Gothic Literature Explained By Mitchell Stuart

Read By Mitchell Stuart

How did Gothic Literature Develop?

Gothic culture is a unique style that has influence not just over literature but of various aspects related to music and fashion. Within its literature, its famous for its distinct gloomy and dark nature and has gone on to influence many writing styles within different genres. There are prominent themes that run through Gothic literature that distinctly sets it apart from other genres. To fully appreciate how this genre has developed let’s go to the beginning to see how it all started.


The Beginning


The term Gothic is commonly associated with architecture and was used in the medieval times to describe buildings with pointed arches and vaults. Gothic literature is closely related to the Victorian Gothic or Gothic Revival architectural movement. It was thought that the ruined buildings of this era provided a source of inspiration for the authors. Setting their novels in a Gothic building helped convey the awe, despair, fear, isolation and suspense in an easier manner. The first piece of Gothic literature was thought to be published in 1764 by Horace Walpole with his novel The Castle of Otranto. The book was considered the first novel of Gothic romance. Walpole made use of the Gothic architectural styles within his book.


A typical piece of Gothic literature all feature the following:


  • Old, disused castle, monastery or abbey setting. This will be described as having trap doors, secret rooms, mysterious passages and abandoned wings which will still be accessible but dimly lit.


  • Dramatic outdoor scenery like dense forests surrounded in fog or rugged mountains with stormy weather.


  • Omens, curses or visions that will foreshadow a tragedy or something suitably ominous.


  • Supernatural events such as magic, spirits, monsters and non-living things coming to life.


  • A male character (usually the protagonist) who often rescues the damsel in distress.


  • A villain driven by passion and revenge to commit their atrocities.


  • A beautiful woman with a mysterious past.


  • Suspense portrayed by flickering candlelight casting shadows, the eerie beam of a full moon and labyrinths.





The 18th Century


The 18th Century marked the start of the Gothic era with a lot of Gothic romance being published including Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto. With this novel, Walpole set the trend within the genre of a mysterious setting with suspense, trapdoors, ancient prophecies and damsels.


Following on from this, Ann Radcliffe published her novels, A Sicilian Romance, The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian from 1790 to 1797. She introduced a detailed explanation of the supernatural setting. She is widely credited for making the typical Gothic villain popular.


Within this time, Matthew Lewis, a self-professed fan of Radcliffe published his novel, The Monk in 1796. The book has an anti-Catholic theme running throughout. Lewis portrays distrust for the Catholic church and the darker side of Catholic monks. This along with black magic and Satanism all became popular among Gothic authors.


Around this time in Europe, variants of Gothic literature gained popularity with the ‘black novel’ becoming popular in France and the ‘shudder novel’ in Germany. Both were far more gruesome and featured a lot more gore than the English Gothic novels.


The 19th Century


The early part of the 19th century saw the introduction of the famous monster of Frankenstein through Mary Shelley’s novel in 1818. It is believed to be the first science novel and is still popular with readers to this day.  Polidori’s The Vampire published in 1819 introduced the world to the character of the vampire which is still a popular theme in modern day literature and Charles Maturin in 1820 published Melmoth the Wanderer which is stated by critics as the last published work of traditional Gothic genre.


The latter half of the 19th Century was the beginning of the decline in Traditional Gothic Literature. Edgar Allan Poe, shot to fame with his interpretation of the old genre and published The Fall of the House of Usher and The Oval Portrait from 1839 to 1842. His interpretation featured a lot of influence from the Byronic Romanticism and was noticed a lot in these books. Romanticism was also seen in the writings of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. Work by the Brontë sisters is regarded by critics as some of the finest examples of Female Gothic Literature. Their portrayal of a female’s position in society whilst having to face supernatural terror and internal conflict is conveyed exquisitely and was really before its time.


During this time authors took the concepts of Gothic romance and tragedy and started to apply it to the then modern urban setting. Highlights of this include Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, Robert Louis Stephenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and of course Bram Stoker’s Dracula giving birth to the most popular villain of Gothic Literature. Despite the modern influence the authors often set the novels in fictional lands very much in keeping with the traditional Gothic era.



The 20th Century


During the 20th century, stories of horror and mystery with traditional Gothic influence soared in popularity. Various sub-genres of Gothic literature emerged from such writers as Phyliss A. Whitney, Barbara Michaels, Joan Aiken, Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart. Modern Gothic romance was mainly written by female authors and were heavily woman centric. One example of this is Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca published in 1938 which is world renowned as a modern classic of Gothic genre.


In the present day, ghosts and spirits seem to have been replaced with supernatural beings such as vampire, werewolves, witches and demons. The modern Gothic romances give a more elaborate setting which sets the tone on the characters mood and leaves more room for the romantic side to flourish. The idea of terror has turned into one of mystery and seems to linger throughout the novel, chilling the reader in other ways.


Although it has changed throughout the years, Gothic literature is still popular among many readers of all ages. It is still heavily portrayed in the genres of mystery and horror and is still widely enjoyed all over the world.


A Top Read On The Mitchell Stuart Blog

This book is one of my favourite Githic pieces I really enjoy it see what others have said….. 


“This book brings together for the first time many of the multifarious visual motifs and media associated with Gothic together with areas that have never received serious stud”

A muts read for anyone looking to explore gothic literature. Dont belive me try it for your self. Click to buy on amazon and read more reviews. 

I provide my personal views and want to encourage more people to explore literature. Reading has been a passion from a young age I enjoy sharing my views and provide you with top recomendations for you to start you journey into literature. Mitchell Stuart.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *