Gothic Bodies: The Politics of Pain in Romantic Fiction

By Steven Bruhm | Go to book overview

Intermezzo

"The origins of melodrama," writes Peter Brooks, "can be accurately located within the context of the French Revolution and its aftermath. This is the epistemological moment which it illustrates and to which it contributes: the moment that symbolically, and really, marks the final liquidation of the traditional Sacred and its representative institutions" ( Melodramatic14- 15). Melodrama, for Brooks, is a victory over the repression instituted by tradition: "The desire to express all seems a fundamental characteristic of the melodramatic mode. Nothing is spared because nothing is left unsaid" (4), a total disclosure that informs discourses from Rousseau Confessions to the Marquis de Sade. With this impulse toward total expression, tout dire, comes the attempt to assuage the fears engendered by the fall of the old order. Visibility becomes the new god. Brooks writes:

Melodrama does not simply represent a "fall" from tragedy, but a response to the loss of the tragic vision. It comes into being in a world where the traditional imperatives of truth and ethics have been violently thrown into question, yet where the promulgation of truth and ethics, their instauration as a way of life, is of immediate, daily, political concern. (15)

Thus, while Charles Lamb would bemoan that the Gothic stage has "materialised and brought down a fine vision to the standard of flesh and blood" ( Poems222; also quoted in Richardson, Mental2-3), playwrights like Byron and Shelley would see as morally and politically imperative the representation of "things as they really were," the demonstration of the "truth and ethics" of their heroes' flesh and blood.

The tendency toward tout dire that Brooks locates in melodrama placed contradictory demands on the human body as a spectacle. On the one hand, this body was expected to tell all: it was to telegraph its internal emotions (cf. Radcliffe); it was to register sympathy with another (cf. Wordsworth's traveler); it was to engage its audience in political allegiance, even if that allegiance required a body like Marino Faliero's to be inscribed and displayed in pain. But on the other hand, the pain that the melodramatic

-92-

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Gothic Bodies: The Politics of Pain in Romantic Fiction
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction xiii
  • 1. Pain, Politics, and Romantic Sensibility 1
  • 2 - Imagining Pain 30
  • 3. Spectacular Pain: Politics and the Romantic Theatre 59
  • Intermezzo 92
  • 4. The Epistemology of the Tortured Body 94
  • 5. Aesthetics and Anesthetics at the Revolution 120
  • Conclusion 146
  • Notes 151
  • Works Cited 165
  • Index 175
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