It would seem that Gothic literature has become the research area du jour of late. For poor unsuspecting undergraduates, however, the term alone can be enough to strike terror into their hearts. What does that lecturer mean when they mention Gothic? It’s just a load of ghost stories or damsels trapped in dungeons, right? Well…
Whilst the supernatural does play a vital part in the literary genre known as the Gothic, it is not limited to the above. Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764) is often credited with being the origin of anglophone Gothicism, in part due to its subtitle ‘A Gothic Story.’ The text provided a precedent to the work of Ann Radcliffe, who popularised the genre. She also usefully examined the concepts of horror and terror in her essay ‘On the Supernatural in Poetry’ (1826). These early romantic Gothic narratives also provided the archetypal aesthetic, particularly the significance of architecture and sublime power of nature.
Gothic narratives are often centred on excesses or extremes of emotion, particularly the thrill of fear. By situating terror, or indeed horror, in the realm of pleasure, the genre breaks down traditional boundaries and poses a challenge to Enlightenment thought. Additionally, the use of the supernatural or the Gothic monster, particularly associated with eighteenth-century narratives, further destabilises the established binaries upon which identity and social convention are constructed.
Fred Botting’s Gothic (1996) provides a detailed introduction to the genre, as well as an analysis of its key tropes and movements within Gothicism.