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.
In film, this influence is most profoundly seen in the uprising of vampiric movies in the 1990s and early 2000s, 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.
“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.
So what is the root of roots of The Gothic? Other than a preoccupation with medieval architecture and settings, here are two good summary 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:
- a castle, ruined or intact, haunted or not,
- ruined buildings which are sinister or which arouse a pleasing melancholy,
- dungeons, underground passages, crypts, and catacombs which, in modern houses, become spooky basements or attics,
- labyrinths, dark corridors, and winding stairs,
- shadows, a beam of moonlight in the blackness, a flickering candle, or the only source of light failing (a candle blown out or an electric failure),
- extreme landscapes, like rugged mountains, thick forests, or icy wastes, and extreme weather,
- omens and ancestral curses,
- magic, supernatural manifestations, or the suggestion of the supernatural,
- a passion-driven, wilful villain-hero or villain,
- a curious heroine with a tendency to faint and a need to be rescued–frequently,
- a hero whose true identity is revealed by the end of the novel,
- horrifying (or terrifying) events or the threat of such happenings.”