What is the meaning of the term "Gothic novel?" What are some characteristics of Gothic novels?

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Michael Ugulini eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The meaning of the term “Gothic Novel” in literature is writing that was inspired by the Enlightenment Period. Fundamentally, Gothic Novels deal with intrigue and are suspenseful and also have elements of horror and terror in them. If one word could only be used to describe Gothic Novels it would have to be that they are “dark” in terms of tone and mood.

Frankenstein is considered a Gothic Story. In contemporary writing, some of Stephen King’s work is considered of Gothic character. The type of setting in a Gothic Novel is one of its primary elements or characteristics. The setting is often an unsettling or dark, threatening place. In addition, the antagonist(s) in this type of novel are also of the threatening, evil, depraved sort.

As a result, this combination of debauched antagonists (adversaries) and frightening settings, such as a stark, windswept rural farmhouse or a foreboding castle-type place contribute to the gloom and doom and heightened suspense of a Gothic Novel. Some Gothic Novels have supernatural elements to them – either openly and unabashedly stated, or subtly stated.

Furthermore, dreams that haunt a character, or impel them to take some kind of dramatic action, are also a characteristic of Gothic Novels. As is experienced through horror movies, Gothic Novels also have the major element of surprise to them. This becomes a part of the plot twists and turns of a Gothic Novel, just as they are a part of horror films, especially today.

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