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English9 Gothic Fiction: Home

Did you know . . .

        . . . that the fabulous gothic styled station in Harry Potter is actually St Pancras station in London?

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Dee Cunninghame's picture
Dee Cunninghame
Collinson Library
St Stephens School
Duncraig Campus

Gothic Literature Then and Now:

In the most general terms, â€‹Gothic literature can be defined as writing that employs dark and picturesque scenery, startling and melodramatic narrative devices, and an overall atmosphere of exoticism, mystery, fear, and dread. Often, a Gothic novel or story will revolve around a large, ancient house that conceals a terrible secret or that serves as the refuge of an especially frightening and threatening character. Despite the fairly common use of this bleak motif, Gothic writers have also used supernatural elements, touches of romance, well-known historical characters, and travel and adventure narratives to entertain their readers. The type is a subgenre of Romantic literature—that's Romantic the period, not romance novels with breathless lovers with wind-swept hair on their paperback covers—and much fiction today stems from it.

The first Gothic novel is generally agreed to be The Castle of Otranto(1764) by Horace Walpole. The second early and major exponent of the form was Ann Radcliffe, who produced a half-dozen works, of which the best known is The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794). Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey parodies the Gothic novel by setting up the atmosphere of doom and sweeping it away with hearty common sense and normalcy.

In England, the Gothic novel as a genre had largely played itself out by 1840. It left a lasting legacy, however, in works such as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and the works of Edgar Allan Poe. From these, the Gothic genre strictly considered, gave way to modern horror fiction.

The First Gothic Novel

One morning, in June 1794, Horace Walpole woke in the legendary home he had built called Strawberry Hill. He had experienced a dream so vivid that he sat down in his study and began to write a book which changed the course of literary history. The Castle of Otranto is widely regarded as the first Gothic novel, and, with its knights, villains, wronged maidens, haunted corridors and things that go bump in the night, is the spiritual godfather of Frankenstein and Dracula, the creaking floorboards of Edgar Allan Poe and the shifting stairs and walking portraits of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts."

Source : The Guardian 


Ancient Prophecy: The foretelling or prediction of what is to come. The prophecy is usually partial, obscure or confusing, like a ghost.

Atmosphere: A feeling of mystery or suspense. The story is pervaded by a threatening feeling, a fear enhanced by the unknown.

Setting: The story is often set around a castle or old mansion.  The building may be dark and mysterious, featured ruined sections and quirky features, like secret passages or rooms, trap doors, trick panels with hidden levers and ark or hidden staircases.

Omens, Portents or Visions: A character may have a disturbing dream vision, or some phenomenon may seem a portent (sign or warning) of coming events. The result could be good or bad.

Supernatural: attributed to some force beyond scientific understanding or the laws of nature. Dramatic, amazing events occur, such as ghosts or giants walking, or inanimate objects (such as a suit of armor or painting) coming to life.

High emotion: The narration may be highly sentimental, and the characters are often overcome by anger, sorrow, surprise, fear, and especially, terror. 

Women threatened by a powerful 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 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). 

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.