The Italian – Gothic Conventions
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Gothic literature changes from age to age to reflect the current socio-cultural situation of the time. Stories such as The Italian, The Monk, Vathek and writers such as Poe, Carter, Radcliffe and Shelleyt have presented facets of the Gothic. The Gothic is the representation of the darker side of awareness, a realm of neurosis and morbidity whereby it is a fantasy world that reveals secrets of the human personality.
In this excerpt of The Italian, there are typical Gothic conventions of its age. From the setting, there is the idea of the Sublime in which it is a reflection of a situation of vastness in an imaginative, fantastical visual experience. The “grandeur” and the “proportions” in the “memorial” invoked Ellenas awe and excess of emotions due to its majestic, grand and infinite characteristics that seems to overpower and pervade the environment for “everywhere prevailed”. From the imagery of infinite “proportions” and “mass”, man is seen as insignificant. The idea of the Sublime is further exemplified in Vathek, of the “immeasurable plain” that reveled in its “infinity” in which it had “overpowered” man until “he fell prostrate on his face”. The limitations of man are magnified in contrast to the environment thus challenging the senses and emphasizing the insignificance of humanity. Ellenas awe and appreciation of nature overwhelms her thus it rendered the preconceived notion that humanity is in control of the world and destiny as obsolete. Thus man is left hopeless and impotent. This idea of the irrelevance of man in comparison to nature is typically Gothic for it undermines mans state universally.
A recurrent characteristic is the internalization of decay and destruction. The setting itself reflected the “interior” of the villa in which it was projected as the “chamber of ruins”. The colour of the villa reflects the hollowness and the obscurity of the character. It foretells the idea that we cannot escape corruption for it is pervasive from the physical aspect to the intangible sense of “gloom”. This metaphorical sense of internalization of decay is seen in Poes The Fall of the House of Usher in which the destruction of the Usher family is manifested in the “melancholy House of Usher”. Decay is manifested from its physical form to the innermost intrusive intangible form. Thus when corruption comes from deep inside in its most basic or innate form it is inescapable. Thus when the “passage terminated” it seem to project that all the internalization led to nothing and that in the end it is just the oblivion.
There is a play on “light” in which the “partial light” of the “evening rays” whereby “gleam fell” seem to project something that is not whole, not totally pure. It signifies the idea in which it is neither positive nor enlightening that goes with typical connotations to “light” but a dim, suppressed presence that is seemingly cryptic and sinister. The lack of strong, defined “light” in which the “gleam fell” seem to represent failing hope, future or life. The idea of “light” seem to reflect Ellenas clarity of thought in which its insufficient amount seem to reflect her confusion in which the “partial light” signified her unclear or partial understanding and vision. The “evening rays” projects the time of dusk in which it is the twilight, the oblivion whereby nothing is definite. It reflected Ellenas current state of consciousness whereby fantasy fades into reality and the distinction between both states is blurred. This play on “light” and the protagonist is present in Poes, The Masque of the Red Death in which Prince Prosperos castle had “no light of any kind emanating” but only through “fire that projected its rays through the tinted glass” thus the perception of light in The Masque of the Red Death is skewed and unnatural. It reflected the lack of “light”, purity or nobleness in Prince Prosperos character thus uncovering the dark, “gloomy”, decay it had degenerated into.
The play of “light” is connected to the failure of reason or logic in which Ellena could not discern reality from the imagined. She tried vainly to “ascertain the truth” or rationalize her experience to the portrayal of the sublimity of the Gothic before her. Ellena even thought her “imagination” could have “deluded her”. Her attempts to intellectualize failed and everything she “perceived” is not certain. This failure of reason and logic is further exemplified in the Pit and the Pendulum in which no matter how many times the narrator escaped certain death due to his “human resolution” and “understanding” he was eventually saved by “an outstretched arm” thus affirming that his ability to survive was not due to his intellect and will but reliant to luck and fate. Thus it proposes the Gothic idea that no matter how innovative and determined a person is in obtaining a goal, destiny is not in his hands. That measure of the unknown and uncertainty encompasses the mystic of Gothic.
The excerpt has some representation of the supernatural in which Spalatro was seen “gliding” and “hovering” in a ghost-like manner. The way he was “perceived” did not conform to realistic expectations of a normal human being. It was inconceivable how Spalatro behaved.