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Poe's 'Ligeia' and the Pleasures of Terror

Terry Heller

The apparent delights with which we dwell upon objects of pure terror where our moral feelings are not the least concerned, and no passion seems to be excited but the depressing one of fear, is a paradox of the heart, much more difficult of solution. 1

This essay appeared originally in Gothic 2:2 (December 1980) 39-48. I have revised it slightly but not substantially in this reprinting. Thanks are due to Gary William Crawford for editing Gothic and tending the flame of Gothic studies.

     When Joseph M. Garrison, Jr. undertakes to resolve "the ostensible tension between Poe's acknowledged commitment to 'Supernal Beauty' as the poetic ideal and his preoccupation - especially in his prose fiction - with horror, madness and those demonic influences which paralyze personality, destroy social bonds and alienate men from spiritual environments," he not only raises a persistently puzzling question about Poe, but also raises by implication a question about the value of horror as an artistic effect.2 Garrison concludes that for Poe, "Horror and terror are legitimate effects when they are calculated to compel the reader to turn his attention and affections from a debilitating and terrifying analysis of the human condition to an alternative - an ideal - in Poe's case, 'the sentiment of Intellectual Happiness here, and the Hope of a higher Intellectual Happiness hereafter' " (p, 148). While such an argument may appeal to admirers of Poe, it remains on the face of it fundamentally unsound if Garrison means that a competent reading of "Ligeia," for example, ought to turn the reader's affections from horror toward Intellectual Happiness. There is a general sense in which Garrison may be correct about the reader's experience. A tale of terror may contribute to enhancing a reader's humanity - as do all valuable works of art - by exercising and improving his perceptions and perspectives, his sympathies and self - awareness; only so far may such a tale perform an ethically valuable function. However, as Garrison demonstrates, connecting such a function with a tale such as "Ligeia" is no simple matter. Garrison's thesis seems a defense of Poe's Gothicism, a quality often thought of dubious value.

     Devendra P. Varma's discussions of the critical receptions of Ann Radcliffe and "Monk" Lewis illustrate the kinds of factors that have contributed to a felt need to defend the Gothic by showing its horrors to serve some worthy end.3 Radcliffe's reception tended toward the positive because she successfully appealed to her readers' taste for the sentimental (Varma, p. 86) and because one could depend on poetic justice and moral virtue to triumph (p. 91). Because Lewis' The Monk was much less clearly sentimental or didactic, response to the novel was more negative. Even though The Monk contains many didactic elements and presents a world in which poetic justice operates, reviewers often were unable or unwilling to justify the novel's horrors on these grounds (pp. 142 - 48). The tendency to subordinate the horrors of the Gothic to another end such as the sublime (Radcliffe's own justification),4 or sentimentalism or didacticism is implicit in the receptions of these works. As sentimentalism and the sublime became less interesting or available as justifications, critics tended to turn toward the didactic as a way of making acceptable the horrors of powerful works of fiction. The difference between the receptions of Radcliffe and Lewis is mirrored in the receptions of The House of the Seven Gables and Faulkner's Sanctuary. Chapter Eighteen of Hawthorne's romance is among the more terrifying episodes in nineteenth century American fiction, yet because Hawthorne's moral purposes have rarely been doubted, because the prevailing opinion is that all his works are moral allegories, and perhaps because this episode of entrapment with a corpse is part of a narrative comedy, this novel has fared well in critical opinion. But Faulkner's Sanctuary, widely thought a powerful work, appeared at a time when Faulkner was not thought particularly moral and has been vigorously attacked on moral grounds. Those who have defended the novel have tended to turn to allegory or another didactic mode as a means of defense.5

     It seems natural, then, that Garrison's defense of "Ligeia" should try to locate in Poe's intentions a specific and laudable moral effect for the tale of terror. Garrison is not alone in this effort. Stuart Levine and E.W. Carlson are among the more able interpreters of Poe's career who would prefer that stories as powerful and interesting as "Ligeia "and "The Fall of the House of Usher" not be considered merely tales of terror.6 Garrison apparently did not intend to directly raise the question of the value of terror as an artistic effect, but perhaps he should have. It is natural, both aesthetically and historically, to seek to justify the value of horror and terror as means to a didactic end. Garrison's is a highly sophisticated attempt of this kind. But such a justification, as I plan to show, will not do for "Ligeia." Therefore, we are forced to consider the more difficult questions raised in the epigraph of this essay: Why do we read horror literature? What rewards does it offer?

     As one might expect, a fair number of Poe's best known modern critics either do not read "Ligeia" as a horror story at all or argue along with Carlson that beneath a surface of apparently gratuitous Gothicism is an undercurrent of meaning that redeems the horror. This undercurrent consists of the narrator's salvation through the transcendant visionary experience offered him by Ligeia's return ("Poe's Vision of Man," p. 17).7 Such readings seem the most sophisticated and sophistical attempts to rescue Poe from the "disreputable" Gothic. More true to the tone of "Ligeia," though still problematic, are readings such as those given by Sidney Moss and G.R. Thompson.These readings originate in three differing conceptions of Poe's career and vision. Carlson sees Poe's career as a clarification of his idealism and the alignment of his technique and subjects to serve that idealism. Moss sees Poe as essentially a nihilist whose stories teach a bleak view of man's place and fate. Thompson sees Poe as a "romantic ironist," who willfully believes in his idealism, but is able at will to stand back from it and even to contemplate the likelihood that what he chooses to believe might be false. According to Thompson, "Ligeia" leads the reader "first, into the world of supernatural horror, and then out of that world into a world of mental horror, and then, out of that purely mental world into a limbo region of ambiguity where we cannot be sure what did or did not take place" (Poe's Fiction, p. 104). To mediate among these views of Poe is not the intent of this paper. Because Thompson's reading seems truer to what I take to be a normal reader's competent response to "Ligeia" and because this reading acknowledges that the tale's effect is horror at various levels, I propose to use this interpretation as a basis for examining how the story produces the effects of horror, what these effects are, and finally, what might make such effects attractive to normal readers.

     By what means does "Ligeia" arouse horror in the reader? At the literal level where most readers begin to understand the story, we find a narrator explaining his mysterious association with Ligeia, a woman of mysterious origin, great beauty, wealth and learning. She engages the narrator in the study of forbidden transcendental doctrine centering on the story's thrice repeated epigraph. The epigraph asserts that the will is mysterious, that God is a great Will pervading all things, and that man dies only because his will is not strong enough to keep him in life. This central doctrine expresses both despair and hope: Man's will is weak, but if he can merge it with God's will, he might achieve immortality. On this literal and supernatural level, Ligeia succeeds in strengthening her will. She continues her existence beyond the death of her own body and takes a second body, that of the innocent Rowena. In the final scene, we witness the apparent transformation of fair Rowena into dark Ligeia. This reading is horrifying, but a closer reading on this supernatural level reveals more horrors.

     What is the meaning of Ligeia's act? Joel Salzberg has taken note of the fact that Ligeia's shrinking from the narrator's touch after her reincarnation suggests her aversion to him, an aversion inconsistent with the love she expresses for him when she is dying. Salzberg sees Ligeia becoming "what she most feared, the Conqueror Worm ... (living) only through the death of Rowena, returning to him as a spiritual nullity in a grotesque rebirth."9 Other details of the story suggest deeper horrors. Ligeia possesses the knowledge of the ages, beyond the learned narrator's ability to conceive. He cannot remember how he came to know her. He knows nothing of her ancestry, not even her last name. Her face and eyes are unforgettable. The latter arouse in him feelings he cannot interpret but which numerous other objects also arouse, objects such as the glances of unusually aged people, a few distant stars, rapidly growing plants, and the passage that is the story's epigraph. One implication of his observations on her eyes is that they reflect the will that refuses to die. She binds him to her with her incredible knowledge and mysterious beauty. At her death, she fully reveals to him a love that amounts to idolatry. She leaves him great wealth. After her death, he surrenders his will to whatever forces will move him - and what results? He becomes a slave to opium, buys an isolated home and buys a new bride. Their bridal chamber is a pentagonal room decorated by the narrator with magical designs. Here Rowena soon falls ill and, not long after, dies on a night when the narrator both feels and desires another presence in the room and thinks he sees ruby drops fall into Rowena's wine. One need not be convinced by this compiling of detail, but it does not require an overly active imagination to take the hint that Ligeia has taken more than one body in her time and that she uses men such as the narrator without their knowledge to procure the bodies she needs for reincarnation. Ligeia is like the Conqueror Worm of her poem. In the poem, the angels watch the tragedy of Man in which human life consists of the pursuit of an ever sought never caught phantom, the pursuit a puppet show controlled by formless things, a show that ends with the entrance of the Conqueror Worm that devours the puppets most bloodily. What the worm does to mankind, Ligeia appears to have done physically to Rowena and spiritually to the narrator. How many other men have been her procurers? How many women have been her hosts? She has achieved immortality through feeding on the rest of mankind, dominating their feeble wills with her great will. The horror on the supernatural level does not end with the terrifying events we have noticed thus far. Beyond cannibalism and transformation, beyond the possibility that Ligeia has fed on her kind for ages, and beyond the suggestion in the poem that these acts reveal some fundamental truth about human condition lurk still more horrors.

     The epigraph implies that the power of will Ligeia seems to have achieved is a reflection of the will of God. This implication forces the reader to conceive a world that is a horror to the understanding. To conceive of this world is to be trapped in a threatening situation, to experience to some degree the frailty of one's own will, and to contemplate the terrifying implications of a desire for immortality. The narrator finds himself in a world where, despite his and Ligeia's desires, death seems to be the ultimate force. Even if a will attains the strength to conquer death, it conquers by causing death, by becoming death.

     On this literal level, "Ligeia" is a powerful tale of terror. It presents the reader with a series of horrifying events that, upon examination, opens out into a possible world that is inimical to human needs and desires. On this literal level, the horror of incident is deepened by a horror of the spirit that should produce varying degrees of terror in the reader. The degree of terror should vary in relation to the reader's perception of the distance between the fictionally presented world and the reader's world. (By terror, I mean the fear that harm will come to oneself. Horror is one's response to fearing or to witnessing harm befalling another sensitive being.)10 Some terror is inevitable as a result merely of imagining such a world, but this reaction should increase in intensity as one approaches nearer to believing this fictional world a true picture of one's own world. Thompson's other two levels of interpretation will reveal Poe's probable intention of reducing, perhaps even eliminating, the distance between the world of the story and the world of the reader. As we examine these levels, it will be crucial to keep in mind that Poe's procedure is not designed to convince readers that the world of the tale is their world by terrorizing them, but rather to terrorize them by strengthening the illusion that they inhabit the fictional world of the story. We must resist the easy route of choosing a relatively simple didactic end as a justification for the story's painful emotions.

     Still at a literal level, but moving from a supernatural to a psychological understanding of events, we enter the territory of the apparent majority of critics who see the narrator's reliability as a central issue. It has been amply demonstrated that the narrator's reliability is questionable, especially after he moves to his English abbey and becomes a slave to opium. Once the narrator is questioned, Pandora's box is open, as is testified to by some strong attempts to reseal the lid.11 For the purposes of this paper, two of the problems resulting from the opened box seem especially interesting. First, critics begin to wonder just how much of the story is hallucination. Second, they have great difficulty determining the narrator's motives. Does the narrator hallucinate only Ligeia's re - incarnation? Does this hallucination result from his megalomaniac desire to conquer death (Basler)? Does the narrator grow to hate Rowena so much that he is driven to murder her in order to restore Ligeia?12 Perhaps. Ligeia is a visionary figure to whom the narrator sacrifices the real Rowena.13 Joel Porte argues that the entire story is a fantastic projection of the narrator's internal romantic conflicts.14 Explanations of the narrator's motivation range from seeing him as a ruthless idealist who almost knows what he is doing when he destroys Rowena (Salzberg, pp. 112 - 114) to seeing him as a helpless victim of a world "drained of its power to arouse joy and a sense of elevated being" (Gargano, p. 338). These and related interpretations lead almost directly to Thompson's third level of meaning, but before turning to that level, let us examine how the psychological level of "Ligeia" intensifies the reader's terror.

     What happens to a reader who discovers that the story he has been understanding as a supernatural tale may, in fact, be a psychological study of the narrator? It seems natural to move from relatively simple acceptance of the narrator to growing doubt about his reliability. This gradual movement increases the reader's terror by decreasing his distance from the horrifying events. Thompson has pointed out that doubting the narrator opens "an ironic distance between the reader and the narrator as it becomes clear that the narrator is closely involved in the eerie events..." (Poe's Fiction, p. 81). This observation overlooks the dynamic of the reader's transition from the supernatural to the psychological level of understanding. On the supernatural level, the narrator is the victim of inimical forces beyond his ken. Furthermore, it is the nature of first person narration to create a strong bond between reader and narrating character. When the supernatural events begin to change into psychological symbols, the reader is more likely to abandon the supernatural world view than his closeness to the narrator. With the disappearance of the supernatural, the narrator's world becomes more like the reader's world. The distance between reader and narrator is reduced. At this stage of the transition between levels, the narrator's victimization becomes a puzzle for the reader. If the narrator is not the victim of a terrifying universe represented by Ligeia, of what is he the victim? The most immediate answer would seem to be that he is the victim of his desire for assurance of his soul's immortality. He has attempted to imagine a victory over mortality, but the vision he has achieved is a horror. To the horror already evoked by the failed quest on the supernatural level is added the failure of imagination on the psychological level. The reader witnesses the spectacle of a sensitive mind unable to imagine an escape from an oppressive world order, an order that refuses to grant transcendental assurances and that perverts or defeats the imagination by making it a mocking torture to its possessor. A key phase in the reader's shift from the first to the second level of meaning is this moment when the great differences between the narrator's world and the reader's world disappear while the bonds between their minds remain. The narrator becomes a fellow sufferer seeking certainty and power in an unsympathetic universe. Distance does open up between reader and narrator when the reader begins to suspect that the narrator is a murderer or a psychotic, but the critics who prefer such readings are perhaps too quick to leap that distance, for such readings are more properly later developments in a reader's experience, products of a further turning over of the tale in the mind.

     Once one begins to doubt the narrator, one is bound to see the possibility of reversing one's moral judgment of him. Since the reduction of distance between the reader and the text intensifies the reader's terror, it will be a natural reaction for readers to increase their distance from the text by revising their judgments of the narrator. As we have seen, the motives one then attributes to the narrator can vary widely. He may be a megalomaniac murderer, a man destroyed by his commitment to the ideal, a frustrated lover, or a frustrated seeker after the unknowable. That so many possibilities can be cogently argued may indicate that the text is indeterminate at just the point where many readers might wish it to be determinate.

     Sidney Moss believes "Ligeia" is ultimately indeterminate. Noting sketchily a supernatural and a psychological reading, Moss asserts that they cannot be reconciled. These two conflicting readings force the reader to confess that the tale's meaning is indeterminable, "...we can say hardly anything about what is really happening ... and nothing at all about its meaning, except that ... it is inexplicable" ("Poe's Apocalyptic Vision," pp. 48 - 49). Moss does not elaborate his argument, but it seems clear he is incorrect in so far as he asserts the incompatibility of the two readings; so one must conclude if, as has been argued here, there is a natural movement in the reader's experience from the supernatural to the psychological level. But Moss does emphasize two significant facets of the story. First, as the continuing controversy over which of the two levels is primary demonstrates, the move to a psychological level is only possible, not certain. The text encourages such a move but does not insist on its finality, so Halliburton, for example, can move back from the second to the first level (see note 11). On this point, the text does not seem determinate. Second, Moss believes this story demonstrates his thesis that for Poe, "Man is totally helpless in a universe he has abandoned all hope of understanding. All that man really knows, all he can experience, is terrible torment" (p. 47). While it is probably incorrect that this story is designed to teach any lesson, it is true that "Ligeia" confronts the reader at some point with such a world and the struggles of a sensitive soul to make himself a place in it.

     "Ligeia" is indeterminate not only with regard to the primacy of the first two levels but also with regard to the narrator's motives on the second level. This indeterminacy is profoundly disturbing; it propels the reader who successfully exercises "negative capability" to Thompson's third functional level, that ironic level at which the story mocks the reader. Following the lead of Clark Griffith,15 Thompson argues several ways in which "Ligeia" satirizes its readers, but satire is less productive of terror than are the ways in which the text mocks the reader's attempts to know it.16 Discovering the narrator's possible unreliability and being forced to explore the implications of this possibility is an unnerving experience for the reader even though it may be mitigated by the excitement of discovery as new possibilities emerge from the text. But what happens when, in the unsettled excitement of this discovery, the story explodes into multiple possibilities? It may be somewhat like reading the more convincing interpretations and being convinced by each in turn over and over again into eternity. The story refuses to be known. It resists one's attempts to settle on an evaluation of the narrator. Furthermore, it becomes apparent that each choice is a temptation to be done with the tale, to escape the terrifying world in which one must remain so long as one attends to the story. What world is this? Precisely the world in which the narrator finds himself, a world that will not yield to his attempts to know it. Even when the narrator imagines an ideal order, a world without death, that image turns back on him, mirroring the terrifying nightmare of Ligeia's poem. Is the world diseased or is his mind his enemy? In either case, the result for the narrator is the same. As the world is to the narrator, the story is to the reader. Stephen L. Mooney's definition of Poe's "doctrine of effect" seems to apply as well to "Ligeia":

...the calculation of the artist to involve the reader in the life of the fiction, so that an experience of reality would be forged in the consciousness, fully and permanently ... Poe is a spiritual aggressor. He moves in upon consciousness like an invading army. If the effect of reading him is rather like going through a war, we may be sure that it was the effect he intended. The reader does not forget. He knows that Poe has been there...17

     To read this story faithfully is to submit to imprisonment in a terrifying and, in some ways, inescapable fictional world and, therefore, to experience terror as intensely as may be possible for a reader of a fiction. The reader is threatened with becoming like the narrator. Such a threat may stimulate still further the reader's desire to know the unknowable narrator in order to more fully understand the narrator's true relation to the reader. To attempt such a knowing in this state is to prolong one's terror.

     "Ligeia" is designed to arouse intense terror in its readers. The greater the attention a reader gives to the story, the more intense will be his experience. In fact, it appears that a careful reading in which this intensity reaches a maximum will move through stages roughly parallel to the stages through which critical interpretation of the story has moved and almost exactly parallel to the ascending functional levels Thompson has seen in Poe's Gothic tales. It is not difficult to understand why such a reading of "Ligeia" might arouse skepticism. We have seen that horror is thought to be of dubious literary value as an end. Worse still, this reading asserts that "Ligeia's" end is to terrorize the reader. Furthermore, by accepting the reading, one is forced to consider a most vexing question: why would anyone want to read a story that has such an effect? It would appear that many readers do not want to read such a story, for if, as I have implied, this reading includes and partially synthesizes most earlier readings, then those who insist on the finality of one earlier reading are either denying or attempting to mitigate the tale's terror.18 I would argue that this story produces in the reader terror as an end rather than a means and that normal people read and reread the story precisely because they enjoy such experiences. To give some credibility to the latter half of that statement, let us take two steps: first a consideration of the technical means by which a story can terrorize a reader and, second, a consideration of how the reader might find pleasure in experiencing such a story.

     Without the example of "Ligeia" before us, it would be difficult to assert the possibility of a reader being terrorized by a fiction. Such an effect may entail the breakdown of the psychical distance that Edward Bullough argues is essential to an aesthetic experience. Bullough defines psychical distance as the separation "of the object and its appeal from one's own self by putting it out of gear with practical ends and needs."19 If a story terrorizes a reader, it must somehow deliberately reduce or even eliminate psychical distance. Bullough uses an example of a fog at sea to explain the effect of distance. A sea fog is usually frightening; however, during such a fog one can experience a turning of attention in which practical concerns of safety fade away and the fog becomes an object of aesthetic contemplation. This turn opens the fog to a new kind of perception in which its danger may become a part of the experience of its beauty because now the danger is not felt as a practical danger to oneself (p. 755). The proper approach to a story is to open oneself to the aesthetic turn and to enter easily into an attitude of psychical distance that the author, with technical skill, attempts to manipulate in order to encourage the reader, in Roman Ingarden's terms, to form one aesthetic object from among all the possible concretizations of the text.20 Once the reader has entered the story and accepted its projections of narrator and world, "Ligeia" begins to attempt deliberately to reduce and, perhaps, finally eliminate psychical distance, to move the reader out of his aesthetic attitude and into a quite particular practical attitude. In "Ligeia," the practical attitude is mental terror. This effect violates Bullough's antinomy of distance:"what is, therefore, both in appreciation and production most desirable is the utmost decrease of distance without its disappearance" (p. 758). In "Ligeia," Poe tries to make distance disappear. Even though Bullough would tend to blame a loss of distance either on the artist's failure or on the reader's, he does make it clear that loss of distance is possible. Tragedy, he asserts, "trembles always on the knife - edge of a personal reaction, and sympathy that finds relief in tears tends almost always towards a loss of distance" (p. 763). If the loss is possible, then it is also possible that authors might attempt to exploit the potential of deliberately destroying psychical distance, of switching readers out of the aesthetic attitude.

     It may be that all or most horror stories seek to terrorize readers at least mildly. Even the "explained Gothic" of Ann Radcliffe, terrorizes to some extent though the distance between reader and terrifying objects is maintained by many technical features of the work, such as the orderliness of the fictional world, the remote settings, the concentration of the horrors on a sympathetic victim clearly separated from the reader, and the conventional reliable narration. One can observe a trend in Lewis, Maturin, Poe and down to Lovecraft and the twentieth century horror film, of increasing exploration and exploitation of "universally" terrifying objects. A catalog readily comes to mind: all hostile manifestations of supernatural agency; nearly everything associated with death; the violation of the most basic moral laws against incest, torture, and cannibalism; and attempts to harm the individual soul. The vivid portrayal of such horrors is likely to reduce most readers' distance from the portrayal and to threaten them directly. Perhaps a major difference between Maturin or Lewis and Poe is that the former maintain conventional distance while Poe seems to have discovered ways to reduce or eliminate such distance and, thereby, to intensify the reader's terror. G.R. Thompson notes that Melmoth theWanderer teases the reader in a way that points toward the ambiguity of Poe ("Gothic Fiction and the Romantic Age," p. 21). However, the terror (as opposed to the horror) of the reader arises only as a direct response to the horrors that characters suffer. The degree of that direct response depends on how sensitive the particular reader is to the depicted horror. Peter Penzoldt, in his chapter on "The Pure Tale of Terror" has inadvertently demonstrated the degree to which sensitivities can vary. He finds the tales of Crawford, Machen, and Lovecraft too repulsive to be really good, yet he marvels at how the tales he thinks uncommonly bad are most often anthologized.21 One direction of refinement the tale of terror seems to have taken is toward techniques, situations, and images that, in Henry James' words, will "catch those not easily caught..., the. jaded, the disillusioned, the fastidious. "22

     It becomes more plausible to think that Poe might have written at least one story in which he experimented with the destruction of the aesthetic attitude when one reflects that such experimentation was "in the air," especially in nineteenth century America, that the theoretical possibility had been present at least since Burke's definition of the sublime as involving terror in an essential way, and that experiments in didactic fiction, at least as early as Candide had cultivated an interest in using the delights of fiction in the service of practical ends. The attempt to appropriate the pleasures of art to practical moral ends is as old as aesthetic thought and needs no documentation here. One need only notice that with the rise of mass readership and the accompanying extension of concern about the relation of art and public morality, novelists could be expected to seek ways of moving readers into, then out of an aesthetic attitude, to seek ways of telling stories to arouse energies that might then be directed to virtuous action.23 While it may not be possible to make stories that will have precisely this effect, the attempts to do so, especially those of major Gothic writers such as Radcliffe, Lewis, Brown, Shelley, and Maturin, brought to the fore questions about the aesthetic value of terror and attendant problems of distance. Most discussions of these questions, according to Samuel Monk, derived from Burke's "A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful," published in 1757.24

     Burke explains how terror is involved in the sublime:

Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain, and danger, that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime; that is, it is productive of the strongest emotion that the mind is capable of feeling .... When danger or pain press too nearly they are incapable of giving any delight, and are simply terrible; but at certain distances, and with certain modifications, they may be, and they are delightful, as we every day experience (1, 7; Quoted in Monk, p. 91).
Implied in this explanation is the possibility that the aesthetic attitude toward a terrifying object might break down. Monk also presents Knight's argument that Burke has confused the practical and the aesthetic: "To the man who sees the danger in the storm and who does not fear, the phenomenon is sublime; but the moment that it becomes terrible, the moment that fear comes into the experience, all sympathy with the cause that produced it, and consequently, all relish for the sublimity of it, is at an end. Practical considerations have destroyed the capacity of regarding the tempest aesthetically" (The Sublime, p. 162). In Burke and in subsequent discussions of the sublime is the possibility, undesirable but always present, that someone might find a value in deliberately eliminating the distance essential to harnassing terror's energy to the sublime.

     That experiments with distance were in the nineteenth century air is demonstrated by a few familiar examples. "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" is a calculated attempt to eliminate distance between speaker and reader. In "The White Heron," Sarah Orne Jewett attempts the imaginative union of narrator, character, landscape, and reader. As Richard Poirier has argued, American writers have long been interested in inducing visions in their readers.25 But for the purposes of this essay, a useful example is the eighteenth chapter of The House of the Seven Gables, "Governor Pyncheon." In that chapter, Hawthorne approximates the movement we have seen in "Ligeia" in such a way as to reveal the springs of the tale's ability to attract and please readers.

     Like "Ligeia," "Governor Pyncheon" captures the reader and provides a terrifying vision of the abyss, a vision virtually the opposite of that offered by Whitman and Jewett. This chapter begins in a tone of mockery as narrator and reader play the game of pretending the dead judge is alive in order to judge him for his sins and to twit him for his inability to carry out his ambitious and greedy projects. But as we mock the judge, time passes. The twilight comes "glooming upwards out of the corners of the room."26 We are left in utter, deathlike darkness. "An infinite, inscrutable blackness has annihilated sight! Where is our universe? All crumbled away from us; and we, adrift in chaos, may harken to the gusts of homeless wind, that go sighing and murmuring about, in quest of what was once a world" (p.241)! We have been captured in our game and the mockery has turned back upon us. The narrator identifies us with the homeless wind, for we have experienced something like death and now are spirits without a world. We are transformed and entrapped. While time is no longer of importance to the judge (so we agreed as we mocked him), now we experience it as unendurable duration: "Would that we were not an attendant spirit here! It is too awful! This clamor of the wind through the lonely house; the judge's quietude as he sits invisible; and that pertinacious ticking of his watch" (p. 242)! When the moon restores some light, the narrator lightens the tone by mentioning the ghost legends of the house. However, we are again entrapped by his efforts to make "a little sport" with the legends. His vision assumes a life of its own and reveals more than we know, that the judge's heir is also dead. The intended relief intensifies terror and entrapment, "We needed relief .. from our too long and exclusive contemplation of that figure in the chair ... yonder leaden Judge sits immovably upon our soul. Will he never stir again? We shall go mad unless he stirs" (p. 245)! Several distancing factors, including a certain playfulness in the narrative voice, prevent the degree of reduction of distance in this chapter that one experiences in "Ligeia. " Still, it is clear that Hawthorne seriously intends to terrorize the reader to some extent, perhaps in order to evoke a deeper understanding of the sufferings of others, especially Clifford and Hepzibah, that the judge lacked during his life and, perhaps, to explore the world implied by the judge's values. This chapter of The House of the Seven Gables helps to demonstrate that Poe's contemporaries were experimenting with the possibilities of reducing psychical distance and provides one example, in addition to "Ligeia," of a movement toward dissolving a previously created aesthetic attitude. This example is useful to the further extent that it is specific about what means it intends to use for terrifying the reader. There is an attempt to entrap the reader in the fictional situation, to render that situation frightening via the presence of threatening objects, agencies, and events, and to transform the reader psychologically.

     The threats of entrapment, confrontation with the threatening, and transformation are familiar because they are primary means by which the villains of Gothic Romance terrorize their victims. However, Hawthorne and Poe have introduced a new factor. Elizabeth MacAndrew points out that in eighteenth - century critical thought, the misery of innocent suffering was thought to call forth the reader's benevolence on behalf of the sufferer (pp.39 - 40). Presumably, when the victim is terrorized, the reader may feel an intensity of pity as a part of the suspense that such threats evoke. These effects are often associated with melodrama and are familiar in the films of Alfred Hitchcock; consider, for example, the intensity of suspense and fear for any character in Psycho who enters the house alone. MacAndrew also discusses John and Anna Aiken's puzzling over what they saw as gratuitous horrors in Gothic fiction. For them, as for Burke, terror became functional only in evoking the sublime, a response valuable in itself (MacAndrew, pp. 41 - 2). However, when Hawthorne mildly but directly threatens the reader and when Poe makes the reader an actual victim of Gothic terrors, neither of these explanations is adequate. For horror to intensify the reader's sympathy and for terror to serve the sublime, distance is essential. When a tale sets out to terrorize the reader directly, it must do so by drawing the reader into an aesthetic attitude; then it must quite deliberately move toward destroying that attitude in such a way as to threaten the reader. This new factor subverts the old aims. To understand why Poe may have thought the experience of terror might be pleasurable to readers, it is helpful to look somewhat closely at how fictional characters are made to react to terror.

     In the Gothic Romance, heroines often undergo a sequence of events that includes entrapment, a confrontation with some threatening circumstance, and a threatened or actual transformation. For example, in C.B. Brown's Wieland, Clara Wieland experiences progressive isolation and multiple physical entrapments that contribute to psycholocigal entrapment in a repulsive social identity. During the physical entrapments she is subjected to physical threats such as rape and murder and the psychological threats of transformation of social identity and, eventually, of personality. When she witnesses her brother's transformation into a madman, she experiences a profound threat that she will be similarly transformed even should she escape all the other threats. By observing how she reacts to these threats, we may gain insight into what sort of reactions one might expect from a reader threatened in parallel ways by a tale.

     The central effect of Clara's entrapment in threatening circumstances is the deterioration of her rational powers; a separation of reason and will precedes the disordering of reason. Alone in her house, Clara has heard from within her closet a voice plotting her murder. Yet on a later night, after she dreams of being murdered, she decides to enter that closet in defiance of a rational evaluation of her position. In her closet she meets a man who says his intentions were to rape her.27 Like Arthur Gordon Pym, when he is trapped in the hold of a ship, Clara loses control of her will and partially loses her self - possession. Poe's novel is even more instructive on this point; Pym, as a result of entrapment, experiences debilitation and loss of orientation. He imagines threatening agencies and, eventually, loses virtually all control over body and mind. The sequence, from entrapment through transformation, causes a progressive disordering of rational faculties in the victims of Gothic Romance. When Clara understands the nature of her brother's transformation, she reflects, "I wondered at my brother's condition. Now was I stupified with tenfold wonder in contemplating myself. Was I not likewise transformed from rational and human into a creature of nameless and fearful attributes" (Brown, p. 205)? Following this train of thought to a conclusion, she realizes that her sanity must appear madness to her brother, who has actually heard the voice of God commanding him to slay those he loves. How can she be certain that he has not heard God's voice? Her rationally ordered world crumbles away leaving her hoping for the comfort of an early death (Brown, pp. 205 - 7).

     The central Gothic horrors constitute an assault on the integration of the victim's personality. Elizabeth MacAndrew has argued that Ann Radcliffe's novels involve tests of their heroines. For example, in The Mysteries of Udolpho,

Emily's travels are symbolic journeys between different worlds that represent different states of mind she must confront and understand, whether they are in herself or in others ... Brought up surrounded by goodness ... Emily ... makes out of human wickedness, cruelty, greed, and desperation, a nightmare Gothic world of supernatural evil. This Gothic view is hers, not Ann Radcliffe's. Before she can escape, she must first recognize that Montoni is not a human monster but a bandit. (MacAndrew, pp. 132 - 3)
Perhaps a story could attempt to subject a reader to a direct approximation of this kind of test.

     That "Ligeia" is intended to try its readers seems plausible. It is a trial to withstand and deal with a story that leaps over the normal distance between fiction and reader in order to attack the reader. The story may give pleasure because successfully reading it is a test of one's ability to "hold together" in the face of a world that refuses to surrender to one's powers of integration. All literature offers, among its many pleasures, those of exercising peculiarly human faculties and capabilities: verbal mastery, the power of forming mental images, sympathy, intensity and variety of emotional response, moral judgment, and, perhaps also, the sense of having the strength to maintain the integration of one's chosen personality. Personality is chosen, not only in the sense that we commit ourselves to values and actions that contribute to our identities, but also in the existential sense of moment by moment choice to be one personality (sanity) as opposed to surrendering to alternate possible selves (psychosis). Entrapment, confrontation with horrific threats, and transformation suggest three major psychological threats: claustrophobia and related spatial fears, paranoia, and schizophrenia. "Ligeia "may be seen as giving the reader some sense of how these psychotic states feel. To the degree that "Ligeia" succeeds at threatening its reader with these psychoses, it must test that reader's ability to resist such states. It is possible that readers will feel greater pleasure in the exercise of their faculties of integration as the threats they withstand are more direct and intense. And, if the threats prove too intense, the normal reader has available the usual defenses, flight and repression.

     The pleasure of reading a tale that to some degree attempts a direct attack of terror on the reader derives from the reader's successful exercise of his faculties of personal integration in resistence to the threats posed by that story. Even though this hypothesis about the pleasure of terror has the value of suggesting that the modern taste for the mental terror that fiction can arouse may not be a disease, it is, nevertheless, certain - to evoke skepticism. Perhaps the best way of enhancing the credibility of the hypothesis would be to analyze a number of texts with similar effects, but to do so would make this essay too long. However, with the help of other scholars and critics, it is possible to suggest that there are other works like "Ligeia" which to some degree terrorize their readers, that the effect of terror in such works centers on threats to the reader's personality, and that the pleasure that attracts readers to such works derives from exercising the personality's integrative faculties to master those threats.

     The possibility that other works function in ways similar to "Ligeia" is strengthened if not demonstrated by recalling the critical histories of two other major terror tales, "The Fall of the House of Usher" and The Turn of the Screw. Each has gone through the same three stages of interpretation from "literal" supernatural readings, through the discovery of psychological ambiguity, to a proliferation of explanations of the ambiguity that seems to suggest that in both works a potentially terrifying indeterminacy emerges from the most attentive readings.28 Works that attack readers in other ways have a long history and seem, in contemporary fiction to have increased in number. Philip Thomson demonstrates how since ancient times the technique of the grotesque has produced in readers an "unresolvable clash of incompatibles. "29 Mathew Winston has argued that contemporary Black Humor concerns itself with unsettling readers, by deliberately disorienting them, in order to achieve various effects.30 David I. Grossvogel believes that the modern mystery story attempts to achieve a kind of open-endedness that will make the text into a mystery; the text "offers itself as a deciphering, as another form of the obdurate otherness at whose shifting limits the probing continues."31 He further argues that "The Purloined Letter" is designed, as we have seen that "Ligeia" is designed, to entrap or captivate those of its readers who attempt to attend to it fully. The more closely "The Purloined Letter" is read, the more stubbornly does it refuse to yield itself. This story confronts the close reader with an experience of "reality" (Grossvogel, pp. 93 - 109). S.S. Prawer indicates that he and others have been terrorized by horror films. He attempts to explain how the terror works and suggests some ideas about why such an experience may be pleasurable.32

     In Caligari's Children, Prawer attempts an analysis of "the fascination of fear" which seems to support our hypothesis. He lists and describes the fears to which horror films have spoken. He recognizes the general fear of entrapment (pp. 77 - 8) and threatening agencies. The fear of threatening agencies may include: fear of being possessed (p. 5 1), of invasion of privacy (p. 52) and of being manipulated against one's will (p. 57), fear of those who have defied human limitations (p. 56), of the dead (p. 68), and of encounters with hostile non - humans (p. 52). He also recognizes the fear of being transformed; among the other fears he mentions, those related to transformation are: of being possessed (again), of the escape of one's inner animal nature (p. 53), of the loss of wholeness of personality (p. 55) and. fear of loss of a rational world (p. 81). Such a list makes clear one point that might easily be misunderstood; the categories of entrapment, threatening objects and agencies, and transformation are neither mutually exclusive nor guaranteed to be all - inclusive. Barton Levi St. Armand underlines this point in The Roots of Horror in the Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft.33 According to St. Armand, Lovecraft finds the experience of viscosity terrifying because he associates it with the primal slime from which life emerged: "To become a part of that (primal) sea without losing consciousness was the ultimate horror of Lovecraft's landlocked world. It was the triumph of viscosity, the triumph of filth, the triumph of all alien mixtures, and especially, the triumph of alien blood" (St. Armand, p. 63). Contained in the concept of viscosity are all three general categories: entrapment in a physical process of deterioration in which one is powerless before the force that transforms one into an alien substance. This image of viscosity suggests that the key to the mental terror of fiction is the threat of transformation, for this threat presupposes entrapment and confrontation with a power that is perceived as alien whether it arises from within or from without. The threat of transformation seems aimed directly at the personality of the victim just as the mental threats of psychosis that "Ligeia" makes are aimed at the personality of the reader. In the words of Lovecraft's Randolph Carter, "Merging with nothingness is peaceful oblivion; but to be aware of existence and yet to know that one is no longer a definite being distinguished from other beings - that one no longer has a self - that is the nameless summit of agony and dread."34

     Prawer speaks more directly than does St. Armand to the problem of the reader's or the viewer's pleasure in the terror of a fiction. He goes beyond the usually unexamined assertions that horror or films are somehow "thrilling," for he recognizes the problem of explaining why a thrill of terror should be pleasurable. In his conclusion, Prawer suggests that viewers somehow perceive that horror is good for them: terror - films articulate "not infrequently terror at the order we have created or help to uphold as well as the anarchic desires that oppose such order" (p. 270). He also says, "...the terror - film responds to a need one can also observe in any fairground: the need to be safely frightened, the need to test and objectify and come to grips with one's terrors in a setting of ultimate security, where one can tell oneself at any moment: 'It is only a film; these are only actors; this isn't even my own dream, I can get up and leave the darkened cinema to step into a more familiar world at any moment' " (p. 48).

     While it may be true that one is ultimately safe in that one can physically escape the mental terror of a film, it is not certain that one is very safe. The viewer must make his own distance. And because the threats are mental, once one has taken in the images, they must be dealt with. Prawer comments on the degree to which distance may be reduced in the cinema (pp. 65 - 6) and, still more interesting, he tells of his own daughter's loss of distance from 7he Exorcist: "Age - old fears that alien forces may enter and take over our very bodies help to explain the undoubtedly disturbing effect that Friedkin's The Exorcist had on a number of susceptible viewers - including my teenage daughter, who had the screaming heebie-jeebees for weeks after seeing that film, but who seems now to have come to terms with the terrors it articulated for her" (p. 51). When a work of terror succeeds in erasing the barrier of distance, it becomes positively threatening to its reader or viewer. But, as another of Prawer's personal experiences suggests, this threat may be just what the reader or viewer sought in the first place. He describes his reaction upon first seeing. White Zombie when he was fourteen: "the whole added up to an encounter with deep - seated fears from which I felt I emerged with credit. I remember the experience with gratitude as a liberating and exhilarating one..." (p. 202). Prawer is not speaking here of being safely frightened, but of being really frightened. He is not speaking of the thrills of terror, even though he most likely felt emotions that could be so named, but rather of his own mastery of the terror that the film evoked. Prawer may not wholly agree with these derivations from his presentation, but his experiences seem to confirm the idea that the pleasures of terror arise from the successful exercise of faculties of personal integration in resistance to the mental terrors of the work. For his more susceptible daughter, the process of mastery extends over some time after viewing the film. One is safe from such a film only because it will end; therefore, if one cannot master its terrors, one can only reassert some form of distanced relation to those terrors either during or after the film. The latter response is probably much less pleasurable than the former.

     If the rewards of enduring the disappearance of distance that leads to psychological terror include the liberation, the exhilaration, and the self - praise that Prawer describes, then, surely, tales of terror are valuable. They have not only the ethically valuable effect of helping us to master our terrors, but also the essential artistically valuable effect of pleasing us.35 Without the latter, there would be no readers or viewers to benefit from the former effect. Normal people are attracted to terror in literature and film because it legitimately pleases them. In order to be pleased by terror, they must exercise their uniquely human faculties, not only all those faculties that are necessary for the arts of reading and understanding, but also those special faculties for maintaining an integral personality. Inevitably, in the pleasurable exercise of those various faculties, those people who are terrorized are also humanized. The pleasures of terror are humane pleasures.


1Quoted by Elizabeth MacAndrew, The Gothic Tradition in Fiction (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1979), p. 41. Her source is the third edition of John Aikin and Anna Laetitia Barbauld, "Pleasure Derived from Objects of Terror," Miscellaneous Pieces in Prose (London, 1792), p. 120. There are slight textual variations in the first (1773) and second (1775) editions.

2Joseph M. Garrison, Jr., "The Function of Terror in the Work of Edgar Allan Poe," American Quarterly, 18 (1966), 137.

3D.P. Varma, The Gothic Flame (London: Baker, 1957), chapters five and six.

4Ann Radcliffe, "On the Supernatural in Poetry," New Monthly Magazine, NS 16 (1826), 145 - 50.

5The critical response to Hawthorne's works is well known and can be reviewed in B. Bernard Cohen, The Recognition of Nathaniel Hawthorne (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1969). For attacks on the morality of Sanctuary see H.S. Canby, Seven Years Harvest (Murray Hill, New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1936), pp. 79 - 82, Oscar Cargill, Intellectual America (New York: Macmillan, 1941), p. 378; and W. Lewis, "A Moralist with a Corncob," Life and Letters, 10 934), 312 - 28. For a pair of less than satisfactory attempts to treat the novel as allegory, see Richard Chase's discussion of George Marion O'Donnell's account of Sanctuary, 7he American Novel and Its Tradition (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1957), pp. 237 - 41. For a discussion of Sanctuary as a Gothic novel, see Robert D. Hume, "Gothic vs. Romantic: A Reevaluation of the Gothic Novel," PMLA, 84 (1969), 288.

6Stuart and Susan Levine, eds., The Short Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe (Indianapolis: Bobbs - Merrill, 1976), and Eric W. Carlson, "Poe's Vision of Man," R.P. Veler, ed., Papers on Poe (Springfield, Ohio: Chantry Music Press, 1972), pp. 7 - 19.

7David Halliburton, Edgar Allan Poe: A Phenomenological View (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1973), pp. 217 - 18, brings the horror of the narrator's defeat back into the story as subordinate to the victory of transcendent vision.

8Sidney P. Moss, "Poe's Apocalyptic Vision," R.P. Veler, ed. Papers on Poe, pp. 42 - 53 and G.R. Thompson Poe's Fiction (Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1973), pp. 77 - 87. For a discussion of the views of Carlson, Moss, and Thompson, see G.R. Thompson, "Poe and Nineteenth - Century Poetry," in J:A. Robbins, ed. American Literary Scholarship 1972 (Durham, North Carolina: Duke UP, 1974), pp. 212 - 14.

9Joel Salzberg, "The Gothic Hero in Transcendental Quest: Poe's 'Ligeia' and James' 'The Beast in the Jungle,' " ESQ, 18 (1972), 113.

10These definitions of terror and horror derive from modern usage, not from Ann Radcliffe's distinction in "On the Supernatural in Poetry." It will be useful to notice that, according to the definitions I use in this essay, terror will vary according to the immediacy and intensity of the threat. Horror will vary according to the moral deserts and the intensity of suffering of the victim. Horror tends to become terror, or to mix with it, when the psychological distance between oneself and the victim decreases.

11Roy P. Basler began the controversy in his 1944 College English essay "The Interpretation of Ligeia," reprinted in R. Regan, ed., Poe (Englewood Cliffs. New Jersey: Prentice - Hall. 1967). pp. 51 - 63. Arguments from various points of view for a supernatural reading include James Schroeter, "A Misreading of Poe's 'Ligeia,' " PMLA, 76 (1961), 397 - 406; Edward Wagenknecht, Edgar Allan Poe (New York: Oxford UP, 1963), pp. 248 - 49, John Lauber "'Ligeia' and Its Critics: A Plea for Literalism. "Studies in Short Fiction. 4 (1966).28 - 32: E..W. Carlson. Poe on the Soul of Man . (Baltimore: The E.A. Poe Society and the Enoch Pratt Free Library. 1973). pp. 14 - 17. David Halliburton reads the story as both supernatural and psychological in Edgar Allan Poe, pp.207 - 18.

12G. R. Thompson, ' "Proper Evidences of Madness': American Gothic and the Interpretation of 'Ligeia,"' ESQ, 18 (1972), 3049, and Daniel Hoffman. "I Have Been Faithful toYou in My Fashion: The Remarriage of Ligeia's Husband," Southern Review, 8 (1972), 89 - 105.

13James W. Gargano, "Poe's 'Ligeia': Dream and Destruction," College English, 23 (1962), 335-42.

14Joel Porte, Tire Romance in America (Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan UP, 1969), pp. 69 - 74.

15Clark Griffith, "Poe's ' Ligeia' and the English Romantics." University of Toronto Quarterly, 24 (1954), 8 - 13, 16 - 25.

16Thompson's arguments appear both in " 'Proper Evidences of Madness': American Gothic and the Interpretation of 'Ligeia,' "and in Poe's Vision, pp. 77 - 87.

17Stephen L. Mooney, "Poe's Gothic Wasteland," in C.W. Carlson, ed. The Recognition of Edgar Allan Poe (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1966), p. 295.

18I am aware of an element of unfairness in subjecting previous readings to a "double - bind." Such a judgment seems inevitable from the point of view argued in this essay, but it is not meant to exempt this essay from careful scrutiny or opposing arguments.

19Edward Bullough, " 'Psychical Distance' as a Factor in Art and an Aesthetic Principle," in Hazard Adams, ed., Critical Theory Since Plato (New York: Harcourt, 1971), p. 756.

20Roman Ingarden, "Aesthetic Experience and Aesthetic Object." Philosophy, and Phenomenological Research, 21(March 1961), 289 - 313.

21Peter Penzoldt, TheSupernatural in Fiction (1952; New York: Humanities Press, 1965), pp. 146 - 91.

22James is speaking of his aims in The Turn of the Screw, "Preface to 'The Aspern Papers,' " in The Art of the Novel (New York:, Scribner's, 1934, 1962), p. 172.

23David H. Richter suggests that The Vicar of Wakefield may break down structurally under the strain of attempting to encompass such an end, Fable's End (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1974), pp. 171 - 76.

24Samuel Monk, The Sublime (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1935), chapter 7.

25Richard Poirier, A WorldElsewhere (New York: Oxford UP, 1966).

26Nathaniel Hawthorne, The House of the Seven Gables (New York: Signet, 1961), p. 240,

27C. B. Brown, Wieland (NewYork: Doubleday, 1962), pp. 100 - 104.

28 For a survey of the discussion of "The Fall of the House of Usher," see E.W. Carlson, ed., Edgar Allan Poe: "The Fall of the House of Usher," (Columbus, Ohio: Charles E. Merrill, 1971). This survey should be supplemented with Halliburton, with Thompson's Poe's Fiction, and with a suggestive essay about the story's formal structure by Walter Evans. "'The Fall of the House of Usher' and Poe's Theory of the Tale." Studies in Short Fiction,14 (1977),137 - 144. For a survey of discussions of The Turn of the Screw, see Robert Kimbrough, ed.. Henry James: The Turn of the Screw (New York: W.W. Norton, 1966). Perhaps the most sophisticated argument yet to appear for a supernatural reading of James' novella is in Wayne C. Booth, Critical Understanding (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1979), pp. 284 - 301. Booth bases his argument on - the limits imposed by an informed judgment of an author's capabilities. Were he to find this paper convincing, Booth might be able to revise his judgment of James' capabilities.

29Philip Thomson, TheGrotesque (London: Methuen, 1972), p. 27.

30Mathew Winston, "Humour Noir and Black Humor," in Harry Levin. ed.. Veins of Humor (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1972), pp. 269 - 84; and "The Ethics of Contemporary Black Humor." The Colorado Quarter1y 24 (1976), 275 - 88. See also my "Some Techniques of Black Humor," Thalia 2 (1979-80), 15-21..

31David I. Grossvogel, Mystery and Its Fictions (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1979), p. 21.

32S.S. Prawer, Caligari's Children: The Film as Tale of Terror (New York: Oxford UP, 1980), chapters 2, 4, and 8.

33Barton Levi St. Armand, The Roots of Horror in the Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft (Elizabethtown, New York: Dragon Press, 1977), pp. 59 - 77.

34H.P. Lovecraft, "Through the Gates of the Silver Key," At the Mountains of Madness (London: Panther, 1970), p. 281.

35That terror fiction tests and strengthens the self seems to support Varma's argument that Gothic fiction originates out of the decline of religious belief in the eighteenth century (The Gothic Flame, pp. 206 - 212). In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it has become increasingly clear how personal identity is threatened by the loss of a sense of relatedness to the cosmos on a spiritual level, Perhaps there is so much modem horror fiction and film because we need it now more than ever.

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