(Posted by Evan)
The Gothic genre of literature takes off in the late 1700’s and continues to this day really. It is considered a sub-genre of the Romantic period, the sub-genre that focuses on dark and disturbing and scary. What’s interesting is that if you go to the Wikipedia page on Romantic literature its mostly about Gothic novels. The name Gothic refers to Gothic architecture, which was fashionable in a different period (1200-1600). This makes sense as major themes of the genre including fasciantion with the past, distant and exotic settings, and in particular creepy castles with cob webs, dark and damp and dirty hallways with flickering candlelight, shadows, dungeons, skeletons and ghosts, I say, ghosts. Apparently Gothic comes from 'Goth' which means ‘Germans’ and ‘barbarians’. Because the Germans are barbarians. Then there was a refashioning of the macabre. From the NortonAnthology,
The Gothic revival, which appeared in English gardens and architecture before it got into literature, was the work of a handful of visionaries, the most important of whom was Horace Walpole (1717–1797), novelist, letter writer, and son of the prime minister Sir Robert Walpole. In the 1740s Horace Walpole purchased Strawberry Hill, an estate on the Thames near London, and set about remodeling it in what he called "Gothick" style, adding towers, turrets, battlements, arched doors, windows, and ornaments of every description, creating a kind of spurious medieval architecture that survives today mainly in churches, military academies, and university buildings. The project was extremely influential, as people came from all over to see Strawberry Hill and returned to Gothicize their own houses.
It is widely recognized that the first Gothic novel was Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto(1765), because it literally had the subtitle, ‘A Gothic Story’. However, the true founder of the genre though is considered to be Ann Radcliffe, who wrote three of its classics A Sicilian Romance (1790), The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), and The Italian (1797).
it was particularly Radcliffe’s deft manipulation of the experience of terror and wonder that, together with her superlative skills in the rendition of visual, almost pictorial natural landscapes, most pleased her early readers. Consequently, Radcliffe became the most highly paid professional writer of the 1790s
Other notable early Gothic works include Vathrek by William Beckford (1786) and The Monk by Mathew Lewis (1796),
Savaged by critics for its supposed profanity and obscenity …The Monk became a succès de scandale when it was published in 1796... It recounts the diabolical decline of Ambrosio, a Capuchin superior, who succumbs first to temptations offered by a young girl who has entered his monastery disguised as a boy, and continues his descent with increasingly depraved acts of sorcery, murder, incest and torture.
Apparently, Ann Radcliff was so repulsed by The Monk and being associated with it via the genre that she wrote The Italian (also about a monk) in order to show the Gothic Novel is truly done. And began on a discussion on Terror vs. Horror. Which seems to me to be like the difference between suspense and shock-horror films.
The most widely acclaimed Gothic novel is Mary Shelley’s Frankensteinalthough this novel is considered to transcend the genre. Edgar Allen Poeis also widely regarded as the master of American Gothic literature (I’m a big Poe fan and I intend to write some Poe blog’s this month). Other notable authors of the Genre include: Shirley Jackson(We Have Always Lived in the Castle, The Haunting of Hill House, The Sundial) and Dauphne du Maurier (Rebecca, Jamaica Inn, My Cousin Rachel, and Don’t Look Now). You may have noticed that a lot of the authors are women, this makes sense because women are grimly obsessed with death, horror, pain and cruelty. In fact, not only is the genre’s founder and subsequent giants women, and not only was its greatest book written by a woman, but of the 19 authors who have contributed more than one book to the top 100 Gothic novels according to Goodreads.com, 10 of them are women. The most productive is Victoria Holtwho contributes 9 of the top 100 to the list. Angela Carter in particular strikes my interest here. Her book The Bloody Chamber and other stories came up on a list of scariest books when I was searching those, and it mentioned that she is also associated with magical realism, which I like very much.
Angela Carter was a storytelling sorceress, the literary godmother of Neil Gaiman, David Mitchell, Audrey Niffenegger, J. K. Rowling, Kelly Link, and other contemporary masters of supernatural fiction. In her masterpiece, The Bloody Chamber—which includes the story that is the basis of Neil Jordan’s 1984 movie The Company of Wolves—she spins subversively dark and sensual versions of familiar fairy tales and legends like “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Bluebeard,” “Puss in Boots,” and “Beauty and the Beast,” giving them exhilarating new life in a style steeped in the romantic trappings of the gothic tradition.
Also make multiple contributions are Barbara Michaels (The Dancing Floor, Greygallows, The Master of Blacktower), Norah Lofts (Gad’s Hall novels), Mary Stewart (The Ivy Tree, Nine Coaches Waiting, Thornyhold), and Sarah Waters (The Little Sranger, The Afinity). The Big Brontë novels are considered to contain Gothic elements as well. Also considered one of the top Gothic novels according to goodreads The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Reclusive author Vida Winter, famous for her collection of twelve enchanting stories, has spent the past six decades penning a series of alternate lives for herself. Now old and ailing, she is ready to reveal the truth about her extraordinary existence and the violent and tragic past she has kept secret for so long. Calling on Margaret Lea, a young biographer troubled by her own painful history, Vida disinters the life she meant to bury for good. Margaret is mesmerized by the author's tale of gothic strangeness—featuring the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess, a topiary garden and a devastating fire. Together, Margaret and Vida confront the ghosts that have haunted them while becoming, finally, transformed by the truth themselves.
Among the men are included Nathaniel Hawthorne (The House of the Seven Gables, Rappaccini’s Daughter, Short Stories) and Arthur Conan Doyle (The Hound of the Baskervilles, Tales of Unease) but those mainly known for their work in this genre perhaps are Mervyn Peake (The Gormenghast Novels), John Harwood (The Ghost Writer, The Séance, The Asylum), M. R. James (Ghost Stories), J. Sheridon Le Fanu (Carmilla, Uncle Silas, In a Glass Darkly).
The Gothic Experience Page
The most common theme mentioned has to do with the setting, generally set in the past, in exotic locations, and specifically in harsh landscapes and bad weather. Castles, ruined or haunted buildings, graveyards.
Next up is an element of supernatural and psychological. Again, obsession with the past comes in here, ghosts and psychological repercussions of previous traumatic events or shameful actions.
The unreliable narrartor is common. Passion driven characters. Characters whose identiies do not become clear until the end. Dreams or Nightmares. Omens and curses. Necromancy.
Protagonists who are often conflicted, confused and outcasts from society. Villains often have an allure. It can be difficult to distinctly identify good vs. evil. The doppelgänger or dual characters as in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.
The plots usually involve horrific and tragic events. They center heavily on the emotional distress of characters. This where much of the terror or horror comes in. Characters downfalls are often heavily foreshadowed creating suspense.
In addition,sexuality is often explored in some form in these novels. This genre is seen as a rebellion and an outlet against the upright Victorian culture of the time. Women are often portrayed as repressed, the dungeons of the castles or unforgiven landscapes symbolizing this repression to some degree.