Gothicism is a style of writing in literature characterized by gloomy settings, supernatural elements, and exoticism. The Gothic writers mostly fabricate their narratives using elements like horror, mystery, suspense, romance, decay and degeneration.
The Gothic stories or novels also contain famous historical characters, grotesque action and the picturesque adventures to entertain the reader. Furthermore, the writers deal with emotional extremes and dark themes. The Gothic novel, specifically, takes place in settings like scary and old castles, mansions, and monasteries; all isolated and ruined.
Origin of Gothicism in Literature
The term ‘Gothic’ actually traces its origin in the medieval architecture created by the Goths, a North Germanic tribe of the Middle ages. The Gothic architecture was dark, intricate, and dismal in its appearance. Aesthetically embellished and conceptually intricate, this medieval architecture became the inspiration for a new literary genre in Europe, namely, Gothicism or Gothic Literature.
However, Gothicism in literature made its appearance in the beginning of the Romantic Era (18th Century). It was encouraged by the group of writers who were enchanted by the spell of medievalism. They wrote novels exhibiting the elements of terror, horror, suspense, superstition, mystery and romance; elements that eventually became the characteristics of Gothic novels.
Development of Gothicism in Literature
The term ‘Gothic’ was first used in literature by the English author Horace Walpole. He used the term in the subtitle of his novel “The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story” published in 1765. His novel, in fact, dealt with supernatural elements, tyrants, mysteries and secrets.
Thus, Horace Walpole is truly considered the chief initiator of Gothicism in literature. Known for its mysterious and adventurous stories set in dark and gloomy places, the Gothic literature soon flourished successfully in Europe, America and some other countries including France. Later on, there came many writers after Walpole who wrote novels of terror and mystery.
Furthermore, in the 19th century, Edgar Allan Poe from America skillfully got hold of the genre. In his writings he began to explore the trauma taking place in the human mind, the evils of man, and emotional and mental disorders. All his writings are, indeed, well-known for their Gothicism.
Edgar Allan Poe’s famous story ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ (1839), for instance, unfolds all the terrors of the human soul. Furthermore, he also wrote many detective, horror, romantic and comic stories. They successfully explore the classic Gothic themes and motifs of aristocratic decay, death and instability. However, it was Edgar Allan Poe who, with his masterful grip on the genre, raised it to the peaks of fame. He is best known today as the master of gothic horror tales.
Characteristics of Gothic Literature
The most prominent characteristics and key elements of Gothic style of writing are discussed below:
Mysterious Happenings and Suspense
The plot of the Gothic novel or story consists of mysterious happenings and suspense. For example, the disappearance of characters or things is a very common feature of Gothicism. Besides, the unknown parentage of the protagonist, the hidden secrets and unexplained manifestations in the Gothic fiction invoke suspense among the readers.
Existence of Supernatural Elements
The existence of supernatural elements such as ghosts, vampires, zombies, giants, and monsters is another key element of Gothic fiction. For instance, in Gothic novels, we see the walking giants and inanimate objects such as an armor suit or a statue or portrait coming to life . These supernatural elements, on the whole, excite readers’ emotions and they begin enjoying the story.
The Gothic Buildings
The presence of enchanted houses, haunted mansions, gloomy old castles, isolated monasteries and ruined ancient buildings displaying the intricate Gothic architecture is another key element of Gothicism in literature. Besides, these buildings also contain secret passages or hidden staircases. All these elements, undoubtedly, give the story a mysterious and horror touch.
Bleak and Deadly Atmosphere
The atmosphere of bleakness, thrill, death, and decay has a key role in Gothic fiction. Similarly, the dark and dismal themes are aptly utilized by the Gothic writers. In addition, the characters in the story are constantly facing terror of the unknown. We find them, for instance, struggling to evade their death at the hands of some supernatural being or a barbarous aristocrat. This key element, however, has a tendency to invoke thrill among the readers.
Hereditary Curses and Prophecies
Another key element of the Gothic novels is hereditary curses and prophecies. We find the protagonist of the story struggling with an ancient hereditary curse or suffering as a result of an old prophecy. Furthermore, the prophecies, omens and visions in the Gothic novel serve the purpose of foreshadowing technique. For instance, they tell the reader what is going to happen next in the story.
Psychological Trauma and Mental Disorder
The characters in Gothic novels mostly suffer from psychological trauma and mental disorders. For instance, in the Gothic novels we find conflicted male figures with guilty secrets and past. Besides, they are having nightmares or frightening visions which foreshadow upcoming tragedy.
Furthermore, the character’s mental illness, sometimes, stems out of the guilt of his past sins or crimes. While, in many cases, its causes are different. The character’s psychological trauma finally leads to his split personality and he becomes a threat for the surrounding people.
Female in Trouble
The female protagonists of Gothic fiction are mostly in trouble. For example, they are either imprisoned in an abandoned castle or pursued by a beast or an aristocratic lord. Throughout the course of the story they are fainting, screaming, sobbing or terrifying.
The Awful Weather and frightening tone
Another key element of Gothicism in fiction, however, is the awful weather and frightening tone. Such as, the stormy night, harsh weather, lightning and thunder—all contribute to the Gothic nature of the story. Moreover, the creaking sound of the door, the monstrous laughter of the unknown, and the sound of footsteps make the tone of the story even more frightening.
Famous Gothic Novels & writers
Some famous Gothic novels and their writers are listed below:
|1. The Castle of Otranto (1765) written by Horace Walpole||12. Wuthering Heights (1847) written by Emily Bronte|
|2. The History of the Caliph Vathek (1786) written by William Thomas Beckford||13. The House of the Seven Gables (1851) written by Nathaniel Hawthorne|
|3. Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) written by Ann Radcliffe||14. Carmilla (1872) written by Sheridan le Fanu|
|4. The Monk (1796) written by Matthew Lewis||15. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) written by Robert Louis Stevenson|
|5. Wieland (1798) written by Charles Brockden Brown||16. The picture of Dorian Gray (1891) written by Oscar Wilde|
|6. Frankenstein (1818) written by Mary Shelley||17. Dracula (1897) written by Bram Stoker|
|7. The Vampire (1819) written by William Polidori||18. The Turn of the Screw (1898) written by Henry James|
|8. Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) written by Charles Maturin||19. Rebecca (1938) Gothic novel written by Daphne du Maurier.|
|9. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831) written by Victor Hugo||20. Psycho (1959) written by Robert Bloch|
|10. The Fall of the House of Usher (1839) written by Edgar Allan Poe||21. We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962) written by Shirley Jackson.|
|11. Jane Eyre (1847) written by Charlotte Bronte||22. Rosemary’s Baby (1968) written by Ira Levin|
Difference between Romanticism and Gothicism
Gothicism in Literature is considered to have originated from Romanticism. It is the sub-genre of the Romantic Movement. In fact, both the movements were parallel to each other. Romanticism focused on the realization of nature’s beauty, imagination, intuition, idealism, inspiration, and individuality in literature and other arts. While Gothicism dealt with the darker and more tragic themes than the Romantic works.
Since Gothicism is characterized by some critics as a subgenre of Romanticism, both share many similarities as well. For instance, both genres deal with the existence of sublime and transcendent, reason and rationality, and the medieval references.
Above all, the Gothic style of writing has never gone outdated. In fact, it’s gaining more and more popularity with the passage of time. Mystery, suspense and horror—these elements when added to the story have a tendency to excite everyone. This is something that has encouraged the Gothic writers to produce more works of horror and mystery. Now, today’s Gothic literature includes stories of vampires, demons, werewolves, supernatural beings, castles, dark and stormy nights and an abundance of darker themes.
Thus, Gothicism has become a major source of inspiration for today’s blockbuster horror movies, TV series, and graphic horror novels. All these means of entertainment, indeed, forever appeal to the reader!