Monday, February 1, 2010

Paper #1: The Eighteenth-Century Gothic!

For your first paper, you have three general topics to choose from, though each one is quite broad and invites approaches using both novels and other primary and secondary works.


Discuss the Gothic heroine of the eighteenth century in Walpole and Austen’s works. Though Walpole’s heroines are actually trapped in a Gothic landscape, and Catherine only imagines herself to be, how might each exhibit certain Gothic characteristics? Does the setting and conventions of a Gothic story allow for a more emancipated view of feminine capability? Are these “feminist” heroines (or feminist authors)? Do the heroines defy society as well as the supernatural terrors that confront them? Or does the Gothic formula ultimately keep them in their place? How might a 21st century feminist (or feminist theorist) read these works? NOTE: with Austen, consider the narrator as a character as much as Catherine…


While The Castle of Otranto is seen as the prototypical Gothic novel, and Northanger Abbey is in part a parody of this formula, how might each one contribute to understanding what “makes” a Gothic novel? Can both works be considered “Gothic”? Is Gothic in the eighteenth century less about the supernatural than its appearance? How essential is satire and irony to the eighteenth-century Gothic novel? Might Walpole be as tongue-in-cheek and parodic as Austen, and might Austen be considered more stoutly Gothic if she included at least one unexplained “prodigy” (i.e. a weeping portrait, giant sword, etc.)? In other words, what unites or divides these works as examples of the Gothic novel? And what separates these works from more traditional eighteenth and nineteenth-century novels (or in Austen’s case, from her other, more famous works)?


In Northanger Abbey, Henry Tilney instructs Catherine on the current aesthetics of art:

“It seemed as if a good view were no longer to be taken from the top of a high hill, and that a clear blue sky was no longer a proof of a fine day…He talked of fore-grounds, distances, and second distances—side-screens and perspectives— lights and shades;--and Catherina was so hopeful a scholar, that when they gained the top of Beechen Cliff, she voluntarily rejected the whole city of Bath, as unworthy to make part of a landscape” (1.14.107).

Both novels makes references (whether subtle or overt) to the artistic life of their time. How might one (or both) of the works communicate directly with their artistic, philosophic, or musical peers? Find 2-3 additional primary sources in other genres, such as paintings (ex: Goya, Fuseli, Fredrich, J.M. Turner), philosophy (ex: Burke, Kant, Wollstonecraft) or music (ex: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven) to compare to the novels. Where do the works intersect in aesthetic principles or overall philosophy? How might knowing one help us “see” another?


I. Close Readings: You must perform close readings of the novels you use; do not summarize. You must analyze the texts at the level of language and examine what is happening and why. Don’t gloss over entire passages or chapters without showing us why you read it this way. Remember, we might not read or understand the passage the way you do, so don’t assume anything is obvious.

II. Primary and secondary sources: this means the novels in question as well as other works of the period (excerpts from other Gothic novels, Coleridge’s poetry, or other works of the period—not modern works) and critical works such as The Gothic Tradition, journal articles, books, etc.

III. Thought, enthusiasm and understanding: Remember, this is a 4000 level class! I want to make sure you’ve read the works thoroughly, thought about them prior to writing, and are committed to your ideas rather than simply jumping through hoops. I define “4000 level” as a level of interest and sophistication; if you write a tepid paper that could just sneak by a 2000 level class, I will summon Walpole’s gigantic helmet and crush your GPA! (kidding, but still…)

IV. Consistent Citations and References: Make sure you cite everything properly and include a thorough Works Cited page. Please let me know if you have any questions about MLA format, etc. And please don’t make up a new citation method on the fly—no need to invent the wheel here.

V. At least 5-6 pages: less than this would be seriously underdeveloped; more than this is certainly welcome. I care less about counting pages than what you actually have to say, though I don’t buy the argument that you have to add “BS” to get 5 pages. Typically, a shorter paper lacks specific detail and a thorough investigation of the argument. I want to see you “thinking” throughout, and thinking is messy—it takes space!

V. DUE FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 18th by 5pm. You lose a letter grade a day for a maximum of two days (in other words, I will accept it no later than Sunday for a grade). You are allowed to revise the paper following my comments, ideas, and suggestions.

GOOD LUCK! Write well and with inspiration! If you are a senior, this may be one of your last chances to write about literature and have someone actually care! If a sophomore or junior, this could be your chance to shine!

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