The Origin of Gothic Fiction
The Gothic Novel appeared on the literary scene at the end of the 18th century .
This new sub-genre had its roots in the Graveyard’s school of poetry, in the works by Ossian and MacPherson, with their fascination with medievalism seen as barbaric and linked with Catholicism and the supernatural; in the revival of Gothic architecture; in Burke’s philosophical enquiry into the Origin Of Our Ideas Of The Sublime And Beautiful (1757) which theorizes that terror is beautiful in itself; and in the influence of Jean Jacque Rousseau in terms of the primitive and the irrational. Probably the writers of this genre were also attracted by the ideals of freedom brought on by the French Revolution and tried to get free from the links of everyday life to find new sources of inspirations using fancy and imagination. Some experts say that the Gothic novel originated in Germany: the German stories not only took place in a gloomy atmosphere, they were also horrific and violent. One of the first to use the term Gothic was Percy Bisshe Shelly author of Zastrozzi, a Gothic Novel.
However, under the surface of literature for entertainment, Gothic literature hides its real themes and purposes: strictly associated with the Gothic Revival architecture, it rejected the rationalism of the neoclassical style of the Enlightened Establishment, to embody the appreciation of the joys of extreme emotion. The ruined settings became symbols of the inevitable decay and collapse of human creations. For English Protestants the medieval buildings represented the dark period of harsh laws and tortures of Roman Catholic Inquisition of Italy and Spain.
The first wave of Gothic novelists include Horace Walpole – prime minister’s son – the precursor of the sub-genre, with his The Castle of Otranto (1764). His novel combines elements of medieval romance and modern novel. It represented a novelty with its superstitious elements, and without a didactical puritan intention.
In the last decade of the 18th century, the novels developed into a literature of emotions and the emphasis shifted on the fears of the heroines. This kind of novel became more attractive to women. Most plots follow the same lines: the heroine is kidnapped by a wicked relative, taken to a faraway castle or abbey which, with its tunnels, cells and strange noises, becomes a scene of terror, suspense and strange, supernatural happenings. Later examples include Clara Reeve’s The Old English Baron, which balances fantastic elements with 18th century realism; Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), which introduces the explanation of the supernatural with natural causes; Matthew Gregory Lewis’s The Monk (1796), which is a portrayal of depraved monks, sadistic inquisitors and spectral nuns.
All these authors shared common concerns about the relationship between the writer and the reading public. Their heroes/heroines were people the public could daily meet on the streets and that managed to live in the newly formed society using their intellectual and experienced abilities.
From this moment on literature can be seen as divided into popular literature and high literature. Popular novels’ primary intention is to entertain. They are accessible to a wide range of people and are usually written to achieve commercial success by providing readers with a good story. The Gothic novel paved the way to sub-genres such as science-fiction tales, detective stories, fantasy novels, horror novels, romances, historical novels and spy novels.
The main features of the Gothic fiction include terror – both psychological and physical – mystery, supernatural, darkness, death, decay, doubles, madness, secrets and hereditary curses. The characters are usually tyrants, villains, bandits, maniacs, persecuted maidens, femmes fatales, madwomen, magicians, vampires, werewolves, monsters, demons, revenants, ghosts, skeletons, the Wandering Jew and the Devil himself.
Ghosts are traditionally believed to be the soul or spirit of a deceased person or animal that can appear, in visible form or other manifestation, to the living. They are described as solitary essences who haunt places where they used to live and they can be good or evil spirits. Legends also tell stories of phantom armies, ghost trains, phantom ships, and even ghost animal.
Famous example s- W. Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1820; C. Dickens’s A Christmas Carol (1843); O. Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost (1887);H. James’s The Turn of the Screw (1898).
Mummies are links to mythologized ancient Egypt. The fascination of mummies and Egypt is surely due to the magic aura of this culture. Many of these mummy fictional works are set during the British colonial period and rise the problem of colonization and racial relationships: Europeans and Americans search for treasures that bring them doom and the Egyptians survive over the centuries and travel to get their revenge. Sometimes struggle becomes a sort of sexual fight: the feminine protagonist, usually surrounded by many men, represents a revenge of women on men according to an oriental point of view that women can marry up, across racial boundaries, while men cannot.
Famous examples – B. Stoker’s The jewel of the Seven Stars (1903); Sir A. Conan Doyle’s Lot No. 249 (1892)
Zombies are described as mindless, primitive, violent decaying corpses with a hunger for human flesh. According to Vodou, they are dead persons who can be revived by a bokor, or sorcerer who controls their will. “Zombi” is also another name of the Vodou snake lwa Damballah Wedo, of Niger-Congo origin; it means “god”. The presence of zombies has been explained scientifically: pharmacologically – there are two special powders which induce a death-like state and the victim’s will is entirely subjected to that of the bokor; psychoanalytically – there is a link between social and cultural expectations and compulsion, in the context of schizophrenia and other mental illness. They are a vehicle to criticize real-world social ills, signalling the end of the world as we have known it.
Famous examples – H.P.Lovecraft’s Herbert West–Reanimator (1921); Joe R.Lansdale’s On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert With Dead Folks (1989)
Vampires are mythological or folkloric beings who feed on the life essence of living creatures and give a voice to the anxieties of an age: B. Stoker’s Dracula (1897), with its suggestions of sex, blood and death, shows the fears in Victorian Europe where tuberculosis and syphilis were common. Psychoanalysts see vampires as symbols of several defence mechanisms. Passions such as love, guilt, and hate stimulate the desire of a reunion with loved ones; in cases of unconscious guilt, the wish for reunion may become anxiety. The instinctive sexuality of bloodsucking emerge when normal aspects of sexuality are repressed. The vampire can also assume political overtones: they are usually aristocrat that feed on their subjects. In Werner Herzog’s film Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), a middle-class solicitor, becomes the next vampire: the capitalist bourgeois becomes the next parasitic class.
Famous examples – J. Polidori’s The Vampire (1819); B. Stoker‘s Dracula (1897 ); R.L. Stevenson’s Olalla (1885); S. Meyers’s Twilight (2008)
These immortal beings – the undead –temporarily overcome the fear of dying and have some elements in common. They reconstruct the boundaries of Life and Death; destroy the limits between Past and Present; represent the timeless contraposition between Magic and Science. Their aim is to explain supernatural phenomena by means of scientific knowledge; they embody the contrast between East and West – they show the western defeat against the ancient cultures, old beliefs cannot be explained by modern theories -; they represent the fear of the “other” as they symbolize the radically different. They are no women nor men, they have no sexual identity. Their behaviour appears to be contrary to society’s norms, it is unconventional, perverse, antireligious, or taboo.
Authors and novels
Horace Walpole (1717-97) was the youngest son of the prime minister Sir Robert Walpole. Educated at Eton and Cambridge, he toured the Continent (Grand Tour) with his friend Thomas Gray from 1739 to 1741, when the two quarrelled. He entered the Parliament in 1741, where he worked without great distinction. His main interests were travelling, friends and the country house he bought in 1747, Strawberry Hill – a pseudo-Gothic castle near Twickenham which soon became the showplace of England. Reconciled with Gray he started printing privately the poet’s collections in the mansion, as well as many first editions of his own works. In 1791 H. Walpole became the 4th Earl of Orford, and the title died with him in 1797. He anticipated the Romantic Movement of the 19th century with his Gothic novel The Castle of Otranto (1765). Other works were Historic Doubts on Richard III (1768), an attempt to rehabilitate the character of Richard III; Anecdotes of Painting in England (1762-71); Reminiscence (1798, posthumous) and Memoirs of the reigns of George II (1822) and George III (1845, 1859). But his literary reputation rests on his over 3,000 letters which cover the period from 1732 to 1797 and give precious pictures of Georgian England. The first edition of The Castle of Otranto had the following title: The Castle of Otranto, A Story. Translated by William Marshal, Gent. From the Original Italian of Onuphrio Muralto, Canon of the Church of St. Nicholas at Otranto. In the preface Horace Walpole wrote: “The following work was found in the library of an ancient Catholic family in the north of England. It was printed at Naples, in the black letter in the year 1529. How much sooner it was written does not appear. The principal incidents are such as were believed in the darkest ages of Christianity; but the language and conduct have nothing that savours of barbarism. The style is the purest Italian.” The work proved to be successful and the following edition were signed by H. Walpole himself.
The Castle of Otranto (1764) – it is about Manfred, the tyrannical Prince of Otranto. On his son Conrad’s wedding day, a giant helmet appears in the sky and crashes Conrad in the courtyard. Manfred decides to divorce his wife and marry Isabel, Conrad’s fiancé, in order to have an heir and continue controlling his realm. But Isabella escapes to Father Jerome with the help of Theodore, a handsome young peasant. Father Jerome soon discovers that the young man is really his natural son from a birthmark on Theodore’s neck. He was born before Father Jerome entered the priesthood when he was the prince of Falconara. Later, the giant form the martyred rightful prince Alfonso appears to proclaim Theodore’ right of succession, and then ascends to Heaven. Manfred and his wife enter separate convents. Theodore marries Isabella and rules Otranto as prince.
Clara Reeve (1729–1807) was one of the eight children of Reverend Willian Reeve; her mother was the daughter of a goldsmith and jeweller to King George I. After their father’s death, the family moved to Cochester and it was here that Miss Clara Reeve first became an authoress, by translating from Latin Barclay’s old romance, Argenis (1762) under the title of The Phoenix. Then, five years afterwards, that she produced her first and most distinguished work The Champion of Virtue, now known with the later title of The Old English Baron (1777), a chivalric tale with gothic elements. Clare Reeves’ other works include The Two Mentors, a Modern Story; The Progress of Romance, through Times, Countries, and Manners; The Exile; or, Memoirs of Count de Cronstadt, the principal incidents of which are borrowed from a novel by M. D’Arnaud; The School for Widows, a Novel; Plans of Education, with Remarks on the System of other Writers, in a duodecimo volume; and The Memoirs of Sir Roger de Clarendon, a natural Son of Edward the Black Prince; with Anecdotes of many other eminent Persons of the fourteenth Century. In The Progress of Romance (1785), seen as a precursor to modern histories of the novel, the writer examines the tradition of female literary history started by Elizabeth Rowe (1674–1737) and Susannah Dobson (d. 1795). One of the stories in this work, The History of Charoba, Queen of Egypt, inspired Walter Savage Landor’s Gebir. All these novels are marked by excellent good sense, pure morality, and a competent command of those qualities which constitute a good romance. They were favourably received at the time, but none of them became so popular as The Old English Baron. Miss Reeve led a retired life, admitting no materials for biography, until 1803, when she died at Ipswich, her native city, at the advanced age of seventy-eight years.
The Champion of Virtue, now known with the later title of The Old English Baron (1777), is a chivalric tale with gothic elements. Ms Reeve herself admitted that it was written in imitation of, or rivalry with, The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole, but was also influenced by Leland’s Longsword, Earl of Salisbury, and by S. Richardson’s Pamela and Clarissa. It was dedicated to Mrs. Brigden, Richardson’s daughter, who revised it under its first title, The Champion of Virtue. The novel influenced Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. In the preface C. Reeve wrote (1778): “This Story is the literary offspring of The Castle of Otranto, written upon the same plan, with a design to unite the most attractive and interesting circumstances of the ancient Romance and modern Novel, at the same time it assumes a character and manner of its own, that differs from both; it is distinguished by the appellation of a Gothic Story, being a picture of Gothic times and manners.” She used a more limited view of the supernatural inventions employed by Horace Walpole. She criticized The Castle of Otranto for the extravagance: the gigantic sword and helmet, the violent fictions of a walking picture, and of ghosts. For Ms Reeve a ghost should behave more soberly. The story is about Sir Philip Harclay who returns to England after a long absence, and finds that his childhood friend, Arthur, Lord Lovel, is no longer alive, and that the castle and estates of the Lovel family have twice changed hands. But a mysteriously abandoned set of rooms in the castle promises to disclose the secrets of the past. After a series of frenetic episodes and surprising revelations, culminating in a trial by combat, the crimes of the usurper and the legitimacy of the true heir are finally discovered.
Année (Ann) Ward Radcliffe (1764-1823), was born in London. Quite shy and reclusive in her later years, at the age of twenty-two she married William Radcliffe, lawyer, then editor and owner of The English Chronicle. The couple had no children. She is buried in Saint George’s Church, Hanover Square in London. Her works include A Highland Story (1789), her first novel; A Sicilian Romance (1790) which gives a poetic vision and historical detail of Sicilian sensibilities; A Romance of the Forest (1791) rich in detail of 19th century Roman Catholicism and oppression; the travelogue A Journey Through Holland and the Western Frontier of Germany (1795) and her masterpieces The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), and The Italian: or, The Confessional of the Black Penitents (1797) published posthumously.
Radcliffe’s main themes are the journey into the self of the protagonist and her struggle against the evil forces around her; these novels socially acceptable thanks to the impeccable behavior of her heroines persecuted by a villain (precursor of the Byronic hero). Her descriptions of natural landscapes are famous for their allusion to supernatural and sublime forces at work. All these aspect create suspense and give the mysterious atmosphere typical of the gothic fiction. Her works influenced authors such as Sir Walter Scott, Mary Wollstonecraft, Charles Baudelaire, Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo.
The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) is about the adventures of Emily St. Aubert, the only child of a rural landowner family in decline. After her mother’s death Emily and her beloved father engage a long journey from their native Gascony, through the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean coast of Roussillon, where they can admire the natural landscapes they both appreciate so much. During the journey, they meet a handsome man, Valancourt that shares their love for nature. Emily and Valancourt soon fall in love with each other. Unfortunately Emily’s father dies and Emily, now alone, must go to live with her aunt, Madame Cheron, who does not feel affection to her. Her aunt marries Montoni, an ambiguous Italian nobleman who would like Emily to get engaged to his friend Count Morano. But when he finds out that Morano is practically ruined he brings Emily and his wife to his remote castle of Udolpho. Emily is now afraid she cannot see Valancourt any longer; Morano finds Emily and tries to convince her to follow him, but she refuses. Montoni discovers and wounds Morano while he is trying to escape. Then Montoni starts to terrorize his wife: he wants her to change her will in his favour, otherwise her fortune would go to Emily. But Madame Cheron dies without signing the new will. After many frightening adventures in the castle, Emily succeed in escaping thanks to the help of Du Pont, a prisoner at Udolpho who secretly loves her, and the servants Annette and Ludovico. Emily goes back to her aunt’s estate, she learns that Valancourt is ruined, but she takes control of her aunt’s properties and joins him.
The Italian, or the Confessional of the Black Penitents (1797) is set in 1764, in Italy.
It is the story of a young nobleman from Naples, Vincentio di Vivaldi, who falls in love with a beautiful girl Ellena Rosalba against his mother’s will . The Marchesa, Vincentio’s mother, plots with the mysterious monk Schedoni to kidnap the girl: the couple is arrested and separated before the nuptial ceremony is completed. While Schedoni attempts to kill Ellena, he discovers that she is his own daughter and hides her in a safe place. Then he saves Vincentio, that is accused by the Inquisition. After other complex events, Ellena is revealed to be Schedoni’s niece whose real father, Schedoni’s brother, is dead. The last twist reveals that Schedoni is of noble origins, therefore Ellena can marry Vincentio. The novel ends with a happy marriage between the two, whereas the Marchesa, Schedoni, and other villains who helped them, die. The sombre and gloomy atmosphere, the mystery that pervades every moment of the novel are typical of Radcliff’s way of writing. Her favourite issues are love, devotion and persecution, all of them considered from a religious and nationalistic point of view. The setting is described in detail, with natural illustrations that underline the psychological and emotional portrayal of the characters.
William Beckford and Fonthill Abbey (1760-1844) – William Beckford’s life was an adventurous story. He was the rebellious and extravagant heir of an enormous fortune. His grandfather was a wealthy plantation owner in Jamaica, who possessed 24 where 1200 slaves worked. William’s father was born in Jamaica, educated in England and, after a successful commercial career in London, became Lord Mayor and also a member of Parliament. Unfortunately he died when William was only nearly 11 years old. William was educated at home by a private tutor, with whom he travelled a lot on the Continent. Already at the age of 22 he showed a strong inclination towards literature writing an oriental romance, Vathek (1781), first in French. He claimed he had translated it directly from Arabian stories and that he had written it in three days and two nights, but most critics think that this was just a flight of imagination. His other principal writings are Memoirs of Extraordinary Painters (1780), a satirical work, and Letters from Italy with Sketches of Spain and Portugal (1835), full of brilliant descriptions of scenes and good manners. In the period in which he lived he was mainly famous for his eccentric extravagances as a builder and collector. His houses were first the huge and elaborate neo-Gothic mansion Fonthill Abbey, where he lived and stored his extensive art collections; then, in Bath, he had Lansdown Tower built. Member of the Parliament, he rarely attended the sessions, and he dissipated his fortune of £100,000 a year: only £80,000 of his capital remaining at his death, at the age of 84.
Vathek or Vathek, an Arabian Tale or The History of the Caliph Vathek (1781) mixes mystery and terror with Orientalism, a new trend starting at the end of the 18th century. Antonine Galland’s translation of The Arabian Nights (1708) and maybe also the translation of Marco Polo’s Il Milione (1298) influenced European writers, in particular the ones who loved to the Gothic genre. Vathek is considered an Arabian tale because of the setting where the story takes place and because its title derives from the name of the Abissianian Califf Al-Wathiq ibn Mutasim who reigned in 824-847, loved culture and art and was a great patron to scholars and artists. Vathek was first composed in French in 1782, then translated into English by Reverend Samuel Henley in 1786 as An Arabian Tale, From an Unpublished Manuscript. In the twentieth century some editions include The Episodes of Vathek, and three other tales previously omitted and published separately long after Beckford’s death. Vathek (1781) – ninth Caliph of the Abassides, crowned at an early age – is a handsome man, who loves all sorts of pleasures and wants to get a great knowledge. One day a horrible merchant, Giaour, comes to town and Vathek buys some swords from him. On the swords there are some mysterious letters. Vathek asks the merchant the meaning, but the man does not answer and Vathek imprisons him. The following day the prison is empty, and the guards are dead. His mother, Carathis, tells him that the merchant was the man of the prophecy. Vathek establishes a reward for the one who can decipher the words on the sword and only one old man succeeds: the words mean that the sword is in a place where there are wonders. But the next morning, the message is different: it is a curse against the one who wants to know what he can’t know. Vathek becomes very thirsty. At a fountain one day he meets Giaour who cures his thirst with a potion and the two men return to Samarah. One morning Vathek mother reads a message in the stars: a great evil will strike Vathek. Vathek asks Giaour explanation and he tells him that if he believes him, and renounces the teachings of Islam, he will bring Vathek to “the palace of the subterrain fire” where Soliman Ben Daoud controls the talismans that rule over the world. Vathek agrees, and after making the human sacrifices Giaour asks him, starts his journey to Istakhar. On his way he meets carnivorous animals, then he reaches a mountain where Islamic dwarves dwell, then he falls in love with the Emir’s beautiful daughter Nouronihar, but, as she is already promised, he plans to kidnap her. A Genie asks Mohammed for permission to save Vathek from his eternal damnation: he asks Vathek to return home, and preach Islam. Vathek refuses and at last he reaches Istakhar, where he finds more swords. Vathek asks to be taken to the talismans that govern the world. Soliman warns Vathek that if he receives the power to command the world he is destined to suffer in hell for all eternity but his fate is decided.
Matthew Lewis (1775 – 1818) was the son of a respectable man who had properties in Jamaica; his mother instead had an artistic temperament and ran away with a music master. Mathew and his brothers lived with their father but Matthew never forgot his mother. When he grew up he visited and corresponded with her, acting sometimes as intermediary between his parents. He studied in Oxford and while studying he visited Europe. In France he wrote for the theatre and in Germany he met Goethe and Wieland whose works influenced so much his way of writing. He was divided into the duty his father taught him – he wanted him to become a diplomat – and the artistic vein he had inherited from his mother. And in Holland, while on a diplomatic mission, Lewis started writing his masterpiece, The Monk. The novel was first published in 1795. Its reviews were favourable and Lewis, obtained a seat as a Member of Parliament. As his s other works were not as successful as the first one, he devoted his energies to the theatre, producing original plays, adaptations and translations and exploiting the possibilities of new stage machinery and techniques. Lewis remained a Member of Parliament until 1802, but the death of his father in 1812 ended his theatrical career. In his estates in Jamaica worked about four hundred slaves, but he condemned the Slave Trade, approved of its abolition in Britain in 1807and instituted reforms aimed at improving the lives of his slaves. Back in Europe he started travelling on the continent: he met Lord Byron and Percy Shelley in Switzerland (where Mary Shelley was to write Frankenstein the following year) before going to Italy. In 1817, Lewis sailed again for Jamaica. There he started keeping a journal with valuable information about Jamaica (published in 1834), but he was infected by yellow fever, and, on the journey back to London, he died. He was buried at sea and, like the unfortunate hero of his most famous work, his body was taken by the waves.
The Monk – In 1792 Lewis mentions in a letter to his mother that he is writing a novel following the example of Horace Walpole (The Castle of Otranto,1764). He goes on with his work once in Holland in May 1794. Lewis himself confesses that he is reading Ann Radcliff’s The Mysteries of Udolpho: “I was induced to go on with it by reading The Mysteries of Udolpho (1974), which is in my opinion one of the most interesting books that ever have been published.” The novel is first published in 1795, with a second edition in March 1796. At first welcomed with positive reviews, after Lewis gets a seat in the Parliament, the novel is attacked for blasphemy and obscenity. The novel deals indeed with topics like sex and violence, but to show the brutality of a very dark period of the Roman Catholic Church, the Inquisition (beginning of the 17th century). However, the criticism only served to arise curiosity in the reader. One of Lewis’s modern biographer writes that the public “had been told that the book was horrible, blasphemous and lewd, and they rushed to put their morality to the test.” Set in a monastery in Spain, the story is about Monk Ambrosio, the protagonist of the title, pious and respected till he discovers that one of his fellows monk is a female in disguise, Matilda. Attracted by her, he falls in temptation and, from that moment on, he becomes a terrible corruptor, capable of the most scandalous crimes. Meanwhile the narrator follows the adventures of the young Marquis de las Cisternas who rescues a baroness from some bandits, and accompanies her to Germany. Here he falls in love with the baroness’s niece and learns the legend of the Bleeding Nun. The third story is about Lorenzo de Medina, brother of Agnes who falls in love with a girl from Murcia, Antonia, come to Madrid. Soon Antonia finds herself in serious danger. The book offers many gothic themes – murder, rape, incarcerations, villains – and supernatural elements, which are basically means to show the true horrors of the Church. Some parts of the book are quite shocking and disturbing to read even now, like the cold brutality of the Abbess against the ones who transgress her laws.
Adaptations – Film The Monk (French: Le moine, 2011) French-Spanish thriller directed by Dominik Moll.
The beginning of Science Fiction
Mary Shelley (1797 – 1851) was born to well-known parents: author and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and philosopher William Godwin. Unfortunately, Wollstonecraft soon after Mary’s birth and she grew up with her father and her step mother. At sixteen she met the young Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, a disciple of her father’s teachings. Together with Mary’s stepsister, they ran off to continental Europe several times, even if Shelley was already married. In 1816, they went to Geneva, this time guests of Lord Gordon Byron, a Romantic poet and Percy’s friend, and the Italian scientist Polidori. Later that same year, Percy’s wife drowned herself; Percy and Mary married in December 1816. At the age of eighteen, Mary wrote Frankenstein (1818). Her last years of married life were filled with tragedies: her half sister and two of her sons died. Mary became depressed. Together with her husband she moved to Italy where Percy drowned during a sailing trip in Livorno in 1822. Mary, determined to keep the memory of her late husband alive, published several editions of Percy’s writings and added notes and prefaces to them. She spent the last years of her life in the loving company of her only son and died in 1851 at the age of fifty-three.
Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus (1818) – Summer 1816, nineteen-year-old Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin and her lover, the poet Percy Shelley visit the poet Lord Gordon Byron at his villa beside Lake Geneva in Switzerland. One evening, Byron challenges his guests to each write a ghost story. Mary’s story, inspired by a dream, becomes Frankenstein; another guest, the scientist John Polidori writes The Vampire. Mary Shelley wrote in the introduction to the 3rd edition: “[…] When I placed my head upon my pillow, I did not sleep,. . . . 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 of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous Creator of the world.”Dr. Victor Frankenstein is a scientist obsessed with his desire to create a “perfect” creature. He studies and makes experiments to produce life from dead bodies. But when he gives life to his creature, he is overwhelmed with the ugliness and unnaturalness of his creation. He abandons the creature, who, refused by humanity, begins to pursue him. At first Frankenstein agrees to create a mate for the monster, then he reconsiders. The living thing, to get revenge, kills all those who Frankenstein loves. The doctor begins to pursue him throughout Europe, till the Arctic, where he dies and the creature takes his leave “soon borne away by the waves, and lost in darkness and distance.” The subtitle of the novel is The Modern Prometheus: itt refers to the figure in Greek mythology, Prometeus, who stole Zeus’s fire from the sun and was punished by Zeus to be chained to a rock in the Caucasus, and visited every night by an eagle that eats his liver. It also refers to the story of Prometheus plasticator who was to said to have created and animated mankind out of clay.
The story is still very updated for the contrapositions it shows between science and ethic, the different and the society , the relationship between father and son.
Adaptations – among the numberless films about the creature, from the silent period on, are:
The silent black and white film Frankenstein, directed by J. Searle Dawleyin in 1910; Frankenstein, directed by James Whale in 1931, starring for the first time Boris Karloff , the most popular Monster in the history of the cinema; Bride of Frankenstein, again by James Whale in 1935; Frankenstein, directed by Howard W. Koch, in 1970); Young Frankenstein, a parody directed by Mel Brooks in 1974; Frankenstein, a frightening and faithful movie directed by Kenneth Branagh in 1994.
Other monsters inspired by Frankenstein were the sweet and lonely Edward Scissorhands (1990) directed by Tim Burton and The Phantom of the Opera, shot first in 1943 under the direction of Arthur Lubin and, in a musical version of 2004, by Joel Schumacher.
The excesses, and the stereotypes of the traditional Gothic brought to satire. The most famous parody of the Gothic is Jane Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey (1818). The work points out how much this genre was followed, especially by women, and how impressive and successful was this new way of writing, especially in the younger generations’ mind. The protagonist, after reading too much Gothic fiction – in particular The Mysteries of Udolpho by A. Radcliff – imagines herself a heroine of a Radcliffian romance and sees murder and crimes everywhere. In the film Becoming Jane by Julian Jarrold young Jane meets Anna Radcliff and tells her about her desire to become a professional writer. The older author tells her the difficulties and the solitude she has to face as a woman writer in a period in which only men could have intellectual jobs and woman had to marry “a man of fortune” to reach a comfortable social position.
Another similar parody is The Heroine (1813) by Eaton Stannard Barrett (1786 – 1820) 1813), in which a fatuous female protagonist with a history of novel-reading, perceives and models reality according to the stereotypes and typical Gothic plot, leading to a series of absurd events culminating in catastrophe. After her downfall, the heroine will receive a sound education and correction of her misguided taste.
Jane Austen (1775 – 1817), daughter of a clergyman, was born at Steventon, in Hampshire, where she spent her early years. After her father’s death she lived at Bath, and at Winchester. Her life was quiet and uneventful. She died of consumption at the age of 42. She took to writing while still very young. She wrote six novels: Northanger Abbey (1798); Pride and Prejudice (1813); Sense and Sensibility (1811); Mansfield Park (1814); Emma (1816) and Persuasion (1816). The subject of her novels is the country life of the upper middle classes at the beginning of the 19th century. Her strength lies in the delineating of characters by an number of minute and delicate touches. She possessed as Walter Scott said, that “exquisite touch which renders common place things and characters interesting from truth of description and sentiment”.
Northanger Abbey (1818) is the story of an ordinary girl, Catherine Morland, a clergyman’s daughter. She goes to spend some weeks in Bath with a middle aged couple, the Allens, friends of her family. There she meets the Thorpes and becomes close friend to Isabella, one of the daughters. At first Isabella gets engaged to Catherine’s brother while John Thorpe falls in love with the heroine of the novel. At a ball Catherine meets Henry Tilney and his sister, Eleanor. He is an intelligent young man attracted by the protagonist’s simplicity. His sister, kind and goodhearted, becomes Catherine’s bosom friend. Meanwhile Isabella Thorpe has revealed to be an opportunist, ready to break off her engagement when she meets a wealthier young man, Henry’s brother, Captain John Tilney..
Catherine falls in love with Henry and is invited by his father, Colonel Tilney, to spend some weeks at the family home, Northanger Abbey. The building is an old abbey and Catherine here dreams to live the experiences of her heroines, the protagonists of Mrs.Radcliff’s novels. But she is suddenly sent away by Colonel Tilney that has discovered, after speaking with John Thorpe, she is not the wealthy girl he hoped for his son. Catherine, hurt and disillusioned, returns home, but Henry understands he is sincerely in love with her and they finally get married.
In the book J. Austen includes also other titles of early Gothic works such The Necromancer; or, The Tale of the Black Forest (1794) by ‘Ludwig Flammenberg’, Horrid Mysteries (1796) by the Marquis de Grosse; the Castle of Wolfenbach (1793) and The Mysterious Warning, a German Tale (1796) by Eliza Parsons; Clermont (1798) by Regina Maria Roche; The Orphan of the Rhine (1798) by Eleanor Sleath and The Midnight Bell (1798) by Francis Lathom.
Adaptations – Northanger Abbey (2007) British television film directed by Jon Jones
American Gothic : Edgar Allan Poe
America gave a great contribution to the Gothic with Edgar Allan Poe. He started the detective genre and developed the theme of the double, also helped by his personality. In fact people who met him witness the coexistence in himself of two personalities: Poe was kind and devoted to the ones he loved and with a remarkable sense of humour; irritable, self-centred, humoral and immoral to others.
Poe was born in Boston from two touring actors who died very young, so the future writer was divided from his brother and sister and adopted by Mrs. Frances Allan from Richmond – the second name was due to his new family’s surname. Educated in England, back to Richmond Poe attended the University of Virginia (1826), but because of his passion for gambling, his step-father refused to support him, and Edward was forced to leave university. In Boston he wrote and published his first book, Tamerlane, and some Minor Poems, most of them dedicated to Elmira Royster, his first love already married. Then the writer joined West Point Academy in the hope to regain his step-father’s love, but he was expulsed from the academy. In Baltimore with his aunt Marie Clemm, he published five tales (1832) and became an editorial assistant at The Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond (1835). There he married Virginia Clemm (1836), his fourteen-years-old cousin and created a reputation of his own as a keen critic. In 1837 he published The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838) in which factual material and wild fancies were combined under the influence of Melville’s Moby Dick; always in the same year he wrote The Fall of the House of Husher and William Wilson based on studies of double and neurotic personalities. In 1840 Poe wrote his first detective story The Murders in the Rue Morgue. In 1843 appeared the Gold Bug; in 1844 The Balloon Hoax and in 1845 The Raven his most famous poem . During the second half of 1840s he published his Tales and wrote For Godey’s Lady’s Book, a series of gossipy sketches on personalities of the day on The Literati of New York. Meanwhile his wife Virginia had died in 1847. In 1848 Poe moved to Providence and published the lecture Eureka, a transcendental explanation of the universe. Back in Richmond (1849) he got engaged to Elmira Royster, now a widow, but his drinking was to be fatal to his weak heart and the writer died in Baltimore on October 7th, 1849.
Short stories – He transferred the dualism of his personality into his tales, combining logic and rationality with imagination and fancy, “the self-destructive romantic artist and the self-control of the conscious and conscientious craftsman” (R. Asselineau, E. A. Poe, Minneapolis, 1970) The Tales of Ratiocination (The Murders in the Rue Morgue, 1841; The Mystery of Marie Roget, 1842; The Golden Bug,1843 and The purloined Letter,1845) are guided by reason. In them a brilliant private detective, Mosieur Dupin, uses a deductive and psychological method to solve a mystery. These tales became a model for the future development of detective fiction. The Tales of Imagination: or as Poe called them Tales of the Grotesque (comic stories) and Arabesque (horror stories), include some of the best known tales, among them those inspired by women ( Berenice,1835; Morella,1835 and Ligeia,, 1839) and the ones collected in this volume. The tales are usually based on the search of man for his self. His characters are usually closed into a little, sometime undefined, place that represents the mother’s womb and feel terror for what is in themselves and not for the world outside. They have destructive passions for women that are intelligent and beautiful but condemned to fade away. The themes are mainly based on the relationship between life and death and love and death and always aim at creating fear and anguish in the reader’s mind.
The Graveyard Poets, (18th century) – or Churchyard Poets or the Boneyard Boys – are pre-Romantic English poets of the whose works is characterized by gloomy meditations on mortality, ‘skulls and coffins, epitaphs and worms’ in graveyards . They showed attraction for the ‘sublime’ and interest in ancient English poetic forms and folk poetry. A famous exponent was Thomas Gray (1716 –1771) widely known for his Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1751).
Ossian is the narrator and author of a cycle of epic poems published by the Scottish poet James Macpherson (1760). Macpherson said he had translated the material orally transmitted in Scots Gaelic, but critics are still discussing about the authenticity of the work. Ossian is based on Oisín, a legendary bard who is a character in Irish mythology.
Elizabeth Rowe (1674–1737), English poet and novelist.
Susannah Dobson (died 1775), famous for her translations of Petrarch’s works.
Walter Savage Landor (1775- 1864), still adolescent wrote the poem Gebir (1798); the work was followed by the drama Count Julian (1812), inspired by Vittorio Alfieri, the translation from Latin of his iffils The Hellenics (1847) The Pentameron, imaginary dialogues between Petrarch and Boccaccio.
Thomas Leland (1722 – 1785) Irish historian, translator and academic, wrote the early gothic novel Longsword, Earl of Salisbury: An Historical Romance, published in 1762. Another important work was the influential History of Ireland from the Invasion of Henry II (1773). He was ordained a Church of Ireland priest in 1748 and his portrait, by John Dean, is in the National Portrait Gallery of London.
Samuel Richardson (1689 –1761) 18th-century English writer and printer, best known for his three epistolary novels: Pamela: Or, Virtue Rewarded (1740), Clarissa: Or the History of a Young Lady (1748) and The History of Sir Charles Grandison (1753).
The Bleeding Nun – is a woman dead and punished because of her sins. Alive, she was a prostitute and a murderer – before being murdered by her lover. She represents lust and sexual desire: girls hide their faces behind a veil; their unveiling connect the loss of virginity and the giving in to sexual desires with death and punishment. (in the episode of Raymond and Agnes of The Monk by M. Lewis)
Orientalism — exoticism or Oriental fantasy — is a term that refers to the geography and culture of large parts of Asia and North Africa, plus some of what we now think of as Eastern Europe. From a British point of view, Orientalism connotes foreignness or otherness and it sometimes seems it refers to everything east of the English Channel.