The Gothic Flame: Being a History of the Gothic Novel in England: Its Origins, Efflorescence, Disintegration, and Residuary Influences by Devendra P. Varma
Some of the earliest Gothic novels include: Mrs. Radcliff, Romance of the Forest, Northanger Abbey, The Mysteries of Udolpho, Monk Lewis. Gothic Literature is characterized by conflict between the imagination and rationalism in order to explain seemingly supernatural occurrences. There is also an application of Freudian Psychology with a surrealist dependence on dreams and the subconscious. We have a natural terror for the living dead. Gothic Literature can also be a response to the political and religious insecurities of disturbed times.
The term Gothic was in references to the Germanic Tribe. They built gloomy castles, somber cathedrals and appeared dark and barbarous to the Renaissance mind. The Goths brought to mind frost-bitten kind of strength. The word Gothic came to mean archaic, uncouth, ugly and down right uncivilized. However, the term soon came to evolve into meaning something that was wild or of the ghastly imagination. Eventually it was no longer a synonym for barbarism, but came to enshrine the highest moral and spiritual values. Gothic art became sublime.
The castle became the focus of the Gothic novel. Massive doors swung on rusty hinges and then closed with a clash. There were dark and eerie galleries, decaying chambers, moldering roofs, tolling bells and stalking phantoms haunting dark ivy covered walls. Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a good example of an early leaning toward the Gothic.
The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole opened the floodgates for the popularity of such gloomy backdrops. The year in which it was published, 1764 reveals a disillusioned public who was exhausted by politics and personal tensions. Romantics were repressed or uneasy, but there was an interest in poetry and Shakespeare at the time. Walpole felt novels, not just plays and poetry, were works of art. There was beauty in the shadows he felt. His concepts about revolting against moral lessons, sentiment, domestic familiarity were original in his time.
The Gothic Quest is, “The connection which the surrealists are anxious to trace between their own paths and principles and ideas and inspiration to have no existence…based upon misapprehensions that are far fetched and fantastical.” The quest is often guided by the unconscious and uproots the hero from proper society. This quest has an emotional and intellectual impact on the hero, who is a sensitive barometer to the horror and terrors of the world.
The Gothic Novel is distinguished by three qualities: 1) The Subjectivity of the writer 2) Turning the Picturesque into a Passion and 3) The Supernatural and Horrible shocking the gentle soul.
Mrs. Radcliff made a craft out of terror and melancholy. Her tales were more romantic than horror filled. They alternated between hope and fear, keeping up the suspense and mystery. She utilized the principle of contrast for her Gothic Romances.
The Monk recalls Dr. Faustus. Lewis was inspired by Shelly, Byron and Coleridge. Frankenstein was written by Mary Shelly and published in 1818. It is a pseudo-scientific horror story considered a Schaur-Romantik. Charlotte and Emily Bronte also wrote Gothic Romance in the forms of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Later Dracula by Bram Stoker arrived on the scene.
The Romance aspect of the Gothic Romance insists upon aspiration, yearning and desire as well as mystery and wonder while the Gothic aspect of Gothic Romance focuses on the melancholy and suffering in the world. Nietzsche perhaps best summed it up with his discussion of Apollonian vs. Dionysian. In the end, The Gothic Flame is a reminder that there is always death as well as love.