The Gothic Genre and What it Entails

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"The invaluable works of our elder writers re driven into neglect by

frantic novels, sickly and stupid German Tragedies, and deluges of

idle and extravagant stories in verse. The human mind is capable of

being excited without the application of gross and violent


William Wordsworth, Preface to The Lyrical Ballads, 1802.

"..Phantasmagoric kind of fiction, whatever one may think of it, is

not without merit: 'twas the inevitable result of revolutionary shocks

throughout Europe thus to compose works of interest, one had to call

on the aid of Hell itself, and to find things familiar in the world of

make believe.."

Marquis (Donatien Alphonse) de Sade, "Reflections on the Novel.",


Gothic literature has been an area of critical contention since Horace

Walpole's seminal Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto, was published

in 1764.

Although vilified by much of the contemporary press the Gothic had its

champions, many of whom were also its practitioners including Walpole,

the subsequent generation's Anne Radcliffe and the Marquis de Sade who

had his own brand of highly sexualized Gothic.

Despite these voices, Gothic was still a marginalised genre in its

incipient days, at least in the bulk of critical writing (this is the

view of most contemporary historical overviews e.g.: Sage, Botting,

Kilgour). Many critics writing at the time of the Romantic Gothic

(i.e: Gothic written during the arbitrary period of Romanticism)

considered such novels to be sensationalist, trashy and "completely

expurgated of any of the higher qualities of mind" (Peacock quoted in

Sage, 11).

I think this is an unfair judgemen...

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[1] Most quality Gothic books are likewise referential or

intertextual. Frankenstein draws on a rich lineage of Romantic

favourites from Milton to Goethe through Godwin up to Percy Shelley.

It is from these books the monster learns his culture thus his

humanity. Melmoth has frequent allusions to contemporary romance e.g.:

"Romances have made one familiar with tales of subterranean passages

and supernatural horrors." (Maturin, 191).

[2] The same thing occurs in Pier Paolo Pasolini's film version of 120

Days via the use of altered lighting, camera angles and wall paintings

to the subtle distortion of the physical surroundings.

[3] The Midnight Bell by Francis Lathom. David Punter, in The

Literature of Terror, refers to it as one of a "morass" that "flooded

the market" (114).
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