What Makes Gothic Literature Gothic? These 10 Things.

What Makes Gothic Literature Gothic? These 10 Things.

Maybe because I’m watching The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina––when I’m not reading, of course––but even though we’re past the fright and death-centric holidays, my brain is still stuck in Halloween mode. (Also, did you know The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina was a comic first?!)

The thing is, though, if you were to ask me what makes gothic literature gothic, I’d have a hard time telling you. It has to have a creepy suspenseful element. Okay, but thriller, suspense, and horror all have that and would you still consider them to be gothic literature? Like, how is gothic literature fundamentally different than other genres?

I’ve answered this over the years with “I don’t know, but I know it when I see it.” But thanks to the folks at Invaluable who let me borrow this infographic explaining gothic lit, I have a better idea.

Gothic literature emerged in the late 1700s, as part of the larger Romanticism movement. Characterized by expressions of terror and dark scenery, it’s truly a mystifying genre. Though each gothic novelists has their own way of stylizing their work, gothic novels share a few key characteristics that make them truly captivating.

Get ready to nerd out with some in-the-weeds book talk. (And if you’re currently writing a scary book for NaNoWriMo, this is going to be really helpful for you.)

 [image description: The text of the infographic reads: Gothic Literature Demystified. Elements and examples that define the genre. What is Gothic Literature? A genre of writing that emerged in the 18th century characterized by fearful, fictional elements, death, and romance. Notable Authors & Works: Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto, 1764. Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho, 1794. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, 1818. Edgar Allan Poe, “The Fall of the House of Usher,” 1839. Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights, 1847. Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, 1847. Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, 1886. Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1890. Bram Stoker, Dracula, 1897. 10 Essential Elements of Gothic Literature: 1. Mystery and Fear. Example: Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (first published 1818). Shelley includes graveyards, gloomy castles, and a frightening monster to emphasize the fear factor. Quote: “...Who shall conceive the horrors of my secret toil as I dabbed among the unhallowed damps of the grave or tortured the living animal to animate the lifeless clay?” -Frankenstein 2. Unnerving Atmosphere. Example: Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto, 1764.Walpole sets his novel in an old castle with a mysterious past and secret underground passages. Quote: "Sir, whoever you are, take pity on a wretched princess standing on the brink of destruction: assist me to escape from this fatal castle, or in few moments I may be made miserable for ever." -The Castle of Otranto 3. Supernatural and Paranormal Activity. Example: Bram Stoker, Dracula, 1897. Stoker uses vampires and werewolves, eerie shadows, and howling winds to create a fear of the unexplainable. Quote: “I want you to believe...to believe in things that you cannot.” -Dracula 4. Omens and Curses. Example: Nathaniel Hawthorne, The House of Seven Gables, 1851. Hawthorne creates a chill by cursing a family whose ancestor stole land from a man he had hanged. Quote: “Shall we never, never get rid of this Past? ... It lies upon the Present.” -The House of Seven Gables 5. Nightmares. Example: Stephen King, Bag of Bones, 1998. King incorporates nightmares to depict daunting visions of death including that of his character’s wife. Quote: “The dream didn't fade as dreams usually do upon waking.” -Bag of Bones. 6. Emotional Distress. Example: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” 1892. Gilman uses a series of highly emotional diary entries written by a woman suffering postpartum depression. Quote: “I'm sure I never used to be so sensitive. I think it is due to this nervous condition.” -The Yellow Wallpaper 7. Villain. Example: Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, 1847. Brontë’s character Edward Rochester starts with a brutish manner, but is driven to immoral behavior. Quote: “I had determined and was convinced that I could and ought. It was not my original intention to deceive, as I have deceived you.” -Jane Eyre 8. Anti-hero Example: Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1890. Wilde creates a radiantly handsome gentleman who quickly transcends into an anti-hero through immoral pursuits. Quote: “Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic.” -The Picture of Dorian Gray 9. Romance. Example: Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights, 1847. Brontë’s characters Catherine and Heathcliff's romance grows before being sabotaged by their families. Quote: “I have not broken your heart - you have broken it; and in breaking it, you have broken mine.” -Wuthering Heights 10. Damsel in Distress. Example: Gregory Lewis, The Monk, 1796. Lewis creates a vulnerable, virginal character, Antonia, who is both desired and degraded. Quote: “You are mine, and Heaven itself cannot rescue you from my power.” -The Monk]

[image description: The text of the infographic reads: Gothic Literature Demystified. Elements and examples that define the genre. What is Gothic Literature? A genre of writing that emerged in the 18th century characterized by fearful, fictional elements, death, and romance. Notable Authors & Works: Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto, 1764. Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho, 1794. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, 1818. Edgar Allan Poe, “The Fall of the House of Usher,” 1839. Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights, 1847. Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, 1847. Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, 1886. Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1890. Bram Stoker, Dracula, 1897. 10 Essential Elements of Gothic Literature: 1. Mystery and Fear. Example: Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (first published 1818). Shelley includes graveyards, gloomy castles, and a frightening monster to emphasize the fear factor. Quote: “...Who shall conceive the horrors of my secret toil as I dabbed among the unhallowed damps of the grave or tortured the living animal to animate the lifeless clay?” -Frankenstein 2. Unnerving Atmosphere. Example: Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto, 1764.Walpole sets his novel in an old castle with a mysterious past and secret underground passages. Quote: "Sir, whoever you are, take pity on a wretched princess standing on the brink of destruction: assist me to escape from this fatal castle, or in few moments I may be made miserable for ever." -The Castle of Otranto 3. Supernatural and Paranormal Activity. Example: Bram Stoker, Dracula, 1897. Stoker uses vampires and werewolves, eerie shadows, and howling winds to create a fear of the unexplainable. Quote: “I want you to believe...to believe in things that you cannot.” -Dracula 4. Omens and Curses. Example: Nathaniel Hawthorne, The House of Seven Gables, 1851. Hawthorne creates a chill by cursing a family whose ancestor stole land from a man he had hanged. Quote: “Shall we never, never get rid of this Past? ... It lies upon the Present.” -The House of Seven Gables 5. Nightmares. Example: Stephen King, Bag of Bones, 1998. King incorporates nightmares to depict daunting visions of death including that of his character’s wife. Quote: “The dream didn't fade as dreams usually do upon waking.” -Bag of Bones. 6. Emotional Distress. Example: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” 1892. Gilman uses a series of highly emotional diary entries written by a woman suffering postpartum depression. Quote: “I'm sure I never used to be so sensitive. I think it is due to this nervous condition.” -The Yellow Wallpaper 7. Villain. Example: Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, 1847. Brontë’s character Edward Rochester starts with a brutish manner, but is driven to immoral behavior. Quote: “I had determined and was convinced that I could and ought. It was not my original intention to deceive, as I have deceived you.” -Jane Eyre 8. Anti-hero Example: Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1890. Wilde creates a radiantly handsome gentleman who quickly transcends into an anti-hero through immoral pursuits. Quote: “Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic.” -The Picture of Dorian Gray 9. Romance. Example: Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights, 1847. Brontë’s characters Catherine and Heathcliff's romance grows before being sabotaged by their families. Quote: “I have not broken your heart - you have broken it; and in breaking it, you have broken mine.” -Wuthering Heights 10. Damsel in Distress. Example: Gregory Lewis, The Monk, 1796. Lewis creates a vulnerable, virginal character, Antonia, who is both desired and degraded. Quote: “You are mine, and Heaven itself cannot rescue you from my power.” -The Monk]

There you have it! Do you have a favorite gothic novel? Are you writing one? Tell me in the comments!

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