AD's English Literature : GOTHIC NOVELS: MEDIEVAL, WILDERNESS, GLOOM AND SUPERNATURALISM

GOTHIC NOVELS: MEDIEVAL, WILDERNESS, GLOOM AND SUPERNATURALISM


                                                             
The term Gothic originally referred to the Goths, a Germanic tribe, rather savage and aggressive in nature subsequently it came to signify whatever was Germanic and then ‘medieval’ ‘Gothic architecture’ or design now denotes the medieval type of architecture, with some specific features. The term Gothic has, in fact, come to mean now medieval.

The word Gothic has, even now, a wide variety of meanings and which has had in the past even more. It is used in a number of different fields; as literary terms, as a historical term, as an artistic term, as an architectural term. As a literary term in contemporary usage, it has a range of different applications. In a literary context, ’Gothic’ is most usually applied to a group of novels written between the 1760 and the 1820.

The Gothicness of the 18th century Gothic novels consists in an uncanny atmosphere of wilderness, gloom and how or based on the supernatural. The Gothic gloom played upon inherent element of natural and superstitious fear in human life. The haunted castles and secret passages, vaults and dark galleries permeated by irksome howling of wind and Thunderous noises aroused eruption of fear acted as the powerful solvent of all that was rational in the 18th century. The stimulation of fear and the probing of the mysterious provided the reason or degree of the Gothic novelists who played an important part in liberating emotions.

The Gothic novel or romance is also related to medievalism in fiction. This is a type novel, with some medieval setting. The theme of the novel often includes the appearance of ghosts, the mysterious disappearance of some persons and other sensational and supernatural occurrence. The novel produces a chilling terror by exploiting the machinery of mystery, cruelty and dread.

Horace Walpole’s innovation of the new pattern of fiction, as noted already, is found to have set a new popular fashion in the fiction world. Clara Reeve’s The Old English Baron and William Beckford’s vathek a two early effective examples. Both novels have medieval settings, erotic sensations and mysterious situation and create enough of and dread.

But the most important name in the Gothic romances is Anne Radcliffe who is also found inspired by Walpole. In her works, such as The Romances of the Forest, The mysteries of udolafo and The Italian, This type of novel shows its perfection. Mrs. Radcliffe’s treatment of the supernatural is much refined and psychologically impressive and theme is the rationalism of that which appears mysterious and dreadful. Her novel indicates the definite advancement of Gothic romances.

  Mrs. Radcliffe’s influence on some subsequent authors of Gothic romances is quite distinct. George Lewis, noted for The Monk, Robert Maturin for The Fatal Revenge and Malmoth, The wandered, and Mrs. Shelley for Frankenstein may be mentioned here in particular. The Monk is full of sensations and terrors. The Fatal Revenge is reminiscent of Radicliffian type of horror, whereas Malmoth, the wandered combines supernatural machinery with psychological suggestiveness. Mrs. Shelly’s romance, extremely popular even today, deals with the dangerous reaction of man’s creation of science. Though full of incredibility and terror, the novel carries a dedicated value, and is well suggestive of the need of restraints in man’s scientific ambition. 

The Gothic novelists had a definite and immediate influence on the Romantic poets. The method of the Gothic novelists resembles the canons of Romantic poetry. In both the Gothic and the Romantic creeds there is a marked tendency to slip imperceptibly from the real into the other world. In the Gothic novels and the romantic poem we notice the same utilitarianism of art as is reflected in the philosophic prefaces and appended morals. Coleridge, Keats and Byron all show strong traces of Gothic interests and concerns. The Byronic hero comes of the lineage of the Gothic villain. Shelley’s short novel Zastorozzi, written in 1810 is in the Gothic tradition. It is, of course, the work of a school – boy; but it is no worse and no better than much of the popular Gothic fiction of its day.

It is generally claimed that in the Victorian Age, Gothic fiction gave way to a healthier fiction dealing with real life. The exploration law life by, Dickens as in Oliver Twist exceeded Gothic in its vigour and excitement. The Bronte sisters luxuriantly used the suggestive method Mrs. Radcliffe for creating the Gothic atmosphere in their memorable novels.

The Gothic novelists made valuable contribution to the novel. Summarizing the contribution of these novelists W.H. Hudson writes,” There is little in the production of either of these writers to interest us such today. But we must note the historical significance of their return to the romantic middle Ages and of their appeal to the imagination by the free use of the mysterious and the supernatural, and we must remember that they did much to stimulate and fertilize the genius of Scott.


Ref: 1. History of English Literature- Albert, 
      2. The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature
      3. Microsoft Students’ Encarta

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