Gothic fiction, which is largely known by the subgenre of Gothic horror, is a genre or mode of literature and film that combines fiction and horror, death, and at times romance. Its origin is attributed to English author Horace Walpole, with his 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto, subtitled (in its second edition) “A Gothic Story”. The effect of Gothic fiction feeds on a pleasing sort of terror, an extension of Romantic literary pleasures that were relatively new at the time of Walpole’s novel. It originated in England in the second half of the 18th century where, following Walpole, it was further developed by Clara Reeve, Ann Radcliffe, William Thomas Beckford and Matthew Lewis. The genre had much success in the 19th century, as witnessed in prose by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the works of Edgar Allan Poe as well as Charles Dickens with his novella, A Christmas Carol, and in poetry in the work of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron and Poe. Another well known novel in this genre, dating from the late Victorian era, is Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The name Gothic refers to the (pseudo)-medieval buildings, emulating Gothic architecture, in which many of these stories take place. This extreme form of romanticism was very popular in England and Germany. The English Gothic novel also led to new novel types such as the German Schauerroman and the French Georgia.
Early Gothic romances
The novel usually regarded as the first Gothic novel is The Castle of Otranto by English author Horace Walpole, which was first published in 1764. Walpole’s declared aim was to combine elements of the medieval romance, which he deemed too fanciful, and the modern novel, which he considered to be too confined to strict realism. The basic plot created many other staple Gothic generic traits, including a threatening mystery and an ancestral curse, as well as countless trappings such as hidden passages and oft-fainting heroines.
Walpole published the first edition disguised as a medieval romance from Italy discovered and republished by a fictitious translator. When Walpole admitted to his authorship in the second edition, its originally favourable reception by literary reviewers changed into rejection. The reviewers’ rejection reflected a larger cultural bias: the romance was usually held in contempt by the educated as a tawdry and debased kind of writing; the genre had gained some respectability only through the works of Samuel Richardson and Henry Fielding. A romance with superstitious elements, and moreover void of didactical intention, was considered a setback and not acceptable. Walpole’s forgery, together with the blend of history and fiction, contravened the principles of the Enlightenment and associated the Gothic novel with fake documentation.
Clara Reeve, best known for her work The Old English Baron (1778), set out to take Walpole’s plot and adapt it to the demands of the time by balancing fantastic elements with 18th-century realism. In her preface, Reeve wrote: “This Story is the literary offspring of The Castle of Otranto, written upon the same plan, with a design to unite the most attractive and interesting circumstances of the ancient Romance and modern Novel.” The question now arose whether supernatural events that were not as evidently absurd as Walpole’s would not lead the simpler minds to believe them possible.
Reeve’s contribution in the development of the Gothic fiction, therefore, can be demonstrated on at least two fronts. In the first, there is the reinforcement of the Gothic narrative framework, one that focuses on expanding the imaginative domain so as to include the supernatural without losing the realism that marks the novel that Walpole pioneered. Secondly, Reeve also sought to contribute to finding the appropriate formula to ensure that the fiction is believable and coherent. The result is that she spurned specific aspects to Walpole’s style such as his tendency to incorporate too much humor or comic elements in such a way that it diminishes the Gothic tale’s ability to induce fear. In 1777, Reeve enumerated Walpole’s excesses in this respect:
a sword so large as to require an hundred men to lift it; a helmet that by its own weight forces a passage through a court-yard into an arched vault, big enough for a man to go through; a picture that walks out of its frame; a skeleton ghost in a hermit’s cowl…
Although the succession of Gothic writers did not exactly heed Reeve’s focus on emotional realism, she was able to posit a framework that keeps Gothic fiction within the realm of the probable. This aspect remains a challenge for authors in this genre after the publication of The Old English Baron. Outside of its providential context, the supernatural would often suffer the risk of veering towards the absurd.
Ann Radcliffe developed the technique of the explained supernatural in which every seemingly supernatural intrusion is eventually traced back to natural causes. Radcliffe has been called both “the Great Enchantress” and “Mother Radcliffe” due to her influence on both gothic literature and the female gothic. Radcliffe’s use of visual elements and their effects constitutes an innovative strategy for reading the world through “linguistic visual patterns” and developing an “ethical gaze”, allowing for readers to visualize the events through words, understand the situations, and feel the terror which the characters themselves are experiencing.
Her success attracted many imitators. Among other elements, Ann Radcliffe introduced the brooding figure of the Gothic villain (A Sicilian Romance in 1790), a literary device that would come to be defined as the Byronic hero. Radcliffe’s novels, above all The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), were best-sellers. However, along with most novels at the time, they were looked down upon by many well-educated people as sensationalist nonsense.
Radcliffe also inspired the emerging idea of “gothic feminism”, which she expressed through the ideology of ‘female power through pretended and staged weakness’. The establishment of this idea began the movement of the female gothic to be “challenging… the concept of gender itself”.
Radcliffe also provided an aesthetic for the genre in an influential article “On the Supernatural in Poetry”, examining the distinction and correlation between horror and terror in Gothic fiction, utilizing the uncertainties of terror in her works to produce a model of the uncanny. Combining experiences of terror and wonder with visual description was a technique that pleased readers and set Radcliffe apart from other Gothic writers.
Developments in continental Europe and The Monk
Romantic literary movements developed in continental Europe concurrent with the development of the Gothic novel. The roman noir (“black novel”) appeared in France, by such writers as François Guillaume Ducray-Duminil, Baculard d’Arnaud and Madame de Genlis. In Germany, the Schauerroman (“shudder novel”) gained traction with writers as Friedrich Schiller, with novels like The Ghost-Seer (1789), and Christian Heinrich Spiess, with novels like Das Petermännchen (1791/92). These works were often more horrific and violent than the English Gothic novel.
Matthew Lewis’ lurid tale of monastic debauchery, black magic and diabolism entitled The Monk (1796) offered the first continental novel to follow the conventions of the Gothic novel. Though Lewis’s novel could be read as a pastiche of the emerging genre, self-parody had been a constituent part of the Gothic from the time of the genre’s inception with Walpole’s Otranto. Lewis’s portrayal of depraved monks, sadistic inquisitors and spectral nuns—and his scurrilous view of the Catholic Church—appalled some readers, but The Monk was important in the genre’s development.
The Monk also influenced Ann Radcliffe in her last novel, The Italian (1797). In this book, the hapless protagonists are ensnared in a web of deceit by a malignant monk called Schedoni and eventually dragged before the tribunals of the Inquisition in Rome, leading one contemporary to remark that if Radcliffe wished to transcend the horror of these scenes, she would have to visit hell itself.
The Marquis de Sade used a subgothic framework for some of his fiction, notably The Misfortunes of Virtue and Eugenie de Franval, though the Marquis himself never thought of his like this. Sade critiqued the genre in the preface of his Reflections on the novel (1800) stating that the Gothic is “the inevitable product of the revolutionary shock with which the whole of Europe resounded”. Contemporary critics of the genre also noted the correlation between the French revolutionary Terror and the “terrorist school” of writing represented by Radcliffe and Lewis. Sade considered The Monk to be superior to the work of Ann Radcliffe.
German gothic fiction is usually described by the term Schauerroman (“shudder novel”). However, genres of Gespensterroman/Geisterroman (“ghost novel”), Räuberroman (“robber novel”), and Ritterroman (“chivalry novel”) also frequently share plot and motifs with the British “gothic novel”. As its name suggests, the Räuberroman focuses on the life and deeds of outlaws, influenced by Friedrich von Schiller’s drama The Robbers (1781). Heinrich Zschokke’s Abällino, der grosse Bandit (1793) was translated into English by M.G. Lewis as The Bravo of Venice in 1804. The Ritterroman focuses on the life and deeds of the knights and soldiers, but features many elements found in the gothic novel, such as magic, secret tribunals, and medieval setting. Benedikte Naubert’s novel Hermann of Unna (1788) is seen as being very close to the Schauerroman genre.
While the term Schauerroman is sometimes equated with the term “Gothic novel”, this is only partially true. Both genres are based on the terrifying side of the Middle Ages, and both frequently feature the same elements (castles, ghost, monster, etc.). However, Schauerroman’s key elements are necromancy and secret societies and it is remarkably more pessimistic than the British Gothic novel. All those elements are the basis for Friedrich von Schiller’s unfinished novel The Ghost-Seer (1786–1789). The motive of secret societies is also present in the Karl Grosse’s Horrid Mysteries (1791–1794) and Christian August Vulpius’s Rinaldo Rinaldini, the Robber Captain (1797).
Other early authors and works included Christian Heinrich Spiess, with his works Das Petermännchen (1793), Der alte Überall und Nirgends (1792), Die Löwenritter (1794), and Hans Heiling, vierter und letzter Regent der Erd- Luft- Feuer- und Wasser-Geister (1798); Heinrich von Kleist’s short story “Das Bettelweib von Locarno” (1797); and Ludwig Tieck’s Der blonde Eckbert (1797) and Der Runenberg (1804). Early examples of female-authored Gothic include Sophie Albrecht’s Das höfliche Gespenst (1797) and Graumännchen oder die Burg Rabenbühl: eine Geistergeschichte altteutschen Ursprungs (1799).
During the next two decades, the most famous author of Gothic literature in Germany was polymath E. T. A. Hoffmann. His novel The Devil’s Elixirs (1815) was influenced by Lewis’s novel The Monk, and even mentions it during the book. The novel also explores the motive of doppelgänger, the term coined by another German author (and supporter of Hoffmann), Jean Paul in his humorous novel Siebenkäs (1796–1797). He also wrote an opera based on the Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué’s Gothic story Undine, with de la Motte Fouqué himself writing the libretto. Aside from Hoffmann and de la Motte Fouqué, three other important authors from the era were Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff (The Marble Statue, 1819), Ludwig Achim von Arnim (Die Majoratsherren, 1819), and Adelbert von Chamisso (Peter Schlemihls wundersame Geschichte, 1814).
After them, Wilhelm Meinhold wrote The Amber Witch (1838) and Sidonia von Bork (1847). Also writing in the German language, Jeremias Gotthelf wrote The Black Spider (1842), an allegorical work that used Gothic themes. The last work from German writer Theodor Storm, The Rider on the White Horse (1888), also uses Gothic motives and themes. In the beginning of the 20th century, many German authors wrote works influenced by Schauerroman, including Hanns Heinz Ewers.
Russian Gothic was not, until recently, viewed as a critical label by Russian critics. If used, the word “gothic” was used to describe (mostly early) works of Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Most critics simply used the tags such as “Romanticism” and “fantastique”. Even in relatively new story collection translated as Russian 19th-Century Gothic Tales (from 1984), the editor used the name Фантастический мир русской романтической повести (The Fantastic World of Russian Romanticism Short Story/Novella). However, since the mid-1980s, Russian gothic fiction was discussed in books like The Gothic-Fantastic in Nineteenth-Century Russian Literature, European Gothic: A Spirited Exchange 1760–1960, The Russian Gothic novel and its British antecedents and Goticheskiy roman v Rossii (Gothic Novel in Russia).
The first Russian author whose work can be described as gothic fiction is considered to be Nikolay Mikhailovich Karamzin. Although many of his works feature gothic elements, the first one which is considered to belong purely in the “gothic fiction” label is Ostrov Borngolm (Island of Bornholm) from 1793. The next important early Russian author is Nikolay Ivanovich Gnedich with his novel Don Corrado de Gerrera from 1803, which is set in Spain during the reign of Philip II.
The term “gothic” is sometimes also used to describe the ballads of Vasily Andreyevich Zhukovsky (particularly “Ludmila” (1808) and “Svetlana” (1813)). Also, the following poems are considered to belong in the gothic genre: Meshchevskiy’s “Lila”, Katenin’s “Olga”, Pushkhin’s “The Bridegroom”, Pletnev’s “The Gravedigger” and Lermontov’s “Demon”.
The other authors from the romanticism era include: Antony Pogorelsky (penname of Alexey Alexeyevich Perovsky), Orest Somov, Oleksa Storozhenko, Alexandr Pushkin, Nikolai Alekseevich Polevoy, Mikhail Lermontov (his work Stuss) and Alexander Bestuzhev-Marlinsky. Pushkin is particularly important, as his short story “The Queen of Spades” (1833) was adapted into operas and movies by both Russian and foreign artists. Some parts of Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov’s “A Hero of Our Time” (1840) are also considered to belong in the gothic genre, but they lack the supernatural elements of the other Russian gothic stories.
The key author of the transition from romanticism to realism, Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol, is also one of the most important authors of the romanticism, and has produced a number of works which qualify as gothic fiction. His works include three short story collections, of which each one features a number of stories in the gothic genre, as well as many stories with gothic elements. The collections are: Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka (1831–1832) with the stories “St John’s Eve” and “A Terrible Vengeance”; Arabesques (1835), with the story “The Portrait”; and Mirgorod (1835), with the story “Viy”. The last story is probably the most famous, having inspired at least eight movie adaptations (two of which are now considered to be lost), one animated movie, two documentaries, and a video game. Gogol’s work is very different from western European gothic fiction, as he is influenced by Ukrainian folklore, Cossack lifestyle and, being a very religious man, Orthodox Christianity.
Other authors of Gogol’s era included Vladimir Fyodorovich Odoevsky (The Living Corpse, written 1838, published 1844; The Ghost; The Sylphide; and other stories), Count Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy (The Family of the Vourdalak, 1839, and The Vampire, 1841), Mikhail Zagoskin (Unexpected Guests), Józef Sękowski/Osip Senkovsky (Antar), and Yevgeny Baratynsky (The Ring).
After Gogol, the Russian literature saw the rise of the realism, but many authors wrote stories belonging to the gothic fiction territory. Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev, one of the world’s most celebrated realists, wrote Faust (1856), Phantoms (1864), Song of the Triumphant Love (1881), and Clara Milich (1883). Another Russian realist classic, Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky, incorporated gothic elements in many of his works, although none of his novels are seen as purely gothic. Grigory Petrovich Danilevsky, who wrote historical and early science fiction novels and stories, wrote Mertvec-ubiytsa (Dead Murderer) in 1879. Also, Grigori Alexandrovich Machtet wrote the story “Zaklyatiy kazak”.
During the last years of the Russian Empire, in the early 20th century, many authors continued to write in the gothic fiction genre. These include historian and historical fiction writer Alexander Valentinovich Amfiteatrov; Leonid Nikolaievich Andreyev, who developed psychological characterization; symbolist Valery Yakovlevich Bryusov; Alexander Grin; Anton Pavlovich Chekhov; and Aleksandr Ivanovich Kuprin. Nobel Prize winner Ivan Alekseyevich Bunin wrote Dry Valley (1912), which is considered to be influenced by gothic literature. In her monograph on the subject, Muireann Maguire writes, “The centrality of the Gothic-fantastic to Russian fiction is almost impossible to exaggerate, and certainly exceptional in the context of world literature.”
Further contributions to the Gothic genre were seen in the work of the Romantic poets. Prominent examples include Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Christabel as well as John Keats’ La Belle Dame sans Merci (1819) and Isabella, or the Pot of Basil (1820) which feature mysteriously fey ladies. In the latter poem the names of the characters, the dream visions and the macabre physical details are influenced by the novels of premiere Gothicist Ann Radcliffe. Percy Bysshe Shelley’s first published work was the Gothic novel Zastrozzi (1810), about an outlaw obsessed with revenge against his father and half-brother. Shelley published a second Gothic novel in 1811, St. Irvyne; or, The Rosicrucian, about an alchemist who seeks to impart the secret of immortality.
The poetry, romantic adventures, and character of Lord Byron—characterised by his spurned lover Lady Caroline Lamb as “mad, bad and dangerous to know”—were another inspiration for the Gothic, providing the archetype of the Byronic hero. Byron features, under the codename of “Lord Ruthven”, in Lady Caroline’s own Gothic novel: Glenarvon (1816).
Byron was also the host of the celebrated ghost-story competition involving himself, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, and John William Polidori at the Villa Diodati on the banks of Lake Geneva in the summer of 1816. This occasion was productive of both Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and Polidori’s The Vampyre (1819). This latter story revives Lamb’s Byronic “Lord Ruthven”, but this time as a vampire. The Vampyre has been accounted by cultural critic Christopher Frayling as one of the most influential works of fiction ever written and spawned a craze for vampire fiction and theatre (and latterly film) which has not ceased to this day. Mary Shelley’s novel, though clearly influenced by the Gothic tradition, is often considered the first science fiction novel, despite the omission in the novel of any scientific explanation of the monster’s animation and the focus instead on the moral issues and consequences of such a creation.
A late example of traditional Gothic is Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) by Charles Maturin, which combines themes of anti-Catholicism with an outcast Byronic hero.
By the Victorian era, Gothic had ceased to be the dominant genre, and was dismissed by most critics. (Indeed, the form’s popularity as an established genre had already begun to erode with the success of the historical romance popularised by Sir Walter Scott.) However, in many ways, it was now entering its most creative phase. Recently readers and critics have begun to reconsider a number of previously overlooked Penny Blood or “penny dreadful” serial fictions by such authors as G.W.M. Reynolds who wrote a trilogy of Gothic horror novels: Faust (1846), Wagner the Wehr-wolf (1847) and The Necromancer (1857). Reynolds was also responsible for The Mysteries of London which has been accorded an important place in the development of the urban as a particularly Victorian Gothic setting, an area within which interesting links can be made with established readings of the work of Dickens and others. Another famous penny dreadful of this era was the anonymously authored Varney the Vampire (1847). Varney is the tale of the vampire Sir Francis Varney, and introduced many of the tropes present in vampire fiction recognizable to modern audiences — it was the first story to refer to sharpened teeth for a vampire. The formal relationship between these fictions, serialised for predominantly working class audiences, and the roughly contemporaneous sensation fictions serialised in middle class periodicals is also an area worthy of inquiry.
An important and innovative reinterpreter of the Gothic in this period was Edgar Allan Poe. Poe focused less on the traditional elements of gothic stories and more on the psychology of his characters as they often descended into madness. Poe’s critics complained about his “German” tales, to which he replied, ‘that terror is not of Germany, but of the soul’. Poe, a critic himself, believed that terror was a legitimate literary subject. His story “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839) explores these ‘terrors of the soul’ while revisiting classic Gothic tropes of aristocratic decay, death, and madness. The legendary villainy of the Spanish Inquisition, previously explored by Gothicists Radcliffe, Lewis, and Maturin, is based on a true account of a survivor in “The Pit and the Pendulum” (1842). The influence of Ann Radcliffe is also detectable in Poe’s “The Oval Portrait” (1842), including an honorary mention of her name in the text of the story.
The influence of Byronic Romanticism evident in Poe is also apparent in the work of the Brontë sisters. Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847) transports the Gothic to the forbidding Yorkshire Moors and features ghostly apparitions and a Byronic hero in the person of the demonic Heathcliff. The Brontës’ fiction is seen by some feminist critics as prime examples of Female Gothic, exploring woman’s entrapment within domestic space and subjection to patriarchal authority and the transgressive and dangerous attempts to subvert and escape such restriction. Emily’s Cathy and Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre are both examples of female protagonists in such a role. Louisa May Alcott’s Gothic potboiler, A Long Fatal Love Chase (written in 1866, but published in 1995) is also an interesting specimen of this subgenre.
Elizabeth Gaskell’s tales “The Doom of the Griffiths” (1858) “Lois the Witch”, and “The Grey Woman” all employ one of the most common themes of Gothic fiction, the power of ancestral sins to curse future generations, or the fear that they will.
The gloomy villain, forbidding mansion, and persecuted heroine of Sheridan Le Fanu’s Uncle Silas (1864) shows the direct influence of both Walpole’s Otranto and Radcliffe’s Udolpho. Le Fanu’s short story collection In a Glass Darkly (1872) includes the superlative vampire tale Carmilla, which provided fresh blood for that particular strand of the Gothic and influenced Bram Stoker’s vampire novel Dracula (1897). According to literary critic Terry Eagleton, Le Fanu, together with his predecessor Maturin and his successor Stoker, form a subgenre of Irish Gothic, whose stories, featuring castles set in a barren landscape, with a cast of remote aristocrats dominating an atavistic peasantry, represent in allegorical form the political plight of colonial Ireland subjected to the Protestant Ascendancy.
The genre was also a heavy influence on more mainstream writers, such as Charles Dickens, who read Gothic novels as a teenager and incorporated their gloomy atmosphere and melodrama into his own works, shifting them to a more modern period and an urban setting, including Oliver Twist (1837–8), Bleak House (1854) (Mighall 2003) and Great Expectations (1860–61). These pointed to the juxtaposition of wealthy, ordered and affluent civilisation next to the disorder and barbarity of the poor within the same metropolis. Bleak House in particular is credited with seeing the introduction of urban fog to the novel, which would become a frequent characteristic of urban Gothic literature and film (Mighall 2007). His most explicitly Gothic work is his last novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which he did not live to complete and which was published in unfinished state upon his death in 1870. The mood and themes of the Gothic novel held a particular fascination for the Victorians, with their morbid obsession with mourning rituals, mementos, and mortality in general.
The 1880s saw the revival of the Gothic as a powerful literary form allied to fin de siecle, which fictionalized contemporary fears like ethical degeneration and questioned the social structures of the time. Classic works of this Urban Gothic include Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), George du Maurier’s Trilby (1894), Richard Marsh’s The Beetle: A Mystery (1897), Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw (1898), and the stories of Arthur Machen. Some of the works of Canadian writer Gilbert Parker also fall into the genre, including the stories in The Lane that Had No Turning (1900).
The most famous Gothic villain ever, Count Dracula, was created by Bram Stoker in his novel Dracula (1897). Stoker’s book also established Transylvania and Eastern Europe as the locus classicus of the Gothic. Gaston Leroux’s serialized novel The Phantom of the Opera (1909–1910) is another well-known example of gothic fiction from the early 20th century.
In America, two notable writers of the end of the 19th century, in the Gothic tradition, were Ambrose Bierce and Robert W. Chambers. Bierce’s short stories were in the horrific and pessimistic tradition of Poe. Chambers, though, indulged in the decadent style of Wilde and Machen, even to the extent of his inclusion of a character named ‘Wilde’ in his The King in Yellow.
The conventions of Gothic literature did not spring from nowhere into the mind of Horace Walpole. The components that would eventually combine into Gothic literature had a rich history by the time Walpole perpetrated his literary hoax in 1764.
Gothic literature is often described with words such as “wonder” and “terror.” This sense of wonder and terror, which provides the suspension of disbelief so important to the Gothic—which, except for when it is parodied, even for all its occasional melodrama, is typically played straight, in a self-serious manner—requires the imagination of the reader to be willing to accept the idea that there might be something “beyond that which is immediately in front of us.” The mysterious imagination necessary for Gothic literature to have gained any traction had been growing for some time before the advent of the Gothic. The necessity for this came as the known world was beginning to become more explored, reducing the inherent geographical mysteries of the world. The edges of the map were being filled in, and no one was finding any dragons. The human mind required a replacement. Clive Bloom theorizes that this void in the collective imagination was critical in the development of the cultural possibility for the rise of the Gothic tradition.
The setting of most early Gothic works was a medieval one, but this had been a common theme long before Walpole. In Britain especially, there was a desire to reclaim a shared past. This obsession frequently led to extravagant architectural displays, and sometimes mock tournaments were held. It was not merely in literature that a medieval revival made itself felt, and this too contributed to a culture ready to accept a perceived medieval work in 1764.
Macabre and morbid
The Gothic often uses scenery of decay, death, and morbidity to achieve its effects (especially in the Italian Horror school of Gothic). However, Gothic literature was not the origin of this tradition; indeed it was far older. The corpses, skeletons, and churchyards so commonly associated with the early Gothic were popularized by the Graveyard Poets, and were also present in novels such as Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year, which contains comical scenes of plague carts and piles of plague corpses. Even earlier, poets like Edmund Spenser evoked a dreary and sorrowful mood in such poems as Epithalamion.
All of the aspects of pre-Gothic literature mentioned above occur to some degree in the Gothic, but even taken together, they still fall short of true Gothic. What was lacking was an aesthetic, which would serve to tie the elements together. Bloom notes that this aesthetic must take the form of a theoretical or philosophical core, which is necessary to “sav the best tales from becoming mere anecdote or incoherent sensationalism.” In this particular case, the aesthetic needed to be an emotional one, which was finally provided by Edmund Burke’s 1757 work, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful, which “finally codif the gothic emotional experience.” Specifically, Burke’s thoughts on the Sublime, Terror, and Obscurity were most applicable. These sections can be summarized thus: the Sublime is that which is or produces the “strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling,”; the Sublime is most often evoked by Terror; and to cause Terror we need some amount of Obscurity—we can’t know everything about that which is inducing Terror—or else “a great deal of the apprehension vanishes”; Obscurity is necessary in order to experience the Terror of the unknown. Bloom asserts that Burke’s descriptive vocabulary was essential to the Romantic works that eventually informed the Gothic.
The birth of the Gothic was also probably influenced by political upheaval beginning with the English Civil War and culminating in a Jacobite rebellion (1745) more recent to the first Gothic novel (1764). A collective political memory and any deep cultural fears associated with it likely contributed to early Gothic villain characters as literary representatives of defeated Tory barons or Royalists “rising” from their political graves in the pages of the early Gothic to terrorize the bourgeois reader of late eighteenth-century England.
The excesses, stereotypes, and frequent absurdities of the traditional Gothic made it rich territory for satire. The most famous parody of the Gothic is Jane Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey (1818) in which the naive protagonist, after reading too much Gothic fiction, conceives herself a heroine of a Radcliffian romance and imagines murder and villainy on every side, though the truth turns out to be much more prosaic. Jane Austen’s novel is valuable for including a list of early Gothic works since known as the Northanger Horrid Novels. These books, with their lurid titles, were once thought to be the creations of Jane Austen’s imagination, though later research by Michael Sadleir and Montague Summers confirmed that they did actually exist and stimulated renewed interest in the Gothic. They are currently all being reprinted.
Another example of Gothic parody in a similar vein is The Heroine by Eaton Stannard Barrett (1813). Cherry Wilkinson, a fatuous female protagonist with a history of novel-reading, fancies herself as the heroine of a Gothic romance. She perceives and models reality according to the stereotypes and typical plot structures of the Gothic novel, leading to a series of absurd events culminating in catastrophe. After her downfall, her affectations and excessive imaginations become eventually subdued by the voice of reason in the form of Stuart, a paternal figure, under whose guidance the protagonist receives a sound education and correction of her misguided taste.
Source from Wikipedia