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Gothic Literature in Special Collections

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

Welcome to the Guide to Gothic Literature!

Welcome to the Guide to Gothic Literature in Special Collections at the University of Maryland!

This guide provides an overview of holdings in Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Maryland relating to Gothic Literature. This guide highlights material influential to the Gothic genre that are available in the Literature and Rare Book collections in Hornbake Library, as well as additional resources on the genre available at the University of Maryland.

For questions about our collections and how to access these materials, contact us.

What is Gothic Literature?

The Gothic genre began in 1764 with the publication of Horace Walpole's novel The Castle of Otranto, which is generally considered the first gothic novel. Many elements found in Horace's novel became the standard elements of the Gothic genre. Within Gothic literature there are themes of romance, horror, and a prevailing atmosphere of mystery and terror. The term Gothic is a reference to the architecture of medieval buildings and ruins, which often serve as inspiration and backdrop in gothic novels with dark and mysterious castles/manors with subterranean passages, dark battlements, hidden panels, and trapdoors. Gothic literature generally challenged Enlightenment principles; giving voice to irrational, horrific, and transgressive thoughts, desires, and impulses. The golden age of Gothic literature is roughly defined as beginning in the late 18th century up to the end of the 19th century, although its imprint can clearly be seen long past that timeframe leading into the modern horror genre in film, literature, comics, and more.

A subset of Gothic literature is Southern Gothic literature. Starting in the early 19th century, Southern Gothic literature evolved from the gothic literature of England and Northeast America. The United States did not have old castles to set Gothic stories in, but after the Civil War, the many ruined or decaying plantations and mansions in the South became locations for Gothic stories about sins and secrets. A founding figure of Southern Gothic literature is Edgar Allen Poe, whose work influenced Southern Gothic writers of the 20th century. Common themes of Southern Gothic include flawed or disturbed characters, grotesque situations, often stemming from poverty, crime, violence or alienation.


What are Special Collections?

Special Collections house collections of rare books and historic documents, including materials pertaining to the history of Maryland and The University of Maryland. Within the literature and rare books collection there are first editions, illustrated editions, as well as special editions and artists' books. 




“And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.”-'The Masque of the Red Death', Edgar Allen Poe'