Comp & Lit
Three progressive writers Poe, Dickens, and Stevenson would contribute to this new literary style, known as American Gothic Literature. In the 1800’s a new genre emerged in America which was characterized by dark, creepy mansions, detailed characters, and many twisting turns.
The Gothic literature movement was very popular in America during a 60-year period in American history, that was filled with important events. The United States gained its independence, Expanded westward, and tried to find its place in the world. the famed Edgar Allen Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts. In this time the war broke out and Britain marched through Washington, burning the capitol. In the late 1812s Charles Dickens is born, he will also become a well-known novelist of the time. From the 1820’s to 1850’s America kicks into overdrive and creates a transcontinental railroad, This opens the door for thousands of new opportunities, what once took 6 months, now only takes six days. In California thousands flock to the rivers and banks to search for gold in the Gold Rush. In 1850 Harriet Beecher Stowe publishes Uncle Toms Cabin to help fight against slavery. Finally towards the middle of 1850 Robert Louis Stevenson, one of the last Gothic authors is born into the last phases of what today is known as the Gothic Literature Period.
The world during the Gothic literature period was in chaos. In 1812 the British invaded the United States for the second time. Now the stakes were even higher as now the United States has doubled in population and became more industrialized than ever before. While this was taking place the Gothic era was booming, authors used imagery to show the gruesome scenes of battle, but many just read thinking it had only one meaning. Many authors were composing not just novels but short stories, poems and folklore. With more literature in the hands of the people, more educated readers sought to find truth in literature. Many turned towards literature to explain to them the grim scenes or feelings they were to scared too talk about. The content in Gothic Literature fit into their needs and gave them a base to stand on.
After the war a major new event sparked hope for poor people as in 1849 gold was found in the Californian river and the Gold rush to find more began. Thousands of Americans rushed to California to get their share of the Gold. These men who risk their life are called the infamous 49ers. These people all begin to suffer from a disorder known as Gold Fever. In the end only a quarter of the people who went found gold. Thousands of people dropped all they had to follow the American dream of striking it rich, the grim reality struck them as they traveled back home to find their family starving or dead. Nearly half of all the miners who returned home fell into a alcohol induced depression which caused many families to live with a bipolar monster, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.
The last 10 years of the American Gothic movement were the saddest, in the year 1861 the American Civil War broke out. In this conflict the United States lost more men than any other war combined. During the war many authors composed detailed accounts of the gore and mayhem that the soldiers endured to fight for their cause. Distraught families trying to cope with the loss and harsh realities. Many families dealt with the loss of fathers, sons, brothers, uncles, and grandfathers. The majority of shattered families looking for closure turned to Gothic Literature for answers and understanding of this harsh new reality.
Gothic Literature takes many forms of writing; it can be a novel, short story, or even a poem. As long as it follows the dark setting and twisting plot it can be considered a Gothic tale. In 1764 The Castle of Otranto, makes a perfect example of the context that can be found within gothic literature. The novel contains very detailed characters, and follows many twists, turns and loops within the plot. Horace Walpole, the author of this book is referred to as the forerunner to all major American authors. Not all-gothic literature are novels. Much of the genre consists of poems, some of the most famous are “Hop-Frog” and “The Raven” both published by Mr. Edgar Allen Poe. A common misconception about Gothic literature is that all are about death and horror. This belief is false, it may be about anything.
January 19, 1809 in Boston Massachusetts a baby boy is born into the home of two stage producers. His name was Edgar Allen Poe; the name was inspired by one of the characters in the play. Lives for many Gothic novelists were trying and depressing. Their lives took many drastic turns because their families either dis-owned them, or died leaving them alone. As a kid Edgar Allen Poe suffered from many sicknesses. Being sick all the time gave him the time to develop deep feelings towards reading and writing. By his twenties he is a deranged alcoholic. Poe wrote many short stories and poems, but his most famous are The Fall Of The House of Usher, The Raven, and The Black Cat. Poe’s life was not full of happiness and joy in fact his life was full of dark times that led to depression and that later led to drinking. From this point his life slowly started to degrade into a spiral, out of control and nothing good at the end in the early morning hours of October the 7th, 1849. The famous writer died at the very young age of 40. Many other writers suffer from depression and drinking, which eventually led to death. Edgar Allen Poe lived as an alcoholic buying more when he got money from a publication. With nearly all of his books it is safe to say that he had completed them while completely under the influence. He lined his novels with drunken fantasies of dark settings and scary mind bending plots, it is safe to say Edgar Allen Poe is a great American Gothic novelist. Even though he was an alcoholic his writings are known all over the world and they really stand out on the levels that American Gothic Literature are based on.
In the late night hours of February 7th, 1812 a writer much like Poe was born. Unlike Poe he is born in England. He bears the name of Charles Dickens. In his early adult years, he bought a pet raven to keep him company in his lonely depressed life. While in America he learned his mother had died. Crushed that his mom was gone he begins to fall into a depression. Three days after learning about his mothers death, adding to the chaos Grip, his raven dies. The destroyed man feels as if everything he cares about is dying. To keep from feeling alone he has his raven stuffed. As he stays alone he begins to get homesick. He travels back to his hometown and begins to develop the lifestyle of an alcoholic. During his prime he completes a few books here and there when he slipped in and out of soberness. His greatest known books are Oliver Twist, Tale of Two Cities, and A Christmas Carol. Slowly dickens health condition went from bad to worse. On June 9th 1870, Charles Dickens dies alone in his home and has a private funeral. His body now at rest is buried in the poet’s corner in England.
The two previous authors described worked like crazy to become the best. After achieving the impossible, they lost the will to continue and fell into the perpetual downfall of alcoholism. Many gothic authors suffered from depression, drinking, drugs, and suicidal thoughts/actions. These actions, most of the time led to the death of the author. Edgar Poe suffered from what is thought to be kidney poisoning, due to all the alcohol consumed in his lifetime. Charles Dickens is also thought to have died from the same causes.
Towards the end of the Gothic period one last man accepted the challenge that many had taken. Robert Louis Stevenson vowed to become the most famous writer of all time. The start of his journey began on November 13th, 1850. In the gloomy city of Edinburgh Scotland. The wet, damp air made his childhood a living hell. Stevenson was diagnosed with tuberculosis and doctors advised his family to move to the United States. By Stevenson’s teenage years his family had made the voyage to the new world. The move improved his condition but not enough to clear it from his body. Life continued on and Robert began to enjoy many hobbies. Some of his favorites were Anthropology, Chemistry, and being a Historian. Stevenson lived a different life than the other gothic writers, he stayed away from alcohol and drugs. He did not suffer from depression, but his sickness of tuberculosis did remain a problem. This setback did not stop him, he went on to publish Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and dozens of poems that capture the criteria needed for his writings to be considered Gothic Literature. Towards the middle of his life he meets a woman and decides he will travel the world with her. After many years of traveling the couple settles down in Samoa. Upon arrival he is greeted and made a friend of all, while living there he enjoys writing and story telling to the natives of the island. Tragically on December 3rd 1894 Stevenson dies and leaves his wife and people of Samoa, at the young age of 44. His burial followed the religious rules of the Samoa kings. After the ceremony his tomb was to be guarded at all times by the kings special men.
The American Gothic Literature movement only lasted around 75 years, During its 75 years of life it was a very popular genre of literature. Many people turned to this form of writing to cope with the tragic losses of family members to war and sickness. Gothic literature provided a new take on the reality of life. The genre helped the writers also, the writers felt accomplishment and a sense of pride when they finished. This was good because many of the writers family had left them. This era became known for it twisting plots, haunted mansions, and detailed characters. People in this frame incorporated these elements to their own lives and problems. Three of the most influential writers of this era known as American Gothic Literature were Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Dickens, and Robert Louis Stevenson. They have all been remembered for their literary brilliance and exhilarating novels, short stories, poems, and folk tales. Some of the famous tales are “Dead Brides” and “A Tell Tall Tale”.