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Yes, you can access History of the Gothic: Gothic Literature 1764-1824 by Carol Davison in PDF and/or ePUB format, as well as other popular books in Literature & Gothic, Romance, & Horror Literary Criticism. We have over one million books available in our catalogue for you to explore.
Even in the present polished period of society, there are thousands who are yet alive to all the horrors of witchcraft, to all the solemn and terrible graces of the appalling spectre. The most enlightened mind, the mind free from all taint of superstition, involuntarily acknowledges the power of gothic agency; and the late favourable reception which two or three publications in this style have met with, is a convincing proof of the assertion.
Nathan Drake (1798)1
… what we see … is constant traffic, unflagging and often obsessive, between the great world of Enlightenment society and the smaller, darker world of unreason that society denounces and yet secretly visits.
Max Byrd (1977)2
In a short review of Edith Birkhead’s The Tale of Terror: A Study of the Gothic Romance (1921), originally published in the Times Literary Supplement in 1921, Modernist icon Virginia Woolf articulates several key misconceptions about the Gothic. In her portrait of a type of orphan, upstart fiction lacking literary genealogy or aesthetic complexity, Woolf describes a genre untethered from any cultural, political or socio-historical context. In terms of literary genealogy, she claims, ‘there is no need to confound it [the Gothic] with the romance of Spenser or of Shakespeare. It is a parasite, an artificial commodity, produced half in joke in reaction against the current style, or in relief from it.’3 As regards its historic positioning, Woolf claims that ‘Horace Walpole, Clara Reeve, and Mrs Radcliffe all turned their backs upon their time and plunged into the delightful obscurity of the Middle Ages, which were so much richer than the eighteenth century in castles, barons, moats, and murders’.4 According to Woolf, the nostalgia-driven Gothic romanticizes the Middle Ages and is thus removed from its era of production. Finally, Woolf characterizes the early Gothic’s experiments with the theme of haunting, one of the few common features in Gothic fiction according to Kate Ferguson Ellis,5 as rudimentary and superficial when compared to the Modernists’ stylistically innovative renderings of ‘the ghosts within us’:
The skull-headed lady, the vampire gentleman, the whole troop of monks and monsters who once froze and terrified now gibber in some dark cupboard of the servants’ hall. In our day … the effect is produced by subtler means. It is at the ghosts within us that we shudder and not at the decaying bodies of barons or the subterranean activities of ghouls.6
Woolf conclusively laments that Edith Birkhead did not enlarge her scope to consider the aesthetic value of terror and analyse the taste that demanded such a stimulus, for, in Woolf ’s candid opinion, ‘there must have been something in the trash that was appetizing.’7
Discussion of the nature, adaptations and implications of the thematic of haunting in the early Gothic will be taken up throughout the course of this study, beginning in the following chapter. In passing, however, it should be noted that Woolf’s evaluation is shortsighted in regard to that genre’s symbolic strategies, for even the early Gothic explored – albeit in different ways than Modernist fiction – ‘the ghosts within us’. Overall, despite her astute assessment that the Gothic emerged partly as a reaction against the ‘current style’ of realistic, eighteenth-century fiction that focused on contemporary concerns, it is unfortunate and ironic that Woolf did not enlarge her scope and consider the cultural, intellectual and socio-political contexts within which the Gothic first flourished. This constitutes the principal agenda of my first two chapters. Adopting this figurative wide-angle lens approach helps to make the Gothic make sense and emerge as a natural rather than an unnatural development of the era. Only by adopting this perspective may we recognize the Gothic’s tremendous significance and contributions to eighteenth-century culture. In the light of the Gothic’s popularity and power, Woolf would have also done well to consider the very issue she faults Birkhead for overlooking – namely, the reasons underpinning that era’s taste for the Gothic. That question constitutes a useful and valuable springboard into an examination of the genre and is best formulated as follows: why, in the so-called Age of Reason, was there a seemingly insatiable appetite for the irrational, in the form of the Gothic novel, variously known as the ‘hobgoblinromance’, the ‘modern Romance’, and the fiction of ‘the terrible school’?8 Why, in an era of rapid technological change that has since been characterized as the advent of industrial modernity, did a literary genre arise, ironically penned at times by antiquarians like Horace Walpole and William Beckford,9 that focused its lens on a past seemingly far removed from eighteenth-century realities?
In the sense that the Gothic was the offspring of a variety of literary works and styles popular in the eighteenth century, it may be said to have been, as Woolf suggests, a derivative and even parasitic cultural production. As such, however, it was an aesthetically recognizable yet uniquely derivative and parasitic offspring that, ironically in the light of Woolf ’s comments, consciously and openly adopted Spenser and Shakespeare as some of its models, while satisfying ‘the renewed desire for literary “novelty” which characterized the later part of the century’.10 In no way was it an aberration in terms of its generic make-up, nor was it untethered from its time. While the following chapter traces the Gothic’s literary genealogy and identifies and discusses its taxonomy of conventions and themes, the remainder of this chapter explores the Gothic’s role as a natural and even predictable development of the mid eighteenth century – a truly Enlightenment yet Romantic production11 – that not only reflected that era’s varied concerns, but served to shape discussions about them.
The Gothic’s sublime dreams
At first glance, the Gothic novel seems to be an anachronistic and paradoxical cultural production of its era – anachronistic because it emerged during the Enlightenment when novels generally focused their lens on contemporary reality, and paradoxical because the designation ‘Gothic Novel’ is an oxymoron, signifying ‘Old New’,12 it registers a collision between the past and the present, the ‘ancient’ and the ‘modern’, the conventional and the original.13 Coined to describe a type of anti-classical architecture associated with barbarism, obscurity and excess, the term ‘Gothic’ had wide cultural currency in Britain in the eighteenth century,14 where it conjured up images of medievalism – of gloomy, labyrinthine castles replete with secret inquisitorial chambers and long buried family secrets. This architectural application was actually a misnomer linking the Goths – Germanic tribes who invaded and ultimately overthrew the Roman Empire in the fourth and fifth centuries – with Roman Catholic churches and castles that originated in France in the twelfth century. As such, ‘Gothic’ connoted the spectres of Britain’s primitive, superstitious, corrupt and tyrannical Catholic past – things far removed from its putatively rational, Protestant, eighteenth-century present and the Enlightenment’s traditional association with the illuminating daylight of reason.
Notably, ‘Gothic’ was a much contested term that was undergoing a significant shift in meaning and value in eighteenthcentury Britain. Its pivotal re-evaluation as an aesthetic category was part and parcel of what has come to be known as the Romantic transvaluation of values,15 whereby characters like Cain and Lucifer became sympathetic and even heroic figures deemed worthy of narrative attention. The Gothic’s revalorization, however, was inextricably bound up with key theological and political developments that transpired subsequent to the Protestant Reformation. This re-evaluation was key to British national identity formation, as it fostered both a sense of a native literary tradition and the image of Britain as a liberty-loving political democracy. In contradistinction to various Renaissance thinkers who blamed the Goths for the decay of the Latin language and the creation of overdecorated and disorderly architectural structures, Martin Luther re-evaluated the Goths’ act of sacking Rome as a crude form of democratic enlightenment. Such a view granted greater complexity to the Gothic’s established anti-Catholic associations. The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries also witnessed a concerted national myth-making process, whereby Britons proudly laid claim to a Gothic inheritance, one that was emblematized by Gothic architecture. The power of this myth is evidenced by the fact that the Gothic remains the official, distinctive, national architectural style of Britain. Nathaniel Bacon, writing in 1647, averred that English laws were largely Gothic in origin,16 an idea that was reiterated over a century later – albeit for more negative ends – by William Blackstone in his Commentaries (1765–1769), where he described the frame of the British constitution as, problematically, resembling
… an old Gothic castle, erected in the days of chivalry, but fitted up for a modern inhabitant. The moated ramparts, the embattled towers and the trophied halls, are magnificent and venerable, but useless and therefore neglected. The inferior apartments, now accommodated to daily use, are cheerful and commodious, though their approaches may be winding and difficult.17
In the course of the seventeenth century, the Teutonic people were frequently touted as the forefathers of Britons and portrayed as advocates of political liberty who stalwartly opposed tyranny and privilege until they fell under the yoke of priests and kings. Notably, during the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which witnessed James II’s deposition by Whig Parliamentary leaders, the King’s absolute right to govern England without the consent of the representatives of his people was contested by reference to the ancient constitution of the Saxon Parliament. Thus did the term ‘Gothic’ come to register both negative and positive meanings in the eighteenth century in relation to British politics, law, history and national identity.
An aesthetic re-evaluation of the Gothic simultaneously occurred, which involved, as Maggie Kilgour has shown, the recovery of a native English literary tradition.18 Bishop Richard Hurd led the way with his Letters on Chivalry and Romance (1762), where, on the basis of his critique of the tyrannically dry and realistic modern novel, he anatomized the ‘Gothic romance’ and famously urged reconsideration of the Gothic style, saying:
When an architect examines a Gothic structure by Grecian rules, he finds nothing but deformity. But the Gothic architecture has it’s [sic] own rules, by which when it comes to be examined, it is seen to have it’s [sic] merit, as well as the Grecian. The question is not, which of the two is conducted in the simplest or truest taste; but, whether there be not sense and design in both, when scrutinized by the laws on which each is projected.19
By ‘Gothic Romance’, Hurd was referring to the verse epics of Tasso and Ariosto, Spenser’s The Faerie Queene and even some works by Shakespeare, which were heralded as epitomizing imaginative freedom. Hurd praised The Faerie Queene (1596) as exemplifying a ‘Gothic’ aesthetic that constituted a welcome and laudable alternative to the rigid neoclassical notions of decorum and literary excellence. Such Gothic romances uniquely combined secular and spiritual romance – the love of God, Hurd said, went hand in hand with the love of the ladies.20 Its ‘religious machinery’, albeit remote from reason, as Hurd points out, ‘had something in it that awakened the imagination’,21 and its featured monsters, dragons and serpents were but thinly-veiled allegorical figures representative of ‘oppressive feudal lords’.22 Although his description of Gothic architecture as ‘impress[ing] the soul with every false sensation of religious fear’ is infused with anti-Catholicism, Thomas Warton’s The His...
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Citation styles for History of the Gothic: Gothic Literature 1764-1824
APA 6 Citation
Davison, C. (2009). History of the Gothic: Gothic Literature 1764-1824 (1st ed.). University of Wales Press. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/572997/history-of-the-gothic-gothic-literature-17641824-pdf (Original work published 2009)
Davison, Carol. (2009) 2009. History of the Gothic: Gothic Literature 1764-1824. 1st ed. University of Wales Press. https://www.perlego.com/book/572997/history-of-the-gothic-gothic-literature-17641824-pdf.
Davison, C. (2009) History of the Gothic: Gothic Literature 1764-1824. 1st edn. University of Wales Press. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/572997/history-of-the-gothic-gothic-literature-17641824-pdf (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Davison, Carol. History of the Gothic: Gothic Literature 1764-1824. 1st ed. University of Wales Press, 2009. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.