Haunted castles, spectral ghosts, spooky atmosphere, rebellious anti-heroes, family curses and dark romance. If you like all these things and want to read about them, welcome to Gothic literature. Truly, Gothic novels have everything to get you in the mood for all things bizarre, eerie, and disturbing. They explore the darker side of life through fantasy and cruel, fantastic pessimism. But do you know how it actually began? Just think of all the scary books we can’t live without, and the movies because of these scary books. So what really inspired them? In this post, I’m sharing with you the ‘Some most interesting Gothic literature facts’ that you probably didn’t know.
Let’s begin with a brief history of Gothic literature!
Gothicism in literature emerged in late 18th century Europe during its transition from an era of superstition to the age of science and rationality. The elements of Gothic literature, in its pure form, include horror settings, supernatural forces, fear, gloomy and mysterious atmosphere, struggle between good and evil, and juxtaposition of reason and faith. Since the Gothic genre stemmed out of ‘Medieval Romances’, it is also known as ‘Gothic Romance’. Similar to historical fiction, Gothic literature distances readers from their current cultural context. If the past is a foreign country, Gothic is an alien planet. For centuries, the Gothic writers have utilized the genre to explore social, cultural, and political issues deemed taboo, uncomfortable, or too radical for their historical moment.
- Origin & History of Gothic Literature
- Most Intriguing Classic Gothic Novels
- Famous Modern Gothic Novels To Read
- Must-Read Female Gothic Novels
- Dark Academia Books With Gothic Vibes
Some Interesting Gothic Literature Facts You Must Know
There are a lot of interesting things you must know about the Gothic writers and their novels. Here are some ‘most interesting Gothic literature facts’ that will eventually make the genre much more fascinating for you.
1. The First Gothic Novel
The credit of writing the first Gothic novel goes to the youngest son of the first de facto Prime Minister of Britain, Horace Walpole. His book, ‘The Castle of Otranto’ (1764), is regarded as the first ever Gothic novel, defining the genre for generations. The book is characterized by gloomy settings, mysterious atmosphere and the subterranean secret.
But do you know that the Gothic genre actually emerged as a prank?
When Walpole wrote The Castle of Otranto, he used the term ‘Gothic’ to describe something anachronistic, medieval, primal, or barbarous. Posing as a translator, Walpole claimed that this text had been discovered in the ruins of a castle and also that it was a record of true events, and an ancient relic exposing the existence of the supernatural.
In addition, when the book appeared for the first time, it didn’t have Walpole’s name on it. His name appeared on the book almost a year after its publication. The idea of the novel came from a dream that Walpole had about an ancient castle. In his dream, he found himself in an ancient, gloomy castle and saw a gigantic armor hand at the staircase of his house. After waking up, he started writing the story, now known as, ‘The Castle of Otranto’.
Besides being a Whig politician and art historian, Horace Walpole was also an architect with an intense fascination with medieval Gothic art. He actually borrowed the term ‘Gothic’ from medieval Gothic architecture and applied it in the subtitle of his first Gothic novel. In 1749, Walpole also transformed his small villa at Twickenham into a miniature Gothic castle named Strawberry Hill.
2. The Birthplace of Gothic
Probably one of the most interesting Gothic literature facts is that Italy is the birthplace of Gothic. Although the authors of the genre were largely British, most early Gothic fiction takes place in Italy, including the foundational novels—The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole and Ann Radcliffe’s best-known work, The Italian.
At first blush, it may seem that sunny Italy, even with its ruins and inquisitors, may not be the most Gothic of places. Rather than looking to the location, then, to find where the Gothic lies in Italy, we have to look more into the agenda of the writers.
Many young men (including many authors) in the 17th and 18th century visited Italy in their ‘Grand Tour’ (a coming-of-age trip for wealthy postgrads undertaken to experience the art and culture of, mainly, Classical Antiquity and the Renaissance). Perhaps some of them noted the eerie contrast between those glorified eras of European history and the long span in between, where they could vilify Catholic catacombs, cathedrals, and castles into supernatural heights.
Beyond the physical landscape, the politics of Italy’s relationship with 18th century England also impacted certain authors. The Mediterranean cradled the classical civilization the British were eager to claim as their predecessors, now populated by people that were easily ‘othered’ by xenophobia: ‘superstitious’ Catholics that lacked sober Protestant reason; despotic feudal governments ruled rather than the liberty of British ‘democracy’.
The Gothic thrives on secret histories, and to the authors of the early Gothic novels, there was a dark, eerie undercurrent to their tourist destinations. Maybe that’s why Walpole’s novel was such a smash success—it exploited a multifaceted fear. Its hauntings and scares exploit not only superstition, but prejudice as well. It laid out the anxieties of Colonialism in thrilling detail.
3. Terror vs. Horror in the Battle of Sexes
Considered as the best female Gothic romance, Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) was the defining novel of the genre. It perfected what would become the genre’s classic tropes—beautiful people in peril and brooding villains set against a backdrop of crumbling castles, suffused with a general sense of supernatural foreboding.
Of course, like much Gothic Romance of that era, the novel did eventually attract its share of gentle derision from the following generation of writers, foremost among them Jane Austen. It plays a significant role in Northanger Abbey, where one character’s mind becomes so wrapped by obsessively reading the novel that she has begun to see every person around her as a stereotypical Gothic villain or victim, to great comic effect.
Mathew Lewis’ The Monk (1796) was considered ‘masculine’ horror Gothic, compared to Radcliffe’s ‘feminine’ terror Gothic. Inspired by Mysteries of Udolpho, Lewis wrote The Monk to intentionally shock his audience. He included plotlines of incest, matricide, and sororicide—revealing that he thought Radcliffe too tame in her approach to the Gothic novel. Adding to the scandal, Lewis ensured M.P. (Member of Parliament) was prominently included on the title page of his work.
In a battle of the sexes, Radcliffe was so appalled by Lewis’ creation. She responded to his novel with her 1797 work The Italian. Both novels feature corrupt religious figures, female victims, and the Inquisition (just to name a few similarities), but the novels themselves are quite different.
In fact, some scholars believe that Radcliffe’s female heroine, Ellena, is a stand-in for her views, and Lewis villain, Ambrosio, represents him—so we see these archetypes fighting it out in the novels and in the literary scene of the late 18th century.
4. ‘Dracula’ is not a mere ‘Fictional Character’
Bram Stoker’s most famous Gothic novel ‘Dracula’ is one of the most renowned horror stories, and the most well-known vampire novel. It is about a Transylvanian aristocrat who drinks people’s blood, turns into a bat, and sleeps in coffins. The novel set the ground rules for what a vampire should be, and set the benchmark for all other writers of the vampire afterwards. Though the setting of ‘Dracula’ is Transylvania, Bram Stoker had actually never visited that place. Instead, he did a thorough research on the setting and imagined the rest.
Another of most interesting Gothic literature facts is the origin of its most famous character, Count Dracula. The character of Dracula is based on a well-known Irish folklore about a blood-drinking chieftain, Abhartach. According to folklore, Abhartach was a tyrant who terrorized the local people. The people tried to get rid of him, but all in vain. He always reappeared somehow and demanded a bowl of blood each time. In the end he was finally killed with a sword and buried upside down.
In addition, the character of Lucy Westenra in ‘Dracula’ is based on a memorial sculpture portraying the deathbed of a young woman in St Patrick’s Church of Ireland.
5. Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ came out of the Story Writing Competition
Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ narrates the story of a young scientist who, in his attempts to bring the dead back to life, ends up creating a monster. She started writing her novel when she was merely 18 years old and published anonymously in 1818. Like her book, Mary Shelley didn’t give a name to her monster.
Another interesting fact about ‘Frankenstein’ is the resemblance between the monster and Mary Shelley. Just as Victor Frankenstein creates a creature from the fragments and remains of corpses, Mary Shelly’s name seems an assemblage of parts: the name of her mother (Mary Wollstonecraft), her father (William Godwin), her husband (Percy Bysshe Shelley); all these name assemble to make her real name, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley.
Interestingly, ‘Frankenstein’ resulted from a ghost story competition held among Lord Byron, Mary Shelly, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the physician John Polidori during their holidays in Switzerland. Mary won the competition. While Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley never completed their story. Polidori wrote ‘The Vampyre’. His story, later on, influenced Bram Stoker while writing ‘Dracula’.
6. Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Raven’ made him a Celebrity
Since Gothic literature was born around three-hundred years ago, its elements and conventions of dread and terror have allowed people to imagine the darkest things that mankind is reluctant to reveal. Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Raven’ is one of the most recognizable and remarkable poems of the Gothic genre. When he was writing the poem, he initially thought of a parrot or an owl to utter the refrain “Nevermore”, rather than a raven. But he finally chose raven, a symbol of ill-omen. The reason was to highlight the intended tone of the poem.
Soon after its publication, ‘The Raven’ made Poe a celebrity. The children in the streets started chasing him with their arms flattering and cawing. In response, he would turn around and utter, “nevermore!”. And the children would run away, screaming.
Most interestingly, an American football team, “the Baltimore Ravens”, is also named in honor of Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Raven’.
7. Emily Brontë’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ was initially a ‘Failure’
Wuthering Heights, the only novel Emily Bronte has written, is one of the great masterpieces of English literature. It tells a powerful story of Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw, whose tumultuous and nearly demonic will affect everyone around them like a curse.
Emily Bronte’s novel was rejected many times by the publishers. As a result, she had to pay a considerable amount of £50 for the publication of her novel. In addition, she published ‘Wuthering Heights’ under a masculine pseudonym ‘Ellis Bell’ in 1847. Soon after its publication, the novel appeared a failure. After a year, Emily died from tuberculosis unaware of the fact that her book is not a failure; it is one of the widely popular Victorian classics.
8. Robert Louis Steven officially gave his ‘Birthday’ to a Girl
Robert Louis Stevenson, known for his famous Gothic novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde officially gave his birthday to a little girl who didn’t enjoy her birthday because she had been born on Christmas.
In 1891, Robert Louis Stevenson heard that the twelve year daughter of his friend, Henry Clay Ide (the US Commissioner to Samoa) was unhappy that she never got to celebrate her birthday properly because it landed on Christmas Day. He felt so bad that she never got a special day all to herself.
So he decided that at 40 years old he didn’t need to celebrate his birthday anymore and gifted the date to Annie Ide, writing up an official document that passed the birth date from him to her so she could finally have a special day all to herself. And she did!
Hope you enjoyed reading these amazing Gothic literature facts.
Read on Readers!
- Main Elements of Gothic Literature
- Southern Gothic Literature History
- Autobiographical Elements in Frankenstein
- Deliciously Haunting Southern Gothic Novels
- Best Gothic Accessories for your Study Room
- Books Similar to Netflix’s Squid Game