Why do you think the Gothic element was so attractive to Romantic writers such as Irving, Poe, and Hawthorne?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Gothic horror was a sub-genre of Romanticism, as the Romantic movement sought to reverse the Enlightenment's focus on reason and emphasized sensation and emotion instead. The Gothic element, with its emphasis on suspense, horror, and the supernatural, was designed to provoke sensation and emotion in the reader and to confront the reader with elements of the supernatural that defied reason. Irving, Poe, and Hawthorne, among other Romantic writers, found this element attractive because it could provoke a strong sensation in their readers.

Irving featured Gothic elements in works such as "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," in which the Headless Horseman haunts the mystery-infused Hudson Valley, shrouded with mist and the supernatural. The Hudson is also the setting of Irving's story "Rip Van Winkle," in which Rip, a character modeled on the simple village dweller who was a staple of folklore, falls into a twenty-year sleep after meeting Henry Hudson's men. Irving's stories are Romantic in that they feature dark, gloomy natural scenes and supernatural elements that are designed to provoke a sensation of mystery and imagination in the reader.

Poe's stories also confront the reader with situations that are contrary to reason. For example, in "The Cask of Amontillado," the narrator, Montresor, descends deeper and deeper into a wine vault until he buries his nemesis in a crypt. This type of tale is contrary to the force of reason and again presents the reader with chilling sensations and a sense of doom.

Finally, Hawthorne's tales, such as "The Birthmark," show the limits of science. In contrast to the Enlightenment, which focused on science and scientific laws, this story is about a scientist who goes awry. Aylmer, the scientist, removes his wife's one flaw--her birthmark--but kills her in the process. His search for scientific perfection is misguided, which is a Romantic idea that goes against the belief in reason presented by the Enlightenment. Hawthorne's Gothic elements provide a sense of suspense and thrill in the reader.

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Another reason the Gothic was so attractive to some Romantic writers is that it allowed them to explore the darker side of human nature and our common fears.  Instead of focusing on the sunnier side of Romanticism, with its focus on the sublime, nature, beauty, and love, the Gothic focuses on the things that scare us and the things that worry us in the middle of the night.  Poe, for example, can show us a man who claims to be perfectly sane but who murders an old man because he does not like the old man's "vulture eye"; in reality, the murderer seems to fear the eye because it reminds him of his own mortality and the inevitability of death.  Hawthorne can show us a man who gives in to temptation and meets the devil in the forest. Even though he eventually decides to return to his faith, he finds that it is too late. He has lost his faith forever.  Irving can show us a teacher who exploits his students' families and attempts to manipulate a young woman to raise his social status.  If these authors only focused on the brighter elements of our natures, these darker aspects of ourselves would remain unexplored.