Gothic Literary Horrors (and Empathy too)

In a recent study, scholar Ardel Haefele-Thomas contends that Gothic horror developed as a place “in which to explore ideas about race, interracial desire, cross-class relations, ethnicity, empire, nation and ‘foreignness’ during the nineteenth century.” Gothic horror of the Victorian Age serves the complex function of giving rise to our fears, while also exploring and critiquing them. As Haefel-Thomas states, “these texts transgress monstrosity in the sense that they help interrogate the very idea of what is mon­strous, opening up spaces where we can read sympathy for others who are queer, who are multiracial, who live outside of the” norms of society.

For part one of this blogpost, then, I would like you to pick a specific character or scene from one of the excerpted works found on the syllabus for this week: Frankenstein, “Ligeia,” The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and The Island of Doctor Moreau. For whatever character or scene you choose to explore, I want you to focus on the horror embodied in/through that character or textual moment. How, specifically, does the author create horror in the audience, and use it to play with the reader’s darkest fears? What ideas are in question here, and what social issues – or fears – are rendered problematic and indeed horrific?

For part two, I want you to flip the script and consider the ways in which Gothic horror does not necessarily reject but sometimes welcomes the horrific monsters and their problems. To borrow Haefele-Thomas’s words, in this section I would like you to consider how a given character or scene does not create horror but quite the opposite, opening up a space “where we can read sympathy for others” who are different. In other words, how does this character, or textual moment, “transgress monstrosity” and view the monster with empathy, and to what end is this sympathy established? If we are meant to embrace the monster somehow, why so — and how so? What does this teach us? I will be curious to see your responses to the ways in which Gothic horror creates fear and promotes horror, while also (sometimes) embracing those creatures that lead to horror and panic in the humans that encounter them.

26 thoughts on “Gothic Literary Horrors (and Empathy too)

  1. Part One: Frankenstein’s monster is a good example of human experimentation gone wrong, it really makes individuals fearful of what can occur when one toys with the concepts of life and death. It also portrays the social issue of bad parenting and the debate between nature and nurture.

    Part Two: Ways you can embrace or feel sympathy for Frankenstein’s monster is simply how he was raised. He was brought into the world by someone who wasn’t ready to help him and ended up rejecting him as well. It teaches us about the advantages of planned parenthood, which is a seemingly uncommon thing nowadays.

  2. Part 1: Our recent creature from Frankenstein- Frankenstein’s monster- is a good monster to use for this. We are so afraid of the mystery regarding reincarnation and bringing things to life. Frankenstein’s monster sparks this fear in us because it shows the bad and the ugly side of attempting to do something about our curiosity of creating something like the creature. The social issues or fears that are rendered problematic and indeed horrific includes the topic that was in our Flipgrid for Tuesday- Is nature or nurture more at fault for how the monster eventually turned out in the end?

    Part 2: To stick with Frankenstein for this second part, he “transgresses monstrosity” when we hear his side of the story. We are more sympathetic towards him once we realize that he wasn’t asked to be born and that he was rejected by his own creator/father. If we are meant to embrace this monster, then we are meant to understand where he comes from and his thoughts, along with his feelings. In my opinion, we are meant to understand him in this way- or at least try to understand him like this- because it teaches us about our own standards. We expect others to not reject their children, yet it still happens every day, whether the reason behind it being financial stability, unexpected pregnancy, or even just straight up neglect. These children, who were not asked to be born much like Frankenstein’s monster, are seen as outcasts and different from the other children who have not had to struggle like them.

  3. 1. Moreau from The Island of Doctor Moreau experiments on animals that are alive. He mutates them to make them look “human”. He also tries to justify his actions by saying that they are for science. The author creates horror by having a character experiment with animals in a way that is unnatural. Moreau’s actions are unnatural and disturbing. He takes his experiments too far and disturbs the reader by doing so. In science there is a far of talking an experiment to far and doing more harm than good. The book touches on this fear. Experimentation on animals is a controversial topic and the author discuses this topic, which may make people uncomfortable. Society has a fear of the unnatural. Manipulating the bodies of animals is unnatural and causes the reader to become uncomfortable.
    2. In Frankenstein when the reader hears the story from the Monsters point of view, the reader feels bad for him. When you read from Victors point of view you consider Victor to be right, and the Monster is horrible. However, once you hear the Monsters story you can sympathize with him. We read about how the Monster was treated poorly. He only wants to learn and live in peace. Once reading both sides the reader could decide who is the real monster. Mary Shelly wanted us to understand that just because the creator sees his creation as a monster, that doesn’t mean the creation is one. She wanted us to think about how there are two sides to the story. The story of Frankenstein teaches us to look at multiple perspectives before making assumptions.

  4. In the poem “Ligeia”, there is a scene where the corpse of Rowena (under a tarp) convulses and before getting off the deathbed and takes off the tarp revealing Ligeia. This scene in particular reflects on the thin line between life and death along with the taboo of corpses being reanimated. It really shocks the reader as the scene builds up the suspense and no one is given an answer as to how or why Ligeia is alive. There is also the theme of the supernatural as Ligeia writes a very cryptic poem before she dies, Ligeia being a haunting spirit, darkness, and death. Ligeia herself has a very Gothic-horror figure with pale skin, black eyes, and an otherworldly beauty and intelligence. This in general portrays the social taboo of reanimating life after death, much like Frankenstein, but more along the line of how thin the divide between life and death. The fears of the supernatural and the unknown is also addressed as both are things humans don’t understand to even what’s beyond despite all we know.

    A reason you can sympathize with the narrator is because he loved Ligeia when she was alive and truly missed after she passed on. Everyone at some point deals with the loss of a loved one and even desire to move on as the narrator did when he remarried. If Liegia is supposed to be the monster of this poem, then her sympathy comes from her own fear of dying that she greatly expresses at the beginning of the poem. The can also be some sympathy for Ligeia in her husband’s remarriage to another women (who it’s hinted she kills) and watching her love be miserable as jealousy and sympathy for loved ones are emotions humans have. This poem teaches us that loved ones are never truly gone and that death is not the end-all-be-all people make it out to be.

  5. I am going to pick Frankenstein to talk about and the scene in which his monster comes to life. This is horrifying because it depicts a picture of the birth of something monstrous. And Frankenstein himself thinks what have I done, and almost immediately regrets going as far as he did. Everyone throughout history has a fear of the unknown. Zombies or unnatural life forms are something very unknown triggering a fear response and makes you think if this is actually possible.
    Part two, the true monster in this story is the creator. It is very hard for me to feel sympathy for him because he did such sketchy science. Sympathy for me for the monster is easy because as I said in previous posts he is basically a large baby, a destructive baby. Only because he does not know any better.

  6. 1. The Island of Dr. Moreau has a scene that is reminiscent of modern horror. In chapter 10, Pendrick finds Moreau vivisecting a human. This imagery can scare anyone, as vivisection has been described in the book by this point and you could just imagine the scene that Pendrick walked in on. It also brings up the social issue of vivisection; by having it performed on a human, we see how cruel it truly is and we as an audience may have second thoughts about scientists performing vivisectionist on animals.

    2. I’m going to use one of the most famous scenes for our stories for this part, the part in Frankenstein where the creature tell’s Victor about his life. This scene gives us sympathy for the monster; we learn what life was like for this creature without a parental figure around to help. He had to learn everything by himself and lived in extreme isolation due to his appearance. It gives the reader sympathy for the creature and shows us that maybe he isn’t the monster in this story, and that maybe his requests to Victor aren’t so unreasonable given the creature’s life experience up to this point.

  7. 1) In Frankenstein, the audience feels horror when the creature encounters William Frankenstein. In this scene, the creature decides to strangle William as an act of revenge against Victor Frankenstein. This is horrifying because the creature outright decides to commit murder. This shows that the creature, which is capable of intelligence, decides to act like the monster it is perceived as.
    2) In Frankenstein, the creature becomes sympathetic when it is hiding near the cottage. While watching them, it becomes curious of how and why the peasants living in it. This spurs the creature to learn their language, way of life, and other facets of the world. This shows that the creature is capable of intelligence and learning, giving hope that it can one day interact peacefully with humans.

  8. Part 1: In The Island of Doctor Moreau, the scene I want to focus on is where Dr. Moreau is explaining his reasoning on why he surgically alters animals while they are still alive. He describes the different animal parts he has combined to “manufacture monsters” of his own. He has been studying the plasticity of living forms in order to build these creatures for his scientific research. Throughout this entire conversation, Prendick is mortified by his words and disgusted by the way Dr. Moreau has violated and destroyed these animals for his benefit. His experimentation shows that he has no respect or even feelings towards these animals that he was abusing and manipulating. The things he has done already are horrific enough to show that he himself is a monster trying to create his own monsters of mixed animals.

    Part 2: For this section, I want to specifically look at Frankenstein. When we read from the monster’s perspective, we can sympathize with him. He was neglected of true emotions and feelings because Victor didn’t teach him really how to live in his society. When the people around him saw the creature, they reacted so negatively that they drove him away and made him feel like an outcast. The monster was so lonely that he asked Victor for a female companion and ultimately agreed because the monster vowed he would leave Victor alone. When Victor ended up destroying the female version, the monster had every right to be angry with the doctor because he did not keep up with his side of the deal. All the monster wanted was to be accepted by anyone who would show him affection or showed that they cared about him, but he was seen as so different from everyone and he never gained those connections.

  9. 1.) The scene of Victor Frankenstein making his creation is a perfect representation of gothic horror. Mary Shelley reels the readers in by describing the madness of Victor sewing together dead bodies. A perfect quotation to his madness: “Whence, I often asked myself, did the principle of life proceed? It was a bold question, and one which has ever been considered as a mystery; yet with how many things are we upon the brink of becoming acquainted, if cowardice or carelessness did not restrain our inquiries.” In this quotation, Victor tries to explain his own action. Victor proposes that if those men studying the same science as him stopped being cowards then they can too create a being from the dead to open up a new world of science. However, there is a fear for reversing birth, and ultimately testing God.
    2.) Quasimodo is a perfect monster/character that does not create horror, instead the readers feel sympathy for him. The physical perspectives of Quasimodo are what makes him a monster, but to readers it makes us feel sympathy. Quasimodo seems to be a hero by rescuing La Esmeralda, he is purely innocent. So when we read how people view him, and how it makes him feel, it tends to create the opposite of a horrific monster. Stories that create an unscary monster tend to be proving a point. Do not judge a book by its cover!

  10. For part one I’m going to use an example from The Island of Doctor Moreau. This one is pretty good for horror because the main concept of the story is vivisection. I honestly had to look this one up, and it is essentially operating on a living organism while it is still alive. Doctor Moreau’s goal was to make humans out of animals through vivisection, and he has an entire island inhabited by his creations, which are strange, human-animal hybrids. The whole element of secrecy and abnormality, as well as the concept itself, helps factor in to the whole horror element of the story. That and the thought of being operated on while alive really skeeves me out, and would probably be a fear of most who would read the story. There is no concept of morals, here, either – Moreau even admits he is not concerned with the ethics of his work, only in the advancement of science. That, as well, plays into the horror, as there is no telling what he would and wouldn’t do in the name of scientific progress.
    For part two I will focus on Moreau’s monsters. They do not seem to be malicious, only horribly deformed. They are willing to accept Prendick into their little tribe, and even before this point, with the exception of the “Thing” in the woods that chases him, they do not seem to harbor any ill will towards him. His reaction towards them, at first, is fear and some loathing at their hideous nature, but he soon comes to realize that it isn’t their fault they are the way that they are. This is, again, reiterating the concept of who is the monster in the situation – the monster, or the creator of the monster.

  11. 1. In Frankenstein, the author creates horror in the scene where the creature comes alive. It shows the audience how scary the unknown is. This is also the part that lead to all the horrific things that the creature had done. If the doctor had never had a curiosity and made the creature, none of those things would have happened.

    2. On the other hand, you can feel sympathy for the creature in Frankenstein. The creature never had anyone to care for him and felt neglected his entire life. When he finally did have a female companion, Victor destroyed her, leaving the creature as lonely as ever.

  12. 1.A good character would be Frankenstein’s monster because it showed what can go wrong when someone dose something that is not normal or had been done before. It made people fearful of people not looking like everyone else which can make people into monster because society does not accept them. It also shows the social issues of bad parenting where the Frankenstein never gave his monster love or anything really. He never gave him a name, how to talk and many more things that make people join society.

    2.A way to feel sympathy for Frankenstein’s monster by how he was treated by the people and Frankenstein himself. People in the society did not want to do anything with him, they called him a monster and should be dead/gone. Also, he was rejected by his own “father” Frankenstein because he did not look like them. He did not treat him like a human being but a monster. It teaches us that we should not care of what people look like on the outside but what’s on the inside and that bad parenting is around and that we should find a way to fix it.

  13. In Frankenstein, the moment that I am focusing on where the author embodies horror is when the creature is brought to life. The author creates horror in the audience because many people fear the un-dead and the idea that the dead can be brought back to life. People fear the thought of the dead coming back to life and the consequences that unfold from bringing the dead back. The fear of people bringing back the dead is definitely what’s rendered problematic and horrific.
    Again in Frankenstein, we feel sympathy for the creature because he is brought to life by someone who doesn’t accept him even after he spent so much time to bring him to life. The creature is distressed that even his own creator does not want to be involved with him. We are meant to embrace the monster and view it with empathy because we need to see the monster’s side of the story. Seeing the monster’s side of the story allows us to understand why the monster acts as it does and the reasons for anything bad that it does. This teaches us that there is a reason for everything. People act based on things that occur in their lifetime and their actions can be based on how bad something has hurt them in the past.

  14. In Frankenstein, the author does a fantastic job of embodying horror through the creature. The moment where the creature is resurrected from the dead and brought back to life is the scene where the author creates horror in the audience. The fears that are rendered horrific in Frankenstein is the idea of bringing back the dead. People’s fear of the dead coming back to life is triggered in Frankenstein.
    The creature in Frankenstein “transgresses monstrosity” by the audience feeling sympathy for him. Society does not accept the creature and we see from the monster’s point of view and we feel for him. Everyone can think of a time where they did not feel accepted at some point in life and it’s a horrible feeling. It is something all humans have been through, therefore, people watching feel bad because they can relate.

  15. Part 1: In Frankenstein, the creature was created because of a cruel science experiment gone wrong, and truly horrifies the audience. People tend to fear anything that’s different, so to be created in an artificial way adds to the fact that this being was not human. Dr. Frankenstein stitches together his creation, and makes something so ugly and terrifying he has to run away. The audience would of course be just as horrified as him when he describes the creature as being such an abhorrent daemon. People during these times were also very religious and fearful of hell, so by describing it as a demon was used to further scare people.
    Part 2: Frankenstein’s creation not only had all of his bad qualities shown in the story, but we also got to see another side. When we got to hear what the monster had to say, it changed how the audience could potentially feel for the creature. He states, “Have I not suffered enough, that you seek to increase my misery? Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it.” To hear human emotions such as misery and anguish, makes us able to relate to him, and therefore feel sympathetic. When we get to know the monster, oftentimes we then are able to realize that this being isn’t monstrous at all. Its the person who created him.

  16. In Frankenstein, the author creates horror in Frankenstein’s monster by making him the way he looks like. People in the story are scared of him because of the way he looks. When he met with the blind old man, the man could not look at him, therefore he showed no fear. The author creates fear in the audience by describing how lonely the monster actually is. This can play with the reader’s darkest fears because many people are afraid of being alone in the world. The idea that humans judge others on the way they look is a social issue. This creates discrimination towards others and we live in ignorance.

    When the monster was helping the family I felt bad for him. He just wanted the family to be happy. Although, the fact that he was watching them was a little creepy. After the family saw him, the monster learned that he could never live with humans. They would always look at him differently.

  17. part 1: Frankenstein, plays on the fear of resurrecting the dead, fear of “giving birth” a abnormal “child”, fear of science going too far.

    part 2: People feel sorry for Frankenstein’s monster because he is ostracized when he was born and no one wanted him. The only person he could related to is when Frankenstein created another monster like him, only for Frankenstein to kill it right in front of him

  18. 1. I think Victor himself is a far scarier character than the monster he creates because he is a man going insane. Through the grief, he ends up creating the monster and having to deal with the repercussions. The author makes the reader feel horror by showing Victor’s descent. He starts as a normal person just like us and that adds to the horror.

    2. Also in Frankenstein, we as the reader feel sympathy for the monster at points. For example, when he tries to make friends with the family and they attack him, we start to see him more as a victim than a monster. This example, as well as other examples throughout gothic horror hope to spread the message to never judge a book by its cover. It also wants the reader to try to understand people and realize that everyone has a story.

  19. 1.) A scene in “Frankenstein” that embodies horror through its character occurs when the monster kills William and Justine. When the monster finds out that William was the son of Dr. Frankenstein, he kills the little boy out of hatred and revenge toward his father. As for Justine, he only kills her after seeing the picture of her hanging around William’s neck. The beauty he saw enraged the monster because he concludes, once again, that he is “deprived of the delights that such beautiful creatures could bestow.” This scene creates horror in the audience because it shows that monstrosity is the product of society–that we create them as a result of rejecting others due to their appearance before ever getting to understand them. As a result, innocent people can fall victim to their monstrosity.
    2.) Although the monster in “Frankenstein” creates horror, we feel empathy for him as we learn about his life. A specific scene in which the monster “transgresses monstrosity” occurs when he finally talks to old man De Lacey. Because De Lacey is blind, the monster had hope that the man could accept him for his personality rather than his appearance. Even before the monster speaks with De Lacey, we see that he is terrified ar the thought that he may not be accepted when he says, “when I proceeded to execute my plan, my limbs failed me, and I sunk to the ground.” When the monster flees from the cottage, we learn that even his protectors will not embrace him because they were horrified by his appearance, stripping him the opportunity to explain himself to the family. This scene teaches us that society judges others by their superficial aspects instead of their morals and intentions.

  20. Part 1: Frankenstein was horrifying to look at, which caused people to meet him with fear and rage. He the product of madness, and people were afraid of the idea of insanity and mad science.

    Part 2: Frankenstein can be used as an example in the nature vs nurture debate. Would he have been a killing monster if he was not ostracized by society, or would he have been kind and gentle if society treated him with respect and kindness? We use monsters in these lights and we feel empathy towards them, which forces us to look at different perspectives and notice new things. We can see humanistic traits and qualities in these monsters, which I think makes us more sympathetic and accepting as people.

  21. Hunchback of Notre Dame

    Part one: the character I chose is Claud Frollo. The reason why I chose this character as a gothic horror character who imposes humans’ darkest fears for the reason of who he is and what he did throughout the story. Beginning he is a priest as well as he is a human, this gives the reader a sense of “this is a human, probably very respected for his profession”, However when more and more of his actions become known to the reader, he turns from human to a monster in human cloths. By having the reader see something that is supposed to be considered pure, just, innocent, and have it turn very fast into a dark place, it makes the reader fear if the people around them are truly who they say they are.

    Part 2: For this second part I would like to address Quasimodo now. Quasimodo is painted as the disgusting monster who in the stories eyes is a monster. However, just like with Frollo as the story progressed the view changed. Quasimodo shows the readers that sometimes the monster isn’t the monster you need to be afraid of and to not judge people on looks alone. Quasimodo did kill frollo at the end by pushing him out the window and not helping him, but his act of ‘evil’ was cast apon evil that was praying on the innocent. This adds more sympathy for the character for instead of preying on the innocent we get clear accounts of him (in a way) protecting the innocent. For Esmerelda would probably not be the last person Frollo would have messed with. By ending the evil in the story, it makes the reader question the humanity of the action, and if they in that situation do the same.

  22. 1. The scene from Hunchback of Notre Dame that I will focus on is when Quasimodo attack La Esmerelda during the Festival of Fools. It expresses peoples’ fear of people with physical deformities and those with disabilities. Quasimodo attacking Esmerelda represents how people view those with disabilities as “monstrous”. It is problematic to assume that those with disabilities are inherently dangerous.
    2. The scene that gives the reader sympathy for the “monster” is at the beginning of Book 4. It is exposed that Quasimodo was left at an orphanage for abandoned children. Most people did not want to adopt him because of his appearance. This gives the reader empathy because it shows that he is not a monster. He was once a child like everyone else who had no one to take care of him, until Frollo came along. The scene could inspire people to have compassion for those with disabilities and recognize that they deserve love.

  23. For the first part of the response, I am going to be focusing on Frankenstein. He is supposed to be pictured as this tall, broad figured monster which is different from the physical structure of the other characters and people from the story. We have discussed in class that appearing different can make someone seem monstrous and I think that the story brings up the topic of physical difference and how having a different look than most other people, is something that can not just invoke fear and curiosity, but something that can cause someone to be an outcast, just like Frankenstein.

    As for the second part of the response, I am going to talk about how we can feel for Frankenstein. He was created and then rejected not just by the other characters but by Dr. Frankenstein as well. This brings into light the idea of planned parenthood and how it is usually a bad idea to bring a child or animal into your home and then completely disregard it and eventually abandon it because of disinterest or hatred.

  24. In the story, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Frankenstein’s monster portrays horror in a number of ways. First of all, his conception is unnatural and taboo. He is man-made, and the concept of anyone besides God creating life would be an abhorrent idea for most people of that time. He is also grotesque in appearance. He is pieced together from dead body parts and is extremely big. He is human-like, but not exactly human; a concept many people naturally find unsettling. Besides superficial monstrosity, the creature also plays on the human fear of being rejected or isolated by society, as he is rejected by all of whom he comes into contact with. His relationship with the doctor also plays on the fear of being monstrous ourselves, since Victor begins to question whether he was worse than his creation.
    To continue examining Frankenstein, the creation does evoke sympathy from the reader when it switches to narration from its point of view. He portrays himself as lost and alone. He is born into the world rejected by all of those around him, even his creator. He is forced to figure the world out by himself, giving him a childlike quality. We also get a greater sense of sympathy as the creature grows an attachment to the DeLacey family, secretly helping them and wishing to be accepted by them. When he is rejected and attacked, the reader can understand his actions to a point, since facing isolation is a universal fear.

  25. The scene from Hunchback of Notre Dame that I will focus on is when Quasimodo attack La Esmerelda during the Festival of Fools. It expresses peoples’ fear of people with physical deformities and those with disabilities. Quasimodo attacking Esmerelda represents how people view those with disabilities as “monstrous”. It is problematic to assume that those with disabilities are inherently dangerous.

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  26. Quasimodo attacking Esmeralda. It exposes the public fear which is a physically deformed person is also mentally abnormal and aggressive and dangerous to society. It paints people like Quasimodo as dangerous , while that is far from the truth. Quasimodo was a kind and naive boy who was shunned for all his life.

    Frankenstein made the reader pity him because he was born in a world that hates him, even his own creator. There is no other like him, so he will be forever alone. When the monster asked Victor to make him a female monster for him, Victor kills the female monster during the creation process. It shows that humans are intolerable to those that looks different. The monster don’t act like a monster, he has emotion just like any other living thing, but no one give him a chance because of how he looks, so they shunned him.

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