The Gothic

From wild and remote landscapes to vulnerable heroines; from violent and erotic fantasies to supernatural and uncanny happenings; what were the key motifs of Gothic fiction, and how did these works reflect the political, social and cultural contexts in which they were written?
Gothic motifs

Gothic motifs

Article by:
John Bowen

What does it mean to say a text is Gothic? Professor John Bowen considers some of the best-known Gothic novels of the late 18th and 19th centuries, exploring the features they have in common, including marginal places, transitional time periods and the use of fear and manipulation.

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‘Man is not truly one, but truly two’: duality in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

‘Man is not truly one, but truly two’: duality in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Article by:
Greg Buzwell

Curator Greg Buzwell considers duality in Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, exploring how the novel engages with contemporary debates about consciousness, homosexuality and criminal psychology.

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Mary Shelley, Frankenstein and the Villa Diodati

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein and the Villa Diodati

Article by:
Greg Buzwell

Greg Buzwell describes the bizarre circumstances that gave rise to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and the other works that emerged from the ‘ghost story challenge’ at the Villa Diodati in the summer of 1816.

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Dracula: the Victorian vampire

Dracula: vampires, perversity and Victorian anxieties

Article by:
Greg Buzwell

The vampire is a complicated creature: caught between life and death, at once alluring and horrifying. Greg Buzwell considers the way the novel reflects the fears that haunted late 19th-century society – fears of immigration, sexual promiscuity and moral degeneration.

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The origins of the Gothic

The origins of the Gothic

Article by:
John Mullan

Professor John Mullan examines the origins of the Gothic, explaining how the genre became one of the most popular of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and the subsequent integration of Gothic elements into mainstream Victorian fiction.

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The Gothic in Great Expectations

The Gothic in Great Expectations

Article by:
John Bowen

Professor John Bowen considers how Dickens uses the characters of Magwitch and Miss Havisham to incorporate elements of the Gothic in Great Expectations.

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The Picture of Dorian Gray: art, ethics and the artist

The Picture of Dorian Gray: art, ethics and the artist

Article by:
Greg Buzwell

Dark desires and forbidden pleasure are at the centre of The Picture of Dorian Gray. Greg Buzwell examines the interplay between art and morality in Oscar Wilde’s novel, and considers its use of traditional Gothic motifs as well as the theories of the new aesthetic movement.

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The imperial Gothic

The imperial Gothic

Article by:
Suzanne Daly

Mysticism, degeneracy, irrationality, barbarism: these are the qualities that came to define the non-western ‘other’ in 19th-century Britain. Here Professor Suzanne Daly explores the ‘Imperial Gothic’, examining the ways in which ‘otherness’ and Empire were depicted in Gothic novels such as Jane Eyre, The Moonstone, Dracula and Heart of Darkness.

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Ghosts in A Christmas Carol

Ghosts in A Christmas Carol

Article by:
John Mullan

The ghosts in A Christmas Carol are by turns comic, grotesque and allegorical. Professor John Mullan reflects on their essential role in developing the novel’s meaning and structure.

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The Victorian supernatural

The Victorian supernatural

Article by:
Roger Luckhurst

Roger Luckhurst challenges the idea of the 19th century as one of secularisation, exploring the popularity of mesmerism, spiritualism and 'true' ghost stories in the period.

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An introduction to The Woman in White

An introduction to The Woman in White

Article by:
Roger Luckhurst

The Woman in White was the first great sensation novel. Roger Luckhurst considers how Wilkie Collins's intricately plotted novel borrows elements from realist and Gothic fiction, and combines suspense and stimulation.

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Oliver Twist: a patchwork of genres

Oliver Twist: a patchwork of genres

Article by:
Claire Wood

Dr Claire Wood examines how Dickens blends multiple genres in Oliver Twist, including melodrama, the Gothic, satire and social commentary.

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Gothic fiction in the Victorian fin de siècle: mutating bodies and disturbed minds

Article by:
Greg Buzwell

The Victorian period saw Gothic fiction evolving and taking on new characteristics. With a focus on the late 19th century curator Greg Buzwell traces common themes and imagery found in Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Dracula and The Picture of Dorian Gray.

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Frankenstein: graveyards, scientific experiments and bodysnatchers

Article by:
Ruth Richardson

Ruth Richardson shows how Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, written as a result of a challenge to compose a ghost story, was influenced by thoughts of death, scientific experimentation and Gothic tales.

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An introduction to Ann Radcliffe

Article by:
Dale Townshend

Ann Radcliffe is one of the founders of Gothic fiction. Dale Townshend explores Radcliffe's works in terms of the Female Gothic and her unique distinction between terror and horror.

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Further themes

Romanticism

What inspired the iconic poetry of the Romantic period?

Childhood and children's literature

Was children’s literature intended to entertain or instruct?

Crime and crime fiction

Why was crime such a popular subject in 19th-century fiction?

The novel 1780-1832

From Georgian gentry to Gothic horror, what characterised the literature of this period?

The novel 1832 - 1880

How did the iconic writers of this period experiment with fantasy, sensationalism, realism and social commentary?

Fin de siècle

How did the literature of this period reflect attitudes to gender, sexuality, immigration, class and scientific discovery?

Victorian poetry

How did the Victorian poets approach composition, form and language, and what inspired their subjects?

Popular culture

From music hall to pleasure gardens, explore the extraordinary range of entertainments on offer in Georgian and Victorian Britain.

Poverty and the working classes

How did Victorian writers respond to the shocking inequalities of Victorian society?

Power and politics

How did writers respond to the tumultuous political events of this period?

Reading and print culture

How did rising literacy rates, libraries and new technologies influence the literature people read?

Technology and science

How did 19th century authors respond to the new possibilities afforded by technology and science?

The middle classes

How were the tensions surrounding social mobility explored in the literature of the period?

Visions of the future

How did the 19th-century literature reflect contemporary fears of social, political and technological change?

Gender and sexuality

How were gender roles embedded in the literature of the period and were they ever subverted?