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Gothic Horror
aka: Gothic Fiction

Gothic Horror is one of the oldest of the horror genres. Darker, edgier and on the Romanticism end of Romanticism Versus Enlightenment, it tends to play on both the thrill and the fear of the unknown, and places a great importance on atmosphere. It's usually heavily symbolic, sometimes even dreamlike. In addition to being important to the horror genre, the first scifi, fantasy, romance, mystery, and adventure authors drew inspiration from Gothic horror, so it's sometimes considered the parent of all modern genre fiction.

Gothic fiction is usually used as a synonym or is the name given to Gothic horror stories that are saturated with the above mentioned scifi, fantasy, romance, mystery, or adventure elements.

The name "Gothic" comes from a kind of architecture from The Middle Ages (christened as such by those who considered it barbaric in comparison to classical architecture, the name coming from the barbarian tribe of the Goths). There were a lot of Gothic ruins lying around Britain, and people in the 18th and 19th centuries developed an interest in them because (a) ruins are always kind of mysterious and melancholy and creepy and (b) they evoked the time period they were built in, which was thought of as a barbaric time where people believed in (and did) all kinds of weird stuff. For this reason, most early Gothic horror novels were set in that era. They were usually also set in Catholic countries, because the Brits who wrote them considered Catholicism sinister (yet also kinda cool).

The renewed interest in Gothic stuff also led to the Gothic Revival movement in architecture, but for the purposes of this article we're not so interested in that.

Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, written in 1764, is considered the first Gothic horror novel. Walpole was a big fan of William Shakespeare and proudly declared that he borrowed most of the tropes from his idol's plays, particularly Hamlet, Macbeth, and Romeo and Juliet. Ann Radcliffe helped popularize the genre, and authors such as Matthew Lewis, Ludwig Flammenberg, Eliza Parsons, Eleanor Sleath, and Francis Lathom finished out the eighteenth century Gothic horror writers. The beginning of the nineteenth century saw Gothic horror being parodied by authors like Jane Austen, but there were still straight examples provided by authors such as Lord Byron and Mary Shelley. By the time the Victorian era rolled around Gothic horror was beginning to run out of steam, but there were still quite a few people writing it — in fact, most of the Gothic horror authors and works you've heard of probably come from this era, such as Edgar Allan Poe and the Brontė sisters. There were a few more notable Gothic authors in the early 20th century, but by the 1950s or so the genre had given way to modern Horror.

Universal and Hammer Films are responsible for successfully adapting this genre onto the big screen. For a modern take on the genre see Gaslamp Fantasy and Supernatural Fiction.

For a list of tropes used in the Gothic horror genre see Index of Gothic Horror Tropes.

Authors who wrote partially or entirely in the Gothic fiction genre include:

Eighteenth Century

  • Horace Walpole (1717-1797). His novel The Castle of Otranto (1764) makes him the Trope Maker. Also gave us Haunted Castle.
  • Eliza Parsons (1739-1811). Better known for her novel The Castle Of Wolfenbach (1793).
  • William Beckford (1760-1844). Author of Vathek (1786).
  • Ann Radcliffe (1764- 1823). Author of, among others, The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and The Italian (1797). Notably replaced real supernatural events with the Scooby-Doo Hoax.
  • Regina Maria Roche (1764-1845). Her novel The Children Of The Abbey (1796) was a best-seller of its time. But she is best remembered for the moodier Clermont (1798).
  • Carl Friedrich Kahlert (1765-1813), alias Ludwig Flammenberg. He is better known for the novel The Necromancer (1794), also known as The Tale of the Black Forest. The work was written in German and translated into English. The translator Peter Teuthold considerably revised the text and even added a chapter of his own. The Teuthold version is still the best known form of the work.
  • Carl Grosse (1768-1847) alias Marquis de Grosse. Better known for Horrid Mysteries (1796), the English translation of his novel Der Genius (The Guiding Spirit, 1791-1795).
  • Eleanor Sleath (1770-1847). Married name of Eleanor Carter. Better known for her novel ''The Orphan of the Rhine'' (1798).
  • Charles Brockden Brown (1771-1810): The first important American Gothic writer, best known for Wieland (1798).
  • Francis Lathom (1774-1832). His better known work in the genre was The Midnight Bell (1798). He is also known for The Mysterious Freebooter (1806), an early work of Historical Fiction Literature.
  • Matthew Gregory Lewis (1775-1818). His novel The Monk (1796) gave us the Sinister Minister.

Pre-Victorian Nineteenth Century

  • Jane Austen (1775-1817) — wrote Northanger Abbey (1817), the most famous Parody of the genre. The novel was written between 1798 and 1803, but remained unpublished for several years.
  • E. T. A. Hoffmann (1776-1822). The most important German author of Gothic fiction. His novel The Devils Elixirs (1815) is a classic of the genre. His best known work, however, is the short story The Nutcracker (1816).
  • Charles Robert Maturin (1782-1824). Author of Melmoth the Wanderer (1820), a notable use of the Nested Story style to tell a complex tale.
  • Washington Irving (1783-1859): Author of numerous classic tales of terror. Some, like "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" (1820), have rational explanations a la Radcliffe. Others, like "The Devil And Tom Walker" (1824), are purely supernatural.
  • Eaton Stannard Barrett (1786-1820). Wrote The Heroine (1813), a notable parody of the genre. Particularly of the Changeling Fantasy plots which had been used by several gothic novels. In these novels, characters of seemingly modest backgrounds often found themselves secret progeny of noble and/or affluent families. Barrett's "heroine", Cherry Wilkinson, is a farmer's daughter and an avid reader of gothic novels. She convinces herself that she is heiress Cherubina de Willoughby and embarks on a series of quixotic misadventures.
  • Lord Byron (1788-1824). His Byronic Hero was a major contribution to Gothic fiction. The type was introduced in the narrative poem Childe Harolds Pilgrimage (1812-1818). His poem The Giaour (1813) is one of the earliest depictions of vampires in fiction. The satiric poem Don Juan (1818-1824) is not part of the genre.
  • John William Polidori (1795-1821). He wrote the first vampire novel, The Vampyre (1819).
  • Mary Shelley (1797-1851). Her novel Frankenstein (1818) gave us Frankenstein's Monster. She is also considered the first Science Fiction writer.

Victorian

Post Victorian

Authors influenced by Gothic Fiction:


Lovecraftian TropesHorror TropesIndex of Gothic Horror Tropes
RavenloftImageSource/Tabletop GamesExalted
Good Old WaysRomanticism Versus EnlightenmentHonor Before Reason
Romanticism Versus EnlightenmentRegency EnglandGorgeous Period Dress

alternative title(s): Gothic Fiction; Gothic Novel; Gothic Literature
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