The Gothic novel is more closely related to the drama than to the epic or to such poetry as The Faerie Queene or Comus. On the other hand, the later novels and stories, while less influenced by the dramatic tradition, show more of the epic trace than does the Gothic romance. The epic tours through heaven and hell, the lavish use of angels, devils, and even of Deity, the introduction of mythological characters and figures which are not seen in Gothic fiction, appear to a considerable extent in the stories of recent times.
In Gothicism we find that the Deity disappears though the devil remains. There are no vampires, so far as I have been able to find, though the were-wolf and the lycanthrope appear, which were absent from the drama save in The Duchess of Malfi. Other elements are seen, such as the beginnings of the scientific supernaturalism which is to become so prominent in later times. Mechanical supernaturalism and the uncanny power given to inanimate objects seem to have their origins here, to be greatly developed further on.
The guide to supernatural fiction
Supernaturalism associated with animals, related both to the mythological stories of the past and to the more horrific aspects of later fiction, are noted in the terror romance. Humor is largely lacking in the Gothic romance, save as the writers furnish it unintentionally. In Gothicism itself we have practically no satire, though Jane Austen and Barrett satirize the terror novel itself in delicious burlesques that laugh it out of court. In the terror tale the relationship between supernatural effect and Gothic architecture, scenery, and weather is strongly stressed.
Everything is ordered to fit the Gothic plan, and the conformity becomes in time conventionally monotonous. Horace Walpole, the father of the terror novel, had a fad for medievalism, and he expressed his enthusiasm in that extraordinary building at Strawberry Hill, courteously called a Gothic castle. From a study of Gothic architecture was but a step to the writing of romance that should reproduce the mysteries of feudal times, for the shadows of ancient, gloomy castles and cloisters suggested the shades of ghost-haunted fiction, of morbid terrors.
The Gothic castle itself is represented as possessing all the antique glooms that increase the effect of mystery and awe, and its secret passage-ways, its underground vaults and dungeons, its trap-doors, its mouldy, spectral chapel, form a fit setting for the unearthly visitants that haunt it. A feudal hall is the suitable domicile for ghosts and other supernatural revenants, and the horrific romance throughout shows a close kinship with its architecture. The harassed heroine is forever wandering through midnight corridors of Gothic structure.
And indeed, the opportunity for unearthly phenomena is much more spacious in the vast piles of antiquity than in our bungalows or apartment-houses. Radcliffe erected many ruinous structures in fiction. In other romances she depicts decaying castles with treacherous stairways leading to mysterious rooms, halls of black marble, and vaults whose great rusty keys groan in the locks. The Ancient Records of the Abbey of St.
In Melmoth, the Wanderer the scene changes often, yet it is always Gothic and terrible — the monastery with its diabolical punishments, the ancient castle, the ruined abbey by which the wanderer celebrates his marriage at midnight with a dead priest for the celebrant, the madhouse, the inquisition cells, which add gloom and horror to the supernatural incidents and characters. In Zofloya , 4 the maiden is imprisoned in an underground cave similar to that boasted by other castles. This novel is significant because of the freedom with which Shelley appropriated its material for his Zastrozzi , which likewise has the true Gothic setting.
Regina Maria Roche wrote a number of novels built up with crumbling castles, awesome abbeys, and donjon-keeps whose titles show the architectural fiction that dominates them. A list of the names of the Gothic novels will serve to show the general importance laid on antique setting. It dominated the events and was a malignant personality, that laid its spell upon those within its bounds. Not only is architecture made subservient to the needs of Gothic fiction, but the scenery likewise is adapted to fit it.
Before Mrs. Radcliffe wrote her stories interlarded with nature descriptions, scant notice had been paid to scenery in the novel. But she set the style for morose landscapes as Walpole had for glooming castles, and the succeeding romances of the genre combined both features.
Radcliffe was not at all hampered by the fact that she had never laid eyes on the scenes she so vividly pictures. She painted the dread scenery of awesome mountains and forests, beetling crags and dizzy abysses with fluent and fervent adjectives, and her successors imitated her in sketching nature with dark impressionism. The scenery in general in the Gothic novel is always subjectively represented. Nature in itself and of itself is not the important thing. What the writer seeks to do is by descriptions of the outer world to emphasize the mental states of man, to reflect the moods of the characters, and to show a fitting background for their crimes and unearthly experiences.
There is little of the light of day, of the cheerfulness of ordinary nature, but only the scenes and phenomena that are in harmony with the glooms of crimes and sufferings. Like the scenery, the weather in the Gothic novel is always subjectively treated. The play of lightning, supernatural thunders, roaring tempests announce the approach and operations of the devil, and ghosts walk to the accompaniment of presaging tempests. In The Albigenses the winds are diabolically possessed and laugh fiendishly instead of moaning as they do as seneschals in most romances of terror.
The storms usually take place at midnight, and there is rarely a peaceful night in Gothic fiction. The stroke of twelve generally witnesses some uproar of nature as some appearance of restless spirit. Whenever the heroines in Mrs. The weather is ordered to suit the dark, unholy plots they make, and they plan murders against a background of black clouds, hellish thunder, and lurid lightning. When at last the Moor announces himself as the devil and hurls Victoria from the mountain top, a sympathetic storm arises and a flood sweeps her body into the river. Instantly a violent storm arose; the winds in fury rent up rocks and forests; the sky was now black with clouds, now sheeted with fire; the rain fell in torrents; it swelled the stream, the waves over-flowed their banks; they reached the spot where Ambrosio lay, and, when they abated, carried with them into the river the corse of the despairing monk.
No Gothic writer shows more power of harmonizing the tempests of the soul with the outer storms than does Charles Robert Maturin. Peals of thunder sounded, every peal like the exhausted murmurs of a spent heart.
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In general, in the Gothic novel there is a decided and definite attempt to use the terrible forces of nature to reflect the dark passions of man, with added suggestiveness where supernatural agencies are at work in the events. This becomes a distinct convention, used with varying effectiveness. Nowhere in the fiction of the period is there the power such as Shakespeare reveals, as where Lear wanders on the heath in the pitiless clutch of the storm, with a more tragic tempest in his soul. Yet, although the idea of the inter-relation of the passions of man and nature is not original with the Gothicists, and though they show little of the inevitability of genius, they add greatly to their supernatural effect by this method.
Later fiction is less barometric as less architectural than the Gothic. The psychological origin of the individual Gothic romances is interesting to note. Supernaturalism was probably more generally believed in then than now, and people were more given to the telling of ghost stories and all the folk-tales of terror than at the present time. One reason for this may be that they had more leisure; and their great open fires were more conducive to the retailing of romances of shudders than our unsocial steam radiators.
The eighteenth century seemed frankly to enjoy the pleasures of fear, and the rise of the Gothic novel gave rein to this natural love for the uncanny and the gruesome. Dreams played an important part in the inspiration of the tales of terror. The initial romance was, as the author tells us, the result of an architectural nightmare. Walpole says in a letter:. Shall I even confess to you what was the origin of this romance?
I waked one morning from a dream, of which all that I could recall was that I had thought myself in an ancient castle a very natural dream for a head filled like mine with Gothic story and that at the uppermost banister of a great staircase I saw a gigantic hand in armor. In the evening I sat down and began to write, without knowing in the least what I intended to say or relate. The work grew on my hands. The results were negligible save Frankenstein , and it is said that Byron was much annoyed that a mere girl should excel him.
At first Mrs. She says:. 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. The artist sleeps but he is awakened; and behold, the horrid thing stands at his bedside, looking on him with watery, yellow yet speculative eyes!
The relation of dreams to the uncanny tale is interesting. Dreams and visions, revelatory of the past and prophetic of the future, played an important part in the drama as they are now widely used in motion-picture scenarios and the Gothic novel continues the tradition. It would be impossible to discover in how many instances the authors were subconsciously influenced in their choice of material by dreams. The presaging dreams and visions attributed to supernatural agency appear frequently in Gothic fiction.
The close relation between dreams and second sight in the terror novel might form an interesting by-path for investigation. At this moment is there one of us present, however we may have departed from the Lord, disobeyed His will, and disregarded His word — is there one of us who would, at this moment, accept all that man could bestow or earth could afford, to resign the hope of his salvation? No, there is not one — not such a fool on earth were the enemy of mankind to traverse it with the offer! She stated that her book was the literary offspring of the earlier romance, though Walpole disclaimed the paternity.
Anne Radcliffe, that energetic manipulator of Gothic enginery, wrote because she had time that was wasting on her hands — which may be an explanation for other and later literary attempts.
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Her journalist husband was away till late at night, so while sitting up for him she wrote frightful stories to keep herself from being scared. During that waiting loneliness she doubtless experienced all those nervous terrors that she describes as being undergone by her palpitating maidens, whose emotional anguish is suffered in midnight wanderings through subterranean passages and ghosted apartments.
There is one report that she went mad from over-much brooding on mormo, but that is generally discredited. He defended the indecency of his book by asserting that he took the plot from a story in The Guardian , 8 ingeniously intimating that plagiarized immorality is less reprehensible than original material. Leon in his St.
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Irvyne, or The Rosicrucian , that the adaptation amounts to actual plagiarism. Even the titles show imitation. The influence of the crude scientific thought and investigation of the eighteenth century is apparent in the Gothic novels. Frankenstein , as we have seen, was the outcome of a Romantic, Darwinian dream, and novels by Godwin, Shelley, and Maturin deal with the theme of the elixir of life. Zofloya, Mrs.
And so in a number of the imitative and less known novels of the genre science plays a part in furnishing the material. There is much interest in the study of the relation of science to the literature of supernaturalism in the various periods and the discoveries of modern times as furnishing plot material. The Gothic contribution to this form of ghostly fiction is significant, though slight in comparison with later developments.
The Ghost is the real hero or heroine of the Gothic novel. The merely human characters become for the reader colorless and dull the moment a specter glides up and indicates a willingness to relate the story of his life. The continuing popularity of the shade in literature may be due to the fact that humanity finds fear one of the most pleasurable of emotions and truly enjoys vicarious horrors, or it may be due to a childish delight in the sensational. At all events, the ghost haunts the pages of terror fiction, and the trail of the supernatural is over them all. In addition to its association with ancient superstitions, survivals of animistic ideas in primitive culture, we may see the classical and Elizabethan influence in the Gothic specter.
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The prologue-ghost, naturally, is not needed in fiction, but the revenge-ghost is as prominent as ever. The ghost as a dramatic personage, his talkativeness, his share in the action, reflect the dramatic tradition, with a strong Senecan touch. Though imitative of the dramatic ghosts they have certain characteristics peculiar to themselves and are greatly worth consideration in a study of literary supernaturalism.
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