Is the Gothic mode Essay

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Is the Gothic mode necessarily subversive? The answer to that question is yes. Authors of Gothic works use the genres melodramatic elements of romance and horror/suspense to make social and political commentary, often in contrast to prevailing schools of thought. In both Austens Northanger Abbey and Walpoles The Castle of Otranto, both texts present conflicting views romanticism vs. reason; protection of the existing social/class structure and its mores vs. feminism/equality for all.

Their works were in response to the increased censorship and acts of repression of the 1790s and early 1800s, the Age of Enlightenment, a period characterized by scientific advancements, industrialization, a focus on logical and reasoned thinking, and the fight for personal freedoms. Both authors, however, use irony as a subversive element, to show the disadvantages and unfairness of the existing institutions, and how the Age of Enlightenment still enforced restrictions on people based on class, gender and the prevailing beliefs of the time period.

One of the most important themes in both works is the contrasting positions of men and women (a subversive element). Both novels contain strong antagonists, who were powerful, villainous men. The characters exercised complete control over others Prince Manfred in The Castle of Otranto and General Tilney in Northanger Abbey. Females, on the other hand, were portrayed as powerless and as having no control over their circumstances Princesses Matilda, Isabella and Hippolita of The Castle of Otranto and Catherine of Northanger Abbey.

Females had to conform to a strict code of conduct and were often seen as lacking in intelligence and unable to make decisions. Men were considered the complete opposite. Examples of this are as follows: Manfred: Manfred, Prince of Otranto, had one son and one daughter: the latter, a most beautiful virgin, aged eighteen, was called Matilda. Conrad, the son, was three years younger, a homely youth, sickly, and of no promising disposition; yet he was the darling of his father, who never showed any symptoms of affection to Matilda.

Manfred had contracted a marriage for his son with the Marquis of Vicenzas daughter, Isabella; and she had already been delivered by her guardians into the hands of Manfred, that he might celebrate the wedding as soon as Conrads infirm state of health would permit. Hippolita: Hippolita, his wife, an amiable lady, did sometimes venture to represent the danger of marrying their only son so early, considering his great youth, and greater infirmities; but she never received any other answer than reflections on her own sterility, who had given him but one heir.

(The birth of only one male child was seen as a shortcoming of the mother, not the father. ) Manfred: I desired you once before, said Manfred angrily, not to name that woman: from this hour she must be a stranger to you, as she must be to me. In short, Isabella, since I cannot give you my son, I offer you myself. I tell you, said Manfred imperiously, Hippolita is no longer my wife; I divorce her from this hour. Too long has she cursed me by her unfruitfulness.

My fate depends on having sons, and this nightI trust will give a new date to my hopes. (Manfred decides he wants his daughter-in-law Isabella and that he will divorce his wife Hippolita. ) Isabella: Heavens! cried Isabella, waking from her delusion, what do I hear? You! My Lord! You! My father-in-law! The father of Conrad! The husband of the virtuous and tender Hippolita! Look, my Lord! See, Heaven itself declares against your impious intentions! (Isabella tries to reject Manfreds unwanted attentions.

) Catherine: She never could learn or understand anything before she was taught; and sometimes not even then, for she was often inattentive, and occasionally stupid. (Like many women during the time period, she was seen as mentally/intellectually inept). Catherine: ¦it was not very wonderful that Catherine, who had by nature nothing heroic about her, should prefer cricket, baseball, riding on horseback, and running about the country at the age of fourteen, to books or at least books of information.

: (She was not accomplished in the feminine arts as was expected during this time period. ) Harold: He talked with fluency and spirit ” and there was an archness and pleasantry in his manner which interested, though it was hardly understood by her. (Catherine met Harold Tilney and had a conversation with him. He, of course, being a man, was portrayed as brighter than Catherine. ) General: Enraged with almost everybody in the world but himself, he set out the next day for the abbey, where his performances have been seen¦Turned away from the house, and in such a way!

”without any reason that could justify, any apology that could atone for the abruptness, the rudeness, nay, the insolence of it¦The general, accustomed on every ordinary occasion to give the law in his family, prepared for no reluctance but of feeling, no opposing desire that should dare to clothe itself in words, could ill brook the opposition of his son, steady as the sanction of reason and the dictate of conscience could make it. (When the General hears untrue gossip that Catherine is from an impoverished family, and he banishes her from Northanger Abbey.

He assumes his son Henry will agree, with no arguments, with his decision to make Catherine leave. ) Both novels also address issues of class discrimination (another subversive element). Because General Tilney and Prince Manfred are wealthy, powerful men, they can discriminate against people from the servant class. Some examples are as follows: General Tilney: To such anxious attention was the generals civility carried, that not aware of her extraordinary swiftness in entering the house, he was quite angry with the servant who had reduced her to open the door of the apartment herself.

¦ And if Catherine had not warmly asserted his innocence, it seemed likely that William would lose the favour of his master for ever, if not his place, by her rapidity. (The General would have dismissed a servant who had simply followed her orders if Catherine had not interceded. ) Manfred: Manfred thus saw his commands even cheerfully obeyed; and appointing a guard with strict orders to prevent any food being conveyed to the prisoner, he dismissed his friends and attendants, and retired to his own chamber, after locking the gates of the castle, in which he suffered none but his domestics to remain.

(Manfred order a servant, who commented on the helmet that killed his son, jailed for the murder of Conrad. ) Another aspect of both works that can be seen as subversive is both authors references to the melodrama of Gothic literature. Both novels were, first and foremost, a reaction to the restrictive elements of the Age of Reason/Enlightenment. The period was characterized by a focus on logic as opposed to emotion. Austen, however, takes this a step further and parodies the Gothic style.

Some examples are as follows: Catherine: (After reading too many Gothic novels, Catherine comes to Northanger Abbey, and her imagination runs wild. She likens the Abbey to what she had read. ) An abbey! ”yes, it was delightful to be really in an abbey! ”but she doubted, as she looked round the room, whether any thing within her observation, would have given her the consciousness. The furniture was in all the profusion and elegance of modern taste.

¦ The windows, to which she looked with peculiar dependence, from having heard the General talk of his preserving them in their Gothic form with reverential care, were yet less what her fancy had portrayed. To be sure, the pointed arch was preserved”the form of them was Gothic”they might be even casements”but every pane was so large, so clear, so light! To an imagination which had hoped for the smallest divisions, and the heaviest stone-work, for painted glass, dirt and cobwebs, the difference was very distressing. Catherine: [t]his is just like a book!

”But it cannot really happen to me (p. 139), when she discovers the mysterious chest in her room, her words typically echo those of the Gothic heroine: I will look into it”cost me what it may, I will look into it”and directly too”by day-light . ”If I stay till evening my candle may go out. What she finds within is a white cotton counterpane, and Austen points out the absurdity of such delusions, when Eleanor arrives at her door: the rising shame of having harboured for some minutes an absurd expectation, [to] which was then added the shame of being caught in so idle a search.

However, Catherines perceptions remain obscured by her reading: later the same day, she searches through a promising closet, and finds a roll of paper pushed back into the further part of the cavity, apparently for concealment¦ Austen further takes apart the Gothic style when the papers disclose their secret: Could it be possible, or did not her sense play her false? ”An inventory of linen, in coarse and modern characters, seemed all that was before her!

Henry: If I understand you rightly, you had formed a surmise of such horror as I have hardly words to”Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from? Remember the country and the age in which we live. Remember that we are English, that we are Christians. Consult your own understanding, your own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you Does our education prepare us for such atrocities? Do our laws connive at them?

Could they be perpetrated without being known, in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing; where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay every thing open? Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting? (Unable to find any secrets in the Abbey, Catherine transfers her Gothic fantasies onto the General, until all her romantic indulgences are shown to be false by Henrys response to her imaginings.

The Abbey is not what Catherine has made it, and each return to reality is followed by a resolution not to make the same errors of imagination again, but each resolution is then followed by a return to Gothic fantasy. ) (Additionally, Henrys speech is an ironic reference to English society and the English view of themselves as superior to other cultures nationalism. ) Isabella: At that instant the portrait of his grandfather, which hung over the bench where they had been sitting, uttered a deep sigh, and heaved its breast.

Isabella, whose back was turned to the picture, saw not the motion, nor knew whence the sound came, but started, and said Hark, my Lord! What sound was that? and at the same time made towards the door¦Fortifying herself with these reflections, and believing by what she could observe that she was near the mouth of the subterraneous cavern, she approached the door that had been opened; but a sudden gust of wind that met her at the door extinguished her lamp, and left her in total darkness.

(Manfreds immoral actions have unforeseen consequences. His evil has released the castles ghost. Isabellas actions are based on emotion, not logic. She allows her fear to lead her into unexplored areas of the castle the same was Gothic literature involves the emotions of its readers and allows them to be inspired, to be creative, to be free thinkers. ) Catherine: She had a thin awkward figure, a sallow skin without colour, dark lank hair, and strong features;”so much for her person;”and not less unpropitious for heroism seemed her mind.

She was fond of all boys plays, and greatly preferred cricket not merely to dolls, but to the more heroic enjoyments of infancy, nursing a dormouse, feeding a canary-bird, or watering a rose-bush. (She not only demonstrated that Catherine is the opposite of the typical Gothic heroine, but that heroes dont have to fit into a particular mold. ) At the conclusion of Northanger Abbey, Catherine marries the man of her dreams Henry despite the interference from General Tilney, Isabella and John.

(Thus, the novels attack on the exaggerations of romance remains in place, but the characters learn that realism is more frightening than romance, and that ironic perception must be applied even to the political assumptions that seem safe and realistic. Catherines Gothic sensibility which depends on an instinctive morality of sentiment is not wrong, but merely incomplete without the balancing intellectual perspective of irony. ) At the conclusion of The Castle of Otranto, there is a reaffirmation of a system of moral and social order in the character of Manfred.

Everything that the prince does is for the purpose of securing an heir and ensuring the survival of his bloodline. We are obviously not meant to look upon his actions with favor Father Jerome says to him, By me thou are reprimanded for thy adulterous intention. This critique of Manfred can easily be linked to a critique of the aristocracys obsession with maintaining their noble bloodlines. At the end of the novel, however, Manfred is revealed to be a false noble he is not a real member of the nobility, having only gained the throne through his grandfathers usurpation of it.

The castles curse is ended. Manfreds actions are thus no longer grounds for criticizing the aristocracy because he is not one of them. Social order is restored by the revelation of Manfreds ancestry, just as it is restored by Isabellas marriage. A visual symbol of this statement can be seen in the collapse of the castle at the end. Like the overthrow of social norms, a clap of thunder [¦] shook the castle to its foundations however, the entire castle was not torn down, as we see the characters [retiring] to the remaining part of the castle.

Additionally, the dramatic fates of The Castle of Otrantos other characters typical in Gothic literature seem to be the direct result of their choices. Hippolitas unswerving and blind obedience to her husband Manfred is shown as a set back, as it allows and even aids in his free reign of evil. Even when Father Jerome comes to the castle to confront Manfred on his desires for Isabella, Hippolita tells him, Holy father [¦] it is your office to be no respecter of persons: you must speak as your duty prescribes: but it is my duty to hear nothing that it pleases not my lord I should hear (49).

Even when Hippolita is finally told that Manfred plans to divorce her, she accepts it, saying, It is not ours to make election for ourselves; heaven, our fathers, and our husbands, must decide for us (91). The equal importance given to heaven, fathers, and husbands, shows the degree of submission Hippolita has towards Manfred as though he were a deity. Hippolitas continued over-done professions of loyalty to Manfred, as well as her exhortations to Matilda to respect his wishes, establish this type of conduct as a norm while appearing to criticize it at the same time.

We see the criticism through Father Jerome, who dreaded Hippolitas unbounded submission to the will of her lord (63). Hippolita even suggests that Matilda marry Isabellas father as a means of averting the curse on their family. Ultimately, Hippolita is removed to a convent where she is to spend the rest of her days. It is interesting to note that Matilda, while being just as submissive and passive as Hippolita for most of the novel, seems to acknowledge that this may not be a good thing. Oh! doubt not my obedience, my dreadful obedience to him and to you [Hippolita]!

Matilda cries painfully as she is told of the plan to marry her off (91). In one rare moment of disobedience and action, Matilda not only frees her fathers prisoner, Theodore, but in effect declares that it is the correct thing to do: though filial duty and womanly modesty condemn the step I am taking, yet holy charity, surmounting all other ties, justifies this act (72). Yet even this conviction that Matilda displays is reversed at the end of the novel when, dying from her fathers stab wound, she asks, Dearest father, bless your child, and say that you forgive her (109).

In the end, Matilda remains as frustratingly permissive as her mother, and Matilda is killed by the hand of her own father (albeit accidently). Isabella, by contrast, is an active character that fights against the injustices perpetrated by Manfred. Rather than being a heroine that things happen to, Isabella is a female hero who makes things happen she strives to save herself rather than wait to be saved. She openly states her refusal to comply even to her own fathers wishes if she found them to be objectionable:

My father is too pious, too noble [¦] to command an impious deed. But should he command it, can a father enjoin a cursed act? I was contracted to the son [Manfreds son]; can I wed the father? No, madam, no; force should not drag me to Manfreds hated bed. I loathe him, I abhor him: divine and human laws forbid. In the end, Isabella gets to marry Theodore whom both Matilda and Isabella loved as well as become the new mistress of the castle. It is Isabella, the active and rebellious female of the three, who ends up with the happy ending.

After all of her efforts to escape from Manfreds tyrannical clutches, she enters into another contract that places her under the domination of a man that of marriage. Whats more, the marriage is an unnatural one that occurs in grief rather than happiness: But Theodores grief was too fresh to admit the thought of another love; and it was not till after frequent discourses with Isabella, of his dear Matilda, that he was persuaded he could know no happiness but in the society of one with whom he could forever indulge the melancholy that had taken possession of his soul.

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