Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
Hostname: page-component-dc8c957cd-n2smj Total loading time: 0.277 Render date: 2022-01-27T04:41:45.418Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": true, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true, "newEcommerce": true, "newUsageEvents": true }

Book contents

3 - Gothic and Victorian Supernatural Tales

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 November 2016

Jessica Cox
Affiliation:
Edge Hill University
Dominic Head
Affiliation:
University of Nottingham
Get access

Summary

In her short story ‘Napoleon and the Spectre’ (1833), a young Charlotte Brontё parodies the established conventions of the gothic, portraying Napoleon tormented by a hideous spirit. The historical setting for Brontё's story harks back to a period when Napoleon himself functioned as a phantom haunting Europe, and consequently the narrative emphasizes the association between the gothic short story and the broader political landscape in the early nineteenth century, when the spectre of revolution threatened England. The American and French Revolutions (the latter leading to the Napoleonic Wars) were both in living memory. A different kind of revolution, industrialization, brought class unrest, threatening the established order – a threat brought to the fore by the Luddite disturbances of the 1810s. The anxieties provoked by these events contributed to the popularity of the gothic: a genre informed by and in turn informing the social and political climate. Gothic fiction reflects pervasive anxieties about a changing social order, and the language of the gothic is frequently appropriated by cultural and political commentators (most famously in Karl Marx's claim that ‘A spectre is haunting Europe’). This chapter traces the emergence and development of the gothic short story, examining its role in the literary marketplace as well as its broader cultural and political significance. Over the course of the nineteenth century, the gothic story, with its ability to ‘speak to the mysterious fears of our nature, and awaken thrilling horror’, became a dominant literary form, and remains perpetually popular, though critically neglected. Taking a broadly chronological approach, I identify the key trends in gothic and supernatural short fiction, from the emergence of the new literary magazines in the early nineteenth century to Victorian sensational gothic stories.

The roots of the literary gothic lie in the Enlightenment and subsequent Romantic backlash beginning in the late eighteenth century. Reacting against the Age of Reason, writers sought to emphasize the fantastical, inexplicable, ghostly and mysterious, evoking tensions between gothic and realism, science and religion, nature and the supernatural, the rational and the irrational, as well as drawing on the anxieties provoked by contemporary events. These tensions are central to gothic fiction, and enable the exploration of other dichotomies: life/death; masculine/feminine; self/society.

Type
Chapter
Information
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2016

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

References

Freeman, Nick, ‘Sensational Ghosts, Ghostly Sensations’, Women's Writing, 20:2 (2013), pp. 186–201.Google Scholar
Harris, Wendell V., British Short Fiction in the Nineteenth Century: A Literary and Bibliographic Guide (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1979).
Morrison, Robert and Baldick, Chris, eds., Tales of Terror from Blackwood's Magazine (Oxford University Press, 1995).
Polsgrave, Carol, ‘They Made it Pay: British Short-Fiction Writers, 1820–1840’, Studies in Short Fiction, 11 (1974), pp. 417–21.Google Scholar
Thurston, Luke, Literary Ghosts from the Victorians to Modernism: The Haunting Interval (Abingdon: Routledge, 2012).
Wolfreys, Julian, Victorian Hauntings: Spectrality, Gothic, the Uncanny, and Literature (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001).
1
Cited by

Send book to Kindle

To send this book to your Kindle, first ensure no-reply@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats
×

Send book to Dropbox

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Available formats
×

Send book to Google Drive

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Available formats
×