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Gothic fiction, which is largely known by the subgenre of Gothic horror, is a genre or mode of literature and film that combines fiction and horror, death, and at times romance. The effect of Gothic fiction feeds on a pleasing sort of terror, an extension of Romantic literary pleasures that were relatively new at the time of Walpole’s novel.
It originated in England in the second half of the 18th century where, following Walpole, it was further developed by Clara Reeve, Ann Radcliffe, William Thomas Beckford and Matthew Lewis. The genre had much success in the 19th century, as witnessed by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Another well known novel in this genre, dating from the late Victorian era, is Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Gothic architecture, in which many of these stories take place. This extreme form of romanticism was very popular in England and Germany. The English Gothic novel also led to new novel types such as the German Schauerroman and the French Georgia.
The aesthetics of the book have shaped modern-day gothic books, films, art, music and the goth subculture. The novel usually regarded as the first Gothic novel is The Castle of Otranto by English author Horace Walpole, which was first published in 1764. Walpole’s declared aim was to combine elements of the medieval romance, which he deemed too fanciful, and the modern novel, which he considered to be too confined to strict realism.
The basic plot created many other staple Gothic generic traits, including a threatening mystery and an ancestral curse, as well as countless trappings such as hidden passages and oft-fainting heroines. Walpole published the first edition disguised as a medieval romance from Italy discovered and republished by a fictitious translator. When Walpole admitted to his authorship in the second edition, its originally favourable reception by literary reviewers changed into rejection. Samuel Richardson and Henry Fielding.
A romance with superstitious elements, and moreover void of didactical intention, was considered a setback and not acceptable. Walpole’s forgery, together with the blend of history and fiction, contravened the principles of the Enlightenment and associated the Gothic novel with fake documentation. Walpole’s plot and adapt it to the demands of the time by balancing fantastic elements with 18th-century realism. In her preface, Reeve wrote: “This Story is the literary offspring of The Castle of Otranto, written upon the same plan, with a design to unite the most attractive and interesting circumstances of the ancient Romance and modern Novel.
The question now arose whether supernatural events that were not as evidently absurd as Walpole’s would not lead the simpler minds to believe them possible. Ann Radcliffe developed the technique of the explained supernatural in which every seemingly supernatural intrusion is eventually traced back to natural causes. Her success attracted many imitators. However, along with most novels at the time, they were looked down upon by many well-educated people as sensationalist nonsense.
Radcliffe also provided an aesthetic for the genre in an influential article “On the Supernatural in Poetry”, examining the distinction and correlation between horror and terror in Gothic fiction, utilizing the uncertainties of terror in her works to produce a model of the uncanny. Combining experiences of terror and wonder with visual description was a technique that pleased readers and set Radcliffe apart from other gothic writers. Romantic literary movements developed in continental Europe concurrent with the development of the Gothic novel. France, by such writers as François Guillaume Ducray-Duminil, Baculard d’Arnaud and Madame de Genlis.