Defining The Gothic Novel.
Hello everyone and welcome back to Theory Thursday. Last week I discussed the first-person perspective, you should go and check that out if you haven’t already.
Today’s #theorythursday is all about the gothic novel. So let’s dive in.
What makes a novel a gothic novel?
The gothic novel is a genre of literature that most often presents themes of death, decay, mystery, and romance.
There are elements found in gothic novels that are almost considered signatures of the genre. These elements are things such as the setting being very gloomy. In gothic novels it is very common that the weather is terrible. Gothic novels are often set in big, intimidating, hulking places such as sprawling manors in the middle of nowhere, abbeys, castles, etc. These places are often implied to be haunted or associated with some kind of conspiracy or mystery. Gothic novels often present a plot that involves uncovering the truth or solving a long-time mystery.
Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (published in 1764) is often named the first gothic novel. The novel is set in a castle, mysterious deaths occur, the main protagonist must figure out a prophecy, and unveil the truth as within the castle there has been a lot of lies, mistrust, and mistaken identifies, so you can see from this novel, certain elements stand out – the castle, the deaths, the search for the truth – these are the elements that I have pointed out above as being considered to be gothic elements.
While gothic novels can contain elements of horror, I would argue that gothic novels and horror novels are different. In my opinion, the intent behind a gothic novel is very different to the intent behind a horror novel.
A prominent idea that can be found in gothic novels is this idea of playing with the reader’s perception of safety. One might assume that one’s home is a safe place. Many narratives present the idea that home is where the character will find sanctuary, and all will be well once the character returns home, however in gothic novels, this idea is often inverted and home becomes a dangerous place. Home becomes somewhere to escape from. Home becomes the place where mystery, and danger, and death lurks.
If I were to give my opinion on the difference between horror and a gothic novel, I would say that the difference becomes clear when you read something like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or The Castle of Otranto and then compare it to a novel written by Stephen King.
The difference I believe becomes clear when you think about what sort of feelings these different texts evoke. Something like The Castle of Otranto in my opinion, will evoke feelings of dread, some passages may make the reader tense, or curious. The novel may make you very intrigued. You want to solve the mystery, you want to find the truth whereas I believe that King’s novels evoke feelings of fear. They are often scary, and disturbing, and the stuff of nightmares, and for many people that is what makes them appealing. There is a thrill that comes from being scared which is why people go to see horror movies, but being scared and feeling tense are two very different feelings, and the intent to intrigue someone, or unsettle someone, or make someone curious, is very different to the intent to scare someone – so I think this is one of the key differences between a gothic novel and a horror novel.
I think that the gothic novel is one of the more complicated areas of literature to explain because the gothic does overlap so much with horror, and elements of horror can be found in gothic novels however they are not one and the same.
There will usually be elements of horror found in a gothic text, however there are some horrors that are in no way gothic. They are simply horror, and I will speak about some of these texts later on in the month of October.
This week’s #moviemonday was about a gothic horror, however I have a movie lined up for later on in the month as we get closer to Halloween that is not gothic at all in my opinion. So while this may be a slightly more confusing topic, I think that with practice, and with more reading, and more movie watching, it does become easier to identify what is a gothic text and what isn’t.
Why is it important to understand what a gothic novel is?
I felt it was important to explain what a gothic novel is because this month’s #bookofthemonth is a gothic novel, and I mentioned on Monday that I think Ichabod Crane is a very gothic character, and without context, that’s just a descriptive word. If I didn’t explain, I’d just be calling things gothic and readers may not have any idea what that means or some people may hear the word gothic and automatically assume horror, and as I said, while they are similar, they are not the exact same thing.
I think that the gothic novel is a very interesting genre of literature. I feel that people who maybe don’t enjoy horror because maybe they’re squeamish or maybe they don’t enjoy being afraid, may enjoy a gothic because a gothic doesn’t necessarily scare you. It can, but it can also intrigue you. A gothic novel may appeal to people who enjoy mysteries, who enjoy eerie stories rather than bloody ones. I would argue that a gothic novel can present more layered and nuanced themes than a horror can, however that is just my opinion. People may disagree with that, and that is fine.
I think it could be said that a gothic novel may have more impact because it may prompt questions and thoughts whereas a horror may simply scare you in the moment and give you an adrenaline rush etc, but you may not think about it again later.
I think it is important to be aware of the gothic novel, just like I think it is important to be aware of all genres because a broader range of knowledge about genres can widen our reading, and this can broaden and enhance our enjoyment of literature.
This has been Theory Thursday. I hope you enjoyed it. If there are any questions or comments, feel free to drop them below.
Happy Friday Eve!