Romantic and Gothic Literature Remain Popular

All things must change to something new, to something strange. – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Why Do Romanticism and the Gothic Continue to be Popular?

Oil painting of two men standing on a cliff, surrounded by lush forest

“Kindred Spirits” oil painting by Asher Durand, 1849

  • Romanticism focuses on the expression (pressing out) of strong emotions.  (Do they press into you?  Are you impressed?)
  • The Gothic focuses on secrets at the centers of things and is a subgenre of Romanticism with its own quirks and contingent (incidental, not necessary that they occurred) history.
  • Looking at the top few shows or novels–especially YA fiction–we see that Romanticism remains popular.  How come?
  • When reading science fiction, watch for the figuring of the secret.  When and how is the reveal put off?  How are your reading expectations foiled, adjusted, and even remade?
  • If we view science fiction as a sort of Romanticism, we can situate it.  It is both conventional and revolutionary, given to contradictions (science-based, possible vs. real).
  • Like readers of Romantic literature, we can feel like “the chosen few” or some in-group if we are “into it.”  For instance, I have read twenty Dune series novels amounting to thousands of pages of Frank-Herbert-inspired stuff.  Star Wars has over a hundred novels.
  • Any movement given to excess like Romanticism is going to have its contradictions and be easily caricatured and satirized.  Space Balls is a great example of this.

Key questions:

  • How can something be groundbreaking and part of a hundreds-year-old-movement?
  • How can something be called a movement if it is this broad?
  • What are the limitations to the self that science fiction explores?
  • How does the Gothic tie in?

I’ll end with this little in-class worksheet that students tend to like.  I’m leaving blank the text, since this is a sort of template to apply to any given text:

What did we say Gothic literature (1790-present) was like?

At first glance, you might not think that _______ is Gothic.  It’s not literally filled with death, there are no graveyards, and the boat isn’t literally a ghost ship!  Looking further at how this narrative includes Gothic elements, though, we can see it fits the structure aptly.

Definition of Gothic

Note this definition by Claire Kahane from The Mother Tongue: Essays in Psychoanalytic Interpretation from our talks about the Gothic:

Within an imprisoning structure, a protagonist, typically a young woman whose mother has died, is compelled to seek out the center of a mystery, while vague and usually sexual threats to her person from some powerful male figure hover on the periphery of her consciousness.  Following clues that pull her onward and inward—bloodstains, mysterious sounds—she penetrates the obscure recesses of a vast labyrinthean space and discovers a secret room sealed off by its association with death. (334)

Well, is _______ doing that “Gothic thing” in her story?  Kinda?  Sorta?  Let’s look at how she uses the pattern and innovates upon it.  Remember, when did we say that the Gothic got started?  Oh, that’s right, around 1790.  This is much later, but then again the Gothic is incredibly popular even today.