Friday, 28 September 2012



The term refers to a linguistic, literary or artistic form which expresses noble or elevated feelings and behaviour. The concept of sublime was analysed by an unknown rhetorician of the 1st century AD who identified  the sublime with the beautiful and found its origin not in the perfection of style but in the passion of inspiration echoing in the soul .

Joseph Addison in his journal THE SPECTATOR, made the distinction between the beautiful and the sublime, which became a main theme in the 19th century aesthetics. The most interesting development of this idea can be found in 
Edmund Burke's A PHILOSOPHICAL ENQUIRY INTO THE ORIGIN OF OUR IDEAS OF THE SUBLIME AND  BEAUTIFUL where he regarded the beautiful and the sublime as opposed. The sublime does neither arise from the pleasure produced by beautiful forms, nor from the detached contemplation of the object, but it has its roots in the feelings of fear and horror created by what is infinite and terrible. Void, obscurity, loneliness and silence are sublime; flower-beds are beautiful, the night is sublime, the day is beautiful. This "Horrible Beauty"  identified by Burke gave aesthetic dignity to anything ugly existing in nature, and affected the literature  of the end of the 18th century. The taste for obscurity, terror and introspection became the distinguishing feature of the Gothic Novel.

Extracts from A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful by  Edmund Burke
On Astonishment & Fear                       
The passion caused by the great and sublime in nature, when those causes operate most powerfully, is Astonishment; and astonishment is that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror. In this case the mind is so entirely filled with its object, that it cannot enertain any other, nor by consequence reason on that object which employs it. Hence arises the great power of the sublime, that far from being produced by them, it anticipates our reasonings and hurries us on by an irresistible force. Astonishment, as I have said, is the effect of the sublime in its highest degree; the inferior effects are admiration, reverence and respect.”“No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers as fear. Whatever therefore is terrible, with regard to sight, is sublime too, whether this cause of terror be endued with greatness of dimensions or not.

There are many animals,who though far from being large, are yet capable of raising ideas of the sublime, because they are considered as objects of terror,as serpents and poisonous animals of almost all kinds. (…) To make any thing very terrible, obscurity seems in general to be necessary. When we know the full extent of any danger, when we can accustom our eyes to it, a great deal of the apprehension vanishes. Every one will be sensible of this, who considers how greatly night adds to our dread, in all cases of danger, …”
Terror and horror are the two terms adopted by Ann Radcliffe in her essay ON THE SUPERNATURAL IN POETRY (1826) to describe the emotional responses that the Gothic novel tries to elicit from the reader.

TERROR is characterized by obscurity or in the indeterminate treatment of threatening events;

HORROR almost annihilates the reader's capacity of response by means of an explicit display of atrocities.

The difference between  terror  and horror is that  between terrible apprehension and painful realisation, between the smell of death and  stumbling against a corpse. Terror creates an atmosphere of superstitious fear, while horror crudely presents the physical revolting macabre in an atmosphere of spiritual despair.


For further material on the Gothic Novel, you can download the Power Point Presentation,  THE GOTHIC NOVEL,  from the Widget_ Box  in the sidebar on the right. 

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