Authors, Writers, Publishers, and Book Readers
Seeing as this is my first post here, I thought I'd dive right in at the deep end and give my pennies worth. Enjoy!
Gothic literature, like romantic literature, was at least in part a reaction against neoclassicism. In fact, Gothic literature is a form of Romanticism. It was popular in the late 18th Century and can still be found written today by writers such as Stephen King. But during this time period, many of the highly regarded Gothic novelists published their writing and much of the novel's form was defined.
The Goths, one of the many Germanic tribes, fought numerous battles with the Roman Empire for centuries. According to their own myths, as recounted by Jordanes, a Gothic historian from the mid 6th century, the Goths originated in what is now southern Sweden, but their king Berig led them to the southern shore of the Baltic Sea. They finally separated into two groups, the Visigoths (the West Goths) and Ostrogoths (the East Goths), so named because of where they eventually settled. They reached the height of their power around 5th century A.D., when they sacked Rome and captured Spain, but their history finally subsumed under that of the countries they conquered ("Goths").
The setting is greatly influential in Gothic novels. It not only evokes the atmosphere of horror and dread, but also portrays the deterioration of its world. The decaying, ruined scenery implies that at one time there was a thriving world. At one time the abbey, castle, or landscape was something treasured and appreciated. Now, all that lasts is the decaying shell of a once thriving dwelling.
The Gothic hero becomes a sort of archetype as we find that there is a pattern to their characterization. There is always the protagonist, usually isolated either voluntarily or involuntarily. Then there is the villain, who is the epitome of evil, either by his (usually a man) own fall from grace, or by some implicit malevolence. The Wanderer, found in many Gothic tales, is the epitome of isolation as he wanders the earth in perpetual exile, usually a form of divine punishment.
The plot itself mirrors the ruined world in its dealings with a protagonist's fall from grace as she succumbs to temptation from a villain. In the end, the protagonist must be saved through a reunion with a loved one. For example, in Matthew G. Lewis's The Monk, the monk Ambrosio is tempted by Matilda. She lures him into succumbing to his lust until he turns fully to rape and murder of another young girl. In the end, he makes a deal with Satan and dies a torturous death on the side of a mountain. Emily of Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho does not have the same kind of temptations but finds that she cannot escape her evil uncle's castle (called Udolpho) without the help of a suitor. In the end she does find retribution in her affection for her once-lost love, Valancourt.
How Gothic Literature causes controversy.
Author, Joyce Carol Oates, writes of how the repressed emotions, which are personified in the Gothic novel, are horrible not only because of what they are, but also because of how they enslave a person (Oates 1). These desires are mysterious, and mystery breeds attraction, and with attraction, one is easily seduced by them. With this in mind, it is easy to understand how Bertrand Evans points out the hero in the Gothic novel is consistently weaker than the antagonist and usually flees from it rather than defeating it. The similar themes of repression of forbidden desires, and the horror surrounding and penetrating them, are clearly focal points of most Gothic critics. The enlightenment gained from these aspects is the driving force behind the Gothic novel.
Famous Gothic Novels
The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole
Northangar Abbey by Jane Austen
The Castle of Wolfenbach by Eliza Parsons
The Fall of The House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe
Great Epxectations by Charles Dickens
So, where does that leave us today. I tell you where, it leaves us as shadows. Modern Literature does not come close to the boundaries of our counterparts. We will never truly understand the minds of great Authors such as Poe, Dickens or Parsons, but we can learn from them. Use their visionary material to influence our own creativity.
I believe each and every one of us has a dark side, we should learn to embrace it instead of conforming to societal expectations.