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

By Elizabeth R. Napier | Go to book overview

Preface

In 1794, a reviewer of the Gothic tale, Count Roderic's Castle; or, Gothic Times, expressed anxiety about 'the present daily increasing rage for novels addressed to the strong passions of wonder and terrour'. 'The class of readers, for whom this kind of entertainment is provided,' he wrote, 'as if no longer capable of deriving pleasure from the gentle and tender sympathies of the heart, require to have their curiosity excited by artificial concealments, their astonishment kept awake by a perpetual succession of wonderful incidents, and their very blood congealed with chilling horrours.'1 This sense of alarm over a growing, undiscriminating readership for Gothic fiction is registered repeatedly by reviewers of the latter part of the eighteenth century. '[A]lmost all novels', one writer complained, 'are [now] of the terrific cast.'2 [T]he press groans,' wrote another, 'and our circulating libraries are filled with books, under the title of romances and novels, which are entirely made up of stories of ghosts and spectres.'3 Commentators on fashionable fiction took disparaging (though often humorous) note of the proliferation of Gothic novels, which swarmed from publishing houses like the Minerva Press in London. The epigraph for one such review divided the blame between Germans and women:

Grim-visaged heroes, class'd in martial hosts,
And walking skeletons, and sheeted ghosts,
Here hold their court, from German fetters free,
And doom poor common sense to slavery.
Ye female scribes! who write without a blot,
'Mysterious Warnings' of--the Lord knows what;
O quit this trade, exert your proper skill,
Resume the needle, and lay down the quill.4

____________________
1
Analytical Review, xx ( 1794), 489.
2
"'Terrorist Novel Writing'", Spirit of the Public Journals, i ( 1797), 229.
3
"'Anti Ghost', 'On the New Method of Inculcating Morality'" [Letter to the editor], in Walker Hibernian Magazine; or, Compendium of Entertaining Knowledge ( 1798), pt. i, p. 11.
4
"'Modern Literature'", Aberdeen Magazine: or, Universal Repository, iii ( 1798), 338.

-vii-

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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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