The Oxford English
Dictionary records early 19th Century usage of “abstraction” as secret
or dishonest removal of wealth; “abstraction” as the consideration of qualities
independently of material substance, especially concerning wealth and property,
came into use in the later part of the Century. Gothic narratives often
explore notions of fractured identities and a sense of dislocation that
is either or both spatial and psychological, but rising capitalism and
the abstraction of wealth from physical property was among the biggest
anxieties of the time, turning tangible security into an ephemeral, easily
transferable insecurity. Narratives like Jekyll and Hyde, The Hound of
the Baskervilles and Uncle Silas demonstrate the temptation such wealth
has for criminal activity. The Bottle Imp gives a chilling account of how
abstraction leads to a simultaneous conflation of the ideas of wealth and
happiness, and the abstraction of self from society: one no longer feels
any sense of responsibility about the fate of others. Financial abstraction
also blurs the boundaries between social classes and even between races,
since wealth, in all its dangerous fluidity, levels the playing field and
contributing to late Victorian anxieties about the self and the potential
for displacement or even erasure. The Gothic authors’ use of fragmentary,
epistolary and therefore inherently unreliable narratives (eg. Frankenstein;
Dracula) can therefore be said to reflect a desire to record the subjective
and personal in an effort to prevent the complete abstraction of the self.
(Annabelle Bok, 2006)
Androgyny took on a prominent place in describing the sexual orientation of characters in fin de siêcle Gothic literature. In a biological context, being androgynous suggests a combination of male and female sexual organs and characteristics. In Gothic literature, to be androgynous is to be neither specifically masculine nor feminine thus creating an amorphous character with an ambiguous sexual orientation. Some authors combine the biological and social definitions of androgyny to the characterization of their characters. Androgynous behaviour is exhibited in marginalized characters such as the foreign other and females to mirror cultural and sexual anxieties in this period of enormous social turbulence. Androgyny is a fin de siêcle symptom exemplifying the Victorians’ frustration, confusion and resentment towards the strict demarcation of gender roles. Gothic literature thus uses the site of androgyny to contest with gender conventions and experiment with mutable forms of sexuality. This is seen in recent times where several feminists advocate androgyny as a substitute to patriarchy. In Dracula, Bram Stoker describes Mina Harker as a motherly female with a “woman’s heart” who interestingly, also has “man’s brain.” Androgyny is also manifested in the hyper-masculine Dracula who is also hyper-feminine at the same time. He is at once the pursuer of virginal females and the pursued by a band of masculine men. Hyde in Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is feminized with his “dwarfish” stature. Androgyny can then be seen as a projection of various anxieties in the fin de siêcle Victorian period. This is due to the emergence of the new woman, fall of the family and the questioning of assumptions of being either man or woman in the Victorian society.
(Metta Yang, 2004)
The term atavism is usually used to express the recurrence or reappearance of certain ‘primitive’ traits, physical or psychical, which presumably match those of an ancestral form. This notion of reversion and evolutionary ‘throwbacks’ was closely linked to criminality and class anxieties (see http://www.criminology.fsu.edu/crimtheory/ lombroso.htm for more information about Cesare Lombroso’s theory of the born deviant) in the nineteenth century, and often serves an interesting function mostly in fin de siecle gothic literature, particularly texts (such as R.L Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, A.C Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles or H.G Well’s The Island of Dr Moreau) which engage with bodily monstrosity and pseudo-scientific discourses about degeneration.
Urban problems of rising crime and poverty, as well as post-Darwinian anxieties about the increasing destabilization of human identity in late Victorian society seem to become embodied and ‘safely’ displaced through the repugnant form of the regressive atavistic human, whose moral and behavioral aberrations are pre-figured through his/her animalistic physiognomy. As such, tropes of degeneration such as blood, heredity, bestiality and even crumbling structures or spaces that are tied to a stagnant but still potent past frequently crop up in various gothic texts. In imperial-colonial gothic discourse, these atavistic elements can be read as a reflection of anxieties about the decay of the gentry and the declining colonial enterprise.
Gothic narratives typically subvert and complicate these conventional perceptions of the ‘social other’ by problematizing the supposedly clear (but ultimately revealed as superficial or at the least, unreliable) distinctness between the ‘proper’, respectable self and its anti-thesis. Via characteristic gothic devices such as doubling, irony and linguistic /narrative indeterminacy (which highlight the uneasy closeness between these two binaristic oppositions), the geographically, socially and/or biologically transgressive figure of the atavist becomes even more perturbing because he/she blurs the established boundaries drawn between the civilized and the savage, mirroring back to society its own fears and concerns (racial decline, the overlapping of animal and human, etc). Thus, the atavistic being not only presents a direct threat to civilization, but even more disturbingly, undermines the scientific taxonomies and social classifications that it rests on from within.
For more detailed examples of such readings about the atavist’s function in gothic literature, see Kelly Hurley’s The Gothic Body: Sexuality, Materialism, and Degeneration at the ‘Fin de siecle’ or Stephen Arata’s article The Sedulous ape: Atavism, Professionalism, and Stevenson's 'Jekyll and Hyde.'
Beauty is often juxtaposed to what is man-made or corrupted. Victor in Frankenstein, in his scientific transgression, fails to enjoy the ‘charms of nature.’ (53) Hence it can be an indication of the state of one’s inner mind. The beauty of nature is pervasive in Frankenstein and it contributes greatly to the sublime. There is a sense of the overwhelming in its grandeur and infiniteness as compared to man who is small. It acts as a refuge by diminishing man’s problems, but it can accentuate them also because it is threatening and uncontrollable. Victor’s escapade to Montanvert filled him with ‘sublime ecstasy that gave wings to the soul, and allowed it to soar…’ (94) The mountains are ‘terrifically desolate’ yet possessing a ‘solitary grandeur.’(94) Such a beautiful landscape becomes almost paradoxical as it would witness Walton’s and Victor’s suffering travels across the frozen seas, and its attractive-repulsion parallels the nature of the construction of the monster as well-attractive, dangerous and uncontrollable.
Beauty is brought to perfection in women, who are likened to angels and the Virgin Mary .They usually fit within moral and domestic conventions, like Frankenstein’s Elizabeth and Dracula’s Mina. However, sensation and shock tactics are created by defiling such women, and bringing to light the ideological suppression of women in society. Beauty without morals or chastity becomes unnatural and bestial, evoking attraction and repulsion. Beauty here is seen as something to be feared due to its power to seduce and bring out the irrational in man. Lucy possesses two faces of beauty within herself, the seductive and cold beauty when she is a blood sucking vampire and the earthly and peaceful one when she is truly dead as a virtuous woman. Similarly, Ollala’s beauty is that of degeneration, like the house, and is an indication of illness, insanity or bestiality.
(Candida Ho, 2004)
Birth evolves in gothic literature as an overdetermined symbol stemming from man’s darkest desires to overreach the boundaries of knowledge. A distortion of the natural act of human creation, the emphasis on its agonized, painful labour process functions as a perversion of nature in giving birth to all that is monstrous in human nature outside the safety of the domestic sphere. The arduous process of animating life in Frankenstein and Jekyll and Hyde manifests itself in the deformed birth-child that results: which Frankenstein condemns as “a filthy creation… [a] daemoniacal corpse to which I had so miserably given life” (56).
The trope of a deformed, perverted birth also has Biblical echoes, most evident in the demonic trinity of Milton’s Paradise Lost, in which Sin is taken from Satan’s head and the incestuous son of their union is torn out of her bowels. This is alluded to in the reference to Hyde as a “child of Hell”, spawned from a division of evil that tears away the darker desires embedded in his creator’s nature. It also resonates with the birth of the gothic novel, as the creation of its authors’ restless imaginations and underlying desires in a repressive society. Newfound impulses to conquer science and control creation can also be read as the challenging of authority, manifested in the birth of a rebellious self contesting religious and social orthodoxy. The birth of the monster in Frankenstein thus becomes a metaphor for the threatening figure of a working-class Everyman, who is nevertheless a product of bourgeois authority as much as its enemy.
Birth also becomes enmeshed with larger societal anxieties stemming from Malthus’s treaty on population explosion, in the Victorian fear that racial (and social) Others would reproduce aggressively to threaten the existing power structure, and taint racial purity. This is mirrored by Frankenstein’s fear that the monster would reproduce. Ultimately, the distorted birth process that haunts the gothic narrative is checked by the monstrous creation it releases: a mirror to the darkest aspects of its creator.
Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Ed. Gordon Teskey. 3rd ed. (New York; London: W. W. Norton, 2005).
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein (London: Penguin Books, 1994).
Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (London: Penguin Books, 1994).
(Niroshi Sadanandan, 2006)
Blood, fundamentally used in horror literature as a gag factor and ghastly presentation of gore and carnage, plays a far more important and symbolic role in the arena of Gothic literature. It spans a spectrum of socio-cultural associations and connotations that is most aptly exemplified in Bram Stoker’s Dracula where the legend of the vampire comes alive to plague modern Londoners and deprive them of their life-blood and hence with it, all that blood implies in Gothic literature. The theme of blood is present too, though perhaps in a less obvious fashion in many other Gothic novels though its delivery is far less overt in the ones that are bereft of vampiric associations.
Due to the inextricable links between the Gothic tradition, the Church and Christian doctrine, blood naturally represents life in most of Gothic literature, for “the blood is the life”. Lucy slowly grows more lifeless and more like the undead when Dracula starts to feed on her and Mina suffers exactly same consequence, growing paler each day as she is deprived of her life blood. Just as life is drawn out by the simultaneous vampiric sucking of the blood, Lucy grows healthier and more alive as she is given blood transfusions from Quincy, Arthur, Seward and Van Helsing. More examples of the links between blood and bodily functions reside in Frankenstein where Victor learns constantly that the blood that runs within one’s veins is the very foundation of life itself. The Creature that he creates declares vengeance by demanding satiation through the “blood of [his] remaining friends” (95).
Blood and especially the transference of blood are also connotative of sexual intercourse and sacrifice. Arthur regards himself as married to Lucy even without a proper ceremony because his blood is within her body, unaware of course that Quincy and Seward had also given her a blood transfusion. The transference calls to mind a kind of exchange of bodily fluids and penetration, a loss of one’s own essence and the gain of another’s that is very symbolic of sexual intercourse. In this way blood is also linked to identity, as the consumption of another’s blood makes one part of the other, establishing a link, and for lack of a better term, blood bond. Mina’s sucking of Dracula’s blood makes her less human and more vampiric and Lucy’s taking of Dracula’s blood ultimately transforms her into a vampire as well.
The importance of blood is hardly contested, but equally important is the great fear of its loss. This fear of the loss of blood itself translates into many inherent Gothic anxieties such as xenophobia, fear of sexuality, fear of the Other, fear of death and mortality etc. Immense loss of blood will inevitably herald death; blood infusion from another will threaten and possibly subordinate ones down identity, especially if the blood is from a foreigner. Fear of giving blood indicates unwillingness to sacrifice, and fear of sexuality which is indicative of impotence or lack of sexual prowess. In both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Frankenstein, and needless to say many other Gothic novels, the expression of blood running cold in one’s veins is a definite signal of fear and dread. Having the blood of a person on one’s hands is also a signal of guilt, most likely because having deprived someone of his/her life-blood, one has effectively killed the person.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Great Britain: Pan Books, 1994.
(Adeline Hoe, 2004).
BLOOD: Desiring the RED
The significance of blood in gothic literature can be illustrated in many aspects. At the elementary level, blood denotes genealogy, lineages and procreation. This denotation has historical significance for the gothic text to either construct or recall its origins. Extending genealogy to the family, what we often associate as ‘blood is thicker than water’ is challenged in the gothic texts like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde that foreground certain anxieties within the family structure such as in the relationships between fathers and sons, husbands and wives.
What we know as ‘blue blood’ reminds us at once of the aristocracy and nobility. The gothic texts in the Victorian era were concerned with the rise of the bourgeois class, a liminal force itself that threatened to destabilise the ruling power of the former elite. Therefore, the gothic treatment of blood sometimes focuses on the purity and tainted ness of blood like in Bram Stoker’s Dracula to highlight then contemporary societal anxieties.
Blood, due to its ability to be transfused between humans, can be treated as a transactional currency in the gothic text as exemplified in Stoker’s Dracula. This co-modification of blood is highly significant as it reflects the anxiety of the genre towards increasing dominion of capitalism and industrialisation especially in the 19th century that threatened traditional ways of life.
Blood in the gothic text can too connote sexuality and the libido. In Dracula, Dracula and his thirst for blood highlight a libidinous nature that arises from his ‘eastern’ hence different origins. Blood has the further implications of gender and race as despite its physical omnipresence between genders and across races, the perceptions of blood cannot but be influenced by perceptions of race and gender.
The ambivalence of blood’s dual functionality as a life-giver and yet also a life-denier highlights the liminal space that blood occupies in the gothic genre. Stoker’s Dracula is the epitome of a character who both denies and yet gives ‘life’ to his victims. The ‘liminality’ of blood, along with other gothic motifs such as the dual-door house in Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Victor’s ambivalent monster in Frankenstein who is both inhumane yet humane are all characteristic of the genre.
The notion of blood as a life-giver is further extended by the religious connotations of blood itself. The blood of Biblical Christ who had sacrificed himself on the cross for mankind’s salvation had been subverted in Stoker’s Dracula when Dracula, now possibly perceived as the Anti-Christ who consumes his victim’s blood instead of giving blood for salvation.
Without doubt, we need the bloody key to open the door to the gothic world.
(James Tan, 2004)
Anne Williams in her book The Art of Darkness: A Poetics of Gothic suggests that Gothic literature is “pervasively organized around anxieties about boundaries (and boundary transgressions)” (Williams 16). Gothic literature, however, deals not only with boundaries (and transgressions) of “self and other”; it attempts also to show the problematic nature of boundaries in the first place. Social boundaries, for example, define what is correct, but at the same time repress the individual. Boundaries in Gothic fiction are often blurred, and things are never as clearly defined as they seem.
The establishment of the boundary between the self and other is important in Gothic fiction for everything that the Self is not is projected onto the Other. In Shelley’s Frankenstein, Frankenstein’s monster is clearly the Other for he, at least physically, has come to represent everything that the other normal looking characters are not. The idea of “self and other” extends also to geographical boundaries, where everything within the boundary of civilized world is good and everything beyond it is either seen as exotic or dangerous. In Stoker’s Dracula, London is seen as civilized and safe (at least prior the arrival of Dracula) and everything in Romania is considered to be dark, ominous and dangerous.
Boundaries create distinction, but they are also repressive in nature. Society lays down certain norms (boundaries) that individuals cannot transgress or risk being termed the ‘Other’. People in attempting to stay within these boundaries naturally have to repress any desires that may transgress these socially placed boundaries. It can be argued that Dr. Jekyll’s creation Mr. Hyde is an attempt to remain respectable at all times, as defined by the societal boundaries.
Lastly, boundaries can be blurred as we see in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, for is it really possible to create a boundary within oneself? The fact the Jekyll goes to bed as himself and wakes up as Hyde suggests that not only are boundaries problematic, it can also be easily blurred. Dracula too, represents a blurring of the boundaries between the living and the dead, He is not dead, but he is not alive as well, hence he is called the “Un-Dead”, which is really an oxymoron.
Boundaries are endless in Gothic fiction; they constantly attempt to define what is correct, known and approved, but at the same time create more problems by their very act of categorization.
(Ivan Ang, 2006)
The Gothic City
The city emerged as a threatening social space in nineteenth-century Britain, particularly in the century’s latter half, when urbanization saw the majority of the population moving into the cities. Urban gothic literature reflects the anxieties of urbanization by representing the relationship of the individual to the city.
The gothic city is a nightmarish space which threatens one’s sense of self. It is replete with the problems of urbanity: rising crime, declining morality and the blurring of social boundaries. The city’s architecture is monstrous and inherently paradoxical: it is constructed by man, and yet its labyrinthine alleys remain unknowable, thus giving rise to the uncanny. This is compounded by the city’s ruins which symbolize moral decay; while the city is organic and constantly growing, the architectural ruins shadow it with a sense of death. The gothic city is thus causative and symbolic of the threats to the individual and his alienation in an urban setting. This leads to the loss of identity, as dramatized in Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), where Jekyll’s split identity indicates a fragmented sense of self.
The city is also a space of evil. This is unlike earlier Gothic writing like The Castle of Otranto (1764) where evil was displaced to foreign locales like Italy. In contrast, the vampire’s invasion of urban London in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) literally brings the horror “home”. The city is used to confront the individual with the idea that evil is not externalized elsewhere, but rather literally exists within.
(Erin Woodford, 2006)
Gothic literature is obsessed with death. We find portents of death, unnatural deaths, and series of deaths (e.g. Frankenstein), all of which contribute to an atmosphere of horror. Death in Gothic literature is associated with the supernatural. If Gothic literature reflects a wish to overcome one’s mortality, there is also a fear of those who somehow manage to transcend it e.g. She, vampires, Frankenstein’s monster.
In Gothic literature, death is horrific because it is often not quite the end. This thwarts the human wish for certainty. The vampires who are Undead occupy a liminal space; they are at once both alive and dead. The vampire hunters in Dracula have to drive a stake into them, to make sure they are really dead. There is also the trope of the dead who return e.g. Poe’s “Ligeia”. These kinds of spectres can also be seen as manifestations of the return of the repressed.
Likewise, the subject of death itself has often been ignored or repressed. It is what is unknown, and poses a threat to the Victorian mind which desires order. The Gothic is interested in what has been glossed over. We don’t really get sentimental scenes like the death of little William in East Lynne; rather, the more gruesome, inexplicable aspects of death are explored. The corporeality of the body is emphasised with gory descriptions of blood and grave worms. Reading about death serves as a reminder of one’s mortality.
There is also a Gothic obsession with the bodies of dead women. Poe said that the death of a beautiful woman is “the most poetical topic in the world”. For a discussion on death, femininity and the aesthetic, see Elizabeth Bronfen’s book Over her Dead Body. She suggests that Gothic writing itself may be an act of killing off the female as it transmits the animate body into inanimate text. Necrophiliac desire for the dead woman e.g. Heathcliff’s digging of Catherine’s grave, also points to other kinds of transgressions e.g. incest.
(Khoo Lilin, 2004)
The Oxford English Dictionary defines “deformity” as “the quality or condition of being misshapen, or marred in appearance”, where the word connotes moral disfigurement. On top of that, the Latin form of “deform”, its root word, also implies disgracefulness.
Deformity is abundant in the gothic, especially as monstrosity, ugliness and moral disfigurement. In a romantic gothic novel like Frankenstein, the monster embodies deformity with its hideousness where its misshapen form results from an integration of body parts from different corpses. Besides, the narrative is an amalgamation of different textual elements from sources like the bible and The Ancient Mariner among many others, which are distorted.
On the other hand, in a fin de siêcle gothic novel like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, deformity is present in the atavistic and ugly appearance of Hyde, whereas there is suggestion of moral disfigurement in all the characters, including professionals like Utterson, who was wandering on the streets in the “small hours” (25). Besides, the narrator who conceals, and the society that is so secretive, where Hyde (homonymic for “hide” though also having other implications like “Hyde Park” etc) embodies that secrecy, highlights how the gothic aims to uncover the disguise for deformity or disgracefulness in society.
Through deformity, the gothic novel interrogates society and its failure to recognise its inherent short-comings, as can be seen by how the monster and Hyde are foils for many other characters in their respective novels, so as to bring about a greater level of self-reflexivity in a world where all negative aspects are projected unto the “Other”.
(Pang Shi Hua, 2006)
“Dislocation” is the destabilising effect caused by fundamentally unstable and cryptic gothic narratives in its fragmentary epistolary forms such as “Frankenstein” where letters from the no man’s land of the Arctic may never reach Margaret, or in the heteroglossic narration of “Dracula” which is made up of curiously collated newspaper reports, unopened letters and supposedly private journals. The avoidance of a neat arranging of elements and reassuring endings in gothic narratives leads to the desired dislocation of perspectives and ultimately the disturbance of a smooth reading experience as perhaps part of gothic narrative’s agenda to challenge assumptions of normalcy in the linear narration and neat resolution of social realist novels. This destabilizing reading experience can be aided by the technique of either the lack of omniscient narrators in both “Frankenstein” and “Dracula” as an objective and cohesive voice pulling together the different articles with its comments or by problematizing the omniscient voice in “Jekyll and Hyde” that frustrates the reader in its deliberate effacement at times.
The abstraction of the gothic narrative form often parallels the story’s concerns and anxieties when confronting gothic themes which are notorious for its inability to pin down a stable center of meaning hence also resulting in the pathological effect of dislocation. This is exemplified in the split into “self” and “other” when societal demands are unable to be reconciled with individual impulses especially in the urban gothic tale of “Jekyll and Hyde”. However when the boundaries of self/other collapses as when it gets progressively difficult to control the figure of the “Other”/ Hyde, so does it become even more impossible to locate stable identities. The collapse of any single, firm definition is also manifested in gothic fiction’s use of overdetermined symbols such as “blood” in “Dracula” which furthers the notion of the genre’s multiplicity. It may be impossible to fix gothic fiction with a stable meaning however one might say that the dislocation of the reader from a fixed vantage point paradoxically jars one into a greater critical engagement with all elements of the text.
(Belinda Loh Mei
Translated from German as “Double-goer”
Originating from Johann Paul Friedrich Richter’s story Siebenkas, the doppelgänger motif was vaguely explained by Richter in German as “so heissen sie Leute die sie selbst sehen,” translating into “So people who sees themselves are called”. The term describes a duality of the self in which a shadow, or an alter-ego, manifests itself to the original subject, and the subject has a simultaneous consciousness of being both his present self and the external other observing himself. Horror is produced at the recognition of seeing oneself from an external position, in the realization that a tragic figure that the subject has been observing is actually that of his own. The projection of fear and anxiety to an external agent returns to haunt the subject in this fashion, as exemplified by Heinrich Heine’s poem taking the term as its title:
A man stands here too, staring up into space
And wrings his hands with the strength of his pain
It chills me, when I behold his pale face
For the moon shows me my own features again!
This horror is also heightened by the sense of uncanny or the ‘Unheimlich’ that Freud interpreted in his theory of the ‘Uncanny’ as aspects of things familiar to us which becomes distorted and are made strange. Dread is intensified as a result of discovering a familiarity to that what was feared, the subject realizing that the fear was inherently innate in his psychology. Citing the example of ETA Hoffmann’s story The Sandman, the fear Nathaniel bears for the Coppelius the Sandman as a threatening figure is reawakened by a doubling of this evil with the appearance of Coppola the glass-maker.
In other literary instances, the doppelgänger motif brings about the fear of identity theft with the startling appearance of an identical other who has subversive or malicious intentions. In Wilkie Collin’s Woman in White, Laura Fairlie’s had her identity exchanged by her double Anne Catherick upon the latter’s death, resulting in her incarceration in the asylum when her real upper-class identity being misappropriated. With The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the double comes from a division of the self, the two egos representing opposing figures of a good-evil dichotomy. Here, the respectable Dr Jekyll slowly loses his sense of self-identity with the severing of his psyche into two disparate halves, and Mr Hyde conversely beginning to take over the Dr Jekyll’s life.
Under a doubled association, literary characters can encounter or mirror an opposite figure in significant actions, with the parallel motion of the two usually indicating an implicit similarity and inescapable relationship between the two. Despite being two characters opposing each other in Dracula, Van Helsing and Dracula bears similar traits of being foreign and authoritative father-figures to the other characters, their identification asserting the same inherent desire for power and control.
The literary Gothic’s interest in the doppelgänger highlights the period’s interest in the exploration of the psychopathological nature of man, in its scientific search for the basis of fear and dread in the psyche. The notion of a unified and stable psychology of the self is destabilized when the unconscious overcomes the ego in responding to primitive fears of identity loss and disembodiment of the soul from the body. An element of the uncanny and the macabre is thus presented in gothic texts where the doppelgänger appears, by blurring of the boundaries between the dream state and reality, sanity and madness, introducing subjectivity into what we perceive the external world really is.
(Ong Yong Hui,
Doubling refers to a multiplication by two, such as when two or more characters parallel each other in action or personality, for example. It can also mean internal doubling, or division within the self to exhibit a duality of character.
Often, seemingly disparate characters are shown through doubling to be fundamentally similar, hence collapsing the self-other dichotomy and imparting a worrying sense of indistinguishableness between the supposed opposites. This implies that boundaries between deliberately demarcated groups of people are actually slippery and unstable. External identity markers such as dressing and mannerisms are hence undependable, allowing social categories to become permeable and vulnerable to transgression by virtue of their easy imitation.
Doubling hence illustrates deep anxieties that Victorian elites had regarding the weakening of the distinctions drawn along lines of class, gender, race and nationality, posing threats to the interests of the self. It also raises a cautionary point that a thin line separates good and evil, and while it is easy for evil to infiltrate one’s protected sanctum, it is equally easy for one to fall into the latter’s trappings. As such, everything that seems good must also be held in suspicion of harboring a negative underside.
Doubling also foregrounds the motif of mirroring, in particular the projection of one’s fears, desires and anxieties onto the other, which becomes an uncomfortable reflection of ugly traits that the self refuses to acknowledge. The other thus reveals the social ills and moral decay that high Victorian society tries to ignore. It also broaches the notion that there are always two sides to a coin, such as that crime and poverty would necessarily accompany wealth accumulation in a capitalistic society. Progress for some comes at the cost of hardship for many others.
At the individual level, doubling plays out an internal splitting of the self between the public face of high Victorian respectability and professionalism, versus the carefully hidden face of despicability and immorality. It makes an oblique reference to Victorian hypocrisy, duplicity of standards and multiplicity of facades, as well as the fear of being discovered as such. It also dramatizes the inner struggle and vacillation between choices of good and evil in the individual. It is also interesting to note that for particular groups, doubling shows the essential sameness of perception by society of their status. Gothic representations of female characters for example, almost always seem to double each other in their stereotypical portrayal of feminine passivity when confronted with masculine power.
Lastly, at the narrative level, the form and structure of gothic writings sometimes act as a double to the content of the novel, underscoring the importance of themes that are doubled (reiterated through form and content), and the narrative strategy of doubling itself.
(Diana Chan Tsui
The concept of doubling in Gothic literature proves significantly revealing in the interrogation of the established social norms of the Victorian society in the 19th century. Relevant and applicable at both the individual and societal levels, Gothic “doubling” in itself suggests an implicit lack of oneness, thereby plainly suggesting an inherent instability or uncertainty found within the characters and their environments in the Gothic novel. This concept manifests as readers recognise the implied and inherent similarities between even seeming polar opposites, for example between the civilised and the savage, good and evil, creator and created etc, the degree of horror, so characteristic of Gothic novels, is heightened.
The massive social change and flux during the Victorian Gothic period made this destabilising Gothic notion of “doubling” particularly significant. Indeterminacy and uncertainty arose from core societal problems as socio-economic forces took shape to change living and working conditions. For example, the rise of the working class generated anxieties about uncontrolled reproduction and the blurring of class boundaries. Socio-economic and cultural tensions were exacerbated by other concerns such as the growing interest in travel (thereby inducing a threat to England’s cultural imperialism), as well as the rise of capitalism that created fears of displacement and class exploitation.
In its interrogation of accepted social conventions, the concept of “doubling” functions as a tool through which a mirroring of society’s problems reflect and reveal deep-seated insecurities of the Victorian era. Amongst other concerns was that of the bipolar dichotomy between Self and Other, which is associated with fear and disdain of the racial or foreign Other-- so attributed with corruption and decadence and perceived as seeking to undermine England’s cultural superiority. Yet, this issue was inextricably bound to the perception of a declining English aristocracy that had been upstaged by changing social forces and was no longer able to hold its own in a rapidly changing society in the midst of a profound transition. This becomes a common trope in Gothic novels such as Sheridan Le Fanu’s Uncle Silas and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, where figures such as Madame de la Rougierre and the Monster as foreign Others pose a threat to the now declining and impotent aristocratic class of the Frankensteins and the Ruthyns by disrupting their family peace and honour. Within the study and categorisation of the Othered figures then lay the answers to Victorian societal weaknesses.
Thus, that which might be assumed to be orthodox and accepted in society is subverted within Gothic literature through “doubling”. By showing different characters that demonstrate frighteningly similar actions and character traits, e.g. Dracula and Van Helsing, both of whom can be read as intruders of domestic peace and sanctity, or different environments that are nonetheless reflective of the same social stratification problem, e.g. the prestigious grounds of Knowl and the dilapidated estate of Bartram Haugh, the loopholes and anxieties of Victorian society are shown up in the mirroring of “doubled” actions and characterisations.
(Joanne Raj, 2004)
Doppelganger in the Gothic
In Irish folklore the doppelganger is also known as a fetch, but translated from its original German, it literally means ‘double’ (doppel) ‘walker’ (ganger). In the literary vernacular, it has come to refer to the double of a person, usually in relation to great evil. Most Gothic narratives portray the doppelganger to be mischievous and malicious. In science fiction and fantasy narratives, they appear as shapeshifters who mimic a particular person or species to serve their own evil purposes.
In a Gothic text, the appearance of the doppelganger possesses great significance because of its cultural codifications of being an alter ego or antithetical character to the literary protagonist – an evil twin, so to speak. Though the ‘twin effect’ of the doppelganger suggests physical features identical to that of the self, this is not always the case, as in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, where Jekyll in the misguided dream of splitting the self into its good and evil halves to remove the evil nature of humans, creates Hyde – Jekyll’s doppelganger in personality, though physically contrary in appearance. Where Jekyll is “a large, well made, smooth-faced man… with every mark capacity and kindness”, Hyde is “pale and dwarfish, he gave an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation, he had a displeasing smile”, and Mr Utterson even describes him as “troglodytic”. As Jekyll himself writes, “even as good shone upon the countenance of the one, evil was written broadly and plainly on the face of the other.”
As the spiritual or ghostly counterpart of a living person, the doppelganger is a shadow of the self that accompanies every human. Hyde is Jekyll’s ‘shadow’, a personification of the repressed evil nature that all humans possess. Generally, doppelgangers are visible only to their owners; symbolically, this means that only its owner can see it for what it truly is – and characteristic of this, only Jekyll knows Hyde’s true identity. They cast no shadow or reflection in a mirror or water (when Jekyll is Jekyll, he sees only Jekyll and not Hyde) and are also supposed to provide advice to the person they shadow, but this advice could be misleading or malicious (Hyde constantly tempts Jekyll to drink the potion that will lead to the metamorphosis). In rare instances, they could also plant false ideas in a person’s mind or appear before friends and relatives, causing confusion (Hyde appears before Jekyll’s friends and pass himself off as Jekyll when he signs cheques). Another aspect of the doppelganger theme is that if the doppelganger and the self were to meet, they would both die (the conflict between Jekyll and Hyde eventually destroys them both because the individual is unable to co-exist with his doppelganger).
Doppelgangers can therefore be said to be extracts of what is undesirable in humans and society. As such they are antithetical evil twins who threaten to undermine and take over society if left unchecked and uncontrolled – projections of all that is evil in the nature of humans. Hyde is a personification of all that is evil in human nature – violent, cruel, voluptuous in desires, and as a result, is the doppelganger not only of Jekyll but of society.
(Melissa Chew, 2004)
This word is derived from German. ‘Doppel’ means ‘double’ and ‘gänger’ literally means ‘goer’. The Doppelgänger is a supernatural figure that doubles living people. In some ghost stories, the Doppelgänger would appear beside a person and imitate everything that person is doing. There are also tales where a Doppelgänger is shown to be a projection from the future warning one of an evil that is about to befall one.
In Gothic literature, the Doppelgänger becomes very significant. Frequently, it is the projection of the suppressed self, possibly the id in psychoanalytical theory. It becomes a representation of that which is usually kept hidden, but is now revealed. The Doppelgänger hence becomes the alter ego.
Therefore, we could say that Hyde was Dr Jekyll’s Doppelgänger, as he represents the personification of what Dr Jekyll had to suppress within himself to survive in the hypocrisy of Victorian society. Likewise, the monster is Frankenstein’s Doppelgänger as it represents Frankenstein’s desire to overcome death.
The Doppelgänger gives us the eerie feeling of looking into a mirror and seeing a place where all is reversed. Likewise in Gothic novels, events occur in a paralleling manner, both to create an aesthetic of confusion and multiplicity, as well as to mirror that which is happening in society but is swept under the carpet for the sake of decorum. Hence in the novel ‘Dracula’ by Bram Stoker, Dracula and Van Helsing, in a strange way, appear to be each other’s Doppelgänger, as they have striking similarities in spite of being placed in opposite poles.
(Nandabalan Panneerselvam, 2004)
Literally, dreams refer to the images that form in an individual’s mind when he or she is asleep. Figuratively however, dreams signify the inner most, repressed desires of an individual. Dreams can reveal the sexual desires of an individual bound by the rules in society. For example, in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Jonathan, finding himself in a dream-like state and surrounded by three attractive women, confesses that he feels a “wicked, burning desire” to be kissed by these women. While reality is such that Victorian society demands that he keeps his passions restrained, his dream involving the women, reflects his desire to transgress such societal rules. Meanwhile, for Lucy, it is in her unconscious, sleepwalking state that she meets Dracula. We can consider Lucy’s “rendezvous” with the Count as her secret desire to break away from the constraints of Victorian society. In doing so, she has the freedom to romance a man who is not even among her three existing suitors. Dreams can also mirror one’s fears. In Frankenstein, Victor dreams of Elizabeth, whose lips “became livid with the hue of death” and who then transforms into his mother’s corpse. This dream perhaps, points out the secret, subconscious repulsion that Victor has towards Elizabeth, or his longing for his dead mother, or both. Dreams also strangely foreshadow events to come. We see this later when the three vampires seduce Van Helsing, just like how they seduced Jonathan, and also when Elizabeth literally dies on her wedding night.
(Anna Mathew, 2006)
Entrapment, a favourite horror device of the Gothic, means to be confined or to be trapped in such a way that there is no way out. It is this sense of there being no escape that contributes to the claustrophobic psychology of Gothic space. The notion of claustrophobia is closely tied up with that of entrapment. Although it is most often regarded as a consequence of physical entrapment, it can also be more generally attributed to a character’s sense of helplessness, or a feeling that one is caught up in some sinister plan or destiny over which one has no control.
There are essentially three types of entrapment: physical, mental, and existential. Physical entrapment would mean being physically trapped in some place. A recurring gothic device of physical entrapment is that of the protagonist trapped in a maze of some kind and trying to escape, but inevitably returning to the same spot again and again. An example of physical entrapment can be found in Stoker’s Dracula. When Harker is being driven to the castle of Dracula, he experiences a moment of being physically trapped in the nightmare landscape of the Transylvania, as is evident in his remark that “[it] seemed to me that we were simply going over and over the same ground again; and so I took note of some salient point, and found that this was so” (Stoker). Another example of such entrapment is found in Smith’s A Rendezvous in Averiogne. In this short story, the protagonist Gerard is trying in vain to escape from a forest; he returns, inevitably, to the same spot every time. Eventually, “[his] very will was benumbed, was crushed down as by the incumbence of a superior volition” (Smith).
Mental entrapment, on the other hand, is about being confined to a certain state of mind. The gothic trope of madness, for example, is a form of mental entrapment. In a way, the insane are trapped in their own mental universe, into which no one else can penetrate. Renfield, in Dracula, is doubly entrapped; physically locked up in an asylum, he is also limited to the confines of his mental universe, doomed to be continually misunderstood by Seward, or simply dismissed as insane.
Lastly, there is also existential entrapment, which takes the form of social entropy and ontological or epistemological entrapment. An example of existential entrapment can be found in Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; Dr Jekyll feels trapped by societal notions of respectability, by a constant pressure of having to uphold his reputation as a gentleman in the eyes of the Victorian public. As a way of breaking out of this ‘prison’, Dr Jekyll invents the figure of Hyde. Hyde is therefore Jekyll’s liberator, for it is as Hyde that Dr Jekyll can truly express himself, unbound by considerations of maintaining his respectability.
The notion of entrapment is a prevalent motif in gothic literature. There are two main types of entrapment which can be observed in such works: physical and psychological entrapment of the character(s).
Physical entrapment occurs when a character’s body is constrained within a particular physical setting and he is unable to get himself out of that setting. Such is the case when Frankenstein’s monster is entrapped in a body which Frankenstein had created for him.
Psychological entrapment is manifested in the form of inescapable, agonizing tensions within a character’s mind. For example, Frankenstein is psychologically entrapped when he has to make a decision either to create a female monster or risk his family being murdered by his original monster.
The entrapment of characters in gothic literature mirrors the entrapment faced by individuals in the Victorian society. These individuals were entrapped because they were forced to repress certain desires that they had, for example, sexual desires, in order to observe strict Victorian social decorum and rules and work towards an ordered society.
Besides being entrapped in such an oppressive society, the Victorians may have also found themselves entrapped in a rapidly changing world. With the onset of urbanization, the Industrial Revolution and the Financial Revolution, they might have felt entrapped as they were unable to escape the resulting changes that were taking place.
On another level, the readers of gothic literature might feel a sense of entrapment too because they are forced to accept the typical presence of the uncanny, the supernatural, and other unfamiliar elements coupled with secrecy and the withholding of certain facts in the literature. For instance, when one reads The Strange Case of Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, one might feel entrapped when the story does not reveal facts such as the identity of the omniscient narrator or the real reason for Hyde murdering Sir Danvers Carew.
(Claudine Fernandez, 2006)
Industrial development in the Nineteenth century encouraged urbanization and by 1850 more than half of England lived in cities and worked in industries. This changing economic condition inevitably challenged conventional ideology of the family which became redefined to include members “whether actually living together or not” and “connected by (either) blood or affinity” (OED).
By this definition, the patriarchal figure became freed from monogamy. Dracula, as symbol of the new money-obsessed class, had three vampire wives. Similarly, with ready money, many figures of authority were in command of the imp-child. Instead of a genealogical right, the new capitalist society allows wealth to gain patriarchal authority over many.
While the new factory communities introduced new figures of authority, with respect to cloth and steel, production becomes increasingly specifically gendered. Through personifying industrial production, Gothic tropes seem to suggest via Frankenstein and Dracula that while possible, the resultant single-parent offspring are unnatural and terrifying.
At the same time, economically active working class women and the ‘masculine’ New Woman threatened conventional notions of feminine dependency. Writers like Stevenson reacted by only presenting negative working women (in both sense of the word) while Stoker singles intellectual Mina out for Dracula’s sanction.
Proliferation of child labor positioned children as ‘property generating property’ as exemplified in The Bottle Imp. Dracula’s brute beast children also aid his creation of vampire children. The horror of the four female vampires’ feeding off children is an implicit gothic comment on the inhumane nature of this exploitation.
Oxford English Dictionary. http://oed.com.libproxy1.nus.edu.sg/
(Yao Lingyun, 2006)
Aspects of female sexuality figure prominently in gothic literature insofar as there is a strong preoccupation with what may happen if female sexuality is not contained within the structures of patriarchal authority across many Gothic texts. The highly disturbing image of Lucy the “Un-Dead” throwing the child whom she was cradling in her arms earlier on onto the hard ground without so much as a blink in the eye in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) encapsulates one example of such a preoccupation—that of motherhood gone wrong. The mother-child relationship—one that is usually regarded as nurturing and loving—is violently destabilized at this instance where Lucy—as the symbolic mother—harms the child whom she was supposed to be protecting. Relating to motherhood, the theme of birth signals the preoccupation with the unknownable dimensions of female sexuality that many Gothic texts exhibit. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1831), the birth of Victor Frankenstein’s creation is depicted as one that is monstrous insofar as it is “unnatural”; Frankenstein is, symbolically, both father and mother to the creation that he abhors from the moment of its birth. Given that it was a woman who authored Frankenstein, this then signals how female sexuality—in all its different aspects—was very much on the minds of both men and women in Victorian Britain. When seen alongside the socio-cultural-historical developments in Victorian Britain, it becomes possible then to view the depictions of female sexuality in gothic literature as responses to women’s increasing freedom and mobility during this period; Mina Harker in Dracula, for instance, is very much a response to the New Woman phenomenon.
(Ashley Lin, 2006)
Literally meaning “end of century”, fin-de-siecle gothic refers specifically to the gothic literature of the last two to three decades of the 19th century. There is a pervading sense of instability and unease, such that it was felt an age was coming to an end and things would change, not necessarily for the better. This is reflected by the idea of human devolution, seen in Stevenson’s Olalla, where we are able to see the full effects of the devoluted foreign family in the figure of the mother and brother. In Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde, it is made worse because the upper-crust Dr. Jekyll transforms himself into the degenerate Hyde. This choice, however, is gradually taken away from him, and he loses control so that he becomes involuntarily trapped in the form (and personality) of Hyde.
Something else we may see in this is the idea of destabilizing loss of control, not only in the personal sphere, but also in terms of the imperial empire and its inability to ultimately control the Hyde-like natives. The fatalistic sense that the civilised Jekyll would be subsumed by Hyde, taken in this colonial context, suggested a strong belief that Jekyll would have done better not to indulge in Hyde, but should have remained with the civilised elite who were his friends.
Anxieties about the city and its future are also a feature, in the recurring image of a threatening cityscape that is always possessed of a dark underside capable of hiding characters like Stoker’s Dracula and Stevenson’s Hyde. The foreign threat appears in Dracula, who not only threatens the loss of life, and civilised living but also the women, so that the very future of the city is one of parasitical creatures who are sired by a foreign menace. The twofold threat here is thus not only that of diluting racial bloodlines, but also of losing the culture of this city to the lesser foreign type.
Lock Wai, 2004)
An important element of the narrative and thematic landscapes across gothic literature is the recurring appearance of the fog. The fog is prominently invoked across the multiple Gothic ‘types’, which vary from the ‘Old Gothic’, of which the novels of Horace Walpole are an example; the ‘new Gothic’, as exemplified by works like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; the ‘fin-de-siecle Gothic’ in the detective fiction of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; to the ‘modernist Gothic’ aesthetics of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. The fog, very generally, serves two primary functions in gothic fiction. The first of these would be its use as a formal property of or device within the narrative. Since the fog is a naturally occurring phenomenon which may be neither contained nor controlled, it becomes an effectively ambiguous or sometimes ambivalent (it is exterior to law and morality) means for abetting or protracting plotlines. In Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles for instance, it aids the criminal’s escape, yet at the same time becomes ultimately responsible for his death, while remaining inculpable. Secondly, Gothic fiction tends to be heavily punctuated by the richly suggestive metaphorical qualities of the fog, particularly in the ways it accentuates - not exclusively - the senses of mystery, intrigue, horror and the sublime. Its appearance in Frankenstein’s exterior landscapes evokes its sublime quality, casting upon the landscape the air of the ineffable and unknowable. It is, at the same time a shroud that prevents clarity and knowledge, suggestive of the way it enforces a metaphorical ‘blindness’, which reappears close to a century later in Eliot’s The Waste Land. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is similarly endowed, but in this work the fog takes on a miasmatic presence in the ways it encircles terror, the supernatural, and death. Robert Louis Stevenson, in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, reworks the fog into his urbanscape to heighten the inscrutability and unease of human concentrations in city spaces. The fog has persistently endured through most ‘Gothicisms’, its literal and connotative aspects perfect allies for representing, heightening, and accentuating the Gothic poetics of the uncertain, the uncanny and the ineffable.
(Terry Tay, 2004)
The gothic fog is a physical manifestation of all the unwanted consequences of the Industrial Revolution on the nineteenth-century cityscape. The new industries that were mushrooming around the city belched out smoke and exhaust gases that polluted its landscape and resulted in many bodily afflictions for its residents. Hence, with modern technologies came the simultaneous rise of the “sickly city” and environmental degradation, two of many adversities resulting from industrialization.
The pervasiveness of the fog—as seen in R. L. Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde—also suggests that the city is becoming an inescapable entity which one is forced to contend with. The fog will permeate the countryside just as the city will encroach upon even the farthest boundaries of the land. Even the human form is not spared from the harmful residual effects of the burgeoning modern city. A person’s constant inhalation of the foggy air may corrupt his senses, creating the ghastly “monsters” that we see in much of gothic literature.
Because the fog also obscures one’s vision and hides things from view, it also becomes a criminal ally to the deceptiveness of the city, whose architecture is full of secret alleyways and unseen street corners. The blurry fog therefore fuels the feelings of suspicion and mistrust among the city dwellers, because one can no longer perceive another person’s true nature, just as how the city’s physical landscape has been irretrievably tainted with the fog.
(Hanna Maryam, 2006)
At once seductive and repulsive, the hero/villain is a classic figure in gothic fiction; certainly one of the most easily recognizable pieces of machinery in the grab bag of devices that make up the gothic convention. So intrinsic is he to gothic fiction that Leslie Fiedler has been led to claim, somewhat mistakenly, “that the hero-villain is indeed an invention of the gothic form.” With his roots in Milton’s Satan, the sentimental hero of the eighteenth century and the Byronic hero, the hero/villain can be seen in the likes of Beckford’s Vathek, Walpole’s Manfred, Lewis’ Ambrosio, Shelley’s Frankenstein and Stevenson’s Jekyll.
What makes the hero/villain so thoroughly attractive is precisely his duality of nature. A morally ambiguous, contradictory personality, the hero/villain is a figure torn by the conflict of good and evil within him. An exploration of the nature of man and his psychology, the hero/villain can perhaps be thought of as an internalized doppelgänger. The duality of self that in the gothic represents the alter ego or antithesis of the character; the hero/villain has within him his evil twin. Thus in Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde we have Jekyll, in an misguided attempt to eradicate the evil in man’s soul, splitting himself and creating Hyde; an act which ultimately ends in the destruction of both.
Yet this is that which fascinates the reader and lends him to sympathise and identify with the hero/villain. The hero/villain is never intrinsically wicked, he is promethean, he is rebellious. Constantly trying the boundaries of societal and ethical constraints, the hero/villain is the archetypal overreacher, a figure unable to accept human limitations. His conception is noble, just as Frankenstein’s creation of the monster arose from a desire to emancipate humanity from the throes of death.
The danger of the hero/villain lies not merely in his evil deeds, his malevolence or even his defiance of conventional moral and legal restraints but in his function as a vehicle through which the reader may indulge in the same transgressions. It is significant that Stevenson never details Hyde’s crimes. By leaving them deliberately unspoken, Stevenson invites the reader to fantasy and imagine what Hyde could possibly have done and by doing so, effectively become Hyde. Ultimately however, the otherness of the hero/villain results only in alienation and distancing. A figure whose villainy gains him nothing, doomed to a tragic death, the hero/villain is by far more pitiable than his insipid victims.
(Yin Mei Lenden-Hitchcock, 2006)
The home became a means of exploring and uncovering social transgressions in fin-de siecle gothic literature because of its apparent domesticity, respectability, association with family history and its role as being the most intimate shelter of privacy. Here, Freud’s principle of the uncanny, derived from the word unheimlich, which interestingly means un-homely, usefully explains this. Unheimlich gains its meaning from its apparent opposite, heimlich, which means homely but it also means something that is concealed, secret and made obscure. Therefore, the uncanny means something that ought to have remained secret has now come to light. As such, homes became the sites of concealed secrets that the fin-de-siecle gothic literature attempts to uncover, since the genre is characterized by ideas of encountering the internal decay of established societal structures.
The fin-de-siecle gothic writers’ conception of the home as a site where their characters engaged and explored transgressions reflected the Victorians’ frustration with a rigid social code demarcating boundaries and markers around economic status and gender roles. In Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Jekyll moves to the innermost sanctuary of his home, the laboratory, to concoct mixtures that will set free his repressed, violent and libidinal nature. This part of Jekyll’s nature was distilled in the swarthy, working-class featured figure of Hyde, who visibly transgresses accepted social conventions of Victorian middle class life and respectability. Here, the home conceals these secret activities.
Yet, the home’s nature to “home” emphasizes its vulnerability to becoming un-homed. When Hyde ventures out of the home at night and engages in activities that attract the attention of Jekyll’s contemporaries, Jekyll’s secret transformation to Hyde within his home runs the risk of being un-homed. Indeed, this risk becomes a reality when Jekyll’s secret transformation into Hyde suddenly takes place away from the home in Regent Park. Compellingly, the notions of being homed and un-homed describes Jekyll and Hyde’s situation in Regent Park as Hyde becomes unhomed, while Jekyll is homed (and trapped) in a body he does not want to be in during the day as he moves through a public space. Jekyll describes this fear in his final letter to Dr Utterson:
“A moment before I had been safe of all man’s respect, wealthy, beloved – the cloth laying for me in the dining room at home; and now I was the common quarry of mankind, hunted, houseless, a known murderer, thrall to the gallows” (Dr Jekyll, 72).
Here, Jekyll reverses his desires to transgress social boundaries, emphasizing Victorian middle class anxieties of being associated with and overwhelmed by the working class that were taking up a large part of rapidly urbanized cities in the nineteenth century. As such, Jekyll’s anxious desire for his home with all its trappings of comfort, love and respectability emphasizes another conception of home by the fin-de-siecle gothic writer, where secret social transgressions within the home will potentially lead to the destruction or loss of the home.
(Niluksi Koswanage, 2006)
The trope of the Host, latent in fin-de-siecle Gothic narratives, presents the characteristic of multiplicity, as personified by the vampiric figure who fleets from victim to victim as different hosts sites of prey, while itself acting as a vessel for the victims’ intermingling blood. Dracula’s imported boxes of earth are testament to this multiplicity, signaling also the temporality of a host as a resting place. The ‘Host’ trope thus far alludes to a turn-of-century London as a Capitalist society fuelled by the practical profit motive, whilst operating as a hub for business dealings.
The ‘Host’ trope is ineluctably linked to its other, the Foreign Body, and we find the gothic narrative the metaphorical Host site for playing out its underlying tensions. The elusive yet definite presence of the foreign body is epitomized by Dracula who as an unidentified shadowy figure is the implicit orchestrator of events in London. It alludes again to an apprehension towards the phenomenon of Capitalism and of its invisible hand in restructuring Victorian society. The unease towards the dormant existence of foreign bodies within the Host is represented by the irreconciliable personalities of Dr Jekyll, which is in Freudian terms, the suppression of the Super-ego by the Ego. Such a psychoanalytical aspect of the ‘Host’ trope also borrows the language of the colonizer, underlying a sense of territoriality and the desire to demarcate and maintain boundaries. Dracula’s view of being a stranger in a strange land too is influenced by a Hegelian wisdom; he states, “I’ve been so long master that I would be master still or at least that none other should be master of me.”
The contamination of the Host as the main body bears also religious undertones—as perversions of holy communion, the consumed wafer that symbolises the body of Christ is also known as the Eucharistic Host, which becomes warped in a parallel to Dracula who declares that Mina will become “flesh of my flesh.” Overall, there is an anxiety of displacement and a need for a sense of belonging that which iconic gothic characters like Frankenstein and Dracula, whose existence in a liminal space within their unwilling host societies represent.
(Yap Tshun-Min, 2006)
The ineffable refers to that which is incapable of being expressed; indescribable or unutterable. A second sense of the word connotes that which should not be uttered – the taboo or the sacred.
The ineffable in gothic literature, however, may conflate the taboo and the sacred, both sublime in their own rights. While the great name of God can be ineffable, the terrible dread of a devil-like creature like Dracula is just as ineffable; he is at times referred to as “He” although such capitalisation is usually reserved for God. This conflation could reflect how uncertainty towards religion has resulted in superstition and its equally-ineffable origins.
More commonly, the ineffable in gothic texts foregrounds the secrecy and withholding of information common in Victorian England; the resultant hypocrisy veils what must be kept unspoken. Besides secrets, the unconscious mind also remains hidden. Its inaccessibility and the analyst’s desire to access it – eg. through hypnosis in Dracula – is a common trope. The detective novel can also be seen as a quest to uncover and express the ineffable, but many overdetermined symbols present problems of definition to detectives and readers. The ineffable can thus be seen as a response that either resists definition, or refuses to try defining anymore.
Frankenstein’s monster’s language-learning process draws attention to the failure of words to articulate adequately. This inadequacy comes about in an age of changing literary taste fuelled partly by the efficiency that the 19th century’s financial and industrial revolutions demanded. To gothic writers, the ineffable may well be a better alternative to the inadequacy of words.
(Lionel Lye, 2006)
Gothic intertextuality can be seen as a vampiric form of drawing elements from other texts, of sucking key ideas and characteristics into its own narrative body to nourish and enrich itself. Intertextuality exists everywhere in all literary genres, but Gothic intertextuality stands apart from the usual usage as it both subverts and perverts the original meanings and intentions of the original text, in a bid to overturn, question and invert its significance. Examples of this can be seen in both Frankenstein and Jekyll and Hyde, where Biblical references are made for the sole purpose of challenging and undermining its religious import, thus constituting a form of blasphemous truncation. In the latter novel, Ephesians 2:14 is used to refer to how Jekyll has used science to split himself into two beings, thus deviating from and upending the original Biblical meaning. The multiplicity of jarring intertextual sources used in Gothic texts also works to create deliberate dissonance and deep destabalisation within its narratives, being in line with how the Gothic as a genre seeks to critically interrogate, topple and displace existing social norms and beliefs, of revealing the darker nature of the self and society that lies hidden within. A key example would be the use of Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” in Frankenstein, where the Romantic journey motif is subverted by how there is no proper end or closure to Walton and Victor’s physical and scientific journeys undertaken, thus refuting the possible positive ending to Coleridge’s poem.
(Magdalene Poh, 2006)
Landscape plays an important function in gothic literature, although its significance varies according to the socio-historical context in which a particular gothic text is found, and obviously according to the narrative structure of the individual text as well. In early gothic texts such as in the novels of Ann Radcliffe, protagonists (often young, sheltered and naïve girls) undertook journeys to a far-off, exoticised land which was portrayed as a realm of danger, excess, and the breakdown of the controls and restrictions of the domestic and “civilized” space. Thus these exotic lands – often the stereotypical Catholic and Mediterranean spaces of Italy and Spain, whose inhabitants were portrayed as volatile, treacherous and governed by uncontrolled passions – became not only socio-political antitheses to the “safe” space of England (although even this was ultimately unsettled by the characteristic gothic doubling), but also a symbol for the inner landscape of restriction, exposure to the other, temptation, the finding of a new balance, and return.
In terms of more specifically psychological processes, the gothic journey and the projection of internal significance onto an external landscape might be read as various forms of representation and resolution (“projection” and “introjection,” the ebb and flow of life processes such as aging and the life cycle or desire, sexuality, tensions between two opposing selves). For examples of such readings of gothic literature, see Maud Bodkin’s reading of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” in Archetypal Patterns in Poetry: Psychological Studies of Imagination; or Anne Williams’ essays on various gothic texts in Art of Darkness: A Poetics of Gothic. In this mode of signification, landscape elements such as the sea, the sublime mountains, various forms of waste land, the dual-entry house, and so on, assume heavily-overdetermined meanings tied to the complexities of deep psychological processes.
Exoticised landscapes are thus always closely related to the trope of the gothic other – those Moors, Italians, Indians, Russians, Africans, Jews, East Europeans, and other strange types who crop up throughout gothic literature, and whose function is at least in part to embody the social and political anxieties of England’s encounters with its colonies and competitors. While colonial gothic narratives are most obviously concerned with the anxious placement of England vis-à-vis its colonial spaces, all gothic literature in varying ways reflects the anxiety of place in an age of growing global contact and interaction.
(Robbie Goh, 2004)
Letters to a phantom sister, wills, transcript, journal entries, newspaper entries; Gothic narratives are punctuated with embedded writings in the form of letters and entries that are both a pastiche and fragmented, the sum total of which makes up the complete text. Letters while seemingly presenting objectivity on one level through the assumed tone of factuality, are also simultaneously open and subject to interpretation. It is linked to a reading of words as well as a misreading. There are letters that are not replied in Frankenstein, letters that may not have reached their destination, letters of secrecy in Jekyll and Hyde, letters that chronicle events—these letters attempt to present to us an understanding of what happened, reiterated with the supposed advantage of retrospect and an over-arching perspective that is allowed by the passing of time. However, as the paths of these letters are always dubious, it calls to attention its own in-authenticity and hence the potential for a misreading since we are never always sure if what we are reading is accurately represented. In other words, what has happened is always fragmented and there can be no complete reading of events.
These fragments also call to attention the reliability of information
in an age where information is becoming increasingly available, as seen
from the inclusion of newspaper reports in Dracula and the fact that distance
is no longer a barrier to words. Some letters and entries, instead of being
handwritten, are now type-written which displaces the personal touch of
the writer from the reader and handwriting can no longer be a measure of
authenticity. Anything, including words, can be reproduced. This links
the idea of letters to modern communication and technology. The use of
problematic embedded narratives illustrates an anxiety about the increasing
ease of communication and whether more information really means knowing
more. Narratives within narratives draw to attention its own artificiality
and the question of whether there can be an original sequence of events
behind what is narrated. At the same time, letters are also clearly letters
of the alphabet which cues the reader in to the notion that all that is
being read is a construct of “letters”. Perhaps over-determined, but letters
open the doors to the multitude of readings and misreadings in the Gothic
(Felicia Chan, 2006)
The motif of madness runs through many Gothic novels, and is often articulated by the characters themselves. Characters question their own sanity, or the sanity of other characters. Madness is also often portrayed as a hereditary disease, insidiously affecting a character’s psychological and mental health without him/her realizing it. Oftentimes, the strain of madness in a character in such novels is not obvious, nor overtly stated. The authors merely present the characters’ actions, often of uncontrollable passions, and extreme irrationality, in order to illustrate the mental ills of a character. This also means that madness is often not easily detectable, and it is this characteristic that allows Gothic plots to develop since such texts focus on finding out what and why a seeming inexplicable event occurred.
Madness in the Gothic novel is not merely an oft occurring aspect of the genre, but also has larger social implications, especially when placed within the context of Victorian England. Forces and situations that rational society fears engender an anxiety of the insane and mentally ill. Precisely because madness is often not recognized easily, fear of the unknown, as well as fear of having the insane living amongst themselves in society, was a major factor in influencing the productions of works with such a theme.
This theme enhances the ominous mood of the novels, and creates a sense of uncertainty as madness also implies lack of logic and reason, and hence a lack of predictable behaviour. An fear-inspiring atmosphere is also evoked, with the spectre of the insane painted as a terrible vision, such as Bertha Mason in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Other examples of novels in which madness is an aspect of the plot are Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret, and Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White.
(Belinda He, 2004)
Madness remains as one of the most recognisable concepts in Gothic literature. The most common association with “madness” is with that of a mental condition where one is deemed to be “irrational”. Most pervasively, “madness” is conceived as a form of illness or disease, a condition not to be found in one of a sound constitution. However, what Gothic literature seeks to do is to break down the notion of “madness” as a clinical condition afflicting only a select few; it instead suggests the importance of regarding “madness” as that which is present but repressed in us, and our own concurrent fear of its expression in our personality. As such, “madness” is not in polarity with “sanity”; “madness” and “sanity” are both present in our psyche. The self can thus be better understood in its entirety when “madness” and “sanity” are held in a dialectical relationship with each other.
What then results in an inherent fear of “madness” is the anxiety that a realm of “irrationality” can possibly exist within oneself. The nearness of “madness” is thus the paranoia shown in Gothic literature; paranoia is not of “madness” itself. This anxiety leads to a displacement of the qualities of “madness” onto another body (a designated Other), outside of oneself. As such, the use of “mirror-images” of a character who is “sane” and another who is “mad” is a device of Gothic literature in subversion of the common notion of “madness” as something of the few and obscure, to reconstruct it as an essential part of normalcy.
(Michelle Liu, 2006)
Madness, in the form of defined psychological illness, substance-induced states, and self-asserted madness, is consistently found in the Gothic. The pervasiveness of this trope both reflects the shape of the Gothic text—as disorderly and excessive—and suggests the expression, through madness, of an ineffable quality that lacked semantic form, being prior to Freud. The fear of madness is also the fear of a specifically masculine loss of control, the product of various insecurities about manhood in an era where women were gaining economic independence. Joined with the atmosphere of restraint, control was mandatory. Madness was its polar opposite and therefore proved terrifying, so had to be safely sublimated via the edifice of literature.
References to madness in literature arose in the context of a society that was fascinated with and repelled by clinical madness, and which increasingly institutionalized insanity, building asylums like the one featured in Stoker’s Dracula. The attempt to contain madness, however, has the reverse effect of blurring the boundary separating the sane from the insane: Renfield, literally presented as mad, attempts to save Mina from Dracula’s entrance in a performance more than worthy of a Victorian gentleman, bringing into question the purported sanity of everyone else. In contrast, Jonathan Harker and Frankenstein’s titular character are implicated in the institution of madness but never appear to be perceived as such by their companions. The condition of madness is arbitrary and slippery, and remains as dangerous subtextual disturbance beneath overt norms of rationality and progress.
[Alina Ng, 2006]
A figure that appears in Gothic fiction after the Romantic period, reflecting both Victorian society's fascination with science and their fear that scientific knowledge will eventually lead to the destruction of society and morality.
The mad scientist’s “irrationality” or “madness” derives from his inability to conform to societal order and institutionalised law. Unlike the Romantic rebel, the figure of the mad scientist is a figure of horror because it cannot be contained by the status quo. The mad scientist figure indulges in antisocial behaviour, staying isolated and working apart from the rest of society. He is inconsistent with the principles of reason, inventing a field of study that goes again known scientific theories and is impossible rationally. Examples of such fields and inventions include Victor Frankenstein's Galvanism, Jekyll's Chemical Transformation, and Stapleton's Fluorescent Phosphorus Compound.
The mad scientist replaces “the figure of the scientist as hero”, which the critic Postlewait notes was one of the most popular ideas in the nineteenth century. Especially towards the end of the nineteenth century, the British found it increasingly difficult to think that they were inevitably progressive. The mad scientist’s forays into science started revealing bodily and moral degeneration, reflecting Victorian fears that civilisation was declining instead of progressing.
The mad scientist works towards fulfilling his desires which are uncontrolled by the “Law of the Father”. In Gothic fiction, the mad scientist is intimately related to two figures through doubling tropes: the Monster and the Rational Scientist. The Monster is the Mad Scientist’s creation, but also provides a dialectical relationship that suggests both monster and creator (who is desirous and willing to transgress) are Freudian projections of desires that transgress the boundaries of the status quo sexually, morally, legally and so on. The rational scientist is usually the hero to the mad scientist’s villainy, the positive anti-thesis who saves society from the Monster created by the mad scientist. However, the doubling also highlights similarities between the Rational and Mad scientists, even as they purportedly show differences. For example, Conan Doyle’s Stapleton uses the same logic and strategic cunning that is characteristic of Sherlock Holmes to outwit Holmes in London. The doubling functions to show that both the Mad and Rational Scientists are not two separate entities, but two sides of the same coin. The mad scientist demonstrates the self within that is feared because it is creative, yet libidinous and difficult to control
(Ann Koh, 2006)
Male misogyny is a prominent theme in gothic literature, varying in its treatment of the Victorian woman from barely acknowledging her presence to demonising her. This attitude arises from a number of socio-cultural developments in the Victorian era, such as the growing prominence of women beyond the domestic circle and growing masculine insecurity. The fact that such attitudes are reflected as early as Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, and by a female author no less, show that misogyny in Gothic texts are not simply male adolescent fantasies but reflections of underlying currents of thought and fears of the period.
Fear of female sexuality is a key part of misogyny in Gothic texts, wherein it becomes a force that threatens to overwhelm the masculine self in texts like Dracula or Ollalla. It is the fear of the vagina detenta, in which the female sexuality is alluring to the male, yet also involves a symbolic castration of male virility. Often, in such texts, physical violence, shrouded in phallic terms such as the stake used on Lucy in Dracula or the tearing apart of Elizabeth in Frankenstein, is used to symbolically exorcise the threat to the masculine self and allow the male to continue partaking in purely masculine activities. Such violence and activities not only restore the male self-belief in his masculinity, but also serve as a containment of the female by isolating her away from the realm of the male, thereby removing the “threat” of her presence to male superiority. The concept of the hunt or adventure, for instance, as a purely masculine enterprise in a great number of gothic texts reveal deep-seated fears of women entering and surpassing men in what were previously solely male activities, such as business.
(Tang Chee Mun, 2004)
The Missing Mother
The typical gothic mother is absent or dead. If the mother is
alive and well, such as Lucy’s mother in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, she is
associated with the incapacity to carry out her maternal duties. The typical
gothic mother has to be killed in order for the domestic instability that
underpins the gothic text to flourish. Only the occasional evil or
deviant mother (Olalla’s mother in Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Olalla” for
example), is allowed to survive in the gothic text. Even then, the evil
and deviant mother figure (such as H.R Haggard’s titular character in She)
has to be removed eventually for there to be some sort of closure to the
The repression of the mother allows the progression of the narrative in the gothic mode. The missing mother also serves as a social commentary where her absence and silence highlight the repression of women within an overwhelming patriarchal regime.
The missing mother points to the absence of regulation and the absence of stability in the family, hence the desire for the male characters to usurp the maternal role and circumvent the female’s role in procreation (Victor Frankenstein and Dr Jekyll do that in their respective fictional worlds). At the same time, the missing mother is a signifier for the stranglehold of men over the legal and physical self-agency of the women in gothic texts.
(Choo Li Lin, 2006)
An archetypal figure that acts as a central symbol and character, tying together individuals, themes, and world of the Gothic novel. Many features of the Gothic, (pathos, terror, sublime, supernatural, landscape) are embodied figuratively and literally within this character. There is a shifting of taboo onto this safer symbol which allows a remaining implicit connection to original taboo meanings. Often it becomes an over-determined symbolic figure with many meaning or associations that are potentially contradictory.
The monster destabilizes assumptions about societal structures and institutions, knowledge, self, secret vices. Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde (1886) is fuelled with fears surrounding rising urban populations, human regression and the instabilities of identity. Embodying the monster and the civilized into one totally removes the concept of a separate other. Tension then arises between the image of the degenerate and unseen essence of degeneration. The horror of the monster coming from within is reflected through this transgressive figure of Hyde, who is in fact inseparable from Jeykll.
A monster created inverts notions of natural creation and a traditional religious belief system. Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein (1817), depicts a monster that serves as a metonymy of social ugliness that created him. On an individual level, he also mirrors his creator Frankenstein, suggesting a sometimes unstable split between the two. As the dark other, the monster interrogates and defines by opposition within the context of the novel’s world and also as a larger symbol to societal concerns. A close relationship between narrative form and social ideology expands the idea of implicit challenge to the main character’s notions of superiority. The “other” is a subversion of Victorian high culture and hidden monstrosities in society itself are displayed, revealed, suggested through this figure.
(Kimberley Yap, 2004)
Commonly regarded as an overdetermined symbol in gothic literature, the idea of the monster can be regarded in a different light when considering its etymological roots. The Oxford English Dictionary informs us that the word “monster” originates from the classical Latin word “monstrum”, meaning “portent, prodigy, monstrous creature, wicked person, monstrous act, or atrocity”, and this is taken from the base of the word “monstre”, meaning “to warn”. Likewise, the monster in novels such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is more than just a fearful figure, but also one that stands as a symbolic mirror held up to society in order to critique it. Because the monster is, more often than not, a creation of the very society in which it inhabits, the actual form of the creature could be said to be the crystallization of the very fears of that society. Just as Frankenstein’s monster is cobbled together from various body parts, so too is a monster characteristic of a city and its fears, where the monster can stand for and represent anything from the fear of the father to the fear of losing one’s property. Since one of its root meanings is “to warn”, perhaps too, the monster in gothic literature serves as a warning to its society to be aware of the very ills that have begotten it, by showing that it is not only the very thing in which the society’s fears are displaced into, but also the very embodiment of it.
[Jaclyn Wong, 2006]
The monster within the gothic genre is usually depicted as the “other” of the “self” within the novel. It is usually ‘ugly’ or distorted in nature however not only in the physicality of the creature/ individual’s form but also in other aspects like psychological or emotional. The ‘ugly’ nature or distortion of the monster is defined by a group of people or the society that it resides in within the novel. In other words, the nature of the monster itself goes against everything that the “self” within the novel vouches to be, for example the “self” having established as good hence places the monster, its nemesis or it’s “other”, as evil. This could be clearly seen in the figures of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in which the former is placed as the ‘self’/ good whilst the latter is known as the ‘other’/evil.
The concept of the monster within the gothic genre has progressed significantly over the years. One clear movement would be that of the progression from the ‘romantic’ monster to the ‘fin de siècle’ monster. The differences between the two are not only found in the physicality of the creatures themselves in which the ‘romantic’ monster is bigger and more physically monstrous than the ‘fin de siècle’ monster. There is also a duly noted concept that the distancing of the “other” from the “self” has been narrowed with such a progress. One clear example to reflect this would be a comparison of the Frankenstein’s monster and Mr. Hyde. Whilst the Frankenstein’s monster’s other-ness could be more easily established within its novel, the other-ness of Mr. Hyde is more illusive because the “other” of the ‘fin de siècle’ monster seems to have somehow merged with the “self”, hence the boundary between these two has been blurred and crossed till the difference between the two becomes more difficult to establish.
(Nenny Triana, 2006)
Generally, the word “monster” is used simplistically to indicate an imaginary evil creature, horrifying both in appearance and behavior, and ultimately to be destroyed by the forces of good.
On one level, the Gothic retains these characteristic traits: Hyde is a short and appears physically deformed being who terrorizes Soho, while Frankenstein’s monster is a horrifying patchwork of limbs intent on destroying his creator’s happiness. On another level however, the Gothic frustrates any attempt to label the two opposing parties in polarized terms of good and evil, and serves as a warning against our tendencies to prematurely judge anything which we instinctively deem as unsettling because of it’s nonconformity to societal norms.
Authoral ambiguity in Frankenstein for instance, forces the reader to suspend judgment of both Frankenstein and his monster when narrative objectivity is replaced with multiple subjective narratives. While Frankenstein condemns his creation and warns against the monster’s sympathetic narrative, his warning reflects Frankenstein’s own imbibed prejudice, such that even Walton is at a loss as to whom to trust. Similarly, Dracula is more than simply a manifestation of Evil: while the men’s hatred for him is understandable, Stoker presents us with an alternative understanding of him as a man suffering the same curse as both Mina and Lucy, thus revealing the possibility of both the monstrous (in this case, vampiric) face within the self as well as the familiar self in the monstrous other.
(Fazylah Bte Abd Rahman, 2006)
In 18th century aesthetic and moral criticism, the word ‘monster’ signified ugliness, irrationality and all things and events unnatural. It was viewed as the antithesis of neo-classical values of harmony and unified composition. A monster portrayed an image of deformity and irregularity. In literary terms, it involved works that crossed the boundaries of reason and morality, presenting excessive and viciously improper scenes and characters.
In M. G. Lewis’s The Monk, the protagonist has been attacked in reviews for being a monster, that is, for representing and encouraging every type of improper, depraved and licentious behaviour. Indeed, the numerous evil aristocrats, monks and quasi-paternal figures – the staple villains of Gothic novels – display characteristics of monstrosity throughout Gothic fiction of that period.
The monster and the notion of monstrosity serve a useful critical and moral function in the Gothic tradition as a composite term for a collection of negative and socially unacceptable features. As overt displays of vice, monsters presented and cautioned readers against excessive and indulgence in improper behaviour – thus emphasizing the values and benefits of morally upright and honourable conduct and evoking the socially-expected reactions to examples of vice.
The monstrous disclosure of the instability of systems of moral and aesthetic meaning produced ambivalent monsters, best evinced in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818). Imbued with Romantic sympathies for the outcast and rebel, the novel presents a humane and suffering monster, less a figure of vice and transgression and more a victim of monstrous social exclusions. Indeed, blurring the boundaries between good and bad, human and monster, the novel interrogates prevailing value systems to the extent that monstrosity becomes uncannily pervasive, an effect of and intrinsic to the sphere of the human.
(Caslin Luo, 2004)
Nature, in the Gothic, is often the symbol for that which is sublime and, accordingly, that which is transcendental and extraordinary. The symbol is underscored in the absence of God, faith, and religion and its institutions from the text. Repetitive and descriptive use of Nature in the text appears to recall a more ancient religion, pantheism, particularly in light of the stark absence of a Christian God. In Shelley’s Frankenstein, there are many instances where the word “Nature” can be seen as taking the place of “God”, such as when Frankenstein said “[the learned philosopher] might dissect, anatomise, and give names… but causes in their secondary and tertiary grades were utterly unknown to him”. In the age of rapid scientific progress, much of Nature is still unknown to man, despite his best attempts to master it. This, coupled with Frankenstein’s disastrous attempt at mastering Nature, ultimately interrogates the scientific project and the futility of having mastery over that which he cannot fully or even adequately comprehend. There is, however, a repeated emphasis on Man’s nearness to Nature in the text through his admiration of it; even the monster is not immune to its ineffable beauty. There is a sense of order in the world through Man’s “oneness” with Nature, as the instance of Frankenstein’s self-inscribed seclusion while creating the monster suggests—his “[insensibility] to the charms of nature” coincides with his undertaking of the project that goes against the laws of Nature and therefore disturbs this sense of ordering.
The stark absence of God and Christian faith in the text and the various descriptions of Nature in God-like terms highlight the way in which the Gothic indirectly interrogates the relevance of a Christian faith in an increasingly secularized society. In place of Christianity, it seems to suggest a throwback to an ancient pantheistic view of the world, ironically—even as science and technology supposedly enable society to “progress” at even more rapid rates—as a more coherent way of ordering the world.
(Denise Li, 2006)
Occultism, in relation to ordinary knowledge, is as the esoteric is to the exoteric. Etymologically, ‘occult’ means ‘concealed’ and is unrelated to ‘cult’ which means ‘worship’ but the genre of the Gothic makes a cult out of the occult. The esoteric societies taught theories that differed considerably from modern science but had as much claim on public imagination at a time when Christian orthodoxy was being challenged and reinforced.
The Occult sciences were based on the ancient schemata of the four qualities (hot, cold, moist, dry), the four humors (blood, choler, phlegm, bile), the four elements (fire, air, water, earth) and the four temperaments (choleric, sanguine, phlegmatic, melancholy). Following a pre-Copernican perspective, traditional occult sciences form a hierarchy reaching from the study of alchemy (concerned with the terrestrial world) to astrology (the influences of the celestial bodies) and cabbalism (the ‘super-celestial’ or the archetypal world). Using natural or white magic, an occultist may divine the workings of the universe; or may influence the course of events to personal ends through black or malefic magic.
The novelist Charles Williams (1886-1945) was one of the many prominent writers affiliated with esoteric societies and he presents many ideas of the occult in his novels where the motive force behind the stories is the human desire to find order in a chaos of esoteric teachings. Occult ideology is shown to enter an otherwise traditionally Christian world of the Victorian novelist in the early 20th Century.
(Nicole Kwan, 2004)
The gothic anxiety about the monstrous “Other” is fore-grounded when the apparent simplicity of the self/other relationship as a clear binary breaks down into something more complex under close examination. The self experiences immense fear, not only towards the failure of containment of the “other”, but also in having identified latent similarities between itself and its evil twin.
As noted in Chapter Two, Victor Frankenstein fears most what he cannot control -- that part of himself most closely allied to his monster. Each of his attempts to seize control fails; each failure contributes to his fear. That which Victor fears yet toward which he is obsessively drawn has been usefully outlined by Nietzsche as a dichotomy between Apollo and Dionysus (binary of Apollonian/Dionysian), that is, between rational thought and everything that escapes or exceeds rationality. As Victor discovered, what exceeds rationality appears monstrous.
In Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, fear stems from recognition of the horror within, one that lies latent, repressed, concealed but emerges with retaliative violence, destruction and evil when permitted to surface. Notably, Jekyll is an apparent respectable man who contains within him a potential for profound wickedness that is released in the shape of Mr Hyde. His desire to “upgrade” himself, in want of respect, honour, and distinction in Victorian society, spurs him to conceal any irregularities in his life. It is in the unveiling of this corollary—the greater the bourgeois aspirations towards good of Jekyll, the greater the monstrosity of Hyde—that the self recoils in horror.
(Anne Tng, 2006)
The Gothic problematic of “othering” may be usefully approached by understanding its narrative as the product of anxiety stemming from a rapidly booming industrialist Victorian society. The Gothic text, then, is to the society what Hyde is to Jekyll. Despite an inherent narrative “monstrosity” (I borrow Chris Baldick’s term here), the Gothic text cannot be “othered” from the society (and ‘conventional’ narrative) it mirrors, because it is born from the troubled suspicion of this same society’s advancement. In this same respect, Frankenstein as “Romantic Gothic” cannot be properly regarded as “other” from the Romance paradigm, because it really is the “bastard” of its own narrative father, in the same way Hyde is a baser version of Jekyll’s self. Dracula, too, cannot be “other” to human; he cannot be the antithesis of life (i.e. death) when he is “Un-Dead.” Catherine’s famous three words in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights perhaps most excellently pronounce the Gothic paradox of “othering”: “I am Heathcliff.” Self-identity can only be affirmed not through the mirroring of self in other, but through the self being the other. Jekyll becomes his own other, when he recognises that Hyde is “(other) than (himself)” and yet is “(himself).” In the same way that Frankenstein’s monster is “other” to himself, it also validates him, because it is an extension of his own powers of science. Similarly, there must be a Dracula in every human subject, if this vampirish symbol of the id is only waiting to break through the constraints of the ego and super-ego.
(Yeo Huan, 2006)
Symptoms of psychiatric illnesses, but also terms to describe the modes of narrative that are operative in Gothic literature. Eve Sedgwick aligns the paranoid / hysteric modes with another common characterisation of Gothic literature, that of ‘male’ Gothic (‘horror’) in the case of the former and ‘female’ Gothic (‘terror’) for the latter.
In this light, one paranoid Gothic text may be that of Bram’s Stoker’s Dracula, with the male protagonists (Jonathan, van Helsing et al) hunting down and eliminating the senex irratus of the Dracula-figure (who disrupts coitus and threatens to take over progenitive function) which has already been established in the text as a foreign Other as well as a bloodsucking Satanic figure. A text that displays Gothic hysteric narrative traits may be Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles: the reader together with Watson is plunged into an environment of uncertainty and danger at Dartsmoor, with a mythic diabolical hound roaming the moors, haunting the imagination of Watson and his protectee. The use of Gothic traits in this text, however, may be described as a qualified one: human reason in the figure of Holmes finally still beats the day, with any supernatural phenomena attributed to clever scientific villainy.
The Freudian take on both illnesses, with both paranoia and hysteria arising from the ego’s need to protect itself through the mechanism of repression, may be useful here. Both modes of narrative in their medical equivalent in being departures from normality in mental states also depart radically from any ‘classic’ depiction of the everyday, with heightened sensibilities also serving to destabilise what is ‘normal’ and ‘usual’ in Victorian England, with latent meaning needing to be investigated behind the repressive respectability of manifest meaning of everyday culture and moral values, as in the case of domesticity and sexuality.
See: Eve Sedgwick’s The Conventions of Gothic Literature, Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan’s writing on psychoanalysis.
(Tan Simin, 2004)
The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines purity as the quality or condition of being pure in various aspects . In general, it signifies “faultlessness, correctness”, and especially “freedom from matter that contaminates, defiles, corrupts, or debases; physical cleanness”. The idea of purity is also specifically relevant to the individual, denoting an unblemished character, innocence, and the condition of “chastity, ceremonial cleanness” in one of the earliest uses of the word.
In gothic literature, the issue of purity is commonly a source of anxiety, having religious, social, and even political significance. The anxiety begins very probably as a result of a Judeo-Christian religious heritage; because God is pure and cannot abide impurity, sinful man has to continually struggle between holy and earthly desires. This physically unbridgeable distance between God and man is further strained by the threat of rejection “…Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” in 2 Corinthians 6:17, The Holy Bible (New International Version).
In all other associations, one may see the great concern with purity through the extent to which the idea of mixture, invasion and corruption play a part in gothic narratives such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, R.L. Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. For instance, each of these narratives purposes to tell a tale or report a strange case, but the integrity of each narrative is compromised by the epistolary form that is inevitably subjective and incomplete in knowledge. In addition, the heterogeneity of voices—especially in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Dracula—suggests the difficulty of sustaining a single correct perspective. The threat of impurity is consequently played out in the struggle between human and monstrous protagonists, the overarching human anxiety being aptly voice by Frankenstein when he expressed the fear that “a race of devils would be propagated upon the earth who might make the very existence of the species of man a condition precarious and full of terror” (160). In short, purity means such a lot in gothic literature because the alternative is an uncontainable, and therefore unsafe, sublimity.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. England: Penguin Group, 1994.
Stevenson, R.L. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Great Britain: Wordsworth Edition Limited, 1999.
Stoker, Bram. Dracula. London: Penguin Group, 2003.
(Tan Su Linn, 2004)
In 1895, Oscar Wilde was convicted of homosexuality because of his gothic novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. He pleaded that homosexuality was “the love that dares not speak its name”. Following Wilde’s suggestion, queer critics often read the unspeakable, secrets and gaps in gothic narratives as -- to use Foucault’s terms -- repressive apparatuses of sexuality. It is, therefore, not coincidental that the first gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto (1765), was written by a gay man, Horace Walpole. The mid-eighteenth century saw the legislation of anti-homosexuality laws and homosexuality was increasingly policed. The policing was, in turn, introjected into the gothic writers’ imagination, and even though the writers could not speak of their sexuality explicitly, they reshaped their primal material and forbidden desires into gothic narratives where sometimes the gaps in the narratives call forth the uncanny, which allows a queer reading such as Elaine Showalter’s “Dr. Jekyll’s Closet”.
Following Foucault’s argument that homosexuals became a species, monsters, as the gothic other, may represent the homosexual; they threaten the heteronormative society and have to be expunged. For example, in Richard Dyer’s “Children of the Night”, he likens the discovery of Dracula as a vampire and his death to the discovery of the homosexual and the expurgation of homosexuality.
However, it is not necessary to read all monsters and/or androgynous characters as homosexuals. What gothic narratives are most concerned with are the anxiety of gender relations with the rise of the “New Woman” and the negotiations of masculinity in an age of capitalism and colonialism.
(Aaron Ho, 2006)
During the late 18th century to the late 19th century, breakthroughs in the fields of chemistry and electricity strongly suggested the world was determined by natural, irrefutable laws and equations. This flourishing of the sciences arose from the age of Enlightenment which posited that rationality and reason lead to progress. However the Gothic movement departed from the rationality of the Enlightenment in its rejection of reason and decorum. Instead, the Gothic questioned, and was a reaction, to this discourse of unproblematic progress through rationality. It explored the effects on society which developed from this economic-rational discourse, such as the dawning of the Industrial Age. This is seen in Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and Dracula. In these texts, the application of science and rationality not only produces monstrosities that turn on society but fail as well to explain the supernatural and the metaphysical. Rationality breaks down when society is shown to be beyond predetermination by mere equations. The Gothic explores the unreasonable and chaotic universe, rife with twisted desires where “progress” and the veneer of reason and rationality only conceal repressed desires paradoxically brought about by such values. It shows how the power of science can indeed transform life but not always positively and without cost. Rationality is also subverted through the narrative form of the Gothic. In place of realism and objectivity are the use of questionable narrators and unstable, subjective epistolary forms. Against the uncanny and the dominance of the Id, rationality breaks down and rationality’s dark contrary, madness, takes thematic precedence in the Gothic novel.
(Winston Cheong, 2006)
Christianity is both very much present and absent in Gothic literature. In Dracula, religion features prominently in the fight against the vampire – Van Helsing, Harker and Mina frequently invoke the name of God for supernatural and divine aid against the power of Dracula. Yet, there is also a disturbing sense that God is strangely absent, or at best, distant, within the novel. God’s power seems limited – captured and contained within material shapes and symbols such as the Host, Indulgences, and the Crucifix. The men who hunt down Dracula are dependent on the trappings of religion without true substance. Christianity thus becomes reduced to transferable property.
God is also sidelined in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. On one hand, while Biblical allusions to God as Creator abound in the novel, it is always in juxtaposition to the transgression of Victor Frankenstein as the mad scientist. Again, God is invoked only when an immediate threat is identified, as Victor laments and appeals to God to grant him the strength to defeat and destroy his monster. Christianity as the dominant religion in nineteenth century England was thoroughly interrogated and questioned, its beliefs in an Almighty God challenged as science and technology assumed prominence. Gothic authors, themselves questioning the relevance of religion, foregrounded these issues by presenting Christianity in a dubious light – present, but altogether powerless, shallow and somewhat deficient.
(Fong Minghui, 2006)
The romance paradigm
The gothic narrative very often is a mirror and subversion of the romance
paradigm. The romance framework, given definition by Northrop Frye,
involves a (relatively) young hero undergoing a transformative experience
in overcoming the obstacles that stand in his way of attaining the heroine
of his dreams, the jeune fille (Fr. ‘young girl’). The main obstacle
usually takes the form of a senex iratus (Lat. ‘angry old man’), often
her father, who thwarts the fruition of his desires of a marital union
with her. The hero is then sent into exile but he subsequently returns
home to wed the jeune fille. The gothic, however, while borrowing
from the romance, is its perverse doppelganger. The gothic typically
ends not in marriage, but in the interruption of coitus (Lat. ‘sexual intercourse’),
where the hero does not attain his desired union with the heroine.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) are
two useful examples to illustrate this. The blissful unions of Victor
Frankenstein and Arthur Godalming with their wives are thwarted by angry
‘father’ figures – the former’s consummation of marriage with Elizabeth
is frustrated by the monster while the latter loses Lucy to Count Dracula.
Another way this subversion is played out is evident in the homosocial
world of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr.
Hyde. The marked absence of any possibility of a blissful union with
a jeune fille negates the heterosexual love and courtship of the romance.
(Jacqueline Chia, 2006)
Secrets, namely that which is ‘unspeakable’ is a distinctive gothic trope. In literary novels, secrets are knowledge deliberately concealed from the readers and/or from the characters involved. In gothic literature, secrets aid in creating a sense of suspense, hinging on a scandal or mystery and subsequently lead to a shocking revelation at the end. Often, a foreboding shadow is cast upon those who withhold secrets, be it a dark family history or a Faustian pact as exemplified by Shelley’s Frankenstein and Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll who are both possessors of an ‘unspeakable’ knowledge which allows them to transcend the limits and abilities of man but eventually at the expense of their sanity, friends and lives.
The secrecy of identity and sexuality is also prevalent in Gothic literature where the ambiguity and anonymity of informers and correspondents add to the overarching mystery. There are also suggestions that the seemingly upright life led by Victorian men in the day is coupled with a lurid ‘secret’ life at night where at times even their heterosexual preferences are called into question. Although not overtly articulated, novels such as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde reveal a generally homosocial society whereby the fast bonding of the men hints at something more than platonic friendship.
Secrets as a form of concealment also connote darkness and acts as a means of subversion against the façade of the hypocritical Victorian society which boasts a well-policed state with brightly-lit streets at night, claiming the honourability of well-clothed individuals and the safety of the private self, all which the gothic trope seeks to challenge.
(Kong Yuqi, 2006)
Sleep is depicted in the gothic text to be a process or an activity
that forms a locus for perverted horrors to take shape and thrive in the
most subtle and monstrous of ways. Instead of being rendered as a harmless
pursuit that reinvigorates the body, soul and mind or a natural event that
follows the exertions of the day, it manifests itself in all its liminality
as a state of being that exposes the vulnerability of the individual to
supernatural forces and macabre influences beyond the his/her consciousness
or control. This subversive concept of sleep is played out both in Dracula
and Jekyll & Hyde. Lucy Westenra writes in her journal, “Oh the terrible
struggle that I have had against sleep…with such unknown horrors as it
has for me!”(143). Henry Jekyll recounts, in his narrative, how he went
to bed as the doctor but had awakened as the villainous Hyde (67). Sleep
not only becomes the medium for animating mysterious and arcane metamorphoses
but in a larger context symbolizes, through its unnatural affiliations
with the Undead and the fantastic, how the general malaise, repression
and unarticulated anxieties and fears of a society at a critical stage
of transition can only be expressed via the disruptions and distortions
of a natural procedure. Sleep, in the gothic, can only be restored to its
original, positive, non-threatening condition paradoxically through death
even though in its previous malevolent state it is inextricably tied to
(Sherene Lobo, 2006)
One of the more subtle monstrosities produced by the Gothic interrogation of the wealth and science obsessed Victorian era is the new forms Sin which indicate a pervasive estrangement of Victorian society and its values with God.
The Victorians, with their new found optimisms in the Enlightenment and science created in its shadow countless possibilities in which tenets of religious beliefs have been forgotten and betrayed. Sin as explored in the Gothic is this very shadow.When Frankenstein creates his monster, he manages to use the scientific advances of his age to displace the creation role of God. Hence, Science as a possible road to hell is exposed and explored in the Gothic. But religion as cast aside also manifests itself in gestures like Harker’s skepticism of the gift of the Crucifix which later brings him comfort. These sentiments are also most obvious when Dr. Jekyll tries to rid himself from Sin; he no longer turns to religion but to science and produces a monster who is the embodiment of his sin. As for redemption, the church as an institution is usually absent, a mark of Victorian skepticism, and characters like Mina Harker have to rely on their own faith and belief for redemption. More often, the new forms of Gothic sin that arise out of Victorian obsessions for knowledge and wealth leave their pursuers in a self created hell on earth, tormented by their monsters. The monsters of Sin no longer come from hell but from the hands of man.
(Stephanie Chu, 2006)
The concept of the sublime arguably carries varying associations and connotations across different socio-cultural and historical periods. However, the sublime can generally be defined as that which surpasses one’s being, senses or understanding, or an experience that is and confers upon one elements of the extraordinary. The use or depiction of the sublime, with its socio-cultural specific associations and connotations, as subject matter, landscape, or the personification of the sublime through characters in gothic texts, can be self-reflexive and serves to interrogate and subvert the very act of describing, representing or defining the sublime in gothic narratives. This interrogation at the narrative level also implicates and is facilitated at the thematic level through themes and gothic tropes like doubling, containment, madness and the figure of the monster etc. For instance, the monster in Frankenstein and the Count in Dracula, are not only associated with the sublime landscapes but are also the ‘monstrous’ embodiment of the sublime, often associated with elements of the unknown and are thus threatening and elusive. The attempt at and difficulty in capturing these elusive characters by the other characters in the plots provide an instance whereby the critique on the ironic attempt at representing and ‘capturing’ the sublime (also the transcendental) in gothic texts is facilitated.
The sublime is also prefigured in the urban settings of certain gothic texts through elements of extreme lack or absence, like silence, darkness and barrenness etc, embodied in the characters largely at the psychological level, and further reflective of gothic themes and tropes like indeterminacies, liminal space, madness and identities. For instance, the indeterminable “deformity” and bestial brutality of Hyde in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and the seemingly ‘rational’ ‘madness’ of Renfield in Dracula, which questions the boundaries of sanity and insanity and the assumed goodness of rationality. The gothic sublime is thus also used to highlight or question larger implications or issues such as representation, subjectivity, naming, categories, identities and power, and provides platforms for analysis or critique also at the psychological level. The gothic sublime evidently serves as a tool to critique and reflect the issues and anxieties of the society in gothic narratives.
(Lee Soo Pin, Pauline, 2004)
Sublimity is a vital, integral part of the Gothic novel that embraces a variety of historical practices and can be analyzed in political, religious, ethical and natural contexts. There is no one single essence of the sublime, as it slips away from the signification of language easily. Edmund Burke famously pinned an idea of the sublime down to a device of terror that awakens the faculties through suspense or dread. However, Gothic sublimity is not merely instrumental as a repertoire of terrifying devices. It holds symbolic resonance as external suspense is subordinated to the excesses of the imagination and emotion.
Inherent in the Gothic Sublime, is the complex nature of pain and fear unfolding alongside the psychological and cultural dimensions of terror. It is Freud’s essay of “The Uncanny” that resonates with this notion of the Gothic Sublime. The uncanny derives its terror from something strangely familiar which defeats our efforts to separate ourselves from it. This fear or terror, that the Gothic Sublime unleashes, is powerful as it is not only interiorized within the self but unutterable as well. Words and images grow radically unstable and meaning is continually questioned with great psychological unease. The terror can be located at the very origin of desire, where incest, homosexuality and rampant sexuality lay in waiting to emerge. The Gothic Sublime hence releases into fiction, desires deeply hidden, long suppressed and then forced into silence, greatly intensifying the dangers of an uncontrollable release from restraint.
(Maureen Hoon, 2006)
Transference, originally a term coined by Freud to represent the relationship between the analysand (patient) and the analyst, refers to the projecting and redirecting of one’s unconscious self, feelings and desires (especially those unconsciously retained from childhood which deals with core issues of identity problems rather than with past traumatic incidents) onto another being or object. The process of transference is a catharsis, and where one’s unconscious desires and feelings are repressed, they can obtain release through the action of repetition, which, in a psychoanalytic treatment, these repeated actions and thoughts (which are unconscious) will then be transferred onto the analyst.
In a literary text, transference may take 2 forms – 1) the author as the ‘analysand’ projecting his unconscious desires and feelings unto his/her characters on to the ‘analyst’ (who is the reader); and, 2) the characters in the novel to other figures or objects in the novel.
In a gothic novel, transference manifests itself as the characters in the novel project the unconscious fears (desires, anxieties) onto another being, consciously making these fears or desires something almost alien from themselves – something they would call the “Other”, yet not realising that this “Other” is actually inherent in themselves.
For example, in Frankenstein, Victor’s feelings of hatred (or his unresolved conflicts with his father), is transferred onto the figure of the monster, who then outwardly expresses the hatred of father-figures in the novel. The monster is thus a projection of Victor’s inner self.
However, the implication of transference is the indestructibility of the unconscious and its fantasies, and hence total transference of one’s unconscious desires can never occur. Hence, Victor and the monster become doubles of each other.
(Michelle J.Y. Tiong, 2004)
Transgression is central to the Gothic because it serves as a means for writers to interrogate existing categories, limits and anxieties within nineteenth century English society. By transgressing social limits the Gothic “reinforces the values and necessity of restoring or defining limits” through the presentment of the horrific outcomes of transgression (Botting, 7). Most often, these transgressions reflect and refract current anxieties of the age as a way to deal and contain them. Anxieties regarding the dissolution of gender differences, due to the emergence of the New Woman and the aesthete; regarding the possibility of devolution and degeneration in man; and regarding fears of the working class - a repercussion of the French Revolution- are dealt with singly or in overlapping ways. Consider how in Dracula sexual differences are “ef(face)ed” by the trope of the vampiric mouth which is both “penetrator” and “orifice” (Craft, 95); which is further complicated by the essentially male act of penetration to the neck by male and female vampires alike. The New woman (who is gender ambiguous in being biologically female, yet desiring masculinity) seems to be parodied horrifically here. The New Woman is further parodied in the vampiric Lucy whose maternal instincts are reversed (with her feeding on children, instead), promiscuous (with multiple husband’s whose bloods are coursing through her) and blatant sexuality (in seducing Arthur). The threatening figure of the New Woman as Lucy, and the sexual ambiguity represented by all the vampires, are subdued and destroyed, vicariously for the reader. However such overt aims are problematised by the numerous Gothic works that lack reassuring closures, presenting their own narrators as unreliable and questionable, and revealing the covert monstrosity in mainstream society and the aristocrats (- that leaves the reader more insecure than not. The Gothic writers themselves seem to be unlikely proponents to restore societal limits and boundaries – since they, very often, were transgressors of those very boundaries (e.g. Shelley, Wilde, etc.). Thus, although Gothic transgression did interrogate current issues, its aims and intended effects were ambivalent.
Botting, Fred. Gothic. London and New York: Routledge (1996)
Craft, Christopher. ‘Kiss Me with Those Red Lips’: Gender and Inversion in Bram Stoker's Dracula. Dracula : Bram Stoker ed. Glennis Byron. Basingstoke, Hants.: Macmillan Press, 1999.
(Grace Dong Enping, 2004)
In Gothic literature, the figure of the vampire may most significantly be read as a symbol of variable fluidity and volatile mutability. Most obviously, as a shape-shifter, the Count in Bram Stoker’s Dracula possesses the ability to metamorphose into various animals, for instance, rats and wolves. He is also highly mobile and able to move both across geographical boundaries and within the country with effortless ease. In addition, this transformative power reflects his liminal position as one who, while crossing boundaries and stepping over established thresholds, also occupies both spaces simultaneously. For instance, as the Undead, he is neither dead nor alive, neither human nor inhuman, because he is all these. Furthermore, it remains questionable as to whether he is to be seen as a creature of human devolution because of his bestial appetites or as superior to man because of his supernatural strength and abilities. Thus, as a figure which resists strict classification and definition, he is viewed as a terrifying monstrosity because he cannot be categorically pinned down. Put in context, the obsession with boundaries and borders reflects the pervading sense of unease and instability with the invasion of foreign elements into England, be it capital, immigrants, or religion, brought about by changes in Victorian society. The vampire is thus indicative of the deep anxieties in the dissolution of distinctions in class, gender, race, and nationality underlying the nineteenth century, all of which ultimately threaten the self. Indeed, if the vampire is mutable and indefinable, the self, defined by opposition to the former, also becomes difficult to locate. As such, the vampire critically interrogates and challenges boundaries between self and other by highlighting the instability of identity in the vampire and, by extension, in the self.
(Irene Chong, 2006)
VAMPIRISM / VAMPYRISM
Vampirism is an important and popular facet in Gothic Literature. The theory Vampirism emanates from the root word Vampire. The basic definition for Vampire is a “corpse that sucks blood for the purpose of resisting decomposition”. Vampires belong to the myth in today’s world. There are many connotations that belong to the notion vampires. They are seen as something miraculous, a result of imagination, and as the masterpiece of the work of the devil. Besides there are believes that vampires are actually people who die from plague, poison, hydrophobia, drunkenness and any epidemical malady. These people were thought to have the chances “to return” as their blood coagulates with more difficulty. Besides, some of them were buried alive as there was the fear of the spreading of the disease in those times.
Vampirism, in Gothic literature, was introduced by Sheridan Le Fanu, in his short novel “Carmilla”. The protagonist vampire in Carmilla is a female- a vampire countess. But vampirism came into heightened highlight after the publication of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”. Unlike “Carmilla”, the setting for Dracula is in Transylvania (or Wallachia), and the Dracula himself is a male. The central for the character is derived from Voycode (Prince) Dracula, a notorious, fifteenth century warrior who claimed war against the Turks, also well known as Vlad the Impaler. Consequently, the name Dracula, in the Wallachian language, also means Devil.
Vampirism, too introduces the idea of immortality in literature-the idea of never-ending life in the expense of others. It is an unique believe in after life and in the rejuvenating powers of blood that produces or creates a vampire. Thus the dead have to get blood to sustain their immortal after life, either through sacrifice, where blood is offered to them or they take it themselves from living mortals. Blood, is recreated as a gothic element, an important aspect of Vampirism. In all literature works touching on Vampirism, the element of blood is rampantly established. Besides, vampires are always portrayed as to be creatures of the night, pale and ghastly. They are sensitive to the broad daylight, despise the smell of garlic and are sensitive to holy emblems that belong to the Catholic Church.
Modern age have made the concept Vampirism even more bolder, vampire-characters are romanticized and cast upon new light, where, there are more often than not, stereotyped as ardent lovers pursuing lost lovers or Evil in quest of the world by being against the Good. Besides, written literature by famous writers like Ann Rice, we have movies like “Interview with the Vampire” and “Blade”, to name a few, to bring forth the idea of Vampirism.
“The Gothic and Romantic era was naturally drawn to the mysteries of life and death, satanic influences, and the perverse capacity of lovers to draw the life-force one from the other. Before the end of the 18th century a number of poets – Burger, Goethe, Coleridge – had explored vampiric themes…..over the course of next twenty years vampirism enjoyed an artistic vogue that enrolled the most illustrious of the Romantics,….Keats, Shelley and Byron…” (The Origins of Dracula, Clive Leatherdale)
An excerpt from Lord Byron’s “The Giaour”
But first on earth, as Vampyre sent,
Thy corpse shall from its tomb be rent;
Then ghastly haunt thy native place,
And suck the blood of thy entire race.
(Kavitha Kaliappan, 2004)
Gothic is a parasite. It manifests as a mutant third limb—hideous, deformed, drawing attention to its own strangeness; its feeds off the body of its parent text (its host), be that a novel, a city, or a prevalent current of thought. The elements found throughout Gothic literature predominantly perform a subversive function, which aim to undermine the Self, the parent, to which Gothic relates as a negative image of, its inverse. The process of vampirism is viewed as being debilitating to the host, which will eventually be leeched of its essence and then destroyed. Yet the central tenet of vampirism can be approached, not as residing upon the draining of the host, but as a total dependence upon it. Gothic reproduces itself as if in a mirror, revealing its contingent nature, its reliance on the existence of a positive body to which it can attach. To recall the doppelganger effect, Gothic, as reflection, cannot exist without its host; the moment the host steps away from that mirror, so too does Gothic, and its significances, disappear. The Gothic genre, therefore, cannot be self-sustaining, but inextricably an extension of its parent—something attached, following after, indebted to. The textual vampirism of Gothic narratives is frequently re-enacted within its motifs, self-reflexively (or perhaps self-consciously) replaying, within the unearthing of its host’s anxieties, the conditions of its own dependence. In Jekyll and Hyde, for example, Hyde grows out of Jekyll and lives off the doctor’s income. Yet the threat of Hyde’s domination of Jekyll only results in the destruction of the pair, as Jekyll, perceiving Hyde’s power, is driven to the final resort of suicide to avoid being overcome (an alternative reading of this would be that Jekyll, in trying to expel Hyde, recognises his attempts to be futile and kill himself in order to destroy his negative image). Frankenstein and his monster are another pair: both are bound by the desire to eliminate the other; yet the monster’s hate for its creator is so closely tied in with its love (indeed, its very reason for existence, whether driven by one emotion or the other, nevertheless revolve around the person of Frankenstein) that it delivers himself into the inferno along with the body of its victim.
(Low Yi Qing, 2006)
Violence, like over-determined symbols in Gothic literature, functions as much as an act of social interrogation as it is an act of affirmation. In both Frankenstein and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, strict social mores and policing that prompt the disastrous, transgressive reactions of repressed selves are manifested in the physical violence wrought by Frankenstein’s and Dr Jekyll’s doubles, the monster and Mr Hyde. Here, violence also highlights class anxieties where the repressed working class, like Frankenstein’s self-educated monster, rebels violently against social masters like Frankenstein. Human superficiality that incites Frankenstein’s monster’s violence also operates to reflect the monstrosity in society itself.
Apart from interrogating social norms, scientific advancement and its monstrous power, building on the Promethean over-reacher theme, are also examined in its production of violent figures and emotional violence, like that experienced by Frankenstein and Dr Lanyon after witnessing what science can achieve. Here, gothic atavism of regression alongside material and scientific progress is manifested in the figures of Jekyll and Hyde, where the latter’s regression is demonstrated in his ape-like appearance and, more significantly, in his disregard of human moral codes—his violence. Yet, while violence undermines and questions the adequacies of law, it also serves to affirm social codes. The violence of staking in Dracula, for instance, acts as a social cleansing ritual of removing figures that threaten social instability and miscegenation. Here, the violence of staking Lucy, as is the mutilation of Elizabeth in Frankenstein, also takes on phallic terms to affirm masculinity in an age of increasing sexual anxieties.
(Sophia Koh, 2006)
Gothic narratives often play out amidst the most blighted of settings. The barrenness and harshness of these primal landscapes often depicts allegorically the spiritual impoverishment and internal desolation that many of the characters of these novels experience. The wasteland of the gothic novel is the ugly sister of the civilized urban cityscape, lacking even the rustic charm of rural, pastoral land. Within the city, civility and the hierarchy of social order prevail, while in the wasteland no such laws and norms govern life, which grows indiscriminately and in unforeseeable ways. It is altogether unwholesome and inimical to civilized human life, which often visibly distorts and reverts to base primal instinct while it resides there. Wild and untamed, the wasteland suggests regressive superstition in its lack of civilization, defying penetration by the reasoning mind. Prehistoric dwellings mark Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Grimpen Mire in The Hound of the Baskervilles; once the abode of savage Neolithic man, it now plays host to gypsies and an escaped convict, creatures living on the fringes of society, the civilized man’s other.
Where the urban setting is associated with life and mobility, the gothic wasteland presents its opposites – it is filled with ever-present danger and death, while its untamed bounds restrict rather than facilitate travel. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the bleak Arctic landscape threatens to freeze Robert Walton’s ship in place – death literally by stasis. Likewise, the blasted Grimpen Mire around the Baskerville estate in the The Hound of the Baskervilles entraps travelers and animals in sticky mud, into which they sink to their deaths. Arctic blizzards and rolling fog respectively also occur in these areas, extending the gothic trope of obscurity to the land itself, waylaying the unwary and concealing misdeeds. Treacherous and inhospitable, gothic wastelands represent Nature and by extension human nature in crisis, or in a state of infirmity or insanity.
(Kenneth Tan, 2006)
Weather plays an important function in gothic literature, and remains one of the keys in decoding the inner landscape of the protagonists. Often present in gothic novels not only as a form of sympathetic background, certain elements of weather are typically used to mirror and magnify the feelings of the protagonist, to establish moods, and to underscore the action of the story. For instance, the use of fog within the gothic novel is a convention often used to obscure objects by reducing visibility and changing the outward appearances of truth; and storms, when they make their appearance, frequently accompany important events and characters. Bad weather, in particular, is often associated with the supernatural, as well as being the birthing landscape of the imagination. Storms are perceived as harbingers of evil, and often present both a reflection and refraction of the inner self of the protagonist, an externalization of internal fears and conflict. Weather can also function as a site of displacement of fears, when they are projected onto the storm itself. In Le Fanu’s novel Uncle Silas, the main protagonist, Maud’s fears for her future after her father’s death are both underscored by the approaching storm, and also displaced onto it.
Weather has also acquired a certain predictability in its interpretation in gothic literature; a feature that can easily be, and is often parodied in gothic works. There is the sense that readers are habitually lured into reading the weather as codes signifying the protagonist’s inner landscape, and are ultimately unable to resist assuming heavily overdetermined meanings in the relationship between the weather and the inner self, thereby illustrating the gothic nature of the text by tempting one to oversimplify its reading, and yet simultaneously contributing to the destabilizing sense of gothic unease by having its meaning perceived through a different set of codes that are ultimately arbitrary.
(Chang Keng Mun, 2004)