Thus far in Gothic novels…

we’ve made it through Eliot’s The Lifted Veil and Collins’s The Woman in White.  Both texts seem to take a very long time (longer in Collins’s work than in Eliot’s) to reveal a Secret that, in the end, is rather anticlimactic — because we either knew or strongly suspected the information, or because the revealed information doesn’t produce the same anxieties as it might have in 19th century Britain. (The Woman in White is fairly entertaining, and interesting to discuss in a historical context, but I’m not convinced of its relevance to a contemporary audience.)

I did find both texts interesting reflections on the art history and art theory of the 19th century.  Eliot’s work responds to photography and the relationship of art and technology, documentation and imagination.  Collins’s text takes up the formation of watercolour societies and the way these paints shaped tourism (individuals were encouraged to take their pre-packaged paints into the English countryside), representations of British landscape (the picturesque and the sublime, two fictional responses to the anxieties of overcrowded cities), and the growth of the middle-class (affordable paints worked on smaller canvases allowed this demographic to appropriate a medium which had previously been available to (and a sign of) members of the Royal Academy. (Collins’s primary narrator is a middle-class drawing-master, who teaches wealthy heiresses-to-be the art of watercolours.)

Interesting comments, but I think I’m engaging more with the history of the century, and the theories around the formation of cities, architecture, and art, rather than the novels themselves. I’ll have to see if anything changes while reading Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret.

12 October 2009 ~ St. Catharines

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