Friday, February 12, 2010

Close Reading Questions for The Gothic Tradition, Chapter 4: "Critical Approaches" (pp.95-110)

(above: John Constable's Salsbury Cathedral from the Meadows (1835), a Romantic view of a Gothic landscape.  Constable, like Gainsborough, loved painting landscapes and tried to infuse them with typically "English" colors--ruddy browns, deep greens, dark greys and blues.  Though he didn't choose typically Gothic subject matter, this one naturally lends itself to Romantic sensibilities--perhaps the way Catherine first observed Northanger Abbey with Henry?). 

Answer TWO of the following…

1. What is the relationship between the writer, the reader, and the critic/scholar? Why might I make the argument (as Stevens does) that all three are necessary to give life to a literary work? What role does each one play in the process?

2. According to Stevens, why might the chief criticisms of the Gothic in the 18th century (debased, sacrilegious, addictive, and depressing) be “reactionary” in nature? Could these criticisms be motivated by political conservatives who feared what these works might to do society—particularly as they were read by the largest possible audience?

3. The Gothic movement was fueled by hundreds if not thousands of novels, few of which have survived the ages. Austen records some of Catherine’s favorite books as “The Castle of Wolfenbach, Clermont, Mysterious Warnings, [and] The Necromancer of the Black Forest” (all of which can be found at Valancourt Books’s website: Many 20th century critics have claimed that “the literary quality of the tales of terror is not very high…” and “[their] climax soon dies, and is seldom memorable” (Stevens, 101). Can works that are not “great” still be important to read and study? How can a “popular” work with no literary pretensions still be discussed critically?

4. Based on the brief synopses of Psychoanalysis, Marxism, and Feminism, which approach do you feel would be most revealing/interesting in our two Gothic novels? What aspect of one or both novels would you examine in light of a Freudian, Marxist, or Feminist approach? Be specific and explain how might being a paper from this critical perspective.

1 comment:

  1. #3. Works that are critically deemed not great are incredibly useful and important to read and study. Often times, the less scholarly works are ridiculed and forgotten about. However, without these works, an entire genre would be lost. Much can be learned from these works. It is just like any other art form- one way may not be as technically correct or evoke as many thoughtful responses, but it is still useful and relevant. They can teach what not to do. I also have a hard time believing that there is nothing useful from any gothic work. If approached with openness, the works may surprise you and be much deeper than initially thought. Gothic literature is simply like any other genre- it has phases where it is more popular and appealing to the general public. It could very well be in ten years, gothic lit may be the genre that receives the most critical accolades. To claim that an entire genre lacks literary quality is a rather ignorant thing to do in my opinion. Critics need to be open to the quality they could possess instead of putting every work into a general stereotype.

    #4. I do think that all three critical approaches are possible; however, I do feel that the psychoanalytic is probably the most useful and applicable to both genres. There are obviously underlying themes attached to both works. By taking the psychoanalytic approach, these themes can be more deeply explored. For example, it would be very intriguing and enlightening to do a psychoanalytic analysis of Catherine relating to her perception of reality and imagination from her everyday boring life to the Abbey which she embellishes to be much more gothic than it actually is. It would also be very interesting to do a psychoanalytic analysis of Manfred from Otranto. This is a character that could easily be analyzed this way, and in turn, it could maybe help explain the happenings of the story a little better. I think this approach could add a deeper look at the characters and how their mental stability affects the story.