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"The Gothic is concerned primarily with representing transgression and taboo, there is nothing more to it as a literary genre." Is this a fair assessment of Gothic writing of the Romantic period?

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Romanticism. EN2 Essay II "The Gothic is concerned primarily with representing transgression and taboo, there is nothing more to it as a literary genre." Is this a fair assessment of Gothic writing of the Romantic period? "The invaluable works of our elder writers...are driven into neglect by frantic novels, sickly and stupid German Tragedies, and deluges of idle and extravagant stories in verse.... the human mind is capable of being excited without the application of gross and violent stimulants.." William Wordsworth, Preface to The Lyrical Ballads, 1802. "..Phantasmagoric...kind of fiction, whatever one may think of it, is not without merit: 'twas the inevitable result of revolutionary shocks throughout Europe...thus to compose works of interest, one had to call on the aid of Hell itself, and to find things familiar in the world of make believe.." Marquis (Donatien Alphonse) de Sade, "Reflections on the Novel.", 1800. Gothic literature has been an area of critical contention since Horace Walpole's seminal Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto, was published in 1764. Although vilified by much of the contemporary press the Gothic had its champions, many of whom were also its practitioners including Walpole, the subsequent generation's Anne Radcliffe and the Marquis de Sade who had his own brand of highly sexualised Gothic. Despite these voices, Gothic was still a marginalised genre in its incipient days, at least in the bulk of critical writing (this is the view of most contemporary historical overviews e.g.: Sage, Botting, Kilgour). Many critics writing at the time of the Romantic Gothic (i.e: Gothic written during the arbitrary period of Romanticism) considered such novels to be sensationalist, trashy and "completely expurgated of any of the higher qualities of mind" (Peacock quoted in Sage, 11). I think this is an unfair judgement on gothic writing during the romantic period. It is a genre that - at its best - can be a profound, complex and moving as any celebrated piece of Romantic literature. ...read more.


Lewis's abbess and eponymous villain The Monk embody between them some of the vilest sexual, domineering and violent impulses imaginable. Obviously these characters are fictitious and not attempts at character reality popular in some other novels of the time. They are embodiments of evil. This is a popular Gothic technique: to externalise internal states or intangible anxieties (such as fear of revolution) within humans, animals, even objects. Often central pairs of doubles were created that could embody internal or thematic oppositions, this was another method of "appropriating the language of...division." (Sage). Frankenstein relates to Walton, one of his doubles in the book, that he thought of his monster as "my own spirit let loose from the grave." He admits his complicity in the murders perpetrated by his double: "I in effect was the true murderer." (Shelley,140). He and the monster represent different aspect of human nature; in this case one is neither all bad nor the other all good. In Confessions the doubles are more distinct. All the characters of the Editor's Narrative are antitheses of each other. Rabina, sequestered at the top of the house, is a pious counterpoint to the carnal humanity of the Laird. George is the political, social and spiritual antidote to the austere and repressed Robert Wringhim. On almost every level the religion, psyches, politics and society of Confessions are at odds with each other and these divisions are emblematised in the characters. This Gothic technique can be seen in even sharper detail in later texts like The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde (Stevenson) or The Picture of Dorian Gray (Wilde). The double suggests a disassociation of one's identity. In Melmoth Moncada feels he is being "haunted by my own spectre" (Vol. II, Ch. 11). Later his identity seesaws between a man who's being lynched, the crowd that's lynching him and his actual own self. He experiences a "dizzying" (318) ...read more.


Walpole, according to Butler, saw Otranto as a "literary experiment" (Butler, 20). Walpole himself stated his purpose was to release the novel from imaginative fetters, He wrote, in his preface to the second edition, "the great resources of fancy have been dammed up by a strict adherence to common life" [paraphrase]. The 1818 Preface to Frankenstein claimed the novel was not just a "weaving of supernatural terrors" not a "mere tale of spectres or enchantment" but a delineation of "human passions more comprehensive and commanding than any which the ordinary relations of existing events can yield." Cornwell says of Melmoth "it was a roar of outrage against the excesses and trappings of Catholicism" (a lot of Gothic output in various media had an anti-Catholic subtext). Even if a writer initially set out only to shock and represent transgression and taboo (after all Shelley and Lewis were both only "rebellious" teens when they penned their horrors) usually the end result is a far more worthwhile text or at least a contribution to what is in toto a far more complex corpus of generic work. One of the novels Jane Austen implied was tripe in Northanger Abbey3 was called by Devendra Varma, author of The Gothic Flame, " a masterpiece" (Punter, 115). Although widely reviled at the time, even by those Romantics who extolled the used of the supernatural in fiction (like Coleridge quoted in Hume 284), the Gothic is far better known to the majority of people than the more canonical works revered in erudite circles. We cannot glibly dismiss a genre that gave rise to some of the most enduring images of western popular culture such as the notion of a Frankenstein monster or Dracula. These creations have saturated our literature, cinema, music and art for decades. On a less universal [Pictures] note we need only look at the reams and reams of scholarly criticism relating to the Gothic to see that it is enormously important... If for nothing else, because it gives academics something to do. G. ...read more.

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