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  1. #1
    Obviously up to something Neffalathiel's Avatar
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    Does the Gothic novel still relate to the 21st century horror?

    First of all, don't think I'm lazy and can't think of my own Bachelor Paper thesis, but I'm not too sure about the subject and wanted a number of second opinions before I made a decision. (I'm not starting on it until February 2009, so there's still time.) I also do not have a definite thesis, so what I've written below are the remnants of my musings on the topic.

    I was wondering about the roots of current genres and my wonderings brought me to the topic of the 21st century horrornovel. As you probably all know it's derived from the 18th century gothic novel, but I've got the feeling that horror brought out in, say, the last three decades have little to do with that genre anymore. For instance, the vampire novel, which has changed from a mysterious subgenre to books filled to the brim with either sex or teenage angst, or Stephen King's novels which seem to focus on the 'scary' more than the emotional or supernatural. The attractiveness of the supernatural that once was a definite part of the genre is starting to disappear and is being replaced with typicalities from more common genres.

    What do you think? Am I right and is this true, or am I talking crap and shouldn't even bother writing a paper on this? (Don't worry, I also have other topics I can work with, but I wanted to do something with the gothic novel as it is one of the major epiphanies I've had during my uni years.)Any other hints or tips are also welcome of course, but I was just wondering what you guys think.

  2. #2
    I'm not nearly as well-read in horror as I am in fantasy, and I know very little about the history of the genre, so my thoughts on this subject should be taken with a hefty grain of salt.

    Having said that, I think the Gothic novel -- or at least elements of the Gothic novel -- still survive as a subset of horror and dark fantasy fiction, sort of like cozies and noir are subsets of mystery (and, again, dark fantasy) fiction. Joe Hill's Heart-Shaped Box is sometimes said to have elements of Gothic horror, for example. (I don't know about that myself, but it's a good book whether or not that's the case.)

    It would probably be hard to find a pure example of a modern-day "Gothic novel" that fit the form of the classic works, just because the publishing industry and reading tastes have changed so profoundly. But elements of it are still very strong in current work. The "attractiveness of the supernatural" is a huge part of current urban fantasy, including the burgeoning paranormal romance subgenre. That it's sometimes poorly executed, or that it's become a lot more explicitly sexual and a lot less creepy in most modern fiction, doesn't mean that the idea isn't there.

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Neffalathiel View Post
    [...]
    I was wondering about the roots of current genres and my wonderings brought me to the topic of the 21st century horrornovel. As you probably all know it's derived from the 18th century gothic novel, but I've got the feeling that horror brought out in, say, the last three decades have little to do with that genre anymore. For instance, the vampire novel, which has changed from a mysterious subgenre to books filled to the brim with either sex or teenage angst, or Stephen King's novels which seem to focus on the 'scary' more than the emotional or supernatural. The attractiveness of the supernatural that once was a definite part of the genre is starting to disappear and is being replaced with typicalities from more common genres.

    What do you think? Am I right and is this true, or am I talking crap and shouldn't even bother writing a paper on this? (Don't worry, I also have other topics I can work with, but I wanted to do something with the gothic novel as it is one of the major epiphanies I've had during my uni years.)Any other hints or tips are also welcome of course, but I was just wondering what you guys think.
    I don't know if you don't know what you're talking about, but I think this is a big, big subject with a fair amount of complexity. You mention Gothic novels, do you realize that Gothic has bled into,
    * Horror
    * Science Fiction
    * Fantasy
    * Romance
    * Historical
    * Mystery

    My own belief is that noir is an outgrowth of Gothic, substituting the bleak city for castles, the labryinthine political system for the intrigues of the royal and the uppercrust of the 18th and 19th centuries.

    Then there's the resurgence of a Gothic feel in space opera -- I've been told it's quite strong in the work of Aleistair (sp?) Reynolds.

    You mention Stephen King's work, but you don't mention Peter Straub or Ramsey Campbell. I'm reading the latter's Midnight Sun right now and it uses the furniture of a haunted house, and Campbell's debt to the ghost stories of M.R. James is very apparent. The former has written works like Ghost Story and "Mr. Cubb and Mr. Chuff" (think that's the right short story title, or close) that nod toward older models. Also, I recently read Sarah Monette's The Bone Key which she states stems from her appreciation of the work of H.P. Lovecraft and M.R. James, both writers who came late in the Gothic tradition.

    Then there's the cottage industry named, Joyce Carol Oates whose Bellefleur, The Mysteries of Winterthurne (sp?) and collection Haunted all look back toward the Gothic. I believe her work is tempered, by an appreciation for Henry James, as is Straub's. James' "The Turn of the Screw" in particular.

    There was an anthology in the 1990s titled The New Gothic. You might look there for an indication of where Gothic has gone. Some of the New Weird seems an off-shoot of that as well. And Steampunk catches some of that flavor, too, I believe. Certainly more recent fantasy works influenced by Mervyn Peake -- see China Mieville -- have displayed a Gothic sensibility

    If you're trying to argue Gothic is no longer relevant, I think you'll have a tough time supporting the thesis against someone who knows Gothic. But if you want to explore how its transformed under different social, political, and cultural conditions, you might have an interesting paper to write. One thing to consider is, how did Gothic change between its earliest incarnation, The Castle of Otranto and, say, Dracula or "The Great God Pan" by Arthur Machen? Note the stylistic and thematic changes in that 100+ year span, then track the trajectory of the changes that came later.

    Randy M.
    Last edited by Randy M.; November 11th, 2008 at 10:16 AM.

  4. #4
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Yeah, I don't think that particular topic is going to work. Goth is still very evident in dark fantasy and dark fantasy has taken off, in part due to the romance crew who always liked it, but also just to the merging of horror and dark fantasy that's occurred and created a solid horror category market. You also have a lot of fabulist fantasy that is Gothic in nature, Neil Gaiman being the most prominent, partly on his comics. And Goth is very big in comics, mixed with noir, which is, I agree, its descendant. Stephen King likes to get Goth sometimes, in things like The Green Mile, which is a mix of Gothic and fabulist, and in his Gunslinger's series, which is dark fantasy with a western Goth aspect. And you're going to have a lot of folk arguing that the vampires are still very Gothic and not just their clothes.

    But what you can do is look at the different strains of horror and dark fantasy, how the 18th century Gothic novels have mutated into different forms. You could look at something that is very modern and sexuality centered, like King's Carrie for instance, compared to something more Gothic and fabulist, like Patricia McKillip's The Bell at Sealey Head. Look at the New Weird writers like Paul Witcover or Jeff Vandermeer versus horror writers like Peter Straub and Clive Barker. (Actually the horror writers might be more Gothic than the New Weird -- not sure.)

    Or you could do it by decade: look at the top 1980's horror writers -- King, Straub, Barker, Koontz, McCammon, etc., and Anne Rice, who was technically Gothic dark fantasy, but sold as horror -- and the dark urban fantasists today -- Kelley Armstrong, Jim Butcher, Christopher Golden, etc. Maybe they're pretty much the same as modern horror, or maybe they've mutated.

    But all in all, I don't think we're done with Gothic at all. Dracula and the wolfman will not leave, it seems. But you'll have to look at what the parameters are for doing your senior thesis in what questions you ask, I guess.

  5. #5
    Obviously up to something Neffalathiel's Avatar
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    Thanks for the replies!
    Maybe I am looking at too much for my paper, yes. But I figured it was better to start off big and then narrow it down to a final topic, than start off with a set topic and see if I can work my way through it without bumping my head on my own boundaries.

    I think you're all right about the vastness of the horrorgenre as it is now. I feel like one hell of a noob right now, but I had never even heard of something called 'New Weird'.. Maybe I'm taking on too much. I think what you said here, Randy, sounds like a better way for me to start.

    Quote Originally Posted by Randy M. View Post
    One thing to consider is, how did Gothic change between its earliest incarnation, The Castle of Otranto and, say, Dracula or "The Great God Pan" by Arthur Machen? Note the stylistic and thematic changes in that 100+ year span, then track the trajectory of the changes that came later.

    Randy M.
    That's stuff I know. That's something I can work with. Until recently, the only books I read for uni were all at least over 100 years old.

    You've all given me something to think about already. Thank you! But if anyone has anything to add to this, by all means! I'll go and muse over this for a while and when I do have something more concrete, I'll post it.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by KatG View Post
    [...]But all in all, I don't think we're done with Gothic at all. Dracula and the wolfman will not leave, it seems. But you'll have to look at what the parameters are for doing your senior thesis in what questions you ask, I guess.
    And note that we haven't hardly touched mainstream literary writing. Besides Joyce Carol Oates, who may be the biggest fish here, writers like Paul Theroux, Patrick McGrath, Iain Banks and the late Frederick Busch have all taken a crack at writing novels with a Gothic or Gothic-like feel to them.

    Randy M.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Neffalathiel View Post
    Thanks for the replies!
    Maybe I am looking at too much for my paper, yes. But I figured it was better to start off big and then narrow it down to a final topic, than start off with a set topic and see if I can work my way through it without bumping my head on my own boundaries.

    I think you're all right about the vastness of the horrorgenre as it is now. I feel like one hell of a noob right now, but I had never even heard of something called 'New Weird'.. Maybe I'm taking on too much. I think what you said here, Randy, sounds like a better way for me to start.

    Originally Posted by Randy M.
    One thing to consider is, how did Gothic change between its earliest incarnation, The Castle of Otranto and, say, Dracula or "The Great God Pan" by Arthur Machen? Note the stylistic and thematic changes in that 100+ year span, then track the trajectory of the changes that came later.
    That's stuff I know. That's something I can work with. Until recently, the only books I read for uni were all at least over 100 years old.

    You've all given me something to think about already. Thank you! But if anyone has anything to add to this, by all means! I'll go and muse over this for a while and when I do have something more concrete, I'll post it.
    Glad to be of help.

    I didn't finish the thought I had started with in that graph -- too much going on around me at the time: Note not just the changes in the prose and story-telling of that time span, but how the Gothic approach was adapted to various thematic uses. Otranto and Ann Radcliffe's works seem very rudimentary and plodding compared to later work by Poe, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Bram Stoker, Robert Louis Stevenson, Oscar Wilde and even the work of Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood and H.P. Lovecraft, all of whom were occasionally clumsy writers.

    If you're still interested in tracing changes in the 20th century, if you can find it, the novel Night Has a Thousand Eyes by Cornell Woolrich from about 1945 is what convinced me that Gothic had metamorphed into noir. The process had begun before that, but Woolrich's novel crystalized it for me.


    Randy M.

  8. #8
    Obviously up to something Neffalathiel's Avatar
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    I've been brainstorming together with the teacher who I want as my supervisor for the paper and he thought that it was a great idea to just look at the differences between the 'beginning' (Walpole) and the next phase, as he called it, which in his opinion should be limited to what we have read from the 'canon'. Which in this case would mean that I can only read Walpole, Stevenson, Wilde, Poe and Shelley. I think I'll try and work him a bit though because I really want to use Stoker as well and maybe H.P. Lovecraft too, if I'm going to include Poe. Although (I feel another brainstorm coming up) Poe wrote much more in a European way, almost old-fashioned. The short story I'm thinking of right now is 'Fall of the House of Usher' and that was very much written like a European ghost story, with the crumbling walls and the deteriorating line of descendants from the old House of Usher. If I remember correctly, HP Lovecraft did not lean on these old habits that much.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Neffalathiel View Post
    I've been brainstorming together with the teacher who I want as my supervisor for the paper and he thought that it was a great idea to just look at the differences between the 'beginning' (Walpole) and the next phase, as he called it, which in his opinion should be limited to what we have read from the 'canon'. Which in this case would mean that I can only read Walpole, Stevenson, Wilde, Poe and Shelley.
    Walpole and Shelley to Poe to Stevenson and Wilde is a pretty good range, though using the latter two stresses the more literary manifestations of Gothic. Stoker was more of a commercial writer who happened to trip over one great idea and develop it well. HPL's prime would come 30+ years after Wilde and Stoker and would definitely be a further development of Gothic, harking back stylistically to much earlier models while using materials that were very much of his time.

    I think I'll try and work him a bit though because I really want to use Stoker as well and maybe H.P. Lovecraft too, if I'm going to include Poe. Although (I feel another brainstorm coming up) Poe wrote much more in a European way, almost old-fashioned. The short story I'm thinking of right now is 'Fall of the House of Usher' and that was very much written like a European ghost story, with the crumbling walls and the deteriorating line of descendants from the old House of Usher. If I remember correctly, HP Lovecraft did not lean on these old habits that much.
    A tentative yes. There were thematic differences between Poe and previous Gothic writers that set him apart and that act as precursors to the Stevenson's Jekyll/Hyde and Wilde's Dorian Gray. If you're interested in getting a bit of background on Poe's own literary inheritance, look into Charles Brockden Brown.

    Good luck with your paper.

    Randy M.

  10. #10
    Registered User Raule's Avatar
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    You might find the Literary Gothic website helpful in your research. They've got some very helpful articles over there, including a list of stories generally attributed to the first and second waves. If you go to the author section of the site, you'll find links to etext posted for most of the authors.

  11. #11
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Well, Randy is the expert here on the horror, but while Stoker is miniscule in Gothic output, his Dracula had such an enormous cultural impact and a scholarly impact on the embrace and study of "romantic" fiction of which Gothic was a big part. Not that I'm saying leave out Poe -- you've got to have Poe -- but Dracula made so many ripples. And if you are looking at any modern developments, Lovecraft would seem to be a must. Every horror and dark fantasy writer I've ever seen interviewed has mentioned Lovecraft as a major influence. He had a big impact on 20th century writers. If you can only squeak one more in there, I'd vote Lovecraft.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by KatG View Post
    Well, Randy is the expert here on the horror,
    Thanks, Kat. Not sure I can live up to that -- Auntie Pam is very knowledgable and has read more widely than I have -- but that's a pleasanter compliment than one given me by a friend who told me the first time he saw the tv show Dexter he thought of me. I'm still wondering how to interpret that.

    but while Stoker is miniscule in Gothic output,
    Four or five other novels in the genre, I think, none the equal in success of Dracula, although at least two others have been filmed, and at least one of those novels is still in print; Stoker also wrote a dozen or more short stories, a few of which are very effective ("The Judge's House"; "Dracula's Guest" -- chapter removed from the novel for reasons of length).

    his Dracula had such an enormous cultural impact and a scholarly impact on the embrace and study of "romantic" fiction of which Gothic was a big part.
    Yes. Sort of. Oddly, though, I've been told by some amateur genre historians that while Dracula was very popular from the first, early on it was outsold and apparently somewhat overshadowed critically by Richard Marsh's The Beetle. What seemed to put it over the top in terms of notoriety and influence was the 1931 Lugosi movie. Because of this, I wonder if Dracula's strongest influence may stem from later than its actual publication. (I wonder if anyone's written about books that were saved from obscurity or catapaulted into celebrity by movies based on them; for instance, I wonder if Gone With the Wind would still be in print without the movie's enormous popularity.)

    Not that I'm saying leave out Poe -- you've got to have Poe -- but Dracula made so many ripples. And if you are looking at any modern developments, Lovecraft would seem to be a must. Every horror and dark fantasy writer I've ever seen interviewed has mentioned Lovecraft as a major influence. He had a big impact on 20th century writers. If you can only squeak one more in there, I'd vote Lovecraft.
    My quibbles aside, your points are valid. If the teacher allows a novel discussed from outside the class reading list, Dracula should be one of the first in line (the only other major contender, I think, would be Henry James' Turn of the Screw) -- its linking of horror and death with sensuality alone makes it a big frog in the pond. And, if the paper expands past the 1890s, early 1900s, then leaving out HPL would be a major hole. One way of introducing him might be to mention the enormous debt owed to Poe's work by later writers from Ambrose Bierce on to Stephen King. Lovecraft certain acknowledged his debt to Poe more than once, and a brief sketch of his work might be in order without appearing shoe-horned in.

    Randy M.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Randy M. View Post
    My quibbles aside, your points are valid. If the teacher allows a novel discussed from outside the class reading list, Dracula should be one of the first in line (the only other major contender, I think, would be Henry James' Turn of the Screw) -- its linking of horror and death with sensuality alone makes it a big frog in the pond. And, if the paper expands past the 1890s, early 1900s, then leaving out HPL would be a major hole. One way of introducing him might be to mention the enormous debt owed to Poe's work by later writers from Ambrose Bierce on to Stephen King. Lovecraft certain acknowledged his debt to Poe more than once, and a brief sketch of his work might be in order without appearing shoe-horned in.

    Randy M.
    Don't forget Shirley Jackson's House On Haunted Hill.

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by mfarrance View Post
    Don't forget Shirley Jackson's House On Haunted Hill.
    Absolutely. Anyone writing about 20th century horror and ghost stories has to deal with Jackson's novel (The Haunting of Hill House -- I believe William Castle, who directed The House on Haunted Hill, purposely tinkered with the title of Jackson's novel.)

    Randy M.

  15. #15
    >:|Angry Beaver|:< Fung Koo's Avatar
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    I know this is an older thread, so the paper in question is probably long since done, but purely because this is fascinating here's some thought on some related stuff to this uniquely intriguing century of human history:

    Another avenue that could be followed (if you wanted to go the New Historical route as opposed to New Critical) is the relationship between the emergence of the modern international drug trade (predominantly opium), industrialization, and Gothic fiction.

    Gothic fiction, to my thinking, is principally related to horror and detective fiction. These seem to gain appeal simultaneously, which may not be surprising since the evident master of both was Poe (though he's considered the originator, some argue it is by way of DeQuincey's "On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts"). It's a bit of a Chicken v. Egg question on the two sub-genres, but nonetheless they are the mother and father of the other genres of mystery and SF/F. And that whole crowd, and their fiction, was quite heavily into opium.

    The fact that the drug in question is opium introduces the rise of multiculturalism, as well, in contemporary industrializing Europe. (There's a strong argument to be made that multiculturalism itself lays at the feet of the drug trade moreso than any other form of trade.) Through the rise of the detective/horror genres, there are myriad references to (predominantly) Indian and Chinese mythological creatures/figures. This comes into play in a huge way with the emphasis on the animality of man, which in is a by-product of contemporary science, and a key component of Gothicism.

    Around the same time, we also have another prominent drug writer, Baudelaire, becoming extremely popular with his "Flowers of Evil" -- which is quite easily arguable as seminal to the horror genre (and detective fiction), and perhaps the best work of Gothic poetry to date, IMHO.

    In many ways, Baudelaire follows Goya, in Spain, who produced some pretty bent images that radically reinterpreted visual media and gave rise to the various forms of abstractionism in art (read: drugs, drugs, druggity drugs). Some of his darker paintings found their way into the texts of a lot of early horror and detective fiction, and those references were likely used quite specifically in reference to images that many literate/literary folk would know, such as Baudelaire, Poe, Conan Doyle, etc.

    We also have here the rise of Darwinism, and an abundance of horror then and now can trace its interest in the distortion of human shapes and humanity's animal nature to the conceptual rise of evolution, and the works that resulted in direct reaction to it. Pair that with the tension between naturalism and industrialization, and the aforementioned multicultural issue of "animalistic" cultures being blended into European society through the Far East drug trade, and voila... the grotesque.

    This ball of tension gives us some of Blake's most famous later illuminations, which are also related to Goya's work, and yet another product of the ubiquity of drugs. In the art world, the grotesque (human/animal hybridism) was noticeably common throughout this time, and was in many ways a combined statement on the rise of Darwinism and industrialization, and the hive of activity going on between the various new denominational inceptions of the Christian church -- who weren't too keen on drugs at all, and were busily trying to suppress the crazies getting into occultism.

    Following this, the established modern drug trade is also tied significantly to the sudden explosion of interest in psychology (which also owes much of its roots to occultism). Drugs were a key component to illuminating the inner workings of the mind/spirit. Freud/Ellis/Jung, etc, come quite late to the game relative to the topic, but it has been argued before that psychology really began as a literary pursuit -- particularly in the area of Gothic fiction (as evidenced by works like Frankenstein, specifically).

    Specific to the fiction you've mentioned, drugs (usually opium in the form of laudanum) appear quite significantly, and even in some cases so far as to be considered the principal deus ex machina, in Turn of the Screw, Dracula, Frankenstein, and Jekyll and Hyde (and also related works like Confessions of an English Opium Eater (duh!), and important detective fiction such as Poe's Dupin stories, as well as Sherlock Holmes, Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone, etc.).

    Trace the drugs through history, and you track the core of Gothicism. It's been argued, too, that Gothic-type literature noticeably declined with the rise of prohibition in the West (ie - early 20th century), then re-arose with the mid-20th century Civil Rights movement. And guess what added fuel to that fire...

    Once you start looking for it -- especially in late-18th through 19th century lit -- you'll notice it everywhere. And it's not just a trap -- it's really there. Really, really there.

    ---

    Anyway, perhaps not helpful to the OP, but an interesting set of circumstance that somehow came together at the beginning of the fiction we know and love here at SFF World!

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