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Terrible Beauty(05 Aug 2014)
By Ms Rachael Taylor
Let me introduce myself. I am Rachey, a relative newcomer to the Gothic research scene. My PhD doesn’t officially start until September at Newcastle University and I still find myself completely overjoyed that I finally have the opportunity to fulfil my lifetime’s ambition. Let’s see if I’m still saying that at the end of my first year!
I want to use this blog as a way of discussing my research with a wider audience. My thesis is currently entitled ‘“If you weren’t so good-looking, I should call you heartless”: Beautiful Monsters in fin-de-siècle Gothic fiction’. My interests and writing span across the Gothic in literature from the late eighteenth century to the present day. For instance, my MA dissertation was called ‘Borderlines and Boundaries: Masculine and Feminine Space in Gothic Fiction 1796-1806’. For me, each Gothic ‘era’ has its own individual message informed by the cultural context surrounding the Gothic texts published in each individual timeframe. I favour the historical and cultural approach over the psychoanalytical one, because ultimately it is culture which comes before psychoanalysis. For instance, how can there be a delusion about being, for example, Napoleon Bonaparte if Napoleon Bonaparte was not such a prominent figure in the culture in which he lived? However, psychoanalysis is important for revealing more about the mass mentality of a nation and its people rather than that of an individual; especially the monsters of a particular nation and those who behold them as such!
Although there have been monstrous characters in Gothic novels from their genesis in 1764, the fin-de-siècle period is arguably the epoch which has the most to say about monsters and beauty, due to the Aesthetic movement in art and literature, which pondered the nature of beauty for its own sake. While the idea of beauty during the Romantic period has been much studied, it seems to be focused solely on sublime landscapes and nature rather than on the person as exemplified by such publications as Edmund Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757). However, John Ruskin reworked Burke’s ideas during the Late Victorian period, and made it more relevant to the study of the beauty of the person and this is one of the many features that have always captivated me about Late Victorian Gothic fiction.
So, let us consider these beautiful Gothic monsters – they are often not the main characters of the Gothic texts that I intend to write about in my thesis. However, in my opinion, they are often the most intriguing. Take for example, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. While it is the Count who is the official ‘monster-in-chief’, he is not particularly aesthetically pleasing with his ‘high bridge of the thin nose and peculiarly arched nostrils; with lofty domed forehead’, ‘massive’ ‘eyebrows… almost meeting over the nose’ and ‘fixed and rather cruel-looking…’ ‘mouth’ containing ‘peculiarly sharp-looking white teeth.’ (Stoker, 2011: 20) I want to compare his appearance with that of Lucy Westenra, the flame-haired temptress of the text with three suitors asking for her hand in marriage in one day. It is her appetites that have made her so grotesque, and the more monstrous they turn out to be, the more beautiful she becomes. This is why, for me, Lucy will always be the more thought-provoking character in Stoker’s novel.
Not wanting to say too much in this post, I shall wrap up for now. Thanks for your reading time. Comments are welcome, but if you don’t want to post them here, I can be tweeted @BettyBlue168 or you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.