The haunted wilderness as the Sublime in Canadian Gothic fiction in the 19th century

Term Paper, 2009

12 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1. Introduction

2. Introduction to the primary source: “Death in the Arctic” by Robert W. Service

3. The Sublime in Gothic Literature

4. “The haunted wilderness” – Harmful nature in Canadian Gothic

5. “Death in the Arctic” – a structural analysis

6. Conclusion


1. Introduction

This work will focus on the question how and why nature can be seen as the Sublime in Canadian Gothic fiction of the 19th century.[1] This will be shown on the poem “Death in the Arctic” by Robert W. Service. A short summary will be given at the beginning and will be followed by a sketchy interpretation. The concept of the Sublime in Gothic fiction in general will be explained briefly. The next paragraph will deal with general Gothic elements that appear in Canadian Gothic fiction and that all together form the basis for the statement that nature is the source for the Sublime.

A detailed analysis of the primary source will be given in the then-following section, showing how the sublime is created in this particular piece, using the elements that were stated in the previous section.

At the end, a conclusion will be drawn.

2. Introduction to the primary source: “Death in the Arctic” by Robert W. Service

The poem “Death in the Arctic” was written by the Scottish born Robert W. Service and was published in 1912 in the collection Rhymes of a Rolling Stone.

The poem consists of 10 stanzas with constantly changing rhyme patterns which will be analyzed later.

The lyrical I, obviously a man, is the only survivor of a group of men that for some reason get lost somewhere in the Arctic. Since the situation in the cold is unbearable, the lyrical I plans on killing himself as soon as it is 8 o’clock.

The poem is told in parallel lines, one telling the reader about situations in the past as flashbacks, the other one describing the current situation in which the lyrical I is in. In the eigth stanza the distinction between present and past is blurred. The ending leaves the reader to wonder what has happened: did the lyrical I go insane in the end or did he commit suicide eventually and is therefore telling the last two stanzas from a different narrative position? Possible interpretations will be offered in section 5.

But first, the concept of the sublime will be explained.

3. The Sublime in Gothic Literature

The principle of the sublime is an important part of Gothic fiction. Over the centuries it underwent some changes. The main focus for this work will be on the ideas written by Edmund Burke in 1757 in his “Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful.” Whereas earlier views expressed that “wonder, awe, horror and joy were the emotions [...] to elevate the soul”[2], Burke clearly states that “terror is in all cases whatsoever [...] the ruling principle” of the sublime. This means that beautiful objects can evoke love and tenderness, but the sublime produces awe and terror.[3] This happens because “the subject recognizes the sublime as an irresistible force that holds the potential for overpowering his rationality and control”[4] and therefore excites fear. Moreover, the subject faced with sublime objects has to fear its own extinction.

In Canadian Gothic fiction Nature can be seen as the sublime. This is partly due to the fact that fear is a constant by-product of Canada’s natural wonders[5]. This leads to the view which was once stated by Longinus where he notes that “in great natures their very greatness spells danger.”[6]. But it is not the greatness that is the main concern here, but rather the effect it evokes. Northrop Frye attributes nature a “lawlessness and moral nihilism”, an “indifference to the supreme value placed on life” and a “faceless, mindless unconsciousness, which fosters life without benevolence”[7].In his book The Bush Garden he is more specific: “It is not a terror of the dangers or discomforts or even the mysteries of nature, but a terror of the soul at something that these things manifest.”[8]

The following paragraph intents to show how this terror is created. Hence the main elements in Canadian Gothic will be shown and explained.

4. “The haunted wilderness” – Harmful nature in Canadian Gothic

19th century Canadian Gothic is wilderness Gothic. Therefore, as opposed to US American Gothic, the setting of a Canadian Gothic story is very much more distinctive and stringent. To understand the specific role nature has in Canada, it is helpful to take a short look at Canadian history. Until the 16th century, Canada was populated by so called Indian native people and inuits. Then the settlement of European immigrants, mostly of English and French origin, started. They colonized the country and it was not until 1867 that the four main colonies joined together under the terms of the British North America Act to become the Dominion of Canada.[9] Thus it was still a very young nation when the first Gothic novels were written. With these historic background information in mind, paired with the geographic conditions, it is more explicable why nature played such a big role. At that time, Canada still was a place far from British civilisation. Therefore, one of the most common and probably most effective environments to place such a Gothic story is the Canadian wilderness, especially the North.


[1] This work will only deal with English-Canadian literature which, of course, does not mean that French Canadian Gothic literature did not exist.

[2] Botting, Fred (1996), Gothic, p. 38

[3] compare ibid, 39

[4] Edwards, Justin D. (2005), Canada: reading the spectre of a national literature, p. 30

[5] Compare to Ibid, p. 28

[6] quoted after Ibid, p. 29

[7] quoted after Poole, Gordon (1998): La natura canadese in tre poeti narrativi di lingua inglese, p. 195

[8] Frye, Northrop (1971): The Bush Garden. Essays on the Canadian Imagination, p. 225

[9], 02/17/09

Excerpt out of 12 pages


The haunted wilderness as the Sublime in Canadian Gothic fiction in the 19th century
University of Hamburg  (Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik)
American Gothic of the 19th century
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
392 KB
Sublime, Canadian, Gothic
Quote paper
Daniela Schröder (Author), 2009, The haunted wilderness as the Sublime in Canadian Gothic fiction in the 19th century, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Look inside the ebook
Title: The haunted wilderness as the Sublime in Canadian Gothic fiction in the 19th century

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free