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What defines Gothic Literature? Discuss in relation to one text studied on the module.

What defines Gothic Literature? Discuss in relation to one text studied on the module.

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by liam hughes. Originally submitted for Versions of Gothic at University of Ulster, with lecturer Kathryn White in the category of English Language & Literature
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by liam hughes. Originally submitted for Versions of Gothic at University of Ulster, with lecturer Kathryn White in the category of English Language & Literature

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
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10/27/2013

 
What defines Gothic Literature? Discuss in relation to onetext studied on the module.
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Gothic fiction, according to Hermon, Johnson and Ryan, is a structurallyconventionalised literary genre set amidst graveyards and mystical castles whichinevitability nurture, “a special interest in the underside of humanity: the evil withinthe psyche and the disintegration of subjectivity.”
1
Originating in the late eighteenthcentury, gothic tales attributed ‘other worldly’ dimensions to mysterious foreign landsthus allowing a predominantly British readership to satisfy their literary curiosity whilstremaining safe behind the ‘sang froid’ stoicism of their race. This perspective waswell articulated by Walter Scott when he wrote on the early gothic works of Radcliffeand Walpole stating that the southern European demographic which they portrayedreflected a society in which;“Human passions, like the weeds of the climate, are supposed toattain portentous growth under the festering sun: which aboundswith ruined monuments of antiquity...and where feudal tyranny andCatholic superstition still continues.”
2
However gothic literature proved to be more adaptable. If early gothic fiction reflecteda post French Revolutionary mindset which viewed Europeans as excitable andindoctrinated, then the ‘second coming’ of Gothic endeavour, exemplified by James,Wilde and Stoker among others, adopted a more nuanced intonation of malevolence,often evoking a psychological malady or ‘otherness’ , set amidst more familiar indigenous surroundings. Consequently at once illustrating that malevolent ghostswere not the sole preserve of the mystical east but rather transcend finite barriers of geography and that psychological problems were not the sole preserve of a Victorian‘gin soaked’ proletariat but rather transferred across all class barriers thus reflecting,“a twentieth century scepticism, new psychological ideas about the unconscious, andassociated, more subjective literary techniques.”
3
This paper will attempt to illustrate
1
David Herman, Manfred Jahn and Marie Laure Ryan, The Routledge Encyclopaedia of NarrativeTheory, (Abingdon, Routledge, 2005), p.208.
2
Ignacio Ramos, A Jesus Moya Guijarro and Jose Ignacio Albentosa Hernandez,(eds), New trends inEnglish Teacher Education, (Madrid, University of La Mancha Press,2008),p332.
3
Jan Delasara. PopLit, PopCult, and the X files: Critical Exploration,(Jefferson, McFarland and Co. IncPublishers,2000), p.140.
2
 
how Henry James, in his novella “The Turn of the Screw”, harnessed the former elements of gothic conventionality with the latterly psychological introspective of hisera, creating a multi-faceted literary melange which abounded with theme anddevice.Gothic has traditionally been housed within edificially foreboding surroundings whichencased fear and trepidation. Thornfield Manor, in Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’ wascharacterised by it’s, “antiquity, its retirement, its old crow trees and thorn trees, itsgrey façade, and lines of dark windows.”
4
Similarly, ‘Wuthering Heights’ was clothedby, “a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving the almsof the sun.”
5
Within ‘the Turn of the Screw’, Bly is emblematic of this Gothic tradition.It features, “empty chambers and dull corridors, on crooked staircases...on thesummit of an old machicolated square tower that made me dizzy.”
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Thus the edificialboundaries are set, housing the classically gothic heroine, naive and alone with, “avision of serious duties and little company, of really grave loneliness.”
7
Like JaneEyre, the apparently selfless governess is seen to be in love with the master of thehouse. This is a classically ironic paradox, the repressed yet efficient governessreduced by an oppressive Victorian society to imaginings of requited affection whichtranscend class barriers that are shown to be ultimately fatal if crossed.Consequently, Rochester and Jane Eyre realise their love but with horrific physicalconsequences for Rochester, similarly the governess is seen to be motivated by lovein pursuance of her ultimately fatal mission, “a service admirable and difficult...therewould be greatness in letting it be seen-oh, in the right quarter!”
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Therefore love, oftencited by romantic novelists of the era as an agent for realising the conventional
4
Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre, (Ware, Wordsworth Editions Ltd,1992),p.124.
5
Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights, (Ware, Wordsworth Editions Ltd, 1992),p2.
6
Henry James, The Turn of the Screw, (New York, Dover Publications Inc., 1991),p9.
7
Ibid, p.5
8
Ibid,p.27.
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