“The main interest of Gothic texts is neither the macabre nor the supernatural but psychological depravity”. To what extent do you agree with this statement in your study of Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ and James’ ‘The Turn of the Screw’?

Introduction: Psychological depravity is the absolute absence of a moral compass. Even though Gothic fiction is predominantly known by the tropes of horror and terror, it could be argued that the crucial conventions of the macabre and supernatural are of equal validity as exemplified by Poe’s powerful character construction in short stories such as the ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ and ‘The Black Cat’. The macabre refers to “horrifying or uncomfortable imagery, especially imagery relating to death”, while the supernatural alludes to “events and values that recall some spiritual power for their explanation”. One may contend that it is in fact the psychological depravity of the protagonists that is the supreme interest of Gothic texts, owing to the fact that uncertainty about the characters’ mental stability generates a fear of the unknown, and it can be asserted that this is the reaction that Gothic literature aims to provoke from its readers, as Bowen asserts, “Gothic fiction has intrigued and unsettled readers for more than two centuries.” In the novel ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ by Oscar Wilde and the novella ‘The Turn of the Screw’ by Henry James what fascinates is the focus on the psychological unravelling of the central characters. Indeed, since Walpole’s ‘The Castle of Otranto’ first appeared in 1764 this ‘recrudescent genre’ continues to provide character constructs who both unnerve and compel.

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