In Gothic literature, authors of this genre use a wide range of themes that center around gothic elements. Beginning in the early eighteenth century, these elements began a new genre that incorporated the ideas of the supernatural, horror, and dark events and sceneries. Horace Walpole’s novel The Castle of Otranto is regarded as the beginning of Gothic literature. His novel set the standards future novels in this genre. Using the ideas of horror and terror, nature and the supernatural, and male/female roles and characteristics, Gothic literature was created.
The first element that makes up the gothic novel is the horror and terror that are within the novels. The idea of the Gothic genre was to give the readers a different type of emotion. The authors wanted the reader to feel a constant sense of anxiety and terror. This element also uses the ideal of Edmund Burke. Incorporating the element of the sublime helps create a more intense feelings within the readers. “the Sublime is productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling” (Burke 59). In both novels, Walpole and Radcliffe used these elements of horror and terror that create psychological suspense. These fears are created by the mystery of the supernatural and ghostly encounters.
Walpole sets his novel in the first couple pages with emotions of panic and terror with the death of Conrad. Killed by a helmet that falls from the sky also creates the first supernatural occurrence of the novel. Walpole also uses elements of the sublime to enhance the elements of suspense. In the events of the characters going through emotions of fear, they let their courage take control to help fight back the fear. When the characters, such as Isabella running from the terror of Mandred, she submits to her fears. This builds her courage through these extreme emotions, which then creates almost a pleasure from the scenario.
Radcliffe used a different tactic than Walpole with creating terror in The Italian. Her novel did not use the direct approach in showing the horrors of the supernatural, rather, she simply suggests their appearance, rather than show them physically. Radcliffe creates psychological terror within her readers. “In Gothic writing, the reader is held in suspense with the characters, and increasingly there is an effort to shock, alarm, and otherwise rouse him. Inducing a powerful emotional response in the reader…” (Hume 284). By adding the sublime in this situations, Radcliffe helps gives the imagination more power, which then gives the reader more emotions of pleasure that are mixed with the feelings of dread.
The next element of Gothic literature was the atmosphere. This genre used these dark settings in a dramatic style that helped the plots of these novels create a sense of suspense and terror. The settings of these novels create an atmosphere of evil and terror by using dark and gloomy landscapes, collapsing and ruined old abbeys and buildings, such as castles. “The key characteristics of the novel is not its devices, but its atmosphere (Keech 135). By creating a mood with the atmosphere, the authors can create a better response from the readers. Many of the aesthetics that are involved in the Gothic literature are based on the visuals.
The Castle of Otranto uses ominous settings, such as the dungeon in Manfred’s castle. The dungeons are full of twisted passageways that are dark and intricate. The use of these settings help enhances the terror and the mystery for the readers. These use of these dark settings plays an extremely important role in Walpole’s novel, because he uses them to help create the right emotions needed.
Ann Radcliffe uses these dark settings and ruined and crumbling castles and abbeys as the hiding places of the supernatural and other forces that like to stay hidden from the outside world in The Italian. Burke talks about the relation of the setting and the sublime create a different emotion of terror. “Every one will be sensible of this, who considers how greatly night adds to our dread” (Burke 102). These settings are used to set the mood for the psychological dilemmas that the characters must face during the novel. During the novel, readers can get a sense of how dark and ominous the dungeons while Vivaldi is being led through the chambers, “his eyes glanced through its gloomy extent, imperfectly ascertaining it by the lamp, which hung from the centre of the roof” (Radcliffe 196). With the use of these settings of the dark passages and mysterious buildings, these elements help build the suspense and the terror within the novels.
While these elements of Gothic are used in both novels, they do differ because Walpole uses these components in his character’s everyday life, where the characters cannot run from the terror and supernatural. Radcliffe, on the other hand, has a safe spot for her characters, “the world outside, as the novels insist, is gothic, but there is still perfect safety in return to the older, cherishes verities of home and family” (Durant 530).
The last elements of these two novels are the roles that both men and women play. In both novels, the women do some common characteristics, but Radcliffe does take a different approach in the way that women are described. A common portrayal of women that most Gothic writers, or male writers, use are often that women are weak, selfless and virtuous. An example is in The Castle of Otranto, “she would not only acquiesce with patience to divorce, but would obey, if it was his please”, (Walpole 36) Women in Walpole’s novel are often given little power over themselves, but must rely on men or their fate to control their own destiny. Men, on the other hand, are given much more power. They have the ability to challenge the authority and create a new path for their future.
While, Radcliffe does break away from the ideals of women’s role in Gothic literature, she does follow some of the same patterns. In The Italian, Ellena does play the damsel in distress. While being held in the abbey, Vivaldi creates a mission to save the women that he loves. He tends to risk his life to save Ellena from the villains for hand in marriage. The other time that Ellena is in distress and is seen as vulnerable and defenseless is when she has been captured by Schedoni and attempts to kill her until he discovers that she is actually his daughter. While Radcliffe follows some elements of the Gothic, she does create her female characters with power. Ellena is portrayed as more rational and does not let emotions take over her. Women in the Female Gothic tend to rely on reason, more than they do on passion. They challenge the roles that were set by the Gothic standards.
Horace Walpole and Ann Radcliffe both help pave the way for Gothic literature in different ways. With Walpole being the first author to start this genre, he has helped create the standard for future authors. Radcliffe took the ideas of Walpole and pushed the boundaries with literature creating the Female Gothic. Although these two novels were written in different times, the structure of these novels still illustrate the elements horror and terror, the tones of the landscape and the roles that the men and women play in each novel mixed with the elements of the sublime, both authors showed their ideals and morals, that is seen as Gothic literature.