This passage from a Gothic novel illustrates the genre’s characteristic of using suspense to create an atmosphere of fear and dread.
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The dark and mysterious setting
The dark and mysterious setting is one of the most characteristic features of Gothic writing. This excerpt from Bram Stoker’s Dracula perfectly illustrates that feature, with its dark and foreboding castle, its hidden mysteries, and its palpable sense of danger.
The foreboding and suspenseful atmosphere
The foreboding and suspenseful atmosphere of the passage is best illustrated by the description of the “dark and dismal” setting. The author’s use of words like “black” and “shadows” creates a sense of fear and dread, which is further heightened by the sound of the “faintest stirring” in the leaves. This makes it clear that something sinister is lurking in the darkness, making the reader feel anxious and on edge.
The characters’ sense of isolation and loneliness
The isolated, dark, and sometimes crumbling setting of Gothic fiction often mirrors the characters’ inner state. They may be lonely, misunderstood outcasts, or have a sense of being trapped in an unchangeable situation. In this passage from “The Fall of the House of Usher,” the narrator describes his first impression of the house:
“I had passed it [the house] a hundred times; and always with a quickened step. For me, at least in my younger days, it had borne an immediate fruitfulness. It had been the mansion of my boyish dreams—and the reality of my man’s. I grew up within its shadow, playing around its gray old verandahs in summer days. The forests surrounding it had entertained me with their mysteries; and many a pleasant hour I had spent picking berries on its banks and gathering flowers in its woods.”
The gloomy atmosphere and foreboding feeling evoked by the narrator’s description creates a sense of isolation and loneliness—two Gothic characteristics.
The characters’ struggle against fate
Gothic literature often includes a struggle against fate or some other force beyond the characters’ control. In this passage, the protagonist is putting up a fight against his own dark nature, which he sees as a kind of fate.
The use of supernatural elements
One of the defining characteristics of Gothic writing is the use of supernatural elements to create an atmosphere of suspense, fear, or horror. In this passage, the author uses the supernatural elements of the storm and the dark night to create a feeling of dread and foreboding.
The focus on death and decay
Many Gothic novels focus on death and decay, and this passage from Frankenstein is no different. The dark, dreary setting and references to graveyards and corpses create a creepy atmosphere that emphasizes the novel’s themes of death and decay.
The focus on the grotesque
The passage below is from “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe.
And now, for a moment, I remained motionless, horror-stricken, and motionless; then, summoning up all my faculties, I sprang to the door. The key was gone! I gasped for breath. And then, with a loud and shrill scream, T Liz fell heavily into the deep and dark tarn at my feet.
The focus on the grotesque is one of the most characteristic features of Gothic writing. In this passage, Poe describes the fall of Liz Usher in gruesome detail, focusing on her horrified expressions as she falls. This focus on the horrific and the abnormal is typical of Gothic writing, which often explores themes of death, decay, and madness.
The use of irony
Gothic writing is known for its use of irony, which is often used to create a feeling of suspense or tension. In this passage, the use of irony creates a sense of foreboding as the reader is led to believe that something bad is going to happen to the protagonist.
The use of symbolism
The use of symbolism is often seen in Gothic writing in order to create a sense of foreboding or to represent some aspect of the human condition. In this passage, the author uses the symbol of the storm to represent the character’s inner turmoil. The character is fighting against something that he cannot see and does not understand, and this is reflected in the way that the storm rages around him.
The use of Gothic language
Gothic literature is characterized by a number of distinct linguistic features, which set it apart from other genres. These include the use of taboo language, the evocation of terror and suspense, and the creation of an atmosphere of gloom and foreboding. Gothic writing often makes use of dark or haunted settings, and employs a style that is highly dramatic and emotive.
The following extract from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a good example of Gothic language in action. It makes use of many of the devices discussed above, and creates a powerful sense of fear and suspense:
“I had determined, at all events, that I would not bury him in Ignorance; and since he had ever desired to study natural philosophy, I thought that my first duty was to inform his mind with all facts on scientific subjects which might console him under his misfortune.”