Recently, my tutor gave us a list of critical quotations for us to apply to The Bloody Chamber, The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale and Macbeth to consider different elements of the gothic that may come up as questions for section B of the exam (or maybe even section A) this summer. Obviously, if you’re studying other texts, like Frankenstein, etc., I’m sure you’ll still be able to get something from this post anyway! Hope it helps.
1. ‘The violation of innocence – “At the heart of the Gothic text is the tension provided by the possible violation of innocence – the concept of ‘virtue in distress'”
The Bloody Chamber
Story 1: The easiest story to refer to for a question on virtue in distress would definitely be the eponymous story of the collection. Talking about the Marquise and debating the source of her corruption (whether she is already corrupt from the offset of the story, or whether she is corrupted by the Marquis).
You would need to specify i. What constitutes as ‘virtue’ – so, virginity, purity, innocence, beauty etc. ii. Whether the violation of this innocence and the virtue in distress creates narrative tension. The most obvious line of debate would be that i. The Marquis attempts to corrupt the narrator, and this results in tension as we contemplate whether or not she will die as a result of said corruption. However, you can counter-argue and evaluate by posing that she is corrupt from the outset (here, you’re incorporating structural analysis – which AQA love – by referring to the exposition in this way), marrying the Marquis only for his wealth. Also, you could argue that as Carter adopts gothic conventions in a very melodramatic and perhaps even parodic way, that this means no tension is created.
Story 2: The other story I’d talk about for a question on this is The Erl-King, which is probably the most complex story of the collection, but I think it’d give the best opportunity of getting the most marks due to its difficulty. It allows you to speak about narrative perspective and structure quite nicely, and sets up a debate as to whether the omniscient (and very subjective) narrator is the cause of her own corruption (as she willingly goes to the Erl-King, inciting her own entrapment and that she allows herself to be subjugated by males, as she perceives herself the way they do), or whether the Erl-King is a predatory character, causing her corruption and resulting entrapment. Again, there’s the same debate as to whether this creates tension, as with TBC.
Again, you would be able to write about structure relatively easily with Macbeth by analysing the imagery in the exposition (the perspective that Macbeth is a tragic hero, regressing from high status to that of an ‘abhorred tyrant’ If you’d like to read some analysis of this, my post on how the first few scenes of Macbeth adhere to the gothic here, my essay on Macbeth’s downfall here and my essay on Macbeth as a butcher here should help. When writing about Macbeth though, I think it’d be good to unpick the critical quotation even more, as the presence of the witches and their arguable control over Macbeth from the exposition means that the violation of his innocence is not a possibility, but an inevitability.
The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale
In my opinion, this is the most difficult of the texts to refer to (in most cases actually – I’ve yet to see a question that I find easy to answer). I guess you could talk about i. The concept of ‘virtue in distress’ is shown to a much lesser extent in the prologue/tale, because the Pardoner, nor any of the people he speaks of are virtuous. However, you could talk about how the Pardoner preys on the innocence (and thus, virtue) of his audience for his own gain, as he cons them into paying for his false relics and convincing the uneducated that they have committed terrible sins etc. As for tension, I don’t think the concept of virtue in distress/lack of any virtue in the Pardoner creates any tension as such, but rather evokes the disdain, disgust and contemptuous laughter from the reader/contemporaneous audience, as the Pardoner is so obvious in his evil.
2. ‘The shocking elements of the gothic are selfish and go beyond the boundaries of what is acceptable in society’ – “Gothic fictions seemed to promote vice and violence, giving free reign to selfish ambitions and sexual desires beyond the prescriptions of law or familial duty”
The Bloody Chamber
Again, very easy to classify what is shocking – illicit lust/sexual gratification, language, subversion of religion etc. and how these transgress societal boundaries. I’d personally refer to The Snow Child and The Bloody Chamber for this question. The sexual primacy of the Count most definitely transgresses familial duty as he commits to incest and pedophilia (and necrophilia too), having sex with ‘the child of his desire’ intended merely for his own selfish and sexual desires. He’s unpunished within the denouement (thus, structural evaluation and hitting assessment objectives). You could also analyse the Countess as she ‘reigns in her stamping mare’ and symbolically gives free reign to her husband, as she so evidently cannot control him. In TBC, I’d obviously refer to sexual gratification, the link between sex and pain and how this is selfish, but I’d refer to religious transgression as the Marquis is characterised (hitting more assessment objectives!!) as a satanic figure (‘the key to my enfer,’ the fact he has Huysman’s ‘La-Bas’ ‘bound like a missal’ and treated as prayerbook, his ‘chthonic gravity’ etc.), promoting vice and violence, and how this could be perceived as ‘shocking’. Yet, as the Marquis is killed within the denouement, is such behaviour really promoted by Carter?
The main thing for Macbeth would obviously be his act of regicide, as this definitely goes beyond both the prescriptions of law, and of the divine. Selfish and ‘vaulting ambition’ is clearly exercised in order to bring Macbeth’s wish to be king into fruition. Though the play does also becomes progressively more violent and Macbeth succumbs to vice, the play cannot be said to promote such behaviours, as it could be interpreted that Macbeth is punished in the denouement as Macduff enters bearing ‘Macbeth’s head on a pole’ and Malcolm’s dialogue also echoes the sentiment of a morality play as he exclaims a wish to ‘[Produce] forth the evil ministers of this dead butcher and his fiend-like queen’. Yet, there is a clear absence of unrestrained sexual desire in Macbeth, so this needs to be approached also.
The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale
Though the Pardoner outwardly preaches against vice and violence, chastising his audience against sin; ‘glutonye,’ and all its ‘cursedness,’ ‘lecherye’ etc. through his use of the sermon form and inaccurate biblical allusions, as he only does this for his own gain, ‘prech[ing] nothing but for coveitise,’ and not suffering any punishment for this, it could be said that the tale does does promote vice (but not violence).