An Ultimate Guide To Understanding Gothic Literature

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Gothic literature is a genre of literature that combines aspects of romance such as nature and intense emotions with themes of terror, horror, death, and melancholy.

The first work of fiction written in this vein was Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764). Death, desire, and intrigue permeate this tale of a tragic family. Since it embodied so many of the hallmarks of the Gothic literature subgenre, this story is sometimes cited as the first of its kind. The term “Gothic” was first used as a derogatory epithet to describe the architecture and art of the time period which was gloomy, rotting, and miserable.

What is gothic literature?

A literary genre known as gothicism is characterised by dark surroundings, gory action, supernatural themes, romance, and exoticism. In essence, it developed in England during the 18th century as a subgenre of Romanticism. It also gained popularity in the United States later in the 19th century as the most sinister kind of dark romanticism, a subgenre that originated in America with the transcendental movement.

Mystery, suspense, romance, horror, decay and degeneration are common ingredients in the stories concocted by the gothic writers. They employ gothic devices to draw focus to weighty topics such as racism, sexism, and homophobia.

Typical elements of the classic Gothic stories or books include hideous characters, extreme fear, graphic morbidity, supernatural occurrences, and scenic adventures. Additionally, they use dramatic tension and gloomy subject matter. Gothic tales typically take place in desolate, decaying houses, castles, or monasteries.

Gothic Literature

A new type of gothic fiction, often called modern Gothic, however, appeared at the turn of the twentieth century. Urban locations, intricate stories with multiple subplots, and current challenges and concerns are typical of modern gothic books.

Emergence of gothic literature

In reality, gothic literature developed as a subgenre of romanticism in response to the strict conventions of the enlightenment, a European intellectual movement. Nature’s aesthetics, human uniqueness, and the sublime were central to romantic ideas. Although gothicism shared many characteristics with romanticism, it primarily concentrated on the sinful and wicked aspects of human nature.

Gothic writers, in contrast to the rationalists of the Enlightenment, sought to evoke strong emotional responses from their readers. Many of these works centred on the concepts of human frailty, the emotional toll of sin, the destructive power of guilt, the repercussions of wrongdoing, and the finality of judgment.

Gothic Literature
Dilapidated building: A perfect gothic setting

Many writers and critics have argued that the first gothic novels were depictions of a post-apocalyptic world. The terrible antagonists in early Gothic tales sometimes used as metaphors for the protagonist’s own human impulses that he or she must overcome. Their last chapters typically ended in tragedy, and love was rarely a central theme. However, in the centuries that followed, Gothic fiction not only expanded, but also split into other popular subgenres covering a wide range of topics.

Ann Radcliffe, Mary Shelley, Willian Beckford, Edgar Allan Poe were among the most well-known gothic authors of the time.

The initiator of gothic literature

The Castle of Otranto was first published by Walpole in 1964 under the guise of being a translation of an antiquated Italian manuscript. He took this action because he believed that the book’s style would not be properly welcomed. But to his complete dismay, the public embraced it, and Walpole eventually acknowledged writing it in the book’s second edition, which was published in 1765. He claimed that a nightmare he had at his gothic mansion, Strawberry Hill, near Twickenham, London, served as the basis for the book’s plot.

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In fact, Horace Walpole took the word “gothic” from mediaeval gothic architecture and used it to describe horror. He created a brand-new literary genre called gothic literature with his first gothic book, “The Castle of Otranto,” which later gave rise to the gothic fiction. It inspired authors like Ann Radcliffe, Edgar Allan Poe, and others and started a whole literary genre with its fascinating blend of ominous prophecies, raging passions, and ghostly visits.

As a result, Horace Walpole is regarded as the literary gothicism’s primary founder. He is credited with creating Gothic literature and being its first author.

Why gothic literature had such a massive appeal?

Following the publication of Walpole’s “The Castle of Otranto,” gothic literature quickly grew popular in Europe, America, and a few other nations, including France. In reality, it enjoyed tremendous success in the 19th century thanks to its enigmatic and daring tales set in foreboding locations.

Gothic Literature
Gothic castle

The audience was very drawn to gothic literature because it not only offered exciting entertainment but also told stories of vulnerability and strife to which the audience could relate.

American gothic fiction

While gothic writing was thriving in England, Transcendentalism, a literary movement that put an emphasis on science, nature, and individualism, was taking place in American literature. Then, as a reaction to this “reason over feeling” approach, romanticism began to emerge. The romantics rejected the sterile facts of science in favour of sentiments, emotions, and the occult realm.

Dark romanticism, commonly referred to as American gothic, developed as a side branch of romanticism. It was darker than romanticism, placed a greater focus on the paranormal, and was intensely fascinated by the ugly, irrational, and demonic. This new genre was initially rejected by the American audience because they thought it was unreliable. It was primarily because gothic had historical roots, something that America lacked. American authors developed their own gothic traits with their own ideas of terror to set it apart from other gothics.

Common characteristics of gothic fiction

Since the genre’s inception, there have been a few recurring themes in both British and American gothic writing. These literary gothicism fads include:

1) Gloomy scenes with abandoned landscapes

2) Consider the negative aspects of human nature

3) Emphasises how corrupted the human mind is

4) Divergent weather

5) A mysterious and tentative ambiance

6) The conflict between bad forces and the human race

7) Women in difficulty

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Elements of gothic fiction

What we have learned so far is that gothic literature, sometimes known as gothic fiction, combines horror and romance. And there is a lot more to it than just a bleak aesthetic and societal commentary.

If you want to get the most out of a gothic fiction, you need know about these  essential features of the genre:

1) Dark, dilapidated manors and castles are typical Gothic settings

2) Beastly protagonists

3)Female lead characters are always damsels in distress

4) Zombies, ghosts, werewolves, and vampires

5) Tragic romance

6) Gothic atmosphere full of mystery

7) Melodrama

8) Exoticism

9) Shock and Disgust

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