Michael Carter, Peter Lindfield, and Dale Townshend (eds)
British Library, £30
In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Reformation and the Civil War reduced a great many of Britain’s abbeys and castles to ruins – or, as they are described by a number of 18th- and 19th-century poets, ‘piles’ of a ‘venerable’, ‘stately’, ‘stupendous’ or ‘lowly’ variety, or even ‘dismal Heaps’. These monuments have formed part of the country’s cultural consciousness, and their impact can be felt particularly keenly in Gothic fiction and Gothic Revival architecture.
Drawing from the work of Robert Burns, Lord Byron, Horace Walpole, Walter Scott, and many others, this book surveys the literary appeal of local over Classical ruins between 1700 and 1850. Ruins can serve as the ideal backdrop for hauntings, as a young Catherine Morland imagines with much excitement in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, and choice destinations for picturesque tourism. Decaying structures – including those of a more modest nature, such as cottages – can also offer new ways to make political (and, at times, satirical) comment. The considered discussions of texts give an interesting perspective on how these monuments matter.
This review appeared in CA 338.