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.