Evil, misfortune, or harm that comes as a response to or retribution for deeds or misdeeds committed against or by one's ancestor(s). Figures largely in the "first" gothic romance, Walpole
's Castle of Otranto.
Example: A deserved ancestral curse can be found in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables. In the story, Colonel Pyncheon steals the home and land of Matthew Maule
, who, in turn, curses the Colonel and his descendants for the Colonel's heinous act.
A slight variation of this convention is the "burden of the past," which, like the ancestral curse, concerns misfortunes and evil befalling one as a result of another's past actions. However, this particular form is not necessarily restricted to one character and his or her descendants, and usually the actions which have caused the present character's ill fate occur closer to the present than in the case of the ancestral curse. Such an example exists in Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, when the two children are "possessed" by the evil spirits of the dead maid and caretaker.
Of course, characters in a gothic story can also be haunted by their own burdens of the past; see the pursued protagonist.
A frequent and, for some critics, foundational feature of early Protestant gothic fiction. In this fiction Catholicism comes to be associated with forces of horrid repression, greedy corruption, and mysterious persecution, wrapped in the cloaks of a superstition that prevents scrutiny of authority. The frequent appearance of the Inquisition in the first gothics epitomizes all of these things.
Example: (from Fred Frank) In his Gothified anti-Catholic tragedy, Coligny, Baculard d'Arnaud anticipated the fiendish Catholicism of the English horror novel of the late 1790s by mounting a morbid pageant of Catholic maliciousness and Protestant suffering that featured malicious Trappist fathers, "Corridors, labyrinthes, et caveaux de châteaux," and other prime examples of Gothic scenery and atmosphere. The play was set during the Massacre of St. Bartholomew, an apt historical choice that evoked the kind of atmosphere of religious terror later common in the pages of the Gothic from Lewis's Monk to "The Spaniard's Tale" in Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer. The virulent anticlericalism of Coligny would leave its mark on future French Gothic drama as seen in the theme and structure of Boutet de Monvel's Gothic extravaganza of monkish cruelty, Les Victimes de clôitrées (1792).
Body-snatching is the act of stealing corpses from graves, tombs or morgues. This act was quite prominent during the period of time wherein cadavers were unavailable for dissection and scientific study (early 18th century to middle 19th century). Body-snatching came to represent a particularly horrid instance of sacrilege, an invasion of religious space by an aggressive and often commercially motivated science. Knowledge of this act resulted in mass riots and even the ransacking of medical dormitories.
Example: R. L. Stevenson's "The Body-Snatcher" employs the grisly profession of corpse stealing to weave a tale in which two grave robbers are horrified to find in their latest disinterred coffin the body of a man they had previously killed and served up to the medical profession. The most famous example of a Gothic story which involves the theft of a corpse in order to bring it back to some form of life is Frankenstein: Victor frequents "the dissecting room and the slaughter-house" for his "workshop of filthy creation"--apparently his monster comes from some kind of assemblage.
A more recent example of body-snatching comes from Stephen King's Pet Semetary (actually spelled this way). In the novel, the father of a newly dead boy digs up the body hours after burial. The father proceeds to re-bury the boy, Gavin, in a place known as Pet Semetary in hopes that the child will come back to life. Although the corpse of the boy does in fact re-animate, it is controlled by an evil demon bent upon the murder of surrounding mortals. Also see revenant.
A cemetery defines a place which is used for the burial of the dead. This term koimeterion (" place of rest") was primarily applied by early Christains to the Roman catacombs--a subterranean labyrinth of galleries with recesses for tombs orignally used by the city's Jewish population--and became widely used within the 15th century. All cultures seem to have participated in the idea of a cemetery in a form at some time. Paleolithic caves, temples, sanctuaries, grave mounds and necropolii are just a few different types differentiated cemeteries. Christian belief formed the idea of the cemetery as a churchyard or crypt, but we must remember that a cemetery is any place which is used to house the dead. Cemeteries are widely used in Gothic Literature as oftentimes frightening places where revenance can occur. Catacombs are especially evocative Gothic spaces because they enable the living to enter below ground a dark labyrinth resonating with the presences and mysteries of the dead.
Example: Friedrich, Caspar David
Cloister Cemetery in the Snow
Oil on canvas
121 x 170 cm
Destroyed 1945, formerly in the National Gallery, Berlin
An abnormal dread of being confined in a close or narrow space. Often attributed to actual physical imprisonment or entrapment, claustrophobia can also figure more generally as an indicator of the victim's sense of helplessness or horrified mental awareness of being enmeshed in some dark, inscrutable destiny. If one were to formulate a poetics of space for the gothic experience, claustrophobia would comprise a key element of that definition.
Example: Sophia Lee's The Recess chronicles the story of two ill-fated sisters literally born into an underground recess; in this novel the idea of claustrophobia extends beyond just the obvious physical entrapment to serve as a metaphor of woman's recessiveexistence in a world of cruel court and male intrigue. Another intriguing example can be found in Melville's "Bartelby, the Scrivener." Bartelby occupies a very small and dark cubicle. It has no view other than that of a brick wall. This small space without much light and no view creates a feeling of claustrophobia, but, oddly, this sense seems to afflict the narrator and reader more than it does the inscrutable scrivener.
A playful fakery of authenticity. From the Castle of Otranto (1764) onwards, many gothic texts present themselves as an editor's recovery and presentation of some ancient text, cloaking the true author's writing of the story. Such "counterfeit" framing narratives frequently complicate the point of view and "authenticity" of gothic stories. Jerald Hogle has written extensively about the "counterfeit" as a trope of Gothic textual instability.
Examples: William Beckford's infamous Vathek first appeared as a counterfeit editor's recovery of an anonymous translation of an Arabian tale. Henry James’ “The Friend of the Friends” is presented as excerpts from a young woman’s diary retrieved by an un-named narrator, when, of course, the tale is by Henry James.
The Devil, as portrayed in Judaism and Christianity, stands as a spirit of incarnate evil who rules over a dark kingdom. This spirit stands in constant opposition to God. The actual term ‘Devil' comes from the Latin term diabolus which is an adjective meaning slanderous. Within the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Bible, the diabolus is translated as the Hebrew "he-satan". Also within this translation, the diabolus is characterized as God's personal spy who travels the earth to gather information concerning human existence. Later, in Jewish tradition, the term satan becomes the proper Satan who is seen as an adversary of human beings as well as God. The base of this belief possibly stems from Persian philosophy. In many areas of Jewish thought, Satan is linked with the idea of evil impulses, i.e. the Devil made me do it. Milton
's powerful characterization of a brilliant, still-proud, and almost tragic Satan in Paradise Lost profoundly influenced the evolution of the Gothic villain-hero.
Examples: There generally exist two different ways that the old Adversary can appear in Gothic works, ways that tell us much about the moral universe of the literary work. If, as in Bloch's Rosemary's Baby, the Devil's visitation is arbitrary and he selects a good or innocent person as his victim, we wtiness a dark, pessimistic moral universe, in which an expansive sense of evil randomly blights the human world. If, on the other hand, the victim deserves demonic punishment (for example, Ambrosio in Lewis's The Monk), his appearance signals a more traditional and Christian moral universe, in which sinners recieve their due punishment. The literary stakes get a bit higher in variations of the Faust legend, in which Satan appeals to potentially noble human qualities (e.g. the thirst for knowlege) but twists those qualities in a way that parallels his own alienation from God.
Dopplegänger comes from German; literally translated, it means “doublegoer.” A dopplegänger is often the ghostly counterpart of a living person. It can also mean a double, alter ego, or even another person who has the same name. In analyzing thedopplegänger as a psychic projection caused by unresolved anxieties, Otto Rank decribed the double as possessing traits both complementary and antithetical to the character involved.
Example: In Psycho, by Robert Bloch, Norman Bates becomes so distraught after killing his mother in a jealous rage that he gradually takes on her personality. She becomes his alter ego, and by the end of the novel has taken over his mind completely. Other famed doubles in Gothic lore include Jekyll/Hyde, Victor Frankenstein/his monster, Caleb Williams/Falkland, and Jane Eyre/Bertha. Perhaps the most perfect literary example of a dopplegänger can be found in Henry James' "The Jolly Corner."
Dreaming / Nightmares
Dreaming is characterized as a form of mental activity that takes place during the act of sleep. Dreams invoke strong emotions within the dreamer, such as ecstasy, joy and terror. Dreams dredge up these deep emotions and premonitions that reflect tellingly upon the dreamer, what one might conceal during waking hours but what emerges in sleep to haunt and arouse the dreamer. It is most likely due to this heightened emotional state that dreams are used so often within Gothic Literature. For by invoking dream states within their characters, authors are able to illustrate emotions on a more unmediated and, oftentimes, terrifying level. Dreams reveal to the reader what the character is often too afraid to realize about himself or herself. Dreaming also has an ancient relation with the act of foretelling wherein the future is glimpsed in the dream state.
The actual term nightmare seems to be a bastardization of the Old Norse and Anglo-Saxon term mara. A mara is defined as a demon which sits upon the chests of sleepers and brings bad dreams.Most cultures seemed to characterize nightmares as being caused by demons; for example, in Germany
the demon is known as an Alp, in relation to elf. Etymological confusion led English writers and painters to portray graphically the nightmare as a night + horse (mare): see Fuseli's famous example.
An important point concerning the dream state was proposed by Sigmund Freud at the start of the 20th century. Freud believed that a unique mental process is used within dreams that is rarely activated during the waking hours. He defined this state as the "primary process" and theorized that this state was marked by a more primitive thought process ruled by the emotions. This theory helps explain widespread occurence of dreams in Gothic Literature as a state during which characters express their deepest emotions of horror and terror. Freud essentially "psychologizes" the older, folk (and still prevalant) tradition that dreams foretell future events: what the ancients widely and superstitously regarded as portents, Freud read as telling illuminations of the buried psychic life of individuals--and their success in dealing with these dream-state phantoms might very well direct their future success in life.
Examples: Ancient literatures contain many examples of dreams with prophetic content, such as Clytemnestra's dream of a viper at her breast (signifying Orestes' return) in The Libation Bearers. Perhaps the most famous Gothic example occurs in Shelley's Frankenstein. Following two years of difficult work, Victor Frankenstein re-animates a once dead corpse. However, the elation he expected to feel at this conquest does not occur because he is horrified at the monster's loathsome appearance. Exhausted and saddened by his prolonged work and dashed expectations, he falls into a dream state that begins with his kissing of Elizabeth, his love. However, this kiss changes her in the most drastic way as she transforms into the rotting corpse of Caroline, Victor's dead mother. Upon awakening from this horrifying dream, Victor finds himself staring into the face of the monster he has created. Multiple interpretations of this dream exist, most linking Victor's forbidden appropriation of the female act of creating life to the women in his life; it also is prophetic in a way, signalling the eventual death of Elizabeth
. On a horrifying if crude level of psychoanalytic interpretation, the dream can also be read as Mary Shelley's nightmare confrontation with her own mother, who died giving her birth.
Within Stephen King's novel Bag of Bones, an author named of Mike Noonan is plagued with dreams. These dreams involve the death of his wife as well as frightening visions of the summer home that he now inhabits full time. They are also interspersed with nightmares, acts of sleepwalking, and glimpses of the future. Eventually, through the recurrence of these dreams, Noonan is able to discover the events surrounding the death of his wife as well as a dark fact concerning his summer home that was secreted by the entire town. Finally, Noonan's glimpses of the future within the dreams enable him to save the life of an innocent child from an avenging spiritual curse.
Entrapment & Imprisonment:
A favorite horror device of the Gothic finds a person confined or trapped, such as being shackled to a floor or hidden away in some dark cell or cloister. This sense of there being no way out contributes to the claustrophobic psychology of Gothic space.
Example: Poe's "Fall of the House of Usher." Madeline Usher is buried alive in a coffin (the ultimate entrapment) to cure a strange malady but then left by Roderick who thinks she is dead. The reader experiences the full Gothic horror of her awakening within her own tomb.
For an illustration of imprisonment from a Gothic chapbook, visit Douglas Castle; or, the Cell of Mystery
The Explained Supernatural
Bearing close similarities to what Todorov will later term the "uncanny," the explained supernatural is a genre of the Gothic in which the laws of everyday reality remain intact and permit an explanation or even dismissal of allegedly supernatural phenomena.
Example: In Ann Radcliffe's novels, the author allows both the character and reader to question throughout the entire novel whether the weird phenomena described are happening in a setting of known laws of nature or in a setting where miracles or supernatural intervention must be in place to account for the strange events. At the end of the novel Radcliffe always reveals her rationalist allegiances by identifying normal explanations for what seemed supernatural events.
Exorcism is the religiously based act of forcing the Devil or a demon from the body of a possessed person. This act is usually performed by a religious figure, such as a priest or shaman, and involves the performing of rituals. Various cultures including the Greeks, Babylonians and Egyptians all had forms of what we term today as exorcism. For instance, the Babylonian exorcism consisted of the formation and eventual destruction of a clay doll fashioned in the shape of the demon. Supposedly, with the destruction of the doll the Devil or demon would be forced from the mortal body. Many cultures and religions practice the act of exorcism to this day. It is known that the current Pope of the Roman Catholic Church has participated in an exorcism although he refuses to divulge the exact details.
Example: William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist
The Female Gothic
One of the earliest forms of Gothic literature, the Female Gothic often aims to socialize and educate its female readers and is usually morally conservative. Yet the Female Gothic can also express criticism of patriarchal, male-dominated structures and serve as an expression of female independence. This form is often centered on gender differences and oppression. Female Gothic works usually include a female protagonist who is pursued and persecuted by a villainous patriarchal figure in unfamiliar settings and terrifying landscape. While achieving a considerable degree of terror and chills, the Female Gothic usually eschews the more overt and graphic scenes of violence and sexual perversion found in the literature of horror, often opting for the"explained supernatural" instead of the real thing. This kind of fiction first achieved controversial prominence in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. The initial development of this form was led by writers such as Clara Reeve, Sophia Lee, and Anne Radcliffe, and then later by Mary Shelley, the Brontes and Christina Rosetti ("Goblin Market"). A durable strain of the Gothic, it can be found everywhere in later 19th and 20th century women writers and even in the Harlequin romances of today.
For a helpful overview of the Female Gothic, visit UVa’s page on the subject and the abstract of Angela Lynn Rae's thesis: "The haunted bedroom: female sexual identity in Gothic literature, 1790-1820" (Rhodes University, 1999).
For information on a 6-volume edition of Female Gothic writers, edited by Gary Kelly, visit Pickering's and Chatto's Varieties of Female Gothic
Also see Diane Hoeveler's reflections on the subject from her course syllabus on the Female Gothic
--Katherine Jordan, Starla Bailey, and Marnite Zachery
What is the Gothic? ( a very provisional sketch)
Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto introduced the term "gothic romance" to the literary world in 1764. While it presented, at first, a topic for argument and inflammatory rhetoric, over the years the gothic has come to be respected as a venerable albeit still controversial genre. However, due to its inherently supernatural, surreal and sublime elements, it has maintained a dark and mysterious appeal. Since 1764, many authors have followed in the footsteps of Walpole
, including such diverse names as Anne Radcliffe, Edgar Allen Poe, Bram Stoker and Shirley Jackson. This vide variety of viewpoints, however, is what makes one single, all-encompassing definition of gothic literature so very difficult to ascertain.
So then, what is "the gothic"? Generally speaking, gothic literature delves into the macabre nature of humanity in its quest to satiate mankind's intrinsic desire to plumb the depths of terror. We offer seven descriptors that frequently appear in works called gothic: 1) the appearance of the supernatural, 2) the psychology of horror and/or terror, 3) the poetics of the sublime, 4) a sense of mystery and dread 5) the appealing hero/villain, 6) the distressed heroine, and 7) strong moral closure (usually at least). But expect us to revisit this contentious issue in the near future.
Also see Diane Hoeveler's reflections on "What is the Gothic"?
--T. McDonald and James Flynn
(1) This term originated from oddly shaped ornaments found within Roman dwellings, or grottoes, during the first century. From a literary standpoint, this term implies a mutation of the characters, plants and/or animals. This mutation transforms the normal features and/or behaviors into veritable extremes that are meant to be frightening and/or disturbingly comic (Cornwell 273). Example: An example of the term grotesque can be found within the short story "Rappaccini's Daughter." Within the tale, the flowers found within the garden of the inventor have been mutated into beautiful harbringers of death. While the physical features of the plants have grown more exquisite, their interior workings have become a frightening caricature of normal plant-life.
(2) The term grotesque also defines a work in which two separate modes, comedy and tragedy, are mixed. The result is a disturbing fiction wherein comic circumstances prelude horrific tragedy and vice versa.
Example: Within the short story "Revelation," penned by Flannery O'Connor, the author blends the comic aspects of the conversation between the two elder women within the tragic appearance and anger of the young girl. Comedy and tragedy continue to mix throughout the tale as the elder woman, Mrs. Turpin, comes to discover the "true" nature of God as a result of the young woman's outburst. A perfect example of the grotesquely sublime is her heavenly vision while standing in the hog-pen.
The Haunted Castle or House
A dwelling that is inhabited by or visited regularly by a ghost or other supposedly supernatural being.
Examples: Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto. Walpole
's novel first introduced to gothic literature its single most influential convention, the haunted castle. The castle is the main setting of the story and the center of activity. It is an old, dark, decaying castle plagued by an finds herself haunted by that "horrid paper." Some other novels that re-tool this durable gothic convention include the haunted house in The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson and and Psycho by Robert Bloch. Coastal Ghosts by NancyRhyne offers a study of haunted houses in our Georgia and South Carolina low country.
The incubus is characterized as a male demon who forces himself sexually upon mortal women as they sleep. This type of coupling is theorized to result in the subsequent births of demons, witches, sorcerers or children with noted deformities. Legend attends that the incubus and his female counterpart, the succubus, were angels fallen from Heaven. The belief in incubii was very strong during the Middle Ages and stories of such attacks were common.
Example: In the movie Village of the Dammed an entire town suddenly lapses into a type of forced sleep state which lasts several hours. In the weeks following awakening, it is discovered that eight women within the town are pregnant through malign means that occurred during the sleep. Six of the eight children which result from this bizarre process are inherently evil and thrive upon the pain of others. These children are able to read minds as well as force those in close proximity to do harm tothemselves. The children are finally destroyed but only after the loss of many innocent lives.
The Inquisition was a permanent institution in the Catholic Church charged with the eradication of heresies. The judge, or inquisitor, could bring suit against anyone. The accused had to testify against himself and did not have the right to face and question his accuser; torture became a frequent means of soliciting testimony from the accused. It was even acceptable to take testimony from criminals, persons of bad reputation, excommunicated people, and heretics. The accused did not have right to counsel, and blood relationship did not exempt one from the duty to testify against the accused. Sentences could not be appealed. Abuses by local Inquisitions early on led to reform and regulation by Rome, and in the 14th century intervention by secular authorities became common. At the end of the 15th century, under Ferdinand and Isabel, the Spanish inquisition became independent of Rome. In its dealings with converted Moslems and Jews and also illuminists, the Spanish Inquisition with its notorious autos-da-fé, represents a particularly dark chapter in the history of the Inquisition. The presence of the Inquisition in Gothic literature functions as a synechdoche of its Lamia
The Literature of Terror vs. the Literature of Horror:
Following a distinction drawn by Ann Radcliffe in her essay "On the Supernatural in Poetry", many critics rely upon a sharp division between the literatures of terror and horror.
- Works of terror create a sense of uncertain apprehension that leads to a complex fear of obscure and dreadful elements (see the sublime). The essence of terror stimulates the imagination and often challenges intellectual reasoning to arrive at a somewhat plausible explanation of this ambiguous fear and anxiety. Resolution of the terror provides a means of escape.
- Works of horror are constructed from a maze of alarmingly concrete imagery designed to induce fear, shock, revulsion, and disgust. Horror appeals to lower mental faculties, such as curiosity and voyeurism. Elements of horror render the reader incapable of resolution and subject the reader's mind to a state of inescapable confusion and chaos. The inability to intellectualize horror inflicts a sense of obscure despair.
Examples: Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho and Matthew Lewis' The Monk, respectively, perfectly illustrate this divide between terror and horror and helped establish the distinction throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The former causes the reader to imagine and cross-examine those imaginings; the latter causes shock and disgust; the former aspires to the realm of high literature; the latter wallows in the low. But this distinction is not always clear in works that follow in the gothic tradition, and this uncertainty fuels critical debates about these works.
For more on the debate see UVa's "Terror vs. Horror."
The Marvelous vs. the Uncanny
According to Tsvetan Todorov, a certain hesitation exists throughout a Gothic tale: the hesitation of the reader in knowing what the rules are in the game of reading. Can our understanding of familiar perceptions of reality account for strange goings-on or do we have to appeal to the extraordinary to account for the setting and circumstances of the mysterious story? At the novel's close, the reader makes a decision, often apart from the character's or narrator's point of view (see unreliable narrator), as to the laws that are governing the novel. If she decides that new laws of nature must be in place for the phenomena to occur, the novel is classified in the genre of "the marvelous," also called supernatural accepted. If she decides that the laws of nature as she knows them can remain unchanged and still allow for the phenomena described, the novel is in the genre of "the uncanny," or supernatural explained.
Examples: Comparing the works of Horace Walpole and Clara Reeves illustrates the difference between "marvelous" and "uncanny" works. Walpole's The Castle of Ortranto resides in the genre of the marvelous, or supernatural accepted, adopting new laws of nature for the setting and circumstances. Clara Reeves' works, on the other hand, fall into the genre of the uncanny, or supernatural explained, citing known laws of nature as reasons for the phenomena described. She, in fact, consciously set out to rehabilitate the extravagances of Walpole's Gothic vision in Otranto.
For more on the debate see UVa's "The Uncanny and the Fantastic."
The word “masochism” is derived from Chevalier Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, an Austrian writer. Masochism is a psychosexual perversion where one person gains erotic pleasure by having pain inflicted on them. A looser definition is used to describe the behavior of a person who actively seeks out pain and/or humiliation.
Example: In his book Venus in Furs, Leopold uses an alias to describe the abuse he suffered as a child in the hands of a fur jacket-wearing aunt, and the consequences it had on his adult life. In one scene, the aunt whips young “Severin” (Leopold) and then forces him to get down on his knees, thank her, and kiss her hand. This is his first real experience with females, and it is the one that shapes his life: “In her fur jacket she seemed to [him] like a wrathful queen, and from then on [his] aunt became the most desirable woman on God's earth” (Grosz). Severin/Leopold spends the rest of his life searching for a woman to dress like his aunt and beat him for sexual gratification.
A grouping of water particles due to a change in atmosphere. This convention in Gothic Literature is often used to obscure objects (see Burke's notion of the sublime) by reducing visibility or to prelude the insertion of a terrifying person or thing.
Example: Within the short story "The Mist," written by Stephen King, a typical summer day in Maine is transformed into a strange new world. An odd mist, clearly demarcated, begins to creep upon the town and by midday it has taken it over. However, terrifying creatures ranging from insect-like birds to dog-sized spiders reside within the mist and are bent upon destroying any mortal who dares venture outside. Also see the mist which preludes the horrific in George's ascent of Arthur's Seat in Hogg'sConfessions.
A term derived from the Latin word mysterium. Mystery is also closely related to the Latin word mysterium tremendum, which is a term used to express the overwhelming awe and sense of unknowable mystery felt by those to whom some aspect of God or of divine being is revealed. Mystery is an event or situation that appears to overwhelm understanding. Its province is the unnatural, unmentioned, and unseen.
Examples: In Edgar Allen Poe's "Tell-Tale Heart," the narrator is haunted by the mysterious eye. The frightening eye drives the narrator insane: "I think it was his eye . . . He [the victim] had the eye of the vulture." "The Fall of the House of Usher" is also filled with mystery, especially that of the unmentioned. What is the cause of Lady Madeline of Usher's malady? Why is Roderick Usher terrified of the unseen? What is the dreaded Usher family secret?
Necromancy is the black art of communicating with the dead. This is usually done to obtain information about the future, but can also be used for other purposes, such as getting the dead to perform deeds of which humans are not capable. The conjurer often stood in a circle, such as a pentagram, in order to protect himself from the dead spirit, yet he was often overpowered by the spirit.
Examples: The most famous examples of necromancy can be found in literary renditions of the Faust legend, from Marlow to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to Byron with his Manfred. In these works, Faust not only speaks with the devil in order to strike a deal but necromantically invokes various dead, famous figures from the past for his amusement and edification.
Necrophilia is the sexual attraction to human corpses, often times fresh corpses. In Gothic literature, necrophilia most often occurs in one of two forms. The first, tragic necrophilia, occurs when a character's love (often times a beautiful young woman, like in Poe's Ligeia) dies but the love for the actual person remains, perverting itself into a continued romance with the earthly remains or a purposefully-selected replacement. The second, necrosadism, occurs when a lover is scorned (like Emily Grierson in Faulkner's A Rose for Emily) and decides to murder his/her partner, but keeps the corpse as a reminder that the deceased will never escape.
--Skye Miles, Columbia College
A form of satirical criticism or comic mockery that imitates the style and manners of a particular writer, often employing, self-consciously and ironically, the narrative devices of the Gothic (Jones 271). Parody of the gothic often relies on travesty and burlesque: a favorite strategy transports the exotic, aristocratic, antique, and foreign setting of the gothic tale to a contemporary lower-class British setting, and lets the resulting dislocation indict both gothic absurdity and the English taste for it. But some parodies can express some sympathy for their alleged targets, confirming Graeme Stone's recent contention that Romantic parody involves a “simultaneous commitment to exalted visions and to a renegade impulse which mockingly dissolves them” (Parodies of the Romantic Age xxi).
Example: Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. The heroine, Catherine Moreland, is introduced as an avid reader of the gothic. At the opening of the story, Catherine is reading Radcliffe's The Mystery's of Udolpho. Later, she's given a list of other gothic-style books to read. The list includes Castle of Wolfenbach, Clermont, Mysterious Warnings, Necromancer of the Black Forest, Midnight Bell, Orphan of the Rhine, and Horrid Mysteries (all titles once regarded as inventions of Austen but which 20th century scholarship has tracked down as real gothics: Austen knew the target of her parody). Catherine Moreland's gothic readings and predispositions cause her to dramatically misread ordinary events--she in essence gothicizes events--and these misreadings lead to her embarrassment. Austen gently suggests that overly avid reading of gothic literature will cause one to lose sound moral judgement. Mr. Tilney more clearly states Austen's viewpoint when he says, "the art of art lies in its power to deceive . . . [I]t is not so much a question of what we read: we must exercise our judgment after all, and not mistake fantasy for reality." So maybe there's nothing inherently wrong with Gothic tales; it's just how critically and well we read them.
Go here for more on the Northanger Canon.
Go here for the funny cover and edition of a Paper Library Gothic edition (USA
1965) of Austen's novel that markets it as serious gothic title!
The popularity of belief in demonic possession seems to have originated within Christian Theology during the Middle Ages. During this time, Christians lived in fear concerning the war being waged between God and the Devil over every mortal soul. Hence, this fear of possession seemed to culminate into an act that could be viewed by the mortal eye. This act is defined as the forced possession of a mortal body by the Devil or one of his demons. There are two types of possesion and either can be voluntary or involuntary. Voluntary possession seems to involve a willing exchange in the form of some compact between evil spirit and mortal, often involving wealth, power or goods; involuntary possession ocurs when the devil randomly selects an unwitting host. The two types of possession consist of the transference of the Devil or demon directly into the mortal body or the sending of the Devil or demon into the body by a third party, usually a mortal dabbler in the dark arts. Following the act, the possessed is said to show many symptoms including abnormal strength, personality changes, fits, convulsions, bodily odors resembling sulfur, lewd and lasviscious actions, the ability to levitate, the ability to speak in tongues or the ability to foretell future events. Many religions acknowledge the act of possession still today, most notably the Catholic Church. There seem to be three ways in which to end a possession. These include the voluntary departure of the possessing Devil or demon, the involuntary departure of the possessing Devil or demon through an act such as
Example: R. L. Stevenson's "Thrawn Janet" depicts the body (later realized as a dead body) of a servant woman possessed by the devil.
The Pursued Protagonist
Refers to the idea of a pursuing force that relentlessly acts in a severely negative manner on a character. This persecution often implies the notion of some sort of a curse or other form of terminal and utterly unavoidable damnation, a notion that usually suggests a return or "hangover" of traditional religious ideology to chastize the character for some real or imagined wrong against the moral order.
Example: This crime and retribution pattern interestingly emerges in the work of many "free-thinkers" and political radicals of the Romantic Age, including such haunted and hounded figures as Godwin's Caleb Williams and St. Leon, Coleridge's Mariner, and Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, who both is pursued by and pursues his monster. A classic contemporary example of an infamous pursuer/pursued can be found in Anne Rice's Vampire series. These works typically employ a villain-hero, the vampire, who is both compelled and pursued by a greater force that causes him "to wander the earth in a state of permanent exile, persecuting others as a result of a contradiction of being which is itself the mark of his own persecution by another" (Mulvey-Roberts 115).
The Wandering Jew is perhaps the archetypically pursued/pursuing protagonist.
Pursuit of the Heroine
The pursuit of a virtuous and idealistic (and usually poetically inclined) young woman by a villain, normally portrayed as a wicked, older but still potent aristocrat. While in many early Gothic novels such a chase occurs across a Mediterranean forest and/or through a subterranean labyrinth, the pursuit of the heroine is by no means limited to these settings. This pursuit represents a threat to the young lady's ideals and morals (usually meaning her virginity), to which the heroine responds in the early works with a passive courage in the face of danger; later gothic heroines progressively become more active and occasionally effective in their attempts to escape this pursuit and indict patriarchy.
Examples: The pursuit of the heroine can be physical, such as in Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho, or more of an emotional/mental pursuit, as found in Joyce Carol Oates "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"
The return of the dead to terrorize or to settle some score with the living.
Examples: See “The Ostler" (first published in the Christmas 1855 number of Household Words), which redeploys the figure of the revenant or ghostly being who "returns" to life to achieve its sensational effects. The Dream Woman is a knife-wieldingsuccubus whose horrid appearance at her victim's bedside is one of Wilke Collins's best night shades and jolting moments:
"Between the foot of his bed and the closed door there stood a woman with a knife in her hand, looking at him. He was stricken speechless with terror, but he did not lose the preternatural clearness of his faculties, and he never took his eyes off the woman. She said not a word as they stared each other in the face, but she began to move slowly towards the left-hand side of the bed. Speechless, with no expression in her face, with no noise following her footfall, she came closer and closer and stopped and slowly raised the knife. He laid his right arm over his throat to save it; but, as he saw the knife coming down, threw his hand across the bed to the right side, and jerked his body over that way just as the knife descended on the mattress within an inch of his shoulder."
See also James Hogg's "Mary Burnett" and M.G. Lewis’s famous “Bleeding Nun.”
Revenge is characterized as the act of repaying someone for a harm that the person has caused; the idea also points back generically to one of the key influences upon Gothic literature: the revenge tragedies of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama. Revenge may be enacted upon a loved one, a family member, a friend, an object or even an area. Within Gothic Literature, revenge is notably prominent and can be enacted by or upon mortals as well as spirits. Revenge can take many forms, such as harm to body, harm to loved ones, and harm to family. The most Gothic version of revenge in Gothic Literature is the idea that it can be a guiding force in the revenance of the dead.
Example: Within "The Cask of Amontillado," written by Edgar Allen Poe, a carefully planned act of revenge takes place. Montressor has become aggrieved by the insults of Fortunato and vows that he will repay his friend for this crime. Montressor is crafty and careful in his planning: he gives Fortunato no reason to doubt his continued friendship. One evening, Montressor finds Fortunato intoxicated on medoc and feels that the time is right to exact his retribution. Through a course of conversation focusing upon the sampling of a type of Amontillado, Montressor lures Fortunato into his family crypt and proceeds to brick him into a wall. There he leaves Fortunato to die a most extended death.
Why does the Romantic era offer, amidst its soaring affirmations of the human imagination and the passions, powerful explorations of the dark side of human nature? Why, right alongside (or maybe just beneath the surface of) the dreams of "natural piety," the dignity of the individual, and the redemptive power of art do we find the nightmare world of the gothic, the grotesque, and the psychotic? Critics and literary historians have come up with three main ideas:
1. the sleep of reason produces monsters: the Romantic rebellion against Right Reason undermines the moral, primarily didactic role of art, opening it up to all kinds of previously forbidden or irrational and maybe even immoral subjects; an aesthetics based on the imagination can just as well lead us down a "dark chasm" as deliver us to a new paradise.
2. "reason" is in-itself a kind of sleep (Blake calls it "Newton's stony sleep"); over-reliance onrationalism will invariably breed fascination with the terms it banishes; we remember that the first gothic novels came during the zenith of the Enlightenment; this is essentially a Freudian model: the return of repressed content to haunt the official aesthetic doctrine--the eruption of the id upon a too restrictive super-ego.
3. "sinners in the hands of an angry God": this theory stresses the return of traditional understandings of guilt and divine retribution upon the freethinkers of this revolutionary age; this is a rich source of terror, from Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" to Shelley's Frankenstein. James Rieger calls it the "Protestant as Prometheus" complex. (See the Wandering Jew entry.)
For what the Romantic poets wrote and thought about the Gothic, go to Gothic Literature: What the Romantic Writers Read.
The word “sadism” was coined to describe the writings of Donatien-Alphonse-Francois, the Marquis de Sade. Sadism is a sexual perversion where one person gains gratification by inflicting physical or mental pain on others. It can also mean a delight in torment or excessive cruelty.
Example: In his book, 120 Days of Sodom, the Marquis describes and justifies acts of sexual perversion:
One must do violence to the object of one’s desire; when it surrenders, the pleasure is greater
. . . The degradation which characterizes the state into which you plunge him by punishing him
pleases, amuses, and delights him. Deep down he enjoys having gone so far as to deserve being
treated in such a way . . . It has, moreover, been proven that horror, nastiness, and the frightful are
what give pleasure when one fornicates. Beauty is a simple thing; ugliness is the exceptional thing.
And fiery imaginations, no doubt, always prefer the extraordinary thing to the simple thing.
-- Jessica Dunlap