Gothic novel


Gothic novel
n
any of a class of English novels dealing with frightening or magic subjects. Most Gothic novels are set in ruined castles or large old houses with ghosts, and were written in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The style was made popular by Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764), and influenced writers such as Mary Shelley and Edgar Allan Poe, as well as 20th–century horror stories and horror films.

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European Romantic, pseudo-medieval fiction with a prevailing atmosphere of mystery and terror.

Such novels were often set in castles or monasteries equipped with subterranean passages, dark battlements, and hidden panels, and they had plots involving ghosts, madness, outrage, superstition, and revenge. Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto (1765) initiated the vogue, which peaked in the 1790s. Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and The Italian (1797) are among the finest examples. Matthew Gregory Lewis's The Monk (1796) introduced more horrific elements into the English gothic. Gothic traits appear in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) and Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897) and in the works of many major writers, and they persist today in thousands of paperback romances.

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      European Romantic, pseudomedieval fiction having a prevailing atmosphere of mystery and terror. Its heyday was the 1790s, but it underwent frequent revivals in subsequent centuries.

      Called Gothic because its imaginative impulse was drawn from medieval buildings and ruins, such novels commonly used such settings as castles or monasteries equipped with subterranean passages, dark battlements, hidden panels, and trapdoors. The vogue was initiated in England by Horace Walpole (Walpole, Horace, 4th earl of Orford)'s immensely successful Castle of Otranto (1765). His most respectable follower was Ann Radcliffe (Radcliffe, Ann), whose Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and Italian (1797) are among the best examples of the genre. A more sensational type of Gothic romance exploiting horror and violence flourished in Germany and was introduced to England by Matthew Gregory Lewis (Lewis, Matthew Gregory) with The Monk (1796). Other landmarks of Gothic fiction are William Beckford's Oriental romance Vathek (1786) and Charles Robert Maturin's story of an Irish Faust, Melmoth the Wanderer (1820). The classic horror stories Frankenstein (1818), by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, and Dracula (1897), by Bram Stoker, are in the Gothic tradition but introduce the existential nature of humankind as its definitive mystery and terror.

      Easy targets for satire, the early Gothic romances died of their own extravagances of plot, but Gothic atmospheric machinery continued to haunt the fiction of such major writers as the Brontë sisters, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and even Dickens in Bleak House and Great Expectations. In the second half of the 20th century, the term was applied to paperback romances having the same kind of themes and trappings similar to the originals.

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Universalium. 2010.

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