The French Revolution was a devastating catastrophe to most of the population who were in favour of the monarchy. It can be said that this significant event in
history sparked a new literary genre, which is now known as the gothic. One can
say that the Revolution inspired the gothic genre.
The French Revolution affected all elements of life; we can see its impact of such a life changing event on painters such as Jean-Pierre Houel who had a conservative view on the revolution. Jean-Pierre Houel was a French painter whose specific field was that of sublime landscapes. Looking at his work pre revolution it is interesting to note how dramatically it changes by the time the Revolution strikes. ‘Islands of Cyclops in the Bay of La Trizza; General view’ painted in 1776 is a painting focussing on freedom, painted with indigos and blues. Colours which were picked to reflect his calm mind set, representing his happiness and the freedom he feels he has in the middle class sphere, that of joy and comfort. The French revolution strikes and one sees a dramatic difference in Houels painting style. The painting ‘Prise de la Bastille’ (1789) turns gothic with its deep, heavy and depressing feeling. It no longer has free open spaces; the painting is now filled with the devastation. Freedom has changed to entrapment; this could be seen to reflect how the painter now feels, entrapped in a society without a monarch, no control of his falling status. These are seen as common feelings which are portrayed within the gothic genre. Most of the characteristics of the gothic genre are seen to be used in this painting. There a focus on which is now seen as the gothic space, the Bastille is the main focus of the painting, painted with dark moody colours. The fall of the monarchy means to him the fall of his wealth and freedom, a very gothic illustration.
William Blakes ‘The French Revolution: A Poem in Seven Books’ written in 1791 reflects many gothic ideologies. The French Revolution turned Blakes writing from optimistic views of life to a pessimistic dark gothic pictures of ‘oppression [with] husbandman weep[ing] at blights of fife’ (line14-16) the crops are diseased due to the amount of pollution as a result of all the death and destruction during the French Revolution. This strikes fear into the beholder due to the lack of control they’ll have on the situation, this lack of control is seen to be encapsulated by many of the failing heros in gothic novels. It can be seen as a very gothic image which would have provoked terror within society. Elements of supernatural escape through Blakes writing, ‘the millions of spirits immortal were bound to the ruins’. (line 24) This idea of the haunting supernatural fills its reader with trepidation and terror, freezing its beholder. The gothic genre takes the idea of supernatural and recreates it by using the senses to heighten the experience. These are technique often seen in the terror gothic genre as it creates this idea of suspense. Michael Davis who wrote a novel about William Blake suggests that this poem is a ‘Nervous Fear of imprisonment’ (M.Davies, 1977, p.48) with references to being ‘o’erclouded with power’ and also the image of ‘caves of the night’ we see here this idea of being trapped in the terrible conditions of the revolution. Gothic uses the image of entrapment in what is known as a gothic space, an idea to reflect how the social sphere bounds people, it also creates a sense of claustrophobia which unease’s the reader. There are references to the light and the dark within this poem ‘O sun is thy dwelling… O faint slumberous moon’ (lines 36-37) this creates an image of obscurity, which was taken as one of the main conventions of the gothic; contrast of light and dark creates shadows which distorts the true image, this strikes fear into its reader as it plays on its possessors imagination. There is a focus on ‘beasts…of the night’ this is a gothic image which is seen in every gothic novel for example both ‘Dracula’ and ‘Frankenstein’ are gothic villains which depend on the darkness to disguise their deformities, this is also when they perform their evil deeds. The Revolution was quite a dark period and William Blake repeatedly mentions the colour black, even refers to it as ‘deadly black[ness]’ (line 49) everything supernatural happens at night, the night can be seen as deadly as it sends your imagination into turmoil…
The works in which i have written about above can be said to influence authors like Ann Radcliffe, who write ‘A Sicilian Romance’ in 1790. This novel is known to use the “terror” gothic style, and she is almost parodying the style ‘the [castles] windows are high and gothic’ (Radcliffe.A, 1790, p.46) the reference to gothic her states she is aware of the style she is writing in. We can see, like shown in the painting by Jean-Pierre Houel, the reference and description of the gothic space, castles and bastilles are the main gothic orientated spaces which are seen most often in older gothic fictions. We see a higher power at work within this novel, the marquis a man a with the up most ‘authority…who abuses his powers’ (p.61) is seen to take greed in his power, he controlled everyone included his daughters who ‘had never passed the boundaries of their fathers domains’ (p.6) this idea of entrapment can be related to that in the poem above. The marquis feels he has a God like authority ‘whose rank gave him an unlimited power of life and death’ (p.69) you can relate this to the journal article where it mentions the appetite of the brute, his high status has made him believe he is more powerful than he is, giving him animalist tendencies and a appetite for more power; in the end it always leads to their down fall in gothic fiction.
(Extract from one of my university projects)