Gothic literature: what it is, its origin, characteristics and main authors


What is Gothic literature?

It is one of the most important genres and modalities of literature, focused on a particular style that has not lost its strength. This type of literature is related to horror and is distinguished by the use of dark landscapes, elements that promote surprise in the reader, and in general, a setting of mystery and fear that is usually present in the development of their works.

What is Gothic literature

Gothic literature adopts especially the narrative format, specifically in the novel, where the plot takes place in the middle of a house with large spaces, the discovery of secrets, search for shelter, among other important aspects. Their stories can also have present a great variety of elements that build a somber atmosphere, including aspects such as the supernatural, the historical, among others that have taken their own authors.

Another way of defining this type of texts could be those works that combine elements of fiction and horror, in stories that include themes such as death, romance, among others. However, the romantic would be in the emphasis of producing a type of pleasurable emotion.

Origin of Gothic literature

The origin of this type of literature is considered to be in Great Britain, particularly during Romanticism. However, the first appearance of the term -gothic-, takes place when the writer Horace Walpole places it as a subtitle in his work The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic History. However, at that time it did not have the connotation it has today, but was conceived as “barbarian”, a term used to refer to the Goths, a Germanic people.

Other authors, such as Ann Radcliffe and William Thomas Beckford, among others, joined in its development. Thus, towards the nineteenth century this type of texts begin to experience a great success in its evolution, where works by Edgar Allan Poe and Frankenstein, written by Mary Shelley, begin to emerge, which will deepen the foundations of its creation for a continuation of much growth. From its term and application to the texts, it keeps a deep relationship with the environments in which the works are developed, being these in monasteries and castles of medieval times.

On the other hand, it is important to mention that during its emergence, England was going through an important moment due to the cult of reason in which everything supernatural remained in the dark. Thus, later on, with the growth of works, other elements began to be added to its creative process, such as tenebrous castles, cemeteries, the presence of evil beings, ghosts, monsters, storms, etc.

Development of Gothic literature

Although, as we mentioned, gothic literature is usually mainly under the format of the novel, it has also participated in other formats such as poetry, which has the particularity of being set especially in romanticism. In this poetic format, elements of this era abound, in which frequently the scenarios or descriptions bring the tenebrous from the landscape itself, such as the forests, the dark in nature, the creatures, etc.

The development of this type of text implies a space and moment of the story in which the characters are subjected to undertake adventures of a high level of danger, as well as including the presence of supernatural aspects that will accompany them along the way.

We can identify in its progress a sense of decadence that the author can represent from a wide range of possibilities. Among them we find a community or a figure that after the triumph experiences decadence progressively, the passage from an upper class family to a lower class, the presence of manifestations and inexplicable elements, people who after fear tend to experience the appearance of physical or mental ailments, curses, murders, madness or death, among others.

Main characteristics of gothic literature

To better understand the limits of one of the most important types of literature, it is time to see some of its main characteristics and distinctive features that allowed its establishment, and nowadays, its recognition in the evolution of literature:

Locations of the works

One of the most important features of this type of literature, has to do with the locations often used by its authors, since they fulfill a determining function and that is to achieve the gloomy atmosphere. That is why we can often find forests of these characteristics, as well as abandoned houses, dark streets, crypts, dungeons, among others. The importance of this type of work lies in the fact that it is the most important point of distinction and promotes suspense.

Character profiles

In many cases, the characters in this type of works tend to have varied profiles. However, one of the most common traits that they share and that constitute the profile in Gothic literature has to do with the fact that they are figures dominated by their passions, almost always with some enigma, feeling of guilt or other element that captures the reader’s attention.

Epoch of history

The works of Gothic literature are written under a certain time frame, often they are stories set in past times, although also the author, bringing the element of fiction, can build them in non-existent epochs. One of the most recurrent epochs is usually Medieval times.

Reality and unreality

Often one of the axes of Gothic literature has to do with the real, but also with the unreal. That is why another of the elements that are usually present within this type of works are nightmares and in general, the world of dreams that give rise to this aspect out of the real.

Evil in the work

If we take into account the emergence of this type of literature, the presence of evil is one of the most important elements. Thus, we see in the stories evil represented through an evil character who represents a danger to the good, represented, in turn, by a heroic character who seeks justice or good.

Supernatural elements

As we have seen, gothic literature, particularly, combines elements of fiction and horror, which is why we can often find in this type of works supernatural elements such as the living dead, ghosts, spectres, among others that build the gothic atmosphere.

Authors of gothic literature

Authors of gothic literature

We close our journey through the world of Gothic literature with a series of outstanding authors within this genre and whose works were fundamental for the continuation of this style. Among them we find the following: Clara Reeve, Ann Radcliffe, William Thomas Beckford, Matthew Lewis, Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, Emily Bronte, Charlotte Bronte, Robert Louis Stevenson, among others.

We can also identify works of great importance for its development such as: Christmas Song Charles Dickens, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Horace Walpole with his work The Castle of Otranto, Ann Radcliffe who wrote Mysteries of Udolpho, Matthew Lewis with his work The Monk, Charles Brockden Brown who wrote Wieland, Walter Scott with his work The Tapestry Chamber, Robert Louis Stevenson and one of the most important works The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Bram Stoker with Dracula, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” (1843) and other tales by Edgar Allan Poe, among others.

And so we close a short tour through one of the most important types of literature that arose in a key period in the evolution of literature, but that has managed to stay alive until today. Remember that if you want to know more about this artistic field, in our Types of art section you will find a complete section dedicated to literature.