Introduction (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
The gothic novel is a living tradition, a form that enjoys great popular appeal while provoking harsh critical judgments. It began with Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1765), then traveled through Ann Radcliffe, Matthew Gregory Lewis, Charles Robert Maturin, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley,Edgar Allan Poe,Charlotte Brontë and Emily Brontë, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Brockden Brown, Bram Stoker, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Henry James, and many others into the twentieth century, where it surfaced, much altered and yet spiritually continuous, in the work of writers such as William Faulkner, D. H. Lawrence, Iris Murdoch, John Gardner (1933-1982), Joyce Carol Oates, and Doris Lessing and in the popular genres of horror fiction and some women’s romances.
The externals of the gothic, especially early in its history, are characterized by sublime but terrifying mountain scenery; bandits and outlaws; ruined, ancient seats of power; morbid death imagery; and virgins and charismatic villains, as well as hyperbolic physical states of agitation and lurid images of physical degradation. Its spirit is characterized by a tone of high agitation and unresolved or almost-impossible-to-resolve anxiety, fear, unnatural elation, and desperation.
The first gothic novel is identifiable with a precision unusual in genre study. Walpole (1717-1797), the earl of Orford, began writing The Castle of Otranto in June, 1764,; he finished it in...
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