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Gothic fiction, which is largely known by the subgenre of Gothic horror, is a genre or mode of literature and film that combines fiction and horror, death, and at times romance. Its origin is attributed to English author Horace Walpole, with his 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto, subtitled (in its second edition) "A Gothic Story". Gothic fiction tends to place emphasis on both emotion and a pleasurable kind of terror, serving as an extension of the Romantic literary movement that was relatively new at the time that Walpole's novel was published. The most common of these "pleasures" among Gothic readers was the sublime—an indescribable feeling that "takes us beyond ourselves."[1]

The literary genre originated in England in the second half of the 18th century where, following Walpole, it was further developed by Clara Reeve, Ann Radcliffe, William Thomas Beckford and Matthew Lewis. The genre had much success in the 19th century, as witnessed in prose by Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and the works of Edgar Allan Poe as well as Charles Dickens with his novella, A Christmas Carol, and in poetry in the work of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Lord Byron. Another well known novel in this genre, dating from the late Victorian era, is Bram Stoker's Dracula.

The name Gothic, which originally referred to the Goths, and then came to mean "German",[2] refers to the Gothic architecture of the medieval era of European history, in which many of these stories take place. This extreme form of Romanticism was very popular throughout Europe, especially among English- and German-language writers and artists.[3] The English Gothic novel also led to new novel types such as the German Schauerroman and the French roman noir.[4]

Strawberry Hill, an English villa in the "Gothic Revival" style, built by Gothic writer Horace Walpole

Gothic literature is intimately associated with the Gothic Revival architecture of the same era. In a way similar to the Gothic revivalists' rejection of the clarity and rationalism of the neoclassical style of the Enlightened Establishment, the literary Gothic embodies an appreciation of the joys of extreme emotion, the thrills of fearfulness and awe inherent in the sublime, and a quest for atmosphere.

The ruins of Gothic buildings gave rise to multiple linked emotions by representing the inevitable decay and collapse of human creations—thus the urge to add fake ruins as eyecatchers in English landscape parks. English Gothic writers often associated medieval buildings with what they saw as a dark and terrifying period, characterized by harsh laws enforced by torture, and with mysterious, fantastic, and superstitious rituals. In literature such anti-Catholicism had a European dimension featuring Roman Catholic institutions such as the Inquisition (in southern European countries such as Italy and Spain).

Just as elements of Gothic architecture were borrowed during the Gothic Revival period in architecture, ideas about the Gothic period and Gothic period architecture were often used by Gothic novelists. Architecture itself played a role in the naming of Gothic novels, with

Gothic literature is intimately associated with the Gothic Revival architecture of the same era. In a way similar to the Gothic revivalists' rejection of the clarity and rationalism of the neoclassical style of the Enlightened Establishment, the literary Gothic embodies an appreciation of the joys of extreme emotion, the thrills of fearfulness and awe inherent in the sublime, and a quest for atmosphere.

The ruins of Gothic buildings gave rise to multiple linked emotions by representing the inevitable decay and collapse of human creations—thus the urge to add fake ruins as eyecatchers in English landscape parks. English Gothic writers often associated medieval buildings with what they saw as a dark and terrifying period, characterized by harsh laws enforced by torture, and with mysterious, fantastic, and superstitious rituals. In literature such anti-Catholicism had a European dimension featuring Roman Catholic institutions such as the Inquisition (in southern European countries such as Italy and Spain).

Just as elements of Gothic architecture were borrowed during the Gothic Revival period in architecture, ideas about the Gothic period and Gothic period architecture were often used by Gothic novelists. Architecture itself played a role in the naming of Gothic novels, with many titles referring to castles or other common Gothic buildings. This naming was followed up with many Gothic novels often set in Gothic buildings, with the action taking place in castles, abbeys, convents and monasteries, many of them in ruins, evoking "feelings of fear, surprise, confinement". This setting of the novel, a castle or religious building, often one fallen into disrepair, was an essential element of the Gothic novel. Placing a story in a Gothic building served several purposes. It drew on feelings of awe, it implied the story was set in the past, it gave an impression of isolation or being cut off from the rest of the world and it drew on the religious associations of the Gothic style. This trend of using Gothic architecture began with The Castle of Otranto and was to become a major element of the genre from that point forward.[12]

Besides using Gothic architecture as a setting, with the aim of eliciting certain associations from the reader, there was an equally close association between the use of setting and the storylines of Gothic novels, with the architecture often serving as a mirror for the characters and the plot lines of the story.[100] The buildings in The Castle of Otranto, for example, are riddled with tunnels, which the characters use to move back and forth in secret. This secret movement mirrors one of the plots of the story, specifically the secrets surrounding Manfred's possession of the castle and how it came into his family.[101] The setting of the novel in a Gothic castle was meant to imply not only a story set in the past, but one shrouded in darkness.

In William Thomas Beckford's The History of the Caliph Vathek, architecture was used to both illustrate certain elements of Vathek's character and also warn about the dangers of over-reaching. Vathek's hedonism and devotion to the pursuit of pleasure are reflected in the pleasure wings he adds on to his castle, each with the express purpose of satisfying a different sense. He also builds a tall tower in order to further his quest for knowledge. This tower represents Vathek's pride and his desire for a power that is beyond the reach of humans. He is later warned that he must destroy the tower and return to Islam, or else risk dire consequences. Vathek's pride wins out and, in the end, his quest for power and knowledge ends with him confined to Hell.[102]

In The Castle of Wolfenbach the castle that Matilda seeks refuge at while on the run is believed to be haunted. Matilda discovers it is not ghosts, but the Countess of Wolfenbach who lives on the upper floors and who has been forced into hiding by her husband, the Count. Matilda's discovery of the Countess and her subsequent informing others of the Countes

The ruins of Gothic buildings gave rise to multiple linked emotions by representing the inevitable decay and collapse of human creations—thus the urge to add fake ruins as eyecatchers in English landscape parks. English Gothic writers often associated medieval buildings with what they saw as a dark and terrifying period, characterized by harsh laws enforced by torture, and with mysterious, fantastic, and superstitious rituals. In literature such anti-Catholicism had a European dimension featuring Roman Catholic institutions such as the Inquisition (in southern European countries such as Italy and Spain).

Just as elements of Gothic architecture were borrowed during the Gothic Revival period in architecture, ideas about the Gothic period and Gothic period architecture were often used by Gothic novelists. Architecture itself played a role in the naming of Gothic novels, with many titles referring to castles or other common Gothic buildings. This naming was followed up with many Gothic novels often set in Gothic buildings, with the action taking place in castles, abbeys, convents and monasteries, many of them in ruins, evoking "feelings of fear, surprise, confinement". This setting of the novel, a castle or religious building, often one fallen into disrepair, was an essential element of the Gothic novel. Placing a story in a Gothic building served several purposes. It drew on feelings of awe, it implied the story was set in the past, it gave an impression of isolation or being cut off from the rest of the world and it drew on the religious associations of the Gothic style. This trend of using Gothic architecture began with The Castle of Otranto and was to become a major element of the genre from that point forward.[12]

Besides using Gothic architecture as a setting, with the aim of eliciting certain associations from the reader, there was an equally close association between the use of setting and the storylines of Gothic novels, with the architecture often serving as a mirror for the characters and the plot lines of the story.[100] The buildings in The Castle of Otranto, for example, are riddled with tunnels, which the characters use to move back and forth in secret. This secret movement mirrors one of the plots of the story, specifically the secrets surrounding Manfred's possession of the castle and how it came into his family.[101] The setting of the novel in a Gothic castle was meant to imply not only a story set in the past, but one shrouded in darkness.

In William Thomas Beckford's The History of the Caliph Vathek, architecture was used to both illustrate certain elements of Vathek's character and also warn about the dangers of over-reaching. Vathek's hedonism and devotion to the pursuit of pleasure are reflected in the pleasure wings he adds on to his castle, each with the express purpose of satisfying a different sense. He also builds a tall tower in order to further his quest for knowledge. This tower represents Vathek's pride and his desire for a power that is beyond the reach of humans. He is later warned that he must destroy the tower and return to Islam, or else risk dire consequences. Vathek's pride wins out and, in the end, his quest for power and knowledge ends with him confined to Hell.[102]

In The Castle of Wolfenbach the castle that Matilda seeks refuge at while on the run is believed to be haunted. Matilda discovers it is not ghosts, but the Countess of Wolfenbach who lives on the upper floors and who has been forced into hiding by her husband, the Count. Matilda's discovery of the Countess and her subsequent informing others of the Countess's presence destroys the Count's secret. Shortly after Matilda meets the Countess, the Castle of Wolfenbach itself is destroyed in a fire, mirroring the destruction of the Count's attempts to keep his wife a secret and how his plots throughout the story eventually lead to his own destruction.[103]

The major part of the action in The Romance of the Forest is set in an abandoned and ruined abbey and the building itself served as a moral lesson, as well as a major setting for and mirror of the action in the novel. The setting of the action in a ruined abbey, drawing on Burke's aesthetic theory of the sublime and the beautiful established the location as a place of terror and of safety. Burke argued the sublime was a source of awe or fear brought about by strong emotions, such as terror or mental pain. On the other end of the spectrum was the beautiful, which were those things that brought pleasure and safety. Burke argued that the sublime was the more preferred to the two. Related to the concepts of the sublime and the beautiful is the idea of the picturesque, introduced by William Gilpin, which was thought to exist between the two other extremes. The picturesque was that which continued elements of both the sublime and the beautiful and can be thought of as a natural or uncultivated beauty, such as a beautiful ruin or a partially overgrown building. In The Romance of the Forest Adeline and the La Mottes live in constant fear of discovery by either the police or Adeline's father and, at times, certain characters believe the castle to be haunted. On the other hand, the abbey also serves as a comfort, as it provides shelter and safety to the characters. Finally, it is picturesque, in that it was a ruin and serves as a combination of both the natural and the human. By setting the story in the ruined abbey, Radcliffe was able to use architecture to draw on the aesthetic theories of the time and set the tone of the story in the minds of the reader. As with many of the buildings in Gothic novels, the abbey also has a series of tunnels. These tunnels serve as both a hiding place for the characters and as a place of secrets. This was mirrored later in the novel with Adeline hiding from the Marquis de Montalt and the secrets of the Marquis, which would eventually lead to his downfall and Adeline's salvation.[104]

Architecture served as an additional character in many Gothic novels, bringing with it associations to the past and to secrets and, in many cases, moving the action along and foretelling future events in the story.

The female Gothic and The Supernatural Explained

Characterized by its castles, dungeons, gloomy forests and hidden passages, from the Gothic novel genre emerged the female Gothic. Guided by the works of authors such as Ann Radcliffe, Mary Shelley and Ann Radcliffe, Mary Shelley and Charlotte Brontë, the female Gothic permitted the introduction of feminine societal and sexual desires into Gothic texts.

The female Gothic differs from the male Gothic through differences in narrative technique, plot, assumptions of the supernatural, and the use of terror and horror. Female Gothic narratives focus on topics of the persecuted heroine in flight from a villainous father and in search of an absent mother, while male writers tended towards a plot of masculine transgression of social taboos. The emergence of the ghost story gav

The female Gothic differs from the male Gothic through differences in narrative technique, plot, assumptions of the supernatural, and the use of terror and horror. Female Gothic narratives focus on topics of the persecuted heroine in flight from a villainous father and in search of an absent mother, while male writers tended towards a plot of masculine transgression of social taboos. The emergence of the ghost story gave female writers something to write about besides the common marriage plot, allowing them to offer a more radical critique of male power, violence and predatory sexuality.[16]

It has been said that medieval society, on which some Gothic texts are based, granted women writers the opportunity to attribute "features of the mode [of Gothicism] as the result of the suppression of female sexuality, or else as a challenge to the gender hierarchy and values of a male-dominated culture".[105]

Significantly, with the development of the female Gothic came the literary technique of explaining the supernatural. The Supernatural Explained – as this technique was aptly named – is a recurring plot device in Radcliffe's The Romance of the Forest. The novel, published in 1791, is among Radcliffe's earlier works. The novel sets up suspense for horrific events, which all have natural explanations. However, the omission of any possible explanation based in reality is what instills a feeling of anxiety and terror in both character and reader.

An 18th-century response to the novel from the Monthly Review reads: "We must hear no more of enchanted forests and castles, giants, dragons, walls of fire and other 'monstrous and prodigious things;'—yet still forests and castles remain, and it is still within the province of fiction, without overstepping the limits of nature, to make use of them for the purpose of creating surprise."[106]

Radcliffe's use of The Supernatural Explained is characteristic of the Gothic author. The female protagonists pursued in these texts are often caught in an unfamiliar and terrifying landscape, delivering higher degrees of terror. The end result, however, is the explained supernatural, rather than terrors familiar to women such as rape or incest, or the expected ghosts or haunted castles. The female Gothic also discusses women's dissatisfactions with patriarchal society, addressing the problematic and dissatisfying maternal position and role within that society.[16] Women's fears of entrapment within such elements as the domestic, the female body, marriage, childbirth, and domestic abuse are commonly portrayed through the female Gothic. The female Gothic formula is said to be "a plot that resists an unhappy or ambiguous closure and explains the supernatural".[16]

In Radcliffe's The Romance of the Forest, one may follow the female protagonist, Adeline, through the forest, hidden passages and abbey dungeons, "without exclaiming, 'How these antique towers and vacant courts/ chill the suspended soul, till expectation wears the cast of fear!"[106]

The decision of female Gothic writers to supplement true supernatural horrors with explained cause and effect transforms romantic plots and Gothic tales into common life and writing. Rather than establish the romantic plot in impossible events, Radcliffe strays away from writing "merely fables, which no stretch of fancy could realize."[107]

English scholar Chloe Chard's published introduction to The Romance of the Forest refers to the "promised effect of terror". The outcome, however, "may prove less horrific than the novel has originally suggested". Radcliffe sets up suspense throughout the course of the novel, insinuating a supernatural or superstitious cause to the mysterious and horrific occurrences of the plot. However, the suspense is relieved with The Supernatural Explained.

For example, Adeline is reading the illegible manuscripts she found in her bedchamber's secret passage in the abbey, when she hears a chilling noise from beyond her doorway. She goes to sleep unsettled, only to awake and learn that what she assumed to be haunting spirits were actually the domestic voices of the servant, Peter. La Motte, her caretaker in the abbey, recognizes the heights to which her imagination reached after reading the autobiographical manuscripts of a past murdered man in the abbey.

He then informed her, that when he thought Monsieur and Madame La Motte were asleep, he had stolen to her chamber door (...) that he had called several times as loudly as he dared, but receiving no answer, he believed she was asleep (...) This account of the voice she had heard relieved Adeline's spirits; she was even surprised she did not know it, till remembering the perturbation of her mind for some time preceding, this surprise disappeared."[108]

While Adeline is alone in her characteristically Gothic chamber, she detects something supernatural, or mysterious about the setting. However, the "actual sounds that she hears are accounted for by the efforts of the faithful servant to communicate with her, there is still a hint of supernatural in her dream, inspired, it would seem, by the fact that

While Adeline is alone in her characteristically Gothic chamber, she detects something supernatural, or mysterious about the setting. However, the "actual sounds that she hears are accounted for by the efforts of the faithful servant to communicate with her, there is still a hint of supernatural in her dream, inspired, it would seem, by the fact that she is on the spot of her father's murder and that his unburied skeleton is concealed in the room next hers".[109]

The supernatural here is indefinitely explained, but what remains is the "tendency in the human mind to reach out beyond the tangible and the visible; and it is in depicting this mood of vague and half-defined emotion that Mrs. Radcliffe excels".[109]

Transmuting the Gothic novel into a comprehensible tale for the imaginative 18th-century woman was useful for the female Gothic writers of the time. Novels were an experience for these women who had no outlet for a thrilling excursion. Sexual encounters and superstitious fantasies were idle elements of the imagination. However, the use of the female Gothic and The Supernatural Explained, are a "good example of how the formula [Gothic novel] changes to suit the interests and needs of its current readers".

In many respects, the novel's "current reader" of the time was the woman who, even as she enjoyed such novels, would feel that she had to "[lay] down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame,"[110] according to Jane Austen, author of Northanger Abbey. The Gothic novel shaped its form for female readers to "turn to Gothic romances to find support for their own mixed feelings".[111]

Following the characteristic Gothic Bildungsroman-like plot sequence, the female Gothic allowed its readers to graduate from "adolescence to maturity,"[112] in the face of the realized impossibilities of the supernatural. As female protagonists in novels like Adeline in The Romance of the Forest learn that their superstitious fantasies and terrors are replaced with natural cause and reasonable doubt, the reader may understand the true position of the heroine in the novel:

"The heroine possesses the romantic temperament that perceives strangeness where others see none. Her sensibility, therefore, prevents her from knowing that her true plight is her condition, the disability of being female."[112]