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The Gothic is a wide umbrella, able to encompass stories as varied as Anne Radcliffe’s The Italian, a passionate romance of young lovers set in “exotic” Italy against the backdrop of a corrupt Catholic hierarchy, and Bram Stoker’s epistolary Dracula, a horror tale where undead bloodsuckers are repelled by Van Helsing’s little cross. Common to them is an obsession with the sublime, our humbling enthrallment experienced before the menacing ineffable. This sublime, “the moment of entry into [our] unconscious,” derives enormous power because it is fueled by our psyche (Hasanat, “Module 1, Lecture 2”). Gothic authors mine their readers' captivation with the sublime, entangling them vicariously in the shock, terror, and visceral horror that the characters experience.
Aside from the omnipresent prospect of death, another recurring theme is constraint and denial of freedom. Characters are imprisoned or placed under control of powerful malefactors. Harker in Dracula’s castle, Vivaldi and Paulo trapped in the Neapolitan dungeon during Ellena's kidnapping, Jane Eyre shut inside crumbling disease-ridden Lowood, and brooding Rochester locking mad Bertha in Thornfield's attic are examples of environments employed in oppressing characters where danger is palpable and suffocating.
Hume writes the “key characteristic of the Gothic novel is not its devices, but its atmosphere” (286). This extends to the modern era as well. My favorite Gothic novel, Titus Groan, the first of Mervyn Peake’s series Gormenghast, takes place in a shadowy, crumbling castle filled with secret passages, galleries, and bizarre denizens who use their guile to climb the rigid household hierarchy. Christopher Paolini, author of the Inheritance Cycle, calls it “the ultimate Gothic fantasy.” This is a world Manfred of Otranto could inhabit without missing a beat.
However, today's Gothic novels like Interview with the Vampire and The Witching Hour by Anne Rice differ from the earliest Gothic novels in one important aspect. Because modern readers are exposed to Gothic elements early, rather than focusing on "exotic" settings, authors often strive for the uncanny, making the familiar strange, fostering reader insecurity by robbing their trust of what they believe is safe and known. It is singularly effective. Stephen King can transform a high school dance and hotel bathroom into places more terrifying than unlit subterranean passages. Still, it all accomplishes the same purpose: You tremble as you read and are enthralled.
Finally, Gothic literature was revolutionary. The original Age of Enlightenment audience was surrounded by a world becoming increasingly unreliable. It was a time of strife where—in the extremist moments—neck met sharp steel. For these people, Miles writes, “History’s pattern now appeared malign” (41). In this uncertain world, long-held values were questioned. One of the most important was the status of women, a common theme in early Gothic literature. Sex determined how a story was interpreted. Manfred, demanding without qualms an annulment from Hippolita in order to claim his deceased son’s young fiancée Isabella, surely terrified women more than disembodied helmets falling from the sky.
For many women, just reading Gothic fiction was outright rebellion. Hasanat writes in Module 1, Lecture 1, “The Gothic became popular… when women were becoming a significant part of the reading population.” Mary Wollstonecraft, philosopher and mother of Frankenstein author Mary Shelley, argued women (often denied education) were as intelligent as men. In A Vindication of the Rights of Women, she wrote, “Strengthen the female mind by enlarging it, and there will be an end to blind obedience” (15). Is it no surprise, then, the Female Gothic, spearheaded by Anne Radcliffe, happily skewered the patriarchy, especially how women were treated as property and denied self-determination?
Of our authors, Radcliffe intrigues me the most, because she chose not to use a pseudonym. Jane Austen was “A Lady.” Frankenstein was anonymous in its first edition, the Brontë sisters were Bells, but Anne Radcliffe, whose biographer apparently abandoned the project due to lack of material, published chilling anti-papist novels using her own name. Now that is impressive.
(650 words, 47 quoted from various sources)
Hasanat, Dr. Fayeza. “Lecture 1." Gothic Literature.
A long horrific account of America's deliberate segregation, its underlying current of white-onliness, born out of Loewen's personal journey of awakening to the fact he was surrounded by Sundown Towns, those locales so hostile to blacks that the communities orchestrate ways to keep them out. It's a long, hard slog, filled with disheartening stories, marks of shame of our past, of our present really, but books like this are so important both as eye-openers and motivators. Nobody conscious to American culture--again not just its history! We are talking about the present in many instances here--can deny these exclusionary practices, but Loewen focuses on the scale using census data and adds anecdotes that personalize the experience.
I read a lot of reviews here that mention how terrible reading this makes everyone feel, but for my part, I am overwhelmed by optimism, because it is cl…
Note: mild spoilers (just a little more than a dust jacket summary and list of characters)
Naomi Novik’s modern fairy tale, Spinning Silver, draws from Indo-European folklore, especially the story of Rumpelstiltskin. Novik is both upfront and subversive about the story’s roots, starting the novel by retelling the story of the miller’s daughter from the perspective of her tragically-worldly young protagonist, Miryem, who facing starvation and her mother’s illness becomes the debt collector for her inept money-lending father, Panov Mendelstam.
Miryem’s great ability to collect debts hardens her, while also garnering a reputation that she has an uncanny talent of creating gold, “spinning the silver” kopeks owed to her family and her opportunistic profits in the marketplace into gold zloteks. Both of these aspects of her development have consequences throughout the story. I’m going to keep the spoilers to the bare minimum to discuss my…
Wazimbo's "Nwahulwana" Found this on a German site: Warum wanderst du von Bar zu Bar? (“Why do you wander from bar to bar?”) So, the first time I heard this I thought I recognized some Portuguese, but it’s illusory; the language is actually Ronga. I suppose it was just the echoes of Brazilian music. I found, though, a translation into Portuguese, which I will translate to English, but here’s the thing: this transcription of the words isn’t correct. Also, I’m almost certain I hear “vôce” which means “you” in the lyrics. First, “nwahulwana” itself is a soft expression for prostitute, hence “night bird” is the poetic meaning. I thought it was a love song. My wife thought it was a prayer (probably because of the way Wazimbo lifts his eyes to the sky when he sings “Maria”). So, it is something like this, but there are mistakes, because the lines don’t match up. Also, I wonder if he is singing “Nwahulwana” when the song starts - . It’s hard to know since I don’t speak Ronga.