Elements of Gothic Literature

Explore 10 of the Most Common Elements of Gothic Literature

The mysterious world of Gothic novels is created with the help of elements such as a medieval setting, tyrants, villains, damsels, omens, curses, etc. These novels recreate the atmosphere of medieval times and take us into a world of tragedy, fear and horrifying events.
Penlighten Staff
Last Updated: Jun 3, 2018
Horace Walpole is the novelist credited with the invention of Gothic genre. His novel, The Castle of Otranto (1764) had all the ingredients that are found in Gothic novels. The Gothic form of literature was the product of socio-political conditions that prevailed in medieval Europe. The dark period of medieval times was portrayed in this literature. The word, Gothic became associated with this literature because of the similar settings used in the novels. For example, the castle was a common feature in most of the Gothic novels. Mystery and terror depicted in these novels were the factors capable of attracting attention of people and in making this form of literature popular in those times.

Gothic Literature Elements

Human beings have a strange fascination with terror and the Gothic novels provide them (readers) with an opportunity to experience that terror, that thrill passively. There are many aspects of Gothic literature other than terror. The different Gothic literature elements are dealt with, in this article.

Mystery
It is the soul of Gothic literature and governs the entire process of storytelling. Something that is beyond our understanding leads to the development of mystery. A typical Gothic atmosphere is created with the help of this element. Objects or paraphernalia which help create the Gothic atmosphere are the burial vaults, suits of armor, flickering candles, portraits, evil potions, etc.

Environment and Setting
A forest area, mountains, stormy weather, etc. are the settings used for storytelling in Gothic novels. These are ideal settings to weave a story that revolves around terror, horror and supernatural events. The dungeons of castles, secret passageways and other such elements of Gothic literature adds to the enigma that surround the characters in these stories.

Nightmares
The portrayal of nightmares in Gothic literature is done for the purpose of adding elements such as terror and horror. Nightmares are used to depict the fear experienced by characters in these novel. Terrifying events are presented through their dreams. The nightmares are added in the plot of a story in order to let loose the writer's imagination which has limited scope in the context of events presented in the story. Elaborating more on the nature of a character, his insecurities, fears, etc. is possible through nightmares.

Omens and Curses
Visions, portents and omens are the concepts quite commonly used in Gothic novels. A tragic event is preceded by unlucky omens. The ancient curses included in these stories also make life miserable for the characters in Gothic novels.

Decline and Decay
The stories of Gothic novels revolve around a country or royal family that is in the process of decline. This process is reflected in the behavior or characters. The descriptions of ruins of castles in Gothic literature also give an idea about the process of decay.

Supernatural Events
The use of supernatural events is quite common in Gothic novels. Such events are planted in the story to make them dramatic. Examples of such events include inanimate objects coming to life, giants walking, etc. Inclusion of these elements make the Gothic novels interesting to read.

Damsel in Distress
Sufferings of women form an important part of Gothic novels. The story of these damsels revolve around sufferings, loneliness, etc. Characters of oppressed and ostracized women are generally portrayed in this genre of literature.

Villains
Autocratic male characters are the villains in Gothic novels. These are people in authoritative positions, most often kings. The villains are cunning and shifty in their behavior. Bandits, priests and other such characters are also portrayed as villains. The villains may exhibit a deceptive behavior of being initially sympathetic however, turning evil later on.

Protagonists
The Gothic heroes are endowed with qualities like intelligence, wisdom, strength, sensitivity, pride, etc. Most often they carry around guilt and are burdened by sorrow.

Romance
The romantic themes used in Gothic novels are lined by passion, sorrow and tragedy. The grotesque and mysterious events also form an important part of this genre of literature.

The elements of Gothic literature carved their way into the mainstream and were used in novels by notable writers. These elements can be found in the works of Sir Walter Scott, Emily Bronte, Charlotte Bronte, etc. A particular genre or style of writing appeals to those readers who can relate to or associate themselves with characters or events depicted in the stories. With changing times, people may not find gothic literature as engaging as it was earlier. This is also the reason behind Gothic literature losing its sheen and in today's world becoming completely fossilized. This form of literature was however, one of the important genre back in olden times that followed the medieval period.