In Gothic literature, novels 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 Ontranto 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 function of the Gothic genre was to give the readers a different type of emotion. Authors wanted the reader to feel a constant sense of anxiety and terror. The main function of Gothic literature was to reconstruct the ideas of the past. The authors used their writings for political statements of corruption mixed with the elements of fantasy. Using the ideas of political elements created the feelings of anxiety.
The first element that makes up the gothic novel is the horror and terror that are within the novels. Incorporating this element helped create fear within the readers. In both novels, Walpole and Radcliffe elements of horror and terror that create psychological suspense. These fears are created by the mystery of the supernatural and ghostly encounters.
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 Ontranto uses ominous settings, such as the dungeon in Manfred’s castle. The dungeons are full of twisted passageways that are dark and intricate.
Much of the Gothic settings are littered with ruined and crumbling castles and abbeys. Ann Radcliffe uses these dark settings as the hiding places of the supernatural and other forces that like to stay hidden from the outside world in The Italian. 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 Ontranto, “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 presented 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.