It is that time of year again where the thrill of being terrified is a favorable thing. Most people spend their time watching horror films and reading nail biting thrillers. One may question, where do dark writers get their inspiration for such stomach turning plots. In the Romantic Period, dark romantic writers were inspired by the Hebrew Bible.
Social norms are automatic unwritten rules and behaviors expected of an entire society. Social norms vary based on the culture of the society. When taking the U.S. into consideration most of its societal norms were developed from the expectations of the Hebrew Bible. In fact, certain amendments within the U.S. Constitution reflect the core values of the Hebrew Bible. During the American Romantic Period, many writers expanded their creative pallet in literature as the stresses of the Industrial Revolution took place. Although the romantic period typically dealt with topics in nature and aesthetics, a sub branch formed— the dark romantic period, which revered the more morbid themes of life.
Dark romantics were often ostracized and looked down on for their written vulgaris. To many it was unorthodox for an individual to write about concepts such as death, murder and evil. Despite the opposition of dark themes, the Hebrew Bible and its teachings were pivotal inspirations to a number of dark romantic writers based in the 19th century.
Scarlet Letter author, Nathinel Hawthrone wrote many works based on witchcraft and satanism. In his short story “Young Goodman Brown” he displays a man on a journey that would be plagued with temptations from evil by Satan himself. Hawthrone used many biblical symbolism within this short story.
Before Goodman Brown set off on his journey, his wife Faith cautioned him to disregard his trip as it would be dangerous. While on his trip, Goodman Brown was faced with trust shattering images of religious prominent figures within his community, engaging in evil acts and roles. In pursuit to finish the journey unharmed, Goodman Brown continued to remind himself of Faith and the heavens above to distract his submission to the temptations. Goodman Brown’s final straw would be seeing his wife engaging in a ritual. It was up to the reader to decide whether or not the images seen were deceitful haullications given by Satan or factual images seen with the human eye. As for Goodman Brown, he spent the rest of his life indecisive of reality.
In the text, Hawthrone writes, “My Faith is gone! Cried he, after one stupefied moment. ‘There is no good on earth; and sin is but a name. Come, devil! For to thee is this world given.’ And maddened with despair, so that he laughed loud and long, did Goodman Brown grasp his staff…” Symbolism such as faith, the staff in the shape of a serpent, and the devil are all derived from the Hebrew Bible.
In the Hebrew Bible, faith is a central component to being a follower of the Lord. In Hebrews 11:1 it says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Goodman Brown’s wife represents the faith that every individual struggles to grow familiar with. In faith, there is hope and with hope there is trust. In the short story, Satan attacks Goodman Brown’s trust to exhaust his faith.
One of the most momentous events within the Hebrew Bible was the deceit of the serpent which separated God and man. In Genesis 3 it says, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made...The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” This very moment mirrors the staff within the short story. The staff was used as a form of lieway and temptation for Goodman Brown to abandon his faith and be severed from God.
In every instance there is an antagonist and within the Hebrew Bible and that is the devil. In Psalm 91:13 it says, “You will tread upon the lion and the cobra. You will trample the great lion and the serpent.” In the Hebrew Bible the devil is often referred metaphorically throughout its text. The devil is often identified as a deceitful lion or cobra. In the short story, Hawthrone writes, “There may be devilish Indian behind every tree,’ said Goodman Brown to himself, and he glanced fearfully behind him as he added,’ What if the devil himself should be at my very elbow!” It is clear that Hawthrone incorporated the thrill of demonic existence into this piece to add dark suspense.
In addition to Nathaniel Hawthorne, another dark romantic who derived metaphors from the Hebrew Bible was Emily Dickinson.
Dickinson’s work comprised of death and the negative internal monologues within one’s mind. In Dickinson’s poem “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain” she describes an imaginative state of her own funeral. Dickinson goes on to describe the sound of heaven bells—revealing a belief or wonder of heaven after death.
In the fourth stanza, Dickinson writes, “As all the Heavens were a Bell,/And Being, but an Ear,/And I, and Silence, some strange Race/ Wrecked, solitary, here -” Heaven is a perception of after life within the Hebrew Bible. In Psalm 14:2 it says, “The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.” Dickinson is displaying a hope that she would find solitude within heaven after death. After delivering an idea of heaven, Dickinson then speaks of condemnation.
In the fifth stanza, she writes, “And then a Plank in Reason,broke,/And I dropped down, and down-/And hit a World, at every plunge,/And Finished knowing-then-” In this stanza, Dickinson is describing a descend from her hope of heaven into a realm below: hell. Just as heaven is a perception of the afterlife in the Hebrew Bible, so is Hell.
In Psalm 9:17 it says, “The wicked go down to the realm of the dead, all the nations that forget God.” It can be concluded that Dickinson took the Hebrew Bible’s definition of hell and applied it to her own circumstance—condemning herself from heaven.
Another dark romantic that took on the inspirations of the Hebrew Bible was Edgar Allen Poe. Edgar Allen Poe’s style of writing consisted of normalizing murder, dark intentions and cripaling emotions. In Poe’s “The Raven” he exhibits a man who is afflicted with grief and the anxieties of a possible intruder within his home.
In the poem, Poe described the man seeing God sent seraphim within his chambers. Poe writes, “Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from/ an unseen censer/ Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufed/ floor./ “Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee- by these angels he hath sent thee” Seraphim are angels that are mentioned within the Hebrew Bible as large celestial beings from heaven. In Isaiah 6:2 it says, “Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.” It is to be concluded that Poe had a belief of the supernatural within the Hewbrew Bible and integrated it within his works.
To summarize, dark romantics of the 19th century had many integrations of the Hebrew Bible within their works. The Hebrew Bible can be interpreted in many ways and applied to many circumstances. Writers use their interpretations to apply it to their plot as symbolism, literal references and metaphors. Dark romantics used the Hebrew Bible within their works to shed light on a religious reality that creates a separate plane from secular entertainment. Using the Hebrew Bible gives a form confirmation to the possibility of the written events to be true even if they are fiction. In modern day, writers still use the Hebrew Bible as an inspiration for poetry, short stories and films.