5) The Transformation of Gothic Libertinism: From Romanticism, Victorianism and Post-Millennial Fiction- Conclusion

‘He was supposed to preserve his own life by helping his neighbour to flourish. But the philosopher does not accept such fanciful relationships. Having regard for himself alone in the world, he looks after his own interests in all things. […] He is no longer afraid to make everything serve him, to possess all that surrounds him, and, whatever the cost of his pleasures to others he indulges them without thinking and without remorse.’

‘But the man you describe is a monster.’

The man I describe is Nature’s own.’[1]

The infamous Sadeian libertine that so enthralled the eighteenth century imagination and sparked crucial debates regarding sexual and religious beliefs is clearly demonstrated to be drastically different to that of the twenty-first century Gothic anti-libertine. De Sade’s countless libertine characters shocked contemporary readers with their ‘scandalous depictions’ of the libertine lifestyle, in an era what needed this sexual and moral freedom for the people to thrive and express themselves.[2] The libertine writers of the era, such as Lewis and Dacre, composed explicit content to assert their rights for freedom and happiness, utilising the hyperbolic libertine to express how human desires should be accepted. The admirable lengths these Romantic authors pursued in the name of freedom has helped shape our current society, and the progressions we have made in the name of independence and libertinism.

Victorian libertinism, such as Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, also helped shape our contemporary freedoms, despite the genre of Gothic libertinism undergoing a slight change in content and unabashed explicitness. The Gothic genre established itself more as a serious genre, what contained more than merely fantastical tales of hellish devilry. Writers such as Oscar Wilde and Le Fanu managed to cement the Gothic libertine as a figure who, although still unorthodox and forbidden, could also raise crucial questions regarding humanity and its flaws, but in a social context that was not so brazen that it was entirely dismissed by critics. The Gothic libertine became, what the French surrealists of the twentieth-century called ‘apostle[s] of freedom.’[3] The Victorian Gothic enabled the libertine philosophy to be taken seriously and truly begin to be discussed as an important way of viewing the world and humanity.

Gothic literature undeniably underwent a drastic shift when progressing into the twenty-first century, however, many Gothic texts still retain their original, libertine roots, such as Charlaine Harris’ The Southern Vampire Mysteries, alongside writers such as Stephen King. The sudden popularity of pre-teen Gothic romance novels, such as Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight saga has warped the popular idea of what Gothic libertinism involves, advertising a false sexuality that is relatively non-existent, yet still ‘relentlessly adaptive.’[4] However, this is only one subgenre within an ever-growing genre of novels, and this genre is continuing to expand and transform now.

The Gothic libertine will always stand for freedom and, rather questionable, morals and beliefs, but its role as an advocate of freedom cannot be underestimated and the libertine will continue to symbolise the importance of not apologising for who you are, and demanding the right to act how you wish.


Part Four

[1] Marquis, De Sade, Justine; or, the Misfortunes of Virtue (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), p. 142.

[2] Nick, Groom, The Gothic: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), p. 86.

[3] John, Phillips, ‘Introduction’ in Justine; or, the Misfortunes of Virtue (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), p. vii.

[4] Catherine, Spooner, Post-Millenial Gothic: Comedy, Romance and the Rise of Happy Gothic (London: Bloomsbury, 2017), p. viii.

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