Architectural Space in the Gothic Novel

Castel of…/heimozobernig/exguide8.shtm
YOU, WHO are blessed with shade as well as light, you, who are gifted with two eyes, endowed with a knowledge of perspective, and charmed with the enjoyment of various colours, you, who can actually see an angle, and contemplate the complete circumference of a Circle in the happy region of the Three Dimensions – how shall I make clear to you the extreme difficulty which we in Flatland experience in recognizing one another’s configuration?(Abbot, Edwin A., Flatland. 1884)
The interest of the authors of Gothic novels about the symbolic or allegorical space was founded in Christian roots that sustained that the spirit prevailed on the matter. In theory, they were seeking for physical, moral, and spiritual analogies. However, the analogy was not already between God and the Nature, but the man and the Nature. In this process, the objects represent psychic questions and moral problems.
It is therefore explained that in the atmosphere of the Gothic novel, the man is connected to the space atmosphere, immersed in the psychic or moral conflict developed along the text. From my point of view, the most explicit exhibitor of these concepts is Edgar Allan Poe.
It is important to highlight that the Gothic architecture arose before the homonymous literature. Horace Walpole was the first one in combining both in his book ¨The Castle of Otranto¨ that takes the subtitle ¨A gothic story¨, where two interdependent speeches, that of the literature and the architecture, take place.
Starting from the book of Walpole, the space of the Gothic fiction has been represented with castles, monasteries, convents, prisons, often in ruins, in a dark landscape.
The materialization of the atmosphere takes advantage of the size of these buildings, so overpowering for the human scale, the interiors are shown dark, cavernous, labyrinthine, invoking feelings of fear, surprise, confinement. And beyond these characterizations, the building is physically alive – still more than its inhabitants -.
Roger Corman, director and producer of ¨The Tomb of Ligeia¨ recalls that in a meeting with the producers Nicholson and Sam Arkoff, while they discussed the project of ‘The fall of the house Usher’, Arkoff asked him:
– “But, and the monster? “.
– “The monster is the house”, he responded. (from ¨El¨. Cultura. On line).
The internal conflicts are transferred to the spaces and the objects, they are incorporated to them, and at the same time, in a continuous cycle, the space materialization generates the psychological conflicts of the characters.
The interest in the non rational experience, was a Romantic reaction against the hard rationalism of the SXVIII that evolved in two ways, one in the search of the spiritual reality, and the other one in the personal and social exploration of the personal subconscious of the characters, hopelessly attached to the world of the memory and dreams, many times induced by the opium.
The symbolic character is shaped in the psychology and the reader’s imagination, who is submitted to the ¨first person¨ narration; then, metaphors are apprehended and transformed in symbolism.
In his Philosophy of Composition, Edgard Allan Poe provides a reason for this attitude, when explaining the main character’s location with the crow, not in the forest (that would be a more natural suggestion), but in a chamber:
“that a close circumscription of space is absolutely necessary to the effect of insulated incident: — it has the force of a frame to a picture. It has an indisputable moral power in keeping concentrated the attention, and, of course, must not be confounded with mere unity of place.
I determined, then, to place the lover in his chamber — in a chamber rendered sacred to him by memories of her who had frequented it. The room is represented as richly furnished —”
Notice the importance that has been given to the incorporation of furniture whose form, color, magnitude, are expressive in themselves. They can force the atmosphere so that it seems strange or normal, threatening, familiar. The pure ornament becomes in a new dramatic form; the interior space is emphasized in disregard of the exterior. The sounds, the movements, the lights and shades supplement the creation of the disturbing atmosphere; the optic games are caused by the decoration, to such a point that is difficult to separate the illusions of the hallucinations.
Shot of the movie ¨The Tomb of Ligeia¨, 1964. Representation of the threatening, tenebrous atmosphere, through the color and the objects. Web download.
We, architects, use different representations to communicate an idea, a design, a description. Among them, descriptive memoirs, perspectives, sketches, drawings. In general, the visual aspects are shown, but it is very difficult to transmit the phenomenological effects of the architecture previously described.
To express the concepts of the Gothic architectural space better, I have selected the movie ¨The Tomb of Ligeia¨ that was filmed for the first time in 1964, performed by Vincent Price, directed and produced by Roger Corman, as the last of a saga of low budget movies based on stories of Edgard Allan Poe. Although Corman shows a technical advance in ¨The Tomb of Liegia¨, since he also uses shots in the exterior, the scenarios were basic, they were adapted for several movies and the fog used to cover the similarity among scenarios of the saga .

Picture of the preliminary images in the movie ¨The Tomb of Ligeia¨, 1964. It belongs to Castle Acre Priory Ruins.

In his book “Vincent Price: The Art of Fear¨, Denis Meikle quotes the actor, who took some of the credits of the unusual film set: “The Tomb of Ligeia was vaguely based on an idea that Roger and I had once. I had said I had always wanted to do a picture in a ruin, but actually using the ruin as an actual place, with real furniture in it and the ruin around it, which I thought would be very effective¨. (TMC Archives. The movie was filmed at an Abbey in Norfolk, England. Perhaps Vincent Price has captured the atmosphere of the architectural space of the story, I understand his proposal of set, like a coalition among the place in ruins and the furniture, where the furniture is indispensable part of the architecture of the pentagonal tower, it transforms it, giving it the final character and form.

A shot of the movie ¨The Tomb of Ligeia¨. Vincent Price and Elizabeth Shepherd. 1964. Notice the decorative elements of the set, behind them.
The ornament of arabesque in the curtains and covers was another device to relate the Nature with the geometric abstraction.The structure of arabesque consists basically on a stylized leaf with its petiole, to which it is inexorably tied. In the Gothic novel, the petiole forks ad infinitum. In this respect, let us notice that Poe mentions the Greek philosopher Democritus (460-370 BC) who speculated that the whole matter of the Universe consists on atoms (indivisible matter) that move everywhere. The allusion of Poe is a clear reference to the expansion to infinite.
Once the ornamental outline of the furniture is exceeded, we focus on the small scale, that not for being small is innocent, but rather it expresses the summum of the anguish and the terror, since the decoration becomes indivisible part of the oniric images and hallucinations. With these methods, it is achieved an intensification and dramatization of interpersonal relationships, between the man and the architecture (or rather space) that surrounds him.
In the symbolic space of Gothic novels, the aesthetics of the Renaissance perfection, that of the normative speculation and the symmetrical resultant, -banner of classic beauty-, is left aside . It faces the concept of ¨without geometry there is no truth¨, because in fact, there is geometry, but a different geometry, that is not summarized in the anatomy and the focal perspective, but has other more complicated and darker roads. And, perhaps Poe is correct when quoting Bacon: ¨There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion¨


– Abbot, Edwin. Flatland, a Romance of Many Dimension.

– Gordon, Rae Beth. Poe: Optics, Hysteria and Aesthetic Theory

– Hoffmann, Gerhard. ” Space and Symbol in the Tales of Edgar Allan Poe,” from Poe Studies, vol. XII, no. 1, Washington State University. June 1979

– Poe, Edgar Allan. The Philosophy of Composition. 1846

– Stamps III, Arthur E.; Krishnan V. V. Spaciosness and Boundary Roughness.

– Stein, Mandy. The Use of the Arabesque in Edgar Allen Poe’s Short Stories “Ligeia “and “The Visionary“ Scholarly Paper, 2007

Safe Creative #0910114672515


Please leave a constructive reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s