What is Gothic Fiction? The Elements of Edgar Allan Poe’s Short Stories

What is Gothic Fiction?

I’m a big fan of American Romanticism and its fascination with death and the supernatural. A subset of American Romanticism that really focuses on this fascination is Gothic Fiction, also known as Gothic Horror.

Here we answer the question: “What is Gothic Fiction?”

Elements of Gothic Horror and Gothic Fiction

What is Gothic Fiction?Gothic Horror, or Gothic Fiction, is characterized by the elements of fear, horror, the supernatural and darkness, and by characters such as vampires, demons, heroes, heroines and villains. Other Gothic Horror elements include mystery, romance, lust, and dread. Originating in the late 18th century, Gothic fiction was a branch of the larger Romantic movement that sought to stimulate strong emotions in the reader — fear and apprehension, in this case. The name of the genre comes from medieval architecture, because it often harks back to the medieval era in spirit and subject matter, and it sometimes uses Gothic buildings as a setting.

Common Subject Matter

What is Gothic Fiction?Gothic Fiction places heavy emphasis on atmosphere, using setting and word choice to build suspense and a sense of unease in the reader. As with the broader American Romantic movement, Gothic fiction contains a fascination with death and the supernatural, often emphasizing family curses, mystery and madness. Gothic fiction might also feature a romantic plot or subplot. Although the novel is often considered the best example of gothic fiction, some poetry and short stories can also be characterized as Gothic, such as the short stories of Edgar Allen Poe, which have influenced Gothic writers since their publication.

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Gothic fiction often deals with past eras, sometimes romanticizing them and other times using them as symbols of excessive darkness and oppression. In its early days, the genre took the medieval period as a major inspiration. Modern examples of Gothic Fiction have continued to look to past eras, often using such settings as colonial America, Victorian England or the pre-Civil War Southern United States. Modern Gothic works written in the present day might take place in a 19th century mansion, much in the way that early works commonly used medieval castles as their settings.

Gothic novels were extremely popular during the late 18th century. 19th-century Gothic Fiction is among the best-known and most-read literature in the present day. Gothic Fiction includes works by writers such as Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, Emily and Anne Bronte, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Oscar Wilde. In modern literature, the more intense and gory horror favored by writers such as Stephen King has largely taken the place of this genre. Gothic Horror, however, has continued to have a faithful following, and its influence can be noted in literature, film and music.

What Makes the Works of Poe Gothic?

Edgar Allan Poe’s works have a number of common themes, motifs and structures that categorize them as Gothic. These elements include death and decay; the presence of madness, insanity or other internal chaos; the supernatural; and haunted locations.

  • Lorcher, Trenton. 19 Years of Teaching Edgar Allan Poe and Many More Years of Reading Edgar Allan Poe.
  • Smith, Nicole. “Gothic Qualities in the Works of Poe.” Article Myriad. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2016.
  • “What Characterizes Gothic Fiction?” WiseGEEK. Conjecture Corporation, n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2016.
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