Thursday, January 10, 2013

Gothic Romantic Terror

When I was an undergraduate I wrote a paper about the sexual symbolism of the landscape in the original Gothic novels - the terror evoked in an innocent young woman by the tall peaks and deep valleys of a remote and foreign environment. Recently, I've been thinking about that paper and the novels I was reading for the class because I am exploring the nature of terror, of horror, and the supernatural for the novel I am now writing.  I don't read horror writing - so I am "boning" up. I think what causes me to reflect upon the early Gothics is because the authors allowed our imagination to help create the drama - it is the reader's imagination sparked by the description that makes these books so powerful.

The Mysteries of Udolpho was published in 1794 by an Englishwoman named Ann Radcliffe. It set the standard for what would become the Gothic novel. Radcliffe doesn't need green-eyed, gore spewing demons to creep us out - no, she is far too subtle for all of that nonsense. Here are a few excerpts from this novel, as her heroine, heartbroken, navigates her way through a terrifying world made all the more terrifying because it is a world ruled by human passions.
From this sublime scene the travellers continued to ascend among the pines, till they entered a narrow pass of the mountains, which shut out every feature of the distant country, and, in its stead, exhibited only tremendous crags, impending over the road, where no vestige of humanity, or even of vegetation, appeared, except here and there the trunk and scathed branches of an oak, that hung nearly headlong from the rock, into which its strong roots had fastened. This pass, which led into the heart of the Apennine, at length opened to day, and a scene of mountains stretched in long perspective, as wild as any the travellers had yet passed. Still vast pine-forests hung upon their base, and crowned the ridgy precipice, that rose perpendicularly from the vale, while, above, the rolling mists caught the sun-beams, and touched their cliffs with all the magical colouring of light and shade. The scene seemed perpetually changing, and its features to assume new abrupt opening presented a perspective of only barren rocks, with a cataract flashing from their summit among broken cliffs, till its waters, reaching the bottom, foamed along with unceasing fury; and sometimes pastoral scenes exhibited their 'green delights' in the narrow vales, smiling amid surrounding horror...Towards the close of day, the road wound into a deep valley. Mountains, whose shaggy steeps appeared to be inaccessible, almost surrounded it. To the east, a vista opened, that exhibited the Apennines in their darkest horrors; and the long perspective of retiring summits, rising over each other, their ridges clothed with pines, exhibited a stronger image of grandeur, than any that Emily had yet seen. The sun had just sunk below the top of the mountains she was descending, whose long shadow stretched athwart the valley, but his sloping rays, shooting through an opening of the cliffs, touched with a yellow gleam the summits of the forest, that hung upon the opposite steeps, and streamed in full splendour upon the towers and battlements of a castle, that spread its extensive ramparts along the brow of a precipice above. The splendour of these illumined objects was heightened by the contrasted shade, which involved the valley below. 'There,' said Montoni, speaking for the first time in several hours, 'is Udolpho.'...

I'm pretty sure our Emily won't be having a fun time inside this castle...

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