Hypotheses from English 649A, January 20, 1999:

19th-Century Medievalism

I thought it would be useful to step back and set out some of the concepts that were explored during our marathon three-hour class:

Hypothesis 1. I suggested this one at the very end of the class. Freud argues in his essay that certain forms of uncanniness are tied to issues that were once believed by our "primitive forefathers" but have since been "surmounted," including the omnipotence of thoughts, the prompt fulfillment of wishes, secret injurious powers and the return of the dead. As Freud states, "As soon as something actually happens in our lives which seems to confirm the old, discarded beliefs we get a feeling of the uncanny" (148). Might we say that Medievalism functions for the 18th and 19th centuries as, precisely, the uncanny, hence the tendency for medievalism to take on such frightening forms--the gothic, the demon-women of "Christabel" or "La Belle Dame," the vampiric, the doppelgänger.

Hypothesis 2. Justin Jackson and others explored the alignment of the sublime and the uncanny in Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho. Might there be some more intimate connection between these two concepts? Freud himself might be said to be moving in this direction, given that he was working on the uncanny essay at approximately the same time that he was writing Beyond the Pleasure Principle. I suggested that one might also consider Julia Kristeva's exploration of the abject's relation to the sublime: "For abjection, when all is said and done, is the other facet of religious, moral, and ideological codes on which rest the sleep of individuals and the breathing spells of societies. Such codes are abjection's purification and repression. But the return of their repressed make up our 'apocalypse,' and that is why we cannot escape the dramatic convulsions of religious crises" (Powers of Horror 209). I read out the boat-stealing episode of Wordsworth's Prelude (Book First) as a possible example of a conflation between the uncanny and the sublime.

hypothesis 3. Jian-Qing Wu was interested in exploring why Radcliffe feels the need to quote Shakespeare and Milton throughout Udolpho. I suggested that perhaps any emergent generic revolution against the dominant trends of a given time will require some sort of throw-back to authoritative, if now residual, texts. (Here, I'm borrowing terms from Raymond William's Marxism and Literature, although similar arguments about genre have been made by Ralph Cohen, Hans Robert Jauss, and Michael McKeon.) Radcliffe therefore puts Gray and Thomson alongside Shakespeare and Milton. The dialectic would look something like this:

Hypothesis 4. Class also suggested the many ways that Wordsworth and the other Romantics are, in fact, very much indebted to Radcliffe, despite the general tendency to see Wordsworth and Coleridge as the true innovators. I suggested that a good article pursuing this argument is Alan Richardson's "Romanticism and the Colonization of the Feminine" in Anne Mellor's Romanticism and Feminism. To what extent does Wordsworth colonize Radcliffe? Some of the elements we pulled out that recall Wordsworth include:



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