A Fantastic Text Tells Of An Indomitable
Desire….” (R. Jackson) How Useful Do You Find This Defini Essay, Research Paper
Using the fantastic as a medium to express states of mind or unwritten desires has b~ n a popular form for many writers since the Romantic era and still is today. However, it has also been used, in my opinion, to articulate fears ~’x , and communicate feelings of cultural uneaseV In this essay, I will attempt to determine to what extent both are true and which is the more significant explanation for the common use of fantasy as a medium. I will also consider the question of why it appears to be a particularly important form for many female authors. During the late eighteenth century there was a proliferation of what we term Gothic texts. These “horrid” novels are said to have been particularly popular with a female readership and usually featured young, vulnerable women in life-threatening or terrifyin situations.-Varying degrees of the fantastic were to be found in these novels, ranging from haunted castles and giants to sinister Counts and imprisoned wives languishing in madness in secret towers. Examples of these novels include Anne Radcliffe’s The MYsteries of Udolpho and The Romance of The Forest and later, rather different works such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. These novels can ~ viewed as expressing a deep sense of cultural unease, as they were written at a time of great upheaval and metamorphosis when society was changing from an agriculturally based village system to what would become an almost unrecognisable industrial society. Power was passing from the landed gentry to a ~/ money~oriented middle class oligarchy.~The American and French Revolutions had placed fear in the hearts of the ruling classes and draconian measures such as the suspension of Habeas Corpus and widespread censorship were being implemented to attempt to quell revolutionary groups in society.~ People were also witnessing the advancement of a utilitarian industrial society and increasing secularism which threatened to destroy the way of life and the values they were accustomed to, and rather than replacing it with the egalitarian society the French had hoped for, a horrific life in a polluted city working in the sweat shops of the new rich appeared to be all that was on offer for the large majority of the population. This naturally led to a great deal of political unrest and in order to limit the threat to their position that this presented, the reign of the terrified became a reign of terror, which threatened the freedom of all areas of society, not least that of writers. However, the Gothic text also expressed the fears and frustrations felt by the almost powerless female half of society.~It is not difficult to see the powerless position of the typical Gothic heroine as representing very clearly that of a woman at the peak of the Gothic novel’s popularity. The heroine is prey to unscrupulous men who wish at the least to rob her of integrity and at worst to rape or kill her. In a society where women passed directly from the control of their fathers to that of their husbands (usually chosen for them) against whom they had virtually no redress or right of divorce, despite the fact that their husbands could, if they so desired, put them away, make their lives miserable or indeed have them killed without much difficulty. Banished wives imprisoned in towers represented in an extreme form, the deep seated anxieties of many ~omen and their resentment at their lack of power. ~However, the fact that the Gothic heroine generally overcomes the almost unsurmountable odds to escape and live happily ever after demonstrates the fulfilment of the ,~ indomitable desire that Jackson writes of. These novels, the forerunners of the contemporary fantastic text, can therefore be seen to both express the fears and frustrations of their readers whilst also offering a satisfaction of the desire for auto~my and self-determination that they felt. In The Romance of The Forest by Radcliffe, Adeline the heroine eventually escapes incarceration in a castle, literally and metaphorically in the middle of nowhere, and the evil intentions and sexual desires of the Count, to marry the good soldier and live happily ever after. Her virtue in the face of oppression is rewarded: Their former lives afforded an example of trials well endured-and their present, of virtues greatly rewarded; and this reward they continued to deserve-for not to themselves was their happiness contracted, but diffused to all who came within the sphere of their influence. (363) Some critics such as Pitt (1973) have suggested that if marriage is substituted for murder in the Gothic text, we/ can see expressions of a fear of being forced to marry ~and assume a role in life that society had designated for young women. The fact that the Gothic heroine is often unaware of the true danger facing her and is always looking the wrong way when she could discover what is really going on demonstrates the frustrations that many women may have felt at being unaware of what society was forcing them into until it was too late. This dual operation of both fear and desire can also be seen in many contemporary~works such as Doris Lessing’s The Memoirs of a Survivor.~This novel is set in the last days of the breakdown of a society that we can recognise as that of contemporary North America. Social order is collapsing and society is reverting to a ~ore primitive structure of the survival of the fittest. Food is scarce and murder, gang warfare and looting are common place. The disenfranchised and brutalised such as the horrific gangs of children we meet towards the end of the novel are returning to wreak chaos and vengeance on the world that has let them down and forced them to the margins of society. Whilst we can see this as a fear of what the future might hold for western society as we know it, there are also some~very positive aspects to the collapse of the old order. ~There is still an elite within the community, the administrating class or The Talkers, which some members benefit from such as the Whites who live in the same block of flats as the narrator, but they are a group who are in danger and must keep their status secret; their power is diminishing. In a time of crisis, love, loyalty and responsibility become essential and eventually the narrator, Emily and Gerald, escape into the other world behind the wall, symbolic of the past, and whilst not idyllic, certainly a long way from their brutal, empty present. This novel operates on many levels, some of which are unfathomable to many readers, but the coexistence of both horror and a positive outcome are clearly visible.~Even in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale which offers a vlew of a dreadful future (with flashbacks to a recognisable present) ~in which fertile women are few and ‘~v”~. far between due to environmental pollution and so are given as property to “The Commanders” and have no rights at all. They live in a brutal totalitarian state which classifies all people and punishes with death any that transgress. Sexual behaviour is severely controlled and there are informers everywhere who prevent almost any chance of resistance to the State. It is not difficult to see how this fantastic world might be an expression of anxiety at the direction the author sees North American society to be taking, but despite the overwhelming repression, the narrator, Offred, is able eventually, through great personal danger, to find a member of the underground resistance and through this female solidarity she is presented with an opportunity to escape and work for the overthrow of the repressive system she is forced to live under. Although we never discover whether she does in fact escape, the fact that even under this degree of repression she is able to achieve solidarity and have a chance of liberation is very positive and demonstrates the ~ overwhelming desire for this. The disintegration or metamorphosis of civilization…
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