Archives for posts with tag: genre: gothic romanesque


 The world is a parable – the habitation of symbols-the phantoms of spiritual things immortal shown in material shape.

– J. Sheridan le Fanu, Uncle Silas (1864)

For millennia, the storytelling tradition has been bound up in tales of the unspeakable, the unknowable, and the unexplainable. The hushed conjuring of demons, spirits, and all things wicked were direct counterparts to our own frailties and secrets – the horror that lies within. The gothic movement in the mid-18th century to the end of the late-19th century was the culmination of such conceits, with literary, artistic, and architectural manifestations of the terrible and wonderful – macabre, sinister, and wholly sensational at times.The gothic tradition extended from the Romantic one, as radical artists broke free from the lofty ambitions of the Enlightenment, and decreed a manifesto dedicated to all things wild, unbridled and, above all, concerned with death. The popularity of gothic fiction rose to apical heights in the Victorian era, and its preoccupation with death, sex, and the psychosexual imagination was rather scandalous to those decorous Victorians and their moral propriety; unsurprisingly, enthusiasm for tales of swooning heroines succumbing to dark and mysterious terrors in the candlelit shadows of foreboding castles was unbridled. Such is its influence, the gothic imagination has persisted over 250 years since its original appearance in Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, as tales of dark stormy nights have assured their place in popular culture.

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The work of Stefan Zweig enjoyed a welcome renaissance in 2013 after years of neglect in Western art. A prolific artist, Zweig became something of a Dostoevsky figure for early twentieth century writing in Europe – not because of length, but because of acute psychological insight and harrowing themes of passion and obsession within the societal confines of pre- and post-war mores. Writing in the milieu of fin de siècle Vienna, it is small wonder that he was acquainted with Freud and Schnitzler, and it is not difficult to imagine that conversations of psychological repression and expression, mania,  and suffering featured prominently. As a result, Zweig’s work was focussed on the psychological deconstruction of human emotion and fallibility and the universality of such feelings. Two of his works, Journey into the Past (Widerstand der Wirklichkeit) and Maria Stuart were adapted into A Promise and MARY Queen of Scots respectively, and although they may seem superficially dissimilar, their respective filmmakers take veritable cues from Zweig’s oeuvre in remaining true to the verisimilitude of his psychological acuity.

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O sisters too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we do sing
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

– “Coventry Carol”, c. 1534

A quavering viola, a solo adagio for piano, a 16th century chorale – the score of Byzantium evokes all the gothic mien befitting a tale of vampirism spanning two centuries. It is the vampirism not of a vicious, mindless sort associated with bloodlust and stakes through the heart, but an oddly human one; centuries of isolation, loneliness, and time. Javier Navarrete’s score features the haunting 16th century “Coventry Carol”, which tells of a mother’s lament for her doomed child, after the Massacre of the Innocents from the Gospel of Matthew. It is an entirely appropriate theme, mirroring the primary story in the film – that of the bond between Clara (Gemma Arterton) and her daughter Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan), two vampires who drift through English towns, searching. Despite being mired in loose narrative threads and lack of focus, Byzantium appears to elude most hackneyed tropes of the genre, illuminating a fresh perspective into the realm of the undead.

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Do I believe in ghosts? To which I answer that I am prepared to consider evidence and accept it if it satisfies me.

– M.R. James, Preface to the Collected Ghost Stories of M.R. James (1931)

In 1929, author M.R. James published the work “Some Remarks on Ghost Stories”, in which he outlined several defining characteristics of the literary English horror tradition. The emerging feature among these characteristics is the absence of the horrific object itself, in which the true terror is derived from that which is not seen. I see this motif as the singular feature of the English horror tradition, steeped not in overt Gothic cliche or bloodshed, but of a chilling nature that preys upon fears of weakness and suggestion. The Awakening continues this tradition in fine form, additionally coloured by early 20th century scepticism and psychological repression.

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Wuthering Heights is not a romance, and I shudder to think of all the previous film adaptations that have treated it as such. Arnold’s Wuthering Heights is both a departure from the romanticized adaptations of the past, and a welcome return to the cruel and unflinching narrative of modern Gothic, perfected with a stark realism evident in Red Road and Fish Tank.

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An exhalation of breath in the frigid Yorkshire air; the evanescent heat dissipating into the cold and immediately retracting into stillness – such is the quality of Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre. The warmth goes as quickly as it comes, just as the flickering flames of a candle flee into darkened corners, but leave them just as fleetingly. That is not to say that such a nature leaves the film barren in any way – on the contrary, it lends an entirely new shift in the kaleidoscope of the themes interwoven throughout the novel, which should be the intention of any literary adaptation.

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