chapter  3
11 Pages

Gothic Forms

Though it was the blueprint for a new mode of writing, the framework that was established by the The Castle of Otranto underwent a number of significant changes in the hands of later writers, under pressure from different historical circumstances. The relative consistency of Gothic settings and plots, however, in conjunction with the romance tradition from which it drew, enabled the Gothic novel to be recognisable as a distinct type of fiction and also exposed it to the attacks of literary satirists. Framed as another manifestation of the romance form or as a pastiche of the productions of uncivilised ages, Gothic novels could be readily criticised by the literary establishment. The tone, however, of the criticism became increasingly ambivalent: ridicule serves to reinforce social and literary values while simultaneously acknowledging some degree of anxiety. Indeed, the increasing popularity of the genre exacerbated the neoclassical fear that all romances and novels could produce antisocial effects and lead to social disintegration. Despite being associated with literary and moral impropriety, many Gothic novels set out to vindicate morality, virtue and reason. They were thus caught between their avowedly moral and conventional projects and the unacceptably unrealistic mode of representation they employed. This tension produced the ambivalence internal to the novels themselves as well as the critical reception they received. It also contributed to the subsequent changes in narrative strategy and setting.