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Title: The Gothic Gaze: The Perception of the Ruined Abbey and Anti-Catholicism in the Long Eighteenth Century
Author(s): McKean, James Andrew
Supervisor(s): Mills, Catherine
Keywords: Gothic
Ruined Abbey
Graveyard Poetry
Gothic novel
Fountains Abbey
Melrose Abbey
Tintern Abbey
William Gilpin
Thomas Gray
William Wordsworth
Issue Date: 30-Dec-2020
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: This thesis is an examination of the perception of the ruined abbey and its relationship to anti-Catholicism in the long eighteenth century. An analysis of antiquarian literature, Graveyard School poetry and Gothic novels will show how they collectively shaped the perception of the ruined abbey in the eighteenth century. This way of viewing the abbey is given the term ‘the Gothic gaze’ – a way of seeing the ruined abbey with a mixture of pleasure and fear, with a conciliatory attitude towards the Catholic faith. This thesis argues that the destroying of the monasteries in the sixteenth century was not an overwhelmingly anti-Catholic activity, accelerated more by opportunism rather than a desire to extinguish Catholicism from the country. This evaluation works as a backdrop to the rest of the thesis. It demonstrates that their appearance on the landscape was more than just a physical reminder of Britain’s rejection of Catholicism. An analysis of antiquarian attitudes to the ruined abbey demonstrates a conciliatory relationship to the monastery’s Catholic past. Even those vociferously opposed to acknowledging this past respond to the site with religious emotional resonance. Further study of Graveyard School poetry and Gothic narratives show how they shaped the perception of the ruin. Graveyard poems articulated the unquantifiable response to mortality and described ruinous scenes using tropes that became synonymous with the genre – the gloomy, mouldering pile, overgrown with ivy, harbouring the solitary animal, bathed in moonlight. Many of these tropes were borrowed by writers of the Gothic, some explicitly so. These stories contained anti-Catholic themes, yet this thesis will argue that they were not all written to embolden or further a religious agenda. Three case studies demonstrate how visitors to the ruined abbey, attracted in part by the gruesome and macabre anti-Catholic tales of the Gothic, took a respectful and earnest interest in the monastery’s Catholic past. Assessing the perception of the ruined abbey challenges the way anti-Catholicism is considered and calls for a reassessment of the British anti-Catholic mindset in the eighteenth century.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation

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