10 Things You Didn’t Know: Gothic Literature

1 Many cite Horace Walpole’s 1764 novel “The Castle of Otranto” as the first Gothic fiction10-Things novel. However, another novelist is often credited with being the pioneer of Gothic literature (see #9).

2 A common thread shared by some noted authors of early Gothic literature is their youthfulness. Mary Shelley, the mastermind behind “Frankenstein,” was just 21 when her book was published, John Keats was 24 when his Gothic fiction-infused piece “The Eve of St. Agnes” was first inked, and it was a 17-year-old Percy Bysshe Shelley who created the infamous demon Zastrozzi – the main character of his novel by the same name, published in 1810.

3 A first edition of Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” circa 1891, numbered and

Fully bound in brown morocco by Bayntun-Rivière, with gilt lettering and designs and raised bands, this limited edition deluxe edition of Oscar Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray, circa 1891, was limited to just 250 copies, and it sold for $13,145 in December 2008. (Photo courtesy Heritage Auctions)

Fully bound in brown morocco by Bayntun-Rivière, with gilt lettering and designs and raised bands, this limited edition deluxe edition of Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray, circa 1891, was limited to just 250 copies, and it sold for $13,145 in December 2008. (Photo courtesy Heritage Auctions)

signed by Wilde sold for $13,145 through Heritage Auction Galleries in October 2008. The copy was printed on paper that was larger in size than the trade edition – adding to its rarity.

4 In early Gothic literature, like so many other literary genres of the time, many women used male pseudonyms to better position their work for publication. A perfect example of this is the Bronte sisters – Charlotte (“Jane Eyre”) and Emily (“Wuthering Heights”). Both women, along with their sister Ann, used the last name Bell and a male first name with their early writings.

5 Among the Gothic novels to frequently show up on classic best-seller lists are Horace Walpole’s “The Castle of Otranto,” Ann Radcliffe’s “The Mysteries of Udolpho,” Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” and Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw.”

6 Gothic literature draws on a combination of terror and romanticism as its foundation – which explains the frequent appearance of the likes of monsters, maniac villains, supernatural creatures, angels, magicians and at least one docile character who encounters one or more sinister beings in their adventures.

7 An organization actively devoted to the study of Gothic culture, including Gothic literature, is The International Gothic Association.

8 Like so many literary offerings, the stories, heroes, villains, monsters and maidens of many Gothic novels have made their way to the big screen. One literary giant turned legendary movie monster is “Frankenstein.” In fact, an 11-inch-by-14-inch movie theater lobby card from 1931, promoting the movie “Frankenstein,” fetched $10,755 during a sale

This 11-by-14-inch lobby card promoting Universal’s 1931 classic “Frankenstein,” produced by Carl Laemmle earned $10,755 in 2011 at Heritage Auction Galleries.   (Photo courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries)

This 11-by-14-inch lobby card promoting Universal’s 1931 classic “Frankenstein,” produced by Carl Laemmle earned $10,755 in 2011 at Heritage Auction Galleries.
(Photo courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries)

at Heritage Auctions in 2011.

9 Gothic fiction played a part in starting to expand the prevalence of women in literature. Many women served as writers, publishers, editors and translators of Gothic fiction, dating back to its beginnings. Although it has taken a long time for this to be the case, one of the most popular and best paid novelists in 18th century England was Ann Radcliffe, author of “The Mysteries of Udolpho” and “The Italian.”

10 According to literary experts, Gothic fiction draws from and is related to Gothic Revival architecture, as many settings in Gothic fiction appears to have been inspired by the design and construction of buildings of that period.

 [If you are interested in the darker side of human expression, watch for Mary Manion’s Art Markets column on “Dark Art” in a future issue of Antique Trader.]

Sources: “Encyclopedia of Gothic Literature: The Essential Guide to the Lives and Works of Gothic Writers,” Princeton University – Gothic Fiction course, University of California-Davis (http://cai.ucdavis.edu/waters-sites/gothicnovel/155breport.html),  TheGothicExperience.com.

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