20 May 2013

Analysis of Themes in the Gothic for the AQA Lit B English Exam A2: Entrapment, Imprisonment, Claustrophobia, Terror and Horror Ann Radcliffe


Entrapment, Imprisonment and Escape: Claustrophobia
It's every Gothic writer's favourite scenario: someone's trapped - either chained up, strapped down, or tucked away in some dank cell, castle, cellar or cloister. The physical entrapment and claustrophobia symbolises psychological limitation - of narrowness, or the confines of society, and the expectations of others. The physical claustrophobia symbolises the psychological limitations which cause mental pain.

Obviously, if the character is trapped by someone else - as in Carter's 'The Bloody Chamber' or Cathy's self-imposed exile to her room in Thrushcross Grange, in Wuthering Heights, then it's also about control and power.

If you're going to write about this, make sure you also pick up on the reverse: of release into wild, open spaces - as where the creature in Frankenstein escapes.


What's the Difference Between 'Terror' and 'Horror' and Also, Why Should I Care?
Because Ann Radcliffe wrote a very famous Essay called 'On the Supernatural in Poetry', and this is going to give you something to argue against in your Lit B exam, that's why. This is especially handy for any essay with 'supernatural', 'terror', 'horror', 'fear' or 'frightening' in the title.

And yes, I did say argue against. Quoting critics is nice, but a bit C-B grade(ish) if all you do is vomit up someone else's opinions onto the page.

So - Ann Radcliffe got fairly obsessed about the difference between these two words. To us mere humans, 'terror' and 'horror' may seem to mean the same thing, so here's the difference as explained by Radcliffe:

Terror 'expands the soul' (i.e. is good for you) and draws us closer to the 'sublime'. It creates uncertain apprehension (tension) that leads to a complex (therefore interesting) fear of strange and dreadful elements. Terror stimulates the imagination and often challenges intellectual reasoning to find a plausible explanation of this ambiguous fear and anxiety. Resolution of the terror provides a means of escape.

Horror is just scary. It ‘annihilates’ (utterly destroys) the soul.
Works of horror are crafted from a maze of alarmingly concrete imagery designed to induce fear, shock, revulsion, and disgust. Horror appeals to lower mental faculties, such as curiosity and voyeurism. Elements of horror render the reader incapable of resolution and subject the reader's mind to a state of inescapable confusion and chaos. The inability to intellectualize horror inflicts a sense of obscure despair.

It would be interesting to argue that in Angela Carter's works, she deliberately uses 'horror' according to Radcliffe's definition, and not 'terror'. Carter resists interpretation (hence 'inescapable confusion and chaos) and includes literal voyeurs (the Marquis in 'The Bloody Chamber') as well as making the reader into voyeurs as they enter his library, his books, his pictures.