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Demonism And Innocence: Gothic poetry and the Gothic Female

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There is something of deep and unsettling thrill that comes from reading works of gothic literature. The dark and unsettling nature of the gothic provides a strong sense of escapism and an interesting opportunity to explore what is otherwise repressed. These traits of the gothic explain why is proved to be a growing fascination and development in 19th century English writing. The gothic engages in themes of religious, social, supernatural, spiritual and even mental exploration, all utilizing sensationalist description and plot.

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The gothic can also transcend literary style; this is evident when we compare the poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Browning. Coleridge who is a romantic poet has displayed gothic themes in some his work such as, “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” and “Christabel”. Browning who writes at a later Victorian period displays similar themes in poems such as “My Last Duchess” and “Porphyria’s Lover”. By exploring both poets work we may begin to have an understanding of the gothic tale in poetry, as well as the gothic figure.

Both “Christabel” and “Porphyria’s Lover” have prominent female figures; these figures provide an interesting outlook on the relationship between the demonic figure and the innocent figure in gothic poetry. By comparing the two poems we can show how the gothic is portrayed through different writing styles, and by comparing the female figures in the poem we can understand how they portray demonism and innocence. While both these poems carry dark and sinister undertones that are associated with gothic literature, the methods in which Coleridge and Browning convey their poetry is significantly different.

Christabel” has long been considered a work of romantic poetry, and on the surface it carries many thematic resemblances to romanticism. The influence of nature is clearly evident, the poem begins with the heroine fleeing to nature in hopes of finding what she seeks, and then exhibits actions that signify a worship of nature when “She kneels beneath the huge oak tree,” which illustrates the romantic vision of nature as deity. The poem in itself is also heavily steeped in the concept of the supernatural; the character of Geraldine comes forth as a being of otherworldly power.

However, the gothic undertones of the poem seem to overshadow it’s romantic one. The poem opens with a typical gothic scene of darkness and unease, descriptions of the night that warn the reader of dark things to come. “Porphyria’s Lover” opens with a similar description of nature at night. By beginning the poem with these lines “The rain set early in tonight, / The sullen wind was soon awake, /It tore the elm-tops down for spite, /And did its worst to vex the lake:” Browning is both making a reference to the romantic style that directly precedes his own time but twists the words in such a way that it allows for a gothic reading.

Nature in this description is not harmonious, word such as “sullen”, “spite” and “vex” hint at a more sublime and possibly supernatural vision of nature. Another theme that is recurrent in gothic tales is the robbing of Innocence. Christabel meets her foe in the form of the vampiric Geraldine who entices unwanted desires and actions in Christabel. Geraldine’s power over Christabel is of a supernatural nature, through Coleridge descriptions she becomes an inhuman being, a demonic figure that has no power to enter homes without invitation, and causes strange reactions with her surroundings.

This is contrasted with Browning’s character of Porphyria’s Lover; the lover’s preying on Porphyria’s innocence is a result of his insanity as opposed to anything supernatural. The poem was first published as part of pair of monologues under the title “Madhouse Cells” which gives the reader a clear understanding of the Lover and narrator’s mental state of mind. Which turns the poem into an exploration of the sick mind as opposed to a dark narrative. Both these poems and their gothic elements bear resemblance to the gothic work of the poet Edgar Allan Poe, Poe whose poems are steeped in imagination and demonic behaviors (Paglia).

Thus, despite differences in time and literary styles, both poems excel at expressing dark and ominous situations, both are set in isolated and desolate areas, be it Christabel’s woods or the Lover’s mind, and both feature shocking plots that describe the loss of innocence through a source of evil or malice. With the understanding that both these poems share thematic gothic traits, they pose interesting readings on the female figure. The female figure in both these works is projected as both an embodiment of innocence and as a demonic figure.

The image of the female as innocent is one of weak character, and thus the innocent becomes the prey. Christabel is first seen as darting figure who is steeling away from her father’s home into the unknown night, this ominous and dark description of her character is negated when her purpose for leaving is made known “And she in the midnight wood will pray/For the weal of her lover that’s far away. ” And thus, with devout cries of “’Praise we the Virgin all divine, / Who hath rescued thee from thy distress! ‘” Christabel becomes a figure of innocence.

She continues to display her weakness as she succumbs to the ploys of Geraldine and is unable to thwart her. She falls prey to Geraldine and despite realizing the nature of her adversary is unable to stop her, to the extent that she is then also a prey to her father who has succumbed to Geraldine, “Sir Leoline? Thy only child/ Lies at thy feet, thy joy, thy pride. / So fair, so innocent, so mild; … And wouldst thou wrong thy only child,”. Porphyria on the other hand, can be seen as both the innocent and the demonic.

As viewed by the reader Porphyria becomes the victim of her Lover, for she brings forth warmth and apparent worship for her Lover, who then betrays her by killing her. However, when regarding her lover’s view of her, Porphyria becomes a demonic figure, and unattainable other who holds power over him despite her gender “She put my arm about her waist,/ And made her smooth white shoulder bare,” in these lines Browning makes it evident that her Lover sees Porphyria with the power over him. The description of Porphyria can even go as far as to be seen as supernatural and vampiric in her lover’s eyes.

She arrives to the description of nature that is unsettled and almost hostile. She is depicted by her Lover to move silently and swiftly “When glided in Porphyria; straight /She shut the cold out and the storm, / And kneeled and made the cheerless grate /Blaze up, and all the cottage warm;” the act of her shutting out the storm can insinuate her power over the weather, a power her lover does not have, he is also unable to provide warmth in the cottage until she arrives, which she does almost magically. Burduck) in this case Porphyria’s demonic appearance is a projection onto her made by her Lover, he proceeds to kill her using her hair, which signifies his belief in her demonism for he almost beheads her, and this can also relate to vampire myth which states that they can be killed with part of its body (Burduck), and then uses her body as if it is still alive, referring to having he “forever” which insinuated his belief in some form of immortality for her.

She appears to be immortal in his eyes, when he describes her deathly face as “rosy”. Porphyria’s projected demonism comes from her apparent power over her relationship with her Lover, which suggests the inherent fear of man in he female other and her power. The power of the demonic female vampire is exhibited again in Geraldine, who is described as figure of utmost beauty and serpentine behavior. Linking Geraldine to the serpent and sin, Coleridge re-alliterates the female’s role in fall form Eden.

Geraldine’s witchlike chanting “But soon, with altered voice, said she-/ ‘Off, wandering mother! Peak and pine! / I have power to bid thee flee. ‘” Is juxtaposed with Christabel’s pious chorusing. Geraldine’s power over Christabel and her father is of a highly sexual and base nature, which links to Porphyria’s sexual power over he Lover. Geraldine’s evil however, is not a projection onto her but comes from her very own nature, unlike Porphyria whose demonic nature is placed upon her.

The female figure in these poems can be described as either the innocent or the demonic, where the innocent falls prey to evil and thus is shown as weak and the demonic, whether projected or true, is linked to power, power of a sexual nature. The Gothic tale is clearly an influence for both these poets. Despite the difference in time, “Christabel” was written in 1797 and then published in 1816 and “Porphyria’s Lover” was published in 1848, the gothic elements are present in both poems despite their vast stylistic differences.

Where “Christabel” is a poem of romantic nature, “Porphyria’s Lover” is a monologue that explores the mind of a mental patient not that of the supernatural power of nature. These gothic poems portray the female as a juxtaposition of both powerful demon and the innocent as prey, which hints to a possible interpretation of the female as whole as other, a being so different form the male that she is reduced to a basic description of good and evil.

Works Cited

Burduck, Michael L. “Browning’s Use of Vampirism in ‘Porphyria’s Lover,’.” Studies in Browning and His Circle 14 (1986): 63-65. Rpt. in Poetry for Students. Ed. Anne Marie Hacht. Vol. 15. Detroit: Gale Group, 2002. Literature Resource Center. Web. 1 Dec. 2010. Paglia, Camille. “The Daemon as Lesbian Vampire: Coleridge.” Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson. Yale University Press, 1990. 317-346. Rpt. in Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism. Ed. Denise Kasinec and Mary L. Onorato. Vol. 54. Detroit: Gale Research, 1996. Literature Resource Center. Web. 1 Dec. 2010.

Cite this Demonism And Innocence: Gothic poetry and the Gothic Female

Demonism And Innocence: Gothic poetry and the Gothic Female. (2016, Nov 25). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/demonism-and-innocence-gothic-poetry-and-the-gothic-female/

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