[Paleopsych] Christine Ruolto: Individual and Social Psychologies of the Gothic

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Christine Ruolto: Individual and Social Psychologies of the Gothic
English 981 at the University of Virginia

[Sarah found this when inspired by the previous TLS review, "Serious 
play's feat of clay." The several parts of the course desciption are 
concatenated. For more, go to http://www.virginia.edu and do a Google 
search on the site for Ruotolo and for "psychologies of the gothic."]

Individual and Social Psychologies: Introduction

    The Gothic novel springs forth rather suddenly as the increasing
    preoccupation with individual consciousness that begins in the early
    18th century collides with the unique cultural anxieties of the late
    18th century. The effect of the former has already been
    well-established in literature, as Richardson and other "novelists of
    sensibility" invest their characters with unprecedented psychological
    depth. The Gothic novelists are less skillful and subtle in their
    depictions, and are often accused of populating their novels with
    stock or "flat" characters. Yet the emotions of these characters are
    externalized in a radical new way; their deepest passions and fears
    are literalized as other characters, supernatural phenomena, and even
    inanimate objects. At the same time, the nature of the fear
    represented in these novels--fear of imprisonment or entrapment, of
    rape and personal violation, of the triumph of evil over good and
    chaos over order--seems to reflect a specific historical moment
    characterized by increasing disillusionment with Enlightenment
    rationality and by bloody revolutions in America and France.

    The excerpts arranged below, therefore, are united by a focus on the
    psychological aspects of the Gothic in the broadest possible sense.
    They address such complex and overlapping themes as the mental and
    emotional portrait of the characters within the novels, the deep
    cultural anxieties that the novels reflect (and often attempt to work
    through), and the intense psychological responses that these works
    seek to elicit from their readers. The critical excerpts are therefore
    not necessarily psychoanalytic in their approach; they draw from a
    wide variety of structuralist, historicist, and reader-response
    traditions as well. Further introduction is provided at the beginning
    of each of the four sub-sections.


   1. Terror and horror

    Primary excerpts:

    [2]Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho
    [3]Matthew Lewis, The Monk
    [4]William Beckford, Vathek
    [5]Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

    Secondary excerpts:

    [6]Ann Radcliffe, "On the Supernatural in Poetry"
    [7]Devendra Varma, The Gothic Flame
    [8]Robert Hume, "Gothic versus Romantic"
    [9]Robert Platzner, "'Gothic versus Romantic': A Rejoinder"


   2. Dreams of the Uncanny

    Primary excerpts:

    [11]Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho
    [12]Matthew Lewis, The Monk
    [13]Ann Radcliffe, The Italian
    [14]Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

    Secondary excerpts:

    [15]Sigmund Freud, "The Uncanny"
    [16]Tzvetan Todorov, The Fantastic
    [17]Terry Castle, "The Spectralization of the Other in The Mysteries
    of Udolpho"
    [18]Peter Brooks, "Virtue and Terror: The Monk
    [19]Margaret Anne Doody, "Deserts, Ruins, and Troubled Waters: Female
    Dreams in Fiction and the Development of the Gothic Novel"
    [20]Aija Ozolins, "Dreams and Doctrines: Dual Strands in Frankenstein"


   3. Architecture of the Mind

    Primary excerpts:

    [22]Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho
    [23]Charles Maturin, Melmoth the Wanderer
    [24]Matthew Lewis, The Monk
    [25]Ann Radcliffe, The Italian

    Secondary excerpts:

    [26]Norman Holland and Leona Sherman, "Gothic Possibilities"
    [27]Philip Hallie, The Paradox of Cruelty
    [28]Peter Brooks, "Virtue and Terror: The Monk"
    [29]Max Byrd, "The Madhouse, the Whorehouse, and the Convent"
    [30]Jacques Blondel, "On Metaphorical Prisons"


   4. Pscyho-social issues

    Primary excerpts:

    [32]Matthew Lewis, The Monk
    [33]Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
    [34]William Godwin, Caleb Williams
    [35]Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto
    [36]Ann Radcliffe, The Italian

    Secondary excerpts:

    [37]Marquis de Sade, Idee sur les Romans
    [38]Ronald Paulson, "Gothic Fiction and the French Revolution"
    [39]Frederick Karl, The Adversary Literature
    [40]David Punter, The Literature of Terror
    [41]Stephen Bernstein, "Form and Ideology in the Gothic Novel"


    1. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.terror.html
    2. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.terror.html#udolpho
    3. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.terror.html#monk
    4. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.terror.html#vathek
    5. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.terror.html#frank
    6. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.terror.html#radcliffe
    7. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.terror.html#varma
    8. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.terror.html#hume
    9. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.terror.html#platzner
   10. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.uncanny.html
   11. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.uncanny.html#udolpho
   12. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.uncanny.html#monk
   13. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.uncanny.html#italian
   14. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.uncanny.html#frank
   15. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.uncanny.html#freud
   16. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.uncanny.html#todorov
   17. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.uncanny.html#castle
   18. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.uncanny.html#brooks
   19. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.uncanny.html#doody
   20. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.uncanny.html#ozolins
   21. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.architecture.html
   22. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.architecture.html#udolpho
   23. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.architecture.html#melmoth
   24. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.architecture.html#monk
   25. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.architecture.html#italian
   26. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.architecture.html#holland
   27. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.architecture.html#hallie
   28. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.architecture.html#brooks
   29. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.architecture.html#byrd
   30. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.architecture.html#blondel
   31. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.social.html
   32. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.social.html
   33. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.social.html#frank
   34. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.social.html#caleb
   35. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.social.html#otranto
   36. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.social.html#italian
   37. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.social.html#sade
   38. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.social.html#paulson
   39. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.social.html#karl
   40. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.social.html#punter
   41. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/chris.social.html#bernstein

Terror and Horror

    Although the novels commonly referred to as "Gothic" are united by
    certain thematic and stylistic conventions, they seem to vary a great
    deal in the emotional responses they seek to elicit from readers. Ann
    Radcliffe herself was among the first to draw an affective dividing
    line down the middle of the newly emergent genre. Conservative and
    rational in her own approach to the Gothic, Radcliffe clearly objected
    to the shocking scenes depicted in The Monk, and it is widely believed
    that she wrote The Italian as a protesting response to Lewis' novel.
    She elucidated her stance in an 1826 essay entitled "On the
    Supernatural in Poetry," in which draws upon Edmund Burke in order to
    distinguish between terror and horror in literature. She argues that
    terror is characterized by "obscurity" or indeterminacy in its
    treatment of potentially horrible events; it is this indeterminacy
    that leads the reader toward the sublime. Horror, in contrast, "nearly
    annihilates" the reader's responsive capacity with its unambiguous
    displays of atrocity.

    Although Radcliffe uses examples from Shakespeare, rather than Gothic
    novels, to articulate her position, later critics have consistently
    adopted the terms "terror" and "horror" to distinguish between the two
    major strains of the Gothic represented by Radcliffe and Lewis
    respectively. Devendra Varma was one of the first critics to seize
    upon this distinction, characterizing the difference between terror
    and horror as the difference between "awful apprehension and sickening
    realization," with Radcliffe the sole representative of the former and
    Beckford, Maturin, Shelley and Godwin allied with Lewis in
    representing the latter. Robert Hume has also embraced this
    distinction, although in slightly different terms: he argues that the
    horror novel replaces the ambiguous physical details of the terror
    novel with a more disturbing moral and psychological ambiguity. In a
    sharp rebuttal to Hume, Robert Platzner has questioned the rigid
    categories of terror and horror, quoting from Udolpho to demonstrate
    that Radcliffe herself often crosses the line between the two. He
    calls for a more methodical and text- oriented approach to
    characterizing the Gothic novel.

    For related discussions, see the section on Burke's notion of [1]the
    sublime and the section on [2]the Female Gothic.

>From The Mysteries of Udolpho

    A return of the noise again disturbed her; it seemed to come from that
    part of the room which communicated with the private staircase, and
    she instantly remembered the odd circumstance of the door having been
    fastened, during the preceding night, by some unknown hand. Her late
    alarming suspicion concerning its communication also occurred to her.
    Her heart became faint with terror. Half raising herself from the bed,
    and gently drawing aside the curtain, she looked towards the door of
    the staircase, but the lamp that burned on the hearth spread so feeble
    a light through the apartment, that the remote parts of it were lost
    in shadow. The noise, however, shich she was convinced came from the
    door, continued. It seemed like that made by the undrawing of rusty
    bolts, and often ceased, and was then renewed more gently, as if the
    hand that occasioned it was restrained by a fear of discovery. While
    Emily kept her eyes fixed on the spot, she saw the door move, and then
    slowly open, and perceived something enter the room, but the extreme
    duskiness prevented her distinguishing what it was. Almost fainting
    with terror, she had yet sufficient command over herself to check the
    shriek that was escaping from her lips, and letting the curtain drop
    from her hand, continued to observe in silence the motions of the
    mysterious form she saw. It seemed to glide along the remote obscurity
    of the apartment, then paused, and, as it approached the hearth, she
    perceived, in the stronger light, what appeared to be a human figure.
    Certain remembrance now struck upon her heart, and almost subdued the
    feeble remains of her spirits; she continued, however, to watch the
    figure, which remained for some time motionless, but then, advancing
    slowly towards the bed, [it] stood silently at the feet where the
    curtains, being a little open, allowed her still to see it; terror,
    however, had now deprived her of the power of discrimination, as well
    as that of utterance.

>From The Monk

    [A light] proceeded from a small Lamp which was placed upon a heap of
    stones, and whose faint and melancholy rays served rather to point
    out, than dispell the horrors of a narrow gloomy dungeon formed in one
    side of the Cavern; It also showed several other recesses of similar
    construction, but whose depth was buried in obscurity. Coldly played
    the light upon the damp walls, whose dew-stained surface gave back a
    feeble reflection. A thick and pestilential fog clouded the height of
    the vaulted dungeon. As Lorenzo advanced, He felt a piercing chillness
    spread itself through his veins. The frequent groans still engaged him
    to move forwards. He turned towards them, and by the Lamp's glimmering
    beams beheld in a corner of the loathsome abode, a Creature stretched
    upon a bed of straw, so wretched, so emaciated, so pale, that He
    doubted to think her Woman. She was half-naked: Her long dishevelled
    hair fell in disorder over her face, and almost entirely concealed it.
    One wasted Arm hung listlessly upon a tattered rug, which covered her
    convulsed and shivering limbs: The Other was wrapped round a small
    bundle, and held it closely to her bosom. A large Rosary lay near her:
    Opposite to her was a Crucifix, on which She bent her sunk eyes
    fixedly, and by her side stood a Basket and a small Earthen Pitcher.

    Lorenzo stopped: He was petrified with horror. He gazed upon the
    miserable Object with disgust and pity. He trembled at the spectacle;
    He grew sick at heart: His strength failed him, and his limbs were
    unable to support his weight.

Ann Radcliffe, "On the Supernatural in Poetry," The New Monthly Magazine
(1826): 145-52.

    [Ed. note: Radcliffe's essay is in the form of a dialogue between
    Willoughton, "the apostle of Shakespeare," and Mr. Simpson, "the
    representative of Philistine common sense."]

    [W____:]"Who ever suffered for the ghost of Banquo, the gloomy and
    sublime kind of terror, which that of Hamlet calls forth? though the
    appearance of Banquo, at the high festival of Macbeth, not only tells
    us that he is murdered, but recalls to our minds the fate of the
    gracious Duncan, laid in silence and death by those who, in this very
    scene, are reveling in his spoils. There, though deep pity mingles
    with our surprise and horror, we experience a far less degree of
    interest, and that interest too of an inferior kind. The union of
    grandeur and obscurity, which Mr. Burke describes as a sort of
    tranquillity tinged with terror, and which causes the sublime, is to
    be found only in Hamlet; or in scenes where circumstances of the same
    kind prevail."

    "That may be," said Mr. S____, "and I perceive you are not one of
    those who contend that obscurity does not make any part of the
    sublime." "They must be men of very cold imaginations," said W____,
    "with whom certainty is more terrible than surmise. Terror and Horror
    are so far opposite, that the first expands the soul and awakens the
    faculties to a high degree of life; the other contracts, freezes and
    nearly annihilates them. I apprehend, that neither Shakespeare nor
    Milton by their fictions, nor Mr. Burke by his reasoning, anywhere
    looked to positive horror as a source of the sublime, though they all
    agree that terror is a very high one; and where lies the great
    difference between horror and terror, but in uncertainty and
    obscurity, that accompany the first, respecting the dreaded evil?

Devendra P. Varma, The Gothic Flame (New York: Russell & Russell, 1966).

    Mrs. Radcliffe, a mistress of hints, associations, silence, and
    emptiness, only half-revealing her picture leaves the rest to the
    imagination. She knows, as Burke has asserted, that obscurity is a
    strong ingredient in the sublime; but she knew the sharp distinction
    between Terror and Horror, which was unknown to Burke. "Terror and
    horror...are so far opposite, that the first expands the soul, and
    awakens the faculties to a high degree of life; the other contracts,
    freezes and nearly annihilates them...; and where lies the great
    difference between terror and horror, but in the uncertainty and
    obscurity, that accompany the first, respecting the dreaded evil?"
    Sounds unexplained, sights indistinctly caught, dim shadows endowed
    with motion by the flicker of the firelight or the shimmer of the
    moonbeam invoke superstitious fear. "To the warm imagination," she
    writes in The Mysteries of Udolpho, "the forms which float half-veiled
    in darkness afford a higher delight than the most distinct scenery the
    Sun can show."

    The chords of terror which had tremulously shuddered beneath Mrs.
    Radcliffe's gentle fingers were now smitten with a new vehemence. The
    intense school of the Schauer- Romantiks improvised furious and
    violent themes in the orchestra of horror.... The contrast between the
    work and personalities of Mrs. Radcliffe and ' Monk' Lewis serves to
    illustrate the two distinct streams of the Gothic novel: the former
    representing the Craft of Terror, the latter and his followers
    comprising the chambers of Horror....

    The difference between Terror and Horror is the difference between
    awful apprehension and sickening realization: between the smell of
    death and stumbling against a corpse. Professor McKillop, quoting from
    Mrs. Radcliffe, said that " obscurity [in Terror] . . . leaves the
    imagination to act on a few hints that truth reveals to it, . . .
    obscurity leaves something for the imagination to exaggerate". Burke
    held that "To make anything very terrible, obscurity seems in general
    to be necessary", and added that, ". . . darkness, being originally an
    idea of terror, was chosen as a fit scene for such terrible
    representations ". Burke did not distinguish between the subtle
    gradations of Terror and Horror; he related only Terror to Beauty, and
    probably did not conceive of the beauty of the Horrid, the grotesque
    power of something ghastly, too vividly imprinted on the mind and

    Terror thus creates an intangible atmosphere of spiritual psychic
    dread, a certain superstitious shudder at the other world. Horror
    resorts to a cruder presentation of the macabre: by an exact portrayal
    of the physically horrible and revolting, against a far more terrible
    background of spiritual gloom and despair. Horror appeals to sheer
    dread and repulsion, by brooding upon the gloomy and the sinister, and
    lacerates the nerves by establishing actual cutaneous contact with the

    Each writer of the intense school contributed a grotesque and gruesome
    theme of horror to the Schauer-Romantik phase of the Gothic novel.
    They wrote stories of black-magic and lust, of persons in pursuit of
    the elixir virtue, of insatiable curiosity and unpardonable sins, of
    contracts with the Devil, of those who manufacture monsters in their
    laboratories, tales of skull-headed ladies, of the dead arising from
    their graves to feed upon the blood of the innocent and beautiful, or
    who walk about in the Hall of Eblis, carrying their burning hearts in
    their hands.... The baleful hall of Eblis, "the abode of ve ngeance
    and despair", is pictured in the full effulgence of infernal majesty.
    It conveys to us the horror of the most ghastly convulsions and
    screams that may not be smothered. Here everyone carries within him a
    heart tormented in flames, to wander in an eternity of unabating

>From Vathek

    In the midst of this immense [Hall of Eblis], a vast multitude was
    incessantly passing, who severally kept their right hands on their
    hearts, without once regarding anything around them: they had all the
    livid paleness of death. Their eyes, deep sunk in their sockets,
    resembled those phosphoric meteors that glimmer by night in places of
    interment. Some stalked slowly on, absorbed in profound reverie; some,
    shrieking with agony, ran furiously about like tigers wounded with
    poisoned arrows; whilst others, grinding their teeth in rage, foamed
    along more frantic than the wildest maniac. They all avoided each
    other; and, though surrounded by a multitude that no one could number,
    each wandered at random unheedful of the rest, as if alone on a desert
    where no foot had trodden.

    Almost at the same instant, the same voice announced to the caliph,
    Nouronihar, the four princes, and the princess, the awful and
    irrevocable decree. Their hearts immediately took fire, and they at
    once lost the most precious gift of heaven-- HOPE. These unhappy
    beings recoiled, with looks of the most furious distraction. Vathek
    beheld in the eyes of Nouronihar nothing but rage and vengeance; nor
    could she discern aught in his, but aversion and despair. The two
    princes who were friends, and, till that moment, had preserved their
    attachment, shrunk back, gnashing their teeth with mutual and
    unchangeable hatred. Kalilah and his sister made reciprocal gestures
    of imprecation; all testified their horror for each other by the most
    ghastly convulsions, and screams that could not be smothered. All
    severally plunged themselves into the accursed multitude, there to
    wander in an eternity of unabating anguish.

>From Frankenstein

    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 shriveled complexion and straight black lips.

    The different accidents of life are not so changeable as the feelings
    of human nature. I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole
    purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had
    deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour
    that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty
    of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my

Robert Hume, "Gothic Versus Romantic: A Revaluation of the Gothic Novel," PMLA
84 (1969): pp. 282-290.

    Terror dependent on suspense or dread is the modus operandi of the
    novels of Walpole and Radcliffe. The Castle of Otranto holds the
    reader's attention through dread of a series of terrible
    possibilities-Theodore's execution, the (essentially) incestuous
    marriage of Manfred and Isabella, the casting-off of Hippolita, and so
    on. Mrs. Radcliffe's use of dramatic suspension is similar but more
    sophisticated. She raises vague but unsettling possibilities and
    leaves them dangling for hundreds of pages. Sometimes the effect is
    artificial, as in the case of the black-veiled "picture" at Udolpho,
    but in raising and sustaining the disquieting possibility of an affair
    between St. Aubert and the Marchioness de Villeroi, for in stance, she
    succeeds splendidly. Mrs. Radcliffe's easy manipulation of drawn-out
    suspense holds the reader's attention through long books with slight

    The method of Lewis, Beckford, Mary Shelley, and Maturin is
    considerably different. Instead of holding the reader's attention
    through suspense or dread they attack him frontally with events that
    shock or disturb him. Rather than elaborating possibilities which
    never materialize, they heap a succession of horrors upon the reader.
    Lewis set out, quite deliberately, to overgo Mrs. Radcliffe. The Monk
    (1796), like Vathek (1786), Frankenstein, and Melmoth the Wanderer,
    gains much of its effect from murder, torture, and rape. The
    difference from terror-Gothic is considerable; Mrs. Radcliffe merely
    threatens these things, and Walpole uses violent death only at the
    beginning and end of his book. The reader is prepared for neither of
    these deaths, which serve only to catch the attention and to produce a
    climax, respectively.

    Obviously a considerable shift has occurred. Is its purpose merely
    ever greater shock? Or has the Gothic novelists' aesthetic theory
    changed? Terror-Gothic works on the supposition that a reader who is
    repelled will close his mind (if not the book) to the sublime feelings
    which may be realized by the mixture of pleasure and pain induced by
    fear. Horror-Gothic assumes that if events have psychological
    consistency, even within repulsive situations, the reader will find
    himself involved beyond recall.

    This change is probably related to a general shift in conceptions of
    good and evil.... Walpole and Mrs. Radcliffe maintain the proprieties
    of a strict distinction between good and evil, though in Manfred and
    Montoni they created villain- heroes whose force of character gives
    them a certain fearsome attractiveness, even within this moral
    context. But with the villain-heroes of horror-Gothic we enter the
    realm of the morally ambiguous. Ambrosio, Victor Frankenstein, and
    Melmoth are men of extraordinary capacity whom circumstance turns
    increasingly to evil purposes. They are not merely monsters, and only
    a bigoted reading makes them out as such.

    To put the change from terror-Gothic to horror-Gothic in its simplest
    terms, the suspense of external circumstance is de- emphasized in
    favor of increasing psychological concern with moral ambiguity. The
    horror-Gothic writers postulated the relevance of such psychology to
    every reader; they wrote for a reader who could say with Goethe that
    he had never heard of a crime which he could not imagine himself
    committing. The terror novel prepared the way for a fiction which
    though more overtly horrible is at the same time more serious and more
    profound. It is with Frankenstein and Melmoth the Wanderer that the
    Gothic novel comes fully into its own.

Robert L. Platzner, "'Gothic versus Romantic': A Rejoinder," PMLA 86 (1971):

    [W]hen Mr. Hume, in search of a theoretical model of the mechanism of
    Gothic sensibility, turns to the Burkean concept of the sublime and
    its attendant emotions, he finds in the distinction between terror and
    horror not only a satisfactory modus operandi for Radcliffean Romance
    but an adequate principle of differentiation for all Gothic Romance
    after Radcliffe. What I would object to in all this is not the very
    existence of an esthetic of terror or even the fact of its importance
    to Mrs. Radcliffe and her contemporaries....[n]o, what I propose to
    students of the Gothic is that any reinterpretation of this genre must
    proceed beyond or outside of the constricting framework of
    late-eighteenth-century esthetic theory, for if we are to establish
    the groundwork for a new appraisal of the Gothic imagination we will
    have to provide for the theoretical differentiation of mythopoetic
    tendencies that cannot be accounted for in terms of either "terror" or

    I would suggest, further, that there are reasons for doubting the
    final adequacy of neo-Burkean sensationalism, or any of the
    distinctions it makes possible between gradations of terror and their
    source, even if we restrict ourselves to the Radcliffe- Lewis-Maturin
    era. I, at least, remain unconvinced that Mrs. Radcliffe's rationale
    for terror is in fact the governing principle behind all of her work.
    It appears, rather, that far from never crossing the boundary between
    terror and horror, Mrs. Radcliffe compulsively places her heroine in
    situations of overwhelming anxiety in which a gradual shift from
    terror to horror is inescapable. Let us agree, for example, to dismiss
    the notorious "veil" scene as too crudely melodramatic to be properly
    representative, and focus on a more modestly terrifying episode that
    occurs sometime later in the same chapter:

    "A return of the noise again disturbed her; it seemed to come from
    that part of the room which communicated with the private staircase,
    and she instantly remembered the odd circumstance of the door having
    been fastened, during the preceding night, by some unknown hand. Her
    late alarming suspicion concerning its communication also occurred to
    her. Her heart became faint with terror....she saw the door move, and
    then slowly open, and perceived something enter the room, but the
    extreme duskiness prevented her distinguishing what it was. Almost
    fainting with terror, she had yet sufficient command over herself to
    check the shriek that was escaping from her lips....but then,
    advancing slowly towards the bed, [it] stood silently at the feet
    where the curtains, being a little open, allowed her still to see it;
    terror, however, had now deprived her of the power of discrimination,
    as well as that of utterance."

    How far is Emily from that annihilation of sensibilities that is
    characteristic only of pure "horror"--a hairbreadth? What is the
    practical utility of insisting upon a critical distinction that belies
    rather than discloses the dramatic character of events or sensations?
    No doubt some such dichotomy between titillation and revulsion is
    necessary to express the shift in tone and subject one encounters as
    one moves from the school of Radcliffe to the Schauerroman of Lewis or
    Maturin and its singular preoccupation with the perverse and the
    occult. Once again, however, I find (as in the relation between
    Gothicism and Romanticism) the continuity between Udolpho and The Monk
    at least as instructive as the discontinuity. Regarded in this light,
    Lewis' marginally pornographic Romance is but an actualizing of the
    incipient or imagined horrors of an Emily or an Adeline. Put another
    way, the paranoiac apprehensions of the Radcliffean heroine become the
    real crimes of an Ambrosio, no slight distinction to be sure. But
    transcending even such a distinction is the undeniable presence of
    evil, whether manifest as free-floating dread or demonic temptation.


    1. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/zach.sublime1.html#burke2
    2. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/ami.intro.html


The Uncanny and the Fantastic

    The German word "unheimlich" is considered untranslatable; our rough
    English equivalent, "uncanny", is itself difficult to define. This
    indescribable quality is actually an integral part of our
    understanding of the uncanny experience, which is terrifying precisely
    because it can not be adequately explained. Rather than attempting a
    definition, most critics resort to describing the uncanny experience,
    usually by way of the dream-like visions of doubling and death that
    invariably seem to accompany it. These recurrent themes, which trigger
    our most primitive desires and fears, are the very hallmarks of Gothic

    According to Freud's description, the uncanny "derives its terror not
    from something externally alien or unknown but--on the contrary--from
    something strangely familiar which defeats our efforts to separate
    ourselves from it" (Morris). Freud discusses how an author can evoke
    an uncanny response on the part of the reader by straddling the line
    between reality and unreality within the fiction itself. In The
    Fantastic, Todorov goes to some length to distinguish his
    structuralist approach to this genre from a Freudian psychoanalytic
    approach; nonetheless, he shares many of Freud's conclusions,
    especially in attributing literary terror to the collapsing of the
    psychic boundaries of self and other, life and death, reality and

    Although Freud never mentions Gothic fiction in his essay, and Todorov
    partially excludes it from his, critics of the Gothic have drawn
    heavily upon both of them, often in conjunction with one another.
    Terry Castle's article on the "other" in Radcliffe's novels and Peter
    Brook's essay on The Monk are two examples of this combined
    theoretical approach. Although Margaret Anne Doody does not mention
    Freud or Todorov specifically, her essay--which describes how
    Radcliffe blurs the distinction between dreams and reality within her
    novels--seems indebted to both of them. This emphasis on dreams is
    also essential to any analysis of Frankenstein, a text which is itself
    the product of a dream-vision and which seems to capture the very
    essence of the uncanny.

    See also the excerpt on the Freudian uncanny by [1]David Morris.

Sigmund Freud, "The Uncanny," in The Standard Edition of the Complete
Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. & trs. James Strachey, vol. XVII
(London: Hogarth, 1953), pp. 219-252.

    When we proceed to review the things, persons, impressions, events and
    situations which are able to arouse in us a feeling of the uncanny in
    a particularly forcible and definite form, the first requirement is
    obviously to select a suitable example to start. Jentsch has taken as
    a very good instance 'doubts whether an apparently animate being is
    really alive; or conversely, whether a lifeless object might not be in
    fact animate'; and he refers in this connection to the impression made
    by waxwork figures, ingeniously constructed dolls and
    automata....Jentsch writes: 'In telling a story, one of the most
    successful devices for easily creating uncanny effects is to leave the
    reader in uncertainty whether a particular figure in the story is a
    human being or an automaton, and to do it in such a way that his
    attention is not focused directly upon his uncertainty, so that he may
    not be led to go into the matter and clear it up immediately." That,
    as we have said, would quickly dissipate the peculiar emotional effect
    of the thing.

    The theme of the 'double' has been very thoroughly treated by Otto
    Rank (1914). He has gone into the connections which the 'double' has
    with reflections in mirrors, with shadows, with guardian spirits, with
    the belief in the soul and with the fear of death; but he also lets in
    a flood of light on the surprising evolution of the idea. For the
    'double' was originally an insurance against the destruction of the
    ego, an 'energetic denial of the power of death', as Rank says; and
    probably the 'immortal' soul was the first 'double' of the body....
    Such ideas...have sprung from the soil of unbounded self-love, from
    the primary narcissism which dominates the mind of the child and of
    primitive man. But when this stage has been surmounted, the 'double'
    reverses its aspect. From having been an assurance of immortality, it
    becomes the uncanny harbinger of death...The 'double' has become a
    thing of terror, just as, after the collapse of their religion the
    gods turned into demons.

    Many people experience the feeling [of the uncanny] in the highest
    degree in relation to death and dead bodies, to the return of the
    dead, and to spirits and ghosts....There is scarcely any other matter,
    however, upon which our thoughts and feelings have changed so little
    since the very earliest times, and in which discarded forms have been
    so completely preserved under a thin disguise, as our relation to
    death. Two things account for our conservatism: the strength of our
    original emotional reaction to death and the insufficiency of our
    scientific knowledge about it. Biology has not yet been able to decide
    whether death is the inevitable fate of every living being or whether
    it is only a regular but yet perhaps avoidable event in life. It is
    true that the statement 'All men are mortal' is paraded in text-books
    of logic as an example of a general proposition; but no human being
    really grasps it, and our unconscious has as little use now as it ever
    had for the idea of its own mortality....Since almost all of us still
    think as savages do on this topic, it is no matter for surprise that
    the primitive fear of the dead is still so strong within us and always
    ready to come to the surface on any provocation....

    The uncanny as it is depicted in literature, in stories and
    imaginative productions, merits in truth a separate discussion. Above
    all, it is a much more fertile province than the uncanny in real life,
    for it contains the whole of the latter and something more besides,
    something that cannot be found in real life. The contrast between what
    has been repressed and what has been surmounted cannot be transposed
    on to the uncanny in fiction without profound modification; for the
    realm of phantasy depends for its effect on the fact that its content
    is not submitted to reality-testing. The somewhat paradoxical result
    is that in the first place a great deal that is not uncanny in fiction
    would be so if it happened in real life; and in the second place that
    there are many more means of creating uncanny effects in fiction than
    there are in real life.

    The imaginative writer has this license among many others, that he can
    select his world of representation so that it either coincides with
    the realities we are familiar with or departs from them in what
    particulars he pleases. We accept his ruling in every case. In fairy
    tales, for instance, the world of reality is left behind from the very
    start, and the animistic system of beliefs is frankly adopted.
    Wish-fulfillments, secret powers, omnipotence of thoughts, animation
    of inanimate objects, all the elements so common in fairy stories, can
    exert no uncanny influence here; for, as we have learnt, that feeling
    cannot arise unless there is a conflict of judgment as to whether
    things which have been 'surmounted' and are regarded as incredible may
    not, after all, be possible; and this problem is eliminated from the
    outset by the postulates of the world of fairy tales.... The situation
    is altered as soon as the writer pretends to move in the world of
    common reality. In this case he accepts as well all the conditions
    operating to produce uncanny feelings in real life; and everything
    that would have an uncanny effect in reality has it in his story. But
    in this case he can even increase his effect and multiply it far
    beyond what could happen in reality, by bringing about events which
    never or very rarely happen in fact. In doing this he is in a sense
    betraying us to the superstitiousness which we have ostensibly
    surmounted; he deceives us by promising to give us the sober truth,
    and then after all overstepping it. We react to his inventions as we
    would have reacted to real experiences; by the time we have seen
    through his trick it is already too late and the author has achieved
    his object. But it must be added that his success is not unalloyed. We
    retain a feeling of dissatisfaction, a kind of grudge against the
    attempted deceit.

Tsvetan Todorov, The Fantastic (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1975).

    The fantastic requires the fulfillment of three conditions. First, the
    text must oblige the reader to consider the world of the characters as
    a world of living persons and to hesitate between a natural and a
    supernatural explanation of the events described. Second, this
    hesitation may also be experienced by a character; thus the reader's
    role is so to speak entrusted to a character, and at the same time the
    hesitation is represented, it becomes one of the themes of the
    work--in the case of naive reading, the actual reader identifies
    himself with the character. Third, the reader must adopt a certain
    attitude with regard to the text: he will reject allegorical as well
    as "poetic" interpretations....

    The fantastic, we have seen, lasts only as long as a certain
    hesitation: a hesitation common to reader and character, who must
    decide whether or not what they perceive derives from "reality" as it
    exists in the common opinion. At the story's end, the reader makes a
    decision even if the character does not; he opts for one solution or
    the other, and thereby emerges from the fantastic. If he decides that
    the laws of reality remain intact and permit an explanation of the
    phenomena described, we say that the work belongs to another genre:
    the uncanny. If, on the contrary, he decides that new laws of nature
    must be entertained to account for the phenomena, we enter the genre
    of the marvelous.

    The fantastic therefore leads a life full of dangers, and may
    evaporate at any moment. It seems to be located on the frontier of two
    genres, the marvelous and the uncanny, rather than to be an autonomous
    genre. One of the great periods of supernatural literature, that of
    the Gothic novel, seems to confirm this observation. Indeed, we
    generally distinguish, within the literary Gothic, two tendencies:
    that of the supernatural explained (the "uncanny"), as it appears in
    the novels of Clara Reeves and Ann Radcliffe; and that of the
    supernatural accepted (the "marvelous"), which is characteristic of
    the works of Horace Walpole, M. G. Lewis, and Maturin. Here we find
    not the fantastic in the strict sense, only genres adjacent to it.
    More precisely, the effect of the fantastic is certainly produced, but
    during only a portion of our reading: in Ann Radcliffe, up to the
    moment when we are sure that the supernatural events will receive no
    explanation. Once we have finished reading, we understand--in both
    cases--that what we call the fantastic has not existed.

    One might say that the common denominator of the two themes,
    metamorphosis and pan-determinism, is the collapse of the limit
    between matter and mind Thus we may advance a hypothesis as to a
    generating principle of all the themes collected [in this study]: the
    transformation from mind to matter has become possible.

    ...[In fantastic literature] a character will be readily
    multiplied....The multiplication of personality, taken literally, is
    an immediate consequence of the possible transition between matter and
    mind: we are several persons mentally, we become so physically.

    Another consequence of the same principle has still greater extension:
    this is the effacement of the limits between subject and object. The
    rational schema represents the human being as a subject entering into
    relations with other persons or with things that remain external to
    him, and which have the status of objects. The literature of the
    fantastic disturbs this abrupt separation. We hear music, but there is
    no longer an instrument external to the hearer and producing sounds...

>From The Mysteries of Udolpho

    Retired to her lonely cabin, her melancholy thoughts still hovered
    round the body of her deceased parent; and, when she sunk into a kind
    of slumber, the images of her waking mind still haunted her fancy. She
    thought she saw her father approaching her with a benign countenance;
    then smiling mournfully, and pointing upwards, his lips moved; but,
    instead of words, she heard sweet music borne on the distant air, and
    presently saw his features glow with the mild rapture of a superior
    being. The strain seemed to swell louder, and she awoke. The vision
    was gone; but music yet came to her ear in strains such as angels
    might breathe. She doubted, listened, raised herself in the bed, and
    again listened. It was music, and not an illusion of her imagination.
    After a solemn, steady harmony, it paused--then rose again, in
    mournful sweetness--and then died, in a cadence that seemed to bear
    away the listening soul to heaven. She instantly remembered the music
    of the preceding night, with the strange circumstances related by La
    Voisin, and the affecting conversation it had led to concerning the
    state of departed spirits. All that St. Aubert had said on that
    subject now pressed on her heart, and overwhelmed it. What a change in
    a few hours! He who then could only conjecture, was now made
    acquainted with the truth--was himself become one of the departed! As
    she listened, she was chilled with superstitious awe; her tears
    stopped; and she arose and went to the window. All without was
    obscured in shade; but Emily, turning her eyes from the massy darkness
    of the woods, whose waving outline appeared on the horizon, saw, on
    the left, that effulgent planet which the old man had pointed out,
    setting over the woods. She remembered what he had said concerning it;
    and the music now coming at intervals on the air, she unclosed the
    casement to listen to the strains, that soon gradually sunk to a
    greater distance, and tried to discover whence they came. The
    obscurity prevented her from distinguishing any object on the green
    platform below; and the sounds became fainter and fainter, till they
    softened into silence. She listened, but they returned no more.

Terry Castle, "The Spectralization of the Other in the Mysteries of Udolpho,"
in The New 18th Century, ed. Nussbaum and Brown (Routledge: New York, 1987).

    To be a Radcliffean hero or heroine in one sense means just this: to
    be "haunted," to find oneself obsessed by spectral images of those one
    loves. One sees in the mind's eye those who are absent; one is
    befriended and consoled by phantoms of the beloved. Radcliffe makes it
    clear how such phantasmata arise....The "ghost" may be of someone
    living or dead. Mourners, not surprisingly, are particularly prone to
    such mental visions. Early in the novel, for instance, Emily's father,
    St. Aubert, is reluctant to leave his estate, even for his health,
    because the continuing "presence" of his dead wife has "sanctified
    every surrounding scene" (22)....After St. Aubert dies and Emily has
    held a vigil over his corpse, her fancy is "haunted" by his living
    image: "She thought she saw her father approaching her with a benign
    countenance; then, smiling mournfully and pointing upwards, his lips
    moved, but instead of words, she heard sweet music borne on the
    distant air, and presently saw his features glow with the mild rapture
    of a superior being" (83). Entering his room when she returns to La
    Vallee, "the idea of him rose so distinctly to her mind, that she
    almost fancied she saw him before her" (95).

    But lovers--those who mourn, as it were, for the living--are subject
    to similar experiences. The orphaned Emily, about to be carried off by
    her aunt to Tholouse, having bid a sad farewell to Valancourt in the
    garden at La Vallee, senses a mysterious presence at large in the
    shades around her:

    "As her eyes wandered over the landscape she thought she perceived a
    person emerge from the groves, and pass slowly along a moon-light
    alley that led between them; but the distance and the imperfect light
    would not suffer her to judge with any degree of certainty whether
    this was fancy or reality." (115)

    ...When Emily's gallant suitor Du Pont, the Valancourt-surrogate who
    appears in the midsection of the novel, traverses the battlements at
    Udolpho in the hope of seeing her, he is immediately mistaken by the
    castle guards (who seem to have read Hamlet) for an authentic
    apparition. He obliges by making eerie sounds, and creates enough
    apprehension to continue his lovesick "hauntings" indefinitely (459).
    Similarly, at the end of the fiction, when Emily is brooding once
    again over the absent Valancourt, her servant Annette suddenly bursts
    in crying, "I have seen his ghost, madam, I have seen his ghost!"
    Hearing her garbled story about the arrival of a stranger, Emily, in
    an acute access of yearning, assumes the "ghost" must be Valancourt

    Characters in Udolpho mirror, or blur into one another. Following the
    death of her father, Emily is comforted by a friar "whose mild
    benevolence of manners bore some resemblance to those of St. Aubert"
    (82). The Count de Villefort's benign presence recalls "most
    powerfully to her mind the idea of her late father" (492). Emily and
    Annette repeatedly confuse Du Pont with Valancourt (439-40);
    Valancourt and Montoni also get mixed up. In Italy Emily gazes at
    someone she believes to be Montoni who turns out, on second glance, to
    be her lover (145). But even Emily herself looks like Valancourt. His
    countenance is the "mirror" in which she sees "her own emotions
    reflected" (127)....This persistent deindividuation of other people
    produces numerous dreamlike effects throughout the novel. Characters
    seem uncannily to resemble or to replace previous characters....Du
    Pont, of course, is virtually indistinguishable from Valancourt for
    several chapters. Blanche de Villefort is a kind of replacement-Emily,
    and her relations with her father replicate those of the heroine and
    St. Aubert...and so on. The principle of deja vu dominates both the
    structure of human relations in Udolpho and the phenomenology of

    One is always free, of course, to describe such peculiarly
    overdetermined effects in purely formal terms. Tzvetan Todorov, for
    example, would undoubtedly treat this mass of anecdotal material as a
    series of generic cues--evidence of the fantastic nature of
    Radcliffe's text. The defining principle of the fantastic work, he
    posits in The Fantastic, is that "the transition from mind to matter
    has become possible." Ordinary distinctions between fantasy and
    reality, mind and matter, subject and object, break down. The boundary
    between psychic experience and the physical world collapses, and "the
    idea becomes a matter of perception"....

    Radcliffe's fictional world might be described as fantastic in this
    sense. The mysterious power of loved ones to arrive at the very moment
    one thinks of them, or else to "appear" when one contemplates the
    objects with which they are associated--such events blur the line
    between objective and subjective experience....But the fantastic
    nature of Radcliffe's ontology is also manifest, one might argue, in
    the peculiar resemblances that obtain between characters in her novel.
    When everyone looks like everyone else, the limit between mind and
    world is again profoundly undermined, for such obsessive replication
    can only occur, we assume, in a universe dominated by phantasmatic
    imperatives. Mirroring occurs in a world already stylized, so to
    speak, by the unconscious. Freud makes this point in his famous essay
    "The Uncanny" in which he takes the proliferation of doubles in E. T.
    A. Hoffmann's "The Sandman" as proof that the reader is in fact
    experiencing events from the perspective of the deranged and
    hallucinating hero....

    [Later in his study, Todorov] uncovers one of the central themes of
    the fantastic: "To think that someone is not dead--to desire it on one
    hand, and to perceive this same fact in reality on the other--are two
    phases of one and the same movement, and the transition between them
    is achieved without difficulty.'' Only the thinnest line separates the
    experience of wishing for (or fearing) the return of the dead and
    actually seeing them return. Fantastic works, he argues, repeatedly
    cross it. Here indeed is the ultimate fantasy of mind over matter.

    Just such a fantasy--of a breakdown of the limit between life and
    death--lies at the heart of Radcliffe's novel and underwrites her
    vision of experience. To put it quite simply, there is an impinging
    confusion in Udolpho over who is dead and who is alive. The ambiguity
    is conveyed by the very language of the novel: in the moment of
    Radcliffean reverie, as we have seen, the dead seem to "live" again,
    while conversely, the living "haunt" the mind's eye in the manner of
    ghosts. Life and death--at least in the realm of the psyche--have
    become peculiarly indistinguishable....

>From The Monk

    ...Alarmed at the [sexual fantasies of Matilda] which He was
    indulging, He betook himself to prayer; He started from his Couch,
    knelt before the beautiful Madona, and entreated her assistance in
    stifling such culpable emotions. He then returned to his Bed, and
    resigned himself to slumber.

    He awoke, heated and unrefreshed. During his sleep his inflamed
    imagination had presented him with none but the most voluptuous
    objects. Matilda stood before him in his dreams, and his eyes again
    dwelt upon her naked breast. She repeated her protestations of eternal
    love, threw her arms round his neck, and loaded him with kisses: He
    returned them; He clasped her passionately to his bosom, and...the
    vision was dissolved. Sometimes his dreams presented the image of his
    favourite Madona, and He fancied that He was kneeling before her: As
    He offered up his vows to her, the eyes of the Figure seemed to beam
    on him with inexpressible sweetness. He pressed his lips to hers, and
    found them warm: The animated form started from the Canvas, embraced
    him affectionately, and his senses were unable to support delight so
    exquisite. Such were the scenes, on which his thoughts were employed
    while sleeping: His unsatisfied Desires placed before him the most
    lustful and provoking Images, and he rioted in joys till then unknown
    to him.

Peter Brooks, "Virtue and Terror: The Monk," ELH 40 (1973): 249-63.

    [In The Monk,] the experience of the eerie and the uncanny coincides
    so closely with Freud's description of the Unheimliche (the uncanny)
    that we are impelled to consider the Freudian derivation. For Freud,
    the Un--this sign of negation which makes the heimlich into something
    strange--represents an act of censorship which turns into the weird
    and uncanny what is in fact too familiar, too close to home: a
    repressed primal experience. So in The Monk: the novel makes it clear
    that the world of the supernatural which it has evoked, from the
    Bleeding Nun to Matilda's satanic traps, is interpretable as a world
    within the characters themselves, and that Ambrosio's drama is in fact
    the story of his relationship to the imperatives of desire. His tale
    is one of Eros denied, only to reassert itself with the force of
    vengeance, to smite him--in the manner of folktale and Greek
    tragedy-through and in his very claims to superiority, which are in
    fact denials, repressions, psychic disequilibrium. Matilda, disguised
    as the innocent and adoring young novice Rosario, makes her first
    approach to Ambrosio precisely through his piety and loathing for the
    impurity of the secular world, and works his downfall through his
    confidence in his own purity, his failure to recognize the repressions
    that it represents. The narcissism of his proud chastity will lead
    to--lead back to--the erotic narcissism which is incest. Matilda's
    masterstroke is to have her own portrait painted in the disguise of
    the Madonna: underneath Ambrosio's passionate adoration of the sacred
    icon there will be, unbeknownst to him, a latent erotic component,
    which Matilda will need only to make explicit. The painting of the
    Madonna/Matilda is in fact a kind of witty conceit demonstrating why
    God can no longer be for Ambrosio the representative of the Sacred:
    spirituality has a latent daemonic content; the daemonic underlies the
    seemingly Holy. And the daemons represent, not a wholly other, but a
    complex of interdicted erotic desires within us. The tremendum is
    generated from within. Lewis's consistent understanding and
    demonstration of this generation constitutes his major claim to our

Ann Radcliffe, The Italian (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1968).

    Satisfied with this conclusion, [Vivaldi] again laid his head on his
    pillow of straw, and soon sunk into a slumber. The subject of his
    waking thoughts still haunted his imagination, and the stranger, whose
    voice he had this night recognized as that of the monk of Paluzzi,
    appeared before him. Vivaldi, on perceiving the figure of this
    unknown, felt, perhaps, nearly the same degrees of awe, curiosity, and
    impatience that he would have suffered, had he beheld the substance of
    this shadow. The monk, whose face was still shrowded, he thought
    advanced, till, having come within a few paces of Vivaldi, he paused,
    and, lifting the awful cowl that had hitherto concealed him,
    disclosed--not the countenance of Schedoni, but one which Vivaldi did
    not recollect ever having seen before! It was not less interesting to
    curiosity, than striking to the feelings. Vivaldi at the first glance
    shrunk back; --something of that strange and indescribable air, which
    we attach to the idea of a supernatural being, prevailed over the
    features; and the intense and fiery eyes resembled those of an evil
    spirit, rather than of a human character. He drew a poniard from
    beneath a fold of his garment, and, as he displayed it, pointed with a
    stern frown to the spots which discoloured the blade; Vivaldi
    perceived they were of blood! He turned away his eyes in horror, and,
    when he again looked round in his dream, the figure was gone.

    A groan awakened him, but what were his feelings, when, on looking up,
    he perceived the same figure standing before him! It was not, however,
    immediately that he could convince himself the appearance was more
    than the phantom of his dream, strongly impressed upon an alarmed

Margaret Anne Doody, "Deserts, Ruins, and Troubled Waters: Female Dreams in
Fiction and the Development of the Gothic Novel," Genre 10 (1977): 529-73.

    ...In eighteenth-century English fiction, until the appearance of the
    Gothic novel, it is women, not men, who have dreams. Masculine
    characters rarely dream; those who do are usually simpletons whose
    dreams can be jocosely interpreted. Heroes are not dreamers....Women,
    weaker than men, not in control of their environment, are permitted to
    have dreams...Women are often seen as living an inward life rather
    different from that of men, whose consciousness is more definitely
    related to the objective world and to action within it. Women, less
    able to plan and execute actions, are seen as living a life closer to
    the dream-like, and closer to the dream-life....It was left to later
    (I certainly do not say superior) novelists to deal extensively with
    fear, desire and repression in terms of the nightmare images used by
    earlier novelists only occasionally to provide momentary glimpses into
    the perturbed depths of the feminine psyche. That is, the
    occasionally-glimpsed landscape of feminine dream was to become the
    entire setting in another, non- realistic, type of novel.

    The writers of the Gothic novel could give their full attention to the
    world of dream and nightmare--indeed, the "real world" for characters
    in a Gothic novel is one of nightmare. There is no longer a common
    sense order against which the dream briefly flickers; rather, the
    world of rational order briefly flickers in and out of the dreamlike.
    There is no ordinary world to wake up in....All the imagery we have
    met in these fictional dreams of women is to be found in the Gothic
    novel: mountain, forest, ghost, desert, cavern lake, troubled waters,
    ruined building with tottering roof, subterraneous cavern, sea,
    "howling and conflicting winds," snowy wastes, the bleeding lover,
    orange groves, corpse, iron instruments, invisible voices and dread
    tribunals--and, with these, sudden changes of place, preternatural
    speed, irresistible forces. In the Gothic novel these things are not
    the illusions which result from momentary feminine weakness--they
    constitute objects and facts in the "real" outer world. whose nature
    it is to create dread....

    In what is probably [Radcliffe's] best work, The Italian (1797) the
    reader shares the separate experience of both Ellena and Vivaldi, and
    the hero's experience is even more frightening than the heroine's.
    Everyone remembers Vivaldi's being brought into the fortress of the
    Inquisition, and the scenes of his interrogation before mysterious
    tribunals, in the depths of the labyrinth behind iron doors. These
    scenes touch on our terror of being tried, of facing accusation
    without defence, of being tainted with unspecified guilt while
    innocent of crime....[They are] capable of shocking the mind with the
    dread of what is fearfully unreasonable and painful in consciousness,
    from which one cannot be dismissed by awakening, while at the same
    time conveying the fact that the public world is inescapably harsh,
    crushing the individual in the name of order and reason, attempting to
    make both masculine and feminine sexual identity and inner existence
    into guilt. The hero is really afraid, and, when he "at length found a
    respite from thought and from suffering in sleep," he has a
    frightening dream in which the unholy monk appears, holding a
    bloodstained poniard. When he awakens he finds "the same figure
    standing before him" although in this reality into which the dream has
    melted, the monk does not at first seem to be holding a dagger. It is
    only after the strange conversation with Vivaldi that the intruder
    shows him a poniard and asks him to look at the blood upon it: "Mark
    those spots. . . Here is some print of truth! To-morrow night you will
    meet me in the chambers of death!" (p. 323). Clementina had looked for
    marks of blood that were not there: reality and dreaming melancholy
    were separate. Now within the environment of nightmare man as well as
    woman is the victim, and dream and reality are indistinguishable.

    The Gothic novel as Mrs. Radcliffe developed it takes the images of
    nightmare and gives them a strong embodiment; they are the framework
    of life, they are reality. The images and their concomitant emotions
    are no longer the figments of a particular feminine consciousness
    within the novel, nor do they, as in The Recess, provide an
    environment for feminine consciousness alone. They cannot be dismissed
    as symptoms of a peculiar psychological state....The Gothic novel has
    a value in this alone in making accessible what was strange and
    elusive, and so paying full attention to what had been underdeveloped
    in the work of earlier novelists...Adolescent heroines had previously
    been shown as troubled by dubious fears and mysterious dreads upon
    their coming to maturity. Mrs. Radcliffe also associates fear with
    maturing, and assumes, quite calmly, that men can be afraid.

>From Frankenstein

    [From Mary Shelley's 1931 Introduction]: "We will each write a ghost
    story," said Lord Byron; and his proposition was acceded to. There
    were four of us....I busied myself to think of a story -- a story to
    rival those which had excited us to this task. One which would speak
    to the mysterious fears of our nature, and awaken thrilling horror --
    one to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood, and
    quicken the beatings of the heart. If I did not accomplish these
    things, my ghost story would be unworthy of its name. I thought and
    pondered -- vainly. I felt that blank incapability of invention which
    is the greatest misery of authorship, when dull Nothing replies to our
    anxious invocations. Have you thought of a story? I was asked each
    morning, and each morning I was forced to reply with a mortifying

    ...Night waned...and even the witching hour had gone by, before we
    retired to rest. When I placed my head on my pillow, I did not sleep,
    nor could I be said to think. My imagination, unbidden, possessed and
    guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a
    vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie. I saw -- with shut
    eyes, but acute mental vision -- I saw the pale student of unhallowed
    arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous
    phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some
    powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half
    vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be
    the effect if any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of
    the Creator of the world. His success would terrify the artist; he
    would hope that, left to itself, the slight spark of life which he had
    communicated would fade; that this thing, which had received such
    imperfect animation, would subside into dead matter; and he might
    sleep in the belief that the silence of the grave would quench for
    ever the transient existence of the hideous corpse which he had looked
    upon as the cradle of life. He sleeps; but he is awakened; he opens
    his eyes; behold the horrid thing stands at his bedside, opening his
    curtains, and looking on him with yellow, watery, but speculative

    I opened mine in terror. The idea so possessed my mind, that a thrill
    of fear ran through me, and I wished to exchange the ghastly image of
    my fancy for the realities around....I could not so easily get rid of
    my hideous phantom; still it haunted me. I must try to think of
    something else. I recurred to my ghost story -- my tiresome unlucky
    ghost story! O! if I could only contrive one which would frighten my
    reader as I myself had been frightened that night!

    Swift as light and as cheering was the idea that broke in upon me. "I
    have found it! What terrified me will terrify others; and I need only
    describe the spectre which had haunted my midnight pillow." On the
    morrow I announced that I had thought of a story. I began that day
    with the words, It was on a dreary night of November, making only a
    transcript of the grim terrors of my waking thoughts.

    [From the text]: The different accidents of life are not so changeable
    as the feelings of human nature. I had worked hard for nearly two
    years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body.
    For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it
    with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had
    finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and
    disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I
    had created, I rushed out of the room, and continued a long time
    traversing my bed-chamber, unable to compose myself to sleep. At
    length lassitude succeeded to the tumult I had before endured; and I
    threw myself on the bed in my clothes, endeavouring to seek a few
    moments of forgetfulness. But it was in vain: I slept indeed, but was
    disturbed by the wildest dreams. I though I saw Elizabeth, in the
    bloom of health, walking in the streets of Ingolstadt. Delighted and
    surprised, I embraced her; but as I imprinted the first kiss on her
    lips, they became livid with the hue of death; her features appeared
    to change, and I thought that I held the corpse of my dead mother in
    my arms; a shroud enveloped her form, and I saw the graveworms
    crawling in the folds of the flannel.

Aija Ozolins, "Dreams and Doctrines: Dual Strands in Frankenstein,"
Science-Fiction Studies 2 (1975): 103-10.

    There is ample evidence in the novel that the creature functions as
    the scientist's baser self. Frankenstein's epithets for him
    consistently connote evil: devil, fiend, demon, horror, wretch,
    monster, monstrous image, vile insect, abhorred entity, detested form,
    hideous phantasm, odious companion and demoniacal corpse. Neutral
    terms like creature and being are comparatively rare. Most important,
    there is Frankenstein's thinking of him as "my own vampire, my own
    spirit let loose from the grave, and forced to destroy all that was
    dear to me". And after each murder Frankenstein acknowledges his
    complicity: "I not in deed, but in effect, was the true murderer".

    One sure sign of the double is his haunting presence. Maria Mahoney
    characterizes the feeling as "someone or something behind you, an
    ominous adversary dogging your footsteps...[a1 sinister and truly evil
    figure lurking in the dark." Even though Frankenstein initially flees
    from his creature and even though their direct confrontations are few,
    the monster is nevertheless a ubiquitous presence in his life. When he
    agrees to fashion a mate for his creature he is told to expect
    constant surveillance: "I shall watch your progress with unutterable
    anxiety; and fear not but that when you are ready I shall appear" .
    After breaking his promise he is even more oppressed by a sense of the
    monster's presence; even his days take on a nightmarish quality:
    "although the sun shone," he felt only "a dense and frightful
    darkness, penetrated by no light but the glimmer of two eyes that
    glared" at him.

    The psychological motif of the double is reinforced by several visual
    tableaux that hint at a secret sympathy between the monster and his
    maker. At the beginning of her dream Mary saw "the pale student of
    unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together," but at
    its conclusion the positions are reversed, with the "horrid thing"
    standing at the student's bedside and "looking on him with yellow,
    watery, but speculative eyes". This picture is repeated at the end of
    the novel when the monster stands sorrowfully over the corpse of
    Frankenstein. Similarly, there are three moonlight encounters between
    the two. Although meetings by lightning and moonlight are a
    conventional part of the Gothic landscape, Mary's conjunction of man,
    moon, and monster is traceable to her dream and serves to emphasize
    the close relationship between them. Also, because most of these
    moonlight encounters are preceded by a crime, they spotlight the
    creature's jeering, malevolent form.

    The last and most important point regarding the double is the
    necessity to confront and recognize the dark aspect of one's
    personality in order to transform it by an act of conscious choice.
    Ideally, the Shadow diminishes as one's awareness increases. "Freedom
    comes," according to Mahoney, "not in eliminating the Shadow...but in
    recognizing him in yourself." Prospero acknowledges Caliban--"This
    thing of darkness I acknowledge mine"--but Frankenstein's typical
    reactions are first to flee, then to kill. His rejection of his
    creature is crucial, both in the present psychological context and in
    the sociological context we shall consider later. Frankenstein, as
    Philmus says, is always "fleeing from self-knowledge," always seeking
    "to lose himself in the external world," and thus denying, in Nelson's
    words, the "nether forces for which he should have accepted a fully
    aware responsibility."


    1. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/zach.sublime1.html#morris


Architecture of the Mind

    It is important to remember that "Gothic" connoted architecture long
    before it connoted literature. Horace Walpole was the first to
    establish a link between the two; his obsession with his beloved
    miniature castle at Strawberry Hill was the inspiration for The Castle
    of Otranto, and the book's subtitle, "A Gothic Story," marks the first
    time that the term was used in a literary context. Ever since,
    representation of the labyrinthine and claustrophobic space associated
    with Gothic architecture has been the defining convention of Gothic
    fiction. This space is usually represented by a castle, but
    monasteries, convents, and prisons (often in ruins) also appear

    This architectural space is integral to the psychological machinations
    of Gothic fiction, and is used to invoke feelings of fear, awe,
    entrapment and helplessness in characters and readers alike.
    Furthermore, the architecture itself can be said to be psychically
    alive; it is often depicted as having "a vile intelligence of its own"
    and as "hyper-organic in all its aspects" (Frank 436). The following
    excerpts all discuss the relationship between physical structure and
    emotional affect within Gothic fiction, exploring how the individual
    or social psyche is externalized in its various architectural forms.

    [See also the closely related section on the [1]"inner space" in the
    Female Gothic.]

>From The Mysteries of Udolpho

    The sun had just sunk below the top of the mountains she was
    descending, whose long shadow stretched athwart the valley, but his
    sloping rays, shooting through an opening of the cliffs, touched with
    a yellow gleam the summits of the forest that hung upon the opposite
    steeps, and streamed in full splendor upon the towers and battlements
    of a castle that spread its extensive ramparts along the brow of a
    precipice above. The splendor of these illuminated objects was
    heightened by the contrasted shade which involved the valley below.

    There, said Montoni, speaking for the first time in several hours, is

    Emily gazed with melancholy awe upon the castle, which she understood
    to be Montoni's; for, though it was now lighted up by the setting sun,
    the Gothic greatness of its features, and its mouldering walls of
    dark-gray stone, rendered it a gloomy and sublime object. As she
    gazed, the light died away on its walls, leaving a melancholy purple
    tint, which spread deeper and deeper as the thin vapor crept up the
    mountain, while the battlements above were still tipt with splendor.
    From those, too, the rays soon faded, and the whole edifice was
    invested with the solemn duskiness of evening. Silent, lonely, and
    sublime, it seemed to stand the sovereign of the scene, and to frown
    defiance on all who dared to invade its solitary reign. As the
    twilight deepened, its features became more awful in obscurity; and
    Emily continued to gaze, till its clustering towers were alone seen
    rising over the tops of the woods, beneath whose thick shade the
    carriages soon after began to ascend.

Norman N. Holland and Leona F. Sherman, "Gothic Possibilities," New Literary
History 8 (1977): 278-94.

    We can begin with the formula, maiden-plus-habitation, and the
    prototypical habitation in it, the castle. An older psychoanalytic
    criticism would have assumed a one-to-one equation: the castle
    symbolizes the body. Unfortunately, this kind of easy isomorphism does
    not stand up under experimental testing or even close introspection.
    Rather, each of us resymbolizes reality in our own terms. A gothic
    novel combines the heroine's fantasies about the castle with her fears
    that her body will be violated. The novel thus makes it possible for
    literents to interpret body by means of castle and castle by means of
    body, but does not force us to do so nor does it fix the terms in
    which the two of us will do it.

    Instead, the castle admits a variety of our projections. In
    particular, because it presents villains and dangers in an archaic
    language and mise-en-scene, it fits all we can imagine into it of the
    dark, frightening, and unknown. If, like Udolpho, it also has midnight
    revelry, violence, battles, confusing noises and disturbances, it can
    express our childhood fears at the strange sounds of "struggle"
    between our parents in the night and the sexual violence children
    often imagine as a result. At the same time, the gothic novel usually
    says that the castle contains some family secret, so that the castle
    can also become the core for fantasies based on a childish desire that
    adulthood be an exactly defined secret one can discover and

    The castle delineates a physical space which will accept many
    different projections of unconscious material. de Sade makes this
    receptive function of the castle quite terrifyingly explicit: its
    chief attribute is an isolation in which the heroine is completely
    controlled by someone else while separated from those she loves. The
    castle threatens shame, agony, annihilation--and desire. From the
    torture chambers of, say, the monastery in Justine, we can create a
    magic realm, beyond all normative associations and experience, where
    the best anodyne one can hope for is catatonia. Given such an arena
    for sexual and sadistic games, we are free to use de Sade's satanic
    imaginings to structure our own wildest wishes and fears about loss
    and helplessness.

>From Melmoth the Wanderer

    The magnificent remains of two dynasties that had passed away, the
    ruins of Roman palaces, and of Moorish fortresses, were around and
    above him;--the dark and heavy thunder-clouds that advanced slowly
    seemed like the shrouds of these spectres of departed greatness; they
    approached, but did not yet overwhelm or conceal them, as if nature
    herself was for once awed by the power of man....Stanton gazed around.
    The difference between the architecture of the Roman and Moorish ruins
    struck him. Among the former are the remains of a theatre, and
    something like a public place; the latter present only the remains of
    fortresses, embattled, castellated, and fortified from top to
    bottom--not a loop-hole for pleasure to get in by--the loop-holes were
    only for arrows; all denoted military power and despotic subjugation a
    l'outrance.... So thought Stanton, as he still saw strongly defined,
    though darkened by the darkening clouds...the solid and heavy mass of
    a Moorish fortress, no light playing between its impermeable
    walls--the image of power, dark, isolated, impenetrable.

Philip P. Hallie, The Paradox of Cruelty (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, 1969)

    ...[T]o look into the eyes of the villains is not to see the full
    force of the tremendum of the Gothic Tale. That force is embodied in
    the ambiente, the time and place in which those villains prey on their
    victims. The place is often a castle whose lord is the villain. And
    the castle, as Maturin puts it towards the beginning of Melmoth, is
    "...fortified from top to bottom--not a loophole for pleasure to get
    in by--the loopholes were only for arrows; all denoted military power
    and despotic subjugation a l'outrance...." A medieval castle was a
    fortress with one purpose: to maintain and intensify the power of its
    lord. Medieval castles came into being when nobles were comparatively
    independent of their kings, and could with impunity exert absolute
    power upon anyone living in or near them. It is just such impregnable
    power that the castle expresses in the Gothic tale.

    And one reason it expresses this power has to do with the victims or
    prisoners of its lord. When they are in the dungeon of a lord's
    castle, their weakness is as total as his power. The castle heightens
    the power of the villain and the weakness of his victim by making it
    impossible for the victim to escape the "danger" or dominion of the
    lord, and equally impossible for him to get help from the outside,
    since even if his cries could be heard through all that distance and
    stone, his allies would have to "storm" an impregnable fortress.

    ...Cruelty occurs most readily in sequestered areas in which the
    dominion of the powerful one is inescapable and impregnable, at least
    for the moment. Whether it be a dungeon in a medieval castle or a
    group of boys gathered round to see a bird have its eyes burned out in
    a London street, sequestration from escape and resistance is important
    to cruelty. By heightening the strength of the strong one and by
    rendering the victim more passive, the castle helps generate and
    maintain the difference of power that helps make cruelty, like a spark
    of electricity, possible. The castle is the dynamo of cruelty.

>From The Monk

    The Monks quitted the Abbey at midnight. Matilda was among the
    Choristers, and led the chaunt. Ambrosio was left by himself, and at
    liberty to pursue his own inclinations. Convinced that no one remained
    behind to watch his motions, or disturb his pleasure, He now hastened
    to the Western Aisles. His heart beating with hope not unmingled with
    anxiety, he crossed the Garden, unlocked the door which admitted him
    into the Cemetery, and in a few minutes He stood before the Vaults.
    Here He paused. He looked round him with suspicion, conscious that his
    business was unfit for any other eye. As He stood in hesitation, He
    heard the melancholy shriek of the screech-Owl: The wind rattled
    loudly against the windows of the adjacent Convent, and as the current
    swept by him, bore with it the faint notes of the chaunt of
    Choristers. he opened the door cautiously, as if fearing to be
    over-heard: He entered; and closed it again after him. Guided by his
    Lamp, He threaded the long passages, in whose windings Matilda had
    instructed him, and reached the private Vault which contained his
    sleeping Mistress.

    Its entrance was by no means easy to discover: But this was no
    obstacle to Ambrosio, who at the time of Antonia's Funeral had
    observed it too carefully to be deceived. He found the door, which was
    unfastened, pushed it open, and descended into the dungeon. he
    approached the humble Tomb, in which Antonia reposed. He had provided
    himself with an iron crow and a pick- axe; But this precaution was
    unnecessary. The Grate was slightly fastened on the outside: He raised
    it, and placing the Lamp upon its ridge, bent silently over the Tomb.
    By the side of three putrid half-corrupted Bodies lay the sleeping

Peter Brooks, "Virtue and Terror: The Monk," in ELH 40 (1973): 249-63.

    It is notable that toward the end of [The Monk], all the major
    characters are compelled to descend into the catacombs of the Convent
    of St. Clare, and that it is deep in this multi- layered sepulchre
    that the climaxes of all the different plots in the novel will be
    played out: here Agnes has been imprisoned by the Domina, here
    Ambrosio has sequestered Antonia in order to rape her, and here the
    nuns of St. Clare retreat as the incensed mob sacks and fires their
    convent. The sepulchre, into which the Domina descends for her
    sadistic punishments, and Matilda for her diabolical conjurations, has
    come in the course of the novel to represent the interdicted regions
    of the soul, the area of the mind where our deepest and least avowable
    impulses lie, and at the novel's climax the characters are driven
    unconsciously, but all the more powerfully, to go to confront their
    destinies in the sepulchre. The force of this drive is imaged in the
    description of Lorenzo's decision to descend: this arch-rationalist of
    the novel is impelled by a movement "secret and unaccountable "into
    the labyrinth" of the sepulchre (p. 347). He then discovers the
    trap-door into the lowest depth, a "yawning gulph "which he must go on
    to explore "alone . . . and in darkness " (p. 354) . That the young
    lovers of the novel will eventually find a measure of peace and
    tempered happiness is no doubt a product of this experience in and of
    the central darkness of the soul: their exploration of the content of
    the unconscious will be curative.

    The erotic implications of the sepulchre and its labyrinth are patent,
    for it is here, down below the daylight world, that Lewis can indulge
    the richest, and most sadistic, urgings of his decidedly perverse
    imagination. The descriptions of Agnes's attachment to the putrefied
    corpse of her baby become almost unbearable. But Lewis's exploitation
    of sepulchre and labyrinth also confirm our sense of his intuitive
    understanding of his psycho-historical moment. It is easy to document
    that there was a veritable explosion of "claustral" literature at this
    period, especially in France from the onset of the Revolution. We know
    in fact that shortly before starting to write The Monk, Lewis had seen
    one of the most celebrated and melodramatic plays on the theme, Boutet
    de Monvel's Les Victimes Cloitrees-- which he later translated--and he
    probably also knew Olympe de Gouges' Le Couvent, ou les Voeux forces.
    Part of the epistemological moment to which The Monk belongs, and
    which it best represents, is this opening up of sepulchral depths, the
    fascination with what may lie hidden in the lower dungeons of
    institutions and mental constraints ostensibly devoted to discipline
    and chastity. What does lie hidden there is always the product of
    erotic drives gone beserk, perverted and deviated through denial, a
    figuration of the price of repression.

    Lewis's psychic architecture, then, offers what we have suggested
    about the nature of the supernatural in the novel, and the
    transformation of the Sacred into taboo. Ambrosio's story is most
    centrally a drama of conquest by a desire made terrific by its freight
    of repression. Its liberation will be led to commit both matricide and
    incest. That is, through the play of repression, erotic pleasure has
    been necessarily tied to the idea of transgression, violation of
    taboo; and Ambrosio, once he has given himself over wholly to his
    erotic drive, will manage to transgress the most basic of them.
    Particularly, Ambrosio with growing urgency discovers the need to
    violate, defile, to soil and profane the being who has come to
    represent for him the sum of erotic pleasure precisely because she is
    most clothed in the aura of the Sacred, and most protected by taboo.

Max Byrd, "The Madhouse, the Whorehouse, and the Convent," Partisan Review

    In the first half of the eighteenth century the primary meaning of the
    incarceration that occurs over and over in fiction is restraint.
    Unbalancing, socially destructive passions like greed or lust are
    simply pressed into submission by moral and social institutions, by
    the madhouse and the prison. In the later eighteenth century the
    primary meaning of incarceration becomes, not restraint, but burial, a
    meaning already implied in the Persephone myth. The dungeons in these
    houses are Tartarus, the deepest recesses of the human mind in which
    unreason still clings to life. Toward the conclusion of M.G. Lewis's
    The Monk the hero Lorenzo, searching through subterranean passages,
    stumbles upon the following:

    "in a corner of this loathsome abode, a creature stretched upon a bed
    of straw, so wretched, so emaciated, so pale, that he doubted to think
    her woman. She was half naked: her long disheveled hair fell in
    disorder over her face, and almost entirely concealed it. One wasted
    arm hung listless upon a tattered rug, which covered her convulsed and
    shivering limbs: the other was wrapped round a small bundle, and held
    it closely to her bosom."

    Thus far we might feel we were reading another description of justly
    punished whores in Mrs. Sinclair's brothel; but the next sentence
    places us elsewhere: "A large rosary lay near her: opposite to her was
    a crucifix , on which she bent her sunken eyes fixedly, and by her
    side stood a basket and a small earthen pitcher." The convent in
    Gothic novels, outwardly a symbol of self-control and reason, in
    reality exists as a den of incarceration, just as the madhouse and the
    whorehouse do in earlier literature; inwardly it harbors row after row
    of dungeons like this one in The Monk where unreason is shut away.
    Within the farthest reaches of this building, learns the heroine of
    The Italian,

    "is a stone chamber, secured by doors of iron, to which such of the
    sisterhood as have been guilty of any heinous offence have, from time
    to time, been consigned. This condemnation admits of no reprieve: the
    unfortunate captive is left to languish in chains and darkness,
    receiving only an allowance of bread and water just sufficient to
    prolong her sufferings, till nature, at length, sinking under their
    intolerable pressure, obtains refuge in death."

    The scene Lorenzo discovers in The Monk reminds us of numerous other
    eighteenth-century descriptions of Bedlam cells as well as of
    brothels....The bundle an inmate clutches is the corpse of her baby,
    an emblem of her original female sin....like mid-century European
    fiction, The Monk extends the meaning of its symbols of incarceration,
    adding isolation, fantasy, and incest to the themes of restraint,
    passion, and death that mark the Augustan madhouses and whorehouses.

    In its convents and dungeons, for example, The Monk shows us what the
    Age of Reason seems never to have doubted, the disastrous consequences
    of incarceration when it is understood as isolation from society. The
    wretched mother whom Lorenzo discovers in The Monk has been "plunged
    into a private dungeon, expressly constituted to hide from the world
    for ever the victim of cruelty and tyrannic superstition. In this
    dreadful abode she was to lead a perpetual solitude, deprived of all
    society, and believed to be dead, by those, whom affection might have
    prompted to attempt her rescue."

    ...But two further points should be noticed here. The first is how
    often the incarcerating house is destroyed by these incestuous
    children...Ambrosio is responsible for a mob's destruction of a
    convent and the slaughter of its nuns; and Moncada, in the most
    terrifying episode of all, brings down the palace of the Inquisition
    in fire....All the shattered and smoking convents of the Gothic novel
    prove to us the power of unreason to destroy its prisons, if it can
    break free or if the keeper lingers in their dark passages. The
    recurring theme of incest in these novels also conveys to us the
    destructive power of unreason, its ability to tear apart the central
    institution of order and stability in a public society, the family.

>From The Italian

    The carriage having reached the walls, followed their bendings to a
    considerable extent. These walls, of immense height, and strengthened
    by innumerable massy bulwarks, exhibited neither window or grate, but
    a vast and dreary blank; a small round tower only, perched here and
    there upon the summit, breaking their monotony.

    The prisoners passed what seemed to be the principal entrance, from
    the grandeur of its portal, and the gigantic loftiness of the towers
    that rose over it; and soon after the carriage stopped at an arch-way
    in the walls, strongly barricadoed. one of the escort alighted, and,
    having struck upon the bars, a folding door within was immediately
    opened, and a man bearing a torch appeared behind the barricado, whose
    countenance, as he looked through it, might have been copied for the

                      'Grim-visaged comfortless Despair of the poet.

    No words were exchanged between him and the guard; but on perceiving
    who were without, he opened the iron gate, and the prisoners, having
    alighted, passed with the two officials beneath the arch, the guard
    following with a torch. They descended a flight of broad steps, at the
    foot of which another iron gate admitted them to a kind of hall; such,
    however, it at first appeared to Vivaldi, as his eyes glanced through
    its gloomy extent, imperfectly ascertaining it by the lamp, which hung
    from the centre of the roof. No person appeared, and a death-like
    silence prevailed; for neither the officials nor the guard yet spoke;
    nor did any distant sound contradict the notion, that they were
    traversing the chambers of the dead. To Vivaldi it occurred, that this
    was one of the burial vaults of the victims, who suffered in the
    Inquisition, and his whole frame thrilled with horror. Several
    avenues, opening from the apartment, seemed to lead to distant
    quarters of this immense fabric, but still no footstep whispering
    along the pavement, or voice murmuring through the arched roofs,
    indicated it to be the residence of the living.

Jacques Blondel, "On 'Metaphysical Prisons,'" Durham University Journal 32
(1971): 133-38.

    The theme of metaphysical prisons in art and literature...expands on
    three levels....The first is that of reasonable sublimity implying
    some ambiguity in the nature of the supernatural; the next is
    deliberately that of moral ambiguity and negation of traditional
    norms; while the third is that of 'paradis artificiels' and
    self-created prisons. The absence of escape in a fictitious universe
    devoid of the redemptive scheme and the absence of forgiveness command
    this diversified approach to fantastic worlds of their own. On every
    level the implications of 'generic guilt' are there to account for the
    density, so to say, of walls and the depth of romantic chasms, to
    create or challenge the metaphysics of heated brains and to preside
    over the fate of both victims and executioners.

    A diachronic study of our theme would less forcibly throw into relief
    the relationship, between the ethical implications of 'metaphysical
    prisons' and their artistic or literary representation....Granted that
    Mrs. Radcliffe follows in the wake of Walpole's canons in the genre--
    namely romance--and that romance breaking with 'strict adherence to
    common life' should include the marvelous, both writers claim to be
    enfranchised from superstition, though allowing room for 'stupendous
    phenomena' (The Castle of Otranto, 2nd Preface) confronting the 'moral
    agents of the drama'. The description of the well-known castle, an
    adumbration of Strawberry Hill, anticipates the architectural designs
    of Mrs. Radcliffe's structures, that of Montoni and the prisons of the

    "The lower part of the castle was hollowed out into several intricate
    cloisters; and it was not easy for one under so much anxiety to find
    the door that opened into the cavern"

    ...However, the structure of the plot in all cases implies a return to
    the world of light, a liberation from the devilish machinery which, as
    in the case of The Italian, eventually recoils on its devisor (p.
    243); the innocent pair, as in the sentimental novel, are duly
    permitted to marry, after the trials undergone in the labyrinthine
    vaults of Rome. The caves here, more emphatically than in The
    Mysteries of Udolpho, have been the proper setting where Vivaldi
    realized the danger of inclining too much to the marvelous (p. 347):

    " . . . he dismissed, as absurd, a supposition, which had begun to
    thrill his every nerve with horror."

    Stress is thus laid on his weakness from the point of view of the
    rational-minded novelist who remains content with offering the
    'delightful horror' (John Dennis) of plunging one's eyes into depths,
    mountain gloom, and mountain glory in turn. Prisons here are
    contrasted by visions of the sublime; thus Ellena loses the
    consciousness of her prison (San Stefano), "while her eyes ranged over
    the wide and freely-sublime scene without . . . She perceived that
    this chamber was within a small turret . . . and suspended, as in air,
    above the vast precipices of granite, that formed part of the
    mountain" (p. 90).

    Such contrasts evince Mrs. Radcliffe's avoidance of any whole-hearted
    commitment to the powers of darkness; Vivaldi is made to descend
    further and further, but the final vision is daylight and open air,
    even as in Girtin's sublime landscape. The captivity motif remains
    external to the mind, except for the guilty villain, when we are
    invited to approve of the judgment of the awful tribunal sentencing
    him to suffer. Illusions of any kind have had to be dispelled and
    prisons have never been properly metaphysical.

    The Gothic nocturnal world of The Monk (1796), though influencing The
    Italian, develops the prison theme on medieval metaphysical lines....
    In The Monk, the conditions of both physical and moral claustrophobia
    are fully achieved. Lewis's story, originating from German 'horror'
    tales, concentrates on the powerlessness of the victims (Agnes,
    Elvira, Raymond) in the face of adverse forces hailing from the
    darksome world. Thus Raymond, once captured by the 'Bleeding Nun' whom
    he negates as a phantom, has to be released from his trance by a

    Matilda, another Fuseli-like figure, traps lustful Ambrosio, whose
    perverse and morbid passion leads him willingly to persevere in sin
    and face damnation. The ambiguity here lies not with the fiction
    itself, as in the case of Mrs. Radcliffe's visions of imprisonment,
    but consists in the divided commitment of Lewis, strumming on the
    strings of sensuality in order seemingly to rouse indignation while
    pandering to the desires of the flesh. Thus it is a willing prison the
    setting of which tallies with the requirements of the
    fantastic....Ambrosio's is the "metaphysical" prison of a belated
    medieval age, the creation of an unmetaphysical imagination. Thus all
    possibility of redemption is and has to be made absurd (hence the
    blasphemous pronouncements here and there in the book) in a world
    where the constants of reality are nullified, an illusionary yet
    strikingly real one.


    1. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/enec981/Group/ami.inner.html


Psycho-Social Concerns

    A generation of Freudians have busied themselves reading the Gothic
    novel as an externalization of the author's psyche, or as a device to
    elicit a proscribed pyschological response from the reader. However,
    because the true Gothic novels comprise a well-defined canon, produced
    within a narrow space of time, it is possible to read them as
    reflections a distinct social psyche--that is, as illustrating
    deep-seated concerns and anxieties associated with a specific
    political and historical moment. The sudden flourishing of the Gothic
    novel at the end of the eighteenth century has been linked by critics
    to such cultural preoccupations as the French Revolution (and
    persistent Jacobin uprisings in England) and concerns about the place
    of the individual--in relation to both the family and society at
    large--in a rapidly changing social order.

    Sade, characteristically ahead of his time, was perhaps the first
    critic to identify the fictitious horrors of the Gothic novel with the
    all-too-real horrors of the 1790s. He wrote that the revolutionary age
    had numbed the senses of the general populace to such an extent that
    authors were obliged to "call upon the aid of hell itself" in order to
    strike a chord of recognition with readers. (Sade later went on to try
    his own hand at Gothic short stories.) In a fascinating article,
    Ronald Paulson builds upon Sade's association of the Gothic and the
    French Revolution. Paulson reads The Monk and Caleb Williams as
    bearing witness to the inevitably bloody excesses of the revolutionary
    mob, which in throwing off tyranny becomes itself tyrannical. He sees
    Frankenstein as mapping this theme of rebellion onto the family, with
    the oppressive "father" locked in struggle with the wronged "son".
    Frederick Karl also cites Caleb Williams, along with Frankenstein, in
    discussing the recurrent theme of the "outsider". David Punter uses
    both Freud and Marx to read the original Gothic novels as literary
    manifestations of the deep social anxieties of the late eighteenth
    century; he sees Otranto reflecting the ambivalence of the English
    toward their feudal past in light of the dawning of liberal humanism,
    and the later Gothics revealing deep concerns about the fate of the
    individual in industrial, post- Enlightenment society. Finally,
    Stephen Bernstein takes a very different approach, arguing that the
    Gothic novels reproduce a "psychological" ideology in which the will
    of the individual is always eventually subordinated to the family and
    to society. He cites examples, not just from the "conservative"
    Radcliffe novels, but from The Monk, Otranto, and Melmoth as well.

>From The Monk

    Here St. Ursula ended her narrative. It created horror and surprise
    throughout: But when She related the inhuman murder of Agnes, the
    indignation of the Mob was so audibly testified, that it was scarcely
    possible to hear the conclusion. This confusion increased with every
    moment: at length a multitude of voices exclaimed, that the Prioress
    should be given up to their fury....They forced a passage through the
    Guards who protected their destined Victim, dragged her from her
    shelter, and proceeded to take upon her a most summary and cruel
    vengeance. Wild with terror, and scarcely knowing what she said, the
    wretched Woman shrieked for a moment's mercy: She protested that She
    was innocent of the death of Agnes, and could clear herself from the
    suspicion beyond the power of doubt. The Rioters heeded nothing but
    the gratification of their barbarous vengeance. They refused to listen
    to her: They showed her every sort of insult, loaded her with mud and
    filth and called her by the most opprobrious appellations. They tore
    her one from another, and each new Tormentor was more savage than the
    former. They stifled with howls and execrations her shrill cries for
    mercy; and dragged her through the Streets, spurning her, trampling
    her, and treating her with every species of cruelty which hate or
    vindictive fury could invent. At length a Flint, aimed by some
    well-directing hand, struck her full upon the temple. She sank upon
    the ground bathed in blood, and in a few minutes terminated her
    miserable existence,. yet though She no longer felt their insults, the
    Rioters till exercised their impotent rage upon her lifeless body.
    They beat it, trod upon it, and ill-used it, till it became no more
    than a mass of flesh, unsightly, shapeless, and disgusting.

Marquis de Sade, Idee sur les Romans (Geneva: Slatkine, 1967).

    Perhaps at this point we ought to analyze these new novels in which
    sorcery and phantasmagoria constitute practically the entire merit:
    foremost among them I would place The Monk, which is superior in all
    respects to the strange flights of Mrs. Radcliffe's brilliant
    imagination....Let us concur that this kind of fiction, whatever one
    may think of it, is assuredly not without merit: twas the inevitable
    result of the revolutionary shocks which all of Europe has suffered.
    For anyone familiar with the full range of misfortunes wherewith
    evildoers can beset mankind, the novel became as difficult to write as
    monotonous to read. There was not a man alive who had not experienced
    in the short span of four or five years more misfortunes than the most
    celebrated novelist could portray in a century. Thus, to compose works
    of interest, one had to call upon the aid of hell itself, and to find
    in the world of make- believe things wherewith one was fully familiar
    merely by delving into man's daily life in this age of iron.

Ronald Paulson, "Gothic Fiction and the French Revolution," ELH 48 (1981):

    The Gothic did in fact serve as a metaphor with which some
    contemporaries in England tried to come to terms with what was
    happening across the Channel in the 1790s. The first Revolutionary
    emblem was the castle-prison, the Bastille and its destruction by an
    angry mob, which was fitted by Englishmen into the model of the Gordon
    Riots of nine years before. But if one way of dealing with the
    Revolution (in its earliest stages) was to see the castle-prison
    through the eyes of a sensitive young girl who responds to terror in
    the form of forced marriage and stolen property, another was to see it
    through the case history of her threatening oppressor, Horace
    Walpole's Manfred or M.G. Lewis' Ambrosio--the less comforting reality
    Austen was heralding in the historical phenomena of London riots. In
    Lewis' The Monk (1795) the two striking phenomena dramatized are first
    the explosion--the bursting out of the bonds--of a repressed monk
    imprisoned from earliest childhood in a monastery, with the havoc
    wreaked by his self- liberation (assisted by demonic forces) on his
    own family who were responsible his being immured; and second, the
    blood-thirsty mob that lynches-- literally grinds into a bloody
    pulp--the wicked prioress who has murdered those of her nuns who
    succumbed to sexual temptation. Both are cases of justification
    followed by horrible excess: Ambrosio deserves to break out and the
    mob is justified in punishing the evil prioress, but Ambrosio's
    liberty leads him to the shattering of his vow of celibacy, to
    repression, murder, and rape not unlike the compulsion against which
    he was reacting; and the mob not only destroys the prioress but
    (recalling the massacres of September 1792) the whole community and
    the convent itself:

    "The incensed Populace, confounding the innocent with the guilty, had
    resolved to sacrifice all the Nuns of that order to their rage, and
    not to leave one stone of the building upon another. They battered the
    walls, threw lighted torches in at the windows and swore that by break
    of day not a Nun of St. Clare's order should be left alive.... The
    Rioters poured into the interior part of the Building, where they
    exercised their vengeance upon every thing which found itself in their
    passage. They broke the furniture into pieces, tore down the pictures,
    destroyed the reliques, and in their hatred of her Servant forgot all
    respect to the Saint. Some employed themselves in searching out the
    Nuns, Others in pulling down parts of the Convent, and Others again in
    setting fire to the pictures and furniture, which it contained. These
    Latter produced the most decisive desolation: In-deed the consequences
    of their action were more sudden, than themselves had expected or
    wished. The Flames rising from the burning piles caught part of the
    Building, which being old and dry, the conflagration spread with
    rapidity from room to room. The Walls were soon shaken by the
    devouring element. The Columns gave way; The Roofs came tumbling down
    upon the Rioters, and crushed many of them beneath their weight.
    Nothing was to be heard but shrieks and groans, the Convent was
    wrapped in flames, and the whole presented a scene of devastation and

    The end, of course, as it appeared to Englishmen in 1794-- remembering
    Thomas Paine's words ("From a small spark, kindled in America, a flame
    has arisen, not to be extinguished) and the imagery of light and fire
    associated with the Revolution--was the destruction of the
    revolutionaries themselves in the general collapse.

    The relationship between Falkland and Caleb is the same explored by
    Inchbald and Holcroft between society the cruel hunter and the
    suffering individual, its victim. But by the time Godwin was writing,
    the French Terror had cast its shadow on libertarian dreams, and his
    work reflects that constant potential for simple inversion of the
    persecutor-persecuted relationship which events in Paris had so
    terribly exemplified....For Caleb Williams, in his way, becomes as
    much a persecutor (and ultimately a murderer) as his master--and is
    eventually brought to commit similar crimes through an obsessive
    concern to protect the "honour" he no longer possesses.

    The construction of the monster, as of the makeshift, non- organic
    family, is the final aspect of the Frankenstein plot. Burke's
    conception of the state as organic and of the Revolution as a family
    convulsed was joined by Mary Shelley with the fact of her own
    "family," the haphazard one in which she grew up with other children
    of different mothers and with a stepmother. This creation of a family
    of children by some method other than natural, organic procreation
    within a single love relationship is projected onto the Frankenstein
    family, a family assembled by the additive process of adoptions and
    the like, and so to Victor's own creation of a child without parents
    or sexual love.....Frankenstein predictably sees himself as the father
    who ''deserves the gratitude of his children more "completely" than
    any other, and in saying so becomes the tyrant himself. As an allegory
    of the French Revolution, his experiment corresponds to the
    possibility of ignoring the paternal (and maternal) power by
    constructing one's own offspring out of sheer reason, but it shows
    that the creator is still only a "father" and his creation another
    "son" locked into the same love-tyranny relationship Mary's own father
    had described so strikingly in Caleb Williams (another book Mary had
    reread as she undertook her novel).

>From Frankenstein

    The monster saw my determination in my face and gnashed his teeth in
    the impotence of anger. "Shall each man," cried he, "find a wife for
    his bosom, and each beast have his mate, and I be alone? I had
    feelings of affection, and they were requited by detestation and
    scorn. Man! You may hate, but beware! Your hours will pass in dread
    and misery, and soon the bolt will fall which must ravish from you
    your happiness forever. Are you to be happy while I grovel in the
    intensity of my wretchedness? You can blast my other passions, but
    revenge remains--revenge, hence forth dearer than light or food! I may
    die, but first you, my tyrant and tormentor, shall curse the sun that
    gazes on your misery. Beware, for I am fearless and therefore
    powerful. I will watch with the wiliness of a snake, that I may sting
    with its venom. Man, you shall repent of the injuries you inflict.

>From Caleb Williams

    What--dark, mysterious, unfeeling, unrelenting tyrant!--is it come to
    this? When Nero and Caligula swayed the Roman sceptre, it was a
    fearful thing to offend these bloody rulers. The empire had already
    spread itself from climate to climate, and from sea to sea. If their
    unhappy victim fled to the rising of the sun, where the luminary of
    day seems to us first to ascend from the waves of the ocean, the power
    of the tyrant was still behind him. If he withdrew to the west, to
    Hesperian darkness, and the shores of barbarian Thule, still he was
    not safe from his gore-drenched foe.--Falkland! art thou the offspring
    in whom the lineaments of these tyrants are faithfully preserved? Was
    the world, with all its climates, made in vain for thy helpless
    unoffending victim?


    Tyrants have trembled, surrounded with whole armies of their
    Janissaries! What should make thee inaccessible to my fury? No, I will
    use no daggers! I will unfold a tale!--I will show thee to the world
    for what thou art; and all the men that live, shall confess my
    truth!--Didst thou imagine that I was altogether passive, a mere worm,
    organised to feel sensations of pain, but no emotion of resentment?
    Didst thou imagine that there was no danger in inflicting on me pains
    however great, miseries however dreadful? Didst thou believe me
    impotent, imbecile, and idiot-like, with no understanding to contrive
    thy ruin, and no energy to perpetrate it?

    I will tell a tale--! The justice of the country shall hear me! The
    elements of nature in universal uproar shall not interrupt me! I will
    speak with a voice more fearful than thunder!--Why should I be
    supposed to speak from any dishonourable motive? I am under no
    prosecution now! I shall not now appear to be endeavouring to remove a
    criminal indictment from myself by throwing it back on its author!
    --Shall I regret the ruin that will overwhelm thee? Too long have I
    been tender-hearted and forbearing! What benefit has ever resulted
    from my mistaken clemency? There is no evil thou hast scrupled to
    accumulate upon me! Neither will I be more scrupulous! Thou hast shown
    no mercy; and thou shalt receive none!--I must be calm! bold as a
    lion, yet collected!

Frederick R. Karl, "Gothic, Gothicism, Gothicists" in The Adversary Literature:
The English Novel in the Eighteenth Century -- A Study in Genre (New York:
Farrar, 1974), pp. 235-274.

    The one theme that cuts through virtually all Gothic is that of the
    "outsider," embodied in wanderers like Frankenstein's monster and
    Maturin's Melmoth, monks such as Lewis's Ambrosio and Mrs. Radcliffe's
    Schedoni, and so on. The outsider, like Cain, moves along the edges of
    society, in caves, on lonely seacoasts, or in monasteries and
    convents. While the society at large always appears bourgeois in its
    culture and morality, the Gothic outsider-like the earlier picaro is a
    counterforce driven by strange longings and destructive needs. While
    everyone else appears sane, he is insane; while everyone else appears
    bound by legalities, he is, like Laocoon, trying to snap the pitiless
    constrictions of the law; while everyone else seems to lack any
    peculiarities of taste or behavior, he feels only estrangement, sick
    longings, terrible surges of power and devastation. He is truly
    countercultural, an alternate force, almost mythical in his embodiment
    of the burdens and sins of society.

    Caleb Williams is a catchall of eighteenth-century themes and
    techniques.... Caleb Williams, ultimately, is concerned with the
    nature of tyranny and with a definition of individual human rights.
    Written shortly after the French Revolution, the novel is, in a sense,
    an extension of the ideas of the rights of man. Godwin argues that man
    has the right to fulfill himself without interference from tyranny;
    that the individual must always seek the maximum amount of choice in
    an oppressive society; that a person must never let himself be
    governed by circumstance (the latter an eighteenth-century
    assumption); that human dignity demands each responsible individual
    break the master-slave relationship wherever he finds it; that
    responsible people can together create an enlightened world conducive
    to freedom; that man is, indeed, Faustian in his positive ability to
    throw off the old and assume the mantle of the new.

    ...Falkland is himself a false representative of the world of art. He
    is duplicitous, manipulative, and ruthless in pursuit of his own
    values....Falkland, then, is a false prophet. His cultivated mind is
    only one part of him; the other part is the tyrannical aspect of
    England and Europe, which, before the French Revolution, terrorized
    all those who failed to accept traditional hierarchies and customary
    chains of being. The truly new man is Caleb Williams--his name alone
    would appear to indicate his newness as a post-revolutionary hero.
    Although gifted with a bookish mind, a good memory, and an easy
    manner, he is ordinary. The hunting down of Caleb, both mythical and
    symbolic, is indicative of the play of forces: the new man chased by
    the old, hounded by the footsteps of authoritarianism, dogged by
    traditional values.

    Gothic fiction, as we have observed, is concerned with the outsider,
    whether the stationary figure who represses his difference, or the
    wandering figure who seeks for some kind of salvation, or else the
    individual who for whatever reason- moves entirely outside the norm.
    In any event, he is beyond the moderating impulses in society, and he
    must be punished for his transgression. Frankenstein's monster
    obviously straddles these categories. He wanders through mountain
    areas of the far North, lurks in caves and caverns, in places no one
    else dare go. He seeks a mate, a complement to his own loneliness. He
    is gloomy and melancholy, full of self-pity and self-hatred. Like
    Cain, he is the perpetual outsider, marked by his appearance, doomed
    to wander the four corners of the earth, alone and reviled.

    As an outsider, he argues with Frankenstein that he needs a female
    monster with the same defects, so that he will not have to go through
    life alone. He desires completion in monstrosity--still well within
    the Gothic orbit. This argument, however, becomes intermixed with
    several eighteenth-century strains existing outside of Gothic. In a
    curious turn, the monster sees himself as capable of all kinds of
    beautiful behavior, but because of his ghastly appearance, no one will
    allow him to develop his propensities for good. A product of ill
    treatment and society's horror, he can only indulge in revenge and
    cruel acts against the innocent. The monster's plaint comes directly
    from the eighteenth-century belief in the tabula rasa and Godwin's
    sense of the individual's innate right to develop at his own rate. At
    the same time, this point is well within the idealism and political
    beliefs of Shelley's circle.

>From The Castle of Otranto

    The prisoner soon drew her attention: the steady and composed manner
    in which he answered, and the gallantry of his last reply, which were
    the first words she heard distinctly, interested her in his favour.
    His person was noble, handsome and commanding, even in that situation:
    but his countenance soon engrossed her whole care. Heavens! Bianca,
    said the princess softly, do I dream? or is not that youth the exact
    resemblance of Alfonso's picture in the gallery? She could say no
    more, for her father's voice grew louder at every word. This bravado,
    said he, surpasses all thy former insolence. Thou shalt experience the
    wrath with which thou darest to trifle. Seize him, continued Manfred,
    and bind him--the first news the princess hears of her champion shall
    be, that he has lost his head for her sake. The injustice of which
    thou art guilty towards me, said Theodore, convinces me that I have
    done a good deed in delivering the princess from thy tyranny. May she
    be happy, whatever becomes of me!--This is a lover! cried Manfred in a
    rage: a peasant within sight of death is not animated by such
    sentiments. Tell me, tell me, rash boy, who thou art, or the rack
    shall force thy secret from thee. Thou hast threatened me with death
    already, said the youth, for the truth I have told thee: if that is
    all the encouragement I am to expect for sincerity, I am not tempted
    to indulge thy vain curiosity farther. Then thou wilt not speak? said
    Manfred. I will not, replied he. Bear him away into the court-yard,
    said Manfred; I will see his head this instant severed from his body.

David Punter, The Literature of Terror (London: Longman, 1980).

    ...Otranto is serious about history. For whatever its shortcomings and
    infelicities, it does give evidence of an eighteenth century view of
    feudalism and the aristocracy, and in doing so originates what was to
    become perhaps the most prevalent theme in Gothic fiction: the
    revisiting of the sins of the fathers upon their children. When this
    is placed in a contemporaneous setting, it is a simple theme; but it
    becomes altogether more complex when the very location of crime and
    disorder is thrust back into the past. The figure of Manfred, laden
    with primal crime, is considerably larger than Otranto itself: his
    violence, his bullying, his impatience with convention and sensibility
    mark him out not only as the caricature of a feudal baron, but also as
    the irrepressible villain who merely mocks at society, who remains

    What is interesting is the conjunction in Manfred, and after him in so
    many other Gothic villains, of the feudal baron and the figure of
    antisocial power. If, as seems likely, the widespread appearance of
    these figures signifies a social anxiety, then that anxiety clearly
    had a historical dimension: threat to convention was seen as coming
    partly from the past, out of the memory of previous social and
    psychological orders. In other words, it came from the atrophying
    aristocracy; and if one thing can be said of all the different kinds
    of fiction which were popular in the later eighteenth century, it is
    that they consistently played upon the remarkably clear urge of the
    middle classes to read about aristocrats. Otranto's strength and
    resonance derive largely from the fact that in it Walpole evolved a
    primitive symbolic structure in which to represent uncertainties about
    the past: its attitude to feudalism is a remarkable blend of
    admiration, fear and curiosity.

    A great deal of Gothic is about injustice, whether it be divinely
    inspired, or meted out by man to his fellow men and women. The
    Wanderer and Frankenstein's monster are powerful symbols of that
    injustice....The question of why these symbols of injustice and
    malevolent fate should be conjured up at a particular historical
    period is a delicate one....It is conventional, and reasonable, to say
    that the society which generated and read Gothic fiction was one which
    was becoming aware of injustice in a variety of different areas, and
    which doubted--principally in the persons of the great romantics--the
    ability of eighteenth-century social explanations to cope with the
    facts of experience. We can see it in the dawning consciousness of
    inequality in the relations between the sexes; in the romantic
    emphasis on the partiality and non-neutrality of reason as a guiding
    light for social behaviour; in the increasing awareness that there are
    parts of the psyche which do not appear to act according to rational
    criteria; in the constantly reiterated thought that, after all and
    despite so-called natural law, it is still often the sins of the
    fathers which are visited on their descendants. This last may well be
    the strongest argument in connexion with Frankenstein....

    ...Gothic writing emerges at a particular and definable stage in the
    development of class relations: we may define this as the stage when
    the bourgeoisie, having to all intents and purposes gained social
    power, began to try to understand the conditions and history of their
    own ascent. This, surely, is the reason for the emphasis in the
    literature on recapturing history, on forming history into patterns
    which are capable of explaining present situations....The coming of
    industry, the move towards the city, the regularisation of patterns of
    labour in the late eighteenth century, set up a world in which older,
    'natural' ways of governing the individual life--the seasons, the
    weather, simple laws of exchange--become increasingly irrelevant.
    Instead, individuals are propelled along paths of activity which make
    sense only as parts of a greater, less easily comprehended whole. The
    individual comes to see himself at the mercy of forces which in
    fundamental ways elude his understanding. Under such circumstances, it
    is hardly surprising to find the emergence of a literature whose key
    motifs are paranoia, manipulation and injustice, and whose central
    project is understanding the inexplicable, the taboo, the irrational.

>From The Italian

    [Marchese:] "[W]hat reparation can you make [Ellena] for the
    infatuated folly, which has thus stained her character? What"--
    "By proclaiming to the world, my Lord, that she is worthy of becoming
    my wife," replied Vivaldi, with a glow of countenance which announced
    the courage and the exultation of a virtuous mind.
    "Your wife!" said the Marchese, with a look of ineffable disdain,
    which was instantly succeeded by one of angry alarm.--"If I believed
    you could so far forget what is due to the honour of your house, I
    would for ever disclaim you as my son."
    "O! why," exclaimed Vivaldi, in an agony of conflicting passions, "why
    should I be in danger of forgetting what is due to a father, when I am
    only asserting what is due to innocence; when I am only defending her,
    who has no other to defend her! Why may not I be permitted to
    reconcile duties so congenial! But, be the event what it may, I will
    defend the oppressed, and glory in the virtue, which teaches me, that
    it is the first duty of humanity to do so. Yes, my Lord, if it must be
    so, I am ready to sacrifice inferior duties to the grandeur of a
    principle, which ought to expand all hearts and impel all actions. I
    shall best support the honour of my house by adhering to its
    "Where is the principle," said the Marchese, impatiently, "which shall
    teach you to disobey a father; where is the virtue which shall
    instruct you to degrade your family?"
    "There can be no degradation, my Lord, where there is no vice,"
    replied Vivaldi; "and there are instances, pardon me, my Lord, there
    are some few instances in which it is virtuous to disobey."
    "This paradoxical morality," said the Marchese, with passionate
    displeasure, "and this romantic language, sufficiently explain to me
    the character of your associates, and the innocence of her, whom you
    defend with so chivalric an air. Are you to learn, Signor, that you
    belong to your family, not your family to you; that you are only a
    guardian of its honour, and not at liberty to dispose of yourself? My
    patience will endure no more!"

Stephen Bernstein, "Form and Ideology in the Gothic Novel," Essays in
Literature 18 (1991): 151-65.

    [The] overriding concern of the gothic with the solution in the
    present of past family crimes, with the assertion expressed in
    Walpole's "Translator's Preface" to the first edition of Otranto (and
    borrowed from Exodus), that "the sins of the fathers are visited on
    their children to the third and forth [sic] generation," is obviously
    a variation on the plot of Oedipus Rex, and for this reason may seem
    worthy of little discussion. The explosion of so many such plots in
    the English novel during the period of the gothic novel, however,
    suggests that the novels performed an historically specific
    ideological task, one which it is important (if only to better
    position the gothic novel historically) to understand. What this form
    of resolution implies, guaranteeing as it does that justice will be
    done despite the degree to which the original crime has been obscured
    and forgotten, is that the power of social stability is stronger than
    any individual's attempt to transgress it. This in itself was no new
    topic for fictional works, even in the mid- eighteenth century, but in
    the gothic it is expressed in such an obsessive manner that the
    representation signifies a depth of concern with the issue not always
    apparent in other works where it is treated....

    When the gothic narrative structure is seen in conjunction with the
    Freudian model of neurosis, the leap is not too great to see the genre
    taking part in the transmission, through popular narrative, of a
    socially acceptable constitution of the properly integrated subject.
    This subject formation demands a rectified personal history,
    guaranteeing social integration only at the point when the skeletons
    are, indeed, out of the closet. The further assurance is made, of
    course, that whether the subject exhibits such candor or not, the
    offensive stain on the past will be made public. Better, it seems, to
    live in such a way as to give one less to fear from the scrutiny of
    the anonymous gaze. In this way the gothic promotes what Antonio
    Gramsci terms an "historically organic" ideology, that is, an ideology
    such as those which "have a validity which is 'psychological'; they
    'organize' human masses, and create the terrain on which men move,
    acquire consciousness of their position, struggle, etc....

    The importance of marriage in this schema cannot be overstated. Not
    only does movement toward matrimony in the gothic's present trigger
    the appearance of the buried past, but that buried past itself always
    contains information tied to the institutions of matrimony or family
    interest, as noted above. It is in this emphasis that the gothic also
    articulates concerns regarding class and property, creating a nexus
    important for further ideological interpretation. ...the operation of
    the gothic text is to secure in the subject a certain raining in, and
    acceptance of, the approved path toward ideological interpellation via
    matrimony. Since marriage was inexorably tied to the movement of
    property in society, the gothic strives to make palatable the economic
    truth of the match through its melodramatic emphases on the fitness
    and rightness of the spouse, the difficulty of courtship, and the
    purification of the family name....Thus the conjunction of love,
    sexuality, property, and economic power in the eighteenth-century
    marriage creates a program ruling out all types of perversion, the
    offensive behavior constituted equally damningly by either lower class
    lack of property or the perceived forms of sexual debauchery.

    In Otranto Ricardo's false claim on Alfonso's castle is the cause of
    the later action; it is echoed in Manfred's consuming desire for an
    heir so that the property can continue in its wrongful transmission, a
    desire that leads him to seek an all-but-incestuous union with
    Isabella and to murder his own daughter....[In The Italian,] [a]ll of
    the plotting against--and imprisonment of--Ellena is founded on the
    desire of Vivaldi's mother (suggested and inflamed by Schedoni) to
    keep her son from marrying in a way unbefitting of his class. Property
    is at the heart of the conflict and motivates Schedoni's turnaround
    and attempt to renegotiate the marriage when he mistakenly believes
    that Ellena is his daughter.

    The seeming contradiction between the gothic's prohibition of
    class-violating marriages and the rise in them between middle and
    upper classes at this time is not as troubling as it first appears.
    The marriages problematized in the gothic are most often those
    involving a lower-class participant, someone who can bring no property
    to the match. The frequent gothic peripeteia of showing that someone
    with no ostensible status actually possessed it all along (as with the
    marriages in Radcliffe's works} is actually well suited to
    middle-class aspirations toward greater status and stability.

    In this way the field of power deployed through gothic narrative
    expands. Where earlier we saw that these novels provided a way of
    shaping in the subject an acceptance of the futility of criminality
    due to the precariousness of privacy and the certainty of detection
    and furthermore posited this realization as "health," we can now
    observe the way in which the novels extend this surveillance into the
    micro-social sphere of the family.... The subjectification of the
    family works in a more publicly oriented way in that it creates two
    levels of responsibility, the micro-social level of governance within
    the family, and the macro-social level of the family's relations with
    the broader society of other families. Through constant reminders of
    the imbricated status of family, marriage, property, and surveillance,
    the gothic projects a subject role for the family which then continues
    to define itself through constant vigilance and an importation into
    the domestic sphere of the hegemonic tactics of external class

    All these aspects of narrative structure have been demonstrated above
    as interpellating aspects of a dominant ideology of social formation.
    The ideology of the gothic novel is the legitimation of burgeoning
    capitalist power, a dark fairy-tale assurance that the propertied,
    after surviving their troubles, could maintain their ascendancy in
    terms of political and economic power should correct subject
    positions, both for individual and family, be assumed. The period
    experienced, as is well known, the increasing ascendancy of the middle
    class, so it is here that the utility of a dominant ideology should be

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