Although the movement of Romanticism, which followed on the heels of the Enlightenment has been characterised as nature-centred, God-affirming, idealist and patriotic, and generally associated with several positive values, a dark, subcultured version of this school of thought also co-existed with the mainstream philosphy. Dark romanticism preoccupied itself with evil and sinister themes, focusing on death, wickedness and the ‘freaks of nature.’ Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allen Poe rank foremost among some novelists belonging to this school, pessimistically fixating on the darker side of life.
The Birth-mark (1843) written by Nathaniel Hawthorne is a short narrative which focuses on Nature, Humanity, and Science. In this tale, Hawthorne warns against scientific interference in nature. He argues that science tends to label natural mysteries as anomalies or deformities. Nature should be appreciated for what it is. For a human to be balanced, there must be a coordination of mind, body and spirit (a trinity of parts). Alymer, the scientist, finds fault with his wife, Georgiana’s birthmark and in an experiment, attempts to obliterate the ‘defect.
’ Because of science’s tampering with nature, she dies. Science is destructive because it can take away life but cannot restore it. Science considers the birthmark as a mutation; however, the birthmark is the very stamp of nature, and humanity. Georgiana’s birthmark is described as a bloody hand.
Here the man’s hand and the blood are both distinct features of one’s humanity. Alymer’s quest for perfection leads to Georgiana’s death – which signifies that human perfection is impossible.
Another aspect of note in The Birthmark is the subservience of the woman. Georgiana feels constrained to follow her husband’s dictates so she tries to adapt herself to his scientific mould.
She has neither identity, nor self-confidence and so, this situation shows us that the woman’s role was to stand in the shadow of her husband. Edgar Allen Poe’s poem, “The Raven” (1845) is a forbidding image for it evokes images of darkness, death, fate and melancholy. The poem is an interview between a raven and the speaker. Illusion and reality are blurred because the narrator himself is sleepy. To every question that the narrator poses, the raven replies, “Nevermore.” The time is set during the winter – a season of death, lost love, and extinguished passion. This image is fitting because Leonore, the speaker’s lover is deceased. The raven comes from the world of the dead so the speaker is anxious to hear tidings of Leonore. In vain he tries to extract information from the raven.
The raven even refuses to leave the narrator’s residence. Poe depicts the beauty of horror by infusing fear, suspense, and spectral apparitions in his poem. “Annabel Lee” (1850) is a nostalgic poem which tells of youthful love and its end through death. The poetic work focuses on death and love. Annabel Lee is the speaker’s dead lover about whom he reminisces. The scene is set near the sea and evokes fantasy. Death is symbolized however by the “cold sea breeze.” The angelic train takes the narrator’s love away from him however they remain together although they are in two separate worlds.
As proof of their union and immortal love, the speaker lies beside his lady’s grave, near the seaside. “The Tell Tale Heart” (1843) delves into the evil plotting of a wily murderer bent to killing an old man. The poem probes into the psyche of an ingenious killer who develops hatred, hatches a murderous plot, prepares for the murder, executes his victim and makes a reluctant, panicked confession. The murderer’s heightened hearing ability coupled with his burdened, guilty conscience force him to lay bare his crime before the law enforcers. Poe creates intense suspense and drama through the story’s brevity, the killer’s mental conflict, and his anguish. Images employed in the poem are the vulture-eye, darkness, and the heartbeat.