Friday, January 22, 2010

Close Reading Questions for Stevens, Ch.3 (Beckford, Lewis, Radcliffe, Coleridge, Keats & Poe) and Coleridge’s Kubla Khan (1816)

Answer TWO of the following...

1. Which of the authors seems most indebted or inspired by Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto? Cite a specific example from the excerpt and point to its inspiration in Walpole’s original.

2. Matthew Lewis’s The Monk (1796) was a terrifically successful work—so much so, that his contemporaries called him Matthew “Monk” Lewis. It is also said to represent, even more than Otranto, the true hallmarks of the Gothic horror novel. Why do you think this is? What elements, ideas, or expressions seem to capture a more “modern” sense of the genre?

3. Consider the poems by Coleridge, Keats, and Poe: how does poetry (which is rarely narrative) inhabit the Gothic genre? What elements from Otranto are visible in these poems—and how might poetry develop Gothic themes in different ways/forms? (Hint: poetry can express one powerful precursor of the Gothic—see Stevens, Ch.1—that evades a prose novel).

4. In Coleridge’s Preface to “Kubla Khan,” he writes, “if [the poem] indeed can be called composition in which all the images rose up before him as things, with a parallel production of the correspondent expressions, without any sensation or consciousness of effort” (Longman, 545). Why do you think he uses the word “things,” and how might this Preface change how we read/interpret the poem? Consider Walpole’s similar statements in his First and Second Prefaces.


  1. 2. Lewis deals with the gothic by basing his story around the darker side of religion. Rather than focus on light and love as center piece, he brings out the idea of darkness and fear in the work. Since religion is closer to us than monsters, it almost seems to be more realistic. We can tell that most stories aren't real purely because we can't connect to them, either on the emotional level or logically. By bringing up dark ideas within the church, he gives the story a credential. Since most people are familiar with the biblical stories of angels, demons, and many of the common misconceptions surrounding the church, it brings us to a different level of reading. We become absorbed into the gothic and our fears (that seem to be underlying) are brought out and presented to us as a modern myth. That is to say that it will be present in the back of our minds because of that fear we have with the unknown.

    4. By using the word "things" to describe his visions, it seems to mean that he has a disconnected relationship to his creations. These aren't people, these are not lands, they are things that are ultimately worthless and will pass in time. To call them such in his introduction would mean that his vision either terrified him to the point of disconnection, or that he doesn't want to entertain the idea of playing host to the piece. If your a cinique however, it might seem as though he's just trying to create a farce like Walpole did and is just humoring himself while other people grapple with the reality of the work. At any rate, that same distancing idea is still present and can change the readers outlook on the piece simply because it removes a layer of affirmation; These 'things' might be real, but most likely not.

  2. Hello all--
    I have more of a question, than a comment. I noticed that the header on this Question set indicated that Kubla Khan was written in 1816, which seems to be out of step with Wordsworth who apparently was working on a set of 'real life' poetry in collaboration with Samuel Coleridge.
    According to Literature: A Contemporary Introduction by James Hurt he had a footnote to Kubla Khan that reads:
    ...Coleridge wrote: 'This fragment with a good deal more, not recoverable, composed, in a sort of reverie brought on by two grains of opium, taken to check a dysentery, at a farmhouse between Porlock and Linton, a quarter of a mile from Culbone Church, in the fall of the year, 1797.'"
    So I'm wondering was the poem written in 1797 and then published in 1816 or is there some debate in the literary circles as to the exact date of the work? Also--and perhaps it's just me being 'me' ;) know, given certain language in this poem there seems to be some rather risque language with double entendre going on... just wondering... *tee hee*

  3. X-ref also with the song "Xanadu" by Rush on Farewell to Kings, 1977. In myths, often times the fertile paradise and immortal garden was many times symbolized by rivers and depth of water that must be passed through (ie, the womb and the acts of pleasure which thus, create life.)
    Oh and yah--if you like try to talk about this to me in person, I'll likely blush to death.. this whole 'hide behind your screen' thing works for me! :)

  4. Travis! I wanted to answer the second question! Blargh. That little tidbit from The Monk reminded me a lot of the Ravnica block of Magic: The Gathering - the guild that made up the black/white colors (the Orzhov Syndicate). It was a church themed guild, but it highlighted the gothic (and corrupt) of said church. The art was wonderful for those cards, and quite Gothic. Here are some links:

    and one of my favorites:

  5. Brandon Frye

    1. To answer the question directly, the excerpts from The Italian seemed to maybe imitate (or draw from) The Castle of Otranto.

    The first reminiscence shows up with the "garment covered in blood". "'It moves!' exclaimed Paulo; 'I see it move!' as he said which, he started to the opposite side of the chamber. Vivaldi stepped a few paces back, and as quickly returned; when determined to know the event at once, he raised the garment upon the point of his sword..." At this point I remember the skeletal hermit scene from Otranto: A heap of raggedy clothes turned away that, upon drawing close, turns around and reveals itself to be a moving skeleton. I expected something similar here. But, it goes on, "He raised the garment upon the point of his sword, and perceived, beneath, other remains of dress, heaped high together, while even the floor below was stained with gore." Just more bloody clothes, that's what the suspense leads to. And in true Otranto manner, the author goes on to explain in detail a possible (extravagant) reason for such a heap to be in existence. It must have been robbers, yeah, that's it.

    After this, some more echoes of Otranto sound. Vivaldi, referring to some monk-spirit who heralded the duo to their current location, thinks, "If this being had appeared only, I should, perhaps, have thought it the perturbed spirit of him, who doubtless has been murdered here, and that it led me hither to discover the deed, that his bones might be removed to holy ground." This feels a lot like the entire plot of Ontranto, a spirit done wrong causing supernatural occurrences in order to set things straight in the land of the living.

    Another segment has Vivaldi pursuing a marriage with Ellena in a chapel amongst a "gloomy evening... the lake, which broke in dark waves upon the shore, mingled its hollow sounds with those of the wind... [and] heavy thunder clouds, that rolled along the sides of mountains". The environment spells out Gothic gloom, which is just great for a wedding. And his bride notices something interesting, and quite Otranto like. "As they approached the chapel, Ellena fixed her eyes on the mournful cypresses which waved over it, and sighed. 'those,' she said, 'are funeral mementos -- not such as should grace the alter of marriage!" Can anyone say random-giant-brain-dashing-helmet?

  6. Continued...
    3. First just let me say...

    From John Keats' Le Belle Dame Sans Merci:

    I made a garland for her head,
    And bracelets too, and fragrant zome;
    She looked at me as she did love,
    And made sweet moan.

    I set her on my pacing steed,
    And nothing else saw all day long,
    For sidelong would she bend, and sing
    A faery's song.

    That's just sexy.

    Now, to answer the question. Some of the most apparent aspects of Gothic literature seem to be adding up to these:

    -Nifty environments that rely a lot on the same aspects that Romantic Literature would - environments that imply or invoke emotion root emotions (Sentiment or the Sublime). Think about the Lady Christabel praying in the woods at night, the entire adventure the Knight-at-arms goes on with his lady in the meads, or the small room that seems to close in around the narrator of The Raven.

    - The emotions themselves. With the given examples above, the solemn feeling the praying Christabel gives us, the wonder that the Knight and his lady give us, and the claustrophobic dread The Raven builds up.

    You can compare this with The Castle of Otranto. In all examples, the environment plays a large role in the emotional impact of the works. And in truth, most of these examples seem to be mere shuttles for these emotions. Think about the building suspense that Otranto implemented (and then squashed with joke-like supernatural occurrences). You can see the same thing happening with The Raven (though it actually follows through. And I would even argue that poetry seems to have even more ways to explore the Gothic when compared to prose. A straight story is stuck in a narrative, it HAS to flow time-like and explain everything. Poetry can leave things to the imagination, which has a bigger emotional effect.

  7. Loved the comment on Keat's Lady of Mercy! :) *rawwr*

    I do not have the Stephen's book and I see that you make alot of reference to "The Raven" by Poe (so I suspect that it was one of the works looked at in The Gothic Tradition), I actually made a much larger connection between
    The Castle of Otranto and The Fall of the House of Usher.
    In which we have in both, a brother and sister who do not make it out of the stories alive, a hapless hero that makes the appearance, the lightning strikes and weather (as connected to the structural integrity of these manors/castles), the underground passages that become like tombs (or are in fact tombs as in the case of the Usher dynasty), curses that fall on the children due to the father's 'sins'
    (in the Usher tale it was because the family tree "never branched")
    I think that Poe definitely tipped his hat to Walpole and definitely owed a coin to the Walpole fountains!

    And.. *heh* yup, my husband said that there is alot of double entendre in Kubla Khan (I suppose that I should either be elated or afraid that he could find soooo many!) *shy grin*

    Gods I love 4000's level classes! :)

  8. Wow, great discussion here. Ideally, a 4000 class allows people to explore their natural curiosity and interest, rather than just going for the grade; glad to see that happening here. I'll save a lot of my comments to this thread for class, but a few quick notes...

    a. Kubla Khan was written, like much of Coleridge's poetry, around the late 1790's and early 1800's, but unpublished until 1816 (Byron convinced him to publish it). Wordsworth and Coleridge published a joint volume called "Lyrical Ballads" in 1798 which set the world on its ear; the idea was to combine simple, direct "ballads" along with works that evoked a sense of the old and mysterious--rather than the rational and logical works of Pope, Johnson, and others. Of course, Wordsworth did not ultimately agree with Coleridge's aesthetic, and really didn't like his offerings--notably "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (he like the poem, but didn't feel it fit in with his own poetry). In later volumes of the Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth moved "The Rime" further and further back in the volume, and excised other Coleridge poems. This led to a rift between the two and Coleridge largely stopped publishing poetry, especially since he never bothered to finish much of it (as in the example of Kubla Khan and Christabel). But Kubla Khan is very much a work of the late 18th century, and carries on the line of Walpole, Radcliffe, and Lewis.

    b. Great points about the Walpole influence in Radcliffe; she essentially re-writes Otranto in many novels, though giving more power and voice to the women. And in Radcliffe, the supernatural elements are almost always explained by something rational--though she terrifies us before we learn this. She, like Clara Reeve (The Old English Baron) probably disapproved of the superntural elements which were either too grotesque or too humorous. Lewis, on the other hand, had no compunction about this, and wrote of real ghosts, demons, and monsters (though the greatest monster of all is the Monk of the title--man himself).

    Let's keep this going in our discussion tomorrow. Don't be afraid to speak up!