Elements of the Gothic Genre

Topics: Gothic fiction, Frankenstein, Mary Shelley Pages: 14 (3952 words) Published: March 10, 2013
The gothic novel was invented almost single-handedly by Horace Walpole, whose The Castle of Otranto (1764) contains essentially all the elements that constitute the genre. Walpole's novel was imitated not only in the eighteenth century and not only in the novel form, but it has influenced writing, poetry, and even film making up to the present day. It introduced the term "gothic romance" to the literary world. Due to its inherently supernatural, surreal and sublime elements, it has maintained a dark and mysterious appeal. However, the roots of the Gothic‛ precede the Gothic‛ works of Horace Walpole. The focus on the grotesque in the medieval period (visible especially in the paintings and architecture of the period) provides a key backdrop against which Gothic must be read, as do the violent and often grotesque tragedies written for the Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre, with their detailed, almost surgical exploration of the supernatural, vice, corruption, imprisonment, brutality and sexuality, all of which were to provide the very substance of the Gothic authors. (Note particularly ‘Macbeth‛ and ‘Dr Faustus‛) 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— irrational or destructive desires.

Gothic literature derives its name from its similarities to the Gothic medieval cathedrals, which feature a majestic, unrestrained architectural style with often savage or grotesque ornamentation (the word “Gothic” derives from “Goth,” the name of one of the barbaric Germanic tribes that invaded the Roman Empire). The Gothic genre (in both literature and architecture) is therefore associated with savagery and barbarism. Generally speaking, gothic literature delves into the macabre nature of humanity in its quest to satisfy mankind's intrinsic desire to plumb the depths of terror. The key features of gothic texts are:

1) the appearance of the supernatural,
2) the psychology of horror and/or terror,
3) the poetics of the sublime,
4) a sense of mystery and dread
5) the appealing hero/villain,
6) the distressed heroine, and
7) strong moral closure (usually at least).

1. Setting in a castle or haunted house. The action takes place in and around an old castle, sometimes seemingly abandoned, sometimes occupied. The castle often contains secret passages, trap doors, secret rooms, dark or hidden staircases, and possibly ruined sections. The castle may be near or connected to caves, which lend their own haunting flavour with their branchings, claustrophobia, and mystery. (Translated into modern filmmaking, the setting might be in an old house or mansion--or even a new house--where unusual camera angles, sustained close ups during movement, and darkness or shadows create the same sense of claustrophobia and entrapment.) It is usually a dwelling that is inhabited by or visited regularly by a ghost or other supposedly supernatural being. Example: Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto. Walpole's novel first introduced to gothic literature its single most influential convention, the haunted castle. The castle is the main setting of the story and the centre of activity.

Cemetery /Graveyard. A cemetery defines a place which is used for the burial of the dead. Cemeteries are widely used in Gothic Literature as oftentimes frightening places where revenance can occur. Catacombs are especially evocative Gothic spaces because they enable the living to enter below ground a dark labyrinth resonating with the presences and mysteries of the dead.

2. The Weather is used in a number of ways and forms, some of these being: Mist - This convention in Gothic Literature is often used to obscure objects (this can be related to the sublime) by reducing visibility or to prelude the insertion of a terrifying person or thing;

Storms - These frequently accompany important events....
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