Intertextuality in Ken Russel's "Gothic": The representation of the romantic period and the motif of the artificial being

Term Paper, 1998
24 Pages, Grade: 1-



0. Introduction

1. Concepts of Intertextuality

2. The Representation of the Romantic Period in Gothic
2.1 Byron and the “Byronic Hero”
2.2 Exclusion of Reality
2.3 Rejection of Conventions and Morality
2.4 The Motifs “Death” and “Night”
2.5 The Relation to the “Gothic Novel”

3. The Motif of the “Artificial Being”
3.1 The Artificial Women
3.2 The Being created in the Mind

4. Gothic – Fact or Fiction?
4.1 Ghost-Story Contest and Scientific Discussions
4.2 The Role of Claire
4.3 Mary Shelley and her “Child” Frankenstein
4.4 Real and Fictional Visions
4.5 “Visual” Intertextuality

5. Summary

6. Works Cited

0. Introduction

The film Gothic starring Gabriel Byrne (in the role of Lord Byron), Julian Sands (Percy Bysshe Shelley), Natasha Richardson (Mary [Wollstonecraft Godwin] Shelley), Myriam Cyr (Claire Clairmont) and Timothy Spall (Dr John Polidori) and directed by Ken Russell was made in 1986.

It is difficult to decide whether the film is a horror film or a period film because it contains elements of both genres. The viewer’s judgement depends on his or her previous knowledge of the life of the characters. If the viewer does not recognize the relation between the elements and statements in the film and texts written by and about the protagonists he or she will feel Gothic to be mainly a horror film. In other words intertextuality plays an important role in Gothic. Therefore, the aim of this term paper is to analyze the intertextual relations between the film and various texts.

Since there are many different concepts concerning intertextuality I will mostly focus on Julia Kristeva’s idea of intertextuality in the first chapter. In the second chapter the literary historical aspects of Gothic will be examined. The film is set in 1816, i.e. in the second phase of the Romantic period. I will analyze how Ken Russell represents some of the characteristics of the Romantic period in his film. Among others, a motif in the film is the artificial being and the creation of an artificial being respectively. This motif is also the topic of Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein. The third chapter deals on the one hand with the question how the motif „artificial being“ is represented in Ken Russell’s film and on the other hand in how far this parallels the novel Frankenstein and Gothic. Finally, the aim of the fourth chapter is to compare the “real” events around the group of the Villa Diodati with the fictional image the director gives in Gothic.

Concerning the secondary literature to compare to the film I could have used texts about almost all of the characters included. I decided to concentrate on Lord Byron and Mary Shelley. Byron is the most extravagant figure of the five persons. Besides, the atmosphere is very much dominated by him. Furthermore, I have chosen texts about Mary Shelley because the motif of the artificial being is linked with her novel Frankenstein.

The main problem of this term paper is to put into words for the reader what normally the viewer perceives with his/her eyes. For a better orientation I will give the minute of the passage I am refering to.

1. Concepts of Intertextuality

In this chapter I want to sum up some of the concepts dealing with intertextuality. Of course it is not possible to present all theories in detail. Therefore, I will concentrate on Julia Kristeva’s idea of intertextuality.

According to Shamma Schahadat the common feature of the various concepts of intertextuality is that intertextuality is a „Text-Text-Bezug“.[1] Therefore, it seems impossible at first glance to analyse the intertextuality between one or more texts and a film. It becomes clear that there can be intertextuality between different media if one considers Kristeva’s statement that „jedes Zeichensystem [kann] als Text begriffen werden“.[2] She defines intertextuality as the „Transposition eines Zeichensystems in ein anderes“.[3] Accepting this definition the relation between a text and the film Gothic can be called intertextual.

The aim of this term paper is to analyse the intertextuality between Gothic on the one hand and Mary Shelley’s introduction to her novel Frankenstein, texts dealing with the Romantic period, texts about Mary Shelley and Lord Byron and the novel Frankenstein itself on the other hand. Kristeva defines text as a „Mosaik von Zitaten“.[4] In the following chapters it will be shown that Gothic is a mosaic of quotations from these texts.

The third aspect of Kristeva’s concept of intertextuality is that she considers the writer of a text as a reader of other texts who uses what he has read in his own text. In the case of Gothic writing is replaced by making the film. The director is the one who „writes“/creates the film by reading and using texts for his film.

Smirnov and Greber call the text that is chronologically produced after another text the „Intertext“, whereas Riffaterre uses this term for the text that existed first.[5] According to the first definition Gothic can be called a intertext. Kristeva does not use the term intertext at all, but distinguishes between a „Genotext“ and a „Phänotext“[6]. These two terms are related to the terms genotype and phenotype which come from the field of genetics. The genotype contains the hereditary factors whereas the phenotype denotes the outward features that arise from a reaction of the genotype to an environmental influence. Schahadat points out that Kristeva’s concept underlines that „zwischen den Texten immer ein Akt der Interpretation und auch der Transformation stattfindet“.[7] In the case of Gothic the Romantic period and the texts produced in this time are genotexts. The phenotext is the film because it interprets the texts. As in genetics the interpretation is influenced by the environment. In other words the interpretation of the Romantic period in Gothic includes modern views.

Apart from distinguishing between different kinds of texts one can divide intertextuality into different types. Genette distinguishes between intertextuality, paratextuality, metatextuality, architextuality and hypertextuality. Among these paratextuality („der Rahmen eine literarischen Werkes, wie Vorwort, Nachwort, Titel etc.“)[8] is the one which can be easily recognised in Gothic. The title of the film refers to the Gothic Novel, a form of novel that was popular during the Romantic period.

Finally, I come to the devices how intertextuality can be marked. Schahadat proposes the terms “allusion” and “quotation” as generic terms for a wide range of other terms like, e.g. anagram, paragram, connective, allusion and quotation.[9]

In the following chapters I will show how both allusions to the texts mentioned above and direct quotations are used in Gothic.

2. The Representation of the Romantic Period in Gothic

2.1 Byron and the „Byronic Hero“

Subjectivism played an important role during the Romantic period. Especially poets like Lord Byron and Percy Shelley isolated themselves from the outside world to concentrate on their feelings. The consequence was that the audience wanted to know as much as possible about the authors they adored. They even expected sensations and scandals. The upper classes were forced to hide themselves behind a „Schleier bürgerlicher Respektabilität“.[10] Therefore, they enjoyed reading about what was forbidden and exotic. Byron on his side liked the idea that the readers of his books thought of him as an enigmatic character surrounded by scandals.

In Gothic this mixture of subjectivism and seclusion on the one hand and the public resonance on the other hand is revealed at the beginning of the film. Although the action at the Villa Diodati is highly subjective because the protagonists are confronted with their personal fears and visions, the first scene reminds the viewer that everything the five people do is or at least could be watched by curious observers. A group of several people, mainly women, listen to what a „guide“ tells about Lord Byron, whose villa lies at a safe distance „on the other side of the lake“ (2:30 min.). He mentions Byron’s incestuous relationship with his half-sister Augusta and the adultery with Lady Caroline Lamb. Byron is described as „the greatest living English poet“, „romantic“, „scholar“ and „duellist“ (2:40 min.). Furthermore, the „guide“ quotes Lady Caroline Lamb when he says about Byron that he is „mad, bad and dangerous to know“ (2:54 min).

A woman who seems to be particularly interested in Lord Byron’s private life takes seat at a table with a telescope while the „guide“ leads her view to a window of the Villa Diodati and says: “Bedroom, top right“ (3:00 min.). From this the viewer gets the impression that the majority of Byron’s admirers were women who felt sexually attracted by him and his poetry. The perspective of the viewer becomes identical with the woman’s perspective and focuses the window mentioned. There, the viewer can see Polidori. Because of the fact that it is Byron’s bedroom this is an allusion to his homosexual relationship to Polidori. From now on the viewer is not any longer a member of the party that observes what happens at the Villa Diodati from the other side of the lake but is confronted directly with the action. Byron is aware that the public is interested in him. He endeavours to fulfil the expectations of the public who thinks of him as an immoral and wicked person (10:25 min.):

Polidori: „They hired glasses at Dejean’s Hôtel to spy at the wicked English across the lake.“

Shelley: „Then I should do my best not to be wicked.“

Byron: „On the contrary. Let us blind them with our wickedness if that is what they want.“

The motif of „being watched by the public“ is taken up again at the end of the film when the setting changes from 1816 to the present. The Villa Diodati has become an attraction visited by many tourists. Just as Byron’s contemporaries in the first scene, the tourists are eager to learn much about him and the others. The only difference between the situation in 1816 and today is that the barrier between the „fans“ and the poets has disappeared. The villa is now open to the public. The tourists at the end of the film do not have to observe the Villa Diodati from the other side of the lake but can walk around freely on the estate and take pictures.

The atmosphere and the action of the film are very much dominated by the figure of Lord Byron. Ken Russell portrays Byron as an almost exaggerated representation of the „Byronic Hero“, a romantic hero that was named after Byron himself. He embodied this figure in his life and presented it in his works as well.[11] „Byronic“ is nowadays defined as follows:

[C]haracteristic of or resembling Lord Byron [...] or his poetry that is to say contemptuous of

and rebelling against conventional morality, or defying fate, or possessing the characteristics of

Byron’s romantic heroes, or imitating his dress and appearance.[12]

Byron’s outward appearance in the film corresponds to the image modern literature gives of him. Hartmut Müller notes that Byron’s looks had changed from a rather corpulent adolescent to a good-looking young man when he returned to Cambridge in 1807: „Sein Gesicht ist schmal und gutgeschnitten, seine Haut ist sehr blaß, worauf er stolz ist, er hat braune Locken und auffallend helle Augen.“[13]


[1] Shamma Schahadat, „Intertextualität: Lektüre-Text-Intertext“, Einführung in die Literaturwissenschaft, ed. Miltos Pechlivanos et al. (Stuttgart: Metzler, 1995) 366.

[2] Julia Kristeva, quoted in : Schahadat, „Intertextualität“, 368.

[3] Kristeva, quoted in: ibid., 368.

[4] Kristeva, quoted in: ibid., 366.

[5] Ibid., 370.

[6] Kristeva, quoted in: ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Gérard Genette, quoted in: ibid.

[9] Cf. Schahadat, 376.

[10] Hans Ulrich Seeber, “Romantik und viktorianische Zeit“, Englische Literaturgeschichte, ed Hans Ulrich Seeber (Stuttgart: Metzler, 1991) 249.

[11] Cf. Dietrich Schwanitz, Literaturwissenschaft für Anglisten. Das neue studienbegleitende Handbuch (München: Hueber, 1985) 226.

[12] John Mulgan, ed., The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Literature (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963) 66.

[13] Hartmut Müller, Lord Byron (Reinbek: Rowohlt, 1981) 44.

Excerpt out of 24 pages


Intertextuality in Ken Russel's "Gothic": The representation of the romantic period and the motif of the artificial being
Bielefeld University  (Fakultät für Linguistik und Literaturwissenschaft)
Motivgeschichte/Intertextualität: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
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ISBN (Book)
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Intertextuality, Russel, Gothic, Motivgeschichte/Intertextualität, Mary, Shelley, Frankenstein
Quote paper
M.A. Anke Grundmann (Author), 1998, Intertextuality in Ken Russel's "Gothic": The representation of the romantic period and the motif of the artificial being, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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