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‘ ‘ Taking the Gothic Route in English Literature ’ Dr Angela Wright, University of Sheffield.

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Presentation on theme: "‘ ‘ Taking the Gothic Route in English Literature ’ Dr Angela Wright, University of Sheffield."— Presentation transcript:

1 ‘ ‘ Taking the Gothic Route in English Literature ’ Dr Angela Wright, University of Sheffield

2 What does ‘Gothic’ signify?  Trying to identify the original Goths can either lead us to ancient barbarian races (Visigoths and Ostrogoths, who fought against the Roman Empire), or else to an eighties music subculture...  To a form of architecture...  Or twentieth and twenty-first century film

3 Or... spine-tingling literature?

4 ‘How to tell you’re reading a Gothic novel’, Friday May 9 th, 2014  teractive/2014/may/09/reading- gothic-novel-pictures teractive/2014/may/09/reading- gothic-novel-pictures  By Adam Frost and Zhenia Vasilev   “When Horace Walpole published his 'gothic story' The Castle of Otranto, he launched a literary movement which has sired monsters, unleashed lightning and put damsels in distress for 250 years. A horde of sub-genres has followed, from southern gothic to gothic SF, but are some novels more gothic than others? We return to the genre's roots in the 18th century for this definitive guide”

5 ‘How to tell you’re reading a Gothic novel’, Friday 9 th May, Guardian

6 ‘How to tell you’re reading a Gothic novel’, Friday 9 th May, 2014, Guardian

7 ‘ Taking the Gothic Route in English Literature ’ Dr Angela Wright, University of Sheffield Another 250th anniversary, of Ann Radcliffe’s birth, goes unmentioned, an omission reflecting her curious marginalisation in both celebrations – “the great enchantress”, as Thomas De Quincey called her, does figure, but mainly as the hapless novelist (vapid and trashy, you infer) sent up in Northanger Abbey. For the British Library display, the problem looks to be the absence of a visual legacy, of Radcliffe manuscripts and film adaptations; for Graham-Dixon, it may be the absence of a penis. His blokeish version of early literary gothic consists of chaps like Walpole, William Bedford, Thomas Chatterton, Blake and De Quincey, with the equally colourful Mary Shelley as token woman, and their manly wrestlings with political and industrial revolution, masculine identity and urbanisation in turn influence the Victorians.Thomas De QuinceyThomas ChattertonBlake Mary Shelley John Dugdale, The Guardian, 31 st October

8 Radcliffe’s reputation  Sir Walter Scott: ‘Mrs Radcliffe has a title to be considered the first poetess of romanctic fiction’ (Scott 1824: iv)  Nathan Drake: ‘the Shakespeare of Romance writers’ (Drake: 1798): 249)  Thomas Green: ‘Read the Castle of Otranto; which grievously disappointed my expectations. The tale is, in itself, insipid; and Mrs. Radcliffe, out of possible contingencies evokes scenes of far more thrilling horror’ (Green, 1810: 23)  Anon: ‘It has been pretended that original or rather creative genius belongs not to the female sex, but who has more indisputably possessed that attribute than the enchantress of “Udolpho”? (1824)

9 ‘Becoming Mrs Radcliffe’ Dr Angela Wright, University of Sheffield  Joseph Hunter ( ) from Sheffield, in 1797 sets out the purposes of keeping a diary: ‘I intend to set down all and everything which occurs to me during this year and likewise keep an account of the books which I read.’  writes of his reading of The Italian by Ann Radcliffe in 1797, ‘Finished the 2 nd volume of Mrs. Radcliffe’s The Italian. She is the best writer in her way of any body I ever heard of.’

10 The Mysteries of Udolpho 1794 Fate sits on these dark battlements, and frowns, And, as the portals open to receive me, Her voice, in sullen echoes through the courts, Tells of a nameless deed. Macbeth: How now, you secret, black, and midnight hags! What is't you do? ALL A deed without a name. ‘ I conjure you, by that which you profess,/ Howe'er you come to know it, answer me’. He seeks concrete responses, ‘answer me to what I ask you’ he pleads further down this speech, but even from the witches’ ethereal master he receives no response to that opening question ‘What is’t you do?’

11  Emily gazed with melancholy awe upon the castle, which she understood to be Montoni’s; for, though it was now lighted up by the setting sun, the gothic greatness of its features, and its mouldering walls of dark grey stone, rendered it a gloomy and sublime object. As she gazed, the light died away on its walls, leaving a melancholy purple tint, which spread deeper and deeper, as the thin vapour crept up the mountain, while the battlements above were still tipped with splendour. From those too, the rays soon faded, and the whole edifice was invested with the solemn duskiness of evening. Silent, lonely and sublime, it seemed to stand the sovereign of the scene, and to frown defiance on all, who dared to invade its solitary reign. As the twilight deepened, its features became more awful in obscurity...’ (Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho, 1794)  As they drew near the end of their journey, her impatience for a sight of the abbey [... ] returned in full force, and every bend in the road was expected with solemn awe to afford a glimpse of its massy walls of grey stone, rising amidst a grove of ancient oaks, with the last beams of the sun playing in beautiful splendour on its high Gothic windows.’  (Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (1818))

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13 Consider now which effect Poe has selected in this opening to ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’: ‘During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length I found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I knew not how it was – but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. ‘ (Poe, ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ (1839)

14 Jonathan Harker approaches the castle of Count Dracula  I stood in silence where I was, for I did not know what to do. Of bell and knocker there was no sign; through these frowning walls and dark window openings it was not likely that my voice could penetrate. The time I waited seemed endless, and I felt doubts and fears crowding upon me. What sort of a place had I come to, and amonh what kind of people? (Bram Stoker, Dracula, 1897)

15 Angela Carter, ‘The Bloody Chamber’  [Our wedding night] would be voluptuously deferred until we lay in his great ancestral bed in the sea-girt, pinnacled domain that lay, still, beyond the grasp of my imagination... That magic place, the fairy castle whose walls were made of foam, that legendary habitation in which he had been born.’

16  Heroines, castles, villains: the Gothic staples have been there from the inauguration of the Gothic. Returning to the original Gothic, even in excerpts, can yield surprising results in the current Gothic imagination of school students:  See the project that I co-ran with a colleague at the University of Sheffield, with Year 9 pupils from three secondary schools in Sheffield: ‘Gothic Bites’.  

17 ‘Brave the uncanny and dare the dark corners of fiction...’


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