Gothic literature is a genre of literature that emerged in the second half of the eighteenth century, characteristic of early romanticism. The gothic novel is based on the reader’s enjoyable sense of horror; it is a romantic “black novel” in prose with elements of supernatural “horrors,” mysterious adventures, fantasy, and mysticism (family curses and ghosts) (Brown et al., 2018). Gothic literature and art use gloomy and foreboding settings to strike a sharp contrast between the dramatic and the macabre, creating an atmosphere of mystery, fear, and horror. Many of the classic techniques of Gothic literature have continued to be relevant for over 200 years. Looking at critical aspects of Gothic literature, we can see that Dracula, Jekyll and Hyde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Interview with the Vampire fit the Gothic genre.
Dracula was written by Bram Stoker in 1897, with the aristocratic vampire Count Dracula as the main antagonist of the novel. The work is an epistolary novel, and the narrative is made up of letters and diary entries of its characters and newspaper clippings. The story takes place at the end of the XIX century. Stoker had a significant influence on the formation and popularization of the vampire myth because Dracula is quintessential to Gothic literature. It is indicated by characteristic Gothic elements: features of the characters, the narrative, and the setting.
First, the main character is a vampire who holds a high position in society and, at the same time, brings misfortune to it. He is notable for his intelligence and cunning, and he inflicts terror on the other characters. Dracula also appreciates ancient architecture and respects his lineage and historical events (Stoker, 1897). Secondly, the novel’s events take place in gloomy Transylvania in an old castle that meets the classical Gothic canons of architecture: high vaults and harsh elements in the ornamentation. The novel’s setting is dark and touches on taboo themes of Victorian Britain – sex, blood, and death.
Third, Dracula embodies horror, which preys on beautiful girls and turns them into vampires. His motives are pretty straightforward – to increase his influence over society, and he gets his way through changes in appearance and human emotion (Stoker, 1897). His feelings can be seen about Mina Harker, whom he is genuinely interested in. Broker writes that “her heart may fail her in so many and so many horrors, and hereafter she may suffer–both in waking, from her nerves, and in sleeping, from her dreams” (Brown et al., 2018, p. 73). This narration style also emphasizes that Dracula is a dark and dystopian novel, and the mystery makes it part of Gothic literature.
Jekyll and Hyde
“The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is a gothic novella by Robert Stevenson that reimagines the theme of duplicity. The novel combines the struggle between man and his dark side: it often has horrific consequences for innocent people (Stevenson, 1886). The main character, Edward Hyde, is a demonic figure who disgusts anyone who sees him. His figure is a classic gothic character because it contains elements of mysticism and darkness.
Edward Hyde constantly faces his dark side even though he has a good side. It is one of the hallmarks of Gothic characters: they are always in resistance, trying to find a middle ground. In addition, Hyde can recognize the consequences of the actions of his dark side, Dr. Jekyll. In his struggle, he locks himself in, trying to figure out a way to control his evil side. Hyde addresses Utterson, “You must suffer me to go my dark way” (Brown et al., 2018, p. 91). The ability to be aware of one’s actions leads to the third key feature of the Gothic, the courage to commit suicide to protect society from its dark side (Stevenson, 1886). Edward Hyde’s personality is lonely and blighted by his powerlessness to deal with the evil within himself. Thus, this story is an example of Gothic literature because it presents the struggle of one individual trying to save himself and others from the dark forces.
The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Portrait of Dorian Gray was written by Oscar Wilde in no more than three weeks and published in 1890. It is a novel of education with a moral parable that harks back to the classical Gothic. It mixes its motifs and solid mysteries around the main character’s personality. The secrets around Gray are organically woven together and gradually turn to horror at how grim the setting is (Wilde, 1890). The character’s romanticism, drama, and passion for aesthetics endow the novel with gothic imagery.
One of the mystical aspects of the novel is the aging process of the portrait of young Dorian Gray, who admires it and wishes to remain young at all times. He is subject to vices and depravity, which cause him to begin to notice creases around his lips. His desire is for the old age of the portrait, the fading of the personality on it, not for himself.
Another trait is the suicide of his mistress Sybil, who was an actress and always sought to be near Dorian. But he rejects her and considers her talentless after the play’s failure, and the unhappy Sybil dies (Wilde, 1890). Dorian feels responsible, but “the imagination, made grotesque by terror, twisted and distorted as a living thing by pain, danced like some foul puppet on a stand and grinned through moving masks” (Brown et al., 2018, p. 132). However, Gray is deeply unhappy despite his sedentary life, and terror gradually robs him of his reason. He cannot let go of his sins and eventually commits suicide by stabbing a retort. The story combines mystery with exotic magic, and the plot twists with many deaths culminating in suicide; all these elements make it a classic work of Gothic literature.
Interview with the Vampire
Interview with the Vampire is another mystical story in which Creole Louis is turned into a vampire, after which he contributes to the spread of it. The gothic elements of the film are how consistently Louis goes from being a blood-fearing human to a vampire who quietly drinks other people’s blood. However, Louis is merciful and drinks the blood of boys who have died of drug overdoses. These acts of mercy only add to the film’s atmosphere. Louis also turns a 10-year-old child into a vampire to keep the girl from dying. However, she becomes an evil vampire who enjoys killing other people. “Evil is a point of view, God kills indiscriminately… And so do we. For there are no creatures under God who are as much like us as we are like him…. like ourselves” (Brown et al., 2018, p. 144). The film evokes an atmosphere of regret, fear, inner struggle, and macabre horror, meeting the requirements of the gothic genre.
Thus, gothic elements are found in film and literature, creating a mystical and mysterious atmosphere. Dracula offers a classic mystery to be discovered in the gloomy setting of an old castle. Jekyll and Hyde explore the duality of man and the ugly dark side of personality. The portrait of Dorian Gray demonstrates a nature that chose self-justice but was never redeemed for his sins. In “Interview with the Vampire,” blood and fear are interspersed with a philosophy of evil.
Brown, S. L., Senf, C., & Stockstill, E. J. (2018). A research guide to gothic literature in English: print and electronic sources. Rowman & Littlefield.
Stevenson, R. L. (1886). Strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Longmans, Green & Co.
Stoker, B. (1897). Dracula. Archibald Constable and Company.
Wilde, O. (1890). The picture of Dorian Gray. Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine.