Conventions of the Gothic Part Two: People

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Unreliable Narrator

A narrator tells a story and determines the story's point of view. An unreliable narrator, however, does not understand the importance of a particular situation or makes an incorrect conclusion or assumption about an event that he/she witnesses.

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Villain - Hero (Satanic and Promethean)

The villain of a story who either:

  1. Poses as a hero at the beginning of the story or
  2. Simply possesses enough heroic characteristics (charisma, sympathetic past etc.) so that either the reader or the other characters see the villain - hero as more than a simple charlatan or bad guy

Three closely related types exist:

  • Satanic Hero: A Villain - Hero whose nefarious deeds and justifications of them make him a more interesting character than the rather bland good hero (EXAMPLE = The origin of this prototype comes from Romantic misreadings of Milton's Paradise Lost, whose Satan poets like Blake and Shelley regarded as a far more compelling figure than the moralistic God of Book III of the epic) (GOTHIC EXAMPLES = Frankenstein's creature, vampires)
  • Promethean Hero: A Villain - Hero who has done good but only by performing an overreaching or rebellious act. Prometheus from ancient Greek mythology saved mankind but only after stealing fire and ignoring Zeus' order that mankind should be kept in a state of subjugation. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is tellingly subtitled the "Modern Prometheus", suggesting that Frankenstein is this kind of hero.
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Villain - Hero (Byronic)

  • Byronic Hero: A later variation of the "antithetically mixed" Villain - Hero. Aristocratic, suave, moody, handsome, solitary, secretive, brilliant, cynical, sexually intriguing and nursing a secret wound, he is renowned because of his fatal attraction for female characters and readers and continues to occasion debate about gender issues. This darkly attractive and very conflicted male figure surfaces everywhere in the 19th and 20th century gothic

NB: Byron was described as "mad, bad and dangerous to know"

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The Pursued Protagonist

Refers to the idea of a pursuing force that relentlessly acts in a severely negative manner on a character. This persecution often implies the notion of some sort of a curse or other form of terminal and utterly unavoidable damnation, a notion that usually suggests a return to, or "hangover" of, traditional religious ideology to chastise the character for some real or imagined wrong against the moral order.

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The Outsider Part One

The one theme that cuts through virtually all Gothic is that of the "outsider", embodied in wanderers like Frankenstein's creature. The outsider, like Cain, moves along the edges of society, in caves, on lonely seacoasts, or in monasteries and convents. While the society at large always appears bourgeois in its culture and morality, the Gothic outsider is a counterforce driven by strange longings and destructive needs. While everyone else appears sane, he is insane; while everyone else appears bound by legalities, he is trying to snap the pitiless constrictions of the law; while everyone else seems to lack any peculiarities of taste or behavious, he feels only estrangement, sick longings, terrible surges of power and devastation. He is truly countercultural, an alternate force, almost mythical in his embodiment of the burdens and sins of society.

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The Outsider Part Two

Gothic fiction, as we have observed, is concerned with the outsider, whether the stationary figure who represses his difference, or the wandering figure who seeks for some kind of salvation, or else the individual who for whatever reason moves entirely outside the norm. In any event, he is beyond the moderating impulses in society, and he must be punished for his transgression. Frankenstein's monster obviously straddles these categories. He wanders through mountain areas of the far North, lurks in caves and caverns, in places no else dare go. He seeks a mate, a complement to his own loneliness. He is gloomy and melancholy, full of self-pity and self-hatred. Like Cain, he is the perpetual outsider, marked by his appearance, doomed to wander the four corners of the arth, alone and reviled. It may be argued that Frankenstein himself becomes an outsider as he grows more and more like his creation.

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The Distressed Heroine

Although Frankenstein is a text without a heroine, it does contain a number of important female characters, all of whom are in some way and at some time greatly distressed. They do not, however, as in other texts they could, overcome their distress with the help (or despite the hindrance) of the hero.

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