Studium anglistiky na KAA UPOL

(5) Elements of Horror, Romance, and Supernatural in Gothic Novels.

(H. Walpole, A. Radcliffe, M. G. Lewis, and M. Shelley).


T h e  B r i t i s h  R o m a n t i c  P e r i o d  (1785 - 1830)

[See "Background for Topics 2-5..."]

H o r a c e  W a l p o l e  ( 1 7 1 7 – 9 7 )

L i f e :

- b. Horatio W., son of the PM Sir Robert W. (1676 – 1745) and the 4th Earl of Orford

- received uni education

- undertook the 2 y. Grand Tour on the Continent with his homosexual lover, the poet Thomas Gray (1716 – 71) > quarrelled with him > returned to En. to take a seat in Parliament

- a politician = an MP, devotee of King George II (1683 – 1760, reign 1727 – 60) x but: politically unambitious

- an architectural innovator = began a new neo-Gothic architectural trend with his mock castle at Strawberry Hill (near Twickenham outside London) filled with an extraordinary eclectic coll. of art and a small press

- a connoisseur, antiquarian, art historian,… => a figure of considerable cultural importance

- coined the term ‘serendipity’ [= sth interesting or pleasant happening by chance] for E from a Persian fairy tale

W o r k :

F i c t i o n :

The Castle of Otranto (1764):

= a Gothic novel

- supposedly a ‘translation’ of the manuscript of a medieval Ita. tale of improbable catastrophes

- blended ‘two kinds of romance, the ancient and the modern’

- orig. accepted rather favourably x but: vilified by the press when revealed to be no transl. x but: a contemp. creation of the politically and socially well-connected son of the PM

> set a Gothic lit. trend to go with the architecture

D r a m a :

The Mysterious Mother:

= a Gothic drama

- conc.: the incest

- the mother seduces her ignorant son and gives birth to a daughter whom the son marries, not aware who her mother (let alone her father) is

- avoids the supernatural, but: incl. the character of a wicked monk

> unperformed in his lifetime

N o n - f i c t i o n :

Anecdotes of Painting in England (1762 – 80):

- in 4 vol.

> still a prime source for the study of the early pictorial arts in Br.

Historic Doubts on Richard III (1768):

- attempted to rehabilitate the character of Richard III (1452 – 85, reign 1483 – 85)

Letters (posthum.):

- a prodigious writer of letters: corresponded with many of the most important cultural and political figures of his time (incl. T. Chatterton, & oth.)

- one of the most brilliant writers of the Deistic school: freely admitted his scepticism about immortality and his distaste for priests and churches

Memoirs (posthum.):

- portrayed the Georgian (= the reign of George II and George III) social and political scene

> still a useful primary source for historians x but: a heavily biased one

A n n  R a d c l i f f e  ( 1 7 6 4 – 1 8 2 3 )

L i f e :

- started writing when found herself in a childless marriage < encouraged by her husband

- increasingly famous and financially successful x but: quit writing suddenly

- in her later life reclusive < possibly as a result of a nervous breakdown and an acute lifelong sense of propriety, decorum, and reserve

> enormously pop. in her day, esp. with upper / middle class young women

W o r k :

“On the Supernatural in Poetry” (1826, posthum):

= a serious essay

- presented her view of her own work:

(a) terror = ‘expands the soul, and awakens the faculties to a high degree of life’

(b) horror = ‘contracts, freezes, and nearly annihilates them’

(c) => terror = the source of her own fictional sublime

< her notion of the sublime = closer to Edmund Burke (1727 – 97, statesman and philosopher) (whom she read) x than to the supernatural sensationalism of the later Gothic novelists

< her sensibility = formed by the wild and perilous landscape paintings of Salvator Rosa (1615 – 73)

- centred her sublime on descriptions of imaginary scenery > pioneered the fictional use of landscape

- typical setting = an imaged Ita., with frequent impressions of solemn or ‘peculiar grandeur’ both to elevate and awe the spirits of her protagonists: The Italian, the F protagonist imprisoned in a convent overlooks a plain fringed with a ‘vast chain of mountains’

- typical protagonist = a decorous and sensible woman finding resource in her reasonableness

- typical technique = introd. apparently supernatural events x but: explains them afterwards carefully by natural means

> = a ‘founder of a class or school’ of ‘a peculiar style of composition affecting powerfully the mind of the reader’ (W. Scott)

> = a bridge btw the Augustans with her rationalistic explanations x the Romantics with her emphasis on the imagination and the supernatural

> a blend of moralism, aesthetics, and drama => the Romantic period: definitive for a more genteel strain of Gothic fiction x now: a subject to challenge

> a subject to many imitators of her style, incl. J. Austen’s burlesque of The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) in Northanger Abbey

The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne (1789):

- set the tone of the majority of her work

- preocc.: innocent x but: heroic young women finding themselves in gloomy castles ruled by mysterious barons with a dark past

The Sicilian Romance (1790)

The Romance of the Forest (1792)

The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794)

The Italian (1797)

M a t t h e w  G r e g o r y  L e w i s  ( 1 7 7 5 – 1 8 1 8 )

L i f e :

= ‘Monk’ Lewis

- educated for a diplomatic career

- the ethical demerits of The Monk (1796) did not interfere with his reception into the best society (noticed favourably at court, served as an MP, etc.)

- inherited estates in Jamaica > undertook a journey to that place to improve the condition of the slave population > died of a fever caused by the tropical climate

W o r k :

- emphasis on the supernatural, the horror x A. Radcliffe’s emphasis on the sublime, the terror

F i c t i o n :

The Monk (1796):

= a Gothic novel

< the poems of Gottfried August Bürger (1748 – 94) and oth. early romantics, the drama and fiction of F. Schiller

< the example of A. Radcliffe in inserting verse into novels: “Alonzo the Brave and the Fair Imogene”, an inserted ballad, showed his gift and an influential command of rapid rhythm > W. Scott’s early poetry

< W. Shakespeare: prefaced with an epigraph from his Measure for Measure (1603), echoes the monument scene from his Romeo and Juliet (1623)

- set in a Capuchin friary in Madrid = a small world of repression, obsession, ambition, and intrigue x the calm reflection of A. Radcliffe’s convents

- investigates a tormented soul, semi-pornographically exploits incidents and images suggesting the labyrinthine nature of the protagonist’s life x but: in no psychological depth

- plays with hidden chambers, subterraneous passages, sealed vaults, etc. = concealed passion

- protagonist = Ambrosio, a saintly monk to become a rapist and murderer led into a life of depravity by a fiend-inspired woman

- his Faustian compact with the Devil terminates in his being physically and spiritually broken, his agonisingly slow death described in great detail

- aesthetic demerits = messy, badly constructed, extravagant in every sense x but: incl. some scenes of power

> achieved an immediate celebrity x but: threatened to have its sale restrained because of its ethical demerits > the 2nd ed. omitted objectionable passages x but: retained its horrific character

D r a m a :

The Castle Spectre (1796):

= a musical drama, the best known of his melodramatic plays

- of little lit. merit x but: enjoying a long popularity on the stage

T r a n s l a t i o n s :

The Minister (1797): a transl. from F. Schiller’s Kabale und Liebe (1784, = Intrigue and Love)

The Bravo of Venice (1804): a transl. from a Ger. romance, his 2nd best known novel besides The Monk

M a r y  S h e l l e y  ( 1 7 9 7 – 1 8 5 1 )

L i f e :

- daughter of M. Wollstonecraft-Godwin and William Godwin (1756 – 1836), wife of P. B. Shelley

W o r k :

Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818):

< orig.: the lit. circle in Switzerland incl. P. B. Shelley, G.G. Byron, & oth. discussed philos. and nature, orig. and meaning of life, the myth of Prometheus, and the enterprise of modern science > each member wrote a ‘ghost story’

= a study of the consequences of experiment and of moving into the unknown

- a morally probing exploration of responsibility and science

- narrative layers:

(a) the 1st person account of the solitary explorer Robert Walton

(b) the confessions of Dr Frankenstein

(c) the confessions of the creature

- a parallel btw classical myth and modern experiment:

(a) Frankenstein <=> Prometheus: both punished, P. by a jealous heaven, F. = the ‘modern Prometheus’ by a challenge to his authority on the part of the monster

(b) the monster <=> Adam: both ruined and questioning, turn to accuse their creators with an acute and trained intelligence, both insist on their loneliness and wretchedness

(c) the monster <=> Satan: overhears and grasps sth of J. Milton’s Paradise Lost, realises how much he has in common with his Satan

- concl.: envy, defeat, and unhappiness lead to a jealous destruction

- ends where it began = in a polar wasteland landscape with the shifting ice allowing for the opening of new perspectives and uncertainties

> the power lies not only in its ‘terror’ x but: in its prophetic speculation


Abrams, Meyer Howard, ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York: W. W. Norton, 1993.

Barnard, Robert. Stručné dějiny anglické literatury. Praha: Brána, 1997.

Sanders, Andrew. The Short Oxford History of English Literature. New York: Clarendon Press, 1994.

Other Sources

Jelínková, Ema. Semináře: Britská literatura 1. ZS 2004/05.


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