The term Gothic is used relating to Gothic architecture, sculpture or painting of the 12th to 16th century in Western Europe. Being associated with medieval times, Gothic has come to signify novels which have, what is thought to be a typical medieval setting: omens, gloomy or enchanted castles or monasteries, trap doors, dungeons, haunted ruins and secret passages. The characters are typified; dialogues and the characters' reactions are full of platitudes and clichés. Often there is a virtuous protagonist opposed to one or more villains, or a mysterious character whose secret past is revealed. The plot is embedded into an atmosphere of mystery and chilling terror.
Examples of Gothic novels are:
The following passage gives an impression of the kind of horror evoked by a Gothic narration:
“As the moon was now at its height, he read in the countenances of this unhappy company the event he dreaded. 'What! Is she dead?' Cried he in wild confusion – A clap of thunder at that instant shook the castle to its foundations; the earth rocked, and the clank of more than mortal armour was heard behind. Frederic and Jerome thought the last day was at hand. The latter, forcing Theodore along with them, rushed into the court. The moment Theodore appeared, the walls of the castle behind Manfred were thrown down with a mighty force, and the form of Alfonso, dilated to an immense magnitude, appeared in the centre of the ruins. 'Behold in Theodore, the true heir of Alfonso!' said the vision: and having pronounced those words, accompanied by a clap of thunder, it ascended solemnly towards heaven, where the clouds parting asunder, the form of Saint Nicholas was seen; and receiving Alfonso's shade, they were soon wrapped from mortal eyes in a blaze of glory.”
(Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto, final scene)
Gothic in the broader sense has been applied to narratives which, though lacking the medieval setting, create an atmosphere of gloom and terror:
or which display Gothic stock devices, e.g. mistaken or double identity, guilt, suspense and horror:
MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT SHELLEY's Frankenstein is the incredible story of Victor Frankenstein, a Genevan student of science, who learns the secret of making dead material come alive. By constructing a creature, which is near-human, out of parts of dead bodies, he enters into the Faustian Pact (the thirst for knowledge which is followed by punishment): his ambition later turns on him, when the creature he has created runs out of control. Its monster-like appearance casts it into an outsider role. Out of hatred, it kills its creator, his brother and his bride.
Frankenstein can also be considered the first Science Fiction novel, as it deals with one of the basic themes of Science Fiction: man aims at outdoing nature and later meets with retribution.
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