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review 2017-11-11 22:17
Excellent historical perspective on the genre
The Tale Of Terror: A Study Of The Gothic Fiction - Edith Birkhead

Disclosure:  I acquired a free Kindle edition of this public domain work.

 

Although a bit dry at times, Edith Birkhead's 1921 study of gothic fiction is still a valuable resource for anyone wishing to understand the evolution of the genre.  Her insights remain relevant even a century (almost) later.

 

She starts with Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto and moves forward into the novels of Mrs. Radcliffe, Matthew "Monk" Lewis, and others at the end of the eighteenth century.  The connections she makes between the authors and the books they read as well as the books they wrote was interesting.  Too often, literary analysts seem to assume the books write themselves and evolve one after the other without human intervention.

 

Many of the books and authors cited have of course been classics for a very long time, but others are less well known and less available even in this age of digitization.  It's going to be fun tracking down some of these unfamiliar titles.

 

One aspect I found particularly interesting, and again given that this was written nearly a hundred years ago, was that Ms. Birkhead recognized the integration of aspects of the gothic story into other genres of fiction, whether bringing elements of the supernatural into the mundane setting such as The Picture of Dorian Grey, or allowing natural fear and terror to heighten the reader's excitement and interest, as in The Prisoner of Zenda.

 

The edition I obtained is complete with footnotes and index, which will be very useful.

 

Recommended.

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text 2017-10-30 00:55
Reading progress update: I've read 53%. or When Technology hiccups and gives us a chuckle
The Tale Of Terror: A Study Of The Gothic Fiction - Edith Birkhead

Many of these public domain works have been republished using OCR scanners, which occasionally misread things.  There are supposed to be proofreaders, but I guess they aren't perfect, either.  I wouldn't have caught this one if I weren't simultaneously reading Northanger Abbey.

 

Nor is Catherine aided in her career by those "improbable events," so dear to romance, that serve to introduce a hero—a robber's attack, a tempest, or a carriage accident. With a sly glance at such dangerous characters as Lady Greystock in The Children of the Abbey (1798), Miss Austen creates the inert, but good-natured Mrs. Alien as Catherine's chaperone in Bath:

 

"It is now expedient to give some description of Mrs. Alien that the reader may be able to judge in what manner her actions will hereafter tend to promote the general distress of the work and how she will probably contribute to reduce poor Catherine to all the desperate wretchedness of which a last volume is capable, whether by her imprudence, vulgarity or jealousy—whether by intercepting her letters, ruining her character or turning her out of doors."

Birkhead, Edith. The Tale of Terror A Study of the Gothic Romance (p. 74). Kindle Edition.

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text 2017-10-29 21:44
Reading progress update: I've read 44%.
The Tale Of Terror: A Study Of The Gothic Fiction - Edith Birkhead

Godwin's peculiar interest was in criminal psychology, and he concentrates on the dramatic conflict between the murderer and the detective. An unusual turn is given to the story by the fact that the criminal is the pursuer instead of the pursued. Godwin intended later in life to write a romance based on the story of Eugene Aram, the philosophical murderer; and his careful notes on the scheme are said to have been utilised by his friend, Bulwer Lytton, in his novel of that name.[80] Caleb Williams helped to popularise the criminal in fiction, and Paul Clifford, the story of the chivalrous highwayman, is one of its literary descendants.

 

Birkhead, Edith. The Tale of Terror A Study of the Gothic Romance (p. 63). Kindle Edition.

 

"Godwin" here is William Godwin, who married Mary Wollstonecraft.  Their daughter, Mary Godwin, married Percy Bysshe Shelley.

 

Bulwer Lytton's novel Paul Clifford is famous -- or infamous -- for its opening line:

 

It was a dark and stormy night. . . . .

 

 

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text 2017-10-29 17:14
Reading progress update: I've read 40%.
The Tale Of Terror: A Study Of The Gothic Fiction - Edith Birkhead

One thing that's annoying me about this book is that the author often doesn't fully identify the authors of the works she's analyzing.  She only references them by last name.

 

What surprises me, however, is that many of them aren't even available through Project Gutenberg. 

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text 2017-10-28 00:20
Reading progress update: I've read 28%.
The Tale Of Terror: A Study Of The Gothic Fiction - Edith Birkhead

I'm feeling slightly lost because she discusses details of so many of the early books -- by Mrs. Radcliffe, by "Monk" Lewis, by Tobias Smollett, by Jacques Cazotte and others -- with the assumption that her reader has also read,  and is familiar with, them all.

 

But it's still a good analysis, and I'm enjoying her commentary.

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