Landscape plays an important function in Gothic literature, although its significance varies according to the socio-historical context in which a particular Gothic text is found, and obviously according to the narrative structure of the individual text as well. In early Gothic texts such as in the novels of Ann Radcliffe, protagonists (often young, sheltered and naïve girls) undertook journeys to a far-off, exoticized land which was portrayed as a realm of danger, excess, and the breakdown of the controls and restrictions of the domestic and “civilized” space. Thus these exotic lands – often the stereotypical Catholic and Mediterranean spaces of Italy and Spain, whose inhabitants were portrayed as volatile, treacherous and governed by uncontrolled passions – became not only socio-political antitheses to the “safe” space of England (although even this was ultimately unsettled by the characteristic Gothic doubling), but also a symbol for the inner landscape of restriction, exposure to the other, temptation, the finding of a new balance, and return.
In terms of more specifically psychological processes, the Gothic journey and the projection of internal significance onto an external landscape might be read as various forms of representation and resolution (“projection” and “introjection,” the ebb and flow of life processes such as aging and the life cycle or desire, sexuality, tensions between two opposing selves). For examples of such readings of Gothic literature, see Maud Bodkin’s reading of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” in Archetypal Patterns in Poetry: Psychological Studies of Imagination; or Anne Williams’ essays on various Gothic texts in Art of Darkness: A Poetics of Gothic. In this mode of signification, landscape elements such as the sea, the sublime mountains, various forms of waste land, the dual-entry house, and so on, assume heavily-overdetermined meanings tied to the complexities of deep psychological processes.
Exoticised landscapes are thus always closely related to the trope of the Gothic other – those Moors, Italians, Indians, Russians, Africans, Jews, East Europeans, and other strange types who crop up throughout Gothic literature, and whose function is at least in part to embody the social and political anxieties of England’s encounters with its colonies and competitors. While colonial Gothic narratives are most obviously concerned with the anxious placement of England vis-à-vis its colonial spaces, all Gothic literature in varying ways reflects the anxiety of place in an age of growing global contact and interaction.
Courtesy of Robbie Goh, National University of Singapore
Bodkin, Maud. Archetypal Patterns in Poetry; Psychological Studies of Imagination. New York, Vintage Books, 1958. Print.
Williams, Anne The Art of Darkness: A Poetics of Gothic. University of Chicago Press, 1995. Print.
The Distressed Nun [Transcript], Isaac Crookenden