The Refined Reader aims to take a look at the journey to where we are as readers today. It's part history, part commentary - providing a brief, conversational summary of various aspects of our bookish past and comparing it to how it has affected us in modern times. I love history, but I am no historian, and while I plan to do my research, if there are any errors, please let me know! This is as much a learning venture for me as I hope it is for my blog visitors!
So what makes a book Gothic literature? There are several plot elements that when combined make up a classic Gothic story. Usually they contain an innocent, virginal heroine, a menacing older man, supernatural elements like ghosts, a sinister mystery, and a forbidding setting (like an old house which may be a reason why the genre is called Gothic, since the stories are often set in houses with Gothic architecture). The story may revolve around madness, secrets, darkness and death because it's a combination of horror, romance and suspense.
The very first Gothic work is believed to be the 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole, who wanted to meld medieval romance (which he thought too fanciful) with the modern novel of the 1700s (which he thought was too realistic). The genre progressed with such prominent works as The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley to later interpretations by Edgar Allan Poe, the Brontës, and Bram Stoker.
The Gothic genre was pretty melodramatic at first, and relied heavily on shocking, provocative scenarios that often were morality lessons at it's heart. I love the older Gothic stories because they are so dramatic and unbelievable, and I just find them so entertaining. As the genre developed more, I think the fear and human weakness that is the root of the drama in these stories was made more effective because the focus became more on what psychologically caused the fear and our human frailties as opposed to just the action.
Gothic novels walk a line between fantasy and reality, and delve into the darker parts of human nature while still maintaining a certain amount of hope - promoting good overcoming evil. They can be compelling and captivating - especially for a dark and stormy night.
Do you have a favorite Gothic novel or story?