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Gothic Literature in Special Collections

An overview of Gothic Literature held in Special Collections at Hornbake Library

Common Themes in the Gothic

Common Themes in Gothic Literature

Setting in a Castle: The action often takes place in and around an old castle or manor, sometimes seemingly abandoned. The castle often contains secret passages, trap doors, secret rooms, dark or hidden staircases, and possibly ruined sections. In addition, there may be terrible weather outside. 

An Atmosphere of Mystery and Suspense: The characters typically are plagued by a threatening feeling, a fear enhanced by the unknown. Often the plot itself is built around a mystery, such as unknown parentage, a disappearance, or some other inexplicable event.

Omens, Portents, Visions: A character may have a disturbing dream, vision, or some phenomenon may be seen as a portent of coming events. For example, if the statue of the lord of the manor falls over, it may portend his death.

Supernatural or Inexplicable Events: Dramatic, amazing events occur, such as ghosts and other terrifying creatures that haunt the protagonist, or inanimate objects coming to life. In some works, the events are ultimately given a natural explanation, while in others the events are truly supernatural.

Isolation: Isolation and separation from loved ones is a common trope in Gothic fiction. It often forces main characters to confront aspects of their life or selfhood that they would normally keep hidden from themselves and those around them. 

High Emotion: The narration may be highly sentimental, and the characters are often overcome by anger, sorrow, surprise, and terror. Characters suffer from raw nerves and a feeling of impending doom. Crying and emotional speeches are frequent.

Women in Distress: Female characters often face events that leave them fainting, terrified, or sobbing. The women suffer more because they are often abandoned or left alone, either on purpose or by accident, and have no protector. Women are often threatened by a powerful, impulsive or tyrannical male.

Influential Authors of Gothic Literature

Here you can find more information about some of the influential authors of the Gothic genre. Select an option from the list below to view more information about each person, as well as titles that they wrote that are available in Special Collections.