Friday, September 15, 2006

Literature Recipe--One Gothic Novel

For Donna.

Ok. So for all you literature fans out there that are also aspiring writers, listen up! I hold, in my possession, the secret recipe for a absolutely thrilling novel. The Gothic novel, in fact. If you've ever wanted to create something that would chill the blood, cause ladies to faint, cause a stir in your ever-so-carefully classed society, then this is the novel for you! When Horace Walpole wrote The Castle of Otranto, little did he realize what he'd be starting--I mean, what other genre offers so much excitement?

Here are your requirements:
  • A castle. Of course, some of the action can take place elsewhere, but a castle must be somehow involved. You can also substitute monastery. (See Lewis' The Monk).
  • A subterranean cavern. I.e. a cave, a cavern, or some other creepy, underground sort of space. You see, caverns cause chills to run up and down your spine. To various philosophers, caves are hidden desire and death and hell. You can take your pick or use all three meanings.
  • The Devil. Oh, but of course! Have we learned nothing from The Monk? If you're not too fond of Satan among your characters, you can put some sort of supernatural figure, like a monster (see Frankenstein) or a giant ghost (see The Castle of Otranto).
  • A strippling. For some reason or another, all Gothic tales have a least one fine young strippling running around and eliciting homoerotic feelings from other male characters, carefully disguised as a sort of protection or homosocial friendship. We're not fooled, though, we wily modern readers. Your strippling can either feature as a main character or as an entertaining minor character.
  • A fair maiden. Perferably blonde, wispy, innocent, and otherwise contemptuous to empowered women everywhere because she's always the victim of a man's desire and will usually end up raped or imprisoned in the suterranean vault/cavern. Or both. And she should be an orphan.
  • Mountains with crags. Don't question the crags. The whole mountain thing adds to the sublime as handed down by Edmund Burke and Kant. It's even better if someone ends up tossed off the mountain at the end of the book.
  • The Villian! Let us not forget the most important part of ANY Gothic work--a villian. He's (or she--see Zofloya) the one who seduces, entrapts, menaces (oh definitely menaces), or threatens our fair maiden. He can be a monk. He also could have a mustache. If the villian is a woman, she should be opposite in features from the fair maiden--tall and dark. Oh, I just get shivers down my spine thinking about the villian!
  • A setting outside of Britian (with the exception of Austen's Northanger Abbey.) Helps with the whole Other-ing process--you know, where you put all the aspects about your culture on another to make yours seem better, like the East as full of individuals that are irrational, lazy, and un-Enlightened.
Often included, but not strictly necessary:
  • Strong, sexual women. (also known as a villianess). These are always bad.
  • A moral. Hey, you have to at least attempt to keep your novel from being classified as pornography. The moral can be flimsy.
  • Target audience: women. For some reason, those middle-class and upper-class ladies just love the Gothic novel! Could it be repression and boredom? No, probably not.
  • Violent anti-Catholic tendencies. Matthew Lewis is a prime example of this, though sources seem to indicate that not only was he anti-Catholic, he also hated women and some other groups. Well!
  • Orientalism. This was a tendency to create an Other in the peoples of, well, basically anyone not European and, specifically, British. Orientalism refers specifically to the study of the Romantics to those of Eastern descent (Asians/Arabs/Indians).
  • Excess of style. Exclamation points are highly encouraged, as are flowery sentences, verbosity, big words, and other sorts of stylistic markers that cause most good editors to scream and whip out a red pen.
Those are your ingredients. To structure your plot, you should have it start out as somewhat normal, and then add plot twist after plot twist that makes the audience gasp. Usually the most horrible things happen toward the end, like a selling of a soul, a rape, etc. If you put the worst at the beginning, the auidence will only expect something worse and then be disappointed.

If you've never experienced the genre of the Gothic novel, you should. I hope you find it as ravishingly delightful as I have. Even when it's sorta bad (or cheesy) there's just something interesting in it, especially if you remember that it was new to the readers of the 19th century. I'd recommend The Castle of Otranto, which is just entertaining, not to mention the first of our genre, The Monk (which is actually quite complex and requires much intellecutal interaction), and any others that you might stumble across. Zofloya (by Charlotte Dacre) is a good example of the feminine Gothic with its persistent moral to be a good mother. Some will be marvelously wonderful, some extremely bad. But don't forget to have fun reading and exploring a fascinating genre!


Donna B. said...

Love it! I am going to read some Gothic novels soon. They seem absolutely tailor-made for me.

Jenn said...

Awesome. I'd recommend The Monk (by Matthew Lewis) because it's well written, even in its excess. But any of them, really, are fun to pick up...