The “Gothic Complex” in Shelley: From Zastrozzi to The Triumph of Life

The persistent use of Gothic motifs by Shelley from his early Gothic novels (1810-11) all the way to The Triumph of Life (1822) has only been partly explained up until now.  This essay argues that Shelley develops, across his career in ways especially visible in The Triumph, a "Gothic complex" of connected features that look all the way back to how the "Gothic Story" began in Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1764).  By developing these features as he does, Shelley is able to reveal with great power the underlying conflicts at his (and our) time between retrograde belief-systems that people still accept as dominant and true, on the one hand, and, on the other, progressive re-castings of those old shapes that can make them point to revolutionary ideologies that can change the world as his characters and readers perceive it.