Gothic novel

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Strawberry Hill, an English mansion in the 'Gothic revival' style, built by seminal Gothic writer Horace Walpole
The gothic novel is an English literary genre, which can be said to have been born with The Castle of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole. It is the predecessor to modern horror fiction and it above all has led to the common definition of gothic as being connected to the dark and horrific.

Prominent features of gothic novels included terror, mystery, the supernatural, doom, death, decay, old buildings with ghosts in them, madness, hereditary curses and so on.


Origins of the gothic novel

The term 'gothic' was originally a disparaging term applied to a style of medieval architecture (Gothic architecture) and art (Gothic art). The opprobrious term "Gothick" was embraced by the 18th-century proponents of the Gothic revival, a forerunner of the Romantic genres. The Gothic in architecture was a reaction to the classical architecture that was a hallmark of the Age of Reason. The revived Gothic architectural style enjoyed popularity in the nineteenth century.

In a way similiar to the Neo-gothic rejection of the aesthetics of the neoclassical it became linked with a rejection of the reason and logic associated with said style in the form of appreciation of the joys of extreme emotion and the sublime. The ruins of gothic buildings gave rise to these emotions by indicating the inevitable decay and collapse of human creations, thus the craze for building fake ruined churches on English country estates as part of landscape architecture. These feelings were also connected to the anti-catholicism created by the Reformation. Good Protestants were supposed to associate medieval buildings with a dark and terrifying period, envisioning the Catholic Church oppressing people with harsh laws, torture and superstitious rituals.

The first gothic novels

'Gothic' came to be applied to the literary genre precisely because the genre dealt with such emotional extremes and dark themes, and because it found its most natural settings in the buildings of this style: Castles, Mansions and Monsateries, often remote, crumbling and ruined. It was a fascination with this architecture and its related art, poetry (see Graveyard poets) and even landscape gardening that inspired the first wave of gothic novellists: Horace Walpole, whose seminal The Castle of Otranto is often regarded as the first true gothic novel, was obsessed with fake medieval gothic architecture and built his own house Strawberry Hill in that form, sparking off a fashion for gothic revival.

Walpole's novel arose out of this obsession with the medieval. Here rather than a fake building he originally claimed it was a real medieval romance he had discovered and republished. Thus was born the gothic novel's association with fake documentation to increase its effect. The Castle of Otranto was originally titled a Romance a literary form which was held by educated taste to be tawdry and not even fit for children due to its superstitious elements, but Walpole revived some of the elements of the medieval romance in a new form. The basic plot created many other the gothic staples including a threatening mystery and an ancestral curse, as well as countless trappings: hidden passages, oft-fainting heroines, etc. It was however Ann Radcliffe who created the gothic novel in its standard form. Radcliffe introduced the brooding figure of the gothic villain, which developed into the Byronic hero. Unlike Walpole's, her novels were best-sellers and virtually everyone in English society was reading them. Radcliffe created a craze and had many imitators; the results were parodied in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey by setting up the atmosphere of doom in which one of the characters sits awake late at night imagining the noises she hears to portend all sorts of horrors owing to the gothic novels she has been reading and sweeping it away with hearty common sense and normalcy. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein 1818 is undoubtedly the greatest literary triumph of the gothic novel in this its classical period.

Later developments

In England, the gothic novel as a genre had largely played itself out by 1840. This was largely helped by the over-saturation of the genre by cheap 'pulp' writers (works that would later morph into cheap horror fiction in the form of Penny dreadfuls as well as a reduction in the genres respectability since the turn of the century caused by the publication of works such as Matthew Gregory Lewis' The Monk in(1796, a shocking (particularly at the time) tale of sex, violence and debauchery that almost bordered on the pornographic. However it had a lasting effect on the development of literary form in the Victorian period. It led to the Victorian craze for short ghost stories and the short shocking macabre tale mastered by Edgar Allan Poe. It also was a heavy influence on Charles Dickens who read gothic novels as a teenager and incorporated their gloomy atmosphere and melodrama into his own works, but shifting them to a more modern period. The mood and themes of the gothic novel held a particular fascination for the Victorians, with their morbid obsession with mourning rituals, Mementos, and mortality in general, which led to them becoming a widespread literary influence.

Post-Victorian legacy

By the 1880s it was time for revival as a gothic as a semi-respectable literary form. This was the period of the gothic works of Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Machen and Oscar Wilde, and the most famous gothic villain ever appeared in Bram Stoker’s Dracula 1897. From these, the gothic genre strictly considered gave way to modern horror fiction though many literary critics use the term to cover the entire genre: though many modern writers of horror or indeed other fiction extend considerable gothic sensibilities: Anne Rice being one example, as well as some of the less sensationalist works of Stephen King. The gothic tradition has also expanded it's boundaries to films and music, as well as the new media forms of the internet.


Gothic satire

See also


David Stevens "The Gothic Tradition" ISBN 0 521 777321

External links

de:Schauerroman nl:Gothic (literatuur) ja:ゴシック小説 zh:哥特小说


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