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Analyzing Philosophical Ideas In Gothic Literature English Literature Essay

Info: 1625 words (7 pages) Essay
Published: 1st Jan 2015 in English Literature

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Most Gothic novels aim to show the sinister side of human nature. They depict the dark terrors which lie beneath the reader’s mentality. The term “Gothic” suggests a genre which deals with frightening and mysterious settings by giving connotations of ghostly castles and supernatural events. The Sublime experience as stated by the critic Longinus is, “…a matter of treatment. The particular form of the sublime experience that requires prepossessing objects is not only the form; it is simply the form in which enthusiasm preponderates over irony” [1] . The Castle of Otranto is the first Gothic novel written by Horace Walpole in which the idea of the Sublime is presented through its physical, transcending and overpowering imagery. This experience is also illustrated in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; both novels explore the idea and concept of the Sublime and show the theoretical notions through its characters and themes conveyed. I will examine the features of the genre by looking at the imagery which is presented by the writers in order to come to understand the importance of the philosophical idea of the Sublime. I will argue that the horror developed in both Gothic novels is partially based upon the appearance of ghosts and supernatural events, yet also consist of a more faint kind of presentation of horror. I will also explore the way in which Walpole evokes fear in the reader through his use of setting, and the effects they have along with Shelley’s presentation of Frankenstein and the monster. The element which will be a main focus in this essay will be how the idea of the Sublime is relevant to the study of Gothic in these two specific texts mentioned.

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The novel also deals with many infinitive situations, for example when the painting moves itself and when the helmet appears out of no where, a sense of obscurity and irrationality is conveyed through the supernatural force going around. To make any thing seem horrifying, obscurity seems to be something which is necessary. When the readers know of any danger around, and when they familiarize themselves to it, a great deal of the anxiety disappears. Edmund Burke a theorist stated in his works that, “…Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain and danger; that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime” [2] . The critic attempts to assemble an authoritative definition of the sublime here.

Furthermore Gothic castles were built as symbols of systematic power; they were definite assertions of ambition that rested on the owner’s control of others. A sense of empowerment is suggested through this idea therefore indicating to the Sublime having a dominant role in the Gothic genre. Intended to convey a disputing power, Walpole implies images of force, hierarchy, stability and command in the novel. The Castle Of Otranto, attempts to capture a sense of realism through its illustration of settings and characters. Burke commented that: “whatever is fitted to produce such a tension must be productive of a passion similar to terror; and consequently must be a source of the sublime, though it should have no idea of danger connected with it” [3] . Consequently the Sublime is shown to be produced by a passion which is closely related to terror, this is evident through the tension created by the settings and characters; a sense of terror is illustrated. The novel was an original Gothic behind the overthrow of the Roman Empire, therefore Gothic at the time applied to anything and everything medieval. The writing emerged in the 18th Century during the age of enlightenment and during the rise of political equality. Science brought immense changes to society as a whole, Walpole deployed all the theatrical scenery and stereotypes that were to characterize Gothic stories for a very long time.

Another story which deals with the idea of the Sublime is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; the Gothic is distinguished by playing on the fears of the body as being mortal. During the time Frankenstein was written, the world was seen to be changing and new movements and ideologies were transpiring all over the world. The Romanticism period was expanding which aimed and focused on the importance of the Sublime, the individual and many other theories. The idea of the ‘human body’ seems to play an important theme throughout the entire novel as it is used to emphasise the emotions of the characters and by Shelley to suggest the power of nature, for both destruction and beauty. There is a continual atmosphere of obscurity and anticipation in the course of the novel which is created throughout the settings and imagery put forward. The division of the mortal body enables us as the readers to understand the monster’s perspective and feelings of life itself; it shows how he is neglected by people and society due to his appearance.

In the novel we see that the monster wants to be with Victor, while Victor wants to disregard the hideous monster he created. The monster can in many ways be seen as being spiritually alive as he only longs for attention; he is shown to be much more humane than Victor in many aspects. The boundary between the spiritually dead and the spiritually alive comes into perspective when the monster is rejected by his inventor and closed off from society due to his manifestation. Here the hierarchy of power is put into question; it shows how the inhuman monster is placed below the humans, for that reason Victor restricts himself inside his laboratory that contains human body parts. There are many instances of isolation that show the Gothic genre thrives upon the idea of isolation and disclosure. It is arguable to see Victor as someone who is spiritually dead as he befriends his own creation, nevertheless it can also be seen that the monster is spiritually dead, as he is a constant murderer in the course of the novel.

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Nature has been used in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to be very antagonistic and terrifying. Shelley tends to use the rain, wind and storm to show the power of the Sublime, she uses nature to create a striking mood and tone in the book. On the contrary sometimes the Sublime can be reassuring and comforting rather than terrifying and mysterious: “My spirits were elevated by the enchanting appearance of nature; the past was blotted from my memory, the present was tranquil, and the future gilded by bright rays of hope and anticipations of joy. [4] ” During the Romanticism period the Sublime was linked to God, Shelley used this idea in order to explain how Frankenstein’s character was often affected by nature and the Sublime. Burke states that: “The passion caused by the great and sublime in nature, when those causes operate most powerfully, is astonishment; and astonishment is that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror” [5] . This gives readers the chance to understand that fear is an experience of the Sublime. It suggests darkness and loneliness; additionally concerning an abandoned character. In Frankenstein, the Sublime points towards the beliefs of Gothic literature. Shelley’s dramatic descriptions of the scenery convey a romantic positive reception on the beauty of nature; however they are combined with a sense of Gothic terror. In many ways the novel can indicate to be an attack on aesthetics that highlight the Sublime over the beautiful as dehumanizing us. Frankenstein’s monster is revealed to be Sublime, throughout the novel it is clear to identify that Shelley favours the beautiful over the Sublime as she makes this apparent through the character of the monster and society.

In conclusion the philosophical idea of the Sublime is very important to consider in relation to the study of Gothic. Without the Sublime features in a Gothic novel, the narrative would feel as though it were heading towards another genre. If the main aim was to convey a gothic feel or experience, the Sublime is necessary to consider. It is a theory which allows readers to become involved and able to relate to the atmosphere through the techniques the writers use. Creating a terrifying experience for the audience cannot be done without the idea of the Sublime, it is an essential aspect needed in order for the Gothic genre to come alive. It is clear to identify that the idea of the Sublime seemed to be a very strong concept during the Romantic Movement; it allowed Gothic books and novels create a better effect for readers. The idea that Burke puts across about the Sublime gives the Gothic genre some authority, he emphasises on the power of terror which is an essential concept in a Gothic novel. Overall both novels Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s the great Gatsby both illustrate very clearly that the theoretical idea of the Sublime is important when studying Gothic.

Word count: 1848


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