Why Gothic Literature Draws and Repels Us

“The gothic has adapted and grown, like a stone grotesque acquiring moss, though it has never departed from its underlying principles. Edmund Burke in his essay on the sublime identified what it was that Vasari felt, and what it was that so seduced the readers of Matthew Lewis and Anne Radcliffe: the idea that terror, and terrible things, could excite the emotions in the way the sight of a mountain range receding into mist might do. He wrote, ‘Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain and danger … is a source of the sublime; that is, it is productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling.’ This potent conflation of terror and excitement helps account for one of the most obscure and dangerous aspects of the gothic: its villains may commit revolting acts of violence, both sexual and moral, but they are never as repellent as they ought to be.”

Sarah Perry, The Paris Review website

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