Gothic Technologies: Visuality in the Romantic Era
Haunted Britain in the 1790s
Angela Wright, University of Sheffield
1 As Michael Gamer in particular
has argued, however, Wordsworth's new critical
enterprise involved him divorcing himself from
the Gothic genre which he had previously, albeit
unsuccessfully, explored by writing Gothic
dramas. Gamer explores the contradictions in
Wordsworth, Coleridge, Scott and Wollstonecraft's
criticism of the Gothic in "Gothic fictions and
Romantic Writing in Britain." Here, he warns:
"Such a reading, however, would demand we
exercise selective memory and require we overlook
that these same writers in these same years
produced recognizably Gothic texts" (Gamer, 2002:
2 Samuel Johnson, A Dictionary
of the English language: in which the words are
deduced from their originals, and illustrated in
different significations by examples from the
best writers, to which are prefixed, a history of
the language, and an English grammar. 2
vols. (London: Knapton; T. and T. Longman, C.
Hithch and L. Hawes; A. Millar, and R. and J.
Dodsley, 1755), vol. II.
3 As Fred
Botting argues elsewhere in this collection,
"Gothic machinery, in rationalising and
mechanising supernatural occurrences and readerly
superstition, establishes a cycle of repetition,
boredom, stimulation and disappointment that
threatens enlightenment ideals of the rational
and discriminating individual."
4 I am grateful to my colleague
Dr Richard Steadman-Jones from the Department of
English Language and Linguistics at the
University of Sheffield for assistance with
5 The coupling of extravagance
with France continued elsewhere in literary
battles. For example, when reviewing Edmund
Burke's 1790 Reflections on the Revolution in
France, the Monthly Review
criticised what it viewed as Burke's descent into
French rhetorical embellishments: "he no sooner
crosses the Channel, than he throws off the brown
bob, and plain broad-cloth of British argument,
to array himself in the powdered bag, and
embroidered silk, of French declamation"
(Monthly Review, 3, (1790) 321).
6 Lara published two translated
novels in 1796, the above and Louis de
Boncoeur. A Domestick Tale (London: Ridgway,
1796). Although Arthur Aikin in the Monthly
Review praised the latter for the
"considerable merit" of its translation, the
Critical concentrated on the
extravagance of French sentiment in both
translations, noting of the latter that "The
language of genuine sensibility and affection is
very distinct from this extravagance, which may
produce affectation or provoke disgust, but will
never touch the heart" (Critical Review,
18 December, 1796), p. 474.
7 T.J.Mathias, The Pursuits
of Literature: A Satirical Poem in Four
Dialogues, (London, 1798).
8 Cf. Chapter 3 of E.J. Clery's
The Rise of Supernatural Fiction:
1762-1800 for a detailed analysis of the
"illegitimacy" issue in Walpole's two Prefaces
(1995: 60-67). In "Ideal Presence and Gothic
Romance" in Gothic Studies 1/1 Robert
Miles also provides a detailed analysis of the
implications of Walpole's two prefaces in
relation to Kames's theory of "ideal presence"
9 Cf. also Paul Keen's The
Crisis of Literature in the 1790s for a full
analysis of the mounting concern of the demise of
the republic of letters in Britain.
10 On the imitative trend that
gave rise to such satirical articles as the ones
I am about to discuss, E.J. Clery correctly
argues that "The hothouse productivity of the
1790s meant that the initial reading of a Gothic
novel was not unlikely to be the equivalent of
reading half a dozen others" (Clery, 1995: 142).
Edward Jacobs also cites Mary Alcock's "A Receipt
for Writing a Novel" in Roger Lonsdale's
Eighteenth-Century Women Poets (Jacobs,
11 Cf also Sue Chaplin's
"Romance and Sedition in the 1790s: Radcliffe's
The Italian and the Terrorist Text" in
Romanticism 7 (2) 2001: 177-90.
Chaplin's article also addresses "Terrorist Novel
Writing" in relation to the law and unregulated
12 The Ghost, edited
by Felix Phantom. Edinburgh: Mudie, 1796. The
Critical Review commented on the
appearance of this periodical that, "Most of the
papers are of a very flimsy texture, - the wit
very thinly scattered, and the sentiments trite
and common" Critical Review, 18,
13 Cf. also Fred Botting's
argument on the "Gothicization" of Thomas
Mathias's Pursuits in "Power in the
Darkness: Heterotopias, Literature and Gothic
Labyrinths" in Genre 26, 2-3,
Summer/Fall, 1993, pp. 253-282.