contrast, and what it itself symbolises; but I believe it fair to say that Lacanian conceptualisations rarely seek very much purchase in experience.1 That is to say, Lacanian thought tends towards becoming a peculiarly cerebral and abstract affair; it deals, certainly with intelligence, in structure and form, and offers valuable insight into levels at which, indeed, the unconscious may operate like a language; but it appears to lack the more real sense of complexity which emerges from the very best psychoanalytical writing—a complexity, that is, which is very unlike the largely mechanical complexities of Lacanian post-structuralism, and bears more relation to the ever-changing oscillations of feeling and mood which actually comprise human experience.
This absence in Lacanian thought would, perhaps, not matter very much if it were not for the fact that, after all, Lacanianism purports to be a variant of psychoanalysis, and if there is one thing of which psychoanalysts should be aware, it is of the deep psychoses which frequently underlie the excessively high valuation of mind. Sandor Ferenczi, to name but one analyst who writes about this, referred most individual and cultural madness to an intense desire for rationality, which itself masked a disgust for the body and for the material world, a disgust which would need much patient unravelling.2 Lacan, I believe, is caught in precisely this trap. It is perhaps also worth underlining that this particular syndrome, the syndrome, we might call it, of the disembodied brain, is undoubtedly connected with masculinity; that is not to say that it is exclusively an illness of men, but masculinity, the rejection of the body, and the impulses of self-destruction and the destruction of others are very closely tied together, in this culture at least; and the directly phallic stance of Lacanian thought and writing is another vitiation of its value, and one which is particularly surprising when one considers that Lacan has been much taken up by feminist thinkers and writers, whereas Melanie Klein has not.3
I wish to explore four points. First, to address briefly the general question, "What are we doing when we psychoanalyse a text?" Secondly, to offer one or two thoughts on psychoanalysis in general in relation to Gothic fiction. Thirdly, to discuss Klein's work in general relation to the notions of narrative and symbolism. And finally, to try to draw these threads together by investigating certain moments in Gothic fiction in the light of Kleinian concepts, and seeing whether we can make use of these concepts to elucidate some of the problems of a particular genre of fiction.
So: what are we doing when we use psychoanalysis in relation to literary texts? We need, I think, to be clear that we are engaged in a very different enterprise from anything we might practise within a real relationship to other people. According to Freud there are only three ways of recovering and exploring unconscious material. One is through dream; the second is through parapraxes, slips of the tongue, behavioural eccentricities and so forth; and the third, which of course bases itself largely on work with the first two, is in the practice of analysis itself, through the use of the principal tools of free association.
None of these methods for the recovery and exploration of unconscious material is available in the written text. The text may recount dreams, but it does not dream of itself. The nearest equivalents it may have to parapraxes are printing errors; these might indeed be interesting, but are hardly likely to yield a rich crop of meaning. And although we may put questions to the text, we can expect no answers. Indeed, in our interrogations of the text, the psychoanalytic situation is reversed; it is the text which remains mute, while we, the critics, conduct our more less impassioned monologues and dialogues across its inert form.
So the text itself cannot be psychoanalysed; and neither can its author, or at least, such a process would have little relation to the central tasks of criticism. I believe that the best we can say is this: that we are making use of psychoanalytical concepts, and maybe also of a psychoanalytic stance, as tools with which to elucidate our experience of the text.4 That may sound very imprecise, but I suggest that it is not; that we need to have the category of our own experience within the definition for the sake of clarity, because whatever our approach to literature is, it will always be our own experience of the text which is at stake. And, of course, there is no reason to suppose that this experience need be pristine or uninformed; clearly, whenever we approach a text we bring with us all the baggage we have acquired through previous cultural contacts, our knowledge of the language, our various historical senses, our aesthetic formation and so forth.
I say "to elucidate our experience of the text"; but I would want to add a further point. Psychoanalysis, essentially, is in the business of making interpretations.5 Of course, within the process of individual psychoanalysis, the status of those interpretations, whether withheld or offered by the analyst, is highly provisional; and, indeed, this may also be the case with literary interpretation. But I would want to hold to the category interpretation when trying to work with analytic concepts; it is an interpretation which is the end-point of our endeavours, and it is inevitable that in putting forward an interpretation of a text we are simultaneously putting forward an interpretation of ourselves, and also, in most cases, an interpretation of a particular moment of contact between the culture we inhabit and a different one, a moment of contact within which whole realms of human experience may be contained.
Turning now to the Gothic, it needs to be said that Gothic fiction has proved a godsend to psychoanalytically-minded critics; and it is not hard to see why this should be so. Gothic fiction deals intensely in symbolism, to the point of naivety; it does not take much analytic skill to probe the skeletons of Mysteries of Udolpho or the inner significance of the portrait in Lewis' The Monk. One variant or another of described mental abnormality occurs in all the relevant texts; it would take a remarkable blindness to avoid noticing the diagnoses of insanity, consequent frequently upon the prohibitions of the law and the disorienting effects of transgression, which are offered on every page—although that is not at all the same, of course, as taking those diagnoses at their face value. For all that, there has not been a satisfactory general study of the Gothic from a psychoanalytic viewpoint; the kinds of point mentioned above tend to emerge piecemeal in the general run of Gothic criticism.6
It is not necessary to rehearse those obvious points here, but I would like to add a few observations on matters which I take to be generally relevant to a psychoanalytical interpretation of the Gothic. First, I think it needs to be pointed out that there is a type of historical continuity between the forms of Gothic fiction and the forms of psychoanalytical writing. To put it at its simplest, quite a number of Gothic novels are really structured like case histories. We might think particularly of James Hogg's Confessions of a Justified Sinner, with its doubled account of what we could crudely refer to as a phenomenon of massive defensive splitting of the psyche; but the structure is also clearly visible in many lesser-known works. In Sophia Lee's The Recess, for instance, a very early Gothic novel, we are actually invited to adjudicate as readers between two different diagnostic accounts, which in several crucial respects flatly contradict each other.7
And this, of course, complicates the business of critical interpretation by appearing to offer us a further alternative. If it is technically impossible to analyse the text or the presumed author, perhaps after all it may be possible to analyse the character or characters whose reality we are offered for inspection. I think we have to be clear that if we do this we are in fact participating in a flow of fictions; which, in itself, may be a perfectly worthwhile activity, but should not be confused with the analysis of real people. In fact, it is odd how quite sophisticated critics, who in other respects are alert to the fictions of character, of the ways in which the very notion of character needs to be deconstructed so that one can see the bundle of codes and categories out of which fictional persons are built, nonetheless seem able to believe that, for the specific purpose of discerning an unconscious, we can take a "character" as in some sense real. It appears to me, for instance, that Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, whose Between Men: English Literature and Homosocial Desire contains some very interesting thoughts on the Gothic, usually falls into this trap despite the intensity of her engagement with deconstructionist thinking.8
Of course, there are other connections. Freud himself was a devotee of just that period and type of German writing, epitomised in Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther, which proved inspirational to the English Gothic novelists. This is important because the great German romantics were themselves trying, for the most part, to diagnose a cultural condition, a condition in which they themselves participated. It could be said that this kind of writing reached its finest, if most opaque, flowering in Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, where the passing sicknesses of civilisation and of the individual psyche are welded together in a single prose account of a historical condition. The basis of that condition, according to Hegel, can be summarised as "alienation"; and it is worth noting that among the many meanings of that tortured and tortuous word is its application to conditions of mental dislocation.9
In trying to draw psychoanalytic writing and the Gothic novel together in this way, there are several concepts we need to have in mind. The first one is the pleasure of the text. Why do we read Gothic novels? Why do we read Freud's case histories? In the latter case we may have a genuine professional interest; but in the absence of that, I suggest that the pleasures to be derived may not be dissimilar. What we have in those writings are two sets of depictions of psychotic states of mind; the "dreadful pleasure" evoked by Gothic fiction, whether it be Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho or The Italian, or Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, is not merely the terror of falling from high precipices or of encountering the fearsome sight of the monster playing Boris Karloff and hurling small children around; it is also the terror that we may be in danger of losing our minds, that the madness exemplified in the text may end up by removing some of our own usual life coordinates and leaving us adrift, the victims of a transgression which can no longer be healed. Certainly Coleridge felt that danger as he read through and reviewed some of the early Gothic texts;10 and yet of course he was aware, as we need to be, that with this terror there is also a considerable admixture of pleasure, of several kinds: the rather unpleasant pleasure which comes from viewing a character in worse psychological shape than oneself, but also the deeper pleasure of being able to peer backwards through our own personal history, because all psychotic states are simply perpetuations of landscapes which we have all inhabited at some stage in our early infancy. Madness is not something peculiar which grows on people; it can more helpfully be defined as the radically inappropriate persistence of visions of the world which are perfectly natural in their rightful place and time but which should have faded long ago from the inner eye.
And obviously, in Freud too we can observe these states and their operations in the world, and measure our experience against these extreme accounts of cultural dislocation. It may be useful at this point to introduce Barthes' term, the "enigmatic code": by which he simply means to identify those parts of a text whose primary function is to keep us persisting in our reading by focusing our minds on unanswered questions.11 Obviously, the detective story and the thriller are forms where the preponderance of the enigmatic code as an organising textual principle is high; but it is high too in Gothic, although perhaps of a different order. We could take Frankenstein as an example.
In the classic detective story, the enigmatic code hinges on the question of who committed the crime. Often, of course, it is more sophisticated than this: was a crime committed at all? or, will X, who, we know, did not commit the crime, manage to demonstrate his or her innocence? and so on. The enigmatic code in Frankenstein is a great deal more open-ended than that, and this may be one important reason why the constructed myth of Frankenstein has proved to have such extraordinary longevity and power of adaptation: the question itself is operative at two levels simultaneously, the level of character interaction and the level of world-historical consequence. We wonder, of course, and increasingly as the novel continues, what the outcome will be of the burgeoning conflict between Frankenstein and his creation; but we also are brought to wonder what the effects will be on the world in general of the existence and public performance of this non-human creature, and of the transgression which has been implicit in his creation. And this, I suspect, is central to the enigmatic code of the Gothic; because it deals in material which challenges the boundaries of the "natural," it is always difficult to see what the implications might be of the outcome of particular action for the world at large. Whether or not Philip Marlow identifies the murderer, the world as a whole will go on in very much the same way as before; but if indeed it should prove to be the case that the ghosts Emily sees at Udolpho are real, then the impact of that tiny example of the supernatural would radically undermine a great number of metaphysical and political presumptions.
This facet of the enigmatic code is important in terms of the Gothic's purchase on our interest; and again I would want to connect this with the enigmatic code which operates in Freud's case histories. If indeed it is the case that people—and, of course, at least in the emblematic case of Judge Schreber, very important and public people—are themselves the open recipients and bearers of a version of being human which is not in general accord with our conventional criteria, what does this do for the ordinary consensus on which social life and organisation are based?
This leads to a further point. In my opinion psychoanalysis has been quite shy of moving into the field of cultural diagnosis. Freud's only significant attempt in this direction, Civilisation and its Discontents, was a late work, and it lacks very much detail. However, the question needs to be put: is psychoanalysis capable of proffering an interpretation which transcends the individual? Of course, in one vital sense all psychoanalytical interpretation does precisely this; in that the unconscious is not within the individual and necessarily its contents have a strong relation to the world of flow by which the individual psyche is structured. However, the point of greater interest is whether interpretation can find any purchase on the societal world which lies between the individual and the universe—and which in fact structures the relations within which the individual finds him or herself.
In other words, can psychoanalysis be of any help in diagnosing an age, and thus, for instance, a literary genre, considered as a historically bounded set of attempts to structure and explicate feeling? Theoretically, the answer should be yes; despite a number of years of neglect and indeed derision, the attempts of Herbert Marcuse, Norman O. Brown and Wilhelm Reich to characterise capitalism through the use of psychoanalytic categories remain potent, even if they are by no means perfect models.12 It is historically obvious that the Gothic coincides with a specific stage of the reorganisation of English society and economy. We are accustomed to referring to this massive reorganisation as "industrialisation", although that may not be the most useful descriptive term. At all events, the years between 1760 and 1820 saw an enormous set of changes—at the level, of course, of the social body, but also in terms of individual experience, and in particular in terms of how the individual might experience expectancy and change.13
I assume, with Freud, that the experience of change is fearful, and that we therefore make various attempts to prohibit that experience. We might then well expect to find that a fiction of fear arises at a time when conventional social norms and norms of legality are evaporating; and I think we can go further than this. After all, the emergence of Gothic is really quite an extraordinary phenomenon; a new, and very large, audience for fiction which had been happily reading Fielding and Smollett, with their emphasis on London taverns and country retreats, suddenly chose to start reading stories set in medieval Italian abbeys and mysterious Spanish courtyards. Why? The answer presumably lies in the concept of sublimation (a likelihood enhanced by the occurrence of the category of "sublimity" in the discourse of the period). We can put it like this: that when the prospect of uninvited change in the external world becomes pressing, there arises a need to safeguard the objects in one's internal world; and to contemplate whether they are capable of survival within this soon-to-be-changed scenario.
In Gothic fiction we see a prolonged contemplation of the objects in the internal world; and at the same time a repeated vindication of the individual's ability to survive despite transgressive threat to boundaries. Emily survives; many of the crucial figures in Gothic mythology—like the Wandering Jew and the Ancient Mariner—are archetypal survivors; indeed often their narrative functions seem to be simply to evidence the possibility of survival, albeit at a level which approaches the transcendental. And, of course, it is not by accident that the notion of narrative suspense really begins with the Gothic authors; clearly the conditions of fear, threat and dependency are precisely in the area where suspense becomes a key datum of everyday experience.
We are now already verging on Kleinian theory, with the mention of the "internal world"; because it was a cardinal point of Klein's version of the psyche that individuals form internal worlds, and that one of the problems of life becomes the series of attempts to square the contents of one's internal world with the outer world and the ways in which you might from time to time experience it. Some brief introductory remarks on Klein may be necessary. She was a Freudian analyst. Her own analysis was carried out by Ferenczi, briefly, and then by Karl Abraham. In 1926, she left Germany for England, where she lived for the rest of her life. While here, she entertained a good many ideas which were heterodox in terms of the psychoanalytic establishment, and it has since been said that she founded, with the aid of her mentor Ernest Jones, a British School of Psychoanalysis.14 The crucial question for us, however, is: what were the differences between her theory and practice and those of the psychoanalytical orthodoxy? And are these ideas of any use when we come to consider literary phenomena?
We can summarise the distinctiveness of Klein's position very briefly. Firstly, her work is distinguished by its attention to infancy and very early mental states. Although it is a simplification, I nonetheless think it fair to say that Klein rejected Freud's theory of the instincts; she was much more interested in how very early experiences shape the internal world of the child, and in particular in how those experiences may have a bearing on patterns of emotion—hate, envy, guilt, reparation—which may continue to reverberate through adult life. In her attention to the infant, Klein's emphasis was always on the crucial relation with the mother; in reality and in fantasy, as actual nurturer and also as the fictive precursor of the expected and hoped-for nurturing which conditions much adult response. She was absorbed, to an even greater degree than Freud, by the phenomena of the transference and the counter-transference in analysis, and it is not hard to see why. Her belief in the supreme importance of early stages of infancy and her reference of psychological problems to damage caused in early infancy entailed a strong interest in the patterns of early relationship which might be re-enacted in the analytic situation; and clearly the fact that she was a woman underlined the importance of working through feelings about motherhood and nurturing which Freud had to a large extent ignored, or at least relegated by his attention to penis-envy and other allegedly gender-specific formative experiences.
Klein's interest in early infancy and in the transference points to her main clinical work, which was in the sphere of psychotic states of mind; an unusual slant for a psychoanalyst of her time, since the principal means of identifying psychosis had been precisely as that order of mental disturbance which analysis could not reach. Finally, Klein did a great deal of work on the inescapability of envy and destructiveness as components of the infant experience which cannot be expunged by later developments and which thus continue to operate within the conventional interchange of relationships and social existence.
Her work is referred to as "object-relations psychology" because, in her analysis of infant states, she supposes that our earliest experiences are in relation to particular part-objects, and principally the breast; and that later children start to put those part-objects together as whole objects and thus to be able to conceive of the totality of the mother and then the father. It is the series of relations between the infant and the part-objects, and then the whole objects, which is crucial to healthy development. If any of those objects becomes damaged in the child's internal world, then that will be the basis of disturbance in later life.15
It is in the relation between external and internal objects that Klein believes the origin of symbolism to lie. Freud considered that all interest in the "world" was a displacement from an interest in, or rather, curiosity about, one's own and one's parents' bodies. Klein agreed with that; but she considered that the wish to possess or attack the mother's body is the fundamental epistemophilic relation to the world, and is thus imbued with all the primary processes of guilt, transgression and reparation. All external objects are, according to Klein, symbols of the child's and the parents' bodies or parts of them; and the construction of a work of art is in part a symbolic externalisation of the inner world within which these objects exist, and in part an attempt at reparation for the past sins of which the still existing child in the artist conceives him- or herself to be guilty. Thus works of art frequently contain representations of damaged internal objects; and symbolism is based in a wish to effect some connection between the damage which exists within the inner world and the objects in the world outside which may in some way relate to our experience of that damage.16
Art is the recovery and restoration of "damaged and lost internal objects". And this damage occurs at a very early age; for Klein claims that the origin of symbolism, being a displacement, is coterminous with the prevalance of sadism at a particular point of the child's development.
The child expects to find within the mother (a) the father's penis, (b) excrement, and (c) children, and these things it equates with edible substances. According to the child's earliest phantasies (or "sexual theories") of parental coitus, the father's penis (or his whole body) becomes incorporated in the mother during the act. Thus the child's sadistic attacks have for their object both father and mother, who are in phantasy bitten, torn, cut or stamped to bits. The attacks give rise to anxiety lest the subject should be punished by the united parents, and this anxiety also becomes internalised in consequence of the oral-sadistic introjection of the objects and is thus already directed towards the early super-ego … it is the anxiety arising in the phase that I have described which sets going the mechanism of identification. Since the child desires to destroy the organs (penis, vagina, breasts) which stand for the objects, he conceives a dread of the latter. This anxiety contributes to make him equate the organs in question with other things; owing to this equation these in their turn become objects of anxiety, and so he is impelled constantly to make other and new equations, which form the basis of his interest in new objects and of symbolism. Thus, not only does symbolism come to be the foundation of all phantasy and sublimation but, more than that, it is the basis of the subject's relation to the outside world and to reality in general.17
We can move directly from this assertion to Gothic fiction; and, in particular, to the work which has so often been taken as the originator of the genre: Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto. Castle of Otranto is a book which abounds in part-objects; in separated fragments of the disunited body. For the second edition of the novel, Walpole added an epigraph: "vanae / fingentur species, tamen ut pes, et caput uni / reddantur formae."18 This is a corruption of a text from Horace. The original meaning was: "Idle fancies shall be shaped [like a sick man's dream] so that neither head nor foot can be assigned to a single shape." Walpole's version significantly, and, I believe, unconsciously, reverses the impact of that text to read that "nevertheless head and foot are assigned to a single shape." The reversal is vital; Walpole is telling us that, in this new genre of supernatural or improbable fiction, the bits and pieces of the body which he is offering us have some grounding in dream and sickness; and also that they need to be taken as in some sense symptomatic of damage experienced in the relationships between real people.
Thus in Castle of Otranto we encounter, for instance, the enormous casque, or helmet, which is offered to us as a part of the body of a deceased giant, who is, of course, the absent ancestor. When our hero, Manfred, first encounters this object, we have this description:
The first thing that struck Manfred's eyes was a group of his servants endeavouring to raise something that appeared to him a mountain of sable plumes. He gazed without believing his sight. What are ye doing? cried Manfred, wrathfully: Where is my son? A volley of voices replied, Oh, my lord! the prince! the prince! the helmet! the helmet! Shocked with these lamentable sounds, and dreading he knew not what, he advanced hastily—But what a sight for a father's eyes!—He beheld his child dashed to pieces, and almost buried under an enormous helmet, an hundred times more large than any casque ever made for human being, and shaded with a proportionable quantity of black feathers.
Such a passage as this, in one sense, merely exemplifies the melodramatic quality of Walpole's book; and has also been seen as evidencing his incompetence in the sustained evocation of fear.19 But there are other things to be said about it. We might well suggest, according to Klein's theories, that this incidence of an accommodable part-object, and especially in an incident which also recounts the death of the child, relates closely to that particularly problematic stage in which the child has to learn to make the transition from observing his parents as bundles of objects whose relevance to him- or herself is defined merely in terms of gratification, and to begin to take note of the ways in which these bundles of more or less gratifying physical objects appear, in disconcerting ways, to possess a level of independence which threatens the child's own apprehension of the purposes of the universe—which, until this stage, have largely consisted of the gratification of the child.
This scene from Walpole is expressionistically emblematic of the process which Lacan, of course, described as the "passing under the name of the father":20 the dead prince is that child who has been called upon to take on the role of the father—and in this case, with certain associated feudal responsibilities and prohibitions—but has been, rather directly, crushed by them. In Klein's terms, we would be able to add something to this interpretation: that here we clearly have an unhappy, or disastrous, accommodation with the head, or penis—a failure of patriarchal descent which is, in the end, what undermines Manfred himself; and this connects in with the prohibited theme of the story, which is incest.
Castle of Otranto is not much read these days; but Frankenstein is, and there we can also discern some major themes by thinking about the part-objects. After all, what is the construction of the monster if not an attempt to bring together the parts of the inner world to form a whole which can somehow achieve cogency and validation in the outer realm? We need to remind ourselves of several crucial features of Frankenstein. First, Frankenstein's own education is a peculiar one. He says:
My temper was sometimes violent, and my passions vehement; but by some law in my temperature they were turned, not towards childish pursuits, but to an eager desire to learn, and not to learn all things indiscriminately. I confess that neither the structure of languages, nor the code of governments, nor the politics of various states, possessed attractions for me. It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn; and whether it was the outward substance of things, or the inner spirit of nature and the mysterious soul of man that occupied me, still my inquiries were directed to the metaphysical, or, in its highest sense, the physical secrets of the world.21
The category which is omitted in Frankenstein's education is the category which embraces encounters with the real world in its social organisation. It is this category which seems to Frankenstein to hold no interest; to supplant it he turns to the two extremes, to the so-called "metaphysical" and to chronic introspection. In Kleinian terms, we could speak of problems of introjection. The young Frankenstein is given to us as a name for a syndrome which abandons reality-testing, for one reason or another, and which prefers to work on a direct link between the inner world and the untested fantasy. But this is a mask for destructiveness; that ignorance of the real world is also a need to wish it away, to place it under prohibition, to deal only in the inner world and in the gigantic shadows which that inner world throws on the screen of experience if we choose to ignore the checks and balances of external constraint.
It is thus not surprising that we find Frankenstein describing his creation of the monster in these terms: "I wished, as it were, to procrastinate all that related to my feelings of affection until the great object, which swallowed up every habit of my nature, should be completed." (p. 49) This is in the context of a passage where Frankenstein is saying that he wished to suspend every tie of affection with real people, and principally with his family, while he was engaged in his version of creativity. I have no wish to pun on Mary Shelley's use of the term "object"; nevertheless what is happening here is that we are being offered an account of what might happen when creativity is practised in an arena where the internal world has been fatally damaged. Clearly there is a sense in which Frankenstein's work is reparative, in the sense in which Klein uses the word; a sense in which Frankenstein's effort to construct an object for himself is itself connected with his own apprehension of the failure of loved objects in his own life.
It is here that Klein's description of the transition from a world based on part-objects to a world where real relationships can be established, and where one's experiences of the unconditional love of the mother can be continuously transformed into further experiences of loving and being loved that can at least appear to have independent and volitional validity, is useful. Because Frankenstein is stuck with the bits and pieces. It is clear—Mary Shelley tells us so—that the inner world of the story has become a charnel-house, a place where all that exists are the fragments of the body which cannot be connected together to comprise a meaningful and functioning whole. This is not only so if we fall into the fiction of considering the enterprise from Frankenstein's point of view; the very structure of the novel itself, beginning as it does with the series of letters, reinforces our sense of being in a world where the fragments cannot be made to coalesce.
And thus it is that Frankenstein embarks on his great transgressive activity. If the outer world is not experienced as real; if it is perceived as a shadow form in which consequences cannot be produced or expected, then the monstrous truly appears in that one might try to set the internal fragments themselves in some kind of order and expect real life to result. The actual physical fragments from which Frankenstein has assembled his monster are themselves beautiful; and human. Yet what is the outcome:
How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form? His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful!—Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and his straight black lips.
It has never been easy to get a picture of this monster; certainly little in it suggests the various cinematic representations of the twentieth century. Some parts, certainly, are good, others bad, as one might expect; but it is the disunity of the whole, the inability of these various parts to cohere which is the main source of Frankenstein's dismay, and thus of the endless persecution to which the monster is subjected throughout the rest of the novel.
What we then need to say about Frankenstein is that it confronts us with a scenario in which the damaged inner world of which Klein speaks is incarnated; and the result of that incarnation is the imposition of an endless destructiveness, based in mutual envy.22 Crucially, the monster envies Frankenstein his freedom of action, which is intimately associated with his command of language; what Frankenstein envies in his creation is his apparent ability to give free vent to his destructive and envious impulses. The landscape here is one in which inner and outer worlds have become fatally fragmented, and we can connect this fragmentation with the phenomena of Gothic in general; with, for instance, the extraordinary paintings of the later, but undeniably Gothic, artist John Martin, where the dislocation between the puniness of the human figures and the grandeur of the destructive landscape is the very incarnation of the landscape scenes we encounter all the time in Radcliffe.
Both Otranto and Frankenstein confront us with psychotic states. These are the landscapes of childhood, where enormous monsters rush around after us threatening to tear at our vitals, while all the time we suspect that they are of our own making. It is not enough to speak of instinct, rather we are referred back in both cases to difficulties of parenting, of succession, of the handing down of behavioural patterns within the family. For it is the collapse and ineffectiveness of the family which is at stake in these texts, and in almost all the other Gothic novels, with their insistent harping on the state of being an orphan.
And it is now that we are in a position to begin to ask the sociopsychological questions; for it must not be forgotten that the main actual experience of the industrial revolution was of a massive and irremediable dislocation of family life.23 But before embarking on this "metapsychological" project, there are one or two other points worth mentioning. What happens in The Monk and in other Gothic texts is that there is a total absorption of an object; and this is a phenomenon which Klein describes. In fact, Freud describes it first, defining introjection as the sole condition on which an object may be given up.24 In other words it is only by tangling with and absorbing an object that one may be allowed to develop to a further stage in which the external occurrences of that object may appear unnecessary. Klein adds to this point: "If the object is introjected in a situation of emotional conflict it is more likely to be introjected into the superego".25 In other words, the phenomenon of introjection happens all the time; but if it happens at a time when the psyche is peculiarly vulnerable then one of the possible consequences is that the introjected object may take over one's life, and effectively prevent the possibility of reality-testing.
It is these conditions which, according to Klein, produce the main defensive strategies; in other words, when the introjection of the object becomes too intense, phenomena occur within the psyche which may prove unamenable to the usual processes of social prohibition. Klein describes these processes under two main headings: projective identification and splitting.26 Splitting is only too obvious as the major motor principle of the narrative of Frankenstein; projective identification may well be the main process described by the other main Gothic fictions, the intense identification with the hero and heroine despite a lack of any obvious reason for their assumed supremacy. And it would be at that point that one might begin to consider what the fundamental principles are behind the ways in which narrative itself functions: through a process of identifying and destroying centres of consciousness, in other words, through a process of making and destroying projective identifications.
The process of maturation as Klein describes it is the evolution from the paranoid/schizoid position to the manic-depressive position.27 In other words one moves in infancy, or so it is hoped, from a stance in which every phenomenon of the outer world appears as persecutory and thus threatens one with the splitting or disintegration of the self, to a stance in which one might achieve a reasonable oscillation between feelings of hope and despair. This is, one should add, the best that can be hoped for. I would suggest that Gothic fictions for the most part deal in interruptions of this maturing process: and that part of the evidence for this has been the repeated critical attempt to explore the categories of the "explained" and "unexplained" supernatural. Presumably the "explained" supernatural is that experience which proves amenable to the categories one might use in so-called adult life; while that which remains unexplained adheres to the paranoid position, as I have suggested in The Literature of Terror.28Northanger Abbey and similar tales of recuperation would thus serve as attempts to regain for adulthood what might be essentially the property of childhood, as Austen more or less overtly says.
To add one or two further points: it is apparent that the hero, so aptly named Wringhim, of Confessions of a Justified Sinner is precisely a representation of the mechanism of splitting which takes place, according to Klein, when there have been problems with the figuring in the internal landscape of the mother or the father. Equally, Klein talks about the damage which may ensue from the child's unestablished fantasies about the presence of the father inside the mother; much of the material about Schedoni in The Italian fits in with this analysis. Why, however, and the question still remains with us, the Gothic? Why then, and why like that?
I have already said that psychoanalytic schools have been understandably wary of mounting cultural explanations; but I would like to make a suggestion. The infant, it is plain from Klein's accounts of her own analyses of children, is at all times evolving symbolic systems in order to prevent himor herself from having to experience loss. That resistance to loss may in some extreme cases become a resistance to development or change of any kinds, and some psychotic manifestations like autism arise from this syndrome. The issue is the prevention of whole objects, and the fear is that those whole objects, if they were allowed to appear, would reproduce the persecutory valency which the infant has experienced in relation to the breast.29
I would suggest that this resistance is at stake in Gothic fiction, and that this might condition the narrative forms with which we try to deal in the Gothic. The enigmatic codes permit of only two alternatives, explanation or non-explanation; in both cases there is a problem about how to do justice to the unresolved complexities of adult experience. And this, I would suggest, has to do with fear of change; with a genre which is peculiarly a set of narratives which emerge in a world either where the questions which narrative might pose are unanswerable, or where the answers might be too fearful for the individual mind to hold in the face of social change.
It seems to me, then, that the Kleinian concepts are indeed capable of generating accounts of history, although clearly historical process cannot be mapped in a one-to-one way onto the development of the psyche. But more importantly, I suggest that Gothic fiction, because of its overt dealing in symbols, becomes a special case in two ways. On the one hand, we might say that this expressionism renders its meanings particularly available to analytic interpretation. But on the other, one also needs to say that psychoanalysis itself, and especially of the Kleinian kind, can provide us with some thoughts about why this type of fiction, with its emphases on familial prohibition and transgressive wish-fulfilment, arose when it did; about, in other words, the ways in which external fears are linked in particular ways with attempts to constitute and handle the internal world to which fiction so often gives access, and about what those linkages might be for Gothic fiction, arising as it does at a time when traditional processes of maturation and shaping for the family were being visibly threatened by a set of feared changes the endpoint of which could be seen but dimly if at all.
1. I am thinking of essays like, for instance, "The function and field of speech and language in psychoanalysis," in Lacan, Ecrits: A Selection, trans. A. Sheridan (London: Tavistock, 1977), pp. 30-113.
2. See, e.g., Sándor Ferenczi, Final Contributions to the Problems and Methods of Psycho-analysis, ed. M. Balint (London: Hogarth, 1955), p. 246.
3. One of the most suggestive attempts to relate Klein's work to the study of culture is Michael Rustin, "A Socialist Consideration of Kleinian Psychoanalysis," New Left Review, No. 131 (1982), pp. 71-96.
4. For a description of psychoanalytic stance, as I mean it here, see Edgar Levenson, The Fallacy of Understanding (New York: Basic Books, 1972), pp. 211 ff.; but also J. Krishnamurti, The Penguin Krishnamurti Reader (Harmondsworth, Middx.: Penguin, 1970), pp. 21 ff.
5. On interpretation, see particularly James Strachey, "The Nature of the Therapeutic Action of Psychoanalysis," International Journal of Psycho-Analysis (1969). For these references and those in the previous note, I am indebted to Barry Palmer, and to his unpublished paper, "Interpretation and the Consultant Role."
6. See, e.g., Elliott B. Gose, Imagination Indulged: The Irrational in the Nineteenth Century Novel (Montreal and London: McGill-Queens U.P., 1972), pp. 27 ff.; Elizabeth MacAndrew, The Gothic Tradition in Fiction (New York: Columbia U.P., 1979), pp. 241 ff..
7. See my Literature of Terror: A History of Gothic Fictions from 1765 to the Present Day (London: Longmans, 1980), pp. 56-59.
8. See Sedgwick, Between Men: English Literature and Homosocial Desire (New York: Columbia U.P., 1985).
9. On alienation, it is particularly interesting to look at Mitchell Franklin, "On Hegel's Theory of Alienation and its Historic Force," Tulane Studies in Philosophy, IX (1960).
10. See Coleridge, Miscellaneous Criticism, ed. T. M. Raysor (London: Constable, 1936), pp. 355-382.
11. Or hermeneutic code; see Roland Barthes, S/Z, trans. R. Miller (London: Cape, 1975), p. 19.
12. See particularly Marcuse, Eros and Civilisation: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud (Boston, Mass.: Beacon, 1966); Brown, Life Against Death: the Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1959); Reich, Sex-Pol: Essays 1929–1934, ed. L. Baxandall (New York: Vintage, 1972).
13. The most illuminating perspectives on expectancy are offered, I believe, by the group analysts. See, e.g., Wilfred Bion, Experiences in Groups, and Other Papers (London: Tavistock, 1961), pp. 150-152.
14. The most useful book about Klein is Hanna Segal, Klein (Brighton: Fontana, 1979).
15. See particularly Klein, "On the Theory of Anxiety and Guilt," in Envy and Gratitude, and Other Works 1946–1963 (London: Hogarth, 1975), pp. 25-42; and "A Contribution to the Psychogenesis of Manic-Depressive States," in Love, Guilt and Reparation, and Other Works 1921–1945 (London: Hogarth, 1975), pp. 262-289.
16. See Klein, "Early Analysis," in Love, Guilt and Reparation, pp. 77-105; "On Observing the Behaviour of Young Infants," in Envy and Gratitude, pp. 94-121; and "The Importance of Symbol-Formation in the Development of the Ego," in Love, Guilt and Reparation, pp. 219-232.
17. "Symbol-Formation in the Development of the Ego," pp. 219-221.
18. Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto, ed. W. S. Lewis (London: Oxford U.P., 1969), pp. xii-xiii.
19. See, e.g., Edith Birkhead, The Tale of Terror: A Study of the Gothic Romance (London: Russell and Russell, 1921), p. 19.
20. See Lacan, especially "On a question preliminary to any treatment of psychosis," in Ecrits, pp. 179-225.
21. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, ed. R. E. Dowse and D. J. Palmer (London: Dent, 1963), p. 28.
22. Cf. Klein, "Envy and Gratitude", in Envy and Gratitude, pp. 176-235.
23. See Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500–1800 (London: Weidenfeld, 1977); C. C. Harris, The Family and Industrial Society (London: Allen and Unwin, 1983).
24. See, e.g., Freud, "Psycho-analysis," in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. J. Strachey (24 vols., London: Hogarth, 1953–74), XVIII, 245-246.
25. This quotation actually refers to a paper in which one of Klein's colleagues, Paula Heimann, is presenting Kleinian views. See Heimann, "Certain Functions of Introjection and Projection in Early Infancy," in Developments in Psycho-Analysis, ed. J. Riviere (London: Hogarth, 1952) pp. 122-168.
26. These themes run throughout Klein's work; but see, e.g., "Some Theoretical Conclusions Regarding the Emotional Life of the Infant," in Envy and Gratitude, pp. 61-93.
27. See Klein, "Contribution to the Psychogenesis of Manic-Depressive States" and "Notes on Some Schizoid Mechanisms," in Envy and Gratitude, pp. 1-24.
28. See Literature of Terror, pp. 130-159.
29. See, e.g., "On the Theory of Anxiety and Guilt," p. 34.
RONALD R. THOMAS (ESSAY DATE 1990)
SOURCE: Thomas, Ronald R. "Recovering Nightmares: Nineteenth-Century Gothic." In Dreams of Authority: Freud and the Fictions of the Unconscious, pp. 71-81. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1990.
In the following excerpt, Thomas focuses on the relationship between dreams and Gothic literature, in terms of psychology as well as narrative style.
It is within the experience of many medical practitioners, that a patient, with strange and unusual symptoms, has been more distressed in mind, more wretched, from the fact of being unintelligible to himself and others, than from the pain or danger of the disease.
—Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria
The high esteem in which dream-life is held by some schools of philosophy … is clearly an echo of the divine nature of dreams which was undisputed in antiquity…. For attempts at giving a psychological explanation have been inadequate to cover the material collected, however decidedly the sympathies of those of a scientific cast of mind may incline against accepting any such beliefs.
—Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams
The author of the first gothic novel in English traced the origin of his story to the recovery and writing down of a haunting dream that disturbed his sleep: "I waked one morning in the beginning of last June from a dream, of which all I could recover was, that I thought myself in an ancient castle (a very natural dream for a head filled like mine with Gothic story) and that on the uppermost bannister of a great staircase I saw a gigantic hand in armour. In the evening I sat down and began to write, without knowing in the least what I intended to say or relate."1 Here, at the beginning point of English gothic fiction, Horace Walpole joined the experience of dreaming with a question about authority. In recovering his dream, Walpole represented himself as being virtually compelled to write about something outside of his own knowledge and intention, as if he had been forced to write The Castle of Otranto (1764) in the strange, gigantic hand of his dream. Authors of many subsequent gothic tales attributed their origins to dreams, often to emphasize a failure on the part of even the writers to understand and control the forces that drove their narratives. The stories frequently contain dreams as well, most often nightmarish dreams of demonic possession.2 Matthew Lewis's Monk (1796), Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818), James Hogg's Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824), and Charles Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) all contain dreams of this kind, and the dreamer is invariably someone who suffers from a state of illness or divided personality that he or she can explain only as a form of supernatural possession.
These characteristics of the gothic novel make it an appropriate place for Freud to put into practice his project of replacing a divine interpretation of dreams with a scientific one. In fact, in Delusion and Dream Freud gave an elaborate analysis of the dreams in an early twentieth-century gothic novel, Wilhelm Jensen's Gradiva. Even though Gradiva, like most gothic fiction, contains many reports of ghostly visitations, Freud did not regard it as a ghost story at all. He called the novel nothing less than "an entirely correct study in psychiatry, by which we may measure our understanding of psychic life, a story of illness and cure which seems designed for the inculcation of certain fundamental teachings of medical psychology" (Delusion and Dream, 64). Freud marveled that the author had somehow "acquired the same knowledge as the physician," or at least "behave[d] as if he possessed it" (77). He particularly admired the remarkable ways in which Jensen seemed to anticipate the talking cure by treating the protagonist's speech and his dreams as symptoms of a delusion, by tracing these symptoms back to their origins, and by effecting a "concurrence of explanation and cure" in the articulation of those origins (110-14). Freud could only conclude that "science leaves a gap which we find filled" by this "story of illness and cure"—the same gap Freud himself sought to fill with his theories of dream interpretation (75).
Several other nineteenth-century gothic novels also anticipated the claims of psychoanalysis, especially the concern with replacing supernatural explanations for delusional formations such as dreams with scientific—even medical—explanations. Although the dreamers of these novels may not always be "cured" by their explanations, they consistently call attention to the symptomatic aspects of the words they use to describe their dreams. Like Jensen's Gradiva, these novels expose a gap in scientific knowledge which needed to be filled by a language that would enable the dreamer's recovery, and they go some distance in helping to fill that gap as well.
The importance that Freud placed upon attributing dreams to the psychic health of the dreamer rather than to some divine intervention is evident in the very beginning of The Interpretation of Dreams, where he lines up the forces engaged in the nineteenth-century debate over the significance of dream experience. In reviewing the current literature on the subject, Freud concluded that the two basic theories then prevailing were not new but already established in the ancient world. On one side were positivists who, like Aristotle, maintained that dreams "do not rise from supernatural manifestations but follow the laws of the human spirit." On the other side were idealists of various kinds who, like Plato, thought of the dream "not as a product of the dreaming mind but as something introduced by a divine agency; and already," Freud goes on to say, "the two opposing currents, which we shall find influencing dream life at every point in history, were making themselves felt" (2-3). These same currents also made themselves felt in the gothic fiction of the nineteenth century. Frankenstein, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, and Wuthering Heights, and the dreams in them present themselves through both story and discourse as neurotic symptoms, as attempts at "recovery" centered in the conflict between supernatural and psychological explanations for the uncanny experience of dreaming. At stake for the gothic hero or heroine in this conflict is the recognition of the powerful influence of irrational impulses on behavior and the need to take control over those impulses. The very rise of the gothic novel as a genre may be read as an attempt to recover or reconstruct an account of psychic life in the face of supernatural accounts whose inadequacy was becoming more and more apparent. Even more to the point, these texts expose how supernatural explanations of such events often mask a repressed pathological struggle rooted very firmly in the powers of this world.
The extensive theoretical writing on dreams during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was generally directed against supernatural explanations for psychic disturbances. Characteristically, the scholarship took one of two courses: dream theory either deferred to an idealism that tried to rationalize the supernatural element of dreams by attributing them to something like a world soul or collective unconscious, or it sought to explain dreams as purely physiological phenomena that did not reveal anything profoundly important about the dreamer.3 As the most systematic and comprehensive theory of dreams in the period, Freud's Interpretation of Dreams offered a third course. For Freud, dreams were neither the manifestations of possession by some spiritual power nor the result of normal somatic processes during sleep. Rather, dreams were to be regarded as symptoms of a neurosis in the dreamer, evidence of a psychic wound or illness. But in regarding the dream as a symptom Freud did not think of it as a "pathological product"; on the contrary, he saw the dream, like any other delusion formation, as "an attempt at recovery, a process of reconstruction."4
The common association of physical and psychic illnesses with the dreams and dreamers of gothic fiction suggests some continuity with Freud's description of the dream as a symptom. The rise of gothic fiction during the latter part of the eighteenth century and its flowering during the nineteenth may in fact be read as a symptom on a cultural scale, an expression of a desire for a vocabulary by which to name and control psychic forces in terms of pathology rather than theology. Freud himself offers a direct point of contact between the two discourses not only in his commentary on Gradiva but also in his remarkable essay "A Neurosis of Demoniacal Possession in the Seventeenth Century." There Freud analyzes a case of alleged demonic possession which had been recorded in a form strikingly like that of a gothic novel. As is true of such gothic tales as Frankenstein, Melmoth, Justified Sinner, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Dracula, for example, the material for this case consists of several documents written in the first person. A series of captioned drawings by the "patient" (who in this instance is a painter) depict his signing of a pact with the devil and his redemption at the shrine of the Holy Mother. Those drawings are combined with a description of the case by a "reverend compiler" (who also includes some lines in verse which contain information about his own life), a deposition by an abbot testifying to the authenticity of the documents, and finally the diary of the patient, which chronicles his possession and exorcism. Freud takes particular interest in the complex textual issues of the case—the contradictions between the pictures and the painter's verbal accounts of them, the inconsistencies within the diary itself, the variations in wording of the patient's two written pacts with the devil, the compiler's attempts at textual reconciliation, and so on. The function of Freud's analysis is to add still another text of reconciliation or reconstruction, a "final" attempt to piece together the inconsistencies by substituting a story of neurosis for one of possession.
Freud clearly took up the case in order to demonstrate how phenomena perceived in medieval times as demonic dreams, visions, and possessions could be explained in terms of repressed impulses and psychic forces. "We merely eliminate the projection of these mental entities into the external world," he says; "instead, we regard them as having arisen in the patient's internal life, where they have their abode."5 But Freud's analysis does much more. His translation of the incident from a theological into a medical vocabulary dramatizes exactly what is dramatized in the dreams of many gothic texts: fundamentally, dreams and visions are sites of interpretive power where dreamers are actually attempting to resist or surrender to the notion that an authority from the outside is governing their lives. Furthermore, these struggles for authority take place on the level of language—in the giving or witholding of a dream account. In both cases, dreams and visions must be seen as symptoms that serve as attempts at recovery, and thus are actions taken by the dreamer, not actions taking him or her over from the outside. Like the case Freud analyzes here, gothic fiction commonly evidences this assertion of authority in the production of the texts themselves—in the writing of pacts in blood, in the retraction of those pacts through confession and exorcism, in the revision of inconsistencies to preserve the authority of the church, and most important, in the patient's composition of a diary that seeks to bring together the fragmented pieces of a life threatened by a divine or demonic usurpation.
This particular case has a special fascination and significance for Freud since he is able to trace the patient's morbid anxiety to the recent death of his father and the paralyzing melancholia that resulted from this loss of parental authority. Not only does this scenario follow the pattern of Freud's own experience in writing The Interpretation of Dreams, but it corresponds to the set of forces commonly operating in the gothic novel as well—problems of inheritance, incest, parricide, entombment, ghostly hauntings from the past, and so on. In Freud's view, this patient never fully recovered from his neurosis because he never recognized his visions as symptoms of this anxiety. Rather, he merely substituted one form of "possession" for another, replacing his father's authority first with that of the devil, then with that of the church. "He wanted all along simply to make his life secure. He tried first to achieve this with the help of the devil at the cost of his salvation; and when this failed and had to be given up, he tried to achieve it with the help of the clergy at the cost of his freedom and most of the possibilities of enjoyment in life" (104). This failed self-recognition in the desperate attempt to find the "security" of some transcendent authority is the fate of many gothic dreamers as well, and it reflects a larger crisis of authority in the nineteenth century—a crisis of which the rise of the gothic novel is itself a symptom.
The acceptance of a secular interpretation of dreams as originating in the individual psyche demands that the dreamer be the source of the significance as well as the haunting images of the dream. Any authority the dream might have for the dreamer is based upon her or his own recognition of it as a self-portrayal, rather than a revelation from the divine world. If, as T. S. Eliot claimed, one consequence of this assumption is that the "quality of our dreams suffers," another consequence is that the quality of the dreamer's account of the dreams becomes that much more important.6 In many gothic texts, acts of self-representation are presented as acts of selfdiscovery and healing, and acts of secrecy or repression are part of a pattern of illness and psychic disturbance. When the narrator of Justified Sinner complains of having "such dreams that they will not bear repetition," for example, he either fails to understand that his refusal to repeat his dreams keeps him "troubled" and "enchained" by them, or he admits that he wants to maintain his illusions about himself by censoring the thoughts that are behind the dreams.7 Stories like this narrator's consistently dramatize how dreams take shape and reveal themselves as symptoms only when they are put into words and connected with the dreamer's waking life.
This conflict between the "two opposing currents" of dream interpretation divided Freud from Jung more subtly than from his other opponents. Though Jung shared Freud's conviction that the dream was essentially a self-portrayal by the dreamer, he maintained that dreams had a higher, objective value as well. Jung's interest in symbol and archetype led him to conceive of the dream as transcending the personal ego and participating in a historical pattern external and inexplicable to the self. For Jung, the symbolic content of the dream had its own value and meaning, which could not be imposed by the individual dreamer. Ultimately, that symbolic significance was inexpressible in words: "A symbol does not define or explain," he said; "it points beyond itself to a meaning that is darkly divined yet still beyond our grasp, and cannot be adequately expressed in the familiar words of our language."8 Jung's use of theological language is significant here, and this kind of statement fundamentally distinguishes him from Freud, who argued that dreams are nothing more than our symptomatically disguised desires, which we can understand and control only when we translate them into the "familiar words of our language."
Jung's views represented a compromise between the traditional religious belief that dreams have their origins and significance in a realm "higher" than the dreamer and the more scientific and biological orientation of Freud, who related them to the personal life history of the dreamer. But as Freud indicated, what he regarded as an entirely "pre-scientific" viewpoint was not without its adherents in the nineteenth century, not only the "pietistic and mystical writers" of the period but a number of "clear-headed men" as well: "It would be a mistake to suppose that the theory of the supernatural origin of dreams is without its supporters in our own day," Freud cautioned in The Interpretation of Dreams. "One comes across clear-headed men, without any extravagant ideas, who seek to support their religious faith in the existence and activity of superhuman spiritual forces precisely by the inexplicable nature of the phenomena of dreaming" (4). In this latter category Freud placed P. Haffner, Friedrich Schelling, and Johann Fichte, who saw dreams either as representative of some "complementary" reality, as "divine in nature," or simply as separate in important ways from waking life. Freud consistently made it a point to associate such views with the demands of religious faith and to oppose them to a truly "scientific" attitude of mind. While such claims may have overstated the case, these thinkers did consider dreams to be part of some complex of forces outside the spheres of rational and empirical inquiry, forces that we conventionally align with the gothic and romantic strain of nineteenth-century literature.
But the role of the dream in gothic fiction is much more complicated than that. The gothic use of dreams may be more properly understood as expressing the uneasy tension in the period between scientific and religious explanations of dream experience. The dreamers in these stories tend to be wounded figures suffering from some physical and psychological disturbance and some visionary experience that they commonly explain in terms of the supernatural. Those explanations, however, usually contend in the text with a desire for a more "psychological" explanation that connects the dream to some undisclosed repressed material, some traumatic experience, or some crisis in authority experienced by the dreamer. The conflict between these two viewpoints becomes apparent when the dreamer chooses either to convert the dream event into the common words of our language or to submit it to the uncommon language of the divine.
One of the more dramatic fictional examples of this situation occurs in Sheridan LeFanu's Carmilla (1870). The narrative begins with a terrifying dream experience recounted by the young woman who narrates the story. In her dream she is visited by a female figure who first comforts and caresses her until the dreamer feels a terrible pain in her breasts. Then the dream figure disappears beneath the bed. The narrator, Laura, initially dreams this dream as a child, and it provokes a nervous disorder from which she never entirely recovers. The dreams continue, and they develop into a series of voices that haunt the narrator in her dreams; one of these she recognizes as the voice of her mother mysteriously warning her to avoid her "assassin" (308). The warning seems not only to refer to the father in the tale but also to reinforce the sense that these dreams are efforts toward recovery and self-preservation on the part of the dreamer. She is told by various authorities that these dreams are either visitations of evil spirits, the product of a fever in the body, or finally, the haunting of a vampire. Eventually, her father destroys this monster and presumably solves the mystery, appropriately, in an old Gothic church.
But since the destruction of the supposed vampire does not cure the narrator's illness or alleviate her recurring dreams, this supernatural explanation is called into doubt. That the trauma of the childhood dream had obliterated Laura's memory of everything that preceded it strongly suggests that the dream serves as an agency of repression for her and her father as well.9 Her dreams are also continually associated with the loss of her dead mother (whom Laura cannot remember), with the awakening of her own sexuality, and with the domination of her life by her father. Together with the father's repeated attempts to dismiss the significance of the dreams and to obscure crucial events in Laura's past, these details indicate that her dreams may screen the memory of a childhood seduction or primal scene. But these "symptoms" are never fully understood in Carmilla because they are never allowed to be expressed. Rather, they remain unrecovered, uninterpreted memories for the patient, who is still plagued by her dreams, her illness, and her overbearing father at the end of the story.
Like William Godwin's Adventures of Caleb Williams or like Melmoth, Justified Sinner, Frankenstein, Wuthering Heights, and many other gothic tales, Carmilla represents a narrator's attempt to recover from a disordered state—a condition that not only is often physically debilitating but proves to be psychologically crippling as well. This disability almost invariably takes the form of a loss of personal control, a usurpation, a denial, or a willing abandonment of personal authority over and responsibility for one's actions. States of dream, trance, madness, and possession provide the appropriate psychological conditions to investigate (or explain away) this problem. Typically, this project takes place in complex, embedded narratives that serve both to suggest the buried psychological origins of dreamlike materials and to designate the dynamics of the telling as essential to understanding the meaning of the condition. Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897), for example, represents a further development of the plot and structure of a typical gothic text such as Carmilla. Count Dracula's victims can never clearly distinguish their own dreams from the vampire's nocturnal visitations. The dreamers embed their dreams in a strange legend composed of their own diaries, journals, case histories, letters, medical reports, telegrams, newspaper stories, and the transcripts of phonograph recordings made by a doctor about his patients, all of which are employed to project the dreamers' fears and desires onto an exotic, monstrous ghoul as an alternative to accepting them as symptoms of their own psychic disturbances.
These gothic novels anticipate many of the features of Freud's speaking cure and his emphasis on rendering an account of the images of our dreams in the familiar words of our language. But by also continuing to evoke the atmosphere and rationale of the supernatural in these tales—even if sometimes discrediting supernatural explanations as strategies of denial or repression—gothic fiction reenacted the debate that raged in England throughout the nineteenth century over the source and significance of dreams. Fashionable groups of secular and religious spiritualists argued that dreams were miraculous events that permitted communication with a divine realm, while positivist theorists maintained that dreams were explainable phenomena governed by natural law.10 The scientific community in England was most deeply influenced by the theories of the rationalists of the previous century, who based their description of dreams on the laws of association, the effects on the mind of recent sense impressions and ideas, and the state of the body during sleep. This positivistic tradition was carried forward into the nineteenth century by such theorists as Dugald Stewart (Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind, 1814) and Robert Macnish (The Philosophy of Sleep, 1838), and later others in England, including F. W. H. Myers and James Sully, who began to look more seriously at the psychological significance of dreams and to suggest the importance of what Freud would later identify as the unconscious.
Myers is a particularly interesting figure for the period, since he founded the Society for Psychical Research in order to oppose the tide of positivist thought in England and on the Continent. He maintained that positivist explanations of strange psychic events such as dreams and schizophrenia were often reductive and tended to minimize, manipulate, or ignore evidence that was contrary to their theories. His organization collected thousands of case studies and first-person reports of mysterious dreams, visions, telepathy, sleepwalking, and related occurrences, concluding that this sort of experience proved the immortality of the human soul. In his influential book Human Personality (1903), Myers cogently expressed the characteristic double vision of the scientific and literary communities in the nineteenth century: "The permanent result of a dream, I say, is sometimes such as to show that the dream has not been a mere superficial confusion of past waking experiences, but has had an unexplained potency of its own,—drawn like the potency of hypnotic suggestion, from some depth in our being which the waking self cannot reach."11 In a gesture typical of nineteenth-century ambivalence on the subject, Meyers simultaneously emphasizes the importance of explaining the hidden logic of the dream and the impossibility of doing so, comparing the dream logic to the mysterious "potency" of hypnotic suggestion. Like Jung, he forges a fragile compromise between the dictates of science and those of religion. The gothic novel of the period poses the issue more decisively: the dreams and their recollections are the sites of a struggle to gain authority over the self through language. At stake is a necessary choice between conceiving of the psyche as a supernatural soul facing damnation or redemption, on the one hand, and a medical subject capable of illness or recovery, on the other. Despite certain equivocations, however, figures like Myers and Sully anticipate the claims of psychoanalytic theory more faithfully when they trace dreams back to both immediate and distant memories and find them to be inextricably associated with current wakeful thoughts. These considerations also parallel the gothic preoccupation with the problems entailed in remembering and representing dream experience and in distinguishing it from waking life. Eventually, Freud would respond to this confusion raised independently by scientists such as Sully and Myers and novelists such as Mary Shelley and Emily Brontë. The realization that conscious thoughts "will be apt to be unconsciously read back into the dream" and become part of the dreamer's memory of the dream is transformed by Freud into a form of confusion which contributes to, rather than detracts from, understanding the significance of a dream.12 For him, the language of disguise becomes the language of revelation, at once a symptom of psychic distress and a sign of psychic recovery.
The dream accounts that permeate Frankenstein, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, and Wuthering Heights anticipate this interpretive turn. They are all told by a narrator recovering from some illness or disabling event, and they all express a profound psychological conflict. Not only do these three texts offer a representative range of gothic conventions, they also foreground an essential characteristic of the genre: the narratives exist primarily as symptoms of an attempt to recover from a disordered state of mind which is most dramatically manifested in the narrator's dreams.13Frankenstein began as the "waking dream" of Mary Shelley, which she proceeded to turn into a "ghost story" for her husband and friends during a holiday in Switzerland. But most of the text itself takes the form of a deathbed nar rative told by an ailing scientist trying to explain away his own obsessive dream as a form of demonic possession. Thomas DeQuincey's Confessions of an English Opium-Eater recounts its narrator's recovery from a paralyzing illness and addiction to opium, and it is written to "display the marvelous agency" of the dreams associated with that illness as well as to recover the dreamer's health (114). The Confessions demands attention not only because of its importance for the medical literature on dreams in the period but also because of its thematic and formal affinities with the gothic and autobiographical novel.14 Finally, the uncanny, disturbing events of Wuthering Heights can be said to grow out of the bewildering nightmares of its narrator who is stricken ill at the beginning of the tale and is nursed back to health during the course of it. His dreams seem mysteriously and irresistibly to connect him to the other dreams and dreamers in the story and to compel him to question his own authority over his experience, just as they do.
In each of these cases, the giving of the dream account is not only a part of the recovery from an illness but also a literal act of authorship—the production of a text. Beneath the manifest plots of these novels, then, is another plot—a plot of "recovery" or "reconstruction" that determines the narrative structure of the texts and reveals the attitudes that the narrators take toward the materials they dream and write about. These plots take a different form in each of the books, reflecting fundamentally different responses to the crisis of personal authority which haunted the period. But of central concern to all of them is the attempt to discover an appropriate language with which to represent and master the unsettling experience of their dreams. As Freud said of Gradiva, these gothic novels were all "working over the same material" that he would theorize about. They were merely using "a different method" to express it (Delusion and Dream, 117).
1. Letter of Horace Walpole to the Reverend William Cole, 9 March 1765, quoted in the Introductory Essay of Three Gothic Novels, ed. Mario Praz (1968), p. 17.
2. A number of studies of the gothic novel have emphasized its nightmarish quality. See Elizabeth MacAndrew, The Gothic Tradition in Fiction (1979); Judith Wilt, Ghosts of the Gothic: Austen, Eliot and Lawrence (1980); and William Patrick Day, In the Circles of Fear and Desire: A Study of Gothic Fantasy (1985). For a more specific consideration of the dreams of female characters in eighteenth-century fiction, see Margaret Anne Doody, "Deserts, Ruins, and Troubled Waters: Female Dreams in Fiction and Development of the Gothic Novel," Genre 10 (Winter 1977): 529-72.
3. See Henri F. Ellenberger, The Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry (1970). Ellenberger speaks of the two basic theoretical dispositions toward the mind during sleep as "open" theories (which regarded the dreaming mind as in communication with some mysterious other realm, whether it was a previous life, a disincarnated spirit, or simply some transcendent reality) and "closed" theories (which explained the dream material as composed of forgotten memories or sense impressions). He identified four approaches to the function of dreams at the turn of the century which grew out of these two positions: (1) a conservative function (to preserve traces of the past lost to conscious memory); (2) a dissolutive function (to aid in the transformation of once-conscious acts into unconscious, habitual acts); (3) a creative function (to produce lucid expressions of "higher" truths unavailable to the conscious mind); and (4) a mythopoetic function (to create cultural myth—often associated with the activity of mediums and somnambulism). See especially pp. 145-70 and 311-21.
4. Sigmund Freud, "On the Mechanism of Paranoia," SE 12:71.
5. Freud, "A Seventeenth-Century Demonological Neurosis," SE 19:72, hereafter cited in the text.
6. T. S. Eliot, "Dante," Selected Essays of T. S. Eliot (1960), p. 204.
7. James Hogg, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), p. 214.
8. C. G. Jung, "Spirit and Life," The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, ed. Sir Robert Read, Michael Fordham, Gerhard Adler, William McGuire, trans. R. F. C. Hull, vol. 8: The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche (1953), p. 336. For a fuller discussion of the relation between Freud's and Jung's theories on dreams, see Liliane Frey-Rohn, From Jung to Freud: A Comparative Study of the Psychology of the Unconscious, trans. Fred E. Engreen and Evelyn K. Engreen (1976).
9. On repression in Carmilla, see also Day, pp. 88-89; and William Veeder, "'Carmilla': The Arts of Repression," Texas Studies in Literature and Language 22 (Summer 1980): 197-223.
10. For treatments of the relation of morals to dream theory in England, see Bernard, "Dickens and Victorian Dream Theory"; and Werner Wolff, The Dream—Mirror of Conscience: The History of Dream Interpretation from 2000 B.C. and a New Theory of Dream Synthesis (1952).
11. Frederick W. H. Myers, Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death (1954), 1:126.
12. F. W. H. Myers, Edmund Gurney, and Frank Podmore, Phantasms of the Living, quoted in The World of Dreams, ed. Ralph L. Woods (1947), pp. 278-79.
13. For a more general treatment of the importance of acts of writing in the gothic conception of character, see Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, The Coherence of Gothic Conventions (1986), chaps. 3 and 4.
14. In the introductory essay to the Penguin edition of DeQuincey's Confessions (1978), Alethea Hayter claims that with this book DeQuincey "brought to the art of prose autobiography something entirely new, and his influence has been felt by every self-conscious English writer, whether of reminiscences or of autobiographical novels, ever since" (p. 24).
FREDERICK BURWICK (ESSAY DATE SPRING 2003)
SOURCE: Burwick, Frederick. "Romantic Supernaturalism: The Case Study as Gothic Tale." Wordsworth Circle 34, no. 2 (spring 2003): 73-81.
In the following essay, Burwick traces the use of Gothic literature as a means of discussing abnormal psychology during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The Romantic period witnessed advances in rational and empirical modes of intellectual inquiry and, paradoxically, an increased interest in the supernatural. Ghosts were perceived as mental apparitions, illusions, and hallucinations and as supernatural phenomena bonded to a particular place, as by a curse of vengeance or retribution, because their bodies had met death under peculiar circumstances. What was wanted, then, was a supernaturalism informed by a probing of its very possibility.
Ann Radcliffe owed her success in The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and The Italian (1797) to her powerful conjuration of an exterior environment—a lonely castle, a wild and rugged landscape—charged with menacing gloom, and to her attentive tracking of the mental and emotional responses of her characters, their fears and forebodings. Rather than introducing an actual ghost or demon, Radcliffe revealed how the deep-seated dread of the supernatural was aroused and stirred into frantic alarm. Her strategy, of course, was not the only one; evil spirits and supernatural beings are prominent in the literature. The case that I would make, however, is that the supernatural provided occasion to examine the terra incognita of the mind, the unarticulated doubts, desires, fears, and longings that lurk beneath consciousness.
Prior to aberrational psychology, skeptics pronounced a person crazy because they claimed to see ghosts. With the beginning of the nineteenth century, however, an entire profession had emerged specializing in the pathology of apparitions. In this inquiry into the nature of Romantic Supernaturalism, I refer to some of the basic categories of mental aberration introduced by the physicians. Rather than trying to adhere to their categories, however, I shall attempt to distinguish between the hallucinations of the sane and the hallucinations of the insane. This division is as unstable as its subjects. Both in the literary examples and in the medical "case studies," the sane tend to become insane if they persist too long in their hallucinations. And many of the insane become adept in disguising their delusions and acting sane. The boundaries between sane and insane are as indeterminate in medical practice as they are in literature.
Among the effects of the rise of aberrational psychology, was that medical doctors begin to appear as characters in the Gothic novel. But to say that art imitates life is to tell but part of the story. Life and art, like two mirrors placed opposite one another, create an infinite regression of art imitating life imitating art. The books on mental pathology published in this era present their empirical evidence in the form of "case studies." Not challenging the factual validity of this peculiar genre, I would like to point out that the medical authors in addition to recording their clinical observations, and citing pertinent medical sources, typically displayed their literary learning with references to Shakespeare's Hamlet, Milton's Satan, and various lore from Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy or Darwin's Zoonomia. The physicians who write these "case studies" are conscious of literary parallels and have their own sense of dramatic effect in describing a patient's delusions. But for the most remarkable interweaving of art and life, it is the patient who is the true shuttle in the loom.
ON THE SUBJECT OF …
ELIZABETH BOWEN (1899–1973)
Noted for her subtle, evocative novels and short stories, Bowen has been compared to such novelists of sensibility as Jane Austen, Henry James, and Virginia Woolf. She is perhaps best known for her novel The Death of the Heart (1938), and critics point to that phrase as an apt summation of Bowen's recurrent theme: the inevitable disillusionment inherent in human relationships, particularly as innocent characters make the painful passage to experience. Critics praise Bowen for her descriptive, finely pitched style, and they often compare her with Katherine Mansfield for her extreme sensitivity to perceptions of light, atmosphere, color, and sound. Like Mansfield, Bowen is considered expert at presenting the emotional dynamics of a situation and then swiftly illuminating their significance, particularly within the prescribed bounds of the short story. While Bowen is generally acclaimed as both a novelist and short fiction writer, some critics deem her stories superior to her novels. Bowen's experiences living and working as an air-raid warden in the besieged city during World War II inspired what many critics consider her finest short story collection, The Demon Lover (1945), which explores war's insidious effects on the human psyche. In the stories, composed between spring 1941 and late 1944, Bowen introduced to her short fiction a hallucinatory tone and supernatural themes in order to convey war's effect on the human mind. In "The Mysterious Kor," which is often cited among Bowen's greatest stories, wartime London becomes a mysterious, terrifying nether-city by the light of a transformative moon. In "The Demon Lover" Mrs. Drover becomes dislocated in time, slipping from World War II back to World War I, where she waits feverishly for the arrival of her long-dead fiancé. In this, as in other stories in The Demon Lover, Bowen employs a disturbing ambiguity, preventing the reader from knowing whether stories depict supernatural states, or illusions created by the characters' neurotic and overburdened psyches.
In his Inquiries concerning the Intellectual Powers (1830), Dr. Abercrombie reports the case of a patient who is visited by a spectral apparition, yet on all occasions knows the ghostly visitor to be his own hallucination. That conscious and rational awareness may accompany hallucination, Ab-ercrombie points out, demonstrates that the disturbance of the visual senses need not affect the rational capacities. As it happened, Dr. Abercrombie was also the personal physician and friend of Sir Walter Scott. In his Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft (1830), Scott, too, had written on spectral illusions. He promptly inquired about Abercrombie's patient. The patient may be aware of the hallucination, but was he aware that he was hallucinating someone else's hallucination? Dr. Abercrombie's patient had apparently taken a cue from a character in Le Sage's Gil Blas. In the Twelfth and final book of the novel, Duke D'Olivarez, suffering from progressive physical decline, confesses the cause to Gil Blas:
I am the prey of a morbid melancholy which eats inwardly into my vitals: a spectre haunts me every moment, arrayed in the most terrific form of preternatural horror. In vain have I argued with myself that it is a vision of the brain, an unreal mockery: its continual presentments blast my sight, and unseat my reason. Though my understanding teaches me, that in looking on this spectre I stare at vacancy, my spirits are too weak to derive comfort from the conviction. Thus much have you extorted from me: now judge whether the cause of my melancholy is fit to be divulged.1
Duke D'Olivarez, Scott explains in the Letters on Demonology was "haunted by an apparition, to the actual existence of which he gave no credit, but died, nevertheless, because he was overcome and heart-broken by its imaginary presence" (28, 54-55). Dr. Abercrombie's patient seemed to have experienced in his hallucinations the very symptoms about which he had read in Le Sage.
This strange case soon becomes even stranger. Dr. Abercrombie's wife is infected with the very same disease, although not from reading Gil Blas. She had read her husband's book, and read, too, the works that he had cited. Among these was Dr. Samuel Hibbert's Sketches of the Philosophy of Apparitions (1824). Like Dr. Abercrombie, Dr. Hibbert was also a leading physician in Edinburgh, and had gained considerable acclaim for his investigation of spectral illusions. Shortly after reading this work, Mrs. Abercrombie began to see various phantom figures posing in her sitting room and bed chamber. Dr. Abercrombie consulted with another Scottish associate, Sir David Brewster, the leading scientist in optical phenomena. Concurring that these bizarre optical manifestations, stimulated by reading books, must be attributed to a "morbidly sensitive imagination," Brewster published an account of the woman's experience in his Letters on Natural Magic (1832) which were his reply to Scott's Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft (42-3; 49). To protect her identity, her name was not mentioned, and Dr. Abercrombie's "Account of a remarkable case of Spectral Illusion," appeared anonymously in Brewster's Edinburgh Journal of Science. Here is his description of an episode on December 30, 1829:
at about 4 o'clock P.M. Mrs. ― came down the stairs into the drawing-room, which she had quitted a few minutes before, and on entering the room, saw me, as she supposed, standing with my back to the fire. She addressed me, asking how it was I had returned so soon. (I had left the house for a walk half an hour before.) She said I looked fixedly at her with a serious and thoughtful expression of countenance, but did not speak. She supposed I was busied in thought, and sat down in an arm-chair next to the fire, and close within a couple of feet at most of the figure she still saw standing before her. As, however, the eyes still continued to be fixed on her, after a few minutes she said 'Why don't you speak ―?' The figure upon this moved of towards the window at the further end of the room, the eyes still gazing on her, and passed so very close to her in doing so, that she was struck by the circumstances of hearing no step nor sound, no feeling her clothes brushed against, nor even any agitation in the air. The idea then arose for the first time into her mind, that it was no reality, but a spectral illusion.
(II [oct-apr, 1830] 319-321)
A month later, Mrs. Abercrombie's visions took a morbid turn. The spectral illusions of her husband were no doubt disconcerting, but scarcely alarming. Then, late one evening, as she was "sitting before the dressing-glass … she was suddenly startled by seeing in the mirror the figure of a near relative,… over her left shoulder; his eyes meeting her's in the glass." This apparition was all the more frightening, because it "was enveloped in grave-clothes closely pinned, as is usual with corpses, round the head and under the chin." Seeing a figure in a shroud, Dr. Abercrombie notes, is "nearer to the ordinary stories of supernatural visitation." Certainly it was near, too, to Scott's tale, "Aunt Margaret's Mirror." Acknowledging the superstitious lore of the wraith, Dr. Abercrombie closes this article by stating that if "the apparition coincided with illness or death, as had no doubt frequently happened in other instances, our philosophy would have had to stand a severe trial." This is a peculiar admission for the man of science. He readily admits that the coincidence of death and a wraith-like apparition of the dying person had "no doubt frequently happened in other instances" (319-321). One more coincidence would presumably not present a "severe trial," unless that coincidence was his own wife's spectral illusion.
My first response to the doctor's account of his wife's visions was that he had failed to see the obvious. With her husband devoting so much of his time to research on the pathology of hallucinations, she had devised a strategy for commanding his attention. And obviously it worked, for she was already the subject of two his articles in Brewster's Edinburgh Journal of Science. But then I thought of Coleridge's comment on Hamlet's feigning madness: "O that subtle trick to pretend to be acting only when we are very near being what we act" (Lectures 1808–1809: On Literature, I:441). Dr. Abercrombie's third article reports that his wife continues to see spirits of the dead: at 2:00 a.m. on October 5, 1831, the doctor is awakened by his wife who has seen the doctor's "deceased mother draw aside the bed-curtains and appear between them." A few days later, on October 11, she is seated with guests in the drawing-room when a deceased friend enters and takes a seat. She is less anxious about experiencing yet another spectral illusion, than she is about what the guests might think: "lest they should be astonished or alarmed at her staring in the way she was conscious of doing, at vacancy, and should fancy her intellect disordered." Fortunately, Mrs. Abercrombie knew a way out of this predicament, for she was well read in the literature of spectral illusions. She recalled reading of a similar incident in Scott's Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft. Scott told of Captain C., who retired to the west of England. Because his health was failing, a local clergyman visited him regularly. On this occasion, several hours after the clergyman departed, the Captain was preparing to retire, when he was astonished to see the priest once again in his room, but refusing to answer the Captain's questions. Suspecting that this was not the clergyman at all, the Captain "followed it round the bed, when it seemed to sink down on an elbow-chair … To ascertain positively the nature of the apparition, the soldier himself sate down on the same chair, ascertaining thus, beyond question, that the whole was illusion." According to Scott, the Captain's only remaining concern was whether the clergyman had died about the same time (35-36). Mrs. Abercrombie had already had that concern when she was visited by a relative wearing a shroud. Now her only challenge was to summon "the force and resolution necessary to enable her to cross the space … and seat herself in the chair which appeared occupied by the figure." If Scott's ghost stories were in part the cause of her hallucinations, in this instance at least they were also the means of abjuration.
Although she managed to muster admirable courage in dealing with these visitations, they continued to plague her. Two weeks later, on October 26, she watched from the window as a carriage drew up to the house. When "it arrived within a few yards of the window, she saw the figures of the postillions and the persons inside take the ghastly appearance of skeletons, and other hideous figures." On December 3, she was again visited by a figure dressed in a shroud—this time the phantom was her husband's brother. Dr. Abercrombie summarizes his case study by noting that "these successive delusions" have an "extraordinary resemblance … to the usual circumstances of the ghost stories we have all heard repeated, with more or less authority for them, from our cradles upwards." Mrs. Abercrombie, the doctor insists, was in no way dwelling on the images that arose before her eyes: "Consequently the imagination, memory, and other faculties of the mind seem to be wholly unconcerned in the suggestion or production of the spectral forms." (261-63).
That is a dubious conclusion, for Dr. Abercrombie himself has documented that she had been reading Hibbert's Philosophy of Spectral Illusions, Scott's Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft, and his own Inquiries concerning the Intellectual Powers.
An interesting aspect of Mrs. Abercrombie's case is that she was not reading the Gothic tales that deliberately indulge the aesthetics of fright. Instead, she was reading works, even Scott's, that attempted to provide an objective explanation of spectral phenomena. Mrs. Abercrombie's symptoms are part of a prevailing preoccupation of the medical literature. For a person to have an hallucination, knowing at once that it is only an hallucination, has a richer significance than I have yet acknowledged. My earliest example is from LeSage's Gil Blas. Another interesting version is from a true master of ghost stories, Sheridan LeFanu.
In the Dr. Hesselius stories from In a Glass Darkly (1872), the man of medical science, the expert in the mental pathology, has been fully absorbed into the narrative structure. He is no longer an intermittent figure, called upon in moments of crisis. The medical "case study" is now the fictive genre. Dr. Martin Hesselius, author of Essays on Metaphysical Medicine, is the narrator and commentator. The "case study" most resembling Mrs. Abercrombie's is the one Le Fanu has titled "Green Tea." The Reverend Mr. Jennings frequently drinks green tea. If vice it is, it is his sole vice. He is a kind and good man, free from any crime that would haunt him with remorse. Nevertheless, he is a haunted man, relentlessly haunted; not by guilt and self-recriminations that typically persecute the villain of the Gothic tale, but by a monkey, an hallucinatory monkey. Dr. Hesselius is the dispassionate observer and recorder to whom Jennings has come in torment, desperate for some cure or relief from his hallucinations. For four years he has been writing a study of religious metaphysics of the ancients. It is a labour that he loves, and he works happily for long hours, drinking a strong green tea as a stimulant. He is not in his study, but riding on an omnibus, when he first sees a small, black monkey with red glowing eyes. He dispels the possibility that the monkey might be real by poking at it: his umbrella passes right through the phantom animal. To Jennings's horror the animal becomes his companion. Dr. Hesselius documents the progression of Jennings's hallucination. At first, because he knows that it is not real, he thinks the monkey is merely the symptom of some disorder of the eye. The constant presence, however, soon becomes a persecution, and Jennings begins to believe the monkey is a demon. In the final stage, he hears it telepathically in his head, urging him to commit evil acts and to destory himself. He has already reached this frantic state of torment when he turns to Dr. Hesselius. The doctor tells him that he has treated many similar cases and that he can be confident of a cure. Should the monkey again appear, Jennings is to summon the doctor. The monkey, of course, returns, but the doctor is unavailable. Hesselius arrives later at Jennings' quarters to find the minister has slit his throat.
Le Fanu gives many hints, but no satisfactory explanation, why Jennings might be the victim of such hallucinatory self-persecution. As in the case of Abercrombie's patient, who had read Gil Blas, and Abercrombie's wife, who had read Hibbert, and Scott, and her own husband's book, Jennings too was guilty of reading in the lore of spectral illusions. Much of his reading, of course, was in the metaphysics of antiquity. In order to understand his monkey delusion, he had turned to Emanuel Swedenborg's Arcana Celestia. Unlike the Duke D'Olivarez, or Mrs. Abercrombie, or up to this moment, Jennings himself, Swedenborg truly believed in the supernatural origin of his apparitions. He believed that good and evil spirits inhabit the world and manifest themselves to certain individuals. Through a kind of mental symbiosis, these spirits reside in the thoughts of the person with whom they associate. In the visual and auditory perceptions of their host, they take the form that corresponds to the elements in that individual's character that initially attracted the spirits. Thus they may represent a lust hidden in the dark side of consciousness. The monkey might be a manifestation of repressed desire. But Le Fanu gives no hint what that desire might be. From first to last, Jennings's only excesses have been green tea and metaphysics. Abstaining from tea, however, does nothing the retard the visual intrusions of the monkey, who sits on his book in the pulpit, so that Jennings cannot read to his congregation, and soon disrupts his prayers. If this is indeed a psychological projection of Jennings's guilt, that guilt can only be devoting himself so ardently to "pagan" metaphysics. Dr Hesselius regrets, upon discovering Jennings's corpse, not that the man is dead, but that he, Dr Hesselius, has not be able to record yet another success among his many cases. The Doctor is convinced that a dietary cure would have put an end to spectral illusions, some fluid to counteract the damage wrought by the green tea. Dr. Hesselius's pronouncements on the physiological rather than psychological or supernatural causes for Jennings's torment and suicide are uncontested at the end of this "case study," which is to appear, as translated and edited by a younger doctor, in an entire volume of Hesselius's "case studies."
Le Fanu's Dr. Hesselius stories are among the obvious examples of the interweavings of Gothic tales and the medical accounts of mental pathology, and the "case study" of Rev. Jennings follows directly in that tradition of self-aware hallucination that was observed in the confession of Duke D'Olivarez. But the prominent example was the case of Friedrich Nicolai (1733–1811), bookdealer, friend of the playwright and critic, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729–1781), and founding editor of the Allgemeine Deutsche Bibliothek (1765–1805), a journal dedicated to literary reviews. Throughout the year 1791, Nicolai suffered a series of hallucinations, fully aware that his spectral illusions were not real. Scott notes that this case was discussed by "the learned and acute Dr. Ferriar of Manchester," in An Essay towards a Theory of Apparitions (1813), as well as by Dr. Hibbert in Sketches of the Philosophy of Apparitions (1824). Nicolai recorded the changes in his physical and mental condition, and described each of his visual illusions—delivered as a paper read to the Royal Society of Berlin in 1799. An English translation, "A Memoir on the Appearance of Spectres or Phantoms occasioned by Disease, with Psychological Remarks," was published in William Nichol-son's Journal of Natural Philosophy in 1803. Nicolai stressed in his paper the important evidence for the interdependency of mind and body, and for the effects of a nervous indisposition on the organs of sense. Neglect of his scheduled bleeding to relieve a congestion in the head, compounded by death in the family and difficulties in business, had aggravated his condition. In February, the hallucinations commenced. While he realized that the phantasmata were the production of his own mind, he found that he could exercise no conscious control over their coming or going, their shape or their actions: "these visions in my case were not the consequence of any known law of reason, of the imagination, or of the otherwise usual association of ideas" (Nicholson's Journal …, VI  167)
Scott summarizes the case in the Letters on Demonology:
These phantoms afforded nothing unpleasant to the imagination of the visionary either in sight or expression, and the patient was possessed of too much firmness to be otherwise affected by their presence than with a species of curiosity, as he remained convinced from the beginning to the end of the disorder, that these singular effects were merely symptoms of the state of his health, and did not in any other respect regard them as a subject of apprehension. After a certain time, and some use of medicine, the phantoms became less distinct in their outline, less vivid in their colouring, faded, as it were, on the eye of the patient, and at length totally disappeared.
Scott goes on to cite Dr. Hibbert's conclusions concerning the Nicolai case. Hibbert argues that several very different physical conditions are capable of eliciting optical spectres.
The visitation of spectral phenomena is … a frequent hectic symptom—often an associate of febrile and inflammatory disorders-frequently accompanying inflammation of the brain-a concomitant also of highly excited nervous irritability—equally connected with hypochondria—and finally united in some cases with gout, and in others with the effects of excitation produced by several gases. In all these cases there seems to be a morbid degree of sensibility, with which this symptom is ready to ally itself, and which, though inaccurate as a medical definition, may be held sufficiently descriptive of one character of the various kinds of disorder with which this painful symptom may be found allied.
Scott also mentions various forms of intoxication—from distilled spirits, opium, or nitrous oxide—which may also generate visual illusions. He may have recalled the little book by Humphry Davy, Researches, Chemical and Philosophical, Concerning Nitrous Oxide (1800), which included personal accounts by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey, and Peter Mark Roget on the effects of inhaling the gas. Scott testifies that "Very frequent use of the nitrous oxide which affects the senses so strongly, and produces a short but singular state of ecstasy, would probably be found to occasion this species of disorder" (20). Optical spectres, then, may result from physical disorders as well as mental disorders, and they may also be solicited by the use of opium and other drugs.
As has already occurred to the Coleridgeans in the audience, optical spectres were not infrequent in Coleridge's experience: the opening in the wall that he observed in his room in Bristol, the apparition of the Captain that he saw at his fire-side in Malta, the luminescent letters that he inscribed on his thigh while lying in bed, the adulterous nighttime wanderings of Wordsworth that he thought he witnessed at an inn on their way to Coleorton. Scott recalls, too, Coleridge's reply to "a lady who asked him if he believed in ghosts:—'No, madam; I have seen too many myself'" (34). While such symptoms may seem trivial and whimsical, Scott argues that the imagination has the power "to kill the body, even when its fantastic terrors cannot overcome the intellect" (26-32). The mind, conscious of its own hallucinations, may be relieved from the horror of thinking that nightmare images are real, but that awareness cannot dispel the torment of knowing it has no control over their presence.
From Kant's Versuch über die Krankheiten des Köpfes (1764) Coleridge adapted his categories of madness as a disease of the will, of reason, of the feelings, and of the sensory organs. Coleridge's refers to these categories in a lecture on Don Quixote (March, 1819): "1 Hypochondriasis, or out of his senses—2. Derangement of the Understanding, or out of his Wits—3 & Loss of Reason—4. Frenzy—or derangement of the Sensations—" (On Literature, 2:156-66; 414-20). Following this scheme, Coleridge can diagnose Don Quixote as having lost his wits, not his reason.
Authors of the Gothic tales were aware of contemporary accounts of debility and derangement. Successful in its run at Drury Lane and much maligned in the critique by Coleridge, Robert Maturin's Bertram (1816) is a remarkable study in the gradual mental deterioration of its heroine, Imogine. Nor is it easy for the audience to put all the blame on her own intemperate desires. Self-centered violence and lust for revenge are impelling motives for her lover, Bertram. The moments of kindness that he shows are too little and too late. Too little, for example, when he kisses rather than kills, as he had planned, Imogine's child. Too late, when he feels pangs of remorse at the cave where Imogine has fled in her madness and where her child lies dead.
Matthew Gregory Lewis's The Castle Spectre (1797) also enjoyed a successful run at Drury Lane with John Philip Kemble as the hero, Percy, Barrymore as the villain, Osmond, and Dorothy Jordan as the entrapped heroine, Angela. But in Lewis's drama, it is not the victimized woman who is driven mad; rather it is the villain himself who is vanquished by his own paranoid fears. Osmond's lust for Angela is driven more by jealous rivalry and possessive greed than it is by sexual desire. With Angela and her father, Reginald, trapped in the dungeon, Osmond lifted his arm to stab his brother, just as he had ten years earlier; and just as happened ten years earlier, Evelina, Reginald's wife and Angela's mother, threw herself between her husband and Osmond's dagger. Ten years earlier she was killed by her brother-in-law. In a repetition of that very scene, Osmond is distraught by the appearance of the ghost, and Angela uses that moment of distraction to plunge a dagger into his chest. "The great run which this piece had," observed a critic, "is a striking proof that success is a very uncertain criterion of merit—the plot is rendered contemptible by the introduction of the Ghost."2 But the fault cannot be the Ghost, per se. One would presumably not argue that Macbeth is rendered contemptible by the appearance of the Ghost of Banquo (III.iv), or Hamlet by the appearance of the Ghost of Hamlet's Father (I.iv and v), or Julius Caesar by the appearance of the Ghost of Caesar in Brutus's tent (IV.iii). The critic's complaint probably rests on the conviction that an optical spectre on this occasion, seen by Osmond alone, would have been more effective than an actress draped in a white shroud.
Although there was a degree of conformity among the opinions of the medical doctors who were attempting to ascertain the causes of a patient's visitations from spirits or demons, there was much less conformity in the actual diagnosis. The disparities, as seen in retrospect two centuries later, are astonishing. Speculative anatomy seemed to gain a professional following right along side clinical studies. The nervous system and the brain according to Franz Joseph Gall and Johann Caspar Spurzheim coexisted with Matthew Baillie's physiological investigation of the nervous system and Johann Christian Reil's mapping of the ganglia and the cerebral system. The disparities are even more remarkable when one looks at the investigation of apparitions: Gotthelf Heinrich Schubert's theory in the Ansichten von der Nachtseite der Naturwissenschaft (1808) seems as lunatic as the phenomena it describes. But how scientific were the scientific treatises on apparitions? Scott readily acknowledged the vast difference between his Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft and Hibbert's Sketches of the Philosophy of Apparitions which was subtitled An Attempt to Trace Such Illusions To Their Physical Causes. The difference, Scott asserted, was not only that "Dr. Hibbert … has most ingeniously, as well as philosophically, handled this subject," but also that he "has treated it … in a medical point of view, with science to which we make no pretence, and a precision of detail to which our superficial investigation affords us no room for extending ourselves" (22). Hibbert's most important predecessor in Britain was John Ferriar, in An Essay towards a Theory of Apparitions (1813). Among Hibbert's immediate successors were John Abercrombie, in Inquiries concerning the Intellectual Powers (1830) and Walter Cooper Dendy, On the Phenomena of Dreams and other Transient Illusions (1832). But the topic of illusions and apparitions was also commonly addressed in the major works on mental pathology, as in Philippe Pinel's A Treatise on Insanity, translated from the French in 1809, or John Haslam's Observations on Insanity, first published in 1798 with an enlarged second edition in 1809.
Dr. Haslam was also the author of Illustrations of madness: exhibiting a singular case of insanity and a no less remarkable difference in medical opinion: developing the nature of the assailment, and the manner of working events; with a description of the tortures experienced by bomb-bursting, lobster-cracking, and lengthening of the brain (1810). The book is especially relevant to this study for three reasons: 1) it delineates the conditions of complex mental illusions; 2) it provides an extensive "case study" of the hallucinations of Haslam's patient, James Tilly Matthews; 3) it demonstrates the disparity in medical judgment. The "case study" of Matthews reads more like science fiction than medical observation. It is a story of conspiracy theory and mind control. Near the London Wall was the hidden establishment of a group of persons skilled in Pneumatic Chemistry. There they have constructed a large device, an Air Loom, capable of sending waves of magnetic energy that the compress the air and can be focused on an individual. Matthews has discovered that he is their experimental target. The team is headed by Bill, the King, who "actuated Rhynwick Williams to the commission of his monstrous practices" and "also took Hadfield in tow, by means of magnetic impregnations, and compelled him to fire his Pistol at his Majesty in the Theatre."3 Other members of the team are Jack, the Schoolmaster, who serves as shorthand record-keeper; Sir Archy (who may be a woman in man's apparel) who is the "liar of the gang" and uses the Air Loom to disseminate a protective cover of propaganda and to communicate with the targets by "brainsayings"; the Middleman, manufacturer and operator of the Air Loom; Augusta, either friendly and cajoling, or spiteful and malignant; she influences female targets with her "brain-sayings"; Charlotte, victimized by the gang, perhaps kept in chains, almost naked, poorly fed; the Glove Woman, who wears cotton gloves and a fawncolored Norwich gown. Matthews describes the various assaults on his mind and body delivered through the Air Loom, as well as how the Air Loom can also, across a vast distance, impregnate its target with various chemicals.
As happened in many cases, it was debated whether this patient was sane or insane. Matthews managed a successful business as tea-broker in Leadenhall Street, became an advocate of republican France, and was imprisoned during one of his visits to Paris. After his return, he worried that those who had tortured him in prison would track him down. The decision whether a patient should be placed in an asylum, was a decision that was fraught with a potential for abuse. Haslam had no hesitation in confining Matthews to Bethlem Hospital in January, 1797, and transferring him to the incurable ward one year later. In the mean-time, a legal process was raised by his family demanding his release. Haslam responded that Matthews's "insanity was most evident, yet his relatives did not possess the faculty of perceiving his disorder." Ten years later, with Matthews's still in confinement, Dr. Henry Clutterbuck and Dr George Burkback submitted affidavits that they had interviewed Matthews and found him perfectly sane. Haslam prevailed in the proceedings and Matthews remained in the hospital. Haslam responded to the debate over Matthews's possible sanity by describing the cycle of "lucid intervals" and "relapses," and the consequent difficulty for a physician not familiar with the case to reach a proper diagnosis.4
In the concluding section of his Observations on Maniacal Disorders (1792), Dr. William Pargeter quoted recent newspaper accounts on the wide-spread abuse of mad-houses. From an article dated September, 1791:
Notwithstanding the recent regulations, there are many madhouses in the neighbourhood of the metropolis, which demand a very serious enquiry, The masters of these receptacles of misery, on the days that they expect visitors, get their sane patients out of the way; or, if that cannot be done, give them large doses of stupefying liquor, or narcotic draughts, that drown their faculties, and render them incapable of giving a coherent answer. A very strict eye should be kept on these gaolers of the mind; for if they do not find a patient mad, their oppressive tyranny soon makes them so.
(126; the "recent regulations" refer to the Madhouse Act of 1774 and subsequent controls in response to legal actions against abuses)
From another article dated December, 1791:
Private mad-houses are become so general at present, and their prostitution of justice so openly carried on, that any man may have his wife, or father, or brother confined for life at a stipulated price! The wretched victims are concealed from the inspecting doctors, unless it can be contrived that they are stupefied with drugs, or made mad with strong liquors, against the hour of visiting.
No wonder that the mad-house soon became a more lurid setting than a castle dungeon for the atrocities of the depraved Gothic villain.5 No wonder that driving a helpless victim to insanity was adopted as a Gothic plot. But it is equally compelling as a modern film plot: Gaslight (1944), a psychological suspense thriller, with Charles Boyer as the villainous Gregory Anton, Ingrid Bergman as Paula Alquist, who becomes his wife and victim, and Joseph Cotton as Brian Cameron of Scotland Yard. Adapted from Patrick Hamilton's long-running play, Angel Street, the plot is about a ruthless jewel-thief, who ten years earlier murdered Paula's aunt in attempt to steal her jewels. Knowing that the jewels are still hidden in the house, Gregory waits ten years until he can marry the niece who has inherited the house. After systematically and methodically tormenting her in order to drive her insane, he intends then to have her committed to an insane asylum, and live with the wealth and luxury of the recovered jewels and his wife's inheritance. The title is derived from the frequent dimming and flickering of the gaslights, a key factor in driving the wife crazy. The plan almost succeeds, when the detective of Scotland Yard intervenes, rescues the wife, and arrests the husband.
The plot of Gaslight is the same as Joanna Baillie's Orra: the mental stability of the female protagonist is undermined by deliberate abuse perpetrated by her male "protector." In depicting a female character victimized by madness, Baillie is concerned in revealing her plight as caused more by the ruthless abuse of male authority, than by inherent fragility of mind. To be sure, Orra has the love and loyalty of Theobald, but the machinations of Rudigere, the "gaoler of the mind," succeed in secluding her from his intervention. As heiress to the fiefdom of her deceased father, she lives as a ward to her uncle, Hughobert, who seeks to marry her to his son, and thus unite the two branches of the Aldenberg estates. Orra, however, recognizes the selfish motives and steadfastly rejects the suit of her cousin. With her insistence that drama should address the power of emotions to dictate behavior and compel the overwrought individual to acts of irrational excess, Joanna Baillie enters into the very same province of aberrational psychology that her brother, Matthew Baillie, had begun to explore in his 1794 lectures on the "Anatomy of the Nervous System" and the "Physiology of the Nervous System." Matthew Baillie conceded that no simple discrimination of mind and brain, of psychological and physiological causes, was possible, but he also observed that the persistence of a psychological state frequently altered the physiological condition.6 Joanna Baillie, too, sought to ground her analysis of behavior on empirical observation, and to identify the symptoms which foreshadow an impending emotional crisis: "the restless eye, the muttering lip, the half-checked exclamation and the hasty start." Because actions in a state of excitement may override volition and even conscious awareness, they can be studied only in the observation of others. At the time when Orra was published in Plays of the Passions, volume three (1812), Matthew Baillie had already commenced his service as physician to the deranged George III ("Autobiography," 59-60).
An independent woman, Orra struggles against male domination. With sarcasm, she scorns the attempts to usurp her "lands and rights" through marriage:
And so, since fate has made me, woe the day!
That poor and good-for-nothing, helpless being,
Woman yclept, I must consign myself
With all my lands and rights into the hands
Of some proud man, and say, 'Take all, I pray,
And do me in return the grace and favour
To be my master.'
In spite of her assertiveness, Orra, no less than other characters in Baillie's Plays of the Passions, has a mental weakness. As Brewster said of Mrs. Abercrombie, she possesses a "morbidly sensitive imagination." Readily captivated by ghost stories, her superstitious imagination cannot resist their horrid delights. She confesses her fascination with tales of terror:
when the cold-blood shoots through every vein:
When every hair's-pit on my shrunken skin
A knotted knoll becomes, and mine ears
Strange inward sounds awake, and to mine eyes
Rush stranger tears, there is a joy in fear.
Aware of her susceptibility to superstitious lore, Rudigere plots to possess her. He convinces Hughobert that his hopes to marry her to his son, Glottenbal, will be soon be blighted because she has taken a fancy for Theobald of Falkenstein, who lingers about the castle seeking opportunities to meet with Orra. He convinces Hughobert to present Orra with the ultimatum to accept Glottenbal as her husband. If she refuses, she must be sent to the family's long-vacant, half-ruined castle in the Black Forest until she reconsiders. Rudigere offers his service to act as her protector during her banishment to the Black Forest, a banishment, he predicts, that will be short-lived because she will promptly repent her stubbornness and eagerly return to marry Glottenbal.
Catherina, who attends Orra on this journey, has been blackmailed into obedience to Rudigere for some impropriety which he threatens to expose. Thus Orra, once she has arrived in the isolated castle, has no companion to help her avoid Rudigere's sexual advances. Unable to assail her dignity and integrity, he seeks to undermine her courage by arousing her superstitious fear. He tries to convince her that he, too, dreads the spectre that haunts the place. He longs for her companionship to dispel the gloom:
To hear thy voice, makes ev'n this place of horrors,—
Where, as 'tis said, the spectre of a chief,
Slain by our common grandsire, haunts the night,
A paradise—a place where I could live
In penury and gloom, and be most blessed.
Ah! Orra! if there's misery in thraldom,
Pity a wretch who breathes but in thy favour:
Who, till he look'd upon that beauteous face,
Was free and happy.—Pity me or kill me!
By exacerbating her fears, he thinks to make her so terrified that she will shrink from being left alone and choose to spend the night in his chamber.
The gothic romance, as critics have often observed, uses the conventions of super-naturalism as a disguise for an exposition of sexual exploi-tation.7 Baillie assembles the conventions: the wicked villain, the maiden in distress, the gothic castle, the rumors of a ghost. But she resorts to no supernatural disguise. Nor is the advent of Orra's madness a substitute for supernaturalism. Rudigere's threat of sexual assault combines with the "real agony of fear" to drive Orra over the brink into madness. Finding no escape left to her, she is plunged into insanity. Theobald arrives to rescue her—but too late. In Act V, Baillie reveals the devastating affliction. The cause, as surmised by those who see her, was some seizure of the brain:8
not her mind?—Oh direst wreck of all!
That noble mind!—But 'tis some passing seizure,
Some powerful movement of a transient nature;
It is not madness?
But Orra responds not to attempts to release her from her delusions. She sees herself captive in a borderland where the spirits of the dead intermingle with the living. She rejects the friends who arrive from her uncle's court. Neither the stringencies of a moral cure nor the sympathetic ministrations9 of Theobald's loving kindness are capable of dispelling her madness: "Her mind within itself holds a dark world / Of dismal phantasies and horrid forms!" The uncle who had abused his responsibility as her guardian is compelled to listen to, and share, her vision of her avenging father who comes with hordes of the dead to wreak his retribution. With "all the wild strength of frantic horror," she takes hold of Hughobert and Theobald and, as the curtain drops, pulls them back with her into the dark recesses of the stage.
Haslam, in his Observations on Madness, argued that distinction that the between self-awareness and self-delusion in the experience of ocular spectres was irrelevant to the medical diagnosis of madness. Mania, for Haslam the condition of "false perceptions," is not in itself a factor in madness. In his judgment, the subject only becomes mad when mania is accompanied by melancholia, which he defines as the intensity of idea. In its usual definition, mania itself involves precisely that intensity. Haslam redefined terms in order to establish a bipolar scheme in which a patient is said to vacillate between mania and melancholia, between "lucid intervals" and "relapse." During the manic phase a mad person is capable of dissembling sanity and stifling or masking the disorder (41, 45-57). This argument, as in Matthews's case, defends the physician's discernment of madness, in spite of the patient's appearance of sanity and the diagnosis of other physicians unfamiliar with the cycles of the patient's behavior. It is, for the very reasons that Pargeter pointed out in his Observations on Maniacal Disorders, potentially dangerous as a means of confining the sane in mad-houses. It also provides an apt psychological construct for the fictional character who can mask his obsession well enough to woo the bride whom he intends to destroy.
Imogine, Orra, and other mad heroines in the Gothic tales played out fears and desires that readers recognized. The madness of Ambrosio or Osmond was driven by a perversity or cruelty perceived to lurk in men who were authoritarian "gaolors of the mind," yet counted themselves normal and sane. In the Biographia, Coleridge insisted that "German tragedy" was a misnomer for such plays as Bertram, which he saw as Jaco-binical through and through (ed. Engell and Bate, CW, II:221). The Gothic tale became an effective venue for examining current issues of domestic and urban violence, as well as challenges to religious and political authority. Character and situation in the Gothic tales paralleled the very concerns with aberrant behavior in contemporary medical works on apparitions and delusions. As Dr. Abercrombie acknowledged, the "case study" of the physician may seem a mirror image of the Gothic tale. Indeed, it could become such a perfect mirror image that, as in the Dr. Hesselius tales, it could pop right through to the other side, like Alice through the looking-glass.
1. Alain-René Le Sage (1668–1747), The Adventures of Gil Blas, of Santillane (1715–1735), translated in 1749 by Tobias Smollett (1721–1771), 4 vols. In 2 (Lions: Cormon and Blanc, 1815), vol. 4, Book the Twelfth, ch. 11, pp. 271-272.
2. J. Genest, English Stage from the Restoration to 1830, 10 vols. (Bath: H. E. Carrington, 1830), VII, 332-33.
3. Rhynwick Williams, the "London Monster," was a forerunner of Jack the Ripper, who murdered women on the streets of London; he was captured and convicted in 1791, although there were doubts whether he was actually the one guilty of the crimes; James Hadfield was tried for shooting at his Majesty George III. at Drury Lane Theatre, on May 15, 1800.
4. Roy Porter, as editor of a reprint of Haslam's Illustrations of Madness, reports that "Matthews's fate became a cause célèbre;… the institution came under the scathing scrutiny of the House of = Commons committee investigating madhouses in 1815." After being incarcerated by Dr Haslam for twenty years, an order for Matthews's release from Bethlem hospital was given in 1816. Porter, Introduction, p. 15.
5. See also: Samuel Bruckshaw, One More Proof of the Iniguitous Abuse of Private Madhouses (London, 1794); William Belcher, Address to Humanity, Containing a Letter to Dr. Munro, a Receipt to Make a Lunatic, and Seize his Estates, and a Sketch of a True Smiling Hyena (London, 1796); James Parkinson, Mad-Houses; Observations on the Act for Regulation of Mad-Houses (London: Sherwood, Neeley and Jones, 1811).
6. Matthew Baillie, Gulstonian Lectures (read before the Royal College of Physicians, May 1794), Lectures and Observations on Medicine, p. 123-124.
7. A major work delineating sado-masochistic motifs, Mario Praz, The Romantic Agony (1951), has been followed by a vast number of studies on sexual desecration in Gothic fiction. William Patrick Day, In the Circles of Fear and Desire. A Study of Gothic Fantasy (1985), for example, states that "the specific material that made it [the Gothic] so compelling for contemporary readers" was the concern with "masculine and feminine identity" and problems challenging "conventional concepts of identity and family that dominated nineteenth-century middle-class life," p. 5.
8. In his account of "Complaints of the Head," Lectures and Observations on Medicine (1825), pp. 165-171, Matthew Baillie reviews the possibility that severe emotional shock as well as physical trauma may cause apoplectic or epileptic seizures. On "The Causes of Madness," Treatise on Madness (1757), William Battie had earlier declared that "the fixed muscular marks of passion discover indeed in their operation that the turbulent storms of joy or anger, which in consequence of pressure upon the nerves, are as much the remoter causes of Madness, and indeed sooner or later are as destructive to every animal power."
9. Vieda Skultans, Madness and Morals, pp. 9-20, 98-139, and Andrew Scull, The Most Solitary of Afflictions, pp. 56-87, William Bynum, "Rationales for Therapy in British Psychiatry, 1780–1835," in Mad-houses, Mad-Doctors, and Madmen, ed. Andrew Scull, pp. 35-57, survey major approaches to the treatment of the mad: moral management (imposing strict regimen of work and obedience), physical restraint (chains, braces, strait jackets); hydrotherapy (immersion, showers, wet-wraps); and domestication (recreating household routine and social interaction).
Abercrombie, John. Inquiries concerning the Intellectual Powers. 1830; Baillie, Matthew. Gulstonian Lectures (read before the Royal College of Physicians, May 1794), Lectures and Observations on Medicine, pp. 123-140; Baillie, Matthew Morbid Anatomy (2nd ed. 1797); Dendy, Walter Cooper. On the phenomena of dreams and other transient illusions., 1832; Ferriar, John. An essay towards a theory of apparitions. 1813; Haslam, John. Observations on insanity: with practical remarks on the disease, and an account of the morbid appearances on dissection. 1798; 2d ed. 1809; Haslam, John. Illustrations of madn ess: exhibiting a singular case of insanity and a no less remarkable difference in medical opinion: developing the nature of the assailment, and the manner of working events; with a description of the tortures experienced by bomb-bursting, lobster-cracking, and lengthening of the brain. 1810. Facsimile reprint, with Introduction by Roy Porter, 1988; Hibbert, Samuel. Sketches of the Philosophy of Apparitions; Or, An Attempt to Trace Such Illusions To Their Physical Causes. 1824; Kant, Immanuel. Versuch über die Krankheiten des Köpfes (1764), in Werke, ed. Wilhelm Weischedel. 1966. I:.887-901; Nicolai, Friedrich. presented to the Royal Society of Berlin on February 28, 1799. An English translation, "A Memoir on the Appearance of Spectres or Phantoms occasioned by Disease, with Psychological Remarks," in William Nicholson's Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry, and the Arts, VI (1803), 161-179; Pargeter, William. Observations on Maniacal Disorders. 1792; Pinel, Philippe. A Treatise on Insanity, trans. D.D. Davis. 1809; Traité Médico-Philosophique sur l'aliénation mentale ou la manie. 1st ed. 1801; Schubert, Gotthelf Heinrich. Ansichten von der Nachtseite der Naturwissenschaft. 1808; Swedenborg, Emanuel. Arcana Celestia, quae in scriptura sacra seu verbo Domini, sunt, detecta: hic primum quae in Genesi. Una cum mirabilibus, quae visa sunt in mundo spirituum et in coelo angelorum. 1749; trans. Arcana coelestia: or Heavenly mysteries, contained in the Sacred Scriptures, or Word of the Lord, manifested and laid open; beginning with the book of Genesis. Interspersed with relations of wonderful things seen in the world of spirits and the heaven of angels. 1803.
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ON THE SUBJECT OF …
JOHN WILLIAM POLIDORI (1795–1821)
Author of The Vampyre (1819), the first published vampire novel in English, Polidori is best remembered for his association with more famous literary figures. The Vampyre was initially misattributed to Byron; although Polidori borrowed some plot elements from an abandoned narrative fragment by Byron, his novel is an original composition, establishing many of the literary conventions of the vampire theme that were followed by subsequent nineteenth-century authors. A private physician to Lord Byron, Polidori traveled with the author through France, Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland, where they encountered the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and his future wife, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (later Shelley). Byron and Polidori leased a villa on Lake Geneva; Shelley and Godwin took lodgings nearby and were frequent visitors. Although scholars dispute the account of a rainy night and "ghost-story-writing competition" giving rise to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Polidori's Vampyre, most concur that both works were conceived and started at the villa during the summer of 1816. The Vampyre may owe its existence in part to Byron: some commentators, citing Byron's 1816 novel fragment that relates an encounter with the undead, speculate that the novel was first accepted for publication because Byron was thought to be the author. Nevertheless, Polidori's novel is acknowledged as containing original elements that significantly influenced subsequent genre fiction. In particular, Polidori shifted focus from a passive, suffering protagonist to the compelling, dynamic figure of the vampire himself. Further, Polidori may have been the first author in any language to cast the bestial vampire of legend into the form most familiar to modern readers: a sophisticated nobleman who exerts a sexual fascination over both male and female victims. Polidori remains a marginal literary figure, overshadowed by his renowned associates, while The Vampyre has been characterized as a pivotal work of supernatural fiction.
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ON THE SUBJECT OF …
THOMAS LOVELL BEDDOES (1803–1849)
A poet of great promise who failed to live up to the expectations of his literary peers, Beddoes is remembered today as an important figure in the Elizabethan literary revival of the nineteenth century, as an author of Gothic verse, and for his dark and troubled life, which ended in suicide when he was forty-five. Critics have asserted that Beddoes deserves to be better known and have regarded him as the literary heir to William Shakespeare and the best of the Romantic poets, including his idol Percy Bysshe Shelley. After publishing a volume of poetry and his acclaimed verse drama The Brides' Tragedy (1822) by age nineteen, Beddoes did not publish anything of consequence for the rest of his life. At twenty-three he exiled himself from England, studying and living in Europe and working intermittently at his ambitious verse drama Death's Jest-Book (1850), which he revised until his death. During his life he was regarded first as a prodigy and then an eccentric. After Beddoes's death Victorian poets Robert Browning and Alfred, Lord Tennyson expressed admiration for his poetry. Scholarly interest in Beddoes began in the 1920s, and since then critics have examined in detail his interest in death, horror, and the Gothic; his treatment of themes such as marriage and the limits of art; his grim humor; his lyrical ear; and his fascination with words. He is admired for his genuine—albeit dark and disturbing—vision and presents themes and ideas that are otherwise absent in the more conventional works of late Romantic and early Victorian England.
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Carter, Margaret L. The Vampire in Literature: A Critical Bibliography. Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press, 1989, 135 p.
Full-length bibliography of criticism on literature with vampire themes or characters.
Anderson, James. "New Wave Vampires." Studies in Weird Fiction 20 (winter 1997): 18-21.
Surveys the process of the modernization of themes and figures in vampire fiction.
Auerbach, Nina. "The Power of Hunger: Demonism and Maggie Tulliver." Nineteenth-Century Fiction 30, no. 2 (September 1975): 150-71.
Examines George Eliot's treatment of Maggie Tulliver as a demon in The Mill on the Floss.
Barfoot, C. C. "The Gist of the Gothic in English Fiction; or, Gothic and the Invasion of Boundaries." In Exhibited by Candlelight: Sources and Developments in the Gothic Tradition, edited by Valeria Tinkler-Villani, Peter Davidson, and Jane Stevenson, pp. 159-72. Atlanta, Ga. and Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1995.
Compares the treatment of ghosts and boundaries in works by Charles Dickens and Jane Austen.
Bernstein, Susan. "It Walks: The Ambulatory Uncanny." Modern Language Notes 118, no. 5 (December 2003): 1111-139.
Regarding the theory of Samuel Weber on the uncanny, Bernstein asserts: "I would like to follow Weber's lead in continuing to read the uncanny and outline some of its peculiar textual features." Compares works by Edgar Allan Poe and E. T. A. Hoffmann, and theories of Sigmund Freud and Martin Heidegger.
Bowen, Elizabeth. Introduction to The Second Ghost Book, by Lady Cynthia Asquith, n. p. London: J. Barrie, 1952.
Contrasts ghost stories of the 1950s with their counterparts of the Victorian and Edwardian periods.
Brantlinger, Patrick. "The Gothic Origins of Science Fiction." Novel: A Forum on Fiction 14 (fall 1980): 30-43.
Explores how "the conventions of science fiction derive from the conventions of fantasy and romance, and especially from those of the Gothic romance," to demonstrate "why it has been difficult—maybe impossible—for science fiction to become a 'realism of the future.'"
Briggs, Julia. Night Visitors: The Rise and Fall of the English Ghost Story. London: Faber, 1977, 238 p.
Well-regarded and comprehensive book-length study on the history of the ghost story in England from the nineteenth century through the early twentieth century.
Carlson, M. M. "What Stoker Saw: An Introduction to the History of the Literary Vampire." Folklore Forum 10, no. 2 (fall 1977): 26-32.
Discusses several influential works of vampire fiction and distinguishes between the literary vampire and its folkloric prototype.
Castle, Terry. Introduction to The Female Thermometer: Eighteenth-Century Culture and the Invention of the Uncanny, pp. 3-20. Cambridge: Oxford University Press, 1995.
Offers a cultural-historical approach to studying the treatment of the uncanny in eighteenth-century literature.
Clery, E. J. "Laying the Ground for Gothic: The Passage of the Supernatural from Truth to Spectacle." In Exhibited by Candlelight: Sources and Developments in the Gothic Tradition, edited by Valeria Tinkler-Villani, Peter Davidson, and Jane Stevenson, pp. 65-74. Atlanta, Ga. and Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1995.
Uses works of Samuel Johnson and Horace Walpole to illustrate her assertion that they represent "alternative mental paradigms, distinct epistemological fields, positing two discrete objects: a 'real supernatural' and an 'aesthetic supernatural.'"
――――――. Rise of Supernatural Fiction, 1762–1800. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, 222 p.
Delineates the Enlightenment and its influence on the treatment of the supernatural in eighteenth-century fiction.
Day, William Patrick. In the Circles of Fear and Desire: A Study of Gothic Fantasy. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1985, 208 p.
Influential, full-length study of Gothic fantasy literature and film.
Del Principe, David. "Misbegotten, Unbegotten, Forgotten: Vampires and Monsters in the Works of Ugo Tarchetti, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, and the Gothic Tradition." Forum Italicum 29, no. 1 (spring 1995): 3-25.
Relates Ugo Tarchetti's Fosca to the Gothic tradition by comparing it to Shelley's Frankenstein and Stoker's Dracula and by illustrating how it "deftly recreates the vampire myth."
Engel, Leonard. "The Role of the Enclosure in the English and American Gothic Romance." Essays in Arts and Sciences 11 (September 1982): 59-68.
Studies the treatment of enclosure in works by Horace Walpole and Ann Radcliffe, and the influence of this treatment on the works of Charles Brockden Brown.
Surveys Lamb's use of the supernatural in his works.
Gelder, Ken. Reading the Vampire. London: Routledge, 1994, 161 p.
Full-length study of vampires in literature from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Gordon, Jan, and Veronica Hollinger, eds. Blood Read: The Vampire As Metaphor in Contemporary Culture. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997, 264 p.
Full-length examination of the vampire in twentieth-century art, society, and culture.
Halberstam, Judith. Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1995, 215 p.
Full-length study of the monster in Gothic and horror literature and film.
Hearn, Lafcadio. "The Value of the Supernatural in Fiction." In Talks to Writers, edited by John Erskine, pp. 130-49. New York: Dodd, Mead, and Company, 1920.
Observes the modern vitality of supernatural fiction, discusses its origins and function, and examines the relationship between dreams and supernatural stories.
Howells, Coral Ann. Love, Mystery, and Misery: Feeling in Gothic Fiction. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1978, 199 p.
Focuses on the techniques used by Gothic novelists to suggest emotional states.
Kullmann, Thomas. "Nature and Psychology in Melmoth the Wanderer and Wuthering Heights." In Exhibited by Candlelight: Sources and Developments in the Gothic Tradition, edited by Valeria Tinkler-Villani, Peter Davidson, and Jane Stevenson, pp. 99-106. Atlanta, Ga. and Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1995.
Assesses the treatment of nature and the psyche in Charles Robert Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer and Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights.
Lewis, Paul. "Beyond Mystery: Emergence from Delusion as a Pattern in Gothic Fiction." Gothic 2 (1980): 7-13.
Considers the processes of recovering from a delusion as a Gothic narrative pattern in the works of Horace Walpole, Charles Brockden Brown, Herman Melville, and Henry James.
――――――. "Mysterious Laughter: Humor and Fear in Gothic Fiction." Genre 14 (1981): 309-27.
Applies the incongruity theory of Mary K. Rothbart to the treatment of mystery in Gothic narratives and its relation to humor and fear.
Lydenburg, Robin. "Freud's Uncanny Narratives." PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 112, no. 5 (October 1997): 1072–86.
Investigates "Freud's potential usefulness to contemporary theories of narrative" and "the importance of his work to an understanding of the more general relation between literature and psychoanalysis."
Madoff, Mark. "The Useful Myth of Gothic Ancestry." Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture, no. 8 (1979): 337-50.
Surveys the origins of common themes and figures in Gothic literature.
Magistrale, Tony, and Michael A. Morrison, eds. A Dark Night's Dreaming: Contemporary American Horror Fiction. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1996, 141 p.
Includes survey essays on film and horror literature from 1980–1999, as well as essays on the works of horror writers Thomas Harris, Stephen King, Anne Rice, Peter Straub, William Peter Blatty, and Whitley Strieber.
Mahoney, Dennis F. "Double into Doppelgänger: The Genesis of the Doppelgänger-Motif in the Novels of Jean Paul and E. T. A. Hoffmann." Journal of Evolutionary Psychology 4, nos. 1-2 (April 1983): 54-63.
Regards the relationship of the double to the self in Jean Paul's Siebenkäs and Titan and Hoffmann's Die Elixiere des Teufels (The Devil's Elixir).
McGuire, Karen. "The Artist as Demon in Mary Shelley, Stevenson, Walpole, Stoker, and King." Gothic New Series 1 (1986): 1-5.
Explores the similarities and differences of Shelley, Stevenson, Walpole, Stoker, and King's use of "deformed monsters, ghosts, vampires, and haunted houses as metaphors for the creative process."
Mosig, Dirk W. "Lovecraft: The Dissonance Factor in Imaginative Literature." Gothic 1, no. 1 (June 1979): 20-26.
"[A]ttempts to apply [Leon Festinger's cognitive] dissonance theory in the field of literature," and asserts that "the theory provides an ideal framework to explicate the reasons for the disturbing emotional impact achieved by certain works of imaginative literature, especially the stories and novels of Howard Phillips Lovecraft."
Parks, John G. "Chambers of Yearning: Shirley Jackson's Use of the Gothic." Twentieth Century Literature 30, no. 1 (spring 1984): 15-29.
Examines Shirley Jackson's use of Gothic conventions in her treatment of madness and victimization.
Punter, David. The Literature of Terror: A History of Gothic Fictions from 1765 to the Present Day. Essex, England: Longman, 1980, 449 p.
Comprehensive book-length study of Gothic literature from 1765 through the late 1970s.
――――――. The Literature of Terror: A History of Gothic Fictions from 1765 to the Present Day, Volume. 2: The Modern Gothic. Essex, England: Longman, 1996, 234 p.
Revised second edition of his comprehensive, book-length study of Gothic literature from 1765 through the 1990s.
Roberts, Bette B. "Varney, the Vampire, Or, Rather, Varney, the Victim." Gothic New Series 2 (1987): 1-5.
Asserts that the title character in Varney, the Vampire "appears to be the embodiment of evil yet instills no fear or dread in the reader."
Rubenstein, Roberta. "House Mothers and Haunted Daughters: Shirley Jackson and Female Gothic." Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 15, no. 2 (fall 1996): 309-31.
Feminist and psychoanalytic approach to Jackson's treatment of mother-daughter relations in her works.
Skrip, Jack. "I Drink, Therefore I Am: Introspection in the Contemporary Vampire Novel." Studies in Weird Fiction 14 (winter 1994): 3-7.
Outlines the treatment of introspective vampires in Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire, Peter Tonkin's The Journal of Edwin Underhill, and John Skipp and Craig Spector's The Light at the End.
Smith, Andrew. Gothic Radicalism: Literature, Philosophy, and Psychoanalysis in the Nineteenth Century. New York: Macmillan/St. Martin's Press, 2000, 188 p.
Maintains that Gothic literature by such writers as Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Bram Stoker challenged leading nineteenth-century beliefs regarding the nature of the sublime and of Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis.
Spooner, Catherine. "Cosmo-Gothic: The Double and the Single Woman." Women: A Cultural Review 12, no. 3 (winter 2001): 292-305.
Studies the treatment of the double and female subjectivity in works by contemporary women writers and compares this to the treatment of the same subjects in Gothic fiction.
Thompson, G. Richard. "The Apparition of This World: Transcendentalism and the American 'Ghost Story.'" In Bridges to Fantasy, edited by George Edgar Slusser, Eric S. Rabkin, and Robert E. Scholes, pp. 90-107. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1982.
Studies the treatment of the supernatural in literature and its association with Transcendentalism.
Twitchell, James B. Dreadful Pleasures: An Anatomy of Modern Horror. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985, 353 p.
Examines nineteenth- and twentieth-century Gothic narratives from a psychological perspective, explaining why certain images and stories resonate with audiences.
Varnado, S. L. Haunted Presence: The Numinous in Gothic Fiction. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1987, 160 p.
Full-length study of supernatural fiction in light of theologian Rudolph Otto's concept of the "numinous" and examination of works by various authors as they relate to this concept.
Wain, Marianne. "The Double in Romantic Narrative: A Preliminary Study." The Germanic Review 36, no. 4 (December 1961): 257-68.
Focuses on the role of the double in Romantic literature, suggesting that while writers used the theme of the split ego to illustrate a general malaise, they also searched for remedies.
Woolf, Virginia. "The Supernatural in Fiction." In Collected Essays. Vol. 1, pp. 293-96. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1967.
Analyzes the purpose and experience of reading supernatural fiction, focusing on Sir Walter Scott's "Wandering Willie's Tale" and Henry James's Turn of the Screw as examples of the supernatural and the psychological ghost story.