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The Gothic novel

Related: British literature - fantastic literature - le fantastique - Gothic - ghost stories - grotesqueness - horror fiction - Romanticism - the sublime - supernatural

Connoisseurs: Richard Davenport-Hines

Gothic: Four Hundred Years of Excess, Horror, Evil and Ruin (1999) - Richard Davenport[Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Gothic: Four Hundred Years of Excess, Horror, Evil and Ruin (1999) is the best introduction the genre, linking it with the modern day gothic sensibility.

Key era: 1760s - 1770s - 1780s - 1790s - 1800s - 1810s - 1820s - 1830s

The rise of fantastic fiction in France parallels the rise of the gothic novel in England. [Jun 2006]

Every European country had its own terminology to denote the sensibility of the gothic novel. In France it was called the roman noir ("black novel", now primarily used to denote the hardboiled detective genre) and in Germany it was called the Schauerroman ("shudder novel"). Italy and Spain must have had their own, but I am unaware of their names as of yet. In nineteenth century France there also flourished a literature of horror on a par with the English Gothic novel or the German Schauerroman. It was christened 'le roman frénétique'.

[Dec 2006]

Novelists: Horace Walpole - Ann Radcliffe - Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Modern-day gothic novelists: Angela Carter - Anne Rice

Titles: The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story (1764) - Horace Walpole - Vathek, an Arabian Tale (1786) by William Beckford - The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) - Ann Radcliffe - The Monk (1796) - Matthew Lewis - Frankenstein (1818) - Mary Shelley - Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) - Charles Robert Maturin - Carmilla (1872) - Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu - Dracula (1897) - Bram Stoker

Title page, Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (London: Thomas Lownds, 1765).
image sourced here.

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) loved the style of 18th century gothic novel, though it had already become a bit of a joke—Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey being a well known parody—and whilst some are grotesques their eccentricities do not usually overshadow the stories. [Nov 2005]


The Gothic novel is a literary genre, which can be said to have been born with The Castle of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole.

Prominent features of many gothic novels are mystery, doom, decay, old buildings with ghosts in them, madness, hereditary curses and so on.

In England, the Gothic novel as a genre had largely played itself out by 1840. It left a lasting legacy, however, in works such as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and the works of Edgar Allan Poe. From these, the Gothic genre strictly considered gave way to modern horror fiction.

See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gothic_novel

Gothic novel

The gothic novel, of the early nineteenth century, was responsible above all else for the term gothic being associated with a mood of horror, darkness and the supernatural. They established what horror stereotypes became by featuring graveyards, ruined castles or churches, ghosts, vampires, cursed families, and melodramatic plots. A notable element in these novels were the brooding figure of the gothic villain, which developed into the Byronic hero, a key precursor in the male goth image. The most famous gothic villain of this genre would be Dracula. In 1993 Whitby became the location for what became the UK's biggest goth festival as a direct result of featuring in Stoker's Dracula.

The work of Edgar Allan Poe, master of the gothic short story, has also been an inspiration for many goths. Also, the modern figure of the femme fatale, which has its roots in Romantic literature, is a key image for female goths.

Gothic literature lives on with authors such as Anne Rice (Interview with the Vampire). --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goth#Gothic_horror [Feb 2005]

A Glossary of Literary Gothic Terms

ancestral curse . . . anti-Catholicism . . . body-snatching . . . cemetery . . . claustrophobia . . . gothic counterfeit . . . devil . . . Doppelgänger

dreaming/nightmares . . . entrapment . . . explained supernatural . . . exorcism . . . female gothic . . . ghost . . . grotesque . . . haunted house

incubus . . . Inquisition . . . lamia . . . literature of terror vs. literature of horror . . . marvelous vs. uncanny . . . masochism . . . mist . . . mystery

necromancy . . . parody . . . possession . . . pursued protagonist . . . pursued heroine . . . revenant . . . revenge . . . dark romanticism . . . sadism

sensibility . . . somnambulism . . . spiritualism . . .sublime . . . succubus . . . supernatural gadgetry . . . superstition . . . Unheimlich. . .

transformation . . .unreliable narrator . . . vampire . . . villain-hero . . . visigothic . . . wandering jew . . . werewolf . . . witches and witchcraft --Douglass H. Thomson via http://www.georgiasouthern.edu/~dougt/goth.html [Apr 2006]

Ann Radcliffe and Salvator Rosa

Landscape with Tobias and the Angel (ca. 1660-73) - Salvator Rosa

Ann Radcliffe was greatly influenced by the Italian landscape painter, Salvator Rosa. Where Rosa applied brush strokes, Radcliffe wove words.

Salvator Rosa (1615-73), 17th century Italian landscape painter, created dramatic landscapes peopled with peasants and banditti. Like the works of Ann Radcliffe, who he heavily influenced, Rosa intended to create a feeling of awe and the sublime in the minds of his audience. The works of Rosa, together with those of less dramatic landscape artists, Claude Lorraine (1600-82), Gaspard Poussin (1615-75), Domenico Zampieri (1581-1641), were very popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. The landscapes of the Italian artist and architect Domenico Zampieri greatly influenced those of Claude and Poussin. All receive mention in the novels of Ann Radcliffe. --http://www.heureka.clara.net/art/radcliff.htm [Jun 2005]

See also: Salvator Rosa

European Gothic: A Spirited Exchange 1760-1960 (2002) - Avril Horner (editor)

European Gothic: A Spirited Exchange 1760-1960 (2002) - Avril Horner (editor) [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Please note the Chapman brother's rendering of Goya's print on the cover of this book.

"European Gothic: A Spirited Exchange 1760-1960 sets out to challenge the tyranny of the Anglo-American narratives that have dominated critical histories of the Gothic so far. It argues that the Gothic novel did not simply derive from "The Castle of Otranto, but that it has been forged in the crucible of translation. Focussing on Gothic writing in English, French, German, Russian and Spanish, the collection charts a rich process of cross-fertilization and, in particular, examines the importance of Anglo-French exchanges in the development of the Gothic novel within Europe and, subsequently, the US. Within this framework, and from a variety of critical perspectives, the 13 contributors re-assess the work of authors such as Clara Reeve, Sophia Lee, Charlotte Smith, Ann Radcliffe, Matthew Lewis, Charles Maturin, Coleridge, Mary Shelley, Jan Potocki, Balzac, Dostoevsky, Gaston Leroux and Djuna Barnes. The volume thus offers a fresh way of thinking about Gothic lineages and histories. --from the publisher

See also: Gothic literature - 1760s - 1960s

The Gothic Flame (1957) - Devendra P. Varma

The Gothic Flame: Being a History of the Gothic Novel in England: Its Origins, Efflorescence, Disintegration, and Residuary Influences (1957) - Devendra P. Varma [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

This book was published at a time when the only sources for the gothic sensibility in literature were Mario Praz's Italian Romantic Agony (1930) and for cinema the French film magazine Midi-Minuit Fantastique (1962 - 1971).

An excerpt of the Gothic Flame on Anne Radcliffe and the difference between terror and horror via here.

Mrs. Radcliffe, a mistress of hints, associations, silence, and emptiness, only half-revealing her picture leaves the rest to the imagination. She knows, as Burke has asserted, that obscurity is a strong ingredient in the sublime; but she knew the sharp distinction between Terror and Horror, which was unknown to Burke. "Terror and horror...are so far opposite, that the first expands the soul, and awakens the faculties to a high degree of life; the other contracts, freezes and nearly annihilates them...; and where lies the great difference between terror and horror, but in the uncertainty and obscurity, that accompany the first, respecting the dreaded evil?" Sounds unexplained, sights indistinctly caught, dim shadows endowed with motion by the flicker of the firelight or the shimmer of the moonbeam invoke superstitious fear. "To the warm imagination," she writes in The Mysteries of Udolpho, "the forms which float half-veiled in darkness afford a higher delight than the most distinct scenery the Sun can show."

The chords of terror which had tremulously shuddered beneath Mrs. Radcliffe's gentle fingers were now smitten with a new vehemence. The intense school of the Schauer- Romantiks improvised furious and violent themes in the orchestra of horror.... The contrast between the work and personalities of Mrs. Radcliffe and ' Monk' Lewis serves to illustrate the two distinct streams of the Gothic novel: the former representing the Craft of Terror, the latter and his followers comprising the chambers of Horror....

The difference between Terror and Horror is the difference between awful apprehension and sickening realization: between the smell of death and stumbling against a corpse. Professor McKillop, quoting from Mrs. Radcliffe, said that " obscurity [in Terror] . . . leaves the imagination to act on a few hints that truth reveals to it, . . . obscurity leaves something for the imagination to exaggerate". Burke held that "To make anything very terrible, obscurity seems in general to be necessary", and added that, ". . . darkness, being originally an idea of terror, was chosen as a fit scene for such terrible representations ". Burke did not distinguish between the subtle gradations of Terror and Horror; he related only Terror to Beauty, and probably did not conceive of the beauty of the Horrid, the grotesque power of something ghastly, too vividly imprinted on the mind and sense.

Terror thus creates an intangible atmosphere of spiritual psychic dread, a certain superstitious shudder at the other world. Horror resorts to a cruder presentation of the macabre: by an exact portrayal of the physically horrible and revolting, against a far more terrible background of spiritual gloom and despair. Horror appeals to sheer dread and repulsion, by brooding upon the gloomy and the sinister, and lacerates the nerves by establishing actual cutaneous contact with the supernatural...

Each writer of the intense school contributed a grotesque and gruesome theme of horror to the Schauer-Romantik phase of the Gothic novel. They wrote stories of black-magic and lust, of persons in pursuit of the elixir virtue, of insatiable curiosity and unpardonable sins, of contracts with the Devil, of those who manufacture monsters in their laboratories, tales of skull-headed ladies, of the dead arising from their graves to feed upon the blood of the innocent and beautiful, or who walk about in the Hall of Eblis, carrying their burning hearts in their hands.... The baleful hall of Eblis, "the abode of ve ngeance and despair", is pictured in the full effulgence of infernal majesty. It conveys to us the horror of the most ghastly convulsions and screams that may not be smothered. Here everyone carries within him a heart tormented in flames, to wander in an eternity of unabating anguish...

Three Gothic Novels: The Castle of Otranto; Vathek; Frankenstein (1968) - Various

Three Gothic Novels: The Castle of Otranto; Vathek; Frankenstein (1968) - Various
[FR] [DE] [UK]

The Gothic novel, which flourished from about 1765 until 1825, revels in the horrible and the supernatural, in suspense and exotic settings. This volume presents three of the most celebrated Gothic novels: "The Castle of Otranto", published pseudonymously in 1765; "Vathek" (1786); and the story of "Frankenstein" (1818). Introduction by Mario Praz. The cover image of this Penguin edition illustrates one of the main tropes of gothic fiction: the isolated and haunted castle.

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