The gothic horror novel is a literary genre that arose at the end of the 18th century in England. Its origins are found in medieval literature and in the tales of terror and mystery that were told in Europe during the Middle Ages. It is characterized by its sinister and gloomy atmosphere, with environments and places such as old castles and cemeteries. It also often includes supernatural elements, such as spirits and monsters, and mysterious and enigmatic characters, many drawn from European folklore. Tension and fear are key elements in this genre, and the element of the unknown is often used to heighten the sense of mystery and terror.
Its popularity grew in a very short time and from then on, the Gothic horror novel became a popular genre in Europe and America, and has been influential in many other literary genres, such as romantic horror and psychological suspense. Some of the most famous authors of gothic horror novels include Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Shelley, and Bram Stoker.
The first gothic horror novel is considered to be “The Castle of Otranto” by Horace Walpole, published in 1764. This novel established many of the elements that have become characteristic of the genre, such as sinister old castles, mysterious characters, and dark and ominous secrets along with a spooky atmosphere.
“The Castle of Otranto” (The Castle of Otranto) tells the story of a young man named Theodore, who is the heir to the castle of Otranto. However, a series of mysterious and sinister events threaten to take the castle and his inheritance from her. The novel explores themes of fate, guilt, and sin, and uses supernatural and mystical elements to create a dark and terrifying atmosphere.
After the success of “The Castle of Otranto”, many other gothic horror novels emerged that followed his style and subject matter. Some of the most famous include «The Mysterious Island» by Ann Radcliffe, “The Monks” by Matthew Lewis and «The Italian» by Ann Radcliffe.
In short, the early Gothic horror novels established many of the elements that have become characteristic of the genre and have been highly influential on horror literature and art in general. If you’re into mystery and horror stories, then you might be interested in reading some of these early novels and finding out how they influenced other literary genres and art forms.
In addition to the ones I mentioned above, there are many others that have been very influential and are considered classics of the genre. Some of the most famous are:
“Dracula” by Bram Stoker: This is one of the most famous gothic horror novels of all time. Published in 1897, it tells the story of a vampire named Dracula who seeks to expand his empire of death and terror. The novel has been adapted to numerous formats and has influenced many other vampire and horror stories. It contains an innovative and differentiating element in its narrative, since it is told in an epistolary way, through the diary of the protagonists, newspaper clippings, etc.
“Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley: Published in 1818, this is one of the earliest science horror novels and has been highly influential on the genre. It tells the story of a scientist named Victor Frankenstein who creates a monster out of corpses. The novel explores themes such as responsibility and the power of science and has been adapted into many different formats.
“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe: Published in 1843, this is one of Poe’s most famous and terrifying stories. It tells how the narrator murders an old man and hides his body under the bedroom of his house. However, the old man’s heart continues to beat and the narrator begins to hear it, driving him insane. The story is a perfect example of Poe’s dark and scary style and has been adapted into many different formats.
Authors that we would not associate with this genre a priori have dared to make their inroads into it. From Charles Dickens, Alexandre Dumas, Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, Emilia Pardo Bazán…
The gothic horror novel has been influential in many other literary genres and art forms, and has been revisited and reimagined by many contemporary authors. Some of the ways it has influenced other genres are:
Romantic Horror: This literary genre emerged in the early 19th century and combines elements of horror and romance. Romantic horror novels often include supernatural elements and a spooky atmosphere, as in the gothic horror novel, but they also include romance elements and a more complex plot. Famous romantic horror authors include Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Psychological Suspense: This literary genre focuses on the mind and emotions of the characters and uses the element of the unknown to create tension and mystery. Many psychological thrillers take inspiration from the gothic horror novel and use elements such as sinister old castles and mysterious characters. Famous authors of psychological suspense include Daphne du Maurier and Shirley Jackson.
Horror movies, series, comics, and video games have been based not only on the formulas used by this literary genre, but have also been concerned with directly adapting many of its works. Throughout the next articles we will review some examples of this.
Like everything in this life, the fashion for gothic horror passed… or rather, it mutated and adapted to the times. Novels of ghosts and spirits first, “Lovecraftian” terror or gore later, have succeeded this ancient genre, but have not displaced it. The gothic horror novel has evolved over time and continues to be a popular genre that contemporary authors continue to cultivate and create great works. Pilar Pedraza is a clear example of this.
In the next articles we will review works, authors, styles, influence and everything we can think of about this fantastic genre.
If you like mystery and horror stories, then you might be interested in reading some of the most famous gothic horror novels. I assure you that you will not be disappointed!