Themes and Tropes in Gothic Literature

Gothic Tropes 

Having said that “Gothic literature is hard to define” there are many recognisable tropes which crop up again and again –

  • Darkness
  • Isolation
  • Madness – and confusion over what is real or unreal
  • Frame Narratives, again confusion over what is real, piecing together rumour, folklore, local history, diaries, letters.
  • Disease
  • Superstition
  • Dreams and Nightmares
  • Eroticism
  • The Church
  • Corrupt Churchmen
  • Atheism
  • Witchcraft, Magic and Occultism
  • The Aristocracy
  • Death and the afterlife

Other things to look out for when reading Gothic Literature-

  • The suggestion of a tall tale, many Gothic stories use a frame narrative, with someone using notebooks, letters and verbal rumours to construct the story.
  • Look at the conclusions of the stories. Often, sympathetic or innocent characters are killed off (Lucy Westenra in Dracula). Evil characters may come to a sticky end (Ambrosio in The Monk). Or the story may be left somewhat open-ended (The Monster in Frankenstein is left walking the Arctic wasteland).
  • There is not necessarily an epiphany, redemption or catharsis in Gothic tales, they sometimes stray from this classical model (The Bloody Countess – Alejandra Pizarnik – 1968).
  • Look at attitudes towards Religion
  • Look at the role of Women
  • Think about deviance from social norms, are any of the characters “loners” or “outsiders”?

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