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Realism and Romance

  • Avril Horner
  • Sue Zlosnik

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Comic Effect Lunatic Asylum Sexual Ideology Firework Display Sentimental Vision 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Julian Wolfreys, ‘Preface’ in Ruth Robbins and Julian Wolfreys (eds), Victorian Gothic: Literary and Cultural Manifestations in the Nineteenth Century (London: Palgrave, 2000), p. xiv.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Horst S. Daemmrich, for example, comments on ‘the fascinating combination of realistic elements and fantastic visions in Hoffmann’s narrations’ (Horst S. Daemmrich, The Shattered Self in E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Tragic Vision [Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1973], p. 19).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Sigmund Freud, ‘The “Uncanny”’ (1919) in Sigmund Freud: The Penguin Freud Library (London: Penguin Books, 1985), Vol. 14: ‘Art and Literature’, p. 339.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    For a survey of psychoanalytic readings of ‘The Sandman’, see James McGlathery, Mysticism and Sexuality: E.T.A. Hoffmann (Las Vegas: Peter Lang, 1981).Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    Nicholas Royle has also suggested that ‘Freud’s summary does not simply describe (accurately or inaccurately) the contents of Hoffmann’s narrative; it reveals what is in or about the narrative that most affects, intrigues, haunts Freud’ (Nicholas Royle, The Uncanny [Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003], p. 40).Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    Joseph Andriano describes Klara as ‘a kind of Enlightenment heroine, toward whom he [Nathanael] is therefore somewhat ambivalent’. Joseph Andriano, Our Ladies of Darkness: Feminine Daemonology in Male Gothic Fiction (University Park, PA.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993), p. 53.Google Scholar
  7. 12.
    Some critics see Nathanael’s pledging himself to Olympia as symbolizing the Romantic artist’s choice of the world of imagination over the philistine’s embrace of instrumental reason. The most recent to take this view is Birgit Röder in A Study of the Major Novels of E.T.A. Hoffmann (Rochester NY: Camden House, 2003), p. 60.Google Scholar
  8. 15.
    Wolfgang Kayser, The Grotesque in Art and Literature, translated by Ulrich Weisstein (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1957), pp. 74–75.Google Scholar
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    Daniel Pick, Svengali’s Web: The Alien Enchanter in Modern Culture (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000), p. 104.Google Scholar
  10. Over and over, when humor fails, we are left with images of fear: the raven’s shadow, the howling cat, the putrescent corpse, or the fallen house… We are led gradually away from this humor into an expanding horror of men driven to acts of extreme cruelty (Lewis, Paul. ‘Poe’s Humor: A Psychological Analysis’ in Studies in Short Fiction 26 [1989], pp. 531–546, 535).Google Scholar
  11. 26.
    V.S. Pritchett, George Meredith and English Comedy (London: Chatto & Windus, 1970), p. 34.Google Scholar
  12. 27.
    Judith Wilt, The Readable People of George Meredith (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1975), p. 149.Google Scholar
  13. 28.
    George Meredith, An Essay on Comedy and the Uses of the Comic Spirit (1877; London: Constable, 1919), p. 91. All page references, which will appear hereafter in the text, are to this edition.Google Scholar
  14. 29.
    George Meredith, The Adventures of Harry Richmond (1871; London: Constable, 1914), p. 26. All page references, which will appear hereafter in the text, are to this edition.Google Scholar
  15. 31.
    For a number of possible sources for Richmond Roy, see Lionel Stevenson, The Ordeal of George Meredith (New York: Scribner’s, 1953), pp. 175–176.Google Scholar
  16. 32.
    Margaret Tarratt in Ian Fletcher, Meredith Now (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1971), p. 169.Google Scholar
  17. 33.
    Gillian Beer, Meredith: A Change of Masks (London: Athlone Press, 1970), p. 68.Google Scholar
  18. 34.
    J.B. Priestley, George Meredith (London, Macmillan and Co., 1927), p. 164. Gillian Beer comments in the same vein, ‘Meredith’s kinship and perceptions often seem to be with twentieth-century writers rather than with his own earlier contemporaries. The fragmented chronology, the refracted experience, the dense flux of symbol and metaphor in his novels all link him with later writers’ (Gillian Beer, Meredith: A Change of Masks, p. 5).Google Scholar
  19. 35.
    Many critics have argued an identification between Sir Austin and Meredith himself and for the text as fictionalized autobiography; Gillian Beer, for example, notes that Meredith continued to record entries for The Pilgrim’s Scrip for some time after The Ordeal was published (Gillian Beer, Meredith: A Change of Masks, p. 19). Juliet Mitchell also sees Sir Austin not just as a caution to Meredith himself but a take-off of himself for producing that caution: ‘The Pilgrim’s Scrip is the work of a sentimentalist jilted; so in a way is the novel but a sentimentalist who knows he is jilted and therefore no longer a sentimentalist’ (Juliet Mitchell, Women: The Longest Revolution [London: Virago, 1984], pp. 151–152). The tendency of such criticism has been to emphasize the psychological identification between the novelist and his character, which acts as a kind of catharsis for Meredith himself.Google Scholar
  20. 36.
    See W.R. Mueller, ‘Theological Dualism and the “System” in The Ordeal of Richard Feverel’, Journal of English Literary History, 18, 2 (1951), pp. 138–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 37.
    See, for example, Nina Auerbach, The Woman and the Demon: The Life of a Victorian Myth (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1982).Google Scholar
  22. 40.
    George Meredith, The Ordeal of Richard Feverel (1859; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), p. 82. All page references, which will appear hereafter in the text, are to this edition.Google Scholar
  23. 41.
    Gary Handwerk, Irony and Ethics in Narrative Structure (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), p. 4.Google Scholar
  24. 42.
    Mohammed Shaheen notes that it has been common practice to approach Meredith mainly through The Egoist and to consider him a writer of comedy and anatomist of egoism, but that this is only appropriate to works of the late 1870s. Shaheen believes that Meredith realized the limitations of comedy when he wrote to R.L. Stevenson that he yearned to finish The Egoist ‘because it came mainly from the head and had nothing to kindle imagination’. Shaheen tends to see Meredith’s comic spirit as a conservative force: ‘Comedy is the only aspect of Meredith that can be described as Victorian, in that the comic spirit is basically a moral power and comedy deals with deviations from the norm of society’ (Mohammad Shaheen, George Meredith: A Re-Appraisal of the Novels [London: Macmillan, 1981], p. 4).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 43.
    Robert Polhemus identifies Meredith as ‘the first British novelist explicitly to reject and ridicule the dogmas of Christianity’ and to become the conscious apostle of what he called the ‘comic spirit’ (Robert Polhemus, Comic Faith [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980], p. 8).Google Scholar
  26. 44.
    Judith Wilt, The Readable People of George Meredith (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975), p. 148.Google Scholar
  27. 45.
    George Meredith, The Egoist (1879; Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1968), p. 33. All page references, which will appear hereafter in the text, are to this edition.Google Scholar
  28. 46.
    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
  29. 47.
    Vernon is modelled on Virginia Woolf’s father, Leslie Stephen. See Norman Kelvin, A Troubled Eden: Nature and Society in the Works of George Meredith (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1961), pp. 110–112, for a discussion of the derivation.Google Scholar
  30. 48.
    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
  31. 53.
    The circulating libraries, of which Mudie’s was the most famous, exercised considerable censorship over fiction in this period, rejecting anything that was not considered to be family reading. The Ordeal of Richard Feverel had been turned down by Mudie’s. Meredith’s biographer, David Williams, comments, ‘Mudie’s thumbs-down on Feverel had shown him how dangerous even the slightest hint of carnality could be for a writer with a living to earn’ (David Williams, George Meredith [London: Hamish Hamilton, 1977], p. 129).Google Scholar
  32. 55.
    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

Copyright information

© Avril M. Horner and Susan H. Zlosnik 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Avril Horner
  • Sue Zlosnik

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