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Sweet degradation - the persistence of the Gothic in Shelley's representations of love

By Eleanor Burns


This thesis examines the persistent influence of Gothic fiction upon the works of Percy Bysshe Shelley throughout his career, beginning with its obvious manifestations in his\ud early novels and the Victor and Cazire poems, and proceeding to trace its continued presence throughout the major works. Particular emphasis is placed on the use of this trope within depictions of love and sexuality -a conjunction which may be traced from the juvenile period to `The Triumph of Life' - and it is argued that in spite of repeated attempts to devise a redemptive system of sexual ethics (most comprehensively attempted in the Platonic commentary `A Discourse On the Manners of the Antient Greeks Relative to the Subject of Love'), Shelley is unable to reject his psychological scepticism which the Gothic - with its depictions of morbid and sadistic sexuality - embodies.\ud \ud \ud Chapter one focuses upon the early works - especially Zastrozzi - with particular comparison to the powerful influence of The Monk and Zofloya upon Shelley at this\ud period. The possible early influence of Plato - especially the Phaedo - is also considered, as well as the gothic cadences of Plato's own work.\ud \ud Chapter two deals with The Cenci, considering it as the most obviously gothic work of Shelley's mature career. His use of the genre is explored in psychoanalytic and\ud socio-political terms, and compared to Freud's Civilisation and its Discontents as a dramatic study in dysfunctional social institutions.\ud \ud Chapter three considers the figure of the vampire and other parasitic lovers of Romantic fiction, concluding with the veiled apparition of `Alastor'. Dante's dream of the siren in the Purgatorio is presented as a possible prototype with this manifestation of a self-consuming, antisocial existence. Conversely, however, society itself is presented in none too attractive or redeeming a light.\ud \ud This dilemma leads into Chapter four, where the reform of society by the exposure and abolition of `crimes of convention' (in Shelley's terms) is the central issue.\ud Incest is considered both as an example of a pointless and unethical social code (as depicted by Shelley), and as a possible expedient for promoting Platonic relations within\ud a fully-sexual partnership.\ud \ud Chapter five deals with `The Triumph of Life', in which gothic horror comes to the fore along with new heights of pessimism regarding worldly sexuality. The legacy of\ud Rousseau, and his profound influence on Shelley, is intertwined with this, and the poem appears to be reaching away from the sensuality of the disgraced philosopher towards a more rarefied, Dantean concept of love, when it breaks off.\ud \ud Chapter six pursues the Dantean theme through Epipsychidion and Adonais, paying particular note to the claiming of the deceased Keats as a more appropriate spiritual guide than Emilia Viviani. It considers whether this constitutes an affirmation of transcendent Platonic love, or an outright rejection of sexuality as `sweet degradation', chaining humanity to the apparent and imperfect

Publisher: School of English (Leeds)
Year: 2004
OAI identifier:

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