Welcome everyone! I’m Jen, and I’m hoping to share with you all some of my love of literature. I have a couple of English degrees & one in Library Science, but I work currently as an Admin. Assistant- yay me! Actually, I love my job, and I have even built a small library for the people we serve at my organization (I work with people with intellectual/developmental disabilities). So it’s not so bad! I try to read at least 50 books a year; I do still have a life & a teenage stepdaughter, so I feel pretty proud of that. I intend to review my reading here, and also to share some of my literary ramblings. I haven’t written in a while, and I suck at fiction, so here you go! I hope you enjoy, and please feel free to contact me if you wanna chat. I’m most active on Instagram, just bc I love how non-political it is.
I thought my first post should be about my deepest love- and that is the GOTHIC. So put on something black, turn on the Cure, smoke a clove, and enjoy!
The gothic is a difficult thing to define. It exists in literature, architecture, music, and even fashion. And I love them all! Give me some Siouxie & the Banshees and a closet of the blackest night and I am a happy girl! When it comes to the gothic novel, however, most people just go with the laundry list approach to define it. Most gothic novels contain a number of the same trappings. Here’s a partial list:
- A spooky, gloomy setting. Sometimes, but not always, a creepy house or mansion/castle. These places usually have secret passages or panels, tunnels. Somewhere for your poor heroine to get lost!
- A main character on a quest if it is a male. If female, generally the “quest” is for a lost inheritance or a good husband!
- The main character is often an orphan, particularly in the female gothic.
- Nature as the sublime. Often long & detailed descriptions of extreme nature. Craggy rocks, sheer cliffs, gloomy moors.
- Themes of: decay, doubles, madness (women especially), secrets, & persecuted women. If you’ve not noticed this- women are getting the shaft here (and not in a good way!).
- There are often elements of the supernatural, but they are usually explained away in the end. Like in Jane Eyre when we find that there was a crazy woman in the attic, not a ghost!
- A villain! There’s gotta be a bad guy. Sometimes he’s pretty hot.
- The action tends towards the dramatic-mystery, suspense, passion- and even working in the weird stuff like demons, incest, secret wives, and murder! Such drama!
- The ending usually involves the protagonist discovering a true identity (like the orphan who discovers she’s a freaking princess).
- These stories serve as cautionary tales- warnings for readers to realize that they should not fall victim to their baser instincts. For the ladies, this usually meant, “don’t have SEX!”
Throughout the years, the gothic novel evolved in many ways, and served as the inspiration for several different genres of fiction today. When the gothic originated in the late 1700s, “novels” were not considered a valid or intellectual type of reading. By the time the gothic was really in swing, novels were really considered “women’s reading.” And, they were also being written BY women, which is a huge thing. Many modern feminists see the works of the Bronte’s, Radcliffe, etc. as a type of manual for how to work the patriarchal system! You know, how to have sex with the hot guy, get a roof over your head, and not get beat too much?!)
Anyways, I believe that the gothic broke into two different branches, and gave us what we now know as horror (like Stephen King) and romance (like the classic bodice-rippers!). Of course we do still have some novels that actually fit in the gothic genre- for instance, Catriona Ward’s Rawblood has all the trappings. And there is definitely a great tradition of modern gothic I will write more about. But most of the horror genre has slipped a little to one way, and the romance genre the other way.
In order to understand where horror is today, it’s a good idea to see where it came from. Here is a list of what I believe to be the most important gothic novels to give you a good base to start from. If you think I missed something, please let me know!
- Castle of Otranto- Horace Walpole (considered the 1st)
- Vathek- William Thomas Beckford
- The Monk- Matthew Lewis
- Caleb Williams- William Godwin
- The Mysteries of Udolpho- Ann Radcliffe
- Wieland – Charles Brockden Brown
- Northanger Abbey -Jane Austen (amazing parody!)
- The Vampyre- John Polidori
- Frankenstein- Mary Shelley
- Dracula- Bram Stoker
- Jane Eyre- Charlotte Bronte
- Wuthering Heights- Emily Bronte
- Carmilla- J. Sheridan le Fanu
- Stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne
- Stories of Edgar Allan Poe
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to paint my nails black….