Representations of Gothic abbey architecture in the works of four romantic-period authors : Radcliffe, Wordsworth, Scott, Byron
This study argues the importance of the Gothic abbey to Romantic-period constructions of creative imagination and identity. I examine four Romantic-period authors with reference to particular abbey sites with which they engaged, placing their works in dialogue with contemporary topographical and antiquarian literature, aesthetic theory, and cultural trends. I consider these authors' representations of Gothic abbeys specifically in the terms of eighteenth-century picturesque landscape aesthetics, according to which the abbey was associated with contemplation. My study thus provides an alternative to readings of architectural descriptions in Romantic- period literature that have conflated abbey architecture with castle architecture (regarded as representing states of repression and confinement). Relating Ann Radcliffe to St Alban's Abbey, William Wordsworth to Furness Abbey, Sir Walter Scott to Melrose Abbey and George Gordon, Lord Byron to Newstead Abbey, I show how these authors each used their informed awareness, and aesthetic appreciation, of Gothic abbey architecture both to assert their personal senses of artistic identity and purpose, and to promote their work within a Gothic Revival-epoch literary market. In this consideration of individual authors and their experiences and representations of specific Gothic abbey sites, my study demonstrates the usefulness of sustained engagement with the eighteenth-century Gothic Revival context to an appreciation of those many literary works of the Romantic period that feature Gothic architectural settings. It is also hoped that it may indicate possible, new directions for critical investigation into the relationships between "Gothic" and "Romantic" literature, and between the literary and the architectural Gothic.