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Halloween Reads: Celebrate Gothic Fiction

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As a literary genre, Gothic fiction is often classified as combining elements of horror and romance, as well as other features including melodrama and parody. Popular in the late 18th-early 19th century, many critics agree that it originated with the release of Horace Walpole’s 1764 novel “The Castle of Otranto”. Featuring the character Manfred, a lord of a castle, and the inexplicable death of his son Conrad before his wedding, it inspired Clara Reeve’s “The Old English Baron”, and set the tone for many canonised works that followed it.

Anne Radcliffe is often credited with developing the “explained supernatural” element of gothic fiction with her novels “The Mysteries of Udolpho” and “The Italian”, in which every supernatural event was eventually found to be something natural. Her style attracted many imitators, making the genre highly popular, however it eventually became seen as somewhat predictable.

By this point, the gothic genre had also spread to continental Europe, with French writers such as Francois Guillaume Ducray-Duminil, and the German writer Friedrich Von Schiller creating works in this style.

By the Victorian era, the Gothic had ceased to be a dominant genre in terms of commercial success, however some critics argue that this is when it entered it’s most creative phase. An innovative interpreter of the era was Edgar Allan Poe, who focused on the psychology of his characters and their descent into madness, as opposed to the traditional elements of the genre.

As the 19th Century progressed, mainstream writers such as Charles Dickens would become inspired by the Gothic – as reflected in the imagery of novels such as Bleak House and Great Expectations, and by the end of the century the genre had a significant revival. This is reflected in works such as The Phantom of The Opera (1909), and Dracula (1897).

In the post-Victorian era, the gothic tradition lived on with writers such as Algernon Blackwood, and Marjorie Bowen, and contemporary writers such as Stephen King, who may also be seen to borrow gothic sensibilities in their works. It is all part of a tradition that is much loved across the world up to the present day, inspiring further literature, as well as films and other media, which resonate particularly well at this time of year.

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