On the last day of sixth grade my best friend Beth brought in black fingernail polish. We had spent the better part of the school year in Mrs. Harmon’s homeroom huddled in the room’s corners talking about music and dreaming about rebellion. She turned me on to Good Charlotte and for the first time, I had my own music to listen to outside of my parents. That day, though, we did what both of our mom’s dreaded: we painted our nails black.
I thought I was entering a world of goth then. What I really began to appreciate, however, was my mother’s passion for Edgar Allen Poe. Good Charlotte had a song I fell in love with, probably the only song I would still listen to passionately, called My Bloody Valentine, which used themes from Poe’s A Tell-Tale Heart. This may truly be the catalyst for all of my interest in Romanticism, and The Gothic.
However, this first “goth” world I thought I was entering, was completely separate from The Gothic in art, literature, architecture, etc. This contemporary use of the word refers to a subculture which is generally defined by wearing black and listening to a certain kind of music. Goth, now, is a pop culture founded on a movement in music, generally thought to spring from Bauhau’s Bela Lugosi’s Dead (source: A Study of Gothic Subculture).
In film, this influence is most profoundly seen in the uprising of vampiric movies in the 1990s and early 2000s, for me, especially in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Interview With A Vampire (1994), and Underworld (2003).
While all of this is absolutely pertinent to our current Romantic culture, it is not the Gothic I’d like to dive into today. No, it is not a washed-out, dried-up, nor sell-out version of Gothicism, it is a new creature unto itself with roots in the original.
The next biggest way our contemporary society defines the word Gothic is in architecture. Which, hilariously, was a derogatory misnomer that stuck.
“By the eighteenth century in England, Gothic had become synonymous with the Middle Ages, a period which was in disfavor because it was perceived as chaotic, unenlightened, and superstitious. Renaissance critics erroneously believed that Gothic architecture was created by the Germanic tribes and regarded it as ugly and barbaric,” (source: CUNY: The Gothic Experience).
During the 18th and 19th centuries the English returned to this style and Gothic castles and abbeys sprung up all over the island. Horace Walpole is largely credited for this revival: he created a neo-Gothic castle for himself, Strawberry Hill, within which he had his own printing press . . . upon which he printed The Castle of Otranto.
This novel started a craze of writings. The themes he laid out would form the blueprints for much more Gothic literature to come.
I’m going to skip over all of the wishy-washy how-do-Romanticism-and-Gothicism-relate and just jump to how it was presented to me by a professor (thank you Dr. Inboden!!!) who knows far more than I do on the subject. Gothic is a subgenre of Romantic. They are concerned with similar things, they occur in similar timeframes. And, as you will see on some of the sites linked through this post, a lot of the sources cited are books on Romanticism.
So what is the root of roots of The Gothic? Other than a preoccupation with medieval architecture and settings, here are two good summaries of what you will find in a Gothic work:
“Gothic literature is marked by a preoccupation with gloom, mystery, and terror. Often, but not always, it may involve the supernatural,” (source: American Literary History: Romanticism, Realism and Naturalism).
“What makes a work Gothic is a combination of at least some of these elements: