Main features


Elements of the Gothic Novel

In Gothic fiction the reader passes from the reasoned order of the everyday world into a dark region governed by supernatural beings, a region that inspires dread and horror, where decay abounds and death is always at hand. Also called Gothic romance and Gothic novel, Gothic fiction emerged late in the 18th century as part of the Romantic movement in the arts. This movement represented a reaction against the age of reason, or the Enlightenment, that had dominated the thought of the time .

This type of fiction was called Gothic because much of its inspiration was drawn from medieval buildings and ruins, many of which are Gothic in architectural style. It commonly featured castles and monasteries equipped with subterranean passages, hidden panels, chambers of torture, and dark towers. Afterward, though such fiction continued to appear for decades, the Gothic type diverged into different styles, including the detective, or mystery, story and the horror story. In Gothic fiction forces of evil predominate, usually in the person of a great villain. Opposed to these is a virtuous maiden who is at once repelled and attracted by the evil around her. In some of the novels virtue triumphs; in others the evil is so monumental that everything good in its path is destroyed, and then it destroys itself. One such story of great evil was 'The Monk' (1796) by Matthew Gregory Lewis.

One early Gothic novel that has become a classic is Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein' (1818), which also has elements of science and horror fiction. At the end of the 19th century Bram Stoker wrote 'Dracula' (1897), one of the most successful and truly Gothic novels ever published. In it, as in earlier Gothic novels, overwhelming evil in the person of the vampire Dracula confronts and nearly destroys the beautiful young woman who is attracted by his charm and repelled by his evil power. \par Among the better-known authors who sometimes created Gothic fiction were Wolfgang von Goethe, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Washington Irving, Sir Walter Scott, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Louisa May Alcott, Emily Bronte, William Cullen Bryant, Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Thomas Hardy, Henry James, Ivan Turgenev, Oscar Wilde, and William Faulkner.

The horror story is less easily defined, perhaps because other types of fiction so often use the trappings of terror to enhance their plots. Charles Dickens used the vehicle of an old-fashioned ghost story to tell 'A Christmas Carol', but that book is not a horror story.

Human beings have always acknowledged that there is evil in the world and a dark side to human nature that cannot be explained except perhaps in religious terms. This evil may be imagined as having an almost unlimited power to inspire anxiety, fear, dread, and terror in addition to doing actual physical and mental harm.In the tale of horror quite ordinary people are confronted by something unknown and fearful, which can be neither understood nor explained in reasonable terms. It is the emphasis on the unreasonable that lies at the heart of horror stories.

The gothic stories dealt mainly with crime together with mystery. The setting was usually in an old castle or in a ruin. The characters of the story were either naive lovers or nuns in a monastry, who had sinful thoughts, and therefore had to be punished by a Divine Power. This Power had the intention to make the sinful persons realise how close life was to death. This was often done by introducing them with all sorts of supernatural powers, coming from the inside of the castle's walls. The castle or ruin itself was therefore also one of the main characters of the novel. Human characters in a gothic tale did not normally have much chance to survive the frightening demonic appearances they were attacked by. These are the main aspects that make it possible to identify a gothic story from another crime story.

The environment in which the characters lived had changed radically: the castles surrounded by a gloomy forest were now made into a recognizable daily setting. Characters in the stories were , with the rational way of approaching a crime, also given a possibility to survive. The last interesting change I would like to point out is the distinctive moral in the genres. It is possible to consider the gothic novel as a genre that is trying to keep the people aware of God's presence and of the danger of choosing the wrong path in life. The detectivenovel on the other hand, condemns crime-actions and stands for the justification of human rights.

We can put in consideration many of the elements that appear in a gothic romance. These elements are repeated in many of the novels and have become an important feature of these kinds of novel,the elements that constitute the genre.

Therefore we can mention, first of all the castles or monasteries that are sometimes occupied and sometimes abandoned. These places are full of tramps, long and spiral staircases, secret passages that lead us to the darkness. These sites give the reader several different sensations: we can feel the cold wind around us, we can have claustrophobic feelings and we can notice the mystery around the room we are reading.

.We can make reference also to an ancient prophecy is connected with the castle or its inhabitants (either former or present). The prophecy is usually obscure, partial, or confusing.

Omens, portents, visions. A character may have a disturbing dream vision, or some phenomenon may be seen as a portent of coming events. For example, if the statue of the lord of the manor falls over, it may portend his death.These visions can be a phenomenon related to the individual character or related to the facts are happening. Thus, we can see how characters can change their abilities as the action is moving forward.

Women threatened by a powerful, impulsive, tyrannical male. One or more male characters has the power, as king, lord of the manor, father, or guardian, to demand that one or more of the female characters do something intolerable. The woman is always a weak character and they always have to obey the male one, then the women are supposed to do what men want as commiting a crime, for instance.

An important idea is that of terror, panic and confusion. The action has to be involve always in darkness. The atmosphere is very dense and , talking in a methaphorical way, full of fog and desesperation. We must see in the novel how the climate or the atmosphere is changing with the character. If the character feels good the atmosphere and the lands cape would be very similar to these feelings. Otherwise, if the character is very frightened this must be reflected in the situation.

The metonymy of gloom and horror. Metonymy is a subtype of metaphor, in which something (like rain) is used to stand for something else (like sorrow). For example, the film industry likes to use metonymy as a quick shorthand, so we often notice that it is raining in funeral scenes.

Women in distress. As an appeal to the pathos and sympathy of the reader, the female characters often face events that leave them fainting, terrified, screaming, and/or sobbing. A lonely, pensive, and oppressed heroine is often the central figure of the novel, so her sufferings are even more pronounced and the focus of attention.

Supernatural or otherwise inexplicable events. Dramatic, amazing events occur, such as ghosts or giants walking, or inanimate objects (such as a suit of armor or painting) coming to life. In some works, the events are ultimately given a natural explanation, while in others the events are truly supernatural.

Iris E. García andaluz


Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia. Copyright (c) 1994, 1995 Compton's NewMedia, Inc