The Gothic Novel
The Gothic novels became popular at the end of the 18th century amid all classes of society, from the uneducated to literate gentry, from the working class to the aristocrats.
Gothic literature was born in a period when the industrialization had destroyed the importance of the individuals and people had become slaves in a world they could not control. In this context, people grew awareness of social inequality. Gothic literature was thus a reaction against capitalism and the symbols and characters presented were a criticism of social problems.
The name “Gothic” can be associated to different aspects: it recalls something medieval, because it is connected to the architectural style of the Middle Ages, something barbarous and irregular, as opposed to Classicism, and something mysterious, fearful and supernatural.
The main recurring featured of Gothic novels were:
- ancient, mysterious and isolated settings (underground cellars, secret rooms, mysterious castles, etc.);
- terrible crimes happening in Catholic countries;
- complex plots associated with mysterious factors;
- everything is covered in mystery;
- supernatural beings;
- terrifying descriptions;
- exaggerated reactions in front of mysterious elements;
- terrifying male characters who had no control over their destructive impulses and inexorably fell victim of them;
- heroines persecuted by illusory fears.
Gothic symbols are for example the vampire and the wanderer who are in search of the forbidden knowledge. They reflect the general discontent with the society and the wish to reach beyond God and surpass human limits.