Creatures of the night have always held a fascination and horror for people in all cultures. The English fascination with sensational and gothic literature came to a peak, after slacking slightly following the Romantic period, in the late Victorian period with such works as Dracula, The Strange Adventures of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and The Picture of Dorian Gray. The literate populace avidly devoured this type of literature. While most publishers merely churned out serial horror stories en masse, such as Varney the Vampyre, many serious writers used this genre as a means to force their audience to think about their beliefs. Serious Victorian Gothic literature plays on the fears and emotions of the era, an era that was especially fearful since their beliefs had been ripped out from under them, largely by contrasting modern science with medieval superstition and belief.
The Victorian era was similar to our own in that it was a time when people weren't really sure what was true or what they believed. As this prayer, believed to have come from the Victorians shows, " 'O God - if there is a God - save my soul - if I have a soul' " (Houghton 22). New theories about the age of the earth had demonstrated that something was out of kilter with the bible, since the earth seemed to be older than the biblical account would show. Darwin had gone one step further and shown that man hadn't been created but evolved through natural selection. A generation was growing up in a culture that had had the rug of its beliefs pulled out from under its feet. The main difference between the Victorian sense of doubt and our post-modern doubt is, "faith in the existence of u...
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...completely destroyed by his dabbling in alchemic science.
Much of Victorian Gothic literature plays to the Victorian doubt in what they believe, especially as concerns science and what is largely assumed to be medieval superstition. By playing on these fears, authors are able to create stories that are horrifying on several levels. First of all, the action that goes on in the book is enough to make the readers skin crawl. However, the authors go farther and use their audiences natural fears and doubts to create a story that is sensational on all levels.
Davenport-Hines, Richard. Gothic: Four Hundred years of Excess, Horror, Evil and Ruin. North Point Press: New York, 1998.
Houghton, Walter E. The Victorian Frame of Mind. Yale University Press: New Haven, Conn, 1957.
Stoker, Bram. Dracula. Penguin Group: New York, 1992.
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