Gothic Fiction

Origins of Gothic

The origins of the Gothic period can only be understood when seen in context with the cultural and social circumstances of the period.

In the period between 1665 - 1714, Britain was in a state of remise; It was in restauration after several civil wars and just recuperating after periods of rigid religious struggles. In this period, several of the British kings wanted to create a great empire, and the ideas and accomplishments of Emperor Augustus were set as the goal. Hence the period's name; The Augustan age. At the same time, a strong expansion was taking place, and the first British colonies were becoming important.

In this period, the art production of the artists coinceded with the visions of the kings, and society was mirrored in the art: Emotions were seen as a weakness and a waste of time, and was considered to be getting in the way of pleasure and ambition. The artistic style was based on order, beauty and elegance.

In the 1740s, Robert Blair(1699-1746) wrote a poem titled The Grave, which embraced and celebrated solitude. It is believed that this poem named the Graveyard School of writing, which is often seen as the birth of what we today know as the Gothic period in literature. A good example of a poem in this genre is Edward Youngs (1683-1765) poem, called "The Complaint: or Night Thoughts on Life, Death, and Immortality".

There were several poems which arrived long before the beginning of the Graveyard School, which also fall within the genre of Gothic fiction. Most notably a poem published in 1721called "A Night Piece on Death" written by Thomas Parnell (1679-1718).

It is believed that these first poems of the Gothic era are what sparked the curiosity into the human mind, on which - among other things - the psychoanalytical works of Sigmund Freud are built on.

Characteristics of Gothic fiction

Typical pieces of gothic fiction have one or more of the following:

  • A struggle for knowledge
  • A vision of knowledge
  • A complaint (bewailing a situation or the loss of a person)
  • An exploration of emotions, fear in particular.
  • An exploration of life choices / Trying to make sense of life
  • An exploration of chance, faith and decision-making.
  • An exploration of "the other" by setting the pieces in a distinct imaginary world from the beginning of the work, either by setting the piece in foreign countries, describing strange phenomenons etc,
  • A certain sense of hesitation towards crossing boundraries between "real" and "fiction"; Between "lifelike" and "fantastic".
  • A villain experiencing inner turmoil and emotional problems, along with a hero with superior emotions.
  • An exploration of the extreme through exaggerations etc

Gothic stories are usually set in a foreignsetting, either behind barriers of time or of distance; A foreign country. The Gothic facination with death is often seen as a way to explore, to break barriers into another world, or another state of consciousness, which only can be found through solitude and contemplation.

Gothic works were often - especially in the beginning of the gothic period - published with a preface. This preface would include an apology for the work: An apology for the the excess of drama and language in the poem, for the contradiction of then-standard social standards, and for the fantastic-ness of the literary works. It is believed that this also is the reason for why so many gothic pieces were set in foreign countries or in the past: So they would be excused for writing what they did.

Whereas the Augustian style would be based around clarity, order, compression, generality, smoothness of texture, refinement, restraintand ease, the Gothic poets and writers would do the exact opposite; Gothic fiction is obscure, expansionist, precise, ornate, vulgar, libertarian and filled with a sense of unease; Many - if not all - gothic pieces are about a sense of discomfort, a sense of dread.

Some important gothic writers

The authors in bold are especially important to the period. I know I am missing some of the big ones - a big no-no. However, please do /msg me with suggestions for authors!

Important concepts

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