CONTINUED FROM LAST POST
Walpole himself lays on most of these elements pretty thick (although he’s a lot lighter on darkness than many modern gothic works), so it might be said that another element of the classic gothic is its intensity created by profuse employment of the vocabulary of the gothic. Consider this from Chapter 1 of The Castle of Otranto: The servant “came running back breathless, in a frantic manner, his eyes staring, and foaming at the mouth. He said nothing but pointed to the court. The company were struck with terror and amazement.” Gets your interest up on page two, doesn’t he? Then, “In the meantime, some of the company had run into the court, from whence was heard a confused noise of shrieks, horror, and surprise.”
The 1943 Sherlock Holmes film, Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (one of the classic Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce films), contains all the elements of the gothic. Here is a brief rundown of the items above:
1. Setting. It’s not quite a castle, but it is a huge mansion with several levels, including a basement and a hidden sub-basement. Dark and drafty. Ominous.
2. Atmosphere of Mystery. It’s a multiple murder mystery, with cryptic notes, hidden passageways, wind, lightning, and everyone a suspect.
3. Ancient Prophecy. There is the Musgrave Ritual. Obscure, compelling, ancient.
4. Omens and portents. The crow at the tavern, the intrusive lightning strike, the taunting notes from the butler.
5. Supernatural or inexplicable events. How the victims died. The lightning seems to strike at just the right time.
6. Overwrought emotion. The female lead screams and panics a bit.
7. Women in distress and 8. Women threatened by a male. Toned down here, but the murderer had designs on the heroine.
9. The wind blows, signs bang into the wall, lightning, a few characters are trapped in various ways.
Elements of Romance
In addition to the standard gothic machinery above, many gothic novels contain elements of romance as well. Elements of romance include these:
1. Powerful love. Heart stirring, often sudden, emotions create a life or death commitment. Many times this love is the first the character has felt with this overwhelming power.
2. Uncertainty of reciprocation. What is the beloved thinking? Is the lover’s love returned or not?
3. Unreturned love. Someone loves in vain (at least temporarily). Later, the love may be returned.
4. Tension between true love and father’s control, disapproval, or choice. Most often, the father of the woman disapproves of the man she loves.
5. Lovers parted. Some obstacle arises and separates the lovers, geographically or in some other way. One of the lovers is banished, arrested, forced to flee, locked in a dungeon, or sometimes, disappears without explanation. Or, an explanation may be given (by the person opposing the lovers’ being together) that later turns out to be false.
6. Illicit love or lust threatens the virtuous one. The young woman becomes a target of some evil man’s desires and schemes.
7. Rival lovers or multiple suitors. One of the lovers (or even both) can have more than one person vying for affection.
The Gothic: What is it?
A post-medieval and post-Renaissance phenomenon that can combine long-standing literary forms
First published work to call itself a gothic story: Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764)
Gothic explosion in the 1790s through the British Isles, throughout Europe, and briefly in the U.S., particularly for female readership
The Gothic remained a popular and controversial literary mode throughout the Romantic period (1790s-1830s)
Highly unstable genre that appears in many different forms—Victorian novel, plays and operas, magazine and newspaper articles and stories, “sensational novels” for the working class and women, poetry, painting, etc.
Classic “gothics”: Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), Henry James The Turn of the Screw (1898). In the 20th century, the gothic explodes into a wide range of different cultural products: the novel, television, film.
Some gothic conventions that can appear in different combinations:
Setting: an antiquated or seemingly antiquated space (castle, foreign palace, abbey, a vast prison, subterranean crypt, graveyard, primeval frontier or island, large old house or theatre, aging city or urban underworld, decaying storehouse, factory, public building, or some new recreation of an older venue such as an office with old filing cabinets, an overworked spaceship, or a computer memory.
Secrets: Within this space, secrets from the past are hidden that haunt the characters, psychologically, physically or otherwise.
Hauntings: These hauntings can take many forms but frequently assume the features of ghosts, spectors, or monsters (mixing features from different realms of being, often life and death).
The hauntings rise from within the antiquated space (or invade it from alien realms) to manifest unresolved crimes or conflicts that can no longer be successfully buried from view.
Crossing boundaries: Gothic tales raise the possibility that the boundaries between the earthly laws of conventional reality and the supernatural have been crossed.
Terror gothic: holds characters and readers in suspense about threats to life, safety, and sanity kept out of sight or in shadows or suggestions from a hidden past.
Horror gothic: confronts the principle characters with the gross violence of physical/psychological dissolution, shattering the assumed norms (including the repressions) of everyday life with shocking/revolting consequences.
Confronting the past: Readers caught between the attractions/terrors of a past once controlled by aristocrats or priests, and the forces of change that would reject such a past yet still remain held by aspects of it (including desires for aristocratic or superhuman powers). The gothic as a means of confronting what is psychologically buried in individuals and groups; the gothic as a haunting of deep-seated social/historical dilemmas.
The female gothic: Though the gothic is often about the “son” who wants to kill/strive to become the “father,” women have used the gothic to create gothic heroines who seek to appease/free themselves from male/patriarchal dominance (ie, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (1847). Women are the figures most fearfully trapped between contradictory pressures and impulses, in gothic circumstances–caught in a labyrinth of darkness full of cloisters underground and hesitant about what course to take there, fearing the pursuit of a domineering and lascivious patriarch who wants to use her womb as a repository for seed that may help him preserve his property and wealth (but if she flees she may be trapped by another man, who knows who?
–from Hogle, Jerrold. “Introduction: the Gothic in western culture.” The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction. Ed. Jerrold Hogle. Cambridge UP, 2002: 1-20.
The word sublime conveys a sense of height or loftiness, coming to signify the highest in a particular category (ie, the sublime style, the sublime of war, the moral sublime).
Initially associated with the thrill of mountain summits in early Wordsworth – mountains as the topographical core of the Romantic sublime (i.e., the sublime features of the alps)
Commentaries on the sublime reach back to the Greeks (Peri Hypsous, thought to be by Longinus) – and reach through thinkers like Kant, Schiller, and Burke.
Romantic writers focus on the notion that certain aspects of the sublime style (grandeur of thought together with intensity of passion) are dependent upon a nobility of soul or character. (I.e., Wordsworth: the soul’s obscure sense / of possible sublimity, to which / With growing faculties she doth aspire (The Prelude, II, 336-8). Also, the true sublimity of Milton….)
The modern sublime shifts away from the classical aesthetic emphasis on regularity and harmony, to emphasize irregular, even chaotic forces.
The sublime escapes the limits of representation (esp. as observed by the merely picturesque) and moves toward an esthetic of excess or non-representability.
Rejects Enlightenment clarity for the pleasurable/terrifying sense that all cannot be known about a particular landscape – Romantic repudiation of the picturesque as middle class, in favor of amorphous and moody sublime.
Sense that poetry is more emotive/subtle than visual representation, thus capable of raising the passion of the sublime.
The sublime is associated with “masculine” qualities of strength and size (capable of evoking admiration, awe or terror); the beautiful is associated with feminine qualities of smallness, smoothness, and delicacy. Mary Wollstonecraft questions this gender alignment.
It is the idea of the thing (as opposed to the thing itself) that has the quality of the sublime – it’s a mood or an approach rather than a scary thing. “Imagination”
The sublime has its roots in religion – i.e., the infinity of the sacred inspires the aspirant’s reverence. Coleridge: “Where neither whole nor parts, but unity, as boundless or endless allness – the Sublime” (Wittreich, pp. 252-3).
–From Trott, Nicola. “The Picturesque, the Beautiful, and the Sublime.” A Companion to Romanticism. Malden, Mass: Blackwell Publishers, 1998: 72-90.
Notes from Edmund Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the
Sublime and the Beautiful
“Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain and danger, that is to say whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime; that is, it is productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling” (499).
“the torments which we may be made to suffer , are much greater in their effect on the body and mind, than any pleasures which the most learned voluptuary could suggest, or than the liveliest imagination, and the most sound and exquisitely sensible body, could enjoy” (599).
“When pain and danger press too nearby, they are incapable of giving any delight, and are simply terrible; but at certain distances, and with certain modifications, they may be, and they are delightful, as we every day experience” (500).
Sources of Sublime:
Passion caused by sublime in nature is most powerful; “astonishment” is the effect of the sublime in the “highest degree.”
From Terror: fear “robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning”; includes fear of pain or death; whatever produces terror visually is sublime too.
From Obscurity: when we know and can see the danger clearly, much of our fear “vanishes”; “dark, confused, uncertain images” found in nature produce obscurity.
From Power: “I know of nothing sublime which is not some modification of power”; if the ability to hurt is removed from a man or animal, the sublime vanishes (ox and horse versus bull)
From Privation: “Vacuity, Darkness, Solitude, and Silence” “because they are terrible”
From Vastness: “Greatness of dimension is a powerful cause of the sublime”; rugged and broken surfaces; looking down a precipice
From Infinity: “delightful horror”
From Difficulty: “greatness” of work (ex. Stonehenge)
Sources of the Beautiful:
Perfection not the cause of Beauty: pg. 503 How is the image of woman used here?
Beautiful Objects Small: in most languages “objects of love are spoken of under diminutive epithets”
Smoothness: pg. 503, what examples does he use to illustrate this?
Gradual Variation: pg. 503, Female body
The Physical Cause of Love: See first sentence under this section. How is love, desire, and beauty being constructed here?
How Words Influence Passions: words as expression of feeling from within artist