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A Guide to Gothic

Victoria Elliott | Monday November 09, 2009

Categories: Archived Resources, KS5 Archive, AQA A Level, AQA A Level Pre-2015 Resources, AQA A Level English Literature B, LITB3, OCR A Level, OCR A Level Pre-2015 Resources, OCR A Level English Literature, F664, Hot Entries

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Gothic is an option on two of the Literature A level syllabuses: AQA English Literature B, Unit 3 (LITB3) and the OCR A2 coursework unit (F664)

What makes Gothic?

Although it’s never easy to define precisely the characteristics of any given field of literature, Gothic defies pinning down more than most. Ghosts and monsters are an easy and flippant answer to ‘what makes Gothic’; but not all Gothic has either or both.

The presence of psychological and physical terror is one key characteristic, as is a concern with morality, often represented by the religious.

The term ‘horror’ is one which can be applied to most Gothic literature and although in the 21st century rather gory films have come to define this type, it is certainly possible to be gory and horrific without being Gothic. Madness, death and decay are all ever-present possibilities.

This guide seeks to explore some of the ‘elements’ which make Gothic, Gothic. In doing so, it links some of the most commonly studied texts from the genre (including those set by AQA) with other texts which demonstrate the typicality of the element involved, and thus suggest some wider reading possibilities.

History of Gothic

The ‘invention’ of the genre:

The ‘first Gothic novel’ is a title usually given to The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole, published in 1764. The first edition purported to be a translation of a two-hundred-year-old Italian manuscript (the ‘medieval translation’ is a motif that continues to be well used in Gothic and wider literature).

It was only in 1765, with the publication of the second edition that Walpole decided to attach his own name to it, and perhaps flippantly decided to insert the word ‘Gothic’ into the subtitle.

How could it be ‘Gothic’? First… who were the Goths? They were an Eastern European tribe in the early centuries A.D. and were well known for their pillaging and raiding against the countries of the Roman Empire. Even if Otranto was as old as...


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