As most of you know, the gothic subculture as we know it was born out of the music scene of the late '70s and '80s, but it takes its name (and parts of its aesthetic) from a much older tradition. The term "gothic" was borrowed from the Gothic literature movement of the 18th and 19th centuries and the related Gothic Revival architectural movement. Both movements were kicked off in the mid-1700s by the author Horace Walpole.
Horace Walpole was an English aristocrat who decided that he wanted to live in a medieval palace. Mimicking the turrets and arched windows of earlier castles and cathedrals, he built Strawberry Hill House on his estate in London in 1749 (pictured below). A couple of decades later, he wrote The Castle of Otranto
, a tale of murder, ghosts, and spooky castles widely considered to be the first Gothic novel.
After Horace Walpole, a number of other 18th-century writers hopped onto the Gothic bandwagon. One of the most prolific of these was Ann Radcliffe, matriarch of the Female Gothic movement. Her most famous novels are The Mysteries of Udolpho
and The Romance of the Forest
. In her writing, Radcliffe espoused a style based on "terror," which involved slow-mounting suspense and dread. In contrast, one of the other major Gothic writers of the day, Matthew Lewis, published The Monk
which exemplified the shock and gore of the "horror" school of writing.
Moving into the 19th century is when we get to the Gothic literature that is still popular with readers today. In 1818, Mary Shelley published Frankenstein
, which combined Gothic elements with the emerging genre of science fiction. Meanwhile, Shelley's friend Lord Byron helped to popularize brooding poetry and the dark and mysterious figure of the Byronic hero. The heyday of the Gothic novel had ended by this point, but writers such as Edgar Alan Poe helped to modify the genre and bring it into the Victorian era. The most famous Gothic novel, however, comes at the very tail end of this time period: Bram Stoker's Dracula
, published in 1897, which sparked a long tradition of vampire and monster fiction. These early works led to creation of the diversity of dark and spooky genres that are loved by many members of the gothic subculture today, from horror, to mystery, dark fantasy, paranormal romance, and many others.
You can learn more about Gothic literature on my blog, TheGothicLibrary.com, and stick around for more book-related featured content from me on VampireFreaks.