Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Elements of the Gothic from Walpole to Stoker

DISCLAIMER: This may be extremely boring! :) I am kind of a nerd (and proud of it!) so I find this fascinating. Also, it's for a class. Just finished typing it up!

As the Gothic novel developed into a more supernaturally concerned story, the architecture within the stories remained an important facet. The most obvious thing that changed with the architecture found in Gothic novels was the decadent description of it. The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole and Bram Stoker's Dracula contain architectural structures that achieve the same effect; they serve as a prison with supernatural events that occur within its walls. The architecture displayed in these stories, while not specifically Gothic in structure, contain many elements of the Gothic that is necessary to these stories to add or provide more mystery and detail. These elements of Gothic architecture are separate from the structural form. They are the qualities in the architecture that emphasize the mysterious supernatural qualities found within Gothic literature. In comparing these two novels, it can be seen that the qualities of Gothic architecture which Walpole embodied in his novel are still present in Gothic literature one hundred years later.
Gothic literature can be defined by simply having supernatural qualities within it and also having some sort of antiquity (Scarborough 6). However, there are many more elements to the Gothic in terms of style, and even in the use of architecture within the story. In her book The Supernatural in Modern English Fiction, Dorothy Scarborough says that in Gothic literature, “the relationship between supernatural effect and Gothic architecture, scenery, and weather is strongly stressed” (8). She adds, “Not only is architecture made subservient to the needs of Gothic fiction but the scenery likewise is adapted to it (10). Scarborough is asserting the importance of the use of architecture, among scenery and weather, within the Gothic novel. She does not specify that the architecture must be Gothic in structure, but rather is “possessing all the antique glooms that increase the effect of mystery and awe” (9). Using her definition, the actual structure of a building within a Gothic story can be of any form, as long as it follows some specific elements of the Gothic.
Walpole's The Castle of Otranto is generally considered the first Gothic novel according to Scarborough (8). She describes the Gothic novel as marking “a distinct change in the form of literature in which the supernaturalism manifests itself” (6). Walpole's novel fits this description by being the first novelist to include supernaturalism in his story. There have obviously been stories with supernatural events many centuries previous to Walpole, but he introduces it in novel form, since the novel did not exist prior to the seventeenth century. Louisa A. Merival claims that Walpole “worked out his own conceptions in what... was doubtless one of the most important initiatory steps in that renaissance movement which has to so great an extent given the law to our modern aesthetics” (472). Merival is acknowledging Walpole's influence on Victorian aesthetics and literature. Making the Gothic novel a genre of its own allowed for writers, post Walpole, to explore supernatural events in a new and extremely popular form. While Gothic literature is considered simply that which includes the supernatural, many elements from Gothic architecture are found within these stories.
Gothic architecture is defined in complex terms. While the popular conception of it as a large building with pointed arches is correct, there is much more to it. John Ruskin delves into this complex description in his book, The Nature of Gothic. He says that Gothic architecture is a union of some of many elements and forms (2). To explain more fully, he says, “Gothic architecture has external forms, and internal elements. Its elements are certain mental tendencies of the builders, visibly expressed in it; as fancifulness, love of variety, love of richness, and such others” (3). He explains that there is a difference between the elements and the forms. The elements, as stated above, are mental and emotional aspects such as rigidity, redundancy, and a disturbed imagination (5). Whereas the external forms are the physical aspects of the building itself, such as pointed arches and vaulted roofs (3). Three other elements that can be added to Ruskin's list are vastness, mystery and an interest in the ancient past (Hope 123). Many of the elements are found directly in Gothic literature, specifically redundancy and disturbed imagination. For example, Walpole uses his character Manfred to express a disturbed imagination, and the story itself, along with Dracula, suggests that the narrator or author also has a disturbed imagination. Also, Stoker uses repetition in his story to create a redundant quality. Another important quality of Gothic architecture is its ecclesiastical property.
Gothic architecture has rarely been used for practical structures such a house. According to the general consensus of the Victorian era, as posed by George Gilbert Scott, “Gothic architecture is essentially an ecclesiastical style , and that though eminently suited to churches, it is not fitted for other classes of buildings” (347). Basically, the home and the church are separate entities physically (Parker 157). This separation through the physical qualities of the architecture of a building emphasizes the difference between life in the church and life in the home. While life in the home is focused on the family and day to day chores, the church can be considered as a tool to allow communication with the divine. The idea of communing with the divine implies an aspect of the supernatural, creating the perfect type of building for supernatural occurrences. In addition, the church has always been an important facet of English culture. Walpole and Stoker include the church within their stories. Both include the church as an entity of each respective castle, not only because this would have been the norm, but also because it ties in this aspect of Gothic architecture.
The elements of Gothic architecture were used as an inspiration for Walpole. In his love for medieval art, he created a novel to emphasize this. It is important to understand the setting in which Walpole places the story in his “Preface to the First Edition.” He sets the story in the Middle ages, at an uncertain time; he says it “must have been [written] between 1095... and 1243” (17). He also supposes that this was of “the purest Italian” (17). This is important to note because it explains the barbarism that is found in Manfred. Gothic architecture was brought about after the fall of Rome. It was generally considered to be of the barbaric North, meaning the areas that are now known as England and Germany (Moore 1). Claiming that his story was originally written in a Southern country that glorifies classical architecture, which does not include Gothic, allows Walpole to add elements of savageness (Ruskin 4) and mystery by introducing a vague resemblance of the foreign other; this idea is again explored with the unknown identity of the peasant later in the story. In addition to alluding to the origins of Gothic architecture, Walpole's castle within the story has many forms and elements of Gothic architecture itself.
Walpole never actual states in The Castle of Otranto that the castle is Gothic in structure, he simply alludes to it. The story lacks an overall physical description of the castle; it is only referred to by characters. Aspects of it are vaguely explained or simply mentioned as needed. Walpole references “vaults” throughout the novel (35, 38), which is a term used to describe a room that is vaulted, a physical form of Gothic architecture (Ruskin 3). The only other way in which the castle is described as having the physical forms of Gothic architecture is found in describing the passage to the church. Walpole describes it though his character Isabella, “The lower part of the castle was hollowed into several intricate cloisters” (35). This description, along with the fact that it leads to a chapel, is suggestive of a typical crypt that is found beneath many Gothic cathedrals. The hollowness of the basement regions of the castle are only typical of an ecclesiastical structure, they would not have been found in an average house. Although the physical descriptions of the castle are minimal, there are other descriptions that show the elements of Gothic architecture.
Also found in the description of the secret passageway to the chapel are many elements of Gothic architecture. First, savageness is suggested followed closely by mystery; the description continues from above, “An awful silence reigned throughout those subterraneous regions, except, now and then, some blasts of wind that shook the doors she had passed; and which, grating on the rusty hinges, were re-echoes through that long labyrinth of darkness” (35). Walpole's use of descriptive words is really what suggests savageness. He uses “awful,” “blasts,” and “grating” which are all unpleasant terms in general. The awfulness of the silence could also be describing the mystery of the underground passage, along with the “labyrinth of darkness.” A labyrinth in itself suggests a great amount of mystery as it is, after all, a maze; but adding that it is completely dark makes it even more mysterious. Another way in which Walpole shows the savageness of the castle is in the imprisonment of the peasant. After the first supernatural event, the peasant is declared a “necromancer” by Manfred, and ordered to be imprisoned under the giant helmet (31). Although the peasant is not a prisoner in the actual castle, the only way in which he can escape from under the giant helmet casque was to enter the underground part of the castle that had been broken open by the fall of the helmet (39). Then, as there is no other way out, is he prisoner of the castle. The savage aspect is shown through Manfred, lord of the castle, who is himself a savage person, and uses the castle as means to continue to act this way. Similarly, Stoker focuses more on the elements of Gothic structures rather than the physical forms.
While Stoker focuses on some of the key elements of Gothic architecture laid out by Ruskin, such as redundancy, he adds more elements to the list as laid out by J.T. Parker, “No style is so remarkable as the Gothic for the multiplicity of its details and parts, and for the variety of its characteristic feature. Vastness, infinity, mystery, richness, lightness, solidity, gloom, intricacy, irregularity... are all characteristics of the Gothic” (123). Stoker mainly focuses on the mystery and vastness of this list. Stoker describes Dracula's castle through his character Jonathan. Upon his first arrival at castle Dracula, Jonathan is stunned by the greatness of such a place. He describes it as a, “vast and ruined castle, from whose tall black windows came no ray of light, and whose broken battlements showed a jagged line against the moonlit sky” (20). The unlit windows create a sense of mystery to the castle that will be repeated throughout Jonathan's descriptions of it. He cannot see into the castle, and once he is in the castle, he has no way out. Another way in which Stoker creates this sense of mystery is through the layout of the castle, which is very hard to follow without an architectural layout of some sort. As Jonathan explores the castle he comes upon rooms that are unfamiliar to him, and the exact location of these rooms within the castle is somewhat hazy. He writes, “I was now in a wing of the castle further to the right than the rooms I knew and a storey lower down” to describe the vague location of this room. The room itself provides mystery as well, since it is one of the very few rooms that is not locked, and is described as being completely different from the rest of the castle, as more “comfortable” (40). These various descriptions from Jonathan show his ignorance of the castle Dracula, and therefore the mysteriousness of it. This repetition of the idea of mystery gives the redundant quality that is another element of the Gothic.
The idea of vastness presented by Jonathan's descriptions of the castle Dracula adds to the redundancy found within the other elements of Gothic architecture. Before Jonathan has even entered the castle, he notices the grandiosity of it, “In the gloom the courtyard looked of considerable size, and as several dark ways led from it under great round arches it perhaps seemed bigger than it really is” (21). Jonathan describes the castle as giving the impression of being vast, whether it is or not. However, this quote also presents a problem; the arches of the castle are round, not pointed. This would seem to completely discredit that Dracula's castle could be considered Gothic. In the architectural sense, this may be true; but since all the elements of the Gothic are there, it seems as if Stoker is simply trying to give the impression of the Gothic rather than explicitly stating that it is Gothic. The vastness and greatness of the castle are repeated in Jonathan's descriptions of his room; he uses terms such as “great passage,” or “mighty hearth” that emphasize this idea (22). Along with the great size of everything in the castle, Jonathan also feels the savage quality of the owner of the castle and of the castle itself.
The savage quality of Ruskin's list implies a sort of antiquity when explained in the context of the derivation of the term “Gothic” (Ruskin 16). This aligns with an appreciation for past generations that was commonly felt during the Victorian era (Merival 467). Stoker reflects this sense of antiquity through Dracula's castle. Jonathan describes things within the castle as “centuries old” (25). He also gives an initial image of the castle as old by describing the door as “old and studded with large iron nails, and set in a projecting doorway of massive stone. I could see even in the dim light that the stone was massively carved, but that the carving had been much worn by time and weather” (22). This idea of antiquity is also repeated throughout the story. Stoker makes this an important aspect of Dracula because it sets him apart from the rest of the characters. Dracula's castle does not fit with the science of the time (Hope 113). This idea sets the castle apart from the rest of society as well, making it unfamiliar territory to Jonathan. Stoker also presents the idea of being trapped within a specific structure, through the use of Jonathan. He realizes, as he as exploring the castle, that he is trapped, “In no place save from the windows in the castle walls is there an available exit. The castle is a veritable prison, and I am a prisoner” (32). The significance of this passage is that Jonathan expresses his fear of being trapped in an unfamiliar, and possibly dangerous place. He realizes that the impenetrable castle walls are not there to keep anything out, but to keep him in. These strong castle walls also emphasize the ecclesiastical quality found within the castle and, again, Dracula himself.
The architecture within the book also has an ecclesiastical quality to it, or there is, at the very least, an emphasis on ecclesiastical architecture through Dracula. The passageway from Dracula's room leads directly to the chapel of the land. That is where Dracula really rests; where he sleeps in his coffin as the dead (Stoker 53). His castle and his chapel are one in the same. The ecclesiastical element presented by Gothic architecture is actually necessary to the plot. Another specific example of this is that Renfield, who is essentially possessed by Dracula, is drawn to the chapel, not the house, at Carfax. Dr. Seward describes it, “On the far side of the house I found him pressed close against the old iron bound oak door of the chapel” (97). It is significant that Dracula does not use the house, but instead uses the chapel as means to communicate with Renfield. This suggests that Dracula is very tied to the ecclesiastical element of the Gothic. Stoker follows Walpole's lead of having a chapel on the grounds of the scene where supernatural events are taking place.
Although written a century apart, Stoker's and Walpole's novels are strikingly similar in the way that they each use the ideas presented by Gothic architecture in their stories. They both emphasize specific elements of the architectural Gothic; they use limited physical description which puts the focus on these elements. Each uses the ecclesiastical element, mystery, and savageness in basically the same way. For the ecclesiastical, churches are used as almost a side note just to show that the divine and the supernatural are near. The mystery is presented through the limited physical descriptions and through repetition and vastness. Savageness is shown both by the rulers of each respective castle, and carried out by means of the physical structure as well. While there are these many similarities, the transformation of the Gothic novel throughout the century which separates these novels can be found in architectural minutiae.
While the novels share many of the same qualities and elements of the architectural Gothic, Stoker purposefully puts a stronger emphasis on these details. He uses repetition much more than Walpole, and therefore creates more redundancy. For example, Walpole only describes his castle as having vaults, which gives the idea of vastness. Stoker, on the other hand, describes his castle as possibly seeming larger than it really is, and repeats many ideas of large or great things within the castle to give the idea of vastness. Louisa A. Merival wrote in the Victorian era about the idea of the Gothic. She concluded that in eighteenth century literature, “it cannot fail to be perceived, a certain tone derived from the traditions of classical literature... often a direct imitation of their style and method,” which she described as “stilted and unreal” (465). In terms of Walpole, this would suggest that he was rather uncreative whereas in the nineteenth century creativity was inspired. She explains the Victorian period as “an ever wakeful sympathy with the past of history and society, a feeling sometimes reverential, sometimes regretful, sometimes compassionate, always keen and sensitive” (467). This description suggests that the artists of the nineteenth century had evolved to have more curiosity for the past rather than just copying it. Stoker embodies this idea by using many more terms in a much more intricate way to describe the vastness of his castle than Walpole does. Stoker does much of the same thing for the idea of mystery.
Stoker uses repetition of the mysterious to create a sense of redundancy. The setting of the castle, the layout of the castle, and the mysterious things within it are all ways in which Stoker expresses this idea. Walpole expresses mystery in many ways as well, but is less direct about it. Take, for example, the setting of each of the castles; Walpole's is first described by him, in the preface, as being in the medieval time in Italy, but the characters are familiar with the castle; Stoker's castle is set in a land foreign to the main characters of the novel. While to the reader, Walpole's may be more unfamiliar, his characters never express a sense of mysteriousness about the castle itself. Stoker's character Jonathan, however, expresses a great amount of ignorance and mysteriousness of the castle Dracula. In Walpole's novel, there is the secret passageway that creates some mystery about the castle. Scarborough says this type of structure is found in the Gothic, “its secret passageways, its underground vaults and dungeons, its trap doors, its mouldy spectral chapel, form a fit setting for the unearthly visitants that haunt it” (9). While the secret passageway may have been a source of mystery for the novel, the fact that Walpole's characters are aware that it is there makes it much less mysterious (Walpole 37). Stoker's character Jonathan, on the other hand, is generally unaware of where doorways will lead him within the castle Dracula (Stoker 40). Stoker is therefore more consistent in his creation of the mysterious than Walpole.
As previously stated, Stoker's use of Gothic architecture is limited to the elements, whereas Walpole presents what seems to be an actual Gothic structure. The vaults and secret passageways were more important in Walpole's work because the Gothic novel was not yet a genre, and he had to abide by societal norms of what Gothic was. Stoker was able to focus completely on the elements because they had mostly been presented previous to his writing Dracula. Stoker refined the elements of Gothic architecture to add substance to the Gothic novel instead of leaving it as empty and meaningless as Walpole's work. Walpole created a story within the context of the Medieval world in which supernatural things occur. He simply copied the antiquity. Stoker, on the other hand, created a story that explored the contrasts of the antique world with the modern world when they are brought together. The Victorian idea of the Gothic, in architecture and in literature, does not differ much from the idea of the Gothic in Walpole's time; it does, however, refine the ideas that were already presented and add more mystery.

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