‘The sublime escapes the limits of representation’ (Nicola Trott). Discuss the role of the sublime in Romantic and/or Gothic writing.
The aim of this assignment is to research and discuss what the sublime is and how it can be applied to Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Edmund Burke believes that ‘whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain and danger, whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of sublime’. It could be argued that he believes anything that causes someone extreme pain or terror that cannot be ...view middle of the document...
Burke states that ‘Magnificence is likewise a source of the sublime. A great profusion of things, which are splendid or valuable in themselves, is magnificence’. He also states that ‘we can become amazed and confounded at the wonders of minuteness; or can we distinguish in its effect of littleness from the vast itself’. It could be suggested that it escapes representation because to be amazed or horrified beyond speech would not enable our minds to comprehend it and therefore becomes unrepresentable.
It could be suggested that within Frankenstein the sublime could be applied to the monster due to his deformity. Burke states that ‘deformity is opposed not to beauty, but to the complete, common form’ . It could be argued that it is the human form we know and see every day that is the ‘norm’. Therefore when a deformity is present, like the hugeness and ugliness of the monster, this then becomes a deformity to the form we know. Burke gives an example as ‘ if the back be humped, the man is deformed; because his back has an unusual figure....we say he is deformed in that part, because men are not commonly made in that manner’. The sublime could be applied to the first description given of the monster. Shelley writes:
' his yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness: but these luxuriance’s only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips'.
It could be argued that this gives the familiar description we would expect for certain parts of a human but at the same time we are told of unfamiliar and horrific features which could make the mind think it is seeing something terrible.
It could be argued that there is a fine line between the sublime and the uncanny. It could be suggested that the uncanny is something with which we are familiar with but at the same time have unfamiliar feelings or fears about. Ed Cameron states that ‘critics have always noted the close relation between the sublime monstrosity of Gothic fiction and the uncanny as a particular form of the frightening’. He believes that:
‘Harold Bloom blatantly claims both that Freud’s essay The Uncanny outlines Freud’s theory of the sublime and that Freud’s essay is the only major contribution that the twentieth century has made to the aesthetics of the sublime’.
It could be argued that when attempting to describe the sublime in literature, it may be something that is familiar to the surroundings or familiar within everyday life, but at the same time becomes frightening or fearful to us due to an unfamiliar addition or fearful feeling that suddenly becomes apparent. Again this could be the case with the monster in Frankenstein: the human form being the familiar and the deformities become the unfamiliar.
When applying the sublime to...