Individual and Social Psychologies of the Gothic: Introduction
The Gothic novel springs forth rather suddenly as the increasing preoccupation
with individual consciousness that begins in the early 18th century collides
with the unique cultural anxieties of the late 18th century. The effect
of the former has already been well-established in literature, as Richardson
and other "novelists of sensibility" invest their characters with unprecedented
psychological depth. The Gothic novelists are less skillful and subtle
in their depictions, and are often accused of populating their novels with
stock or "flat" characters. Yet the emotions of these characters are externalized
in a radical new way; their deepest passions and fears are literalized
as other characters, supernatural phenomena, and even inanimate objects.
At the same time, the nature of the fear represented in these novels--fear
of imprisonment or entrapment, of rape and personal violation, of the triumph
of evil over good and chaos over order--seems to reflect a specific historical
moment characterized by increasing disillusionment with Enlightenment rationality
and by bloody revolutions in America and France.
The excerpts arranged below, therefore, are united by a focus on the
psychological aspects of the Gothic in the broadest possible sense. They
address such complex and overlapping themes as the mental and emotional
portrait of the characters within the novels, the deep cultural anxieties
that the novels reflect (and often attempt to work through), and the intense
psychological responses that these works seek to elicit from their readers.
The critical excerpts are therefore not necessarily psychoanalytic in their
approach; they draw from a wide variety of structuralist, historicist,
and reader-response traditions as well. Further introduction is provided
at the beginning of each of the four sub-sections.