History of Gothic Literature

Composer’s representations of the Gothic genre haven’t significantly changed as Gothic characteristics can still be observed in modern texts and films, however, the depiction of these themes have evolved appropriately over time, just as the worldly morals, values and ethical standards have evolved. The social links to the emergence of the Gothic genre, how social and moral standards were being defined and the portrayal of themes that have altered due to changes in attitudes towards the characteristics that define Gothic literature are some aspects of the Gothic texts that can be observed.[G1][G2][G3]

The emergence of the Gothic genre was a rejection of the oppressive state and artificiality of the Enlightenment (1685-1815). Edgar Allan Poe’s text, “The Haunted Palace” (1839), textually mirrors the effect that the Enlightenment had on the European and Western society. “Once a fair and stately palace. But evil things, in robes of sorrows, Assailed –  “, implies, using visual imagery and personifying “robes of sorrows”, that the beautiful palace, once filled with joyful spirits, is now home to a hideous throng that laughs without smiling, changing the serene atmosphere into[G4] uncomfortable eeriness. The texts link to the Enlightenment as it was a[G5] core contribution to society’s reformation to a constitutional and structured civilisation, governed by scientific thinking and reasoning. However, ethical standards were suffocating, resulting in the establishment of a counter-reformation, the Gothic era. The representation of the Gothic genre is observed through composer’s relaxed appropriation of[G6] traditional Gothic characteristics and setting them into modern contexts. Tim Burton’s Gothic film, “Batman” (1989), depicts the social situations of the time, specifically the fear caused by AIDS and juxtaposed hope caused by the fall of the Berlin wall. “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me“, textually foreshadows the actions of Batman, however, it also depicts the figurative walls built due to the stigma surrounding AIDS sufferers and the literal wall of Berlin being torn down due to gained liberation for Germany. Society in the 1980s was greatly influenced by the fear of AIDS and the suffocating stigma surrounding it, causing sufferers to be isolated from their community, much like Batman, as the disease itself didn’t discriminate, only the people who discriminated against it. However, it was not until 1989, when the fall of the Berlin wall, a symbol of segregation and discrimination since 1961, was torn down. This, like the emergence of the Gothic era, signified the hope for a future where society wouldn’t be controlled by misconceptions and stereotypes, consequently isolating individuals from the world around them.

Due to the secularism of the Enlightenment, the Gothic movement set about to revive religious and supernatural beliefs. Although Edgar Allan Poe mightn’t have been incredibly pious, shown in his texts that are often written from an aesthetic worldview, it can be identified in his works, personal values set upon just morals and righteous ethics. In Poe’s text, “The Raven” (1845), Poe enquiries after the existence of a supernatural power,[G7] “is there balm in Gilead? –“, in which the Raven, who symbolises Poe’s mentality and the impending doom, replies with “Nevermore”. The refusal to a heavenly cure Poe was seeking, caused the mood of the text to change to that of utter despair as he abandons hope that he may see his ‘Lenore’ again. During the Enlightenment, the social instability, much like Poe’s fall into insanity, led to political schisms, religious wars, heresy trials and witch burnings, meaning that the underlying tone of the Enlightenment was really that of chaos and lack of stability and ethics. In contrast, society has converted back to national secularism, separating religion from the state and beliefs from believers. In Burton’s film, “Dark Shadows” (2012), the portrayal of religion is not explicitly mentioned in the film, however, the existence of the supernatural is explored.[G8]You must have faithfor if a man can become a monster, then a monster can become a man“, is an allegory of presupposed evil that is not always just found in the actions of monsters, but in the hearts of man. However, if Poe has turned his back on God, and Burton has turned his back on men, what is left for the world to believe in? Secularism, that’s what[G9][G10].

The portrayal of the Gothic theme of insanity has changed over time due to the change of attitude. In Poe’s text, “The Tell-Tale Heart” (1843), the narrator portrays the recurring Gothic motif of deterioration of one’s sanity. “such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton but the noise steadily increased”, uses auditory imagery to depict the mental decline of the narrator after committing murder. The perception of insanity and madness was viewed negatively, disconnecting the mental illness from its human counterpart, dehumanising those suffering from mental illnesses and to be ostracised from society, often deemed lunatics. The representation of Gothic themes was changed to depict it into a more humorous portrayal of the dark genre. Burton’s film, “Batman” (1989), depicts characters encased in their own insanity. “I am the world’s first fully-functioning homicidal artist”, juxtaposes the creativity of an artist and destruction of a murderer to create the dysfunctional[G11][G12] character, the Joker. Burton has used this as a means of humour but still portraying the seriousness of mental illnesses that causes an unbalanced psychological state as it reflects Joker’s fears of the reality of living between a man and monster. In comparing the two texts, it is evident that the theme insanity has remained relatively constant, disregarding the humour intended in many modern Gothic texts.

The Gothic genre was a literary outlet to reject the oppressive state of a society governed by the scientific reasoning and ethics of the Enlightenment.[G13] Poe and Burton both textually represented the state of their society, rejecting social standards by creating fictional worlds drawing a fine line between reality and fiction.

 
 

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