Gothic Tropes: Madness

Madness is the monster that lurks inside our own minds. And in some ways, it is the most terrifying monster of all. Its intangibility means that it cannot be fought, and its irrational nature makes it nearly impossible to understand. Perhaps this is why insanity crops up as one of the most common themes in Gothic literature. I present it in this post as one trope, but madness is explored in many different ways in both the victims and the villains of Gothic literature, and the way it is presented has changed over time. Continue reading Gothic Tropes: Madness

Horror vs. Terror and the Gender Divide in Gothic Literature

Horror. Terror. They’re synonyms, right? Actually, they’re similar, but their meanings are slightly different, especially in the world of Gothic literature. In fact the terms represent two different schools of thought that early writers of Gothic literature divided themselves along. And at the beginning, this division occurred loosely along gender lines, as Matthew Lewis and Ann Radcliffe were held up as the representatives of each camp.

Radcliffe and Lewis
Ann Radcliffe (Terror) and Mattlew Lewis (Horror)

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The Roots of Gothic Literature

The term “Gothic” (with a capital G) refers to an era of literature and its accompanying trend in architecture during the late 18th century and throughout the 19th century. Both the literary and architectural movements were characterized by a return to medieval aesthetics. Fashionable English aristocrats, such as Horace Walpole, began to fill their estates with highly ornamented turrets and towers reminiscent of medieval churches.

Gothic church photo 1
Cathedral of St. John the Divine–a church with Gothic elements

Meanwhile, many authors began to abandon the Enlightenment principles of rationality and reason in favor of exploring the pleasure that can be found in emotions like terror. The original Gothic stories featured Gothic castles, abbeys, and ruins of the sort that were now being recreated and were often set in a vaguely medieval past. They generally included elements of the supernatural in reaction against the recent trend of realism and were characterized by melodrama, mystery, and suspense. Listed below are some of the seminal works of early Gothic fiction. Continue reading The Roots of Gothic Literature