The Supernatural Component 2 (Exam) ucl academy English Department 2015 The Important Info


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The Supernatural

Component 2


UCL Academy English Department 2015

The Important Info
44 marks; 40% weighting; Exam length: 1 hour
One essay from a choice of two questions on two texts on the theme of the Supernatural

AOs assessed:

AO 1 (write a good essay)

AO2 (author’s methods and the effect)

AO3 (significance of context)
Text 1: Dracula by Bram Stoker (Oxford World’s Classics, 0199564094)

Text 2: Beloved by Toni Morrison (Reading Guide Edition. Vintage Classics, 0099540975)

Overview of unit: To show knowledge and understanding of:

  • how genre features and conventions operate in prose fiction texts

  • a range of ways to read texts, including reading for detail of how writers use and adapt language, form and structure in texts, responding critically and creatively

  • a range of literary texts and make connections and explore the relationships between texts

  • the ways texts can be grouped and compared to inform interpretation

  • the contexts in which texts have been produced and received

and to:

  • identify and explore how attitudes and values are expressed in texts

  • communicate fluently, accurately and effectively their knowledge, understanding and evaluation of texts
  • use literary critical concepts and terminology with understanding and discrimination

  • make appropriate use of the conventions of writing in literary studies, referring accurately and appropriately to texts and sources.

Ghosts, so claim the distinguished Hungarian psychoanalysts Nicolas Abraham and Mária Török, are psychological unfinished business. Whereas for Freud it is individual repressed traumas that return to haunt us, for Abraham and Török, repressed traumas can be transmitted down the generations. And this repression often comes in the form of family secrets.
"What haunts are not the dead, but the gaps left within us by the secrets of others," they wrote. Ghosts, like dreams, constitute a return of the repressed. They are traumas that have not received a proper burial. Too painful to mourn, they are avoided and passed down the family tree. And the point about ghosts is that they have a way of coming back to haunt you when you least expect them. Assimilation only ever runs so deep.

Giles Fraser, The Guardian, May 2014

An introduction to the Supernatural Genre
Task: Using some of the websites and extracts below, write an essay answering the following question:

What is the supernatural genre and why does it continue to be popular?

Your answer should be structured around the following questions:

  • What is the supernatural?

  • What are examples of supernatural/gothic texts and what are the connecting elements?

  • Why are we still interested in supernatural novels today?

Useful links

Defining the Supernatural
How to tell if you are reading a Gothic text


Dracula online:




Ghost stories
Supernatural Fiction
Supernatural fiction (properly, "supernaturalist fiction"[1]) is a literary genre exploiting or requiring as plot devices or themes some contradictions of the commonplace natural world and materialist assumptions about it.

In its broadest definition, supernatural fiction includes examples of weird fiction, horror fiction, vampire literature, ghost story and like genres such as fantasy. Elements of supernatural fiction can be found in writing from genres such as science fiction. Amongst academics, readers and collectors, however, supernatural fiction is often classed as a discrete genre defined by the elimination of "horror", "fantasy", and elements important to other genres.[1] The one genre supernatural fiction appears to embrace in its entirety is the traditional ghost story.[2]

In the twentieth century, supernatural fiction became associated with psychological fiction. The result is that the supernatural is only one possible explanation for what has been described. A classic example of this would be The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, which offers both a supernatural and a psychological interpretation of the events described. The ambiguity is considered to add to the effect.[3] A similar example is Charlotte Perkins Gilman's story "The Yellow Wallpaper".
Supernatural fiction continues to be popular, but because it is not simple to define and is not popularly understood, it is not used as a marketing category by publishers, booksellers, libraries, etc. When marketed, supernatural fiction is often classed as mainstream fiction, or is subsumed by other subgenres.
From Goodreads website
Paranormal books involve unusual experiences that lack a scientific explanation. Some popular subjects in paranormal books are supernatural creatures, ESP, clairvoyance, ghosts, UFOs, telepathy, and psychics.
The supernatural genre is fiction about witches, vampires, ghosts, werewolves, shape shifters, demons, angels, or anything else in the paranormal or otherworldly realm.
From Wiki:

Paranormal is a general term that designates experiences that lie outside "the range of normal experience or scientific explanation".

The supernatural is that which is not subject to the laws of nature, or more figuratively, that which is said to exist above and beyond nature.

So to summarize, paranormal is anything outside the normal or ordinary that can't be explained by science; for example psychic visions, UFOs, and the supernatural. The supernatural is a subset of the paranormal, in that they are beings, objects, or events that exist in such a manner that is outside the natural or normal order.

An example: A werewolf is a supernatural creature (exists outside the known laws of nature). Meeting a werewolf would be a paranormal experience.
Supernatural films

Supernatural film is a genre that centers around supernatural elements, such as ghosts, gods, goddesses, and miracles. Supernatural films deal with the unknown questions of life; therefore, they tend to incorporate religious elements into the plot. Since they emphasize the unknown, Supernatural films are considered quite suspenseful. These films often cross over into other genres, creating hybrids like Supernatural-Comedy and Supernatural-Drama.

Examples of Supernatural Film:

  • What Lies Beneath - While others believe her to becoming delusional, a woman is convinced that ghosts haunt her house.

  • Poltergeist - A ghost haunts a suburban home and kidnaps one of the children through the television set.

  • Ghost - After a man is murdered, he tries to communicate with his wife through a psychic.

  • The Shining -  a man gets a job caretaking a huge summer hotel in the mountains in the depths of winter. Is it really haunted or is he insane?

Sub-genres of Supernatural Film:


Supernatural-Comedy takes the elements of the Supernatural film genre and combines it with a comedic twist. Unlike other sub-genres, the supernatural elements (such as ghosts) tend to be funny instead of scary. This sub-genre can appeal to old and young alike, depending on the level of humor.

Examples: Ghostbusters, Casper, Hocus Pocus.


Supernatural-Horror film is a sub-genre that includes ghosts, demons, or other depictions of supernatural occurrences. Often, Supernatural-Horror films combine elements of religion into the plot. Common themes in Supernatural-Horror films include the afterlife, the devil, and demonic possession. Unlike Religious Thrillers, Supernatural-Horror films are not limited to specific religious elements and can contain more vivid and gruesome violence.

Examples: The Exorcist, The Ring, The Omen.

Supernatural-Religious films deal strictly with religion and the unknown in connection to God. These films are very similar to Religious Thrillers. Exorcisms, demonic possession, and church cover-ups are typical themes of Religious and Supernatural Thrillers. This sub-genre often questions the validity of current church practices and beliefs.

Examples: The Ninth Gate, The Da Vinci Code, The Exorcist


Supernatural-Thriller films incorporate supernatural themes that are considered mysterious. Unlike other sub-genres, Supernatural-Thrillers thrive on the “edge of the seat” feeling. The audience is in an almost constant state of anticipation. The plot usually revolves around a mysterious event or person and the quest to find out the truth.

Examples: The Sixth Sense, Frequency, The Dead Zone.

Vampire Fiction by Dale Townshend (Oxford Bibliographies)

Although historical anthropologists have traced back mythological tales of vampires and vampire-like creatures to ancient Greco-Roman civilization, it was not until the Romantic period in Britain that the vampire became a distinct and significant fictional trope. As most literary historians agree, the origins of vampire fiction in English may be traced back to the publication of John Polidori’s “The Vampyre; A Tale” in 1819: brief and inconclusive though it is, this literary fragment set in place some of the enduring features of the form, traces of which are still perceivable in vampire fictions of the 21st century. The gothic mode, that set of broader generic conventions of which vampire fiction is one important strand, is a product of the late 18th century, but it was not until the Victorian period that vampire fiction came into its own with the serialized publication of texts such as James Malcolm Rymer’s Varney the Vampire: Or, the Feast of Blood (1847); Sheridan Le Fanu’s novella Camilla (1872); and, most famously, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897). Ever since, vampire fiction has become a distinct subgenre within the broader category of gothic writing itself. With the technological advancements of the early 20th century, the vampire made its filmic debut, initially insuch iconic classics as F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) and Universal Studios’ Dracula (1931) starring Béla Lugosi, but despite itsrich cinematic presence in modern and contemporary culture, the vampire has always remained true to its fictional origins. Indeed, perhaps the figure of the vampire has been no more “undead” than in the countless novels, short stories, fragments, and chronicles in which it has featured in Western culture since the 1950s, with writers such as Stephen King, Anne Rice, Whitley Strieber, Suzy McKee Charnas, Poppy Z. Brite, John Ajvide Lindqvist, Stephenie Meyer, and numerous others reinterpreting, modifying, and elaborating upon the myths and conventions set in place earlier by writers such as Polidori, Le Fanu, and Stoker. Appearing and reappearing in fiction at specific historical junctures, the fictional vampire is inflected with a particular set of cultural, political, and economic meanings. It is some of these meanings that academic criticism has sought to determine, resulting in so many critical readings that are, in their sheer volume, almost as monstrous as the beings they aim to analyze.

Pre-History of the Fictional Vampire

Although the vampire, from the middle of the 19th century onward, was largely a prose-based phenomenon, its English literary origins might be said to lie not in fiction but in the poetic output of Romantic writers such as Robert Southey in Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Lord Byron in The Giaour (1813), Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Christabel (1816), and John Keats in Lamia (1820).

Though the monstrous figures to which these Romantic poets give form are not always vampiric in the most recognizable sense of the term, they do, nonetheless, possess some of the uncanny features that later 19th-century fictional vampires would come to portray.
The gothic was a reaction against the Enlightenment as it was felt that too much reliance upon reason would be at the expense of feeling and passion which were essential parts of the human being.








Scientific and open enquiry


The Enlightenment (from Wikipedia)

The Enlightenment, known in French as the Siècle des Lumières (Century of Enlightenment), and in German as the Aufklärung, was a philosophical movement which dominated the world of ideas in Europe in the 18th century. The principal goals of Enlightenment thinkers were liberty, progress, reason, tolerance, and ending the abuses of the church and state.[1][2] In France, the central doctrines of the Lumières were individual liberty and religious tolerance, in opposition to the principle of absolute monarchy and the fixed dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church.[3] The Enlightenment was marked by increasing empiricism, scientific rigor, and reductionism, along with increased questioning of religious orthodoxy.[4]

French historians traditionally place the Enlightenment between 1715, the year that Louis XIV died, and 1789, the beginning of the French Revolution. Some recent historians begin the period in the 1620s, with the start of the scientific revolution. The Philosophes, the French term for the philosophers of the period, widely circulated their ideas through meetings at scientific academies, Masonic lodges, literary salons and coffee houses, and through printed books and pamphlets. The ideas of the Enlightenment undermined the authority of the monarchy and the church, and prepared the way for the revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries.[3] A variety of 19th-century movements, including liberalism and neo-classicism, trace their intellectual heritage back to the Enlightenment.[5]
The Age of Enlightenment was preceded by and closely associated with the scientific revolution. Earlier philosophers whose work influenced the Enlightenment included Francis Bacon, Descartes, Locke, and Spinoza.[6] The major figures of the Enlightenment included Cesare Beccaria, Voltaire, Denis Diderot, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, David Hume, Adam Smith, and Immanuel Kant. Some European rulers, including Catherine II of Russia, Joseph II of Austria and Frederick I of Prussia, tried to apply Enlightenment thought on religious and political tolerance, which became known as enlightened absolutism. The Americans Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson came to Europe during the period and contributed actively to the scientific and political debate, and the ideals of the Enlightenment were incorporated into the United States Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.[7]

The most influential publication of the Enlightenment was the Encyclopédie, compiled by Denis Diderot and (until 1759) by Jean le Rond d'Alembert and a team of 150 scientists and philosophers. It was published between 1751 and 1772 in thirty-five volumes, and spread the ideas of the Enlightenment across Europe and beyond.[3] Other landmark publications were the Dictionnaire philosophique (Philosophical Dictionary, 1764) and Letters on the English (1733) written by Voltaire; Rousseau's Discourse on Inequality (1754) and The Social Contract (1762); and Montesquieu's Spirit of the Laws (1748). The ideas of the Enlightenment played a major role in inspiring the French Revolution, which began in 1789. After the Revolution, the Enlightenment was followed by an opposing intellectual movement known as Romanticism.


The French Revolution was a backdrop to lots of gothic literature, “proved fertile for a literature of terror” (Maggie Kilgour). Since the gothic was often associated with revolution, it could be seen as dangerous and subversive. Often gothic literature focused on the supernatural/ extreme feelings and passion/ horrific detail and was thus seen as sensationalist and dangerous to read. Obviously, the fact that it was seen as this encouraged people to read it. Moreover, many writers associated with the gothic were women and it had a female readership. In this patriarchal age, it helped keep the novel, especially the gothic novel a low status art form in the eyes of the critical establishment. Literary reviewers often warned of the dangers of too much lurid gothic reading, particularly to the female sex.

Gothic Wider Reading List

8 BC Metamorphoses Ovid

1764-5 The Castle of Otranto Horace Walpole

1794 The Mysteries of Udolpho Ann Radcliffe

1796 The Monk Matthew Lewis

1797 Christabel Samuel Taylor Coleridge

1819 Lamia John Keats

1816 The Vampyre by John Polidori

1818 Frankenstein Mary Shelley

1818 Northanger Abbey Jane Austen (satirical take on gothic novels)

1819 Lamia John Keats

1843 The Black Cat Edgar Allen Poe

1845 The Raven Edgar Allen Poe

1847 Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte

1847 Wuthering Heights Emily Bronte

1850 The Scarlet Letter Nathaniel Hawthorne

1860 The Woman in White Wilkie Collins

1866 The Signal-Man Charles Dickens

1872 Carmilla Sheridan Le Fanu

1886 The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Robert Louis Stevenson

1891 The Picture of Dorian Grey Oscar Wilde

1892 The Yellow Wallpaper Charlotte Perkins Gilman

1897 Dracula Bram Stoker

1930 A Rose for Emily William Faulkner

1931 Collected Ghost Stories MR James

1938 Rebecca Daphne du Maurier

1966 Wide Sargasso Sea Jean Rhys

1976 Interview with the Vampire Anne Rice

1978 The Cement Garden Ian McEwan

1979 The Bloody Chamber Angela Carter

1983 The Woman in Black Susan Hill

1985 The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood

1985 Blood Meridian Cormac McCarthy (Cowboy Gothic)

2005 Beyond Black Hilary Mantel

1996 In the Magic Cottage James Herbert

2009 The Little Stranger Sarah Waters

For more modern suggestions, Goodreads is a fantastic resource:

Gothic Architecture

The gothic seems to be primarily concerned with visual creations rather than inner feelings and thoughts: “Gothic is a kind of pre-Romanticism that enacts a liberalisation of the Romantic metaphor.” Romanticism is about feelings and visions in various artistic expressions – mountains, rivers, dreams and the gothic attempted to make metaphorical insights real and actual. For example, castles were built.
Fonthill Abbey – designed by James Wyatt, arranged by William Beckford, a gothic writer

Fonthill Abbey in Wiltshire was built between 1796 and 1813 by James Wyatt. William Beckford was the owner of the house. Wyatt's ouvre includes works executed in several architectural styles, but his expressions of Gothic height and volume are the most dramatic. The plan of this Gothic residence includes four long wings that radiate from an octagonal room. The wings allowed extensive views onto the countryside, a contrast to the cavernous interior rooms. Fonthill embodied the ideals of the Romanticism of the late eighteenth century. Beckford, the aristocratic and enormously wealthy client, was one of the originators of Gothic literature. The free, interpretive architecture of the house was meant to evoke an imagined medieval setting without incorporating archaeological details. The asymmetrical plan of the house was intended to provide varied and interesting views, with within and without, in accordance with the aesthetics of the Picturesque. The tall tower collapsed in 1825 and the remainder of the building was thereafter demolished.

William Beckford’s description of the building work, in 1808, is evocative gothic prose:
“…it’s really stupendous, the spectacle here at night…the innumerable torches suspended everywhere, the immense and endless spaces, the gulph below; above, the gigantic spider’s web of scaffolding…immense buckets of plaster and water ascending, as if they were drawn up from the bowels of a mine, amid shouts from subterranean depths, oaths from hell itself, and chanting from Pandemonium…”
Gothic Design used in a building symbolic of the very essence of the establishment, the Houses of Parliament, which was based on the detailed drawings of Augustus Pugin (1812 –1852).

Examples of medieval gothic architecture can be found in cathedrals, churches and abbeys, often featuring gothic arches over windows and doors, flying buttresses, impressive towers, castellated walls and macabre gargoyles. Examples from 18th and 19th century can be seen in “follies” (mock towers, hunting lodges and the like) on large estates.

General characteristics of a gothic tale
Setting: usually takes place in an antiquated or seemingly antiquated place: castle,

foreign palace, abbey, prison, subterranean crypt, graveyard, large old house or

theatre, aging city, factory, laboratory etc.
Within this space or combination of spaces, are hidden some secrets from the past that haunt the characters psychologically, physically, or otherwise at the main time of the story

These hauntings can take many forms such as ghosts, spectres, monsters that sometimes rise from the antiquated space to manifest unresolved crimes or conflicts that can no longer be successfully buried from view. At this point Gothic fictions generally oscillate between the earthly laws of conventional reality and the possibilities of the supernatural. Boundaries can usually by crossed, psychologically,

Threats can either be to life, safety and sanity of the characters which keep readers

in anxious suspense (though threats usually hidden out of sight or in the shadows or in suggestions from the hidden past .) Or characters confronted with gross violence of physical or psychological dissolution, explicitly shattering the assumed norms of

everyday life with wildly shocking, and even revolting consequences.
Events can force characters and readers to confront what is psychologically buried,

such as fears of unconscious itself as well as desires from the past. Simultaneously,

characters can reveal themselves as haunted by a second “unconscious” of deep-

seated social and historical dilemmas that become more fearful the more that they are attempted to be covered up or reconcile them symbolically without fundamentally

Gothic has “long been a term used to project modern concerns into a deliberately vague, even fictionalized past.” (p16)
From the introduction to The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction ed. By Jerrold

E. Hogle (Cambridge University Press, 2002)


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