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- Many Romantic
poems have elements of the Gothic without
being wholly Gothic works. Coleridge's The
Rime of the Ancient Mariner (NAEL 8, 2.430)
and Christabel (NAEL 8, 2.449),
Byron's Manfred (NAEL 8, 2.635),
and Keats's The Eve of St. Agnes (NAEL
8, 2.888) are prime examples. What
elements of the Gothic do you detect in any
particular instance? What effects does the
writer achieve by using them? What artistic
(or other) purpose is accomplished by connecting
the work with Gothic tradition?
- From its
inception, the Gothic tale invited both flattering
imitation and critical parody, and indeed
the two are not always easy to distinguish.
Furthermore, the first Gothic tale — The
Castle of Otranto — itself
seems rather like a parody of the genre it
in fact inaugurates.
- What is it in the style or plot of the Gothic tale that invites these
kinds of imitation? How is it that the reader is invited to become the
- What place for individuality of plot or of style is left? How, given
this emphasis on recycling and repetition, has it been possible for the
genre to change over time?
- In the Gothic
novel, interiors are linked with danger.
Threats come from within the house, within
the family, and within the self. The ever-mounting
sense of danger that characterizes the genre
depends on the continual revelation of unsuspected
- How do the selections in this topic suggest and exploit associations
among these different kinds of interior?
- To what extent does the "Gothic" effect rely on the constant
contrast between the familiar and the exotic?
- The explicit
treatment of sexuality among other factors
has made the Gothic a genre of interest for
psychoanalytic critics. You can see a sampling
of these points of view, along with passages
from many of the novels that are sampled
here, gathered on the Web site Architecture
of the Mind.
- How do you see the ideas about fantasy (discussed by Holland and Sherman)
and repression (discussed by Brooks) reflected in the texts?
- Does the selection by Max Byrd, with its attention to real-world institutions
like the madhouse and the brothel, explain more than can be explained
by purely psychological readings of the texts?
- Gothic architecture
is one of the major elements of the opium
dreams described by Thomas De Quincey in The
Pains of Opium (NAEL 8, 2.560–66).
How do the nightmare cities that haunt De
Quincey in his dreams echo — or contradict — what
is terrifying in the architecture of the
- Edmund Burke's Philosophical
Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas
of the Sublime and Beautiful has
relevance to the Gothic tale as well
as to landscape. But whereas the Romantic
idea of landscape locates the sublime
in nature, the Gothic emphasizes the
supernatural and the human.
- While the sublimity of the landscape is associated with male writers
and characters, women (writers and characters) encounter the sublime
within the confines of the Gothic. How does this pattern affect your
understanding of Burke's analysis, especially of the place of power
in the sublime?
- As suggested by Vathek, the Gothic's
atmosphere of horror often slips into the realm of camp. Why do you think
the dignity and majesty of the sublime prove so hard to sustain within
the Gothic tale?
Catherine Morland tells Henry Tilney that
she "should be too much frightened to
do any such thing," the heroines of
Gothic novels are characterized by the courage
they reveal as well as by the terror they
- What resources do Adeline in The Romance
of the Forest and Emily in The Mysteries
of Udolpho find to push them forward in their adventures
and to prevent their collapse into terror when under threat?
- In the Gothic, terror and courage are experienced by men as well as
women, and by the guilty as well as the innocent. How do Walpole's
Manfred and Lewis's Monk respond to the
horror they feel, and what drives them on?
- Do these comparisons suggest deeper affinities between the female heroines
and male villains of the Gothic? How does this complicate the apparently
polarized moral universe of these novels?
- In chapter
4 of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (NAEL
8, 2.189–95), Mary Wollstonecraft denounces
the cultivation of women "brimful of
sensibility, and teeming with capricious
fancies." Their "fear is cherished," even
though "ever restless and anxious, their
over exercised sensibility not only renders
them uncomfortable themselves, but troublesome
. . . to others."
- How do Radcliffe's heroines exemplify Wollstonecraft's complaints?
How does what Wollstonecraft presents of real women's lives help
to account for the Gothic's attractions to women as both readers
- Peacock's Nightmare Abbey casts
a cynical eye on matters of sexual pursuit. How does his satire replicate
or differ from Wollstonecraft's complaints?
tales, both in English and in German, were
a dominant force in the late-eighteenth-century
literary marketplace and were read by all
the major Romantic poets. At the same time,
with the notable exception of Byron, none
of the poets garnered anything like the novelists' readership.
Details about the poets' reading of and
opinions about the Gothic tale are gathered
on Professor Douglass Thomson's site Gothic
Literature: What the Romantic Writers Read. Briefly
survey the site and then choose one poet
to focus on in particular. What common points
of praise or blame appear? What inconsistencies?
How do you see the poet's reading of
the Gothic reflected in his poetry?