Gothic Literature Historical Context

Historical Context

The Enlightenment
Many historians and scholars attribute the rise of the Gothic as a response to the prevailing mode of rational thought and reason. Indeed, eighteenthcentury thought was dominated by an intellectual movement called the enlightenment by later historians. Enlightenment philosophers and writers privileged reason and human understanding above emotions and feelings. Furthermore, the rise of experimental science during this period offered an empirical model for how one could arrive at truth.

A secular movement, the Enlightenment strove to demonstrate that knowledge could only be derived from science and natural philosophy, not from religion. Indeed, religion and spirituality, particularly Catholicism, were relegated to the realm of the “irrational.” Enlightenment philosophers steadfastly believed that only through attention to rationality, reason, and balance could humankind improve. The thinkers of the Enlightenment looked for their models to the classical period of Greece and Rome, rejecting what they saw as the “barbarism” of the medieval period.

As the eighteenth century waned, however, growing numbers of thinkers and writers began to rebel against the rationality of the Enlightenment and to produce works that privileged the irrational, emotional responses and feelings, and the uncanny. They argued that truth could not be derived from pure thought but rather could be approached through the senses. In particular, Gothic literature, art, and architecture revolted against the strict rationality of the Enlightenment. Gothic writers looked to the Middle Ages for their models. While some scholars see the rise of the Gothic as a response to the Enlightenment, there are others who argue that the Gothic is an essential part of the Enlightenment, with the Gothic providing the mirror image of the Enlightenment. In either regard, the two movements are inextricably linked in the study of the eighteenth century.

The Age of Revolutions
A second major influence on the rise of the Gothic was the military and political situation in North America and Europe. The late eighteenth century was a time of revolt and violence. In North America, the thirteen English colonies banded together and fought for independence from England. The first bloodshed of the war was at the battles of Concord and Lexington in April of 1775. In July 1776, the delegates of the First Continental...

(The entire section is 994 words.)