30/09/2009

GOTHIC AUSTEN


No, don't worry, I'm not going to review those Austen inspired novels mixing Jane's world with vampires and monsters. I've never read one of those . I was just ordering the notes and slides I used these days in some of my lessons, thought that I could share them because some of you might be interested and decided to post about them.

I noticed that several of the blogs I regularly visit and read are involved in the so-called R.I.V. Challenge, that is Readers Imbibing Peril.

For instance
-Heather at Gofita's Pages

They are reading and blog posting about Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Dark Fantasy, Horror Books. I’m not taking part in the Challenge but I’m full immersed in reading and teaching about the roots of all those modern genres. Today’s ghost and horror novels, as well as mystery stories or thrillers, which are so keenly read all over the world, come from the 18th century GOTHIC NOVEL. My lessons to my eldest students are focused on this genre these days.


The adjective Gothic was first applied to architecture long before it connoted literature. HORACE WALPOLE (1717 – 1797) was the first to link the two: his obsession with his beloved miniature castle at Strawberry Hill inspired him for THE CASTLE OF OTRANTO (1764) and the book subtitle, A GOTHIC TALE. This was the first time the term was used in a literary context. Would you be scared by such melodramatic, simpering rather naive prose?

(from H. Walpole, The Castle of Otranto, ch. 1, pp.1-2)
Manfred, Prince of Otranto, had one son and one daughter: the latter, a most beautiful virgin, aged eighteen, was called Matilda. Conrad, the son, was three years younger, a homely youth, sickly, and of no promising disposition; yet he was the darling of his father, who never showed any symptoms of affection to Matilda. Manfred had contracted a marriage for his son with the Marquis of Vicenza’s daughter, Isabella; and she had already been delivered by her guardians into the hands of Manfred, that he might celebrate the wedding as soon as Conrad’s infirm state of health would permit.
Manfred’s impatience for this ceremonial was remarked by his family and neighbours. The former, indeed, apprehending the severity of their Prince’s disposition, did not dare to utter their surmises on this precipitation. Hippolita, his wife, an amiable lady, did sometimes venture to represent the danger of marrying their only son so early, considering his great youth, and greater infirmities; but she never received any other answer than reflections on her own sterility, who had given him but one heir. His tenants and subjects were less cautious in their discourses. They attributed this hasty wedding to the Prince’s dread of seeing accomplished an ancient prophecy, which was said to have pronounced that the castle and lordship of Otranto “should pass from the present family, whenever the real owner should be grown too large to inhabit it.” It was difficult to make any sense of this prophecy; and still less easy to conceive what it had to do with the marriage in question. Yet these mysteries, or contradictions, did not make the populace adhere the less to their opinion.Young Conrad’s birthday was fixed for his espousals. The company was assembled in the chapel of the Castle, and everything ready for beginning the divine office, when Conrad himself was missing. Manfred, impatient of the least delay, and who had not observed his son retire, despatched one of his attendants to summon the young Prince. The servant, who had not stayed long enough to have crossed the court to Conrad’s apartment, came running back breathless, in a frantic manner, his eyes staring, and foaming at the month. He said nothing, but pointed to the court.
The company were struck with terror and amazement. The Princess Hippolita, without knowing what was the matter, but anxious for her son, swooned away. Manfred, less apprehensive than enraged at the procrastination of the nuptials, and at the folly of his domestic, asked imperiously what was the matter? The fellow made no answer, but continued pointing towards the courtyard; and at last, after repeated questions put to him, cried out, “Oh! the helmet! the helmet!”
In the meantime, some of the company had run into the court, from whence was heard a confused noise of shrieks, horror, and surprise. Manfred, who began to be alarmed at not seeing his son, went himself to get information of what occasioned this strange confusion. Matilda remained endeavouring to assist her mother, and Isabella stayed for the same purpose, and to avoid showing any impatience for the bridegroom, for whom, in truth, she had conceived little affection.
The first thing that struck Manfred’s eyes was a group of his servants endeavouring to raise something that appeared to him a mountain of sable plumes. He gazed without believing his sight.
“What are ye doing?” cried Manfred, wrathfully; “where is my son?”
A volley of voices replied, “Oh! my Lord! the Prince! the Prince! the helmet! the helmet!”
Shocked with these lamentable sounds, and dreading he knew not what, he advanced hastily,—but what a sight for a father’s eyes!— he beheld his child dashed to pieces, and almost buried under an enormous helmet, an hundred times more large than any casque ever made for human being, and shaded with a proportionable quantity of black feathers.
The horror of the spectacle, the ignorance of all around how this misfortune had happened, and above all, the tremendous phenomenon before him, took away the Prince’s speech. Yet his silence lasted longer than even grief could occasion. He fixed his eyes on what he wished in vain to believe a vision; and seemed less attentive to his loss, than buried in meditation on the stupendous object that had occasioned it. He touched, he examined the fatal casque; nor could even the bleeding mangled remains of the young Prince divert the eyes of Manfred from the portent before him.
All who had known his partial fondness for young Conrad, were as much surprised at their Prince’s insensibility, as thunderstruck themselves at the miracle of the helmet. They conveyed the disfigured corpse into the hall, without receiving the least direction from Manfred. As little was he attentive to the ladies who remained in the chapel”.




Gothic novels were extremely popular at the end of the 18th century and that taste or fashion involved all social classes. Most of those novels followed the same pattern with few alterations: great importance given to terror and horror – as two different ingredients, since the first was characterised by obscurity and uncertainty and the latter by evil and atrocity; ancient settings like isolated castles, dungeons, secret rooms, mysterious abbeys or convents; supernatural beings like vampires, ghosts, witches, monsters; a triad of main characters including an oversensitive persecuted heroine, a terrifying/ satanic male villain and a sensitive honourable hero. After Walpole’s “The Castle of Otranto” , very popular Gothic tales were Ann Radcliffe’s “The Mysteries of Udolpho” (1794) and “The Monk” by Matthew Lewis (1796) .
In the same years Miss Jane Austen dreamt of “living on her pen”, writing her first novels “of manners”. Between 1795-96 she had finished Elinore and Marianne, later on published as Sense and Sensibility, as well as First impressions then published as Pride and Prejudice. Was she interested in Gothic novels or did she attempt to write one? Since irony and satire were her favourite literary “weapons”, she preferred writing a parody of such sentimental fashionable genre. In 1798 she wrote Northanger Abbey, never published during her life for reasons left unknown, that is in fact an open mocking of the genre.


Young Catherine Morland’s story develops some of Jane Austen’s favourite themes, the initiation of a young woman into the complexities of adult social life and the danger of imagnation uncontrolled by reason and common sense. Catherine’s mistake is that she imposes the melodramatic values of the gothic novels she reads (i.e. “The mysteries of Udolpho” by A. Radcliffe) on the reality around her, making the boundaries between the real and the imaginary quite uncertain.
Here’s are two examples - from ITV 2007 adaptation of Northanger Abbey - of how Catherine is influenced by her reading gothic tales, which will create her "some troubles" once she is invited at Northanger Abbey (clip 1 0:00 /1:36; clip 2 0:00/2:52) by the Tilneys.

CLIP 1



CLIP 2





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4 comments:

Ana T. said...

What a interesting post Maria Grazia, thank you for sharing all this information. You made me want to read more gothics and at least one is already in the TBR pile - Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@Ana T.
I'm going to read and analyze just a page from it today with my eldest students. Then we will compare it with another page from Lewis's "The Monk". After finishing it, let us know what you think! Cathrine Morland loved it!

London Belle said...

I finally saw the P & P books - one zomies and the other Mr Dracey as a vampire - in a shop the other day. I hate to admit the zombies one sounded interesting! I might check it out.

I read the monk at uni - at the beginning I thought I would hate it. But its one of my favourite books. I love that it has stories within the story.

x

MARIA GRAZIA said...

I have nothing against those "re-visitations" of Austen but I do not think I will ever read one of them. As for Gothic tales, I'm reading pages from The Monk and Udolpho with my students, but we will have a closer look at Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN.