Brewer argues that the feudal society presented in Matthew Lewis‘s The Monk (1796) is destabilised by reversals in gender roles. The disruptive power of Matilda, the protagonists chief tempter, derives from her unsettling ability to take on both masculine and feminine identities in her relationship with Ambrosio and even to become androgynous. Although Matilda‘s transgendering does not seriously undermine the prevailing social hierarchies, it does expose the arbitrary and contingent nature of gender identity. And while Matilda‘s repudiation of established value systems and her affirmation of the joys of sensual gratification are unlikely to become public policy in a partriarchal society, her critiques, both implicit and explicit, of the restrictions of prescribed gender roles and the mental limitations caused by faulty and incomplete educations cannot be easily dismissed.
Unlike Romantic authorship, the Gothic author has long been identified with unoriginality. A foundational moment in this association can be found in the reception of the original Gothic plagiarist, Matthew Lewis. Critics not only condemned Lewis for apparently usurping other authors property in The Castle Spectre but also did so by casting him as his own usurping villain. This parallel between Gothic conventions and critical language suggests that the Gothic might have played a crucial role in the history of our concepts of intellectual property, and particularly in the development of the now-familiar figure of the criminalized, and vilified, plagiarist.
While the importance of space in Gothic literature and the role of spectacle in the staging of late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century British Gothic drama have received much attention, little has been written about how Gothic dramatic writing gestures with space. By looking at how dramatic writers rhetorically used Gothics politically and psychologically charged spaces in their dramatic works for stage and page, this essay explores how space functions in pre-realist drama. The essay shows how a rhetoric of space functions in three examples of Gothic theatrical writing - Matthew Lewis‘s The Castle Spectre, Catherine Gore‘s The Bond, and Jane Scott‘sThe Old Oak Chest - and suggests that British Gothic dramas spatial rhetoric anticipates cinematic uses of space.
This essay situates Lewis‘s ‘Anaconda’ (1808) in relation to an early imperial Gothic tradition which represents colonial spaces as threats to English character. Lewis draws on orientalist discourse to describe the orient not only as a source of wealth but also as the site of a potentially fatal trauma for English subjects; Ireland is similarly represented but key differences suggest a lesser threat to the English psyche (and so the imperial project). Sensibility, as the foundation of civility that bears with it the risk of emotional susceptibility, emerges in ‘Anaconda’ as a register of national superiority, imperial vulnerability, and differences between colonies.
The Castle Spectre was one of the most popular and successful theatrical events of its day, and critics have often tried to explain its success, usually appealing to the ‘spectacular’ appearance of the spectre herself. But critics have not explored how the spectre - certainly no novelty on the stage - caused such a stir among contemporary audiences. By examining a selection of reviews, comments by contemporary literary figures, the text of the play, and Lewis‘s own comments concerning his spectacle, this paper demonstrates how Lewis employs strategies of delay and misdirection to make an otherwise nonviolent and unspectacular play appear excessively violent and spectacular even by 1790s Gothic standards.
Norse Terror in the Late Eighteenth to Early Nineteenth Centuries
Antiquarian efforts to revive Old Norse poetry brought about an interest in Germanic superstition that could be exploited by literary writers. This article examines a subspecies of terror writing which took inspiration from Norse literature. Compared to the Catholic settings of many Gothic novels, Norse-inflected writing provided an alternative. It is a little known fact that the Old Norse religion and literature was used as a prism through which Britains ethnically Gothic past could be viewed and negotiated. The article discusses some examples of how the fashion for thrills was combined with a national project to recover a sense of ancestral heroism.