A Beginner's Introduction to Gothic Literature

A Beginner's Introduction to Gothic Literature

A Beginner’s Introduction to Gothic Literature

By Melissa Haber

If you are a book lover like me then you know how great it feels to become totally enveloped in a good story.

Like many book lovers, I will read pretty much anything and am curious about almost everything. Books are tiny doors into unknown worlds full of possibilities and places to explore.

No matter how many different books I read, I always find myself falling back into reading the same genre and for me that genre is Gothic literature.

Gothic literature deals with the darker side of human nature and centres around death, darkness and decay. But don’t let that put you off! Although the topics Gothic literature is concerned with can be very dark, it is the ways in which this darkness is explored that makes this type of literature so readable and enjoyable.

Below are a few key elements Gothic literature possesses that will help you get a better understanding of what this genre is all about.


Atmosphere: The general feeling you get while reading this type of literature is one of suspense, fear and mystery. You never really know what’s lurking over the next page and are excited and a little nervous to see what will happen next.

Basically, you’re probably feeling a little on edge while you’re reading a piece of gothic literature.


Supernatural: inexplicable events and supernatural beings (think ghosts and vampires) like to pop up now and then to keep readers and characters on their toes.

Now not only are you feeling on edge, but there’s probably a ghost in the house.


Melodrama: Given the fact that so far the story is starting to get a little creepy and there is most likely a supernatural creature lurking about, it is understandable that the characters may be a little melodramatic and irrational. Panic, terror and high emotion are some of the characteristics the characters in Gothic literature will possess.

Now you’re feeling on edge with a ghost in the house and the main character is freaking out.


Omens: Omens are big in this type of literature. Characters may have visions which often appear in the form of dreams which foreshadow events to come.

Now you’re feeling on edge with a ghost in the house with the main character freaking out over a dream they had.


Setting and landscape: this is one of the major elements to Gothic literature and it can be said that the landscape and setting is a character in itself. The most typical settings are abandoned and run down castles, caves or dwellings set in amongst the wilderness.

The landscape adds to the feelings of isolation and paranoia many of the characters exhibit because they cannot simply run to their neighbours house for help. Their isolation fuels their hysteria and inhibits their escape.

Now you’re feeling on edge reading a book with a ghost in the house with the main character freaking out over a dream they had and they can’t run to their neighbour for help.


Maiden in distress: This runs through the majority of Gothic novels I have read. Stories will generally feature a beautiful young woman who suffers at the hands of a powerful male antagonist. This often appeals to the readers sympathies and is a common theme you will see often.

Now you’re feeling on edge with a ghost in the house with the main character freaking out over a dream they had and they can’t run to their neighbour for help because a big scary man is after them.

The above sums up the absolute basic elements from which many works of Gothic literature are formed.

By using these themes, writers of this type of literature are able to beautifully explore the darker aspects of life and humanity in a way that other genres cannot.

Gothic poetry in particular elicits a heartbreakingly beautiful sorrow in the reader as difficult topics are picked apart verse by verse.

Gothic literature has the ability to see through the facade many of us wear daily. It crashes through the walls we put up and hits us right in the heart.


Regardless of how alone, ugly, scared, sad, worthless or heartbroken you feel there is a piece of Gothic literature that exists which will explore the darkness you hold inside you and make you realise that you are not so alone.

The fact that writers that lived hundreds of years ago fear the same things we fear today is an incredibly comforting thing to know.

So yes, gothic literature does indeed deal with some heavy topics that make many people uncomfortable, but explores them in a way which makes the unknown seem a little less daunting and leaves its readers feeling a little less alone.

Isn’t that what good writing is all about?


Recommended reading:

The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe

Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

Dracula – Bram Stoker

Frankenstein- Mary Shelley

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

The Picture of Dorian Gray- Oscar Wilde

Gerald’s Game- Stephen King

The Woman in Black- Susan Hill


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Published by Melissa Haber

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