The Dark Arts Of Gothic Horror

The Dark Arts Of Gothic Horror

By Chauncey Haworth

What is the gothic horror genre?

The Gothic horror genre emerged in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and is characterized by a sense of dread, fear, and supernatural elements. It typically involves a gloomy and eerie atmosphere, with settings that are often old and decaying, such as castles, ruins, and graveyards.

Gothic horror often features supernatural creatures or phenomena, such as ghosts, vampires, or werewolves, and often explores themes of death, madness, and the unknown. It’s known for its use of suspense, mystery, and the macabre, as well as a deep exploration of psychological and emotional states.

Some famous examples of Gothic horror literature include Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher. In film, examples include classics like Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, as well as more recent films like The Babadook and The Witch.

Origins of Gothic Literature

Gothic literature has a rich history, with roots dating back to the 18th century. It’s dark and mysterious themes have inspired countless works of fiction and film.

Gothic literature emerged in England, at a time when the Romantic movement was gaining momentum. The term “gothic” was initially used to describe medieval architecture. The term was later applied to literature that shared the  architecture’s perceived dark and ominous tone. The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole, first published in 1764 is considered the first gothic novel. The novel is set in a medieval castle in Italy and tells the story of the nobleman Manfred, who seeks to secure his family’s succession. The story features many of the conventions of gothic literature, including a supernatural atmosphere, mysterious events, terror, and suspense. It was widely popular when first published and has since become a classic of English literature.

Characteristics of Gothic Literature

A gothic novel is characterized by dark, mysterious, and supernatural themes, often set in a medieval castle or other ominous isolated setting. The genre is often associated with horror and suspense, and frequently features elements of the supernatural, such as ghosts, vampires, and other creatures. Gothic literature often features complex and flawed characters, who struggle with issues of morality and existential angst.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Some Notable Gothic Horror Novels and Stories

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is one of the most iconic novels of the gothic horror genre, and for good reason. Published in 1818, the book tells the story of Dr. Victor Frankenstein, a scientist who becomes obsessed with creating life from non-living matter. He succeeds in his experiment, but the result is a monstrous being that he quickly abandons. The creature, however, demands that Victor make him a mate, which sets off a chain of events that lead to tragedy and horror.

One of the key themes of Frankenstein is playing God and the responsibility that comes with creating life.  Frankenstein also explores the consequences of mistreating those who are different. The language and style of the book add to its gothic atmosphere, as the reader is immersed in the gloomy and oppressive world.

Mary Shelley

The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe’s short story is a prime example of his gothic style. The story centers around the Usher family, who live in a decaying mansion that seems to be alive with supernatural forces. The narrator, a childhood friend of the last Usher heir, visits the family and witnesses their descent into madness.

The Fall of the House of Usher uses vivid imagery, and the exploration of death and isolation to convey its unsettling and creepy tone.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

No list of gothic horror novels would be complete without Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Published in 1897, the book is the quintessential vampire tale, featuring the iconic Count Dracula. The novel is told through a series of diary entries, letters, and newspaper articles, which create a sense of immediacy and urgency.

Dracula is renowned for its chilling and sensual portrayal of the vampire, as well as its exploration of themes such as sexuality, desire, and the fear of foreigners. The book’s gothic atmosphere is enhanced by its descriptions of castles, crypts, and ruined abbeys, as well as its use of superstition and folklore.


The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The Yellow Wallpaper is a short story written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and first published in 1892. It is considered a seminal work of early American feminist literature.

The story is told through a series of journal entries written by an unnamed narrator, who has been confined to a room by her  physician husband. The narrator is suffering from postpartum depression or other mental illness, and has been prescribed a “rest cure” of complete isolation and inactivity. As the days pass, the narrator becomes increasingly obsessed with the room’s yellow wallpaper.

The Yellow Wallpaper contains many of the key elements of the gothic genre. The story takes place in a decaying country house, and the protagonist is psychologically terrorized and confined. The yellow wallpaper is a key gothic element, a symbol of the protagonist’s psychological deterioration and a supernatural element.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The History of Gothic Horror

Gothic horror has been around for centuries, with the first example being the novel The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole, published in 1764. The novel was set in a medieval castle and featured a dark, supernatural theme that would later become the hallmark of the gothic genre. Following its success, other gothic horror writers emerged, including Ann Radcliffe, whose novel The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) is considered a classic of the genre.

However, it was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) that truly established gothic horror. The novel deals with themes of life, death, and morality, and has become a classic of gothic, science fiction, horror and literature at large.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, gothic horror continued to evolve, with authors like Bram Stoker and Robert Louis Stevenson introducing new elements to the genre. Stoker’s Dracula is perhaps the most famous gothic horror novel of all time, exploring themes of sexuality, death, and the supernatural.

Horace Walpole

During the mid-20th century, gothic horror experienced a decline in popularity, with the rise of science fiction and other genres. However, the genre experienced a resurgence in the 1960s and 1970s, with the rise of new authors like Shirley Jackson and Stephen King bring new life by incorporating modern themes and elements.

Today, gothic horror continues to be popular, with new writers and filmmakers exploring the enduring themes and motifs.

From classic novels to modern films, gothic horror remains a vital and important part of the literary and cinematic landscape.