Dystopia and Doppelgangers: the Gothic indictment

Date
1997
Advisor
Knight, Leonard
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Bilkent University
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English
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Abstract

The Gothic genre has been the victim of much misinterpretation: when not savaged for its grotesqueness, it has been praised only for its wilder flights of fancy. However, it was as much a product of the Augustan "Age of Progress" as its decorous counterpart. Sentimentalism. There are specific socio-historical reasons behind its emergence, and a surprising philosophical and theological depth to its indictment of the shortcomings of its age: even at its most fantastic, it shows the political, economic, religious, ethical and psychological dilemmas of eighteenth and nineteenth century British society and its individuals. In its ambiguous attitude towards the Middle Ages and Catholicism, its ludic use of archaic literary motifs, and its juxtaposition of supposedly irrational codes of belief with more modem positivistic post-Enlightenment doctrines, it holds nothing sacred: Gothic is as valuable a form of dystopian satire as it is a psychologically effective form of fantasy. This dissertation has grown out of an analysis of five Gothic novels: Horace Walpole's The Castle o f Otranto, Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries o f Udolpho, Matthew Lewis's The Monk, Charles Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer, and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. They best represent the way that Gothic strategies provide a sardonic reflection of bourgeois society and its unacknowledged inheritance; they best convey the tensions (some topical, some universal) which for the most part Gothic deliberately leaves unresolved.

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