The gotic novel



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Why gothic? The term “gothic” applied to this type of novel meant both medieval with its relative store of ruins, abbeys… and “supernatural” that is mysterious and frightening.
The gothic novel was the prose counterpart of Early Romanticism, it was a more or less conscious revolt against the realism of such writers as Richardson and Fielding. Its aim was to thrill the reader rather than amuse on educated him.
WHEN: Its plots are set in an imaginary past (usually the Middle Age);
WHERE: in foreign unknown countries (usually Italy and Spain) haunted castles, dark corridors, ruins, abbeys are usual sets of gothic novels too;
WHAT: its plots deal with horrible murders, extraordinary situations and supernatural events (a typical plot is that of a wicked villain in pursue of a good and innocent girl, the heroine in fearful surroundings).
WHO: the characters are mostly flat and divided into good and bad. They can be summed up in three stock characters: the villain, the girl, the hero: The classic villains of gothic literature tend to be monks, nuns or religious characters, who have deserted God for the Devil and have become satanic.
The origins of this type of “literature” date back to ELIZABETHIAN DRAMA, in fact we can trace the same basic characters: the villain (symbolising wickedness), the girl (purity); the hero (courage and honour):
The beginning however of the gothic novel is usually traced to 1764, the year of the publication of Walpole’s Castle of Otranto. This novel started a mode and so called “school of terror”. One of the outstanding writers of this school was Mrs A. Rodcluff who wrote “the mystery of Udalpo”(1794).
Though generally considered second-rate escape literature, the Gothic Novel played an important role in the development of fiction since it paved the may for later literary genres, such as historical, detective and even science-fiction novels.

- HORACE WALPOLE: “The castle of Otranto” 1764-change of gothic meaning: more stressed
- EDMUND BURKE: “an enquiry into…the sublime and beautiful” 1756-sublime plus horror
- ANN RADCLIFE: “the Italian” 1797- evil Italian protagonist and vaguely Italian setting
- (CHARLES BROOKDEN BROWN: fears of the world beyond the limits of the knowledge (frontier): remember the Victorian age with British colonial expansion)-l’ha inventato la Fede(Fied)
- JANE AUSTIN: “northanger abbey”- loved by Young women
- MARY SHELLEY: “Frankenstein” the scientist and the monster with the same name: two aspects of the same being as in “Dr Jekyill and Mr Hide” by Stevenson

- Derives from sturm and drang
- He’s involved in a structure with himself and the society (alienated);
- Becomes a fatal man to fight and to die for love: victim of fatal woman (woman’s love equals deathly) which derives from male psychological fears of women;
- Double personality: subconscious plus appearance: belief in the power of subconscious on human behaviour (see Mary Shelley). This man is a divided soul, victim of his non-rational self and oppressed by hostile forces of the universe.

The popularity of the gothic novel was destined to continue with time: it found imitators in various countries and periods, and it took up various trends.
GERMANY: in Germany the gothic trend was congenial to the eclectic and original personality of
The most important narrative writer of the Romantic period ERNST THEODOR AMADEUS HOFFMAN.
Writer, musician, painter, he was a man of profound and wide culture, fond of the esoteric and the occult, who tried to explain the regions of the unconscious.
Hoffman exploited the visionary and horrific aspects of the Gothic novel, to which he added the motive of the “double” which was very popular in the German Romantic Movement.
THE USA: Another writer who, under the influence of the gothic trend exploited the fantastic, the mystery, the atmosphere of hallucination is the American Edgar Allan Poe, one of the most intriguing personality of the literary world. Poe was indebted to Hoffman for the interest in the supernatural, and in his turn he influenced European writers. What is significant in Poe is his capacity to intensity terror through a subtle and powerful narrative technique, and the combination of symbolism and supernatural events related with great wealth and precision of details.
SPAIN: A gothic flavour, and namely the influence of both Poe and Hoffman can be traced in the “Leyendas”, short stories written by the Spanish Gustavo Adolfo Becquer. They are pervaded by an atmosphere of haunting mystery after tinged with terror.
ITALY: In Italy we find the influence of romantic feeling tinged with the interest in the mysterious and the occult in Antonio Fogazzaro.
Alongside the Gothic, or rather from it, the trend of the vampire developed in the 19th century. The most famous vampire is Dracula, by the Irish Bram Stoker.
The figure of the vampire has features in common with the gothic villain: he is elegant, fascinating, but also cynical and outside the rules of society.