Novels of the 1890s are different in so many ways from the novels of the rest of the Nineteenth-Century that they seem almost to belong to a different genre. To what extent would you agree with this claim?

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TMA 06                                                        W6186059  Sean Delahoy

Option A

‘Novels of the 1890’s are different in so many ways from the novels of the rest of the Nineteenth-Century that they seem almost to belong to a different genre.’ To what extent would you agree with this claim?                                                                        

Written in 1897, Stoker’s Dracula exists as more than just a part of the Nineteenth-Century; it belongs to the period known as the fin de siécle, a French term used to describe the period between the end of one era and the beginning of another and the consequent anxieties and expectations that marked this change. In this period the Nineteenth-Century novel transgressed, adopting less secure, traditional methods to epitomise the instability of its time. The conventional styles and rules of realist fiction that had been developed throughout the century were being changed by novels such as Dracula in order to incorporate and emulate the turbulence that existed for Victorian society at the end of the century. Illuminating the fear and social apprehension of the unknown future in unrealistic, unconventional ways helped to capture the trepidation of what the turn of the century would bring from home and abroad. This removal of the rules that clarified the genre of the Nineteenth-Century novel makes the novels of the fin de siécle seem to belong to a different genre completely. However, it is the intricate blending of traditional realism, alongside the unconventional fantasy and gothic styles, structures and themes that allows Dracula to encapsulate both the conventional Nineteenth-Century genre and the 1890’s novels difference of style to exemplify uncertainty. Without the use of realism, the fears and agitations of Stoker’s novel loses its power; for example the immediacy and closeness of Dracula’s master plan across most of London would have shocked the contemporary powers and officials that lived in those areas. Therefore, a discussion of the thematic links and mirroring of the narrative realism used in the earlier novels of the Nineteenth-Century will show that Dracula has a less defining difference in genre style, and can be seen as a progression and extension of the realist novel rather than a completely different genre.

        The fin de siécle novel of the 1890’s represented the transgression of the conventional genre boundaries, as they reflected the uncertainty, questioning and challenging of identity that dominated the end of one century and the beginning of another. Dracula, as part of this movement, uses its themes, style, and structure as ‘a reaction against realism’, using the gothic as a map to explore what ‘in realism, is not only unsaid, but probably unsayable’ (Walder, p.197). It is not that the realist novels pre-dating the 1890’s glossed over or ignored the harsh social realities of the Victorian era; examples of cruelty, boredom, insecurity and insanity are major concerns exemplified by characters such as the mad woman in the attic- Bertha Mason in Bronte’s Jane Eyre, who highlights the dark, hidden underbelly of respectable Victorian society. It is more accurate to look at how the genre conventions before the period known as the fin de siécle restricted their writer’s opportunities of portraying the ‘unsayable’. An incentive for writers of the Nineteenth-Century was to create art that always had a ‘moral purpose’ as well as a realist style, and this fashioned the paradoxical problem of depicting the everyday reality where ‘the good do not always prosper’ alongside some sort of moral instruction or conclusion, a happy ever after. To overcome this, writers incorporated elements of gothic fantasy or illusion alongside their realism, incorporating the inner workings of the consciousness of their characters to help create and resolve the novels ‘moral dimension’ (Walder, p.189).

A parody of the realist/moral predicament is portrayed by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey, which examines the heroine Catherine Morland’s obsession with gothic novels. Throughout the novel Catherine attempts to introduce gothic conventions upon the realist surroundings that Austen has created in order to inflict a moral predicament upon the novel concerning the murder of General Tilney’s wife. Austen’s simplistic realist setting is attacked by Morland’s traditional clichéd gothic images, the chest in the bedroom and the Abbey itself symbolise conventional gothic settings, but continually fail to stimulate or arouse the imagination; and it is this failure and lack of inspiration that provides Austen with the means to express her less gothic and more socially moral predicament concerning the restrictive power of men in Victorian society.

        As Austen’s novel parodies the conventional use of gothic fantasy to accentuate a moral purpose in realist novels, Stoker uses it to transgress its role as part of a set of genre conventions that are used to accommodate the issues of realism. The author establishes that the gothic encompasses and surrounds the realism of the novel, and as a consequence this style reflects the copious moral fears and anxieties of ‘regression and degeneration’ that were being discussed at the end of the century (Walder, p.190). This assertion of gothic realism is highlighted in the note at the start of the novel stating that ‘All needless matters have been eliminated, so that a history almost at variance with the possibilities of latter-day belief may stand forth as simple fact’(Stoker, p.XXXVIII). This opening anonymous statement makes the reader redefine its own ideas of what conventionally makes up reality, acknowledging that what is being recorded is unlike any existing beliefs of what is considered ‘fact’. The note can also be read as a comment not only on the subject matter of vampires that the novel is concerned with, but also on the writer’s unconventional style, where the ‘needless matters’ that ‘have been eliminated’ are the existing ideas of Nineteenth-Century novel writing, if this is the case then it is a fair assumption that the novels of the 1890’s seem ‘to belong to a different genre’.

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        However, the story of vampires is not an original one, and dates back to the earliest examples of gothic fiction. Its imagery also exists in the realist fiction of the Nineteenth-Century, and an example of this is the image of Bertha as an incarcerated monster or ‘wild animal’ in Jane Eyre (Bronte, p.293). When Bertha is finally unveiled to Jane in the attic she attacks Rochester, showing ‘virile force’ as she ‘grappled his throat viciously, and laid her teeth to his neck’ (Bronte, p.293). The connection between this description and the attacks made by Dracula, and also Lucy is obvious, as ...

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