Northern Illinois University Press

The Supernatural Sublime

The Metaphysics of Terror in Anglo-American Romanticism

Jack G. Voller

While in recent years the Gothic has come under critical scrutiny from a variety of theoretical perspectives, relatively little attention has been devoted to the relationship between Gothicism and the aesthetic of the sublime. Focusing on the sublime as a literary trope concerned with terror and transcendence, Voller analyzes the concept of a supernatural sublime and demonstrates how Gothic and Romantic writers employed it as the basis for a supernaturalist poetics.

Voller reveals in Part 1 the way in which the psychological and narrative structures of the sublime, as elaborated by Edmund Burke and his contemporaries, gave Gothic fictions much of their characteristic shape and tone. He defines the Gothic mode in close readings of works by Radcliffe, Reeve, Lewis, and Brown. The Supernatural Sublime breaks new ground by establishing a classification schema for Gothic fictions, an anatomy based on the underlying structure of the sublime experience and its powerful influence on what can be called the metaphysical implications of Gothic supernaturalism.

In Part 2, Voller extends his examination of supernatural sublimity into the works of major Romantic authors on both sides of the Atlantic. He demonstrates that, while authors such as Coleridge, the Shelleys, Byron, Hawthorne, and Poe were familiar with Gothic supernaturalism, their use of the supernatural is not an adoption of Gothic conventions but a sophisticated critique of them. Influenced by Kant's idealist interpretation of sublimity, and rejecting what they understood to be the histrionic excesses of Gothic fiction, the Romantics elaborated a more psychologically astute and intellectually subtle supernaturalism that served as a foundation for later nineteenth-century supernaturalism.

(1994) 285 pp.
ISBN: 978-0-87580-194-0
cloth $33.00

Table of Contents

1 The Supernatural Sublime
Part One: Gothic Fiction and the Supernatural Sublime
2 Didacticism and Romantic Error: Radcliffe, Reeve, and the Conservative Supernatural Sublime
3 The Yawning Gulf: Lewis, Brown, and the Radical Supernatural Sublime
Part Two: Romanticism and the Supernatural Sublime
4 Dramatic Truth: Coleridge and the Supernatural
5 "Inquire Not if the Faery Race": Wordsworthian Supernaturalism
6 That Supernatural Summer: The Shelleys and Byron
7 "Wonders Are No Wonders": Keats and the Supernatural
8 Allegory and Fantasy: The Short Fiction of Hawthorne and Poe
Works Cited

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ISBN: 978-0-87580-194-0
cloth $33.00