Friday, 23 February 2007

Beautiful Man

This is a review I've written to submit to the student newspaper. I'd like to add two things further: If you're a hot-blooded female, go and watch Seth Lakeman's video of Lady of the Sea. And I feel kinda bad about being so mean about that first warm-up act. She just wasn't very good. I'm not a total bitch. Honest.

Seth Lakeman at Shepherd’s Bush Empire

You may well have noticed, at the start of a gig, that the venue is almost entirely empty. It fills up slowly during the first hour or two, as people creep in, assuming that the warm-up acts must be over by now.

I’ve always thought this was a great shame. I mean, come on, people, it’s free music! It’s an exciting chance to discover a new, little-known band who might just turn out to be one of your all-time favourites.

I must say, though, that the people who came slightly late to see Seth Lakeman at Shepherd’s Bush on the 20th February didn’t miss much. The first warm-up act was Christina Aguilera gone very wrong.

It wasn’t just that she was howling. She had this rather dated “country” image and sang folk songs, which really didn’t work well with the pop diva-esque hollering. It was a shame, as the guitar accompaniment was actually rather nice.

“Folk Christina,” as we termed her, treated us to what must have been a good forty-five minutes of the agonies of her soul. She then thanked us effusively, saying, “You just never want it to end.” Oh, but we did.

Then came Carus Thompson, who was literally hopping from one foot to another with a very infectious joy. He was rather like an Australian Tigger, and immensely likeable. He played the mouth organ and specialised in a sort of McFly-style feet-together bounce. He even managed audience participation without its falling flat on its face.

Seth was, of course, the main event, and he was certainly no disappointment. This is slightly irrelevant to the music, but I would just like to say: What a beautiful man. What a very beautiful man. As one besotted girl called out at the end of The Band of Gold, “I love you, Seth!”

He played a real variety of songs: everything from Kitty Jay, through the Freedom Fields tracks, to his latest stuff; a real mix of fast-paced, stomping fiddle-playing and soulful love ballads. There was something for everyone. He did, unfortunately, tend to dance either like a pigeon or a robot as he was playing, but we’ll forgive him for that because he’s Seth.

If you haven’t seen Seth Lakeman in concert yet, I very much recommend it. Just beware of any small screechy women he may happen to have tagging along.

Sunday, 18 February 2007


Read it. Now.

I don't care if you have to spend the money you'd normally spend on feeding yourself, or your children, or poor starved children with rickets and no lungs. I don't care if you have to spend the time you'd normally spend working, or sleeping, or saving the world from alien invasion. I don't care if it's the only thing you read, or the last thing you read. Just read the God damned book.

This is what poetry should do, what it can do. This is why I read poetry, why I write poetry and why I'm dedicating a huge chunk of my life and my self to poetry. Poetry is not about life; poetry is an integral part of life because it makes us see life for what it is. It makes us realise who we are and what we've experienced and what we're experiencing, while we bump around like big stupid boats, wholly insensible to what's going on both within and without.

Anyone who has been in love will adore this book. Even the cover's sublime.

Saturday, 17 February 2007

"I'd like to water my colt at your wine-spring..."

Having been sent home for Reading Week with orders to rest (long story), I can turn my attention to things in my life besides essays which have been somewhat neglected lately, ie. my writing, my friends and, of course, this blog. I wanted to do a Valentine's entry, which was impossible at the time, so I'm doing it now. Happy Valentine's Day.

I've never thought of the Vikings as a particularly romantic bunch. The little bits of Viking literature I've read have always been war, war, war, killing, drinking, silly names, more war, lots more war, etc. So I was quite surprised a few years ago when a friend, or "friend" of mine gave me a little Penguin book to borrow, entitled Two Viking Romances. When I thought about it, though, of course they'd have had romances. Any culture will have romance of some sort, because love is fairly universal. Furthermore, I read on the back that these are medieval romances, so then I started thinking courtly love and all that.

Boy, was I wrong. Never mind courtly love, these are not romances. This is typical Viking saga, except instead of war, war, war, war, war it's war, war, sex, war, war. It's also fairly hilarious. An extract:

In the evening they were shown to their beds, but as soon as the light had been put out, Bosi went over to the girl and lifted the bedclothes off her. She asked who was there, and Bosi told her.
"What do you want?" she asked.
"I'd like to water my colt at your wine-spring," he said.
"Do you think you can manage it, my lad?" she asked. "He's hardly used to a well like mine."
"I'll lead him right to the edge, then push him if there's no other way to make him drink," said Bosi.
"Where is your colt, sweetheart?" she asked.
"Between my legs, love," he said. "You can touch him, but do it gently, he's terribly shy."
She took hold of his prick, and stroked it and said, "It's a lively colt, though his neck is far too straight."
"His head isn't all that well set," agreed Bosi, "but his neck curves much better once he's had a drink."
"Well, it's all up to you now," she said.
"Lie as open as you can," said Bosi, "and keep calm."
Then he watered his colt generously, completely immersing him. This pleased the girl so much she was hardly able to speak. "Are you sure you're not drowning the colt?" she asked.
"He has to be given all he can possibly take," said Bosi, "he often gives me a lot of trouble when he isn't allowed to drink his fill."
Bosi kept at it for as long as he wanted, then took a rest. The girl was wondering where all the fluid between her legs had come from, for the whole bed was lathering under her.
"Could it be that your colt's drunk more than was good for him," she asked, "and then vomited up more than he's drunk?"
"Something's the matter with him," said Bosi, "he's as soft as a lung."
"He's probably ale-sick," she said, "like any drunkard."
"Could be," he said.
So they entertained themselves to their satisfaction, the girl being now under him and now on top. She said she'd never ridden a more even-paced colt than this.
After many an entertaining turn, she asked him who he was. He told her and in turn asked her what was the latest news in the land. The very latest news, she replied, was that the brother Siggeir and Hraerek had got back the King's sister, Hleid, from Gotaland and killed Hring.

Not only is the sex loveless and, let's face it, fairly crude, and not only is it only a brief interlude in a very bloody war saga, but it's also only a means to an end. It's actually a war tactic: Bosi gets a whole lot more of this information from the girl, the girl so important that she's nameless, then goes and uses it to his advantage. I can't think of anything more unromantic. But very entertaining, I'll admit - they came up with some wonderfully creative extended metaphors for sex.

The men in Viking "romance" are all out for military victory, and the women are all out for jewellery. A somewhat cynical view, but, considering the absence of post in my pigeon hole this week, one that I'm quite tempted to adopt.

Sunday, 11 February 2007

Busy Bunny

This is several hundred words short, but I really can't afford to faff about with it now. Every fibre of my being is screaming in indignation as I type that. I'm one of these people who has to do everything 110%, to the absolute possible best standard I'm capable of. So it's hard to stop and say, "That's enough," when it isn't either perfect or as near to perfect as I can humanly manage. But time and sense demand it in this case. I have three essays in this week, on top of my usual work, two on the same day, and one in French.

French? I don't even do French. Again, it was me thinking Sure, I can do a whole extra module. Translation: Must. Over. Achieve. At. All. Costs. No, to be fair, I do love the French language. I want to be able to read French literature easily, so I have a whole new wealth of culture at my fingertips. A modern language is a good and useful thing to have, especially when I love going to France so much. But I had no idea the course would be this intense. It's a lot of work, and it's very difficult. I'm in way above my ability level. I have a GCSE from two and a half years ago. Some people in my class are almost fluent. I did my wonderful sobbing-unexpectedly-in-public act on Wednesday, which absolutely baffled the poor teacher. We talked about my quitting. It would show up on my paper as a course incomplete. Plus I'm too bloody-minded and stubborn. I'm good at French. I may know fuck all, but I have a knack for languages, and I'll get there.

Anyway, here's my delightful essay on Greek archaeology. Now, does anyone know anything about Victorian poetry?

What are the typical characteristics of Protogeometric pottery? Why is pottery very important for our knowledge of the period?

Before examining the characteristics of Protogeometric pottery in detail, it will be helpful to consider its background. Folsom tells us that it was “widespread, being made in Attica, the Peloponnese, Boeotia, probably the Ionian Islands, the Cyclades, Rhodes, and Cos; it was also made in Thessaly and Macedonia;”[1] and also that it dates from 1050 – 900 B.C.[2] Around 1050 B.C., “there was a clear break from the preceding Mycenean with its curving lines and stylised floral decoration, towards formal geometric designs.”[3] It is interesting to consider why this may have been. Lane[4] and Lacy[5] argue that the change from Mycenean to Protogeometric pottery was caused mainly by the Peloponnesian war, in which the Dorian camp (including Sparta) invaded the Ionian camp (including Athens). Lacy claims that the earliest indicator of Protogeometric pottery that we have is the debris left by the invaders.[6]

Perhaps the most obvious characteristics of Protogeometric pottery are those relating to its decoration. Biers describes two systems of decoration: the “clay-ground technique,” in which dark designs were painted on light clay, and the “dark-ground technique,” in which the pot was covered in black glaze paint and the designs painted on in reserved bands.”[7] Folsom is more specific in that he claims that it was generally the larger pots which were light in background, and that the emphasis was first on the shoulder and the field between the handles, and later on the main body of the pot. [8] Folsom also goes into some detail on the kinds of patterns that appeared: “compass-drawn concentric circles or semi-circles with or without a central dot or solid core; lozenges (diamonds), chequers, hourglasses, swastikas, triangles, and vertical zig-zags in one or more horizontal bands, cross-hatched or solid designs,” and the occasional silhouette of a horse.[9]

The Protogeometric style also has its own characteristic shapes. Biers writes that there are fourteen different shapes of Protogeometric pottery, most of which are continuations of Mycenean forms. However, there are significant changes: “A few of the older shapes disappear, such as the stirrup jar and the remaining ones, such as the amphoras… are often taller and more slender.”[10] Biers writes of four different types of amphora, classified by the placement of their handles: from shoulder to neck, shoulder to lip, on the shoulder and on the belly. These amphoras held ashes in graves, since cremation had taken over from burial in Attica by this time. There was also the trefoil-mouthed oinochoai, lekythoi and hydriai.[11] Biers claims that the bowls and drinking cups of this time were unique to the Protogeometric period,[12] but Lacy claims that the cups were also found in Mycenean times. [13] It is difficult to judge, in this case, whose argument is the strongest, as neither provide the evidence on which they base their theory. However, as Biers was writing thirty years after Lacy, we can assume that he had access to more up-to-date evidence and a greater number of excavations from which to draw his conclusions.

It is important to consider that the features of Protogeometric pottery vary according to where the pots were made. Folsom goes into this in some detail, describing Laconian, Cycladic and East Greek Protogeometric pottery, with each having its “local variations.”[14] Laconian Protogeometric pottery tends to have a metallic sheen, and a pattern of cross-hatched triangles and narrow panels. The Laconians specialised in cups, oinochoai and small hydrai, usually with high conical feet and rims.[15] Cycladic Protogeometric pottery tends to be patterned with a “linking of grouped circles by bands of zig-zags or straight lines, and pendant concentric semi-circles.”[16] East Greek Protogeometric pottery, however, has an excess of latticing, but shares the linking of grouped circles.[17]

Scholars believe that the features of Protogeometric pottery strongly suggest advances in technology. For example, Biers believes that it may have been the adoption of a faster wheel which led to the taller, slender amphoras, and positively asserts that, at this time, the fast wheel, compass and multiple brush were introduced.[18] Folsom, too, writes that Protogeometric pots were “made by hand on a rapid wheel”[19] and that the circles and semi-circles were “compass-drawn.”[20] The “multiple brush” of which Biers speaks is described by Myers as “a pair of compasses fitted with a row of small brushes.”[21] Desborough believed that, because of these technical innovations being so central to Protogeometric pottery, it must have begun in Athens, the centre of such developments.[22] This contrasts with Skeat’s view, published nearly ten years earlier, that the style originated in Macedonia.[23] Eiteljorg, however, rejects completely the argument that Protogeometric pottery was reliant upon these advancements in technology. He argues that wheel speed did not affect the change from Mycenean to Protogeometric vase shapes, and the multiple brush could not have been used on these vase shapes at all.[24]

This discussion is an example of how vital pottery is to our knowledge of this period. Here the tools with which the pottery was made and decorated can help us to determine the location of the origin of the Protogeometric style. Papadopoulos, Vedder and Schreiber write that these tools, specifically the multiple-brush, have also greatly shaped “ideas about the movements of people and ideas of one country over another.”[25] Fragments of the pottery itself also do this, just as Lacy claims that we can determine the reason for the emergence of the Protogeometric style by examining the debris left by Dorian invaders.[26] Pottery is also a “primary time index” for archaeologists,[27] and it is possible, having dated pottery, to date other objects found in the same soil layer to a similar period. Additionally, pottery is both a work of art and a utility, so it gives us information both about the cultural and aesthetic movements of the time, and everyday life. It also enables us to track continuity and change throughout the period.

In conclusion, as Biers writes: “the Protogeometric is a sober style showing a close relationship between the potter and the painter: the painter always strove to emphasise the shape of the pot.”[28] The painted patterns are varied but simple, and Biers claims that, because of its simplicity, the Protogeometric style “evolved easily and quickly into the somewhat harsher and stiffer Geometric style.”[29] Folsom describes the Geometric style as “characterised by monotone dark browns and blacks against a lighter background almost completely covered by abstract geometric designs” and occasionally human or animal figures in silhouette.[30] It is obvious, then, that the Geometric retained many characteristics of the Protogeometric style, and so, in a sense, many Protogeometric characteristics survived their own period in ancient Greek pottery.


Biers, W. R. (1996) The Archaeology of Greece, Ithaca and London.
Eiteljorg, H. (1980) “The Fast Wheel, The Multiple-Brush Compass and Athens as Home of the Protogeometric Style,” AJA 84, 445-452.
Folsom, R. S. (1967) Handbook of Greek Pottery, London.
Lacy, A. D. (1967) Greek Pottery in the Bronze Age, London and Frome.
Lane, A. (1948) Greek Pottery, London.
Papadopoulos, K., Vedder, J. F. and Schreiber, T. (1998) “Drawing Circles: Experimental Archaeology and the Multiple Pivoted Brush,” AJA 102, 507-529.

[1] Folsom, Handbook of Greek Pottery, p. 53
[2] Folsom, Handbook of Greek Pottery, p. 27
[3] Folsom, Handbook of Greek Pottery, p. 21
[4] Lane, Greek Pottery, p. 23
[5] Lacy, Greek Pottery in the Bronze Age, p. 286
[6] Ibid.
[7] Biers, The Archaeology of Greece, p. 106
[8] Folsom, Handbook of Greek Pottery, p. 53
[9] Folsom, Handbook of Greek Pottery, p. 53-4
[10] Biers, The Archaeology of Greece, p. 106
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Lacy, Greek Pottery in the Bronze Age, p. 171
[14] Folsom, Handbook of Greek Pottery, p. 109-111
[15] Folsom, Handbook of Greek Pottery, p. 109
[16] Folsom, Handbook of Greek Pottery, p. 111
[17] Ibid.
[18] Biers, The Archaeology of Greece, p. 106
[19] Folsom, Handbook of Greek Pottery, p. 54
[20] Folsom, Handbook of Greek Pottery, p. 27
[21] Papadopoulos, Vedder and Schreiber AJA 102, p. 510, citing John Myres, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1910
[22] Papadopoulos, Vedder and Schreiber, AJA 102, p. 510, citing Desborough, Protogeometric Pottery, 1952
[23] Papadopoulos, Vedder and Schreiber, AJA 102, p. 510, citing Skeat, The Dorians in Archaeology, 1943
[24] Harrison Eiteljorg II, American Journal of Archaeology, p. 445
[25] Papadopoulos, Vedder and Schreiber, AJA 102, p. 510
[26] Lacy, Greek Pottery in the Bronze Age, p. 286
[27] Biers, The Archaeology of Greece, p. 16
[28] Biers, The Archaeology of Greece, p. 106
[29] Ibid.
[30] Folsom, Handbook of Greek Pottery, p. 21

Saturday, 10 February 2007

Raging Tuba

"Not all poems are obviously melodramatic - some are very, very quiet - but even what seem the quiet ones contain drama and action, color. Emily Dickinson, for instance, is not a quiet little piccolo. She's a trombone. She's a tuba. Emily Dickinson is a raging tuba!"
~ Gerald Stern

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Mr Deity

Thanks to Rachel's blog I've discovered the Mr Deity videos. Had to share. It's just a big giggle at Christian theology in general. Not to be taken too seriously :o)

Sunday, 4 February 2007

My New Crush

His name is Caspar David Friedrich.

In a lecture on Ann Radcliffe's The Italian last week, we looked at some art work which demonstrates the sublime. I liked it all, but Friedrich's paintings are just... well, sublime is the word.

This one's called A Monastery Graveyard in the Snow, 1819. It comprises so many of my favourite things: trees, graveyards, snow, ruins and ecclesiastical architecture. It makes my soul happy. Friedrich has a bit of a thing about snow, looking at some of his other paintings, and so do I. I love the way snow sits on things, like a bright white shadow, a shadow in reverse. And how clean it looks. And how it makes anywhere look uninhabited. The graves and trees themselves look like an extension of the ruin. Or like a Gothic church of a different sort, built by nature over time, with the gnarled trees as imposing as any gargoyles. It gives a very specific presentation of God, if God is represented by the Church. The deadness. God is dead? The Church is dead? I don't know. I'm no good at reading stuff into paintings. I just like the wonderful tingly feeling they give me, and I like pretending I'm inside them, just like when the jump into the pictures in Mary Poppins.

This is called The Polar Sea, 1823. I love this one because it's so beautiful and terrible at the same time. A lot of his work is, in fact. But there's such a cruelty in this one, with the jagged edges, and the destruction, and you can almost feel how cold it is. Sunshine is normally portrayed as such a happy, smiley sort of thing, but this light is cold and clear and sharp and sort of brutal.

This is Two Men Looking at the Moon, 1819. Winter trees again. I don't know why they have such an effect on me, but I shall be quite sad when spring comes around this year. Those two men, though - they achieve the rare thing of being alone and together at the same time. I think when you can enjoy solitude with somebody else, that's something really special. And here's the moon, another one of my favourite things. Because of the 28-day cycle, I've always associated it with fertility and womanhood, and all the things I love about being a woman. The moon here looks a bit like a sun, and it looks like they're looking at it with hope. Which is such a rare way to present the moon, as it's normally associated with the dead of night and thus often it can be a bit morbid. And incidentally, I want a cloak like that, but longer.

This concludes our tour of Laura's Imaginary Art Gallery. Enjoy the rest of your stay here in her head, and don't drink the water.

Friday, 2 February 2007

4am and I've finished the bugger!

The distinctive features of the Gothic may be defined as a series of strategies – partly revelatory, partly evasive – for dealing with tabooed material. Discuss with reference to one or more novels of the period.

“The Gothic” in art and culture has many manifestations, but this essay will be concerned with the Gothic novel, which was at its height in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. I will be using, as a point of reference, The Italian by Ann Radcliffe, who is described in The Concise Oxford Companion to English Literature as the “leading practitioner” in the genre.[1] I intend to explore the distinctive features of the Gothic in relation to this question by seeking definitions for both the Gothic and taboo, by examining how the novel is narrated and also by seeking other features of the Gothic which are not mentioned.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms writes of the Gothic novel as being “a story of terror and suspense,”[2] and terror and suspense in literature are indeed partly achieved by strategies of narration which involve a combination of revelation and evasion. Graham claims that “the principal source of terror is ignorance,”[3] but I would argue that the principal source of terror is actually partial knowledge: the knowledge of something fearful and yet the absence of knowledge of its particulars, its extent or how to prepare for it. Radcliffe makes ample use of this in The Italian. She tells us that Marchesa began “inducing him (Schedoni) to believe that she had relinquished all further design against Ellena,” (p. 345) thus informing us that the Marchesa is plotting without telling us what it is that she is plotting. Similarly, Olivia says to Ellena: “Imagination cannot draw the horrors of – But, my sister, let me repeat that I would save you!” (p. 113) This is a typical example of Radcliffe’s employing both revelation and evasion, with Olivia’s interrupting herself because of her reluctance to speak. This technique is applied throughout the novel, not just in dealing with tabooed material, and so I would argue that its principal function is creating narrative tension and instilling fear into the reader.

One aspect of the novel in which this technique is most apparent is that of what Miles terms “the explained supernatural.”[4] Vivaldi suspects he is encountering supernatural forces throughout: “Nor did these particular circumstances accord, as he was inclined to believe, with the manner of a being of this world” (p. 367), but Radcliffe always provides a rational explanation eventually. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms contrasts this with other Gothic writers who, “like M. G. Lewis in The Monk (1796), made free use of ghosts and demons along with scenes of cruelty and horror.” It then goes on to point out that the term “Gothic” was originally applied to medieval architecture and thus associated with superstition.[5] Superstition, then, is a fundamental aspect of the Gothic novel and it naturally lends itself to narrative techniques of revelation and evasion.

The supernatural is also, of course, itself a taboo. The Oxford Dictionary of English Literature defines a taboo as something “prohibited or restricted by social custom.”[6] It is therefore a social construct, with a specific function. Firth wrote that this function was social control, while Douglas saw it as “a social marker, creating and maintaining social classifications.”[7] A Dictionary of Sociology claims that the most “famous” taboo is that of incest, and that, according to Freud and Lévi-Strauss, “society itself originated with the incest taboo.”[8] If incest is such a fundamental taboo and taboo is such a fundamental aspect of the Gothic, it is curious that incest should be so absent from The Italian. Miles does point out, however, that Schedoni’s possession of his sister-in-law is “a kind of incest.”[9] Moreover a single definition of taboo may not be adequate. It is worth considering that the word “taboo” derives from the Tongan ‘tabu,’ which means ‘sacred’ or ‘inviolable.’[10] For this reason, The Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language provides quite a different definition: “In language terms, something taboo is not to be mentioned, because it is ineffably holy or unspeakably vulgar.”[11] Taboo, then, can apply to the religious as well as to the socially unacceptable.

Religious taboos abound in The Italian. Graham describes the novel as being almost a work of “anti-Catholic propaganda,”[12] and this view is certainly justified when one considers the presentation of the clergy and the Inquisition. Anti-Catholic propaganda published in a Protestant country would not necessarily be a taboo, but at times it seems that Radcliffe’s implied criticisms are not confined to the Catholic Church but extend to Christianity in general. “Barbarity of penance,” which in The Italian displays Schedoni’s pride (p. 262) is not exclusively Catholic, nor are “fierce ecclesiastics” whose behaviour contradicts the principles of Christianity (p. 347). The previous statement shows, however, that Radcliffe is not opposed to Christianity itself but rather to those within the Church who misuse it. Indeed, she provides two key examples of true religion as something undoubtedly positive with the characters of Olivia, whose “blue eyes were raised towards heaven, with such meek, yet fervent love, such sublime enthusiasm” (p. 102), and the abbess of the Santa della Pietà, whose religion is described as “neither gloomy nor bigoted; it was the sentiment of a grateful heart offering itself up to a Deity” (p. 347). Additionally, at San Stefano, Ellena finds that “the exercises of devotion seemed frequently to recal her fleeting spirits, and to elevate them with hope and courage” (p. 107). It is interesting to note that Radcliffe claims that it is the devotionals themselves which comfort Ellena, rather than the interference of God. The ambiguity about Radcliffe’s own beliefs is also apparent when the Marchesa sees “God hears thee!” on inscription over a confessional. Radcliffe writes that “it seemed to her an awful warning” (p. 205) but does not specify whether this is due to the Marchesa’s guilty conscience or whether it is truly a sign from God. It is possible that Radcliffe was disguising her own scepticism, at a time when she would have been criticised for expressing disbelief in Christian doctrine. In a sense, then, the religious taboos in the novel blend with the taboos of the society in which Radcliffe was writing.

However, the Gothic is not limited to tabooed material. The Gothic, like taboo, is not easy to define: it has many facets, and it would not be possible to explain all of them in an essay of this length. Miles briefly lists some of the “staple ingredients” thus: “a menacing castle; a villain; incest (near); rape (threatened); a ghost; labyrinths; plenty of ‘gloomth;’ a tyrannical father; an ineffectual mother; a scheming Catholic; and a happy couple.”[13] In The Italian, we clearly have the villain, the near incest, labyrinths, ‘gloomth,’ the scheming Catholic and the happy couple. The castle is missing but the theme of imprisonment remains intact; the rape is wholly absent; the ghost likewise but Vivaldi often thinks himself to be encountering ghosts; and the tyrannical father/ineffectual mother are replaced by a very tyrannical mother and less tyrannical father. The Concise Oxford Companion to English Literature emphasises the importance of “enclosed and haunted settings such as castles, crypts, convents, or gloomy mansions, in images of ruin and decay, and in episodes of imprisonment, cruelty, and persecution.”[14] Here The Italian is a classic example, with the ruin of the home of Baróne di Cambrusca, the convent at San Stefano and the Inquisition itself, with its “subterranean chambers” and “dimly lighted” passages (p. 358). It is clear, then, both that The Italian conforms to the genre of the Gothic novel, and that the genre is a flexible one.

In conclusion, then, the Gothic novel’s distinctive features are not limited to narrative strategies and tabooed material. The Gothic genre comprises all of the above and more, for example Spencer notes an emphasis on “the heroine’s mind.”[15] She goes on to say that “women are always represented as persecuted, deprived of power, and imprisoned, yet the places which confine them also protect them too. The heroine escapes from imprisonment into a natural world that symbolises her own free nature, the spiritual freedom which she maintains under physical oppression.”[16] This leads to another regular feature of the Gothic novel: that of dramatic scenery, and the effect that nature has on characters. In The Italian, Ellena’s mind is “capable of being highly elevated, or sweetly soothed, by scenes of nature” (p. 106). Strategies of revelation and evasion in narration are indeed features of the Gothic novel, as is tabooed material. However, the narrative techniques not only deal with the taboo is a manner acceptable to an eighteenth or nineteenth century audience, but create much of the fear and suspense which is so central to a Gothic novel.

Word count: 1436


Radcliffe, A. The Italian, (London: Penguin Books, 2004)
Graham, K. Gothic Fictions: Prohibition/Transgression, (New York: AMS Press, 1989)
Konigsberg, I. Narrative Techniques in the English Novel – Defoe to Austen, (Conneticut: Archen Books, 1985)
Spencer, J. The Rise of the Woman Novelist from Aphra Behn to Jane Austen, (Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd., 1986)
Tompkins, J. M S. “The Gothic Romance” in The Gothick Novel, ed. Victor Sage (Hampshire and London: Macmillan Press, 1990), p. 87-99

"Gothic fiction" The Concise Oxford Companion to English Literature. Ed. Margaret Drabble and Jenny Stringer, Oxford Reference Online. (
"Gothic novel" The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. Christopher Baldick, Oxford Reference Online. (
"Taboo" A Dictionary of Sociology. John Scott and Gordon Marshall, Oxford Reference Online. (
"Taboo" The Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language, Ed. Tom McArthur, Oxford Reference Online. (
"Taboo" The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. Ed. John Bowker, Oxford Reference Online. (
"taboo” The Oxford Dictionary of English (revised edition). Ed. Catherine Soanes and Angus Stevenson, Oxford Reference Online. (

[1] "Gothic fiction," The Concise Oxford Companion to English Literature. Ed. Margaret Drabble and Jenny Stringer, Oxford Reference Online
[2] "Gothic novel" The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms, Christopher Baldick, Oxford Reference Online. (
[3] Kenneth W. Graham, Gothic Fictions: Prohibition/Transgression (New York: AMS Press, 1989)
[4] Robert Miles, ‘Introduction,’ in The Italian (London: Penguin Books, 2004), p. xxvii
[5] "Gothic novel," The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms
[6] "taboo” The Oxford Dictionary of English (revised edition). Ed. Catherine Soanes and Angus Stevenson. Oxford Reference Online. (
[7] "taboo" A Dictionary of Sociology. John Scott and Gordon Marshall. Oxford Reference Online. (
[8] “taboo,” A Dictionary of Sociology
[9] Miles, ‘Introduction,’ p. xxviii
[10] “taboo,” A Dictionary of Sociology
[11] "taboo" Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. Ed. Tom McArthur. Oxford Reference Online. (
[12] Graham, Gothic Fictions: Prohibition/Transgression, p. 6
[13] Miles, ‘Introduction,’ p. vii
[14] "Gothic fiction," The Concise Oxford Companion to English Literature
[15] Jane Spencer, The Rise of the Woman Novelist from Aphra Behn to Jane Austen (Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd, 1986), p. 193
[16] Spencer, The Rise of the Woman Novelist from Aphra Behn to Jane Austen, p. 194