Gothic Fiction

Main Purpose: To channel many of the fears, vices and undercurrents of the prevailing Enlightenment philosophy of the day by reviving an interest in horror and medieval romance.

Landmark Texts:

Edmund Burke – A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757)

Burke’s treatise sought to differentiate the ‘beautiful’ from the ‘sublime’, the former being a benign expression of God’s divine providence, the latter being a reaction the instinctual human fears, the most obvious one being death. Burke’s distinction explains the formula that is Gothic Fiction; violence, incest and other past atrocities can only be contained in secret for just so long until their projection upon the natural world overwhelms those unwittingly involved.

Horace Walpole – The Castle of Otranto (1764)

Just like The RIme of the Ancient Mariner, this book was at first portrayed as an antiquary text that had been recently revived. Horace Walpole’s horror story about Manfred, a mad king who seeks the hand of Isabella, his son’s bride, when he gets crushed by a giant helmet. Walpole channels Manfred’s fears and vices through mythical creatures, ghosts, and other supernatural beings as Isabella attempts to escape his crazed grip on the last remaining family line.

Ann Radcliffe – The Mysteries of Udulpho (1794)

Ann Radcliffe’s novel exemplifies decades-long development of the Gothic Novel from being a largely fantastical experience to being more about the more honest implications of the character’s intentions. When Emily St .Aubert stays at the Castle Udulpho for a while, she puts herself at risk of having her fortune taken by the castle’s malevolent guardian, Montoni. the fantastical is more of a device than a feature of the story, a trend that will later be picked up by two emerging authors of the time, Charlotte and Emily Brontë.

Edgar Allen Poe – The Raven (1845)

Edgar Allen Poe introduced several elements of the gothic on the other side of the Atlantic. His most memorable creation, the forcefully insistent poem The Raven, infuses classical language with incessant internal rhyming and alliteration to signify the narrator’s gradual descent into madness during a dark and stormy night. There has been much debate about what exactly the raven represents, but as the previous selections suggest, the bird is undoubtedly a manifestation of the narrator’s unacquainted fears.


  1. “To assess the damage caused European colonial rule in nations all around the world while also reinvigorating these regions with a sense of linguistic and artistic identity”

    Then why are 3 out of the 5 books written by white Europeans?

  2. Second full day of my second visit to Cape Breton. I know being a vitosir gives one a perspective different from a full-time resident, but even so I trust (hope?) that Capers realize the great beauty you all have around you. This is an amazing place. Just sayin’.

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