What is Gothic Literature?
The term "gothic" in literature refers to the middle ages, mainly because the middle ages were the period in which the Visigoths and related "barbarian" tribes conquered the Roman Empire. The Renaissance was regarded as a rebirth of ancient civilization and a return to values of harmony, symmetry, and restraint in art, as well as a return to the influence of classical models.
The term Gothic in art and literature refers both the the style of the middle ages (especially in architecture) and the late eighteenth and nineteenth century revival of those styles. In literature, in particular, Gothic novels are often set against either in a medieval background (such as the Castle of Otranto) or in areas that have ruined abbeys, medieval castles, ancient aristocratic traditions, and wild scenery that echoes the nineteenth century idea of the Gothic. Another strand of the Gothic is emphasis on folk traditions of Celtic and other non-Latinized groups, as we can see in the work of Sir Walter Scott.
Typical elements of the Gothic novel include remote and exotic settings, wild and untamed scenery, women in peril, aristocratic protagonists, and supernatural elements. The Gothic novel tends to be plot rather than character driven, with dramatic events such as kidnappings, secret identities, murder, incest, and betrayal.
Gothic literature was born from the literary movement of Romanticism in the 18th and the 19th centuries; the first gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto, was published in 1764, and was followed quickly by several others. Gothic stories and novels were written in Germany, France, England, and finally in the United States. Gothic tales represent a revolt against rationality; they cannot be enjoyed unless the reader is willing to "suspend disbelief" in the rational and accept strange and mysterious events.
Gothic literature embraces many of the common elements of Romanticism, but with a different emphasis. Gothic literature is dark, focusing on death, decay, and the supernatural. Terror, horror, and passion are staples of the genre. Settings run to the medieval, with the emphasis on ancient times and mysterious, foreboding locations. Castles are popular gothic settings. In gothic stories and novels, plot takes center stage; character development is not inherent in the form. Most characters are stock characters, playing set roles to advance the compelling story.