Gothic Fiction: The Mother of Horror- History Lesson

Gothic Literature is the catalyst of Modern Horror. Without the creation, there wouldn’t be the amount of terror given to us in novels, movies, and media. 

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Gothic Fiction transcends and taps into a lot of different subcategories. It’s the mother of all known Horror. To understand Gothic Romance or a much newer subgenre, Romantic Horror, you got to comprehend how we got here. 

Background 

Gothic Fiction arose during the “medieval revival,” in the 18th century. It was considered to be significantly different from the Enlightenment Era, which focused on scientific reasoning rather than faith. The Revival of Medieval times was inspired by the castle’s structure and the arts, primarily from 1000-1600. People wanted to study the furnishing style, thus piquing the interest of the aspiring genre. It gave a sense of nostalgia to be among the walls of a different time. Although the structures were beautiful, they sparked darker anthology titles.

Gothic Fiction, by nature, takes place in a dark, mysterious atmosphere, where the characters are sometimes messed up internally, and they ultimately want something. It can be a person or a feeling; it doesn’t really matter. What matters is there’s this sense of yearning within the character.

gothic fiction
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The first gothic fiction novel was Horace Walpole’s novel, The Castle of Otranto (1764). The main character is Manfred, the prince of Otranto. The main goal is to keep his castle safe for his next of kin from a mysterious curse plaguing the court. Want to see the curse in action? Right from the start, his son, Conrad, endures a freak accident in which he dies from getting crushed by a massive helmet right before he’s about to get married. Manfred is in a dark setting, i.e., the castle. Is there something internally going on with him? Well, you’ll have to read it yourself. What we do know is he wants something– to keep the castle safe. See, there’s a formula!

Gothic Fiction Themes

The themes discussed within this Gothic Fiction subgenre are questions of morality, philosophy, and differing religions. Sometimes the villain isn’t so clear, and most often than not, the villains act as metaphors for human temptation that the hero must preserve. 

Humanity and evil come hand in hand in these literary pieces. They come in the forms of man vs. man or man vs. nature. Nature, in this context, is the outside force of a supernatural being. This all takes place at a location. That’s where the Gothic title comes from. Gothic castles, though beautiful from a glance, hold bleakness and an empty feeling to it. But not all stories can take place in a dark, forbidden castle. 

horror novel- the haunting of hill house
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Centuries later, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson takes Gothic Fiction through the setting of a haunted house. We have four central character’s within this story, but our main focus will be Eleanor.

“Journeys end in lovers meeting; I have spent an all but sleepless night, I have told lies and made a fool of myself, and the very air tastes like wine. I have been frightened half out of my foolish wits, but I have somehow earned this joy; I have been waiting for it for so long.”

The Haunting of Hill House- Shirley Jackson

Eleanor longs for a place of love and purpose, and she finds this when she stays at Hill House. Shirley Jackson gives us a prime example of a semi-modern gothic horror. Thank you, queen, for writing with such elegance. 

Now obviously, the formula isn’t foolproof. We also have monster-driven stories with the creations of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s masterpiece Frankenstein (1818)and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897). These villains are a resemblance to humanoids. Frankenstein taps into science fiction, while Dracula taps more into fantasy horror. As you can see, the subgenres can all bend and blend into each other. 

Gothic Horror was taught to walk so Romantic Horror could run. 

This leads us to its fraternal twin sister, Romantic Horror. Gothic Romance began to take flight from England in the late 18th and early 19th century. I’m not talking about your typical love story when I say Romance. Before the words fantasy or supernatural, Romance was said in place. Gothic Fiction and Gothic Romance are subtly different. Gothic Romance can have a happy ending. Emphasis on CAN because it doesn’t mean it will. 

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Gothic goes into the deep end of darkness within mind, body, and soul. Ann Radcliffe’s novel A Sicilian Romance (1790) strayed away from traditional Gothic Fiction. The setting stayed similar, with the central tropes still active, but the key difference was the purpose. Radcliffe sends off a trend of women who fight against evil while finding love in one way or another.

About fifty years later, Charlotte Brontë graced the literary world with Jane Eyre (1847), where again we see a woman struggle against maintaining her independence while falling head over heels with a man who isn’t always the nicest. We can’t mention Charlotte without mentioning her sister Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847). These sisters took the Victorian Gothic Era by reign!

All this begs the question… Why do people like these genres? What’s so appealing? It’s a question I’ve asked myself many times, but the answers live between the pages of a book and the screens you watch in the movie theaters or in your homes. The thrill is inviting, and the human mind is a scary place to visit. So why do you like Horror? 

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