Individual and Social Psychologies of the Gothic: Introduction

The Gothic novel springs forth rather suddenly as the increasing preoccupation with individual consciousness that begins in the early 18th century collides with the unique cultural anxieties of the late 18th century. The effect of the former has already been well-established in literature, as Richardson and other "novelists of sensibility" invest their characters with unprecedented psychological depth. The Gothic novelists are less skillful and subtle in their depictions, and are often accused of populating their novels with stock or "flat" characters. Yet the emotions of these characters are externalized in a radical new way; their deepest passions and fears are literalized as other characters, supernatural phenomena, and even inanimate objects. At the same time, the nature of the fear represented in these novels--fear of imprisonment or entrapment, of rape and personal violation, of the triumph of evil over good and chaos over order--seems to reflect a specific historical moment characterized by increasing disillusionment with Enlightenment rationality and by bloody revolutions in America and France.

The excerpts arranged below, therefore, are united by a focus on the psychological aspects of the Gothic in the broadest possible sense. They address such complex and overlapping themes as the mental and emotional portrait of the characters within the novels, the deep cultural anxieties that the novels reflect (and often attempt to work through), and the intense psychological responses that these works seek to elicit from their readers. The critical excerpts are therefore not necessarily psychoanalytic in their approach; they draw from a wide variety of structuralist, historicist, and reader-response traditions as well. Further introduction is provided at the beginning of each of the four sub-sections.



1. Terror and horror

Primary excerpts:

Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho
Matthew Lewis, The Monk
William Beckford, Vathek
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Secondary excerpts:

Ann Radcliffe, "On the Supernatural in Poetry"
Devendra Varma, The Gothic Flame
Robert Hume, "Gothic versus Romantic"
Robert Platzner, "'Gothic versus Romantic': A Rejoinder"


2. Dreams of the Uncanny

Primary excerpts:

Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho
Matthew Lewis, The Monk
Ann Radcliffe, The Italian
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Secondary excerpts:

Sigmund Freud, "The Uncanny"
Tzvetan Todorov, The Fantastic
Terry Castle, "The Spectralization of the Other in The Mysteries of Udolpho"
Peter Brooks, "Virtue and Terror: The Monk
Margaret Anne Doody, "Deserts, Ruins, and Troubled Waters: Female Dreams in Fiction and the Development of the Gothic Novel"
Aija Ozolins, "Dreams and Doctrines: Dual Strands in Frankenstein"


3. Architecture of the Mind

Primary excerpts:

Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho
Charles Maturin, Melmoth the Wanderer
Matthew Lewis, The Monk
Ann Radcliffe, The Italian

Secondary excerpts:

Norman Holland and Leona Sherman, "Gothic Possibilities"
Philip Hallie, The Paradox of Cruelty
Peter Brooks, "Virtue and Terror: The Monk"
Max Byrd, "The Madhouse, the Whorehouse, and the Convent"
Jacques Blondel, "On Metaphorical Prisons"


4. Pscyho-social issues

Primary excerpts:

Matthew Lewis, The Monk
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
William Godwin, Caleb Williams
Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto
Ann Radcliffe, The Italian

Secondary excerpts:

Marquis de Sade, Idee sur les Romans
Ronald Paulson, "Gothic Fiction and the French Revolution"
Frederick Karl, The Adversary Literature
David Punter, The Literature of Terror
Stephen Bernstein, "Form and Ideology in the Gothic Novel"