We agree that Gothic fiction depends a great deal on setting. As a matter of fact it’s crucial. There are crypts and spooky castles and the all-pervading feel of menace and melancholy. The setting is so important as to almost become a character in the plot. I mean Wuthering Heights taking place in the South of France just wouldn’t be the same, would it?
With regard to themes, Gothic fiction has hugely dramatic themes: there’s madness and obsession for instance.
Jane Eyre portrays madness in the guise of poor mad, Bertha Mason locked in a tower. She has a keeper, one Grace Poole who seems, I have always thought, to be serving out a punishment perhaps self-inflicted for something in her own past.
The madness of guilt is depicted brilliantly in Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart. The more we read of the narrator’s words the greater we understand his madness. He is after all telling us he had reasons to kill the old man, reasons he is certain we would all identify with; he’s rationalizing, poor thing.
Madness can affect anyone. We’re just not used to the term in our daily lives any more. There are reasons for everything, politically correct words for everything. The tortured characters of the Poe stories would be zipped in to see a counselor and sent home with medication or possibly prescribed it in prison.
“Yes, we know about the old man. We found him under the floorboards, remember? Well, never mind about that now. This is only the beginning of your therapy. Yes, that’s right. This medication is vital to relax you so that I can begin to help you…now won’t that be a relief?”
A supposed conversation in 2013 with the prison psychiatrist after the narrator in The Tell Tale Heart has been incarcerated in a ‘secure psychiatric facility.’
Not exactly hard-hitting that way is it? Having said that, I think Gothic fiction most certainly can be contemporary. I always thought Sunset Boulevard (film) was wonderfully Gothic. The ageing movie star, the once-beautiful Norma Desmond is sinking ever more deeply into MADNESS, so that by the end of the film she is a blurry face dancing into the camera.
By that time the camera has become her personal devil if not Satan himself. She lived for the camera and fell apart when it abandoned her. The camera is culpable in Norma Desmond’s madness and possibly an accomplice in the murder of Joe Gillis the hapless young man she murders.
Poor Norma! But what about all the others like her? Ah, but they fatten up an industry. Where would plastic surgeons be without them? Of course as in the best traditions of Gothic horror they might have one too many or five or ten too many surgical procedures so that they then become their own sort of monster. Does vanity drive them to this? If so, what preys upon those vane men and women? Could greed be the catalyst in this?
That’s pretty Gothic to me. It’s one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Anyone know where Satan is?
I’m thinking about Goethe’s Faust now in relation to the Seven Deadly Sins. Dr. Faustus was prideful wasn’t he; proud of his education and intellect and possibly because of his education, he sought further enlightenment–in this case though it was forbidden knowledge.
He is heroic and a sinner too. Yet we can identify with him, because we, too, might fantasize about challenging heaven and the cosmos. Who doesn’t want to know the secrets of life and death?
This search or quest for forbidden knowledge always leads to a fall. Part of our lesson or the lesson that is so vital in Gothic fiction! Seek too much and you are punished!
Temptation tempts and then the punishment: payback. Dr. Jekyll had a damned good time as Hyde but paid as Jekyll. Von Frankenstein just a man of his time wanted to do something great, to revive dead flesh but he created a pathetic monster, the only literary zombie in my opinion.
Then the payback-is-a bitch-law: “Ye who dabble beyond what is deemed proper, boy will you be sorry!
So maybe Gothic fiction, real Gothic fiction–should have within the storyline things other than spooky castles and dusty crypts. There is some sort of morality play going on.
The Gothic fiction that I admire challenges the reader (or should, in my opinion) to think, to be pulled into the characters’ world. Great fiction should leave us ruffled, affected and sometimes even disturbed. At the very least it should make us feel something. For me, the theme of good vs. evil must be present somewhere within the story, or guys–if it isn’t it just ain’t GOTHIC.
I like mine with a side order of darkest horror, my worst nightmares dished up with enough horror to become my readers’ worst nightmares!
Gothic fiction has been around a long time. Its roots go back to the 18th Century at least. There’s Walpole and Radcliffe that started it all. And what about Mary Shelley and Polidori, pulling the rug out from under Byron and Percy during that fantastic time at Villa Diodati and penning Frankenstein and The Vampyre.
Edgar Allan Poe gave us stories to treasure and be haunted by forever. He extracted from his own tortured soul that which tortures us still to this day. And the Brontes: Charlotte and Emily giving us love and madness, child ghosts haunting desolate moors. They wrote about characters we would never forget because we could never forget them!
I have always loved Gothic fiction and have written here many times of…
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