Is the Gothic a revolutionary or conservative genre? And why is this question misleading?

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rskardal eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with Amy-Lepore that gothic literature is usually revolutionary rather than conservative. If gothic fiction attempts to challenge our preconceptions and values, then it is revolutionary rather than conservative. The structure of a gothic tale is relevant in this case, I think. The climax of many gothic stories involves the defeat of the supernatural and often evil, suggesting that the forces of good, represented by our dearly held values, are triumphant. How conservative! However, many gothic tales end with the suggestion that something supernatural survived. We tend to think of this as an opening for sequels, but it may be that the story is suggesting that there are some things our values and worldview cannot defeat or tuck away.

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The question doesn't suggest that Gothic literature is both revolutionary and uses "or" to indicate that the asker is looking for a definitive one way or the other answer.   I would consider Gothic literature to be completely revolutionary...especially in the American Gothic where you have mostly the "Dark Romantics" like Poe who do follow the ideals of the Romantics...imagination, nature, love of the individual, the supernatural, etc...but they mostly focus on the darkness that is hidden in human nature bringing out inner good vs. evil conflicts, mental illness, serial killer mentality (The Tell-Tale Heart and The Cask of Amontillado for instance), and depression.

kwoo1213 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would not consider Gothic literature conservative by design, no.  Gothic literature often has twists, turns, and shocking content.  Are there conventions in Gothic literature, yes.  Things like spooky houses, mentally ill characters, dark places, etc., are all features of Gothic literature.  I'm not exactly sure what you are asking as far as why the question is misleading; however, I would say that different people have different ideas about what "revolutionary" and "conservative" mean, so you'll get many different opinions.

lit24 | Student

When the first Gothic  novel "The Castle of Otranto"(1764) was published it was considered to be 'revolutionary' because it rebelled against the 'Order' of The Age of Reason. Gothic literature had a profound impact on the Romantic poets who rebelled against the Neo-Classical style of writing. They were captivated  especially by the supernatural elements of the Gothic. Mary Shelley herself wrote "Frankenstein"(1818) a very famous Gothic novel.

Gothic literature is considered to be 'conservative' because it legitimizes the newly rich cpitalists. The hero of a Gothic novel belonged to the rich land owning class and inspite of all the troubles that he faced at the end of the novel he continued to maintain his superior status in terms of both political and economic power.

The question is paradoxical and misleading because how can a genre be both 'revolutionary' and 'conservative' at the same time?

erabene3 | Student

Thank you for your answer. I was on a totally different track:-).

I thought American Gothic is revolutionary in using the "home" as a new setting, while the English Gothic focusses on settings in wide landscapes and castles. Well, the "home" and domestic themes might also be conservative settings in Puritan America, but the combination with horror and madness might make it revolutionary. Henry James praised contemporary horrow literature in 1865 for being `connected at a hundred points with the common objects of life`.

What do you think? 

I found the question in one of the books I am reading, so I am not sure what is meant by "Why is this question misleading"?