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Features

Gothic Fiction: An Analysis Pt. 2
By Chen Yufei
Jan 2, 2010 - 12:20:09 AM

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Editorial Comment: This, the 2nd part of a 3 part article, was written only in English, as a Chinese Student's Bachelor Degree English Thesis. R.P. BenDedek (See Editorial Introduction)


Gothic Fiction

By Chen YuFei

(PART 1)

Part 2.

2.1.2 The maiden and the villain
2.2 Symbolic Elements
2.2.1 Castle, monastery and crypt
2.2.2 Frankenstein and the monk

2.1.2 The maiden and the villain

Another pair of contradictories can be found in early Gothic fictions, too. It has certain ties with the "legitimate" and the "misplaced", but since we may employ another way of thinking in surveying its inner value, the new duality may hence enter a brand new category, which I would rather name as it is illustrated in many Gothic novels, "the maiden and the villain".

The two images involved in this duality can be perceived as symbols with certain cultural background. Emily St. Aubent in The Mysteries of Udolpho is depicted as unusually beautiful, gentle and virtuous, with her main interest in book and music, yet apparently weak since she becomes ward under the care of her cold aunt and then at the hand of the villain, Montoni's greed and bluster. She is separated from her suitor and imprisoned in Castle Udolpho along with her aunt by Montoni. To her, the new "home" is a prison, physically as well as mentally. She is courted by the unwanted suitor and her disguised guardian, Montoni, by whom she is also discontent with for she won't give in or to follow the ladyship that Montoni wishes. Besides the supernatural elements of horror employed in the novel, this struggle can be interpreted as woman's defiance to the traditional male-dominate society as well.

Furthermore, this kind of defiance is not only illustrated by female characters in Gothic fictions, but also realized later by a lot of female followers like Mary Shelley, the Bronte sisters and Carson McCullers who apply Gothic techniques in their works with feministic features.

This concern developed even as early in first Gothic fictions has revealed a new horizon which is well developed through the efforts of various writers to come, that is the more and more tremendous change of the image of female in literature. In ancient mythologies and folklores, female is often visualized as beings associated with temptation, original sin, hatred, danger, cause of disaster or evil itself. From harpies, Siren and lamia to succubus and Lilith, etc. Of course, there are also a lot of "good" female beings. However, if seen through the surface, there is usually something to do with lust, the ideal image of female highly customed by male or even the male violence and dominance over female. So, it is not difficult for one to see that the female roles in these old creations are generally products of a male-dominate culture which leaves no room for female to appeal.

Then, as a series of cultural reforms and political movements bring enlightenment to people of all walks of life, the awaking of female gradually find its own path, though bumpy and full of frustrations. It certainly shows its influence on literature, regardless of the realism, romanticism or later schools.

The female characters tend to be diversified. While at meantime, some male characters in Gothic fictions in this period resemble some female features instead. "One of the reasons that Gothic is interesting to feminists is that it offers a symbolic expression of female paranoia.. But we have many fewer examples of 'hommes fatals', of a male hero portrayed from a female viewpoint as both seductive and dangerous.

The Gothic novel, by contrast, gives full rein to female ambivalence toward male sexuality. It treats masculinity as a disturbing mystery.. The brooding, enigmatic villain, suggests Patricia Meyer Spacks, is a multivalent symbol of the 'paternal sublime', of a father who is seen as remote, fascinating, and all-powerful. Radcliifean Gothic, embodies a specifically female view of the family romance: not the competition of fathers and sons, but the dangerous, ambivalent love of daughters for fathers. Mutant attraction governs the relations of fathers and daughters. The relationship, however, also emphasizes women's exclusion from male power." (Rita Felski, 2003, Page 152)

What makes it so interesting is that the features which are interchanged between the two genders, i.e. the male bears those of the female and vice versa, would later become a characteristic of certain Gothic fictions, such as vampire Gothic, in which extremely handsome male vampires like Lestat and Louis in Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire astonishingly resemble the beauty of women, and even show an unusually intimate relation that to some extent reminds us of homoerotism. I regard this as the reflection of tremendous change in psychology.

Here, I would like to use some theories of analytical psychology to point out this subtle relation between the process of man's psychology and literature. According to Jung, we are born with both male and female qualities, just like every individual carries hormones of both sexes. Meanwhile, there are two archetypes which function as the alter ego to our dominant "true self", the anima and the animus. The former refers to the female alter ego in a man, while the latter refers to the archetype which represents the male alter ego in a woman.

In his theory, a healthy psyche is acquired through the balanced development of complementary mental functions, such like the anima and a man's ego as male, or the animus and a woman's ego as female. If a man's male qualities grow so strong that he behaves certainly as a typical masculine in any aspect, while on contrary, the female temperament has almost no opportunity to grow, thus his anima will consequently remain primeval and crude. As a result, he will have a totally virile outside, which gives off the shines of rationality, authority, conviction and aggression, yet a flabby and submissive inside. Then, in certain situations, especially when under stress, his oppressed anima will wildly break the jail made by his ego, and bring him down as victim of mental disorder. This compensation action is well illustrated in some early Gothic fictions and inherited by their subsequent variations.

In the sense of the psychology theories mentioned above, the male characters in quite a long period of history are mainly stereotype with features of established male qualities. It is rather infrequent for evidence of such mutant or ill images of male to be found in the mainstream of literature, though on the other hand, there are some famous male heroes in literature and history known to us , some even standing for the word "man" itself, yet actually homosexual if we unfortunately reveal the truth on impulse driven by curiosity. Among them, we can see acquaintances like Achilles, the demigod hero in Trojan War; Alexander the Great, the conqueror who shocks the world; Plato, as well as Socrates, forefathers of western philosophy, etc.

These figures usually mean to us as more or less sublime and at least, free from blemish like being a queer, when judged by a conventional concept. However, our relatively "normal" and "right" idea on such undercurrent issues is none but the effect of conventional and dogmatic influence imposed by dominant social rules. As the compensation action indicates, the oppressed anima and animus of the whole human race begin to appeal for themselves in literature and culture.

Gothic fiction, as a genre wandering outside the mainstream itself, however, is among those pioneers who offer a refuge for these purgees exiled by the psyche of all. The unacceptable qualities, such as female characters deviating from male society or homosexual hint and even incest turn to be a vital part of Gothic fictions. What considered to be "unhealthy" becomes the very feature that makes Gothic rather more remote from the mainstream values. But through such a symbiosis, Gothic fiction offers enough space for these peripheral qualities of the whole society to grow, making them somehow evenly matched to the mainstream and thus enhance a colorful and healthy mental status of human.

2.2 Symbolic Elements

As time goes by, many early elements in Gothic fiction fade to oblivion. Likewise in reality, castles and churches with somber underground systems are relatively rare to see in modern days. However, like the Gothic genre itself has already died at 1820, while many spiritual values and styled techniques inherited by various successors, some spots or figures survive in the form of other beings. Spots, for example, such like a castle may be reincarnated as a secret laboratory, while a necropolis as hospital, a dungeon as a sewer system, etc. Similarly, figures like necromancers may become evil scientists, demons become mutant creatures and superhuman beings become aliens from other worlds. Yes, certainly these changes of decoration indicate certain progress in our perceiving of the world, but the core values of the archetype, i.e. the original Gothic fiction, are precisely held in those classical elements, which I define as symbolic elements, though symbolism is a movement in fashion later.

2.2.1 Castle, monastery and crypt

In a cultural view, the settings of castle and other medieval features are necessary response to the revival of medieval architecture and the so-called medievalism. It is the revival of Gothic architecture and Romanticism all together give birth to the Gothic fiction. However, the renewed medieval relics employed in Gothic fiction certainly won't function merely as cultural reference as we see evidences of crime in the castle of Otranto, and hypocritical monks in The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis and The Italian, Ann Radcliffe's last work published.

In a philosophical vision, I interpret them as the symbol of the overwhelming influence of governing class and convention like religion on individuals. Caleb Williams, the three-volume novel written as a call to end the abuse of power by what the author William Godwin see as a tyrannical government has offered a vivid proof of this symbolistic connotation. Intended as a popularization of the ideas presented in his 1793 treatise Political Justice, the author uses the protagonist of this story to show the ways through which the government and legislative destroy individuals. Caleb, a poor but able young man with ambition who happens to discover the terrible secret of his master, British squire Ferdinando Falkland's past. The squire then uses varied means of power, such like unfair trials, imprisonment and assassination to silence him and maintain his status and inborn priority. Meanwhile, the religion conceptions which emphasis on the unchangeable status predetermined and mortification of the flesh are also among the relics of the Dark Ages.

As for the part of crypts, the dark, winding charnels or enigmatic inner structure of military constructions are perfect models of our inner realm. The underground systems may not necessarily contain lurking dead or floating ghost, but well resemble the complexity and unpredictability of unconscious. The supernatural events taking place in the crypts and dungeons in Gothic fictions are seemingly horrific, but the true terror comes from our imagination and especially our reaction towards the shocking unconscious. As these places are usually abandoned or forgotten, just like that our unconscious is unreachable, it will be an experience full of astonishment as well as fear to see how wild and anamorphic our oppressed aspects of psyche behave in their realm where we have nearly nothing to resist.

2.2.2 Frankenstein and the monk

Besides the typical medieval features involved in the early Gothic fictions, other symbolistic elements also enrich the genre with psychological concern.

In Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, which is considered to be both the vanguard of Gothic fiction and science fiction, the humanoid creature which is more frequently referred to as Frankenstein rather than the cognominal scientist who invents him is another disaster brought about by the overreaching of man.

However, the monster bears something more profound than those products made by similar deeds mentioned in our discussion on the "legitimate" and the "misplaced", for the monster itself and the novel has entered the era we call "Industrial Age". "......and Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, obviously resonate with the events of an age that, as Chris Baldick has finely observed, witnessed humanity seizing responsibility 'for recreating the world, for violently reshaping its natural environment and its inherited social and political forms, for remarking itself.'" (Howard L. Malchow, 1996, Page 10)

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Great Britain experienced massive improvement and progress in her productivity and manufacture, making it the "world factory". However, the advantage that industrialization brought with caused side effects as well. Severe pollution and machinery's superior efficiency over human became the uneasiness of man. Human were frightened by the creation made by themselves, as if they committed the sin of bringing something not belonging to this world by their own hands so that they would be brought into collision with God. Thus, Frankenstein remains an eternal figure that endlessly haunts human as we become more and more advanced in technology and science, and our insatiable curiosity is often blind.

Frankenstein, on the other hand, indirectly reveals the psychology and the attitude of the Western towards the other races in the sense of postcolonial politics. The monster itself originally bears no harmful intention, not to mention any vicious mind, though his malformation appearance inevitably reminds those normal human of the outline of fiend or demon. With the friendly attempt to live peacefully with mankind, however, he receives frightened look and hostile actions driven by the sense of perceiving him as evil and dangerous, in return. Learning from all these harsh experiences, the monster develops a sense of injustice and persecution, and decides to revenge for his fate. As we can read in the novel, his revenge contains but physical abreaction, without any deadly behavior at first. However, it is the further repulsion and his master and creator's betrayal to create a mate for him that brutally breaks the last hope and "humanity in his heart", if it can be called so.

The dark and sinister appearance of the creature along with his superhuman power and figure, in the view mentioned at the beginning of this passage, indicates some racial messages for it resembles features of the standard description of black people frequently appearing in the literature of West Indies and West African exploration. There was a trend in the British Empire then that many celebrities in cultural and political field quote the name of Frankenstein's monster to refer to "exotic, savage non-white". Likewise, there has been a vaunted superiority of culture held by the West, hence becoming what we call the postcolonial politics centuries later. Of all these, Gothic fiction has faithfully recorded.

Among the symbolistic elements of classical Gothic fiction, some other symbols, with which we have well acquainted in the previous parts, are worthy to the further attention we shall pay as following. We have seen the monks and supernatural force in early Gothic fictions as symbol of the religious influence upon individuals and illusions of the idea of justice in their mind. Here, as a conclusion to draw, I define the former as the persona, a psychologic term which refers to our social roles in the outside, a mask for the whole Western society to wear. As early Gothic fiction itself bears certain relics of the Dark Ages, the persona of that period, or precisely the moral and social roles customed by Christianity remains as well. These roles mainly stress self-restrain, asceticism and the acceptance of a predefined fate, which are bound to oppress human nature and even destroy individuality.

As we have seen previously, the reconstruction of moral in 18th century British society certainly has its historic significance, but the overcorrect measures against indulgence and depravation may cause an outrageous reaction of the oppressed nature. Ambrosio, the protagonist in Matthew Gregory Lewis's The Monk, is a pious, respectable monk in Spain. While, seduced by his pupil, an instrument of Satan in female form, he commits a series of sins associated with carnal lust and gradually steps down to his damnation. Such a sharp downfall is a highly personified process of the collapse of an imbalanced psyche. Here, again, Gothic fiction serves as an asylum of this non-mainstream observation which offers a forum for social criticism and later inspires great works like Notre Dame de Paris of other genres


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