The term “enchant” indicates that a spell had been cast over something or someone. An enchantment is a charm or spell that uses words to invoke a spirit. The predilection toward enchanted things in the Gothic is a reaction to the very real disenchantment in the Romantic Age with routines and procedures that have predictability and order, and the practice of rationally following the scientific method. This process of rationalization created the disenchanted world; yet, through the Gothic, there is a non-Christian re-enchantment with the world that is linked to more ancient sources.
Re-enchantment as presented in the Gothic, however, is sometimes subverted when, along with other supernatural effects, the enchantment is eventually explained, and may or may not have mystical origins. For example, in the chapbook "Tales of Wonder: The Castle of Enchantment," all the castle's mystical lights, nymphs, and special effects are explained as an elaborate hoax employed to convince the woman-hating Clodio to accept a marriage of political expediency. The armor in Walpole's "Castle of Otranto," however, is enchanted by Alphonso's spiritual force, and is not a hoax at all.
Deidre Lynch has argued that writers like Ann Radcliffe were keenly aware that the enchantments of the Gothic would cause a reflexive rational response among readers and critics. As Lynch writes, "Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho [...] ponders its enchantments’ staying-power. Following her escape from Udolpho, where unexplained coincidences and mysterious voices predicting peril have led her almost to doubt her sanity, the heroine discovers her experience repeating itself. Her new place of refuge may likewise harbor supernatural forces. ‘I perceive,’ said Emily smiling, ‘that all old mansions are haunted.’ The smile prompts us to smile. It’s as if Emily herself were amused by her creator’s hyperbolic plotting – and as if Radcliffe were anticipating her book’s future lampooning." This is one example of a text that reveals Gothic authors' uncanny ability to explore advanced notions of readership: the reader's relationship with fiction, the connection between text and imagination, and the reader's ability to suspend rational disbelief and enjoy fiction's illusions.
Courtesy of Wendy Fall, Marquette University
Lynch, Deidre Shauna. "Gothic fiction", The Cambridge Companion to Fiction in the Romantic Period. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. 47-64. Cambridge Companions Online. Web. 11 June 2014. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CCOL9780521862523.004