Ann Radcliffe, The Italian (1797), pp. 62-63

Ellena accepted the cool refreshment offered her, the first she had taken on the road. Her companions having emptied their glasses drew up the blind, and, notwithstanding the almost intolerable heat of noon, the carriage proceeded. Fainting under its oppression, Ellena entreated that the windows might be open, when the men, in compliance with their own necessity rather than with her requests, lowered the blinds, and she had a glimpse of the lofty region of the mountains, but of no object that could direct her conjecture concerning where she was. She saw only pinnacles and vast precipices of various-tinted marbles, intermingled with scanty vegetation, such as stunted pinasters, dwarf oak and holly, which gave dark touches to the many-coloured cliffs , and sometimes stretched in shadowy masses to the deep vallies, that, winding into obscurity, seemed to invite curiosity to explore the scenes beyond. Below these bold precipices extended the gloomy region of olive-trees, and lower still other rocky steeps sunk towards the plains, bearing terraces crowned with vines, and where often the artificial soil was propped by thickets of juniper, pomegranate and oleander.

Ellena, after having been so long shut in darkness, and brooding over her own alarming circumstances, found temporary, though feeble, relief in once more looking upon the face of nature; till, her spirits being gradually revived and elevated by the grandeur of the images around her, she said to herself, 'If I am condemned to misery, surely I could endure it with more fortitude in scenes like these, than amidst the tamer landscapes of nature! Here, the objects seem to impart somewhat of their own force, their own sublimity, to the soul. It is scarcely possible to yield to the pressure of misfortune while we walk, as with the Deity, amidst his most stupendous works.

Ellena sees the sublime here as an escape from misery, NOT an escape from the mundane. Ellena's misery in this passage comes from her "alarming circumstances": namely, her kidnapping. Yet the mysterious "gothic" circumstances which have led up to Ellena's crisis are the very circumstances which we associate with the sublime. It is conspicuous that Ellena "could endure" her misery "with more fortitude in scenes like these, than amidst the tamer aspects of nature," when it is precisely the un-tameness of Ellena's world which puts her into such a situation. In the gothic, fear is vanquished spectacularly, not through a philosophic turn, or a shift toward the mundane.

Related terms:

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