literature

What is Gothic Literature?

I originally wrote this post for Goth Amino. I am planning a series of blogs based around Gothic literature so I thought it would be fun to share them on here too. Also there are not enough book blogs out there actually sharing factual stuff about books. Why is this not a bigger blog topic idea?

So What Exactly is Gothic Literature?

The novel that is considered the first ever Gothic novel was The Castle of Otranto was published in 1764. It was written as a parody of popular fiction at the time. Horace Walpole wanted to combine popular medieval love stories with modern (for the time) novels.

His idea took off and many Gothic novels followed suit by other writers, leading to the creation of a whole list of tropes that we see in Gothic literature today. And of course when the 19th century with its morbid Victorians turned up it spread like wild fire with writers like Poe, Stoker and Stevenson all getting in on the act and adding a few new tropes to the genre. It hasn’t stopped since with the modern Gothic novels still appearing on our bookshop shelves.

So here is your handy list of tropes to help you spot a piece of Gothic literature:

1. It is set around Gothic architecture

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This is where the genre originally got its name. Whether it be a mansion, castle, ruin or church, there has to some sort of over the top pretty building in the book somewhere. Bonus points if there is a hidden passageway somewhere.

2. A Leading Lady

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She is virginal, she is smart, she is always in distress, she is your Gothic novel leading lady. This girl doesn’t have to be the main character of the book, she can simply be a love interest, but she is always there. If you have two girls in the book one is normally a bit silly or foolish and ends up dead, the remainder is your leading lady. She can often be found frightened out of her wits or sobbing somewhere.

3. Our hero

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This guy doesn’t have to be the main character, but he is usually the love interest of the leading lady who is currently sobbing in the corner while slowly going mad. He is self sacrificing, successful and surprisingly normal. He is just an every day knight in shining armour who somehow got caught up in this mess.

4. Fear and Madness

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Oh no, our leading lady is now talking to the walls, she had fallen into the Gothic literature trope of madness. Now this doesn’t have to be full on madness, but at least once you have to wonder if the scary thing is actually happening or if it is all in the main character’s head. If it is really good you will never find out if it was real or not.

I am looking at you The Turn of the Screw! I am still mad about that ending. You shouldn’t have to Google a book to work out what the hell was going on after you finished it! Moving on…

5. A Mystery

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So our leading lady’s friend has vanished. It is time to address the good old Gothic literature trope of mysteries. There must always be a mystery in a Gothic novel. Whether it be as simple as “where did that dead body go?” or “who bought the creepy castle next door?” or “why are all my friends dead?” there must always be some sort of mystery that needs solving in the book.
It doesn’t just have to be a single mystery. There can be lots of them and normally Gothic novels have a constant lingering feeling of mystery and suspense.

6. The Supernatural

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Lets face it, the supernatural elements to Gothic literature is what makes it so much fun. It can be ghosts, vampires or scientifically created monsters like Frankenstein’s monster or Mr Hyde, they will always be entertaining. When it comes to Gothic literature the supernatural element doesn’t have to be the villain. It can fall into line with the Crimson Peak reasoning, simply being a story with a ghost in it, not a ghost story. Whether your ghost is chasing you around the halls or simply sitting in the corner eating a sandwich while somehow being a plot device, it fits the trope.

7. Omens, Prophecies and Trippy Dreams

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Following the vein of “weird supernatural things that happen in Gothic novels” there is always some kind of odd dream, omen or prophecy in the novel, sometimes all of the above. Normally it happens to the main character, more than likely our leading lady who now people think is mad because she is worried about a dream she had.

People in Gothic novels don’t seem to have normal dreams about turning up to a ball naked, they are always detailed, dark and usually foreshadowing. Sometimes they can even happen when a character is wide awake, adding fuel to the fire that is the insanity trope.

8. Books and all Things Paper

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Old journals, scientific notes, dairy entries, letters and large leather bound books usually appear once in every good Gothic novel. Sometimes the writer will love this trope so much that they will actually write the book in the format of letters or diary entries, looking at you Stoker.

9. The Weather

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To quote The Crow “It cant rain all the time” – unless you are in a Gothic novel because damn that weather is awful. Thunder storms, rain, arctic weather or just constant night time darkness, the weather forecast in a Gothic story is a nightmare. This is to set the scene and help with the overall atmosphere of the story.

“So for tonight’s weather we can expect a light lightning storm with some heavy showers followed by a quick trip to the North Pole to fight a monster. Wrap up warm folks”

10. And many more

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There are a lot of smaller tropes found in gothic literature, some are even country specific, but this is just a quick run down of some of the most common and the most fun. Of course not every gothic novel has every item on this list but they usually have most of them.

I hope you enjoyed this post and let me know what your favourite gothic novel is.

6 thoughts on “What is Gothic Literature?”

    1. Brilliant. I will be giving that post a read now. It is probably the genre of classics that I read the most.

  1. THIS MADE ME SO HAPPY! Okay I’m sorry about the all caps but I’m taking a British Literature course this semester and we talked about gothic literature. It is honestly such a fun genre.

    1. Guess who was busy this week and decided to throw up a goth amino post on their book blog because they didn’t have time to write a new one 😂

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