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Gothic Literature

Ancestral curse
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 of ancestral curse
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.

Anti-Catholicism
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 of anti-Catholicism
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 (grave-robbing)
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 of body-snatching
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.

cemetary
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.

claustrophobia
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 of claustrophobia
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 recessive existence 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.

Gothic counterfeit
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.

Example of gothic counterfeit
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.

Devil
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.

Example of the devil
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.

Doppelganger
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 the dopplegänger 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 of doppelganger
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
-characterized as a form of mental activity that takes place during the act of sleep.
-invoke strong emotions within the dreamer, such as ecstasy, joy and terror.
-authors are able to illustrate emotions on a more unmediated and, oftentimes, terrifying level.
-reveal to the reader what the character is often too afraid to realize about himself or herself.
-also has an ancient relation with the act of foretelling wherein the future is glimpsed in the dream state.

Nightmares
The actual term 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.

Entrapment and 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 of entrapment and imprisonment
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

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 of the explained supernatural
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.

Exoricism
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.

Example of exorcism
Example: William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist

Female gothic
-One of the earliest forms of Gothic literature
-often aims to socialize and educate its female readers and is usually morally conservative
-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.
-works usually include a female protagonist who is pursued and persecuted by a villainous patriarchal figure in unfamiliar settings and terrifying landscape.
-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.

Ghost
the visible disembodied soul of a dead person

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.

Grotesque
(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 of the grotesque
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.

Example of the haunted castle or house
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 Nancy Rhyne offers a study of haunted houses in our Georgia and South Carolina low country.

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 of the incubus
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 to themselves. The children are finally destroyed but only after the loss of many innocent lives.

Inquisition
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.

The Literature of Terror vs. The Literature of 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 of the literature of terror vs. the literature of horror
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.

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.

Example of the marvelous vs. the uncanny
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.

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 of masochism
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.

Mist
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 of mist
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’s Confessions.

Mystery
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.

Example of mystery
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
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.

Example of necromancy
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
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.

Gothic parody
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”

Example of gothic parody
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.

Possession
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.

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.

Two types of possession
-the transference of the Devil or demon directly into the mortal body
-the sending of the Devil or demon into the body by a third party, usually a mortal dabbler in the dark arts.

Example of possession
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 of the pursued protagonist
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”

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.

Example of the Pursuit of the Heroine
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?”

Revenant
The return of the dead to terrorize or to settle some score with the living.

Example of the revenant
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-wielding succubus whose horrid appearance at her victim’s bedside is one of Wilke Collins’s best night shades and jolting moments:

Revenge
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 of revenge
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.

Romanticism/Dark Romanticism
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.

Sadism
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 of sadism
Example: In his book, 120 Days of Sodom, the Marquis describes and justifies acts of sexual perversion:

Sensibility
Deals with an acutely sensitive response to the afflicted or pathetic in literature, art, and life. Originally formulated by Adam Smith as a positive force of compassion and moral sympathy, sensibility soon degenerated into something of a cult wherein its members (usually upper-class women or those aspiring to be so) proved their exquisite sensitivity through tears, blushes, palpitations, and fits of fainting. Many gothic heroines exhibit sensibility, but the term becomes a hotly contested one in the culture wars of the 1780’s and ’90’s.’

Example of sensibility
Examples: We generally associate sensibility with the poetic reveries of Radcliffe’s heroines and her many followers. Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility parody this sentiment. An example of how slippery the term can be in terms of gender and politics: Mary Wollstonecraft accuses Edmund Burke of a gothic sensibility in his swooning sympathy for the sufferings of the French court.

Somnabulism
better known as sleepwalking, exists as a type of dissociated mental state which occurs during sleep. Studies indicate that sleepwalking occurs during the period of “deep sleep,” a time during which no dreams are taking place within the mind of the sleeper. While sleepwalking, a person may engage in a varied array of motor activities deemed as common during waking life. Many onlookers find this act to be frightening, noting that the sleepwalker is not propelled by any type of lucid mental activity. Through sleepwalking, characters often reveal hidden sources of stress and replay acts of guilt.

Example of somnabulism
Example par excellence: Charles Brockden Brown’s Edgar Huntly

The sublime
The definition of this key term has evolved from the early days of Longinus through to various 18th and 19th century formulations. Always a contested term, the idea of the sublime is essential to an understanding of Gothic poetics and, especially, the attempt to defend or justify the literature of terror.

Example of the sublime
Example: A good Burkean example of the sublime (somewhat subdued) occurs when Radcliffe’s Emily from The Mysteries of Udolpho first sees the the Campagna of Italy:

Succubus
characterized as a female counterpart of the incubus. The core of this belief is said to stem from the legend in Jewish folklore of a demon named Lilith. In later Jewish literature, Lilith is identified as Adam’s first wife who ran from him instead of acting as his subservient. Following, God sent three angels to bring her back to Adam. If she refused, one of her children would be killed each day. Lilith refused and, in an act of vengeance, vowed that she would bring harm to future infants of other mothers. Belief in Lilith still persists, in some cultures, to this day.

Example of succubus
Roasrio / Mathilda is a compelling instance of a succubus, bent upon awakening the sexual desires of Lewis’s Monk and leading him to destruction.

Supernatural gadgetry
the physical elements in Gothic works that represent the means by which the various supernatural beings and or powers display their presence and uncanny abilities. Some common examples of supernatural props are “vocal and mobile portraits; veiled statues that come to life; animated skeletons; doors, gates, portals, hatchways, and other means of egress which open and close independently and inappropriately; secret messages or manuscripts delivered by specters; forbidden chambers or sealed
compartments; and casket lids seen in the act of rising”

Example of supernatural gadgetry
Example: Supernatural gadgetry can be found in John and A. L. Aikin’s “Sir Bertrand; A Fragment”. When Sir Bertrand first attempts to enter the antique mansion, the light moves about by some unknown power, and the door mysteriously slams shut as soon as the knight enters the castle. And a casket lid mysteriously opens to reveal a sarcophogal belle dame.

Superstition
A pivotal term for the religious and political dimensions of Gothic Literature, especially its reception. “Superstition” generally gathered its sharply negative connotations in the late 18th century from two sources: 1) Protestant disdain for the ritualistic and miraculous character of Catholic worship; 2) rationalist opposition to unexamined systems of belief that impeded the search for truth (see the early Wordsworth: “Science with joy saw Superstition fly / Before the lustre of Religion’s eye; . . . / No shadowy forms entice the soul aside, /Secure she walks, Philosophy her guide”). The term is also frequently invoked by conservative writers to characterize the potential volatility of the masses (The Monthly Review, 1794: “that superstition which debilitates the mind, that ignorance which propagates terror”). Or it can figure as a kind of cultural malaise, a psychic compensation for a time of troubles (Wordsworth in his “Preface” to The Borderers on the character of Rivers, but also of his age: “Having shaken off the obligations of religion and morality in a dark and tempestuous age, it is probable that such a character will be infected with a tinge of superstition”). In his discussion of the sublime, Kant distinguishes the good religious life, which is characterized by a kind of quiet sublimity, from superstition: “The latter establishes in the mind, not reverence for the sublime, but fear and apprehension of the all-powerful Being to whose will the terrified man sees himself subject, without according Him any high esteem.”

Example of superstition
Example: (from Lorne Macdonald of the University of Calgary). Superstition is unanimously and repeatedly denounced (largely as a dyslogism for Catholicism) in The Monk in Peck’s while at the same time the word is also used to indicate a belief in the supernatural–a belief which, as Mervyn Nicholson has pointed out, is perfectly justified in the world of the book.

Freud’s Unheimlich (the Uncanny)
According to Freud, we find things to be uncanny (unheimlich) when they are familiar to us (heimlich or “belonging to the home”) yet also somehow foreign or disturbing. Uncanny feelings can arise when something seemingly inconsequential in our everyday lives calls forth repressed content stemming from past experience, especially experiences linking back to childhood and our passage into sexual awareness.

Example of Freud’s Unheimlich (the Uncanny)
Gothic example is “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Gilman. Here again we see a story centered upon something that is very familiar, wallpaper, which yet evokes strange feelings and hallucinations in the character. Many critics discuss Dickens’ ghost stories as prime specimens of unheimlich.
See Freud’s seminal essay on E. T. A. Hoffman’s “The Sandman” (“The Uncanny” [1919]), in which he explains Nathaniel’s terrified association of the Sandman, an old and arguably benevolent device to get children to sleep, with the loss of sight.

Transformations (Shape-Changing)
The metamorphosis of one being into another.

Examples of transformations (shape-changing)
Examples: H. G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau and Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde feature horrid transformations as part of their warning about the dangers of unreflective scientific progress. King’s protean It takes the convention to furthest extreme.

Unreliable Narrator
A narrator tells a story and determines the story’s point of view. An unreliable narrator, however, does not understand the importance of a particular situation or makes an incorrect conclusion or assumption about an event that he/she witnesses.

Example of an unreliable narrator
The Turn of the Screw

Vampire
A word of Slavonic origin, a vampire is a preternatural being of a malignant nature (or a reanimated corpse) who seeks nourishment and often bodily harm by sucking the blood of the living. Usually but not always described as highly sexual beings, vampires are often but not exclusively found in European folklore.

Example of vampire
Examples of vampires found in Gothic Literature include John Polidori’s “The Vampyre,” Bram Stroker’s Dracula (which tells the story of a Transylvanian vampire Count Dracula who can only be defeated by the occultist Van Helsing), and Ann Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, which brings to the forefront the old bloodsucker’s status as a villain-hero and even (gasp) invites our sympathy for him.

Villain-Hero
The villain of a story who either 1) poses as a hero at the beginning of the story or 2) simply possesses enough heroic characteristics (charisma, sympathetic past, etc) so that either the reader or the other characters see the villain-hero as more than a simple charlatan or bad guy.

Satanic Hero
a Villain-Hero whose nefarious deeds and justifications of them make him a more interesting character than the rather bland good hero. Example: The origin of this prototype comes from Romantic misreadings of Milton’s Paradise Lost, whose Satan poets like Blake and Shelley regarded as a far more compelling figure than the moralistic God of Book III of the epic. Gothic examples: Beckford’s Vathek, Radcliffe’s Montoni, Wordsworth’s Rivers (in The Borderers); Polidori’s Ruthven and just about any vampire.

Promethean Hero
a Villain-Hero who has done good but only by performing an overeaching or rebellious act. Prometheus from ancient Greek mythology saved mankind but only after stealing fire and ignoring Zeus’ order that mankind should be kept in a state of subjugation. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is tellingly subtitled the “Modern Prometheus.”

Byronic Hero
a later variation of the “anthithetically mixed” Villain-Hero. Aristocratic, suave, moody, handsome, solitary, secretive, brilliant, cynical, sexually intriguing, and nursing a secret wound, he is renowned because of his fatal attraction for female characters and readers and continues to occasion debate about gender issues. Example: Byron’s Childe Harold and, more gothically, Manfred are the best examples, but this darkly attractive and very conflicted male figure surfaces everywhere in the 19th and 20th century gothic.

The Wandering Jew
Also known as Ahasuerus, Cartaphilus, Malchus, or John Buttadeus. The term originates from a legend about a Jew who either ridiculed Jesus or refused to allow him to rest at his door on his way to the cross. As a result, Jesus condemned the Jew to roam the earth until judgement day. Some variations of the legend connect this figure to the story of Cain. God condemned Cain for killing Abel and cursed him to wander the earth with a mark upon his forehead to protect him. In Gothic works, the Wandering Jew often symbolizes the curse of immortality. Some characteristics include large, black, flashing eyes; a look of deep melancholy; a black velvet band across his forehead; slow steps; a vast knowledge of distant countries and events from long ago

Example of The Wandering Jew
Examples: from Matthew Lewis’ The Monk. The Wandering Jew known as “the stranger” says: “No one is adequate to comprehending the misery of my lot! Fate obliges me to be constantly in movement. I am not permitted to pass more than a fortnight in the same place. I have no friend in the world, and from the restlessness of my destiny I never can acquire one. Fain would I lay down my miserable life, for I envy those who enjoy the quiet of the grave but death eludes me, and flies from my embrace” (169).

werewolf
In European folklore, a werewolf is a normal human by day that turns into a wolf at night. These wolves eat people, animals, or even corpses. The condition can be hereditary, or acquired through a werewolf bite. Also, some werewolves are able to control when they change shape, while others are unavoidably turned by the fullmoon. In countries where wolves are not common animals, people can change into other dangerous animals. There is a psychological condition for people who believe themselves to be werewolves, called lycanthropy.

Witches and witchcraft
Within Gothic Fiction, the witch is normally depicted as an elderly hag-like crone or as a beautiful, seductive woman (and she is frequently both). However, the term witch applies not only to these stereotypes but also to Gypsies, heretics, and women of loose virtue. Witches, in Gothic Literature, are able to perform various acts of witchcraft including “divination; communing with spirits of the dead; maleficia and heresy; sexual magic; healing and white magic” (Ringel 254). This depiction of witches and witchcraft is quite common within Gothic Tales and has seemingly set the standard within the minds of the readers.

Example of witches and witchcraft
Example: Hawthorne’s short story “Young Goodman Brown” is set against a background of Puritan rigidity. Within the tale, the very female occupants of Brown’s village are depicted as a coven of witches devoted to the worship of Satan. While the physical descriptions vary, the working of witchcraft and the presence of evil are common in the Gothic definition. However, it should be noted that within Gothic Literature a person does not actually have to be a witch in order to earn the term. Tales based upon the trials and persecution of innocent people were also very popular within the Gothic Period. A primary example of this can be found within another work by Hawthorne. Within The Scarlet Letter, heroine Hester Prynne is believed to be a witch by her townspeople based on her adulterous nature and is persecuted accordingly. Another example is The Crucible by Arthur Miller, a work based upon the Salem Witchcraft Trials wherein a group of innocent women were hanged as a result of group hysteria. Critic Amos Herold notes that “the presentation of the witch hunting mania evokes the Gothic atmosphere of irrational fear and mass dread” (196).

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