The Art Of Deception In Eminent Works Of Gothic Literature

September 21, 2021 by Essay Writer

Deceptive appearances are common in Gothic literature and across Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula; Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story, The Yellow Wallpaper; Roald Dahl’s, The Landlady, and Robert Browning’s poem, Porphyria’s Lover. The authors explore the idea that appearances do not always reflect reality. In the first three texts, pleasing appearances are used to mask darkness lurking within; whereas, in the final text, we can interpret a seemingly cruel act as one of kindness.

In Dracula, by Bram Stoker, appearances do not always reflect reality because too often we assume someone’s character based on their outward appearances. Dracula displays the character traits of a Gothic villain. He is an evil nobleman of status, is attractive yet brooding, isolated, and naturally compelling due to his otherworldly nature, which all contribute to his sinister charm. When Harker first meets Dracula he describes him as ”a tall old man, clean shaven save for a long white moustache, and clad in black from head to foot, without a single speck of colour about him anywhere.” This suggests Dracula is relatively normal looking, his appearance does not elicit any initial concerns.

After weeks of enduring Dracula’s strange behaviour, but tolerating it because his appearance has lead Harker to believe he is a reliable person. Harker’s realisation that he is trapped and in physical danger is evidenced when Harker describes Dracula’s physical transformation from alluring host to evil captor “for the white hair and moustache were changed to dark iron-grey. The cheeks were fuller, and the white skin seemed ruby-red underneath. The Count’s red lips and bloated features seemed to be …simply gorged with blood”. The transition between Dracula’s initial appearance and his true identity shows how facades can deceive, how darkness can lurk beneath the surface, and how this darkness is a frightening part of the human condition. Stoker uses Dracula’s physical transformation to reveal an ambiguous gothic character, who embodies both darkness and light, which is a perfect depiction of all human beings and their frailty.

In The Yellow Wallpaper, appearances do not always reflect reality because a preoccupation with an outward facade can detrimentally distract us from the truth. Dracula and The Yellow Wallpaper display the characteristics of Gothic literature such as confinement and rebellion, forbidden desire and irrational fear, the distraught heroine, and the forbidding mansion. Like Harker in Dracula, the narrator in The Yellow Wallpaper suffers from an inability to differentiate between outward appearances and reality. Confined to her room for rest-cure by her husband, she initially describes her room as pleasant… “a big, airy room, the whole floor nearly, with windows that look all ways, and air and sunshine galore. It was nursery first and then playroom and gymnasium, I should judge; for the windows are barred for little children, and there are rings and things in the walls.” However, this description ignores a possible reality: the room could have been used to house a mental patient.

Over time the visual complexity of the room’s yellow wallpaper draws the narrator into spending more and more time contemplating it, “it is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study.” Eventually, the wallpaper becomes the centre of her emotional world and the focus of her obsessive delusions. Succumbing to outward appearance and assuming the creeping woman in the wallpaper’s identity allows the narrator to create an alternate reality and find solace in the darkness within her. However, by using Gothic themes of madness, insanity and internal chaos, Gilman’s text also critiques the idea that this is the only way for a female character to exercise limited freedoms and escape society’s confining roles and spaces of imprisonment.

In The Landlady, by Roald Dahl, appearances do not always reflect reality because they can lead us into a false sense of security. As with Dracula and The Yellow Wallpaper, The Landlady uses the gothic feature of transition through setting and characterisation as a dramatic device to create terror. The differences and tension between appearance and reality in the story’s setting deceive Billy; at first glance, the streets of Bath appear grand and elegant, lined with tall, “swanky” houses. Looking closer, however, it is evident that “the handsome white facades were cracked and blotchy from neglect.” This quote, describing decaying architecture, is another gothic element used to cultivate a sense of foreboding that all is not as it seems.

The landlady appears to be a good soul, kind-hearted, caring and generous and the following quote reveals Billy’s already growing trust of her. “She was about forty-five or fifty years old, and the moment she saw him, she gave him a warm welcoming smile. She had a round pink face and very gentle blue eyes. She seemed terribly nice. She looked exactly like the mother of one’s best school friend welcoming one into the house to stay for the Christmas holidays.” Contrary to the reader who already had many hints about her dangerous persona, Billy is not suspicious. The contrast between Billy’s naive first impressions of both the Bed and Breakfast and it’s landlady, compared to the events that follow, reveal the dark and sinister power of deception, which ultimately contributes to his demise. Dahl evokes a Gothic setting and characters in his text, by employing the theme of appearance versus reality to create a story that successfully depicts human nature at its darkest and to reveal the terrors of the human mind that can be hidden inside.

Contrastingly, in Porphyria’s Lover, by Robert Browning, appearances do not always reflect reality because sometimes it is kind to be cruel. As in the previous three texts, the house is a powerful symbol that initially appears to offer shelter, warmth and stability to its visitors. However the house soon transforms from a mere setting to a participating agent of death, similar to the settings in The Yellow Wallpaper, Dracula and The Landlady. Like Stoker and Dahl, Browning reveals the transformation of a character who is initially happy to see his lover but who becomes capable of evil as shown by the speaker’s transition from welcoming host to murderer. Browning’s use of Gothic macabre, evil and violence is shown in the following quote “all her hair in one long yellow string I wound: three times her little throat around, and strangled her” and again when the speaker sits contentedly alongside the corpse of Porphyria. As with the previous authors, Browning uses misdirection to set up scenes and characters that aren’t quite as they seem. At first glance, the poem seems to describe a horrible act of violence, however, looking deeper into the text, it becomes apparent that the murder could be an act of mercy.

The idea that Porphyria’s death is the result of an act of kindness can be interpreted in the closing lines of the poem, as “it was her darling one wish” that she would die. It was her wish that she would not know how she would die, as evidenced in the following quote, “Porphyria’s love: she guessed not how her darling one wish would be heard.” The last line provides us with the perception that Porphyria’s killing was morally correct, so much as “God has not said a word”. These quotes support the view that the initial appearance of a murder does not reflect the reality of the act itself. Browning employs the theme of appearance versus reality to contemplate the nature of death, society’s fear of it and how a seemingly cruel act is actually one of kindness. In effect, Porphyria’s Lover reminds readers that the nature of truth or reality fluctuates, depending on one’s perspective. Browning does this to explore aspects of human psychology, and to help his audience understand that in reality, a different kind of love can can exist towards a person.

Appearance versus reality is a timeless theme found in gothic literature as evidenced in Dracula; The Yellow Wallpaper; The Landlady and Porphyria’s Lover, narratives in which the gothic feature of transition and transformation is present in the settings and characters in order to test the limits of human reasoning, internal conflicts of the mind and attitudes to social norms.


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