The gothic style originated in Europe during the 12th to the 18th century. It applied to medieval styles of art and architecture, particularly buildings such as cathedrals and other churches. Gothic literature began in England with the novel the ‘Castle of Oranto’ by Horace Walpole. From this novel, gothic fiction developed and flourished, becoming a significant literary genre that inspired famous works such as Frankenstein, Dracula and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Gothic texts share the central theme of horror, and incorporate elements of romanticism to create a dark, mysterious atmosphere and evoke feelings of fear within the reader. Gothic literature is, in essence, a genre which aims to create vivid moods and appeal to human emotions. It uses sensory language to create an atmosphere of foreboding and horror in order to create a feeling of terror. An important aspect of gothic texts is the heightened passion and sensibilities combined with an element of melodrama, a characteristic of the genre which renders it susceptible to parody and satire.
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The setting and characters are pivotal features in gothic literature and are used to reinforce the gothic theme whilst building suspense and intriguing the reader. The setting of gothic literature is a stereotype perpetuated within all texts of the genre. A typical gothic tale will be set in a place with a dark, sinister mood and a menacing feel. An old castle especially ruined or haunted, with secret passageways, labyrinths, crypts and dungeons, is a major convention of the gothic genre. The building is usually decrepit, and can have winding staircases, dark corridors and spooky attics.
To increase the eerie feel of the setting, the light in the castle or ruins is often dim and flickering, with creepy shadows on the wall, or sources of light suddenly extinguishing. The setting of a gothic novel is a key aspect in creating the atmosphere of the text and arousing fear, two of the most important features of the genre. Weather is also significant in literature. It enhances the mood through use of violent storms, with thunder, lightening and torrential rain becoming a physical representation of the terror inflicting the characters in the novel.
Mist and fog can generate a forbidding ambience and increase the tension. The gothic genre is abundant with stereotypical characters, including the human, the supernatural and the monstrous. The human characters are usually a heroic male and a ‘damsel in distress’ a maiden in frequent need of rescuing by the male protagonist. Fatal character flaws are emphasized and can lead to the hero’s downfall. The characters are often isolated and trapped, either physically or psychologically. There can also be a villain, who persecutes the lead characters and can intimidate the weak female through his power.
Supernatural characters are prominent in gothic literature, and can include ghosts, vampires and magicians. Monsters such as werewolves and Frankenstein also feature in these novels. The choice of characters is essential to gothic texts as they develop the mystery, and create fear through the use of dangerous, inhuman creatures. These novels explore the ugly and repulsive to increase the reader’s sense of dread and to make use of the fear of the abnormal. Gothic fiction also utilizes the concept of the ‘doppelganger’, or evil twin to represent the evils of society, such as in Dr.
Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Along with the archetypal characters and sinister settings of the genre, it is further characterized by distinctively gothic situations and themes. More than likely, a gothic novel will entail death and decay, in graphic detail, the entrapment and isolation of the protagonist, a character afflicted by madness in an attic, supernatural events, such as ghost sightings and skeletons, omens or visions, and a terrifying series of events that demonstrate the characteristics of the macabre.
The elements that embody gothic literature are demonstrated in the poem by Edgar Allen Poe. It involves literary techniques such as rhyme and rhythm, sensory language and repetition. The meter of the poem is mainly trochaic octometer, meaning each second syllable is stressed. The rhyme structure is ABCBBB and includes heavy, repetitive rhyming and assonance such as “open here I flung the shutter, when with many a flirt and flutter”. Each stanza runs at a fast rate, and this combined with the frequent rhyming creates a building tension within the poem and increases the atmosphere of dread.
The poem climaxes with the final stanza- “shall be lifted- nevermore! ”, the last word exclaimed to conclude the poem. The language of the Raven is archaic and sensory, evoking a melancholy mood. Poe uses antiquated expressions, such as ’thy god hath lent thee’ causing the poem to have a medieval feel, once again conforming to the gothic conventions. His language appeals to the senses, particularly using imagery and visual words such as ‘ebony bird’ and ‘black plume’ to create an image in the readers mind.
He uses emotive language to cause an emotional response in the reader, for example ‘leave my lonliness unbroken’. The poem uses repetition throughout, most significantly the single word of judgment originating from the raven- ‘nevermore’. This word adds to the sinister character of the raven, giving it an evil and foreboding persona. It also heightens the emotions of the narrator, as each question is met with ‘nevermore’, his anguish increases. The repetition emphasizes the distress of the narrator.
Poe generates a feeling of dread and menace in this poem, along with an element of the grotesque. These are key factors in how this poem fits into the gothic genre. Gothic literature is a genre that shows the attitudes of the time, with the popularity of romanticism and Walpoles novel. the forms and ideas contained within the gothic convention are specifically suited to the society of its time, who discovered the pleasure of the thrill of horror, and found this genre to be new and exciting.
The gothic revival of architecture was popular at the time, and it made sense for literature to follow suit. Along with this, it has been stated that the gothic movement was a direct reaction to the terror of the French revolution. In conclusion, the gothic genre is one that Follows a distinctive style of characters, settings, situations and language. It has been highly influential on today’s culture and gothic literature is unique for its ability to use suspense and tension to induce a feeling of terror in the reader.