Realism and Romance

  • Avril Horner
  • Sue Zlosnik


It is clear that the tendency of early Gothic fiction to self-parody did not put it beyond the reach of further parodic treatment, in which the mix of horror and humour tipped towards the latter. As the conventions of the Gothic genre became clichéd, they lost their powers of horror and became ripe for parody. In comic parodic Gothic, excess and the grotesque produce humour, not horror. This chapter, however, examines a different kind of Gothic comic turn. While (as critics broadly agree) the Gothic novel as a genre (however diverse its examples) can be located in the period from The Castle of Otranto (1764) to Melmoth the Wanderer (1820), Gothic as a mode of writing pervaded the fiction (and, indeed, other kinds of writing) of the nineteenth century as a kind of textual haunting. Similarly, the settings of Gothic became no longer confined to those of the earlier genre. As Julian Wolfreys suggests, ‘Escaping from the tomb and the castle, the gothic in the Victorian period becomes arguably even more potentially terrifying because of its ability to manifest itself anywhere.’1 The seeds of this dispersal may be seen in novels like The Heroine, Northanger Abbey and Castle Rackrent, which had simultaneously parodied Gothic novels and represented everyday experience in terms of Gothic discourses. This perception of the Gothic dimensions of ‘real life’ is the focus of this chapter, where we will argue that the quotidian is imbued with Gothic threat, particularly in the realm of gender relations.


Comic Effect Lunatic Asylum Sexual Ideology Firework Display Sentimental Vision 
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    Jack Lindsay in his Marxist study of Meredith calls him the ‘stereotyped man of bourgeois manufacture’ (Jack Lindsay, George Meredith [London: Bodley Head, 1956], p. 238). Willoughby’s name echoes the idea of pattern that runs through the novel, including the willow pattern story which serves as a narrative analogue. This analogue is reinforced in the epithet which Mrs Mountstuart Jenkinson (a neighbour of Willoughby’s noted throughout the county for her witty epithets) coins to describe Willoughby’s new fiancee, Clara Middleton: she is ‘a dainty rogue in porcelain’ (E, p. 47). Metaphor becomes translated into artefact in the novel when the porcelain vase brought as a wedding present by Willoughby’s friend, Colonel de Craye, is shattered as a result of an unfortunate upset of the fly bringing it and its donor from the station. The ‘pattern’ of relationships embodied in Patterne Hall (which provides the restrictive setting for the novel’s action) reinforces the power of its owner and there are many hints in the novel that the Hall and its estate may be taken as representing power relations in the country at large.Google Scholar
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    The irrepressible Flitch is associated with magical powers. He is described by Colonel de Craye, for example, as ‘a wonderful conjurer’ and it is he who is driving the fly in which the willow pattern porcelain vase is symbolically broken. For a discussion of the role of Flitch in The Egoist, see M.G. Sundell, ‘The Functions of Flitch in The Egoist’, Nineteenth-Century Fiction 24 (1969), pp. 227–235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Kate Millett’s feminist reading of Meredith, although applauding his feminist intentions, finds the ending of The Egoist unsatisfactory: ‘Meredith knows how to save her from the egoist, but he can think of nothing else to do for her. A life more interesting than mere mating — for good or ill — never seems to have occurred to him in connection with an intelligent young woman. This is a notably deficient and rather tritely masculine attitude; for all his good intentions regarding the crippling character of feminine education, the feudal character of patriarchal marriage, and in the egotism of male assumptions, Meredith appears incapable of transcending them and consequently mistakes the liberating turmoil of the sexual revolution for the mundane activities of a matchmaking bureau’ (Kate Millett, Sexual Politics [1969; London: Virago, 1977], p. 139).Google Scholar

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© Avril M. Horner and Susan H. Zlosnik 2005

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  • Avril Horner
  • Sue Zlosnik

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