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Gothic Fiction: Definition, Characteristics & Authors

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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: James Greaver

Jim has a master's degree in secondary Education and has taught English from middle school level to college.

In this lesson we will learn about 'Gothic fiction'. We discuss its characteristics and some of the authors involved in the genre. Afterwards, you will be asked to take a short quiz to test your comprehension.

Definition of Gothic Fiction

The term Gothic fiction refers to a style of writing that is characterized by elements of fear, horror, death, and gloom, as well as romantic elements, such as nature, individuality, and very high emotion. These emotions can include fear and suspense.

This style of fiction began in the mid 1700s with a story titled, The Castle of Otranto (in 1764), by Horace Walpole. This story was about a doomed family and is filled with death, desire, and intrigue. This story is considered to be the first of the Gothic fiction tales, since it encompassed many of the characteristics of the genre. The term Gothic actually originated as a term belittling the architecture and art of the period, which was dark, decaying, and dismal.

A Gothic church
gothic church

Gothic artistic elements
gothic art

The settings were often old, dilapidated buildings or houses in gloomy, lifeless, fear-inducing landscapes (The Fall of the House of Usher, mentioned later, is a great example of the use of nature and setting as a fearful element). Much of the literature involved monsters, such as vampires, who brought suffering and death to the forefront. There were also stories that simply displayed these elements of fear and suffering in the settings themselves.

Authors

There were many authors who loved to write in the Gothic genre, such as Edgar Allan Poe.

Edgar Allan Poe
photo of poe

  • 'The Tell-Tale Heart' - A tale of murder, guilt, and irony.
  • 'The Fall of the House of Usher' - A story about a man and his horrifying connection to his family dwelling.
  • 'The Raven' - A riveting poem about a man's descent into madness.

These tales all have those characteristics of darkness, suffering, and even death. While Poe is undoubtedly the best known of the Gothic authors, he is certainly not the only one. Here are a few of the more noted examples of Gothic authors and their famous works:

  • Nathaniel Hawthorne - The Minister's Black Veil
  • Anne Radcliffe - The Italian
  • Mary Shelley - Frankenstein
  • Robert Louis Stevenson - The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  • Oscar Wilde - The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • Bram Stoker - Dracula
  • W. W. Jacobs - The Monkey's Paw

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