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The Gothic in Literature An Introduction

The Gothic Introduction – A fascination for the past, particularly the Medieval era – Stimulation of fear, horror – The strange – The eccentric – The supernatural – The magical

Gothic Architecture • a

Medieval cathedrals are covered with profusion of wild animalistic carvings

• They depict humanity in conflict with supernatural forces • Contain grotesque images of demons, angels, gargoyles, and monsters.

Gothic Architecture • Vaulting arches and tall spires of Gothic cathedrals reach up into the sky as if the builders were trying to grasp the heavens • This ambition for the eternal is expressed in many works of Gothic literature eg Frankenstein's quest to become godlike by creating life • Vaulting windows in medieval cathedrals are adorned by ornate stained glass which sometimes contain images of the interaction between the supernatural and human worlds.

Origins The Gothic novel originated in England with the publication of Horace Walpole's novel The Castle of Otranto (1765), which Walpole called a “Gothic story”. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein belongs to the Gothic genre, but Gothic or supernatural motifs also appear in the poetry of Coleridge, Byron, and Keats. Byron and Coleridge, in particular, were strongly influenced by Gothic literature Both writers were affected by the German stories in the genre, and Byron also enjoyed the English Gothic novels so popular in his time.

The Gothic in Literature Can be found in a number of literary models and genres. These include: 

Classic “gothic horror” tales e.g. Frankenstein, Dracula

Historical romance e g the Waverley novels of Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)

American tradition of domestic gothic fiction — some of Poe's tales, the novels of William Faulkner (1897-1962) and some of Henry James's (1843-1916) fiction

Fantasy fiction, as in the work of Mervyn Peake or Tolkien (1892-1973)

Psychological thriller eg Susan Hill

Idiosyncratic gothic experiments eg Angela Carter, Umberto Eco and Salman Rushdie

Some science fiction and science fantasy texts eg H.G. Wells's (1866-1946) The Island of Dr Moreau (1896) or certain aspects of Isaac Asimov's (1920-1992) novel.

Settings Frequently used settings and locations • • • • • • • •

Castles Haunted house & ruins Marshes and swamps Mountains Moorland Churches Graveyards Abbeys











Horror Designed to induce fear, shock, revulsion, and disgust. Appeals to curiosity and voyeurism. Elements of horror render the reader incapable of resolution and subject the reader's mind to a state of inescapable confusion and chaos. An inability to intellectualize horror inflicts a sense of obscure despair.

Terror Works of terror create Sense of uncertain apprehension A complex fear of obscure and dreadful elements Essence of terror stimulates the imagination Challenges intellectual reasoning - arriving at a somewhat plausible explanation of this ambiguous fear and anxiety Resolution of the terror provides a means of escape.

Horrific Aspects of Human Nature  Gothic literature is devoted primarily to stories of horror, the fantastic, and the “darker” supernatural forces.  These forces often represent the “dark side” of human nature, identity —unmasking irrational or destructive desires eg Dr Jekyll and Mr . Hyde  Monsters such as vampires in Gothic works tend to externalize our own dangerous repressed desires  eg Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, vampiric monster Geraldine in Coleridge's Christabel.

Elements of the Gothic • • • • • • • • • •

The Double or Doppelganger Forbidden Knowledge or Power/ Faust Motif Monster/Satanic Hero/Fallen Man Beast Transformations / Werewolves Demon Lovers/Femme Fatales/Vampires Demons/Devils/Witches/Spirits/Angels Good versus evil Ghosts Dreams/Visions Magic Talismans/ Cursed or Blessed Objects/Holy Relics

Narrative Style • Plots within plots • Often multiple narrators • Narrator is often a first-person narrator compelled to tell the story to a fascinated or captive listener • Atmospheric description • Interpolated narratives (stories within stories) • Overt symbolism

Symbols and Motifs • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Blood Dreams and nightmares Madness/Madmen/Characters who question their own Sanity Murder Innocence victimized by evil Dichotomies (attraction/repulsion, life/death, innocence/evil, nobility/corruption, etc.); Femme fatale (“fatal woman” who leads men to their doom). Incest Sexual perversion Reversal of values The Wanderer / The Outcast / The “Other” Mistaken or secret identities Disguise References to colours - “red” and “black” and their connotations

The Gothic in Literature  

Introduction to the Gothic Genre

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