In 1798 an anonymous author published a commentary that revealed exactly how some writers received the Gothic during this time: “ Take—An old castle, half of it ruinous
A long gallery, with a great many doors, some secret ones. Three murdered bodies, quite fresh.
As many skeletons, in chests and presses.
An old woman hanging by the neck; with her throat cut. Assassins and desperadoes, quant. suff.
Noises, whispers, and groans, threescore at least.” (1-7) After reading many of the selections in the anthology, I found this poem on a Gothic’s “recipe” to be quite true (602). However, in the case of this anonymous writer, he considers all of these characteristics to be negative. I, on the other hand, find it very intriguing that this type of novel developed in a time ruled by writers whose main focus was politics and poetry. Many influential writers including Coleridge and Wordsworth criticized the characteristics, morality, purpose, and significance of these novels; however, I believe many of the features they disliked actually broadened the scope of literature.
The Gothic novel was often attacked for being too formulaic. Although the specifics of the plot changed from novel to novel, the characteristics were often similar, which is something that is pointed out repeatedly by the Gothic’s critics. The similarities encountered in the characteristics of these novels include the setting, mystery, and characters to name a few. The setting of this type of novel is usually in a castle of sorts, or in some other mysterious place that produces suspense and terror within the reader. Although these settings were often alike, they “exist to convey the atmosphere” and are used “for ends that are fundamentally psychological” (Hume 286). This characteristic is one that set up the entire feeling of the novel, one of suspense, horror, and mystery. The setting of various novels was not uniform because it was the easy or obvious choice like many critics believed, but because it created a certain atmosphere that was needed for the plot. If the story had been set on a sunny beach, the atmosphere would have been much different and the reader would not get the same affect.
Like the settings, the mysteries that develop within Gothic novels are usually somewhat similar. From what I have come across, many include a murder or deep, dark secret that is unraveled by an ordinary person. While this may support Wordsworth’s claim that these novels are “sickly and stupid German tragedies” because of their straightforward plot, I find them to be quite interesting (266). These mysteries create suspense, and were the first “page-turners” that were ever written. Readers no longer had to decipher long and complicated meanings from pieces such as the “Lucy Gray” poems; instead, they could sit back, relax, and enjoy these novels that created an escape into a mysterious world.
Another piece of the “formula” that was important to the genre were the characters that were used throughout the novels. The characters were often simple people who were thrown into a situation that required extraordinary actions. While the simplicity of the characters was often criticized by writers who considered themselves to be “high culture,” these characters had the ability to “involve the reader in special circumstances” (Hume 286). Unlike the pieces that came before them, the Gothic novel had the capacity to draw the reader in, and put them in the shoes of the main character. For me, it was very hard to feel for the personas in earlier poems that we came across. I think the main reason for this is that the characters tended to be somewhat generic, but interesting. They allowed for anyone to understand the character and immerse themselves within the character’s thoughts. They also allowed for people to sink in to a particular character and feel the terror that they were feeling.
Cited: Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006. 582-584.
Hume, Robert D., “Gothic versus Romantic: A Revaluation of the Gothic Novel.” PMLA. 84.2
York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006. 263-274.
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