The Failure of Gothic: Problems of Disjunction in An Eighteenth-Century Literary Form

By Elizabeth R. Napier | Go to book overview

4 Attractive Persecution:
The Mysteries of Udolpho

Though Walpole The Castle of Otranto and Ann Radcliffe The Mysteries of Udolpho are linked in superficial ways -- both novels are set in a 'Gothic' past; both contain scenes of female persecution and pursuit; and both centre obsessively around a castle -- such shared properties and themes obscure a deep- seated difference in the two novelists' employment and understanding of the Gothic. Walpole, interested in the Gothic primarily as a vehicle for effects and a way of licensing extravagance and discord of all kinds, sensed, complexly, the refuge that a reliance on excessive display could provide; Radcliffe, whose sensibility made her averse to such external and excessive displays and unwilling to resolve, or exhibit, private difficulties in the public contexts of writing or socializing, uses the Gothic as a means of exploring qualities of feeling that Walpole refused to tap, and of posing, in particular, the question of the relationship of female feelings to female action. Her failure to understand this relationship -- which connects her to Walpole and which the paradox of the Gothic perfectly reflects -- is exhibited in the conceptual contradictions of her work, which overtly discourages excessive sensibility in favour of fortitude and endurance. Such a formula is explicitly and repeatedly voiced by the novel's moral spokesman, St Aubert, and by the novelist herself. Radcliffe's inability fully to accept this scheme gives rise, as Wylie Sypher's excellent analysis of The Mysteries of Udolpho has shown,1 to tensions in the novel that lend it its distinctive attenuated tone. Whereas Walpole in The Castle of Otranto enjoys (and gains immunity from) the exhibition of conceptual discordances, Radcliffe, in The Mysteries of Udolpho, seems less pleased (and considerably more confused) by the incompatibility of the values to which she is attracted. She is unable, in short, to reconcile her moral conviction about the rectitude of endurance and her aesthetic

____________________
1
W. Sypher, "'Social Ambiguity in a Gothic Novel'", Partisan Review, xii ( 1945), 50-60.

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The Failure of Gothic: Problems of Disjunction in An Eighteenth-Century Literary Form
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Acknowledgements xv
  • Contents xvii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Techniques of Closure and Restraint 9
  • 2 - Techniques of Destabilization and Excess 44
  • 3 - Frenzy: The Castle of Otranto 73
  • 4 - Attractive Persecution: The Mysteries of Udolpho 100
  • 5 - Cross-Purposes: The Monk 112
  • 6 - Villainy: The Italian 133
  • Epilogue 147
  • Bibliography 151
  • Index 161
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