Gothic Elements in Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens

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The Gothic was born out of the romanticism genre in the late Eighteenth Century, combining romance and horror in an attempt to thrill and terrify the reader, yet in the Victorian era ceased to become a dominant literary genre. However themes of the Gothic still survived such as psychological and physical terror, mystery, supernatural and madness. The melancholy atmosphere and persistent melodrama in novels such as ‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens are examples of Gothic elements in later novels as the ‘Victorian gothic’ moves away from traditional themes (ruined castles, helpless heroines, evil villains) and exchanges them for the supernatural and uncanny within a recognisable environment, bringing a sense of familiarity to the reader and thus making the text more disturbing. However is this sense of disconcerting familiarity the only reason gothic novels are so widely read or are there other reasons?
Gothic Literature has several distinctive features. For one ‘it often focuses on the dark, evil side of human nature, it asserts that everyone has a dark side and in these stories we find the characters giving in to that darkness and doing dreadful and horrific things’ . Firstly, and rather morbidly, we are told by the narrator of the ‘The Black Cat’ by Edgar Allan Poe, that he is going to die the next day, so we are immediately established that this tale is a death-bed confession, which adds to convincing the reader of the tale’s truth – why would a man set to die lie, is the obvious conclusion of a reader. According to himself – a rather biased source- the narrator grew up a kind, loving man, he had a ‘docility and humanity’ and was kind to all people, and animals. However the story takes a gothic twist and due to alcoholism...

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...the time of their publication. However people could not resist the lure of an ‘escape’ offered by the gothic novels and short fictions, the exploration of the horrifying consequences that could be brought around by the new science of the time such as in the stories ‘The Lifted Veil’ and ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, which then could lead on to novels such as ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ and ‘The Black Cat’ both of which feature a character descending into madness, a ‘illness’ much feared at the time. Novels like ‘The Black Cat’ and ‘The Lifted Veil’ also offer the idea of the ‘supernatural’, something that fascinated the Victorians as well as instilled fear in them. Overall, in my opinion, the elements of gothic in fiction sensationalised the stories being told and created an allure that was irresistible both to the Victorians and the modern reader today.
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