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Gothic novel


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A story of terror and suspense, usually set in a gloomy old castle or monastery (hence ‘Gothic’, a term applied to medieval architecture and thus associated in the 18th century with superstition). Following the appearance of Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1764), the Gothic novel flourished in Britain from the 1790s to the 1820s, dominated by Ann Radcliffe, whose Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) had many imitators. She was careful to explain away the apparently supernatural occurrences in her stories, but other writers, like M. G. Lewis in The Monk (1796), made free use of ghosts and demons along with scenes of cruelty and horror. The fashion for such works, ridiculed by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey (1818), gave way to a vogue for historical novels, but it contributed to the new emotional climate of Romanticism. In an extended sense, many novels that do not have a medievalized setting, but which share a comparably sinister, grotesque, or claustrophobic atmosphere, have been classed as Gothic: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) is a well-known example; and there are several important American tales and novels with strong Gothic elements in this sense, from Poe to Faulkner and beyond. A popular modern variety of women's romance dealing with endangered heroines in the manner of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre (1847) and Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca (1938) is also referred to as Gothic. See also fantastic, horror story, preromanticism. For a fuller account, consult Fred Botting, Gothic (1996).

Subjects: Literature.


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