Dashing heroes and horrific monsters fill the worlds of Gothic writers. These stories and characters inspired generations of writers to come, illuminating the literary world with a haunting light yet to be seen. The morbid curiosity of humanity can only last so long, however; especially when such Gothic fiction comes too close to reality.
Gothic literature grew in popularity in the 18th century because people wanted an escape from their lives, and were able indulge their curiosity with tales of the, often horrific, supernatural, leading to further generations of inspired riters and scientists who learned to be skeptical of what seems obvious; Gothic literature fell out of popularity, however, due to a change in taste as its darkness and horror began to more closely mirror people’s lives. Gothic literature got its start in Great Britain because of its ability to engage the British people’s imagination and distract them from the dreary boredom of their everyday lives.
People wanted to escape the problems of the real world, filled with huge factories, a world obsessed with order and realism. Gothic literature was a much more ntriguing, and more importantly entertaining, style to read when compared to realist literature, which provided no excape from reality. Supernaturalism, prevalent in Gothic literature, in the words of Robert Hume, “seems a valid enough device for removing the narrative from the realm of the everyday” (284). Gothic literature also increased in popularity as people and found their morbid curiosity indulged by tales of horror.
Horace Walpole is often credited as the first Gothic author with The Castle of Otranto. This novel, published in 1764, was a thrilling ale filled with suspense, mystery, and fear of the supernatural. Walpole was the first of many to fall away from “neoclassical ideals of order and reason, toward romantic belief in emotion and imagination” and he saw what he was doing in his writing as a “resurgence of romance against neoclassical traditions” (Hume 282). However, Gothic Literature is not the same as Romantic Literature.
While both come from the inability of realism to adequately explain life and their shared draw to raw emotion over strict reason and logic, the Gothic approach is “a product of erious fancy, [that] can only leave the [opposing qualities] contradictory and paradoxical” (Hume 290). The resulting popularity of Gothic Literature caused an increase in both people’s ability to use the unnatural and mystery to reveal truth and in people’s healthy skepticism of facts thought to be set in stone. The fear of the supernatural caused by the Gothic style allowed people to question the occurrences of their stories.
This increase in inquisitiveness in the stories people were reading led to more people questioning the world they lived in. These uestions inspire new generations of scholars, researchers, scientists, and writers. Gothic literature, therefore, has impacts reaching far past the literary world creating inspiration for people to learn more about the world about them and create new and revolutionary ideas. According to James Keech Gothic literature finds its identification in its ability and purpose to elicit fear and suspense (130).
The ways this fear was propagated in Gothic Literature was through gloomy castles, curses, damsels in distress and a healthy dose of good versus evil. The major omponents of what makes a story Gothic is that it has a setting that is “sufficiently removed from the reader of 1800 that” the supernatural events of the story would not seem out of place, that there is a major moral presence, and that the story focuses on a “complex villain-hero” such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (Hume 287).
These characteristics of Gothic literature are important to note as they allow for further identification of each piece of literature in the 1800s as a work of the Gothic style. The effects of gothic literature extended far into the future as well by nspiring such writers as Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle. Charles Dickens was born in 1812 and grew up in the height of Gothic literature. He included the gloomy settings and supernatural elements of Gothic literature in his highly acclaimed novel, A Christmas Carol.
The ghosts that lead Mr. Scrooge evoke strong emotions: the ghost of the past bringing about the joys of childhood and struggles of young adulthood, the ghost of the present exposing how his current actions affect others, and the ghost of the future instilling a fear of death and sadness of the reality of his life. Dickens uses the gothic tactics of fear to illustrate a character as the hero-villain identified by Hume, and his growth from a life of evil to one of good. Arthur Conan Doyle, most notably known for writing the Sherlock Holmes novels was also heavily influenced by Gothic literature.
Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories are at their core, stories of mystery based on events that seem supernatural in nature but are explained by Holmes’ immense intellect. Sherlock Holmes also contains the primary element of the hero-villain, a heroic character with villainous characteristics. Gothic literature tarted out as amusing and appealed to peoples darker sides by highlighting the darker aspects of human behavior, however; as time went on people witnessed more than enough darkness produced by human beings and longed for an escape that did not reflect their own lives quite as accurately.
Throughout the 1800s the British people longed for an escape from their lives and found this in Gothic literature. As the world grew ever closer to World War I people wanted less to be entertained by fear and foreboding horror as their world became increasingly stressful and gruesome. By the beginning of the 20th century World War I had created the Lost Generation, who supplanted Gothic literature through their disillusionment with society and the natural world.
By both adopting and altering aspects of Gothic Literature, they appealed to those who became skeptical of the status quo and those who sought escape from reality. One of the most prominent writers of the Lost Generation, Ernest Hemingway was influenced by Gothic literature. Through Gothic Literatures growth and fall; the first due to a wish to escape reality, and the second due to the wish to escape to a reality that didn’t so closely mimic their own; it inspired enerations of writers to come and inserted the idea of having a healthy skepticism towards the truth, and in doing so, finding a way to discover its validity.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein displayed the dangers of hubris, and the aftereffects birth can have; Robert louis stevenson showed the dark side of man’s ambition in Dr. Jekyll and Mr hyde. At its core; Gothic literature is about stories that may bear no resemblance to reality, yet hold the mirror up to humanity and show the darkness and depravity that can emerge. Despite whimsical places, and impossible creations, Gothic Literature uses the unnatural as a evealer of truth, as opposed to romanticism which uses nature.
Gothic writers held the mirror up for all people to see, yet as they looked closer, they realize they did not like what they saw and turned a blind eye to it, leading to Gothic Literatures decline. In the end, however, Gothic Literature displayed man’s ability to follow paths into light and darkness, showing the final truth to be that ignorance is bliss, yet pain is knowledge. The gothic writers would agree with a saying from one of their successors F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book The Other Side of Paradise”: I know myself but that is all.