The revolution in France plays a definite role in the creation of the Gothic in England. The passage of the 1778 Catholic Relief Act in England, intended to increase the secularism of the government, instead sparked the Gordon Riots, which Samuel Johnson called a ‘time of terror’ and ‘universal panic’, and during which the masses voiced their anti-Catholic sentiment in an uprising that brought London to its knees. In some ways the Gordon Riots eerily foreshadowed the French Revolution; they were popular riots comprised of hordes of commoners who opened the jails, burned entire blocks, and besieged the bank. These riots loomed near enough in recent memory to terrify English citizens in 1787 when they observed the French Revolution underway. If the Gordon Riots were possible in London, could there be a British version of the Réveillon Riots that had marked the beginning of escalating violence in France? The English feared the French Revolution could spread to England, and they were afraid of the growing number of Catholics who fled to England as a result of the war. Although the elites of England relaxed their rhetoric slightly toward the latter half of the 18th century, the lower- and middle-class majority remained wholly and fanatically anti-Catholic and Francophobic; so much so that cynical leaders used their fears of France and Catholicism as a tool to whip up patriotism when convenient, such as during the Seven Years’ War. This paranoiac tension and mob mentality simmered just below the surface when The Monk (1796) hit the market; some of Lewis’ audience were potential members of the next rioting mob, but many others were looking for ways to whip the masses into a frenzy for their own political or economic gain. The Gothic eagerly filled that need by playing on the anxieties of the English.
Courtesy of Wendy Fall, Marquette University
Wright, Angela. Britain, France and the Gothic, 1764-1820 : The Import of Terror. Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 2013. Print.
Eliza, or the Unhappy Nun: Exemplifying the Unlimited Tyranny Exercised by the Abbots and Abbesses Over the Ill-Fated Victims of Their Malice in the Gloomy Recesses of a Convent. Including the Adventures of Clementina, or The Constant Lovers, a True and Affecting Tale., Unknown