21 June 2011

Archetypes in the Gothic Novel / Friday, 17 June 2011

Similarities exist between different books of every genre, but perhaps that similarity is most closely connected in Gothic Fiction. Each character in almost every book of the genre can be classified into one archetype or another. As David De Vore states, “The Gothic hero becomes a sort of archetype as we find that there is a pattern to their characterization. There is always the protagonist, usually isolated either voluntarily or involuntarily. Then there is the villain, who is the epitome of evil, either by his (usually a man) own fall from grace, or by some implicit malevolence. The Wanderer, found in many Gothic tales, is the epitome of isolation as he wanders the earth in perpetual exile, usually a form of divine punishment.”[1] Below are classified different stock characters of the Gothic Novel along with examples from popular fiction in the genre.
  • Virginal Maiden – young, beautiful, pure, innocent, kind, virtuous. Shows these virtues by fainting and crying whenever her delicate sensibilities are challenged, usually starts out with a mysterious past and it is later revealed that she is the daughter of an aristocratic or noble family.
    • Matilda in The Castle of Otranto – She is determined to give up Theodore, the love of her life, for her cousin’s sake. Matilda always puts others first before herself, and always believes the best in others.
    • Adeline in The Romance of the Forest - “Her wicked Marquis, having secretly immured Number One (his first wife), has now a new and beautiful wife, whose character, alas! Does not bear inspection.”[2] As this review states, the virginal maiden character is above inspection because her personality is flawless. Hers is a virtuous character whose piety and unflinching optimism causes all to fall in love with her.
  • Older, Foolish Woman
    • Hippolita in The Castle Of Otranto - Hippolita is depicted as the obedient wife of her tyrant husband who “would not only acquiesce with patience to divorce, but would obey, if it was his pleasure, in endeavouring to persuade Isabelle to give him her hand”.[3] This shows how weak women are portrayed as they are completely submissive, and in Hippolita’s case, even support polygamy at the expense of her own marriage.[4]
    • Madame LaMotte in The Romance of the Forest – naively assumes that her husband is having an affair with Adeline. Instead of addressing the situation directly, she foolishly lets her ignorance turn into pettiness and mistreatment of Adeline.
  • Hero
    • Theodore in The Castle of Otranto – he is witty, and successfully challenges the tyrant, saves the virginal maid without expectations
    • Theodore in The Romance of the Forest – saves Matilda multiple times, is virtuous, courageous and brave, self-sacrificial
  • Tyrant
    • Manfred in The Castle of Otranto – unjustly accuses Theodore of murdering Conrad. Tries to put his blame onto others. Lies about his motives for attempting to divorce his wife and marry his late son’s fiancĂ©.
    • The Marquis in The Romance of the Forest – attempts to get with Adeline even though he is already married, attempts to rape Adeline, blackmails Monsieur LaMotte.
    • Vathek – Reviewers do not know what to do when a seemingly good character is made evil. It does not often happen in Gothic novels and therefore this reviewer has problems buying it. Furthermore, this reviewer seems to be so accustomed to the idea of only one evil villain that they state there should be a greater difference between the punishments both receive at the end of the novel. “As to Nouronihar, I fear that it may be objected that she becomes too suddenly wicked. Some small discrimination of punishment however between her and Vathek may be somewhat aggravated, the end will be perhaps best answered in that way.”[5]
  • The Stupid Servant – acts as comic relief by asking seemingly stupid questions, transitions between scenes, brings news, messenger, moves plot forward
    • Peter in The Romance of the Forest – whenever he brings information to people, he never gets to the point but prattles on and on about insignificant things. “The reader…eagerly follows the flight of LaMotte, also of Peter, his coachman, an attached, comic, and familiar domestic.”[6]
    • Bianca in The Castle of Otranto – a gossip, helps characters get valuable news, provides comic relief
  • Clowns – break the tension and act as comic relief
    • Diego and Jaquez in The Castle of Otranto – they appear to talk about random things, and argue foolishly with each other in order to lighten the air of the novel.
  • Banditti ‑ Ruffians
    • They appear in several Gothic Novels including The Romance of the Forest in which they kidnap Adeline from her father.
  • Clergy – always weak, usually evil
    • Father Jerome in The Castle of Otranto – Jerome, though not evil, is certainly weak as he gives up his son when he is born and leaves his lover.
    • Ambrosio in The Monk – Evil and weak, this character stoops to the lowest levels of corruption including rape and incest.
    • Mother Superior in The Romance of the Forest – Adeline fled from this convent because the sisters weren’t allowed to see sunlight. Highly oppressive environment.
  • The Setting
    • One could argue that the setting of the Gothic Novel is a character in itself. The plot is usually set in a castle, an abbey, a monastery, or some other, usually religious edifice, and it is acknowledged that this building has secrets of its own. It is this gloomy and frightening scenery, which sets the scene for what the audience should expect. Without a dark and imposing backdrop, the Gothic Novel would not exist. The importance of setting is noted in a London review of the Castle of Otranto, “He describes the country towards Otranto as desolate and bare, extensive downs covered with thyme, with occasionally the dwarf holly, the rosa marina, and lavender, stretch around like wild moorlands…Mr. Williams describes the celebrated Castle of Otranto as “an imposing object of considerable size…has a dignified and chivalric air. A fitter scene for his romance he probably could not have chosen.” Similarly, De Vore states, “The setting is greatly influential in Gothic novels. It not only evokes the atmosphere of horror and dread, but also portrays the deterioration of its world. The decaying, ruined scenery implies that at one time there was a thriving world. At one time the abbey, castle, or landscape was something treasured and appreciated. Now, all that lasts is the decaying shell of a once thriving dwelling.”[1] Thus, without the decrepit backdrop to initiate the events, the Gothic Novel would not exist.

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