AQA LITB3 Practice essay – Gothic and the past

I haven’t posted in a little while, mainly because I was doing slightly more intense revise in preparation for mock week at college, but I’m back doing notes and practice essays now, so I thought I’d post this one! This isn’t a past paper question per se, but it’s a question that my teacher came up with for one of the other A2 literature classes. I decided to do it as a bit of practice to see how well I could unpick and debate the question thoroughly without the aid of a mark scheme!! Apparently the stuff on TLOTHOL is top of band 6, but the stuff on The Werewolf is a weaker, so that did even out the grade this received.


‘In her stories, Carter’s main priority is to expose the threatening and irrational nature of the past.’ To what extent do you agree with this view?

In ‘The Bloody Chamber,’ Carter explores the relationship between modernity and ancient superstition, and effectively, she finds both the myth in modern subjects and the modernity of fairytales. In ‘The Lady Of The House Of Love,’ not only does Carter base the characterisation of the Vampirella on Romanian folklore of the past, but she also presents the threatening intent of her supernatural ancestors. However, due to the malign control that the ancestors exert on the Vampirella, it could be perceived that Carter’s main priority is actually to expose the nature of the past to be not merely threatening, but physically dangerous. Though Carter does criticise the destructive capabilities of a present that has already been preordained, by presenting irrational fears to the reader, she fundamentally suggests that a more rational fear of the present is much more disquieting. Similarly, Carter furthers this view in ‘The Werewolf,’ a story that also echoes folklore, where inherited and irrational superstitions are exploited as a means of survival. Ultimately, we are left with the suggestion that our true anxieties should remain in the present and the future.

In ‘The Lady Of The House Of Love,’ though Carter depicts the ancestors of the Vampirella to be both threatening and irrational influences of the past, it is evident that they are not exclusively just ‘threatening,’ but actively destructive. The use of free-indirect discourse in the narrative voice that exclaims ‘Vous sere ma proie’ mimics the sentiment that the Vampirella ‘does not possess herself’ and that through her, the sinister and ‘baleful, posthumous existence’ of the past lives on. Due to the fact that she is controlled by her ‘demented and atrocious’ predecessors, despite her ‘own horrible reluctance,’ perhaps Carter simply manoeuvres the conventions of irrational folklore symbolically and as a mode by which she can expose the past to be both oppressive and detrimental to those in the present.

Equally, through the characterisation of the ‘rational’ soldier, who escapes the ‘annihilation’ of the Vampirella and her ancestors, Carter clearly exposes the nature of the past to be merely threatening and irrational, which, in turn, critiques the human tendency towards irrational thought.  The young man’s ‘fundamental disbelief’ of superstition and the make-believe threats of ‘the timeless Gothic eternity of the Vampires’ is, ironically, his ‘protection’ against their harm. Carter manipulates the narrative structure in order to deceive the reader into a false sense of fear as we are told of the Vampirella’s predatory nature and her ‘teeth [that] have been sharpened on centuries of corpses,’ leading to the belief that the soldier will, in fact, die at her ‘fatal embrace’, despite the fact we are explicitly told that he is destined to die in the ‘trenches’ of war. Thus, the folkloric allusion to the Vampirella as a descendent of ‘Nosferatu’ and the recognition that ‘it is folly to believe one’s eyes’ implies the notion that Carter’s main priority is, in fact, to critique our irrational fears of the past to expose the notion that the present is much more horrifying. However, through her use of equivocation, as Carter presents the Vampirella as intrinsically linked to warfare, her role as the ‘hereditary commandant of the army of shadows’ does put to question whether or not the soldier dies in the conflict of war. As the soldier is abandoned by his bicycle, a symbol of ‘rationality’ as he enters the setting of the Chateau, then perhaps our fears of his death at the hands of the Vampirella and her ancestors are not entirely unfounded. The denouement itself is an ambiguous ‘no-man’s land,’ and as the soldier is greeted ominously by ‘the heavy fragrance of Nosferatu’s roses’ in the barracks, the reader is left with the implication that his death in ‘the trenches’ does actually come as the result of supernatural intervention. This view is furthered by the use of structural parallelism, as the imagery used to describe the ‘corrupt’ and ‘baleful’ rose links to that used to illustrate the Vampirella’s ancestors, inferring that the young man has not escaped their hold. Though this leads to a more irrational mode of thought, posing that the ‘special exemplary fate’ of the soldier comes from the ‘vindictive inhabitants’ of the past, it is more likely that by ending the story ambiguously, wherein the acts of human conflict are effectively on par with those of ‘corrupt’ and fictional vampires, then the view that Carter exposes the malevolence of humanity is reaffirmed.

Similarly, in ‘The Werewolf,’ through the protagonist of the story, who is deceptively labelled as a ‘good child,’ Carter depicts not the threatening and irrational nature of the future, but the sinister and ruthless nature of the future generations. The exposition of the story presents a society both impoverished and based on folklore – the asyndeton of the ‘cold; tempest’ weather within the setting immediately creates a harsh and foreboding atmosphere, and one that certainly proves difficult for the continuation of the ‘harsh, brief, poor lives’ of its inhabitants. Outwardly, the denouement appears to be the ‘happy ending’ characteristic of a fairytale, as the protagonist prevails in such adverse circumstances, yet, it is more likely that its laconic tone is more chilling than it is satisfying. It could be interpreted that perhaps the child exploits the universal and irrational beliefs that ‘the devil is as real as you or I’ and of the ‘discover[y of] witch[es],’ to allow her own grandmother to ‘[fester]’ and suffer her violent death as she is ‘pelted with stones,’ as she supposes that her meagre ‘wart’ is the ‘[mark]’ of a witch. Thus, Carter reveals the notion that, for survival and material gain, humans will do anything to ‘[prosper]’ as the child does, even if it is at the cost of sacrificing those closest to them, indicating that her main priority is actually to uncover the threatening ‘cold hearts of the future that manipulate beliefs of the past.

Ultimately, though Carter does present the past to be both threatening and irrational in nature, this is not her main priority. It is more feasible that she presents these views in order to warn the reader rather more fittingly, of the alarming nature of both the present and the future.

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