Gothic novel

From ArticleWorld

The Gothic novel as a literary genre began with Horace Walpole’s ‘The Castle of Otranto’ published in 1764. The story involves a mystery and a curse, hidden passages and fainting heroines, the staples of the gothic novel. Walpole claimed that the book was a translation of a manuscript printed in Naples in 1529, which had been found in the library of an ancient Catholic family. This was fiction and so began the tendency to supply the genre with fake documentation to increase the mysterious atmosphere surrounding the work.

The term ‘gothic’ was originally applied to a style of medieval architecture and art, and not always in a complimentary manner. It referred to atmospheric works which were built in reaction to the rationality of the neoclassical style and indulged in emotional extremes. The darkness that is associated with the term stems from the English Protestant linking the medieval era with harsh, cruel laws and superstitious rituals.

The first novelists

Most of the first gothic novelists were fascinated by the medieval era and style and their novels found their most natural settings in the remote ruins of castles, mansions and monasteries. Although not the first gothic novelist, it is Ann Radcliffe who is considered to be the pioneer of the gothic novel. Radcliffe wrote in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s and her novels typically included young, innocent heroines living in dark, gloomy castles ruled by mysterious barons. Her books were especially popular with young women of the upper and middle classes and she has influenced many writes of the type since then. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is also a gothic novel which has had a lot of influence on the genre.

European gothics

Gothic novels were also being published in France and Germany, with the ‘roman noir’ or black novel in the former and the ‘Schauerroman’ or shudder novel in the latter. The German gothic novels were usually more violent and horrific than the English and French literature.

Gothic legacy

By 1840, the genre became less popular in Britain due to over-saturation but the style has had an influence on many of the greatest writers. The Victorian craze for short ghost stories, Edgar Allen Poe and Charles Dickens and then, later on, the works of Robert Louis Stevenson, Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker (Dracula) are all examples of this influence.