Yael Shapira
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Graveyard pleasures
Visiting (and revisiting) the burial site in late eighteenth-century Gothic fiction
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In this chapter I trace the transformation of the literary graveyard visit as it migrates from graveyard poetry to the Gothic novel of the late eighteenth century. Whereas graveyard poems framed the sojourn among the graves as a prompt to solemn spiritual reflection, Gothic fiction far more openly recognised the appeal of such scenes as a source of pleasure. My chapter considers the connection between pleasure and the Gothic burial vault from two complementary angles. I begin by looking at the role that one key characteristic of the burial vault, its privacy, plays in the two major Gothic masterpieces of the period, Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and Matthew Lewis’s The Monk (1796). In both novels, the isolation of the enclosed burial space enables the pursuit of suspect thrills, whether these involve the excesses of sensibility or the more blatantly transgressive pleasures of sexuality. The chapter’s second part shifts attention from the pleasure of the characters to that of the readers, focusing on the role that burial vaults play in ‘trade Gothic’ novels – that is, lesser-known works produced in large numbers by commercial publishers such as the Minerva Press. I conclude the chapter by suggesting that the pleasure which late eighteenth-century readers found in Gothic graveyard scenes can complicate and enhance our understanding of this pivotal moment in the cultural history of death.

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