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Year 8 - Gothic Literature: All about Gothic Literature

The genre Gothic Literature has special elements which make it compelling. Have a look at this guide to assist you to learn about Gothic Literature. There is plenty of suggestions of what to read as well.

Gothic Literature - study guides

Here are some useful study guides to provide an overview of the Gothic Literature movement.

Definitions and Vocabulary related to Gothic Literature

Ancient Prophecy: The foretelling or prediction of what is to come. The prophecy is usually partial, obscure or confusing, like a ghost.

Atmosphere: A feeling of mystery or suspense. The story is pervaded by a threatening feeling, a fear enhanced by the unknown.

Setting: The story is often set around a castle or old mansion.  The building may be dark and mysterious, featured ruined sections and quirky features, like secret passages or rooms, trap doors, trick panels with hidden levers and ark or hidden staircases.

Omens, Portents or Visions: A character may have a disturbing dream vision, or some phenomenon may seem a portent (sign or warning) of coming events. The result could be good or bad.

Supernatural: attributed to some force beyond scientific understanding or the laws of nature. Dramatic, amazing events occur, such as ghosts or giants walking, or inanimate objects (such as a suit of armor or painting) coming to life.

High emotion: The narration may be highly sentimental, and the characters are often overcome by anger, sorrow, surprise, fear, and especially, terror. 

Women threatened by a powerful tyrannical male: One or more male characters has the power, as king, lord of the manor, father, or guardian, to demand that one or more of the female characters do something intolerable. 

The metonymy of gloom and horror: Metonymy is a subtype of metaphor, in which something (like rain) is used to stand for something else (like sorrow). 

Women in distress: As an appeal to the pathos and sympathy of the reader, the female characters often face events that leave them fainting, terrified, screaming, and/or sobbing. 

Source St Stephen's College Library

Terror versus horror

Why do readers take such pleasure in Gothic’s descriptions of frightening and horrible events, and might there be something wrong or immoral in doing so?

The pioneering gothic novelist Ann Radcliffe was particularly troubled by these questions and in trying to answer them, made an important distinction between ‘terror’ and ‘horror’. Terror, which she thought characterised her own work, could be morally uplifting. It does not show horrific things explicitly but only suggests them. This, she thinks, ‘expands the soul’ of the readers of her works and helps them to be more alert to the possibility of things beyond their everyday life and understanding.

Horror, by contrast, Radcliffe argues, ‘freezes and nearly annihilates’ the senses of its readers because it shows atrocious things too explicitly.This is morally dangerous and produces the wrong kind of excitement in the reader. Whereas there might be the fear or suggestion of the possibility of sexual assault or rape, for example, in a Radcliffe novel, there is explicit description of such scenes in The Monk. Terror, which can be morally good, characterises the former; horror, which is morally bad, the latter.

Terror for Radcliffe is concerned with the psychological experience of being full of fear and dread and thus of recognising human limits; horror by contrast focuses on the horrific object or event itself, with essentially damaging or limiting consequences for the reader’s state of mind.

From the British Library

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