Gothic Literature. Historic Context. The words Goth and Gothic describe the Germanic tribes (e.g., Goths, Visigoths, Ostrogoths ) which sacked Rome and also ravaged the rest of Europe in the third, fourth, and fifth centuries.
Historic Context The words Goth and Gothic describe the Germanic tribes (e.g., Goths, Visigoths, Ostrogoths) which sacked Rome and also ravaged the rest of Europe in the third, fourth, and fifth centuries. By the eighteenth century in England, Gothic had become synonymous with the Middle Ages, a period which was in disfavor because it was perceived as chaotic, unenlightened, and superstitious.
Horace Walpole24 September 1717 - 2 March 1797 Walpole wrote what is considered the first gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto (very melodramatic) Published in 1764 Inspired by his reconstruction of his home and a nightmare he’d had
A few more Gothic conventions Damsel in distress (frequently faints in horror) Secret corridors, passageways, or rooms Ancestral curses Ruined castles with graveyards nearby Priests and monks Sleep, dream, death-like states
Gothic architecture12th~16th century Gothic architecture used : pointed arches and vaults, flying buttresses, narrow spires, stained glass windows, intricate traceries, and varied details; its upward movement was meant to suggest heavenward aspiration.
Literary Connection to Gothic Architecture “Gothic" came to describe a certain type of novels, so named because all these novels seem to take place in Gothic-styled architecture: mainly castles, mansions, and, of course, abbeys
Metonymy of gloom and terror The metonymy of gloom and horror. Metonymy is a subtype of metaphor, in which something (like rain) is used to stand for something else (like sorrow). For example, the film industry likes to use metonymy as a quick shorthand, so we often notice that it is raining in funeral scenes.
Note the following metonymies that suggest mystery, danger, or the supernatural
Importance of Setting The setting is greatly influential in Gothic novels. It not only evokes the atmosphere of horror and dread, but also portrays the deterioration of its world. The decaying, ruined scenery implies that at one time there was a thriving world. At one time the abbey, castle, or landscape was something treasured and appreciated. Now, all that lasts is the decaying shell of a once thriving dwelling.
Archetypal Characters The Gothic hero becomes a sort of archetype as there is a pattern to his characterization. There is always the protagonist, usually isolated either voluntarily or involuntarily. Then there is the villain, who is the epitome of evil, either by his (usually a man) own fall from grace, or by some implicit malevolence. The Wanderer, found in many Gothic tales, is the epitome of isolation as he wanders the earth in perpetual exile, usually a form of divine punishment.
Basic Plot Structure Action in the Gothic fiction tends to take place at night, or at least in a claustrophobic, sunless environment. ascent (up a mountain high staircase); descent (into a dungeon, cave, underground chambers or labyrinth) or falling off a precipice; secret passage; hidden doors; the pursued maiden and the threat or rape or abduction; physical decay, skulls, cemeteries, and other images of death; ghosts; revenge; family curse; blood and gore; torture; the Doppelganger (evil twin or double); demonic possession; masking/shape-changing; black magic; madness; incest and other broken sexual taboos.
Modern Gothic Novels Rebeccaby Daphne Du Maurier Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronté Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronté
Other Gothic Writers Nathaniel Hawthorne Anne Rice Edgar Allan Poe Joyce Carol Oates Stephen King StephenieMeyer
BACKGROUND The gothic was first used as a Medieval, architectural term to describe a style of building that included gargoyles, scenes of Hell, and souls in torment.
Ancestral Curse The current generation suffers for evil deeds of ancestors. Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”
Body-Snatching Grave-Robbing. Stealing corpses from graves, tombs, or morgues. Illicit trade in cadavers. Violation of religious space. Commercially motivated by science. EX: King’s PetSemetary.
Dreaming & Nightmares Dredge up strong emotions, such as ecstasy, terror, joy. Reveal urges, impulses, desires, even truths about oneself one tries to hide. Reveal the future; premonitions. EX: Freddy Krueger
Entrapment & Imprisonment Being confined or trapped, as shackled to a floor or hidden away in a dark cell. Heightens the psychology of feeling there’s “no way out.” EX: Saw series
Gothic Gadgets Physical elements allowing supernatural powers to display uncanny presence and abilities. “Supernatural props”: vocal and mobile portraits; animated statues and skeletons; doors, gates, portals, hatchways which open and close independently; secret passageways; secret messages and manuscripts; forbidden chambers and sealed compartments; casket lids seen to rise, etc.
Gothic Counterfeit Playful fakery of authenticity. The text is presented as a discovery or recovery by the editor, sometimes of an ancient or forgotten text. Cloaks the real writer’s authorship. Complicates the point of view (making things more fun and intriguing).
The Grotesque Mutations, often deformities. A mix of two separate modes, such as comedy and tragedy, creating a disturbing fiction, in which comic circumstances often preclude horrific tragedy and vice-versa. EX: The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Mystery An event or situation that appears to overwhelm understanding. EX: Sherlock Holmes
Revenge The act of repaying someone for a harm caused. Revenge can be enacted upon a loved one, a family member, a friend, an object or area. EX: Poe’s “Cask of Amontillado”. EX: The Princess Bride (Inigo Montoya)
Superstition Variously considered as a belief in the supernatural or the mystical, and as valuing rituals and miracles. EX: Garlic/wooden stakes for vampires EX: spreading salt for witches
The Supernatural Events or phenomena that defy the rules of natural law. More often, and more intriguingly, uncanny events that could be explained or dismissed (however ambiguously) by the laws of everyday reality.
Transformation & Metamorphosis A striking change in appearance; a change in the form or function of an organism by a natural or unnatural process. EX: R.L. Stevenson’s Mr. Jekyll & Hyde, EX: King’s It. EV: Count Dracula
Devil A spirit of incarnate evil. Ranges from: tragic villain-hero punisher of sinners tempter and deceiver pure evil.
Doppelganger German: double-goer. Ghostly counterpart of another person. Body double, alter ego, identical other person. EX: Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
The Pursued Protagonist A force that relentlessly, terminally and unavoidably pursues, persecutes or chastises another for some real or imagined wrong. A crime and retribution cycle, but also… A hero-villain can be both the pursued and the pursuer EX: Anne Rice’s Vampire series
Unreliable Narrator The narrator’s ability to accurately relate events is questionable. The narrator makes incorrect assumptions or conclusions, or misunderstands situations or other characters. EX: Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart
Villain-Hero The villain poses as a hero at the beginning of the story, or… The villain possesses enough heroic qualities to be seen as more than just a bad guy EX: Dexter
The Pursued Heroine A virtuous, idealistic, and usually poetic young woman is pursued by a wicked, older, potent aristocrat. The pursuit threatens the young lady’s morals and ideals (and often her virginity). She usually responds with passive courage.
Cemetery A place for the burial of the dead. Caves, temples, mounds, catacombs, churchyards, crypts. Crosses cultures and ages.
Presence of Mist or Fog A grouping of water particles due to a change in atmospheric conditions. Literary convention used to obscure objects, reduce visibility, or preclude the insertion of something terrifying.
Haunted House, Castle, or Estate A dwelling inhabited or regularly visited by a ghost or supposedly supernatural being.