Presentation on theme: "How did this all come about?. The first British novel was published in 1719 = Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe As a new invention, these novelists experimented."— Presentation transcript:
The first British novel was published in 1719 = Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe As a new invention, these novelists experimented with form and content. Epistolary structure Amorous & Gothic fiction Popular but shameful!
Shift from order and reason to emotion and imagination If science explains our existence, where is there space for feeling, reflection, thinking, exploration, and emotion? Romantics believed that science could NOT fully grasp the essence of “human.” “head vs. heart” OR “sense vs. sensibility” Jane Austen novel- Sense and Sensibility 1811
Past- return to Medieval Times & Knight’s tales Imagination- what man can create with his mind that cannot be created with science Common Man- everyday life/ not just stories about aristocrats Idealization of Women- a return to the chivalry of the Medieval Times Nature- growing Industrialization & the Industrial Revolution makes man appreciate nature even more Emotion- feelings as more true to the human experience than scientific formulas
“Gothic vs. Romantic” by Hume “Shift from Neoclassical ideals of order and reason toward Romantic belief in emotion and imagination” Refers to Burke’s essay on the sublime- “‘terror is the author’s principal engine’ to grip and affect the reader” “one of a kind treatment of the psychological problem of evil”
“the Gothic form had a curious appeal in terms of weaving a beauty of the unpleasant, the horrifying and even grotesque” This had a powerful impact on the human senses which Romantic fiction was all about. Gothic fiction gave way to Romantic fiction
Writers and critics in this period treated Gothic works like The Castle of Otranto— at the time, collectively referred to as “terrorist literature,” for their ability to induce feelings of horror—both as objects of scorn, and as (often unacknowledged) sources of inspiration.
The Gothic was a matter of particular concern for writers and critics in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth-centuries primarily because it was a phenomenally popular literary genre, particularly for women readers. Ex. Catherine Morland in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey hiding The Mysteries of Udolpho by Anne Radcliffe
One of the most common accusations against the Gothic was that it was fundamentally immoral: Gothic romances were said to corrupt their readers’ minds and encourage social disorder. The pedagogical effect of the genre on children was thought to be especially dangerous. An anonymous critic, who wrote a polemic against “Terrorist Novel Writing” in The Spirit of the Public Journals for 1797, denounced the Gothic for illustrating grotesque fantasies that defied the limits of common sense, claiming that these fantasies were bad moral lessons, which “carr[y] the young reader’s imagination into such a confusion of terrors, as must be hurtful. Unlike “useful” novels, which accurately depict “human life and manners, with a view to direct the conduct in the important duties of life, and to correct its follies,” Gothic romances illustrate bizarre situations “reaped from the distorted ideas of lunatics.” In this critic’s view, Gothic romances were hardly idle enjoyments: they were insidious implements of chaos that would ruin young people’s capacity for labour and for public service. This all-too-common “taste for the marvelous and the terrible” was, as the Monthly Review stated in 1796, akin to a plague, “an infection,” that must be stamped out for the health of the nation (qtd. in Epstein 205). The effect of the Gothic on women was thought to be, if anything, even more frightening. Terrorist fiction was accused of producing a cohort of mannish women, who would rather dream of death-defying adventures and thrilling romances than settle down, get married, and attend to their feminine duties.
In the eyes of conservative critics, a whole generation of women— and, by extension, a whole generation of wives and mothers, the very future of England—was in danger of contamination by the Gothic. The sanctity of matrimony itself was threatened by these books, which trained women to imagine marriage not as a solemn union before the watchful eyes of Church and State, but as a dramatic spectacle, in which bride and groom would pass “through long and dangerous galleries, where the lights burn blue, the thunder rattles, and the great window at the end presents the hideous visage of a murdered man” (“Terrorist” 601). In a world where women preferred to fantasize about confronting hosts of ghouls and nightmares with a dashing young man than marrying the proper gentleman selected for them by their parents, it was not hard for conservatives to imagine that social decay was imminent. By “emphasizing power relations and entaglements, and developing themes of veiling and entrapment,” the Gothic taught women to do the unthinkable: suspect the men in their lives—husbands, fathers, and priests—of potentially harbouring malevolent intentions towards them (Epstein 205). Gothic romances were disparaged not only for filling women’s heads with impossible dreams and potentially turning females against their male rulers, but also for touting profligacy and indolence.
Anyone wanting to make a quick dollar could successfully write a bestselling Gothic romance. Gothic authors were accused of being less artists than manufacturers, less writers than druggists following pre-made prescriptions, pushing vast quantities of mass-produced novels onto the market. The entire genre was effectively maligned by such attacks as a bourgeois conspiracy: a secret moneymaking pact between greedy booksellers, printers, and hack writers.
Coleridge held a derogatory opinion of Gothic novels. His friend and literary collaborator William Wordsworth took many malicious, in-direct snipes at the Gothic in the preface to the second edition of Lyrical Ballads, the foundational work of English Romanticism. Wordsworth derided the Gothic—which he pejoratively foreignized as “frantic novels, sickly and stupid German tragedies”—for stirring up overly strong, forceful emotions like terror and despair (Wordsworth 267). In his view, Gothic novels were textual drugs, which numbed human faculties of sympathy and imagination, and their devoted readers were addicts possessed by a “degrading thirst after outrageous stimulation” (Wordsworth 267). The genre employed a plethora of “gross and violent stimulants,” which obscured, rather than revealed, the nature of reality (Wordsworth 266). Stylistically, the Gothic was overwrought in its prose and melodramatic in its themes, littered with “gaudiness and inane phraseology” (Wordsworth 264). In many respects, Wordsworth theorized what he and Coleridge were doing in their poems—i.e. using unadorned, simple language to meditate “in tranquility” upon powerful emotions that were experienced by ordinary, “rustic” men and women, and induced by everyday situations in nature— as the polar opposite of the Gothic. Romantic poetry was akin to a twelve-step program for weaning society off its addiction to extravagant Gothic romances.
What Romantic and Gothic literature share is a belief that the chief role of literature should be to arouse and channel primal human affects and emotions like fear, wonder and eroticism. Such sentiments are powerful and potentially transgressive, having the capacity to unsettle rigid hierarchical social divisions, which is why both Gothic and Romantic authors were, at times, considered deviant by England’s establishment. While Gothic works like The Castle of Otranto, which are notorious for having wooden, stock characters and predictable situations, focus on surfaces, externalities and seemingly superficial details, Romantic works tend to focus on depths—the rich, lively, complex depths of the natural world and the human psyche in particular. We can interpret the Gothic, and all of the complicated responses to it, as the symptoms of a society struggling to think through the implications of a great many significant changes: changes in the extent and meaning of literacy, and changes in how humans understand their own lives and the lives of people around them.