Gothic literature has always been in the hearts of society since it was first created in the 18th century and has permeated all media, from movies, TV shows, songs and even music videos. This interest in Gothic literature continued when new Gothic writers emerged, such as Stephen King, Anne Rice and Stephenie Meyer. Since the recent media sensation of the movie, Twilight, and the TV show, True Blood, viewer’s interest in Gothic culture is at an all time high. But the real question is, what made people’s interest in Gothic literature subside until recently?
Gothic literature was first created when Horace Walpole wrote the story, The Castle of Otranto. Walpole wanted to combine medieval romance with supernatural elements in a modern novel. During that time mixing fiction with history was unheard of, but Walpole’s actions showed that he was way ahead of his time and that he had actually set a standard of a different style of writing, which is now commonly used in Gothic literature. But, during that time, readers were reluctant to read fictional novels, so in order to gain the readers interest, Walpole claimed that The Castle of Otranto was based on true events. He wrote the first preface as a way to build up the credibility of his story. Walpole presented the introduction objectively, as a third party translator. When first published, the novel was disguised as a “true story” that took place, in Italy, during medieval times, “between 1095, the era of the first crusade, and 1243, the date of the last, or not long afterwards.” Nowadays, this concept would be considered as nothing new. Even in our time horror films are presented in a way that make the viewers think that the story is real. But after the success of The Castle of Otranto, many other Gothic writers emerged: Mary Shelly, Anne Radcliffe, Bram Stoker, and Lord Byron Percy.
Traditional Gothic Literature involved high emotions and a very dark, dreary setting. A typical setting would be either in a castle, mansion, or monastery that were often remote and in very decayed condition and usually contained ghosts, vampires, graveyards and supernatural elements. The villains are mostly evil with magical powers that can have a hypnotic effect on their victims; one example is of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. However, the style of Gothic literature started evolving into something more complex, with a physiological element to it. In some stories, the characters experience terror from something that was created within themselves, as shown in the story, William Wilson. The story, written by Edgar Allan Poe, was of a man that imagined a real person was trying to take his identity. He became so obsessed to the point of wanting to kill that person, who in the end is really the character himself.
This example showed that Poe didn’t use the traditional scary villain characters, like a ghost or vampire, but rather modified traditional Gothic Fiction, which had an effect on other writers; causing them to display more of the psychological tormenting of the main character; whether it would be through supernatural powers or within themselves. Most of Poe’s stories don’t have a villain, but the narrator seems to have enemies by drawing up conclusions, or, seems to posses a compulsive disorder that causes them to focus on a small imperfection to point of becoming mad; as we have seen in the story, The Tell-Tale Heart.
But why does Gothic literature still interest people despite the predictable plot and stereotypes within a gothic story? According to an article by Matt Butcher titled, From Gothicism to Romanticism: The history of Gothic literature, he says, “Gothic literature is a genre that made readers think. Above all, it is a genre that made readers start to behold the great emotions that writers could evoke. As readers consumed texts with the supernatural and the horrific, they also tended to love that sensation that the suspense brought out…As Gothic literature intended to awaken the readers imagination, terror was one of the main devices employed for this effect. While Romanticism worked on the movement of ideas and intellect, Gothic was a link to extreme ideas and the understanding of the emotions that they developed, like thrill, fear, and terror.”
During the 20th century, mostly all classic Gothic novels were turned into films. As decades went on these same classic films kept being remade for the new generation. Soon Traditional Gothicism’s popularity had declined, but it then branched out into another label called Horror/Thriller. This in turn caused a slight increase in this “new” style that was created during the 60s and 70s. Mostly a lot of “slasher films” were made, like Psycho, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Night of the Living Dead. But what also emerged from Gothic literature were dark comedies in TV shows and films; such as, The Munsters, The Addams Family, Bewitched, and the film, Beetle Juice. It wasn’t until the mid-80s and up to now that science fiction dominated most Gothic literature. Some people worried that the Romanticism part of Gothic literature would soon fade away. That seemed to be the case until the film, Twilight, came out. The movie is based on the 2005 novel by the same name. Another story that follows the traditional Southern Gothic elements of mixing religion and sexuality is the show True blood.
Goth had also blended in with music and thus created Gothic music, also known as the gothic scene. This in turn created Glam Rock, which became popular by singer David Bowie, The Cure, and many others. Also, musicals like The Rocky Horror Picture Show displayed a fun and animated side of Gothic culture, while staying true to its horror elements.
Though a variety of ages have an interest in Gothic/ Horror stories, most people have gone so far as to embrace the Gothic way of life in their music, dress, attitude, and environment. Gothic people can immediately be recognized by their way of dress which is usually all black attire, including black hair, white powdered makeup, and black painted fingernails. Why are people living a Gothic lifestyle? Some see it as a different way of expressing themselves artistically by choosing not to embrace society’s view of sunshine and happiness. But they instead express the opposite of that and embrace the dark and gloomy side of life that most people fear (or choose to ignore) the evitable fate of mankind which is death. It wasn’t until the late 90s that Gothicism was looked down upon by both parents and the media when two students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, killed several students and a teacher at their Colorado high school in 1999. It was known as the Columbine High School massacre. It was revealed that the teens were into Gothicism. The public immediately attacked a well known Gothic artist, Marilyn Manson, claiming that his violent lyrics are what caused these teens to commit such a terrible crime. It is then that Gothicism branch out into another genre called Emo, which focuses more on the highly emotional side of Romanticism. It is very popular among teens and viewed by parents as less violent. Emo tends to focus more on the softer side of Goth, without the obvious all black attire or white makeup.
Yes, Gothicism has done more than just peak people’s interest in monsters/vampires. This genre explores mankind’s thinking, and how searching for enlightenment could lead to a dangerous path into the unknown. According to an article titled, The Emergence of Modern Day Horror from the 19th Century Gothic, states, “On the basis of supernatural powers, gothic writers uncover some elements of human mentality… In view of such cruel and complex social reality, there is no wonder that English literature has gradually turned from rationality to the unconscious, to the exploration of psychological states of characters and coexistence of good and evil in people. As a result, gothic novels appear to be the principal source for a psychoanalytic investigation, because, according to [Sigmund] Freud's psychoanalysis, the evil and horror are usually inspired by people, by their powerful emotions and illusions, but not only by miraculous phenomena. In their psychoanalytic theories, psychologists [Jacques] Lacan and [Julia] Kristeva regard fear of uncertainty as the most powerful human emotion; thus it is clear why horror genre continues to attract attention of modern audience. Early gothic novels are characterized by the portrayal of dark sides of both the world and personality that usually result in characters' madness. Modern day horror creates a more profound analysis of the suppression of sexual desires and interprets gothic elements with irony or parody.”
The issue of Gothicism is relevant to modern times, in that, the close relation between fitting in with society or choosing to stand out as different. Though Gothic literature has over the centuries diversified into other genres, it still is popular and will remain that way because of its complex meaning that can easily be diversified, based on each person’s interpretation.
Written by: Bridget Campos