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Gothic settings are desolate, alienating and full of menace

By Scarlett-Collins Dec 08, 2013 1140 Words
“Gothic settings are desolate, alienating and full of menace”. In the light of this comment, consider some of the ways in which writers use settings in the gothic texts you have read. In ‘The Bloody Chamber’ and ‘Wuthering Heights’, Carter and Bronte conform to the gothic conventions with desolate and alienating settings that are full of menace, but there are also elements that subvert this view and portray purity and entrapment; the need to escape the gothic mould. A desolate setting is a place without life in a state of bleak and dismal emptiness. This is expressed in ‘The Courtship of Mr Lyon” when the girl finds herself “bored” in the country. This subverts the gothic as the country is associated with purity and feminine inexperience, compared to the male dominated, corrupted city. We see here that the girl longs to break the mould of female passivity with the “mean kitchen” and her boredom. “All the snow” and the words “light” “bright” and “white” infer purity and represents her total innocence but also isolation from the outside world, living down a long “unmarked” “country road”. Carter places the girl at the window in his tale and uses a lack of description of the kitchen to create a sense of longing for the outside world. She is trapped in the domestic sphere in the “kitchen” but “pauses on her chores”. This foreshadows transgressing gender barriers in the story. For a gothic setting to be alienating it could be it makes someone feel isolated or estranged. The girl in ‘The Bloody Chamber’ feels cut off from her previous, un-married life in the castle surrounded by water. She described how she goes “into marriage, into exile” and “would always be lonely”. She feels alone in a patriarchal society because “his forefathers had ruled the coast for centuries”. This highlights the in which the woman must conform to his wishes, but also connotes medieval undertones of a fairy tale. The girl presents the castle as a “magic place, the fairy castle whose walls were made of foam” alluding to the supernatural in the ‘magic’ place like a ‘fairy castle’, which highlights gothic architecture of grand castles. The ‘foam’ however subverts to the gothic as it suggests pleasant freedoms and a lack of substance, almost like it’s from a dream. In contrast to this image, the reality of “a thick darkness, unlit by any star” represents her entrapment and struggle to recover from discovering his dead wives in the bloody chamber. She feels deeply corrupted with no hope of escaping her “new knowledge” for which she “must pay the price”, as the room is ‘unlit’ by stars. This suggestion that women should not have knowledge connotes religious imagery of when Eve corrupted Adam and they ‘paid the price’ for Eve’s sin. This ‘knowledge’ gives the girl the power to question the Marquis’s power because when looking at the picture of Saint Cecilia, she asks “what had been the nature of her martyrdom?” in which she questions her corruption. She suggests Cecilia was only beheaded for her disobeying a man. A "bloody chamber" is present in some form in each of the ten stories and whilst taking different forms throughout the book, it serves the same symbolic purpose. It is a room where violence and enlightenment occur simultaneously. It is a place of transformation for the heroine. The term "bloody chamber" can also refer to the womb, and Carter uses this fact to underscore the connection between women's sexuality and the violence they experience.In "The Courtship of Mr. Lyon," the bloody chamber is the Beast's room. Even though the Beast does not hurt anyone in the room, it represents the violent and "bloody" reputation. If the Beast is seen as a being who devours, his room is perceived as a place of terror - a bloody chamber. The Beast's room is also a place of transformation for both himself and the heroine. It is there that she realizes her love for him and that he transforms back into a human. Alienating settings can also cause someone to become unsympathetic or hostile. The characters in Wuthering Heights fit in to their new surroundings, subconsciously, and adapt to its beliefs and values and become hostile to their previous way of life. They adapt to the “narrow windows…deeply set in the wall” with a “range of gaunt thorns”. The Grange rich regal colours such as ‘crimson’ and ‘blues’, showing that the characters have become aware of their social standing and expectations; whereas at Wuthering Heights, there are “gaudy painted canisters” with objects that are “liver-coloured”, “black” and “green”. Wuthering Heights portrays violence and freedom to act as you please and when Lockwood encounters Cathy’s ghost he “pulled its wrist on the broken pane, and rubbed it to and fro till the blood ran down and soaked the bed-clothes”. He states that “terror made me cruel” and this fear of what is uncertain or obscure at Wuthering Heights explains his violence. This state contrasts to his highly cultured and civilised behaviour at the beginning of the novel. If a setting is ‘full of menace’ then it poses a threat or danger in a hostile manor. During Lockwood’s first visit of Wuthering Heights he feels threatened by the way he describes its appearance “among a wilderness of crumbling griffins”. Griffins are inhuman evil creatures, suggesting the residents of Wuthering Heights to be cruel and wild. Lockwood feels under threat because he does not know how to act around a family that is crumbling from society’s control. Therefore, “passing the threshold” would mean Lockwood transgressing the boundaries of social norms. Once inside, Lockwood feels trapped because “the narrow windows are deeply set in the wall” making it impossible to get out. It gives the impression of a prison, where the morally corrupted are kept, with their secrets and taboos. It can also be seen that Wuthering heights poses a threat to Thrushcross Grange because the characters keep wanting to go there and escape from culture at the Grange and become free from entrapment in an oppressive society and become reunited with nature. This is the case for Cathy, Isabella, Catherine and Nelly, who feel drawn to danger, which is liberating and freeing. Gothic settings are presented in this way in ‘The Bloody Chamber’ and ‘Wuthering Heights’ with danger and heightened emotions. Although the settings are predominantly desolate, alienating and full of menace, there are elements that subvert the Gothic. The idyllic, innocent location in The Courtship of Mr Lyon contrasts to the intimidating castle in The Bloody Chamber; this innocence is emphasised because it is placed after the Bloody Chamber in the book, from which we would expect death, violence and sex. This idyllic setting foreshadows how the tale will subvert these gothic conventions.

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