Failed Rites of Passage in Early Gothic Fiction
©2011 Thesis VIII, 296 Pages
Series: Salzburg Studies in English Literature and Culture SEL & C, Volume 6
This study applies Victor Turner’s theory of liminality to an examination of early British Gothic fiction and its cultural context. Contrary to the widespread belief that the Gothic is escapist in nature, a close reading of novels such as William Godwin’s Caleb Williams (1794), Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) or Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) reveals that they actively engage with socio-political and educational debates of the time. Using the licence of fantastic literature, the Gothic sets up social experiments in which young, inexperienced protagonists have to face a variety of institutions. Under what circumstances are they willing to submit to these social orders? Why are rites of passage often bound to fail? These are questions consistently raised in this genre and explored in this study with reference to a wide range of political, legal, and educational treatises of the eighteenth century.