Gothic Masculinity: Effeminacy and the Supernatural in English and German Romanticism

By Ellen Brinks | Go to book overview

Introduction

BEARING THE GIGANTIC SWORD OF THE ANCESTOR ALFONSO THE Good, a procession of one hundred young men “[seem] to faint under the weight of it.” In this fashion Horace Walpole stages the public ceremony of paternal inheritance in The Castle of Otranto (1764), designated the first gothic novel.1 These young men falter in their designated “manly” role: carrying the past—the sword inscribed with the name of the legitimate heir—into the present. The Castle of Otranto, the “original” gothic, dramatizes the difficulty of the Father's legacy, his emblematic sword, for a younger generation of men. If Alfonso's sword stands for phallic masculinity as real and symbolic legitimacy, this inheritance or entailment can be said, literally, to overbear a younger generation of men. Without putting too much interpretive pressure upon this scene, the young men's loss of physical control, articulated through an “unmanly” response, the swoon, recasts the difficulty with this legacy as a problem with its implied gender demands. It is unleashed by the supernatural presence and display of Alfonso's sword, which, like his tremendous helmet and armor, intrudes into a startled present.2

Gothic Masculinity: Effeminacy and the Supernatural in English and German Romanticism situates itself in the decades shadowed by Walpole's novel and explores richer, more complex stagings of Otranto's “distressed masculinity” in works of Hegel, Keats, Byron, Coleridge, and, in a leap forward, in the early work of Freud. These authors do not write full-fledged Gothic novels, but they do write highly gothicized narratives where a male protagonist encounters an effeminizing supernatural force. He finds himself divested or dispossessed of his real and symbolic masculine estate within the imaginary, interiorized, or fantastic spaces of these narratives. What interests me particularly is that the gothic is the discourse that comes to these authors' minds when gender stress is under discussion.3 Gothic tropes and tableaux cross a range of genres and perplex social and “natural” distinctions concerning masculinity and male sexuality to produce multiple, often contradictory, identifications.

Thus, I shall be concerned with some canonical instances of gothic

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Gothic Masculinity: Effeminacy and the Supernatural in English and German Romanticism
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The Bucknell Studies in Eighteenth-Century Literature and Culture 2
  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 5
  • Acknowledgments 7
  • Introduction 11
  • 1: Hegel Possessed 24
  • 2: The Male Romantic Poet as Gothic Subject 49
  • 3: Sharing Gothic Secrets 68
  • 4: “This Dream It Would Not Pass Away” 91
  • 5: The Gothic Romance of Sigmund Freud and Wilhelm Fliess 113
  • Notes 144
  • Selected Bibliography 198
  • Index 213
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