For purposes of considering the role of the Gothic in Britain, it is useful to think of the Gothic as it emerges differently in different parts of the British isles.
Courtesy of Wendy Fall, Marquette University
- In many ways, the English Gothic can be viewed as a project of English Nationalism. By deviating from the trend towards realism, the Gothic in England used imagination in a manner that was incredibly effective in aligning the most foul agents of evil (Schedoni, Ambrosio, the Inquisition) with the excesses and extremes of the Catholic church. In this way, the Gothic glorified the sensible, modest morality of the English protestant movement. It also portrayed the people prone to the most extreme passions and excesses as objects of horror, a characterization which served as a useful contrast to the English ideals of common sense and rationality. The Gothic also often operated in a xenophobic vein, using Spain, Italy, and other foreign countries as settings for the most terrifying tales, and casting people of other races and nationalities as less desirable or downright monstrous, such as the Banyan in “Henrietta de Bellgrave.” This xenophobia dovetailed well with English anxieties over its tremendous and rapid imperial expansion. Although they may have enjoyed the wealth and security of empire, the English were worried about the spread of ideas from other countries into their own. Even the French Revolution was a source of dread for the English, who were afraid it would spread across the channel.
- In Ireland, writers skipped the realism movement altogether, and embraced the Gothic in all its subversive glory. As scholar Julia Moynahan describes it, "The Gothic seems to flourish in disrupted, oppressed, or underdeveloped societies, to give a voice to the powerless and unenfranchised." This notion that the Gothic as a response to disruption in Ireland is somewhat supported by the timing of its arrival on the historic timeline: Charles Robert Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer appears just 22 years after the 1798 rebellion. Between the publication of Melmoth and Bram Stoker's Dracula came the Great Famine, which caused the population of Ireland to become unstable for a decade in the middle of the 19th century. As Roy Foster observes, Irish Gothic authors tended to be marginalized Calvinist figures "whose occult preoccupations surely mirror a sense of displacement, a loss of social and psychological integration, and an escapism motivated by the threat of a takeover by the Catholic middle classes." These interests are closely aligned with those of the English Gothic.
- Many of the Gothic tales set in Scotland were not written by Scottish authors, but instead by English writers fascinated by the sublime landscapes of the Highlands. Ann Radcliffe's Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne (1789) is an example of one such story, which paints the Highlands in the Middle Ages as a region of bloody clan wars, implying that the Act of Union classifying Scotland as "North Britain" had some sort of civilizing effect on the wild Scotsmen. Sir Walter Scott's Waverly series, although it is not explicitly a Gothic text, employs some of these strategies, portraying the Highlands as a site of terror, an irrational, foreign, Roman Catholic lawless space. James Hogg is the Scottish author who is mainly credited with being the first to insert some Scottish ideas into the Gothic formula. His Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner presents competing viable worldviews and interpretations of historic events, and deeply probes Calvinism's theological repression, and its potential for disastrous results. The most famous Gothic book by a Scottish author is likely Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), which extends Hogg's exploration of repression to encompass professional and social prohibitions.
- Wales, like Scotland, was a popular destination for travelers interested in the sublime and the picturesque in the 1790s. Accordingly, Gothic stories were set in the mountains and ruins of Wales, but penned by English writers. The Castle Spectre (1797) by MG Lewis is set in Wales, and represents it as a barbarous, uncivilized land in which females could be easily entombed and forgotten. Welsh authors, however, mostly set their Gothic tales in England, particularly portraying London as the "devil's drawing room." Anna Maria Bennet's Ellen, Countess of Castle Howel (1794) is an example of this type of text; once Ellen travels to London, the lure of fashionable pursuits (gambling) leads to her apparent ruin. Robert Evans' The Stranger (1798) places a young Charles Marmaduke among the temptations of London's brothels, but provides him with a ghostly shadow who spies on his actions whenever he is in the city. This uncanny theme of the self haunted by the close-clinging spirit of one's own ethnicity would emerge as a recurring image in twentieth-century Welsh Literature.
Courtesy of Wendy Fall, Marquette University
Foster, Roy. Paddy and Mr. Punch: Connections in Irish and English History. London: Penguin, 1995, p. 220.
Hughes, William, David Punter, and Andrew Smith. The Encyclopedia of the Gothic. Chichester, West Sussex, UK : Wiley-Blackwell, 2013. Print.
Moynahan, Julian. Anglo-Irish : The Literary Imagination in a Hyphenated Culture . Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, 1995. Print.
Wright, Angela. Britain, France and the Gothic, 1764-1820 : The Import of Terror / Angela Wright. Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 2013. Print.