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Novel MachinesTechnology and Narrative Form in Enlightenment Britain$
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Joseph Drury

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780198792383

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198792383.001.0001

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The Machine in the Ghost

The Machine in the Ghost

Sounds and Sensibility in The Mysteries of Udolpho

(p.143) 5 The Machine in the Ghost
Novel Machines

Joseph Drury

Oxford University Press

Though famous for its visual effects, the most important feature of Ann Radcliffe’s gothic fiction is its use of mysterious music and indistinct sounds. According to late eighteenth-century vitalist physicians, the nerves vibrated in response to external impressions like the strings on a musical instrument. Alternately pampered and overstimulated by modern conveniences, the nerves lost the ‘tone’ necessary for physical and mental health. With the rise of a new ‘expressive’ aesthetics that emphasized literature’s power, like music, to stimulate affective responses rather than ideas, novels soon became implicated in this discourse. Like ‘ethereal’ instruments such as the Aeolian harp and the glass harmonica, Radcliffe’s narrative machinery was to administer therapeutic vibrations and excite imaginative reveries that reconnected the body to nature’s vital resources. In The Mysteries of Udolpho, however, Radcliffe warns that this machinery, if administered to an already debilitated body, could cause nervous pathologies and excite uncanny hallucinations.

Keywords:   Ann Radcliffe, gothic, music, nerves, medicine, uncanny, vibration, hygiene, mesmerism, reverie

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