The Gothic Novel
Gothic literature, a movement that focused on ruin, decay, death, terror, and chaos, and privileged irrationality and passion over rationality and reason, grew in response to the historical, sociological, psychological, and political contexts of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Although Horace Walpole is credited with producing the first Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto, in 1764, his work was built on a foundation of several elements. Walpole’s novel was wildly popular, and his novel introduced most of the stock conventions of the genre: an intricate plot; stock characters; subterranean labyrinths; ruined castles; and supernatural occurrences. While it may be comparatively easy to date the beginning of the Gothic movement, it is much harder to identify its close, if indeed the movement did come to a close at all. In its attention to the dark side of human nature and the chaos of irrationality, the Gothic provides for contemporary readers some insight into the social and intellectual climate of the time in which the literature was produced. A time of revolution and reason, madness and sanity, the 1750s through the 1850s provided the stuff that both dreams and nightmares were made of.
The gothic expresses the darker side of life; a world of pain and destruction, fear and anxiety which shadows the daylight world of love. It strains at the limits of mortality/ immortality; morality/ immorality. Gothic fictions are structured as case histories of types of insanity. The fiction as essentially a regressive fantasy, they are accounts of cultural and psychic dislocation. In general, fiction of fear arises at times of great social and economic upheaval. Landscapes of childhood and like other romantic texts, the gothic deals with interruptions in the maturation process, they are tales of recuperation or reparation. The Gothic exposes the essential instability of the domination and submission patterns in the fantasy; creation of doubled characters. In their quest for identity as masculine or feminine, all the characters appear to be enthralled to fragmentation or disintegration.
There are some important conventional trappings such as the heroine, hero and villain, clouds, castles, mystery and inevitable travel sequence that transports the characters from everyday life to estrange lands. The heroine leaves the known (childhood) to venture into unknown (adulthood) and the orphaned ones searches for surrogate parents, only to find her parents by finding herself; her most sinister enemy is her own awakening sexuality. Orphans are social outsiders and they seek social approval and kinship. Heroine plays role of etherealized maiden, brave young detective, symbolic quester of her own and others’ identities theme of female powerlessness; motherhood was source of women’s greatest power. Men subscribe to the virgin syndrome because they have split their affectionate feelings from the passionate.
Danger in the fiction is equated with a secret room. The heroine has to learn her right to preside over the gothic castle. In 1950’s appears the second Gothic revival and the heroine now is allowed to marry the demon lover. Power is the most prevalent word in these fictions and fantasies mediate between the conscious and unconscious mind, fantasy precedes identity.