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About this book

What is the Gothic? Few literary genres have attracted so much praise and critical disdain simultaneously. This Guide returns to the Gothic novel's first wave of popularity, between 1764 and 1820, to explore and analyse the full range of contradictory responses that the Gothic evoked. Angela Wright appraises the key criticism surrounding the Gothic fiction of this period, from eighteenth-century accounts to present-day commentaries. Adopting an easy-to-follow thematic approach, the Guide examines:

- contemporary criticism of the Gothic
- the aesthetics of terror and horror
- the influence of the French Revolution
- religion, nationalism and the Gothic
- the relationship between psychoanalysis and the Gothic
- the relationship between gender and the Gothic.

Concise and authoritative, this indispensable Guide provides an overview of Gothic criticism and covers the work of a variety of well-known Gothic writers, such as Horace Walpole, Ann Radcliffe, Matthew Lewis and many others.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
What is the Gothic? Few literary genres have attracted so much critical appetite and opprobrium simultaneously. From its beginnings in 1764 with Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, through its production boom in the 1790s, to its present-day permutations, the Gothic remains as nebulous a genre as the shadowy veiled figures which haunt its pages. As E. J. Clery has indicated, ‘The attachment of the term Gothic to the literature of terror is quite a recent development — and almost entirely accidental.’1 Horace Walpole (1717–97) only attached the subtitle ‘A Gothic Story’ to the second edition of his novel, and the term was rarely used during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Angela Wright, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter One. ‘Terrorist Novel Writing’: the Contemporary Reception of the Gothic

Abstract
When Horace Walpole first published The Castle of Otranto on Christmas Day in 1764, he pretended that the novel was a translation from an obscure Italian work. The first Preface to the novel established this hoax, with the ‘translator’, one ‘William Marshall, Gent.’, commenting upon the circumstances under which he discovered the original work, offering some observations on the Romance genre, and arguing for the superior merits of the Italian language.
Angela Wright, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter Two. ‘Terror and Horror’: Gothic Struggles

Abstract
One of the first words that we associate with Gothic fiction is ‘terror’. As we saw in the previous chapter in the satirical letters ‘Terrorist Novel Writing’ and ‘The Terrorist System of Novel Writing’, the Gothic romance was in fact more often identified by the word ‘terror’ than by the word ‘Gothic’ during the late eighteenth century.1 But what does terror stand for, and why was it such a ubiquitous signifier for Gothic at the end of the eighteenth century? This is the question that this chapter will engage with through an exploration of contemporaneous critical writings on terror and its counterpart, horror, as well as twentieth-century critical responses to these terms.
Angela Wright, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter Three. ‘our hearths, our sepulchres’: the Gothic and the French Revolution

Abstract
As we have already seen in both Chapters One and Two, Gothic fiction was often referred to in its heyday as ‘Terrorist Writing’. In Chapter Two we explored the links of terror with eighteenth-century theories of the sublime. However, as ‘The Terrorist System of Novel Writing’ cited in Chapter One suggests, the term ‘terrorism’ was also equated with the emergent events of the French Revolution in the 1790s.1 In ‘The Terrorist System of Novel Writing’, the anonymous ‘Jacobin Novelist’ specifically linked the rise of the Gothic romance with the rise of the tyrannical and over-reaching Robespierre, who, by the late 1790s, had become infamous for his ‘reign of terror’ in Paris. The letter complained: ‘just at the time when we were threatened with a stagnation of fancy, arose Maximilian [sic] Robespierre, with his system of terror, and taught our novelists that fear is the only passion they ought to cultivate, that to frighten and instruct were one and the same thing …’.2 ‘Terror’ as an aesthetic Burkean concept (as explored in Chapter Two) was summarily stripped of its intellectual credentials in relation to Gothic fiction, and became a synecdoche — a part standing for the whole — for a more specifically threatening literary movement. This literary revolution was compared unflatteringly with the violent events of the French Revolution in the late 1790s.
Angela Wright, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter Four. ‘The sanctuary is prophaned’: Religion, Nationalism and the Gothic

Abstract
The Gothic genre’s preoccupation with monasteries, convents, evil nuns, proud monks and the Inquisition has been noted and explored.1 Critics have compared the labyrinthine nature of the cloisters and ruined monasteries to the element of mystery in which the Gothic’s protagonists are shrouded, and the decaying ruins of abbeys and convents to the crumbling edifices of power portrayed in the novels.
Angela Wright, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter Five. ‘This narrative resembles a delirious dream’: Psychoanalytical Readings of the Gothic

Abstract
As Horace Walpole testifies, since its beginnings the Gothic novel has been associated with dreams and fantasy. Gothic novels have always drawn on the unreality of their narrative components. Not only does Walpole confess to having dreamed up his ‘Gothic story’, but he also locates the origins of his dream in ‘a head filled like mine with Gothic story’. Walpole changed his subtitle for The Castle of Otranto from ‘A Story’ to ‘A Gothic Story’ in his second edition: why? He changed it because the word ‘Gothic’ in the phrase ‘Gothic story’ has an ambiguous value, because it suggests something that could colonize the waking and the sleeping mind. The chain of influence here is interesting. The ‘Gothic stories’ that Walpole devoured by day invaded his dreams by night. In turn, they dictated his unconscious creative process.1
Angela Wright, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter Six. ‘It is not ours to make election for ourselves’: Gender and the Gothic

Abstract
The epigraph to this chapter comes from the pen of a relatively unknown female author who both wrote Gothic novels and satirized them, closely following the literary market’s appetite for Gothic fiction. Sarah Green’s preface to her satirical work Romance Readers and Romance Writers (1810) mocks a culture apparently plagued by the cacoethes scribendi — the stubborn disease of writing — and mischievously implies that producing Gothic Romance is a both costly and presumptuous exercise: presumptuous, because women authors lacked ‘genius’; costly, because women often had to pay for the publication of their Romances. While the accusation of vanity publishing may have been true in the case of a few individuals, her generalization belies the extent to which female authors of Romance dominated the literary marketplace in the 1790s. Thomas Talfourd (1785–1854), for example, in his Life and Writings of Mrs Radcliffe (1826), acknowledged that:
■ The pecuniary advantages, which [Mrs Radcliffe] derived from her works … were considerable, according to the fashion of the times. For ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’ she received from Messrs. Robinson £500.; a sum then so unusually large for a work of fiction, that Mr. Cadell, who had great experience in such matters, on hearing the statement, offered a wager of £10. that it was untrue. By the Italian, although considerably shorter, she acquired about the sum of £800.1
Angela Wright, Nicolas Tredell

Conclusion

Abstract
From this first, hesitant excursion into the realms of Gothic romance, the terrain of Gothic literature, film, fashion, music and criticism has continued to proliferate and yet offers much ground to chart and explore. This Guide has begun by offering a variety of critical approaches to the first seven decades of the Gothic romance. It testifies to a vibrancy and plenitude of criticism on the Gothic, from 1760 to the present.
Angela Wright, Nicolas Tredell
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