The Conventions of a Gothic Novel: Research Report The Gothic genre has been around for many years, beginning in 1764. Horace Walpole, an important figure for the eighteenth century, is best known as the first author to write a Gothic Novel. Walpole was also responsible for many other things such as, the first Gothic drama. Since then, many authors have also made a name for themselves in the Gothic genre. Others who have made an impact are Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, and Ann Radcliffe. Author, Ann Radcliffe, writes within a sub-genre in the Gothic genre such as, Female Gothic and Romantic Gothic.
Many sub-genres exist within Gothic: Female Gothic, Contemporary Gothic, Gothic Drama, Gothic Romance, etc. Each genre and sub-genre has certain conventions that can be found throughout novels of the same genre. In the Gothic genre, some of the conventions that are shared between novels include: there is a young woman, whose mother is usually a widow, who flees her home, a Gothic villain who has power over his subjects, and a male in the story (on his search for authority and power) who often entraps the heroine and her days become threatened by death or rape.
All three of these conventions are shown in “Wide Sargasso Sea” by Jean Rhys. In “The Handbook to Gothic Literature,” Alison Milbank explains one of the conventions seen in a Gothic novel, “a young woman, often a governess to a widower’s child, flees his house and his supposed evil designs. ” This convention is present in “Wide Sargasso Sea” as Antoinette, a young woman, has the desire to flee her home; the home of Mr. Mason and her mother, Annette. After a house fire, as the last few people escape, Antoinette thinks to herself, “I will live with Tia and I will be like her.
Not to leave Coulibri. Not to go. Not. ” (Rhys, Jean 23). Antoinette is the young woman seen in the convention who wants to flee her home and the supposed evils: Mr. Mason. She wants to live with her childhood friend, Tia, so that she will not have to leave the place where she grew up, Coulibri. She realizes that Tia is not the right person to live with when she throws a rock at Antoinette’s forehead. The incident causes her Aunt Cora to take her in which lead to Antoinette achieving her dreams of fleeing her home.
A long time has passed when Antoinette marries Rochester. He becomes the Gothic villain who “exercises seigneurial rights over the minds and bodies of his subjects. ” (Sage, Victor 81). The power he has over Antoinette, his subject, and her actions proves to be a dominant convention within the Gothic genre. He has much control over his wife; he controls where they live to what they will eat for dinner. Rochester admits that he does not love his wife. He thinks of his marriage to Antoinette, “I did not lover her.
I was thirsty for her, but that is not love. ” (Rhys, Jean 56). He admits that his marriage is purely lustful, but he does not care. Throughout their marriage, Antoinette is loyal to him and does what she can to please him. The convention of a Gothic novel is seen because it can be argued that Rochester is the ruler who controls Antoinette’s body and mind. Rochester, knowing he can control Antoinette, uses this information to his advantage. As Antoinette and Rochester stop pretending to love each other, their marriage becomes rough.
Rochester begins to question his wife’s sanity and acts in a manner that eventually drives her crazy, such as, calling her by another name, Bertha, and having sex with Amelie, their servant, beside Antoinette’s bedroom. Once Rochester is convinced that his wife is a lunatic, they travel to England where he keeps her locked up in the attic of his house. The jailer he has hired, Grace, says, “…you said that the person I had to look after was not a young girl. I asked if she was an old woman and you said no. Now that I see her I don’t know what to think.
She sits shivering and she is so thin. If she dies on my hands who will get the blame? ” (Rhys, Jean 114). Grace knows that Antoinette is weak and has no chance of leaving the attic. “The Handbook to Gothic Literature” describes this as a Gothic convention, “the male transgressor becomes the villain whose authoritative reach as patriarch, abbot or despot seeks to entrap the heroine, usurps the great house, and threatens death or rape. ” (Milbank, Alison). Rochester has become the villain who keeps his heroine, Antoinette, locked away as she awaits her death.
Although every story is different, all stories share similar conventions throughout their genre. Many of the conventions of a Gothic Novel are seen in “Wide Sargasso Sea. ” The young girl who wants to flee her home, the dominant male who has control over his subjects, and the villain who entraps his heroine are all examples of conventions that are similar throughout Gothic novels. These conventions all appear throughout “Wide Sargasso Sea,” with each convention advancing the plot. Each scene leads to the next, which leads to a new convention.
Although not all conventions of a Gothic novel are used at once, many of them can be seen throughout the story. Many authors take this into consideration when writing their own work. As a result, all stories have specific attributes (conventions) that allow them to be categorized into their own genre. The young girl who wants to flee her home, the dominant male who has control over his subjects, and the villain who entraps his heroine are major conventions that place a novel into the Gothic Novel genre.