Death and the Gothic Essay

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A universal fascination with death is not something newly discovered; in fact there is scarcely any other matter upon which our thoughts and feelings have changed so little over time . As humans we have the unique ability to be aware of our own mortality. This awareness means a preoccupation with death is never far from our minds, it only takes the opening of a newspaper to reveal how obsessed with death we are. However, whilst being an obsession, it is also simultaneously something that culture dictates as a forbidden subject. This conflict society creates about our feelings towards death is largely responsible for the popularity of gothic fiction. After all, life in gothic fiction never frees itself from the presence or threat of death. It allows us to explore something that is a familiar concept to us all, but in the safety of fiction. Whilst being something we are all humanly aware of, death is also something we know relatively little about. There is no experiencing death and then writing about it – it must always just be represented. But this in itself has created the issue that we do not have just one single definition of what is meant by ‘death’, instead death repeatedly emerges as referring to more than one state. It is a theme represented and explored through many motifs and as societies definition on death varies, as does the definitions within gothic fiction.
The proposed dissertation shall address some of the different definitions of death through a close examination of three gothic texts taken from the 19th century. The three primary texts this dissertation shall focus on are Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’, James Malcolm Rymer’s ‘Varney the Vampire: The Feast of Blood’ and Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Masque of the Red Death’. Each text represents a different type of text allowing the dissertation to explore these definitions, there common ideas and how they reflect the attitude to death had in their contemporary age.
Death is such a major theme within gothic literature that a study of all the representations of death within it would be far too ambitious to be undertaken in only eight thousand words. It is for this reason that only three texts have been selected, allowing an exploration of three major representations of death. This allows the dissertation to avoid the lack of critical focus that can be created when trying to discuss such a broad topic. However, this does not mean that the study is without limitations. By only selecting three primary texts to focus on it risks a large scope of the representation of death being left out as a necessity, meaning that an area that might be valid to the conclusions of the essay, may not be able to be explored in a deserved amount of detail. The three texts are each representative of quite a substantial area concerned with the theme of death; this should give the dissertation enough scope so that the conclusions are valid despite the elimination of some material. This also means that the...

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