Thursday, December 24, 2009

Close Reading Questions for Stevens’s The Gothic Tradition (pp.1-31)

Answer any TWO of the following in a decent-sized paragraph (enough for me to see you “thinking”—no vague or one-sentence responses will be accepted).

1. According to the text, what social forces was the Gothic movement more or less a response to? How might these explain the Gothic’s fixation on the ancient, the secret, and the macabre?

2. Why were women so instrumental in creating and perpetuating the Gothic genre? And why might the novel in particular (rather than poetry or drama) represent its ideal form of expression?

3. How did Gothic authors such as Coleridge, Beckford, Radcliffe, and Shelley change the conception of an “author”? What about their lives and characters (or how they represented them) may have contributed to this?

4. Compare Goya’s “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters” (11) to one of the Romantic/19th century works on page 12. What “gothic” elements do you see in each, based on how Stevens defines the Gothic? How is each work similar—and what obvious differences are revealed by comparing the two? Is each one equally (or even legitimately) “Gothic”? For this last question, you can either Google the individual works/painters or visit the CGFA website: Many of the works on page 12 can be found there.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Christopher W. Clark

    1. The Gothic movement can (in part) be seen as a reaction to two major, world-shaping forces in the 18th century: on the one hand, the very tangible and bloody French Revolution, and the concomitant 'revolutionary spirit' which seemed to permeate the rest of Europe (as it did earlier in America.) In addition to this, there was the more ideological (but just as present) spirit of the Enlightenment, which valued reason, order, empiricism, and the 'external.' The Gothic movement, with its interpenetration of the quotidian and the fantastical, can be seen as a way to temper the Enlightenment spirit, to reintroduce wonders into a discourse dominated by reason. The Gothic movement's emphasis on foreboding, terror, and psychological unease can be seen as-- if not a direct result of, at least a natural outgrowth of the uncertainties (felt particularly among the middle class) created by the looming specter of Revolution. In the light of France, previous social structures suddenly seemed unstable, impermanent, and as prone to dissolution as anything else.

    2. Women played a large part in perpetuating the Gothic tradition because the Gothic was very much an outgrowth of the novel (although it did have antecedents in poetry by Gray, etc.), and women were predominantly readers of novels (men were more likely to read "worthier" philosophy or classic poetry.) The popularity of the Gothic novel owes a lot to a voracious readership of women.

    The novel, as it came to be separated from the Romance, was a vehicle for writing about social realism. It was better-suited than poetry or drama for presenting the lives of 'ordinary' men and women. For this reason, it could also be a perfect tool for subversion. By couching the fantastic and horrific in terms of social realism by means of the novel, Gothic writers were able to create a tension that could not so easily be expressed in other forms. The fantastic in the Gothic was made (paradoxically) both more believable and more fantastic by placing it within a context of ordinary reality as experienced by ordinary people.