Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Literary Look: The Gothic Novel

Finally back with another Literary Look post, and one that I'm very excited for: (although I'm always excited for these posts) The Gothic literary movement! Make sure you check out my other Literary Look posts (linked below) for more literary fun! (Yay!)

Read my Previous Literary Look Posts Here

It may be helpful to read my two posts, European Romanticism and American Romanticism before this one, as Gothic Literature is a branch off of Romanticism, but you won't have to in order to follow this post.

General Information:
Gothic literature falls under the larger umbrella of Romantic literature, and was mainly popular in England from 1790-1830. Gothic literature is characterized by a combination of Romantic elements with horror, and inspiration was drawn from horror stories from the Medieval Ages. Gothic novels often explore the idea of "the fallen world" through the story, setting, themes, and characters. The 'horrors' in these novels often turn out to elements of humanity more than the supernatural creature that is used to display these elements. The setting is usually dark, gloomy, and reminds the reader of this fallen world idea through ruins and decrepit castles and abbeys.

The Gothic Hero has become an archetype present in novels from this movement. The protagonist is usually isolated either by choice or force. Then there is the Villain who is the embodiment of evil because of a fall from grace (usually) and the two must meet in the end, usually after the protagonist has fallen from grace as well. The Wanderer is another common charter type in Gothic novels; this character wanders the earth in permanent exile as a form of (divine or otherwise) punishment.

American magazines that would reprint Gothic horror tales would become known as Pulp Magazines. The covers of these magazines have become very recognizable and are often parodied today.  This element of dramatic horror was often parodied by other writers as well while the genre was still popular.


Weird Tales was a popular Pulp mag, that republished the stories of Poe, Conan Doyle, and published new tales by Lovecraft.

Authors and Novels:

Early Gothic Lit.

Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto: This is widely regarded as the first gothic novel. and was published in 1764. Warpole wished to combine elements of the Medieval Romance with elements of the modern day novel. This book contained the first appearance of Gothic's most well-known elements: mystery, ancestral curses, hidden passageways, and the oft- fainting heroine. Warpole disguised the first edition of this novel as a newly discovered and translated Medieval romance, and because of good reviews and acclaim, Warpole claimed authorship on the second edition. But of course, this new claim to authorship brought about a large string of rejections. This incident started out the Gothic novel with a bad rep.

Ann Radcliffe: Ann Radcliffe is known for developing what is called the "explained supernatural." The seemingly supernatural elements of her novels would turn out to be completely explainable at the end of the novel. Radcliffe also introduced the archetype for the Gothic Villain which would develop into the Byronic Hero. Many of Radcliffe's novels were best-sellers, and her two literary devices would be borrowed and imitated by many authors, but her novels were generally dismissed by critics and academics because of the Gothic element. Her most popular novels include: A Sicilian Romance, and The Mysteries of Udolpho.

Matthew Gregory Lewis' The Monk: The idea of Gothic literature spread from England to the European continent, and Lewis' The Monk was a major Gothic published during the time of expansion. Lewis wrote this novel in just ten weeks, and before his twentieth birthday, but the scandalous plot made it one of Lewis' and Gothic's most popular novels. Published in 1796, the book contains morality themes and violence, common to the Gothic novel.

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is the one of the novels most often associated with the Gothic Novel. Mary Shelley (wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley) wrote Frankenstein, one the most well-known English novels, and one of the first science fiction novels, at the age of nineteen. The novel started as a short story that was composed over a short span of a few weeks while Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, Mary Shelley (Godwin), and her step sister Claire (who was pregnant with Lord Byron's baby) were stuck inside because of the heavy rains in Geneva. The novel has a really interesting origin story, that includes Shelley's "Waking dream" of a student looking over the "Thing" he had created. All of the elements mentioned above as common to Gothic novels can be found in this novel.  

1880's Revival 
Bram Stoker's Dracula: Stoker's novel was published in 1897 as part of the resurgence of Gothic Literature. This novel is about traditional values clashing with new age values, as well as questions of morality, supernatural creatures, and fainting women. The settings of this novel are perfect examples of Gothic Literature settings.

Other novels from this period with Gothic influences include Oliver Twist, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wuthering Heights and The Phantom of the Opera. 

Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey: The ever brilliant Austen wrote Northanger Abbey as a parody of Gothic novels. The main character Catherine spends the majority of her time reading Gothic Novels, and her imagination runs away with her. She begins to see the people in her life as Gothic heroes and villains. Interestingly, the publication of this novel and the list of Gothic Novels it contained brought about a new interest in the Gothic, when it was discovered that the book titles mentioned by Catherine were not made up by Austen, but actual books. Catherine was a huge fan of Anne Radcliffe's novels, and fancied that she was a heroine from one of her Gothic romances.

Thomas Love Peacock's Nightmare Abbey: Peacock's novel satires the Romantic movement and particularly the Gothic movement's obsession with violence and morbidity. Peacock based many of the characters on historical figures that he wished to poke fun at. Many classical authors and novels are alluded to during the course of the novel.

The Gothic Novel
Norton's Website

What's your favorite Gothic Novel?

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