Gothic Fiction Speech Essay
Gothic Fiction Speech
Slide 2- What is it?
Gothic fiction is the literature of nightmare also referred to as Gothic horror. It delves into and feeds on the ghoulish and monstrous creatures that haunt the very darkest places in your mind. Fears of claustrophobia, entrapment, terror, horror, pain, madness, the supernatural and the inexplicable. The word “Gothic” derives from “Goth”, the name of a barbaric Germanic tribe that invaded Europe. Gothic medieval architecture such as cathedrals attributes a majestic style often with savage or grotesque ornamentation. It branched off from the Romanticism movement which occurred during the 18th and 19th century. Gothic fiction “gives shape to the concepts of the place of evil in the human mind.”
Slide 3- Origins (historical context)
An intellectual and secular movement that dominated the eighteenth century. The rise of Gothicism has been attributed by several scholars as a response to the Enlightenment thinkers who favoured rationality and reason over emotions and feelings. It rejected anything that resembled the “barbarism” of the medieval period in their eyes. Their purpose was to demonstrate that science and “natural” philosophy were the only means of obtaining knowledge, and not religion which was considered “irrational”. Gothic fiction was an essential part of the Enlightenment movement as it provided an escape from rationality and reason. Over time though, philosophers and writers began to rebel against the Enlightenment movement and privilege the irrational, emotional and uncanny. Whilst the Enlightenment movement looked to the classical periods of Greece and Rome, Gothic writers looked to the Middle Ages as their inspiration and model.
Revolution had a significant influence on the establishment of Gothic fiction. The French revolution began in1789 and brought a “Reign of Terror” to the people and “shook the foundations of European statehood”. Critics suggest the Gothic movement arose during the French Revolution as the social anguish and pain gave rise to the dark imagery and character of the Gothic. As violence and blood-shed persisted, the terror of the Gothic novel in amalgamation with imagery of chase and capture and the threat of evil conquering good, reflects the general anxiety and anguish of the people; the writers and the reading public.
Romanticism was the movement that emerged as a reaction to Enlightenment values and promoted “liberty in literature”. Artists were free to express their most intense emotions and escape from reason and rationality. Through this movement some looked to the gothic past whilst others turned to religion, the supernatural and Nature. After the French Revolution there was a burst of writers inspired by these core concepts of human nature, emotions, irrational entities, individualism and the realms of your imagination. Gothic romance became increasingly popular and many writers took from Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto.
Slide 5- Conventions
Walpole’s novel established the stock conventions of Gothic fiction that would inspire and continue to be adapted in contemporary society:
– Intricate plot- plots within plots with multiple narrators
– Stock characters (Virginal maiden, hero, tyrant/menacing villain)
– Subterranean labyrinths/hidden rooms and passageways
– Ruined castles (later made way to haunted house)
– Supernatural occurrences
– Remote/isolated setting- wide landscape and therefore nowhere to escape from.
– Darkness as intrinsic to humanity
– Monstrous creatures- ghosts, devils, vampires, witches, spirits, angels.
– Misty weather
– Mood/sense of mystery or dread
– Justice- E.g. Most common is the “sins of the father”
– Family secrets/ ancestral curses
– The double or the “Doppelganger” (German for “double-goer”)
– Mysterious deaths
Slide 6- Evolution of Genre
Horace Walpole is credited as the founding figure of gothic literature with his novel The Castle of Otranto (1765). The stock conventions of Gothic fiction were established through his novel; the haunted castles, supernatural occurrences, hidden passageways, etc. Writers such as Clara Reeve and Ann Radcliffe adapted Walpole’s plot to contextually and aesthetically be more socially acceptable in18th century realism by exploring the concept of “explained supernatural”. Gothic novels were looked down upon by well-educated people as sensationalist women’s entertainment. Anne Radcliffe introduced the dark and menacing figure of the Gothic villain, the “Byronic Hero”.
The gloomy villain, forbidding mansion, and persecuted heroine evident in novels demonstrates Walpole’s and Radcliffe’s influence on Gothic literature. By the Victorian era, Gothic fiction ceased to be the dominant genre and was dismissed by critics. Edgar Allan Poe posed as an innovative American writer during in the 19th century, a re-interpreter of Gothic fiction. He payed greater attention to the psychology of the characters he conjured up. In his story “The Fall of the House of Usher” he explores the “terrors of the soul” as most of his characters descended into madness whilst incorporating Gothic tropes of death, decay and madness.
The 1880s saw the revival of Gothic fiction feeding off contemporary fears such as “ethical degeneration” with famous authors such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Machen and Oscar Wilde producing gothic works. The twentieth century significantly contributed to the genre with the introduction of film. During the 1920s and 30s movies were based around Dracula, Frankenstein and werewolves then later films began to draw on Poe’s works. The twentieth and twenty-first centuries maintained an ongoing fascination with horror, terror, the supernatural vampires and werewolves demonstrating the ongoing power of the Gothic in contemporary society.
Slide 8-Psycho Contextual Placement
The beginning of the twentieth century saw the renewed popularity of the horror tale and it is supposed that it was a way of expressing the horrors of World War I. There were numerous variations of Gothic fiction established in this time. Successful mass Gothic novels, often called Modern Gothic or Gothic Romance were written for females, by females like Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca (1993 considered the archetypal Modern Gothic thriller. The 60s, when Psycho was released was an era of great positive change for the role and rights of women. It was a time of sexual revolution which was exploited in the media especially film. Hitchcock broke all film conventions featuring the “leading female protagonist having a lunchtime affair in her sexy white undergarments in the first scene”. This was significant because before the 60s female sexuality was repressed. In relation to Gothic fiction, the Gothic genre gave way to modern horror fiction.
Slide 9- Psycho Conventions
Psycho employs several stock gothic conventions including:
An Isolated/remote setting with the motel off the side of a large motorway, separated from the outside world. The spooky old house is architecturally Gothic and critics have stated that it is “a fine 20th Century stand-in for Dracula’s castle.” Bates characterises villain who is psychologically unstable reincarnating his dead mother, whom he murdered, through himself when committing the murders but doesn’t take the responsibility.
Themes of corruptibility, confused identities, voyeurism, human vulnerabilities and victimization, the deadly effects of money, Oedipal murder, and dark past histories are realistically revealed. Through the shower murder scene, it is suggested that horror resides in everyday life rather than in the alternate worlds of the supernatural, the fantastic, or the Gothic. The film employs psychological terror rather than the monsters and supernatural trappings that were associated with the genre at the time (1960s). Hitchcock’s psycho changed the direction of the genre with the subsequent rise of “splatter films”.
Slide 11- Fall…Contextual Placement
During his short life he faced many hardships which influenced his unique style. He was a victim of depression and turned to alcoholism. He was influenced by the Gothic movement in England and in his case the term Gothic can be used interchangeably with Dark Romanticism. Critics classify Poe as a post-Gothic writer but he nonetheless incorporated the Gothic style in his masterpieces. Contextually Poe’s adapted direction of Gothic fiction; the psychological effects of guilt and sin, the conflict between good and evil, people plagued with madness; all stemmed from the absence of parental figures and his alcoholism. Poe is often considered the father of the horror genre.
Slide 12- Fall…Conventions
The Usher house portrays the clichï¿½ Gothic house- as stated by Professor Fred Botting “The house is both a Gothic manifestation, an architectural ruin set in a desolate and gloomy landscape and a family equally in decay dying from an unknown and incurable disease.”
Captures the element of claustrophobia, with Madeline falling victim to the confinement of a coffin whilst still alive and the mental confinement of the characters in the house. Psychological haunting is evident through Roderick’s knowledge of burying his sister alive and the intense guilt he feels. The seemingly supernatural noises that occur whilst the narrator reads a story, intensifies this guilt.
Terror encompasses the characters, particularly Roderick, building up steadily as the anticipation of Madeline’s supposed death loiters. The horror is revealed when Madeline, bursts through the doors wearing a gown covered in blood.
Decay and ruin are evident physically with the decaying of Roderick and Madeline and the Usher bloodline. In the end both Roderick and Madeline die together followed by the house crumpling around them confirming the collapse of the Usher family.
Rather than characterising the traditional complex narrative structure, it is told in first person by one person only and contains an increasing intensifying suspense building to an excessive climax. The climax confirms Roderick’s fear as Madeline bursts through the doors covered in blood. Through this dramatic climax the Gothic value of excess is seen. Poe is a key figure in the transformation of Gothic fiction placing a larger emphasis on the internal rather than the external. He delves into the psychology of man and of the true nature of evil.
Through his works Poe has had an ongoing influence of Gothic on contemporary literature.
Slide 15-Shining Contextual Placement
With the introduction of film in the twentieth century, the most prominent variation of Gothic literature was established. With this new outlet of technology, horror and terror could a be explored on a totally different level with special effect features, lighting and filming intensifying the gruesome and dark imagery of the genre. Punter effectively states the particularities of twentieth century gothic fiction: “Contemporary gothic reflects and provides a singular symbolic language for the discussion of preoccupations of our time: capitalism, inhumanity, information overload, child abuse, serial murder, pollution, and corruption”. Child and domestic violence, serial murder and corruption are clearly evident
Slide 16- Shining Conventions
The Shining exhibits traditional Gothic conventions as well as modern adaptations of the genre. The huge old vacant hotel that ends up being haunted hides a dark past of brutal murder. There are numerous supernatural events involving the ghosts of the previous family, Danny’s visions of their murder and the chases through the hallways.
The double or the “doppleganger” seen at the end of the film presents a photo shown of a ball in 1921 with Jack standing in the middle of the gathering suggesting that Jack could be a reincarnation of himself and lives out the horrific events of the past once more. This also ties in the convention of
The theme of appearance and reality is prevalent in the film, Gothic fiction exploring this murky ground between what is “real” and “fantasy”. This is what descends Jack into madness. Eee/
Gothic fiction has undergone significant transformation as seen and continues to significantly influence contemporary literature. Even though many conventions have been refined, adapted or created the core values and character of Gothic have provided society with an outlet into the dark world of decay, death and mystery leading you on a “road to that sublime place in the mind composed of fear and beauty.”
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 7 July 2017
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