Grotesque

05/01/2010 at 9:25 pm (Words) (, )

“I suppose, Watson, we must look upon you as a man of letters,” said he. “How do you define the word ‘grotesque’?”

“Strange–remarkable,” I suggested.

He shook his head at my definition.

“There is surely something more than that,” said he; “some underlying suggestion of the tragic and the terrible. If you cast your mind back to some of those narratives with which you have afflicted a long-suffering public, you will recognize how often the grotesque has deepened into the criminal. Think of that little affair of the red-headed men. That was grotesque enough in the outset, and yet it ended in a desperate attempt at robbery. Or, again, there was that most grotesque affair of the five orange pips, which let straight to a murderous conspiracy. The word puts me on the alert.”

– Sir Arthur Conan Doyle –

What is the word stands out the most in above excerpt? It was the first time I came across it. The reason it fascinates me is, it sounds exactly like it’s meaning. But it’s only today I really searched for it’s meaning.

It was interesting to learn that grotesque is from ancient Rome – an ornamental style. The word has the Latin root grotto, which means cave. But it was actually used to refer to rooms and corridors of  Domus Aurea, Nero‘s unfinished palace.

So in the end grotesques became intertwined with all forms of arts. Have you seen those weird statues on gothic (and also some not-so-gothic) buildings? I thought those were called gargoyles. Apparently, they’re called gargoyles only when they act as water sprouts. If not they’re grotesques or chimeras.

Like in Sherlock Holmes’s adventure, grotesque characters appear in literature too. According to Wikipedia, a grotesque character invokes in a reader both disgust and empathy, the given examples include Quasimodo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) and Beast form Beauty and the Beast.

Ok, I can’t bear to call Quasi a grotesque, but it explains things perfectly.

Added to these there’s also movies, music groups, an X Files episode, a chess problem and also a sans-serif typeface named grotesque.

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