Hi ghouls! 👋🏻 Gothic fiction is not only one of my favourite horror subgenres, but one of my favourite genres in general. It’s my gateway to the genre so I’ll always have a soft spot for it and it’ll always be a special interest of mine.
I first started reading Gothic novels when I was either 16 or 17 and was studying the genre in sixth form. Usually, studying a genre turns me off of it (like it did with modernism), but Gothic novels weren’t like the other books I’d studied at all. Genre fiction in general still isn’t really seen as being worthy of academics’ time, who see it as being cheap lowbrow entertainment rather than high art. Being able to study something that was actually entertaining to me really helped me to enjoy the genre.
I have studied Gothic and read it for fun so many times that both my BA and MA theses were about vampires and Gothic literature in general. Nothing has stopped me from enjoying the genre and I can’t see my love for it waning any time soon.
GOTHIC STORIES ARE TIMELESS.
The very first Gothic novel is generally agreed to be The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole, which was published way back in 1764. Even though the most famous Gothic stories come from the 19th century, Gothic has a timeless appeal to it. The things that we are scared by are always changing and trends in horror reflect that, but Gothic is more focused on creating an atmosphere of suspense and making its audience uneasy rather than being a bloodbath. There’s nothing wrong with bloodbath horror stories but they don’t create suspense the way that a good Gothic story does.
The key elements of Gothic literature are things that will always be present in society such as family secrets, past trauma, indulging in the taboo, and so on. No matter how many times it comes in and out of fashion, it will always be relevant.
GOTHIC IS TRANSGRESSIVE.
What counts as transgressive or taboo has changed over time, but Gothic always finds a way to push the boundaries and shine a light on things that we will always consider to be taboo such as abuse, incest, murder, etc.
And while Gothic pushes boundaries and always makes sure to have a shocking reveal, it doesn’t do that simply for shock factor. Storytelling always comes first over just shocking an audience and making them feel sick, so while the big reveal in the movie Crimson Peak doesn’t have blood and guts flying all over the place, it’s still an unsettling reveal that sticks with you much more than a bloodbath and to me, that makes it more effective.
GOTHIC IS CAMP.
I personally disagree with the idea that gothic and horror, in general, are inherently queer, but I do think that there is an inherent level of camp to Gothic, and that comes from the author of the first Gothic novel being believed to have been a gay man.
Gothic relies heavily on melodrama and to me, that’s a huge part of its charm. It may not seem scary compared to what we think is scary today, but horror’s goal isn’t just to be scary. It can still be enjoyable when it’s massively over the top and the characters are a bunch of oblivious idiots who have sneaking suspicions that something fishy is going on but don’t investigate it further. We’d have no story if the characters had common sense.
GOTHIC EXPLORES HUMAN FEARS.
To quote Futurama, “we’re all scared, it’s the human condition.” While we don’t all have phobias, we all have fears whether that’s death, illness, losing someone, change, or whatever.
As much as I don’t like to talk about his racist ass, H.P. Lovecraft is, unfortunately, the best example I have for fears being explored in literature. It’s debatable whether his work is Gothic or not and I’m not going to get into that, but Lovecraft was terrified of everything from insects to Black people and even wrote a story about a colour that consumed the world. He also wrote a story about how horrifying it was to find out that he wasn’t of 100% English descent, but that’s a reason why he’s an unfortunate example.
One of my favourite parts of Monster Theory (yes, that is a thing) is how a monster can be a physical manifestation of our fears. Vampires are often seen as charismatic aristocrats who use their charms to lure their victims to their deaths, zombies are often used as a metaphor for consumerist culture, werewolves can be the manifestation of man’s primal urge for violence, and so on and so forth. I wrote my Masters thesis on what the vampire represents in literature so I could talk about this forever.
GOTHIC CAN CROSS OVER WITH ANY GENRE.
Gothic isn’t all ghosts, haunted houses, and old patriarchs with dark secrets. Sometimes Gothic can take place in a regular town with “regular” people, or in the future with weird creatures and robots.
While the key elements are there, they can be transplanted into so many different genres: Crimson Peak is a Gothic romance (and wasn’t marketed as such so people were left disappointed), Jekyll and Hyde is Gothic science-fiction that explores the duality of man, and even Alien could arguably be called Gothic due to its “haunted house in space” story and the reveal at the end that the corporation the characters work for has an interest in the alien that’s killing off the crew.
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What are you favourite things about your favourite genre?