Distant Murmurs: Gothic Soundscapes in Literature


  • Lewis Gittus The University of Melbourne


This paper examines the literary soundscapes of Matthew Lewis’ 1796 Gothic novel, The Monk, with particular attention afforded to instances in which the interpretive ambiguities of listening serve to blur ontological distinctions between bodies and landscapes. In keeping with the genre’s preference for labyrinthine architecture and nocturnal scenes, The Monk unfolds almost entirely within darkness, its characters’ ears straining towards the gloom as they desperately seek to interpret their surroundings. Amongst the novel’s passageways, sepulchres, monasteries, and forests, a procession of low murmurs, faint echoes, and indistinct groans, all serve to dramatise the semiotic ambiguity of the auditory. In doing so, The Monk provides an ideal case study of sound’s entangled status; simultaneously material and interpretive.

This paper takes place against the backdrop of literary sound studies; a rapidly evolving discipline advanced by scholars such as Isabela van Elferen, Elena Glotova, and Kristie Ann Schlauraff, whose publications have recast the Gothic genre as a reservoir of historical listening and sounding practices. In dialogue with this emergent discipline, this paper, Distant Murmurs: Gothic Soundscapes in Literature, hazards a departure from historical analysis, and closes with a consideration of the potential for Gothic literature’s sonic tropes to inform contemporary sound-based practices.