The Gothic has a far greater dependency on setting than most literary genres; indeed, a suitably gloomy and decaying environment could be said to be a generic prerequisite. Gothic landscapes are generally geographically and socially isolated, hence the favourite setting of wild mountains and dense forest. The typical setting is, of course, the decaying castle, a remnant of the barbaric and superstitious past. The castle has a symbiotic relationship to the Gothic villains who inhabit them, and thus the castle in Udolpho is described in terms of tyranny and egoism:

"Silent, lonely and sublime, it seemed to stand the sovereign of the scene, and to frown defiance on all, who dared to invade its solitary reign."

Landscape has a highly symbolic function. Maggie Kilgour analyses the significance of the use of differentiated landscapes in Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho; on the one hand the soft pastoral world experienced by Emily on her travels, and on the other the awful sublime of the Apennine Mountains:

"As in Burke, the two aesthetic principles have clear gender associations, the sublime with the male and the beautiful with the female."

Use of setting provides one of the strongest links between the Gothic and Romantic poetry: In Frankenstein, Walton feels the same need as the Gothic villain or Romantic poet to shun society and seek a place of isolation, preferably in a bleak and awe-inspiring landscape.

The metaphor of the labyrinth is also central in the Gothic, very different in connotation to Pope's "mighty maze" that is an enlightenment symbol of the ordered yet various divine universe. In Gothic novels subterranean passages are frequently used to denote fear, alienation and the concealment of vice, and can be further read as a manifestation of the descent into the sub-conscious or as a metaphor for the female body. In The Monk, Lewis develops the secret underground passage device established in Otranto; the labyrinthine vaults under the monasteries are the setting of Ambrosio's encounter with the devil and the horrible experiences of Antonia and Agnes.

Previous chapter Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.