What is Gothic Literature?

Gothic Literature can be traced back to eighteenth-century Britain. The first recognized Gothic fictional piece is The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole. Contrary to the serious mystification now attached to Gothic Literature, Castle of Otranto included The Gothic as an inspiration of humor. This element fulfilled its purpose by being humorous. However, it simultaneously functioned as an ominous element.

Gothic Literature takes advantage of the scarcely believed but widely rumored existence of the supernatural. Over the years, several themes and features have been attached to this genre of literature.

Gothic Literature is a genre of fictional writing, now known as Horror, which fixates on the aesthetics of fear and the paranormal. Gothic fiction includes the use of ominous themes, haunting scenery, and horrific occurrences in giving readers or viewers a mystifying experience. This genre, from its inception, added Romance as an inclusion of realism. In some cases, now common with Modern Gothic Literature, it focuses on horrific realities of humanity, featuring rare characters that embrace their dark and gruesome sides.

Examples of Gothic Literature

  • The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Gothic Elements in The Castle of Otranto

This is the first fictional piece which features Gothic themes. The Castle of Otranto tells the story of a king, Manfred, who attempts to evade a prophecy which threatens his family’s stake on the throne. The story features several elements which are now attributed to Gothic literature;

  • The Mysterious death of Conrad, Manfred’s son.

Conrad is set to marry Hippolyta, prodded by his father in an attempt to get an heir to the throne before his death. However, Conrad is crushed to death by a gigantic helmet. This form of death leaves an air of mystery and horror in the audience. It also shows Fate fighting against all attempts against its perpetuation.

  • Isabella, the damsel in distress.

Gothic fiction is now known to feature women who need to be rescued from a tyrannous male, though not as an essential element of Gothic Literature. Isabella is the damsel in distress. After the death of Conrad, Manfred doesn’t give up his aim to evade the prophecy. He decides to divorce his wife and marry Isabella so she can give birth to his heir before he does. Her escape is aided by Theodore, who turns out to be a significant character in the narrative.

  • The Castle

Many Gothic fiction books are set in Castles, making the setting a significant element of Gothic Literature. The Castle of Otranto is also set in a castle which houses the secrets of the royal family. Isabella also gets lost in the Castle trying to escape Manfred who attempts to defile her and make her bear a son.

  • Blast from the Past; The Catching up of Reality

This element can take different forms including past mistakes catching up to the present, events from the past creating a plot twist, and many more. It is introduced with the peasant who helps Isabella in escaping from the Castle. Manfred’s grandfather, Ricardo, usurped the throne from Alfonso and the Royal family. Theodore is soon revealed as the grandson of Alfonso who will become the king after Manfred’s death, thus fulfilling the prophecy.

Gothic Elements in Dracula

Gothic literature

This tells the story of Count Dracula, a vampire, who attempts relocating to England in search of new blood. From its story to its use of characters and setting, Dracula is dominated by Gothic elements.

  • Supernatural major characters; Count Dracula and Abraham Van Helsing.

Count Dracula is the major character in the novel and he is a Vampire, a frightening supernatural creature. The idea of a blood-sucking super-strong monster is enough to inspire fear and his actions take it even further. Abraham Van Helsing is another character in the novel. He is a professor but also a supernatural creature popularly known as a Werewolf. The “Werewolf” myth has several origin stories and “Abraham Van Helsing” picks one of the most frightening; the idea of werewolves losing control every full moon and killing everything in their path.

  • Castle Dracula of Transylvania: Gothic Architecture.

While Gothic Architecture may not feature in every Gothic fiction, it remains a major element. Gothic Architecture refers to an architectural style commonly used in Gothic fiction in housing frightening secrets which often dominate the plot. This architectural style is used in Castle Dracula. Like The Castle of Otranto, the castle is enough to give the novel (or movie) away as a Gothic piece.

  • Damsel in distress.

The two known Damsels in Distress are Lucy and Mina. Lucy is the first victim of Dracula in the novel. She is attacked, turned to a vampire, and eventually killed. Mina is Dracula’s love interest. However, their relationship soon become a terrific one to her. She eventually causes the death of Dracula.

  • The spread of horror.

The motive of most Gothic novels is to instill fear in the audience. Dracula successfully infuses this element. When a lawyer named Jonathan Barker visits Transylvania to help Count Dracula in moving to England, Locals reveal their fright when he reveals his destination as Castle Dracula.

Gothic Elements in Frankenstein

 This tells the story of Victor Frankenstein who dedicated himself to finding the secret of life. After a few years of research, he finds it and puts his knowledge to use. However, his new creature turns out hideous in sight and it hunts him till death.

  • Death, Reanimation, and Dark Experiments

Victor Frankenstein makes his new creature from other dead bodies. The introduction of corpses is enough to instill fear in the audience. Victor Frankenstein succeeds in his experimentation, bringing a new creature to life. However, this goes wrong when the hideous-looking monster haunts him and his loved ones.

  • Revenge.

The new creature of Victor Frankenstein haunts his creator for bringing him to life and leaving him to be lonely. Its request to get a mate is not granted. As revenge against its master, the creature destroys Frankenstein’s family.

  • Horror.

This is one of the most common features with Gothic literature. Frankenstein is crippled by fear at the sight of his new creature. His fear, however, multiplies when the new being takes a human life. When Frankenstein fails to destroy or satisfy his creature, it goes after his family. The possible existence of such a creature instills fear in the audience.


Gothic Literature is mostly associated with the instillation of fear into the audience through the use of myths and realistic devices. The genre has come a long way since its inception, gaining more attributes and continuously advancing. However, an essential element remains intact and that is Fear. Some other old examples of Gothic Literature are Macbeth by Williams Shakespeare and The Fall of The House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe.

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