Literary Gothic and Romantic Criticism
The growth of Gothic and Romantic criticism has long been a cause for apprehension, as the genres are often perceived as sub-cultural and unfashionable. Yet, in order for Gothic and Romantic criticism to expand beyond the boundaries of literature and the Academy, they need to have been accepted within the academy, must have forged a distinct cultural movement, and be rooted in a mythical past time.
While the historical and literary context of Gothic and Romantic literatures is largely unknown, it is important to note that both genres were popular in the 18th century, when the French Revolution was raging. While the intelligentsia of the day ridiculed the Gothic literatures, their readers included growing numbers of women and middle-class people. Gothic literature was particularly popular during this period because of the themes and images it conveyed.
Gothic literature often deals with the reparation of sins. In Walpole's "The Castle of Otranto," the death of the heir is used to correct a wrong. In Conrad's novel, an ancestor returns from the dead to ensure he is the rightful heir. Similarly, the sins of the father are visited on the children. This contrasts sharply with the "fear of the unknown" themes of the Romantic and Gothic literature.
During the Gothic era, Gothic fiction and dramas responded to the turmoil in society. While many believed that the Gothic era was detrimental to society, progressive elements recognized the Gothic's ability to mount political and cultural critiques. In this context, they saw Gothic characters as a symbol of everything that was wrong with the English history. Consequently, they began to appreciate Gothic fiction as a form of self-expression and literature.
The historical Gothic era also brought about several new forms of literature. Gothic authors often presented complex narratives, which often defied chronological sequence. For example, Maturin's "Melmoth the Wanderer" has stories within stories. This structure distorts both spatial and chronological development. The result is a dreamlike quality to the overall work. It's important to recognize this complexity. Once understood properly, the Gothic literature can be a valuable contribution to the literary history.
While many of the works in the Victorian era are based on real events, there are also examples of the Byronic hero in Victorian literature. For example, Dickens' character Steerforth manifests the concept of a "fallen angel" in his novel David Copperfield. Steerforth seduces Emily, but David admits that he is fascinated by him, and his occasional outbreaks of remorse echo the Byronic hero's.
While the Byronic hero was popularized during the Romantic era, it had been around for many centuries before Lord Byron's time. These literary works tended to feature protagonists that are moody and rebellious, with a gloomy past that haunts them. Cynicism is a key element in Byronic characters. Cynicism is also present in both Byronic works, and both the hero and the villain are characterized by cynicism.
Thorslev explores this area of literary history, attempting to explain the development of the Byronic hero. In his book, he traces the roots of the hero tradition and explores Byron's interpretation of the hero. It also challenges the easy labels we associate with such a character. Nonetheless, Thorslev's book will be of interest to those interested in the Byronic hero.
While analyzing Byronic texts, the Gothic hero also reveals the importance of a dark side in human nature. Victor, for example, is an obsessive Byronic hero who raises a dead creature with speech, murderous intent, and the guilt of creating it. In literary criticism of the Byronic hero, the grotesque creature's dark side is often overlooked, but ultimately redeems it.
There are numerous examples of Gothic literature that use the device of foreshadowing to tell a story. Tragedies often begin with bad luck, whether it is an object being broken or a shadowy figure lurking in the dark. Edgar Allan Poe made use of foreshadowing in his short story "The Black Cat." The title of the story was superstitious and ominous, referencing the god of the dead, a Roman deity.
Victorian England and the Gothic genre both trace their roots in melodrama. Victorian England was an important period for the Gothic genre, and in the early eighteenth century, English writers such as Horace Walpole had a fascination with medieval history and built a Gothic-style imitation castle, Strawberry Hill House. In 1749, The Castle of Otranto framed the story as a rediscovered medieval text.
Literary Gothic and Romantic criticism both have a long and varied history. The Gothic novel is a genre of European Romantic fiction that combines the gothic tradition with a sense of gloom and terror. The Gothic novel had its heyday during the 1790s, but has had frequent revivals throughout the centuries. To understand literary Gothic, you must first understand what it means by the genre.
Literary Gothic works generally focus on female characters, often addressing the dissatisfaction of women with patriarchal society and their problematic maternal position. They also address the role of women in society, including childbirth and domestic abuse. While female characters are often more ambiguous in the Gothic genre, they share many characteristics with their male counterparts. Moreover, Gothic novels often feature the dissatisfaction and frustration with patriarchal society, and women's fears about domestic life, childbirth, and abuse.
Literary Gothic literature was developed in response to social and political turmoil in Europe. During the Middle Ages, Gothic writers wrote about the fear of revolutions and the need for safe forms of transgression. As a reaction to these forces, they presented characters that were morally upright and portrayed as ideals. However, this did not stop the Gothic from enjoying success in the decades leading up to the eighteenth century.
While Scott argues that Radcliffe's success was a "seductive" act that he had a knack for, this view is also flawed. Radcliffe's success is a result of her innate talent rather than cultivated good taste. While this view has merit, it's also misleading. Moir contradicts himself by naming two exceptions to this rule. Matthew Lewis and Charles Maturin are clearly identifiable as "geniuses" of Gothic literature.
The conventions of Gothic and Romantic literature can be found in many forms of fiction. Gothic novels, for example, typically feature ruined abbeys and wild landscapes. These novels, which are typically set in the sixteenth century, typically contain scenes of horror, suspense, and mystery. While the horror genre often includes stories about monsters, goblins, and witches, literary Gothic fiction also contains themes that evoke both terror and horror.
Early Gothic novels may be considered precursors to romantic literature, as they concern the sublime and the sensibility of the reader. Early Gothic writers are preparing the way for the "confusion" of good and evil that would be found in later Romantic writing, but their work still involves an element of ambiguity. The romantic worldview, on the other hand, assumes that the answers to the fundamental questions are rational.
The earliest forms of Gothic literature were characterized by supernatural themes and a fear of death. While most of these works deal with the lives of the dead, some of them are more evocative of the supernatural, such as vampires. Gothic literature also emphasizes the deaths of women. Poe famously stated that "the death of a beautiful woman is the most poetic topic in the world".
The Romantic and Gothic genres share many similarities. Both genres feature disturbing dreams. Often used as plot devices, these dreams highlight characters' fears and insecurities. Gothic male characters, on the other hand, are typically aristocratic, moody, and cynical. They also tend to harbor a secret and are conflicted. Examples of such men include Maxim in Rebecca, Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre, and many more.