The Bride of Lammermoor by Sir Walter Scott-Wolf's Crag

Gothic fiction typically shares environments of fear, a threat of the supernatural and the present being haunted by the past.

Named after the architecture of the European Middle Ages, the first work to call itself Gothic was Horace Walpole's 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto.
The Gothic had a huge influence on the 18th and 19th century imagination and is still one of the most powerful genres in Western culture. 
From tyrant aristocrat to mad scientist, the Gothic villain has been replayed and re-worked for contemporary audiences in many forms.
An illustration of Strawberry Hill, an English villa in the Gothic Revival style, built by Gothic writer Horace Walpole

An illustration of Strawberry Hill, an English villa in the Gothic Revival style, built by Gothic writer Horace Walpole

A Gothic origin story

Beginning with the origins of the Gothic novel, Matthew Gregory Lewis's The Monk (1796) saw issues of gender, foreignness, religious difference and European revolution all come to the boil.
The Monk establishes tropes of Gothic villainy that reflect the apprehension of the times and is about the monk Ambrosio and their metamorphosis from pure to degenerate – a portrayal of character doubling later embodied in Stoker's iconic Dracula, just over a century later.
The Monk's Gothic tyrant develops in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818). An iconic Gothic text, it gifted us the mad scientist and began to blur boundaries of the genre, as the Romantic hero and Gothic villain shift across the famous Doctor and his still more famous ‘creature'.
Gothic villainy shifted again with Charles Dickens' creation of the misanthrope, Scrooge in A Christmas Carol (1843). Another example of character transformation, this time it focuses on the change of heart and is a study of a human being's rediscovery of their own innocence.
Illustrated pages from The Monk, written
by Matthew Gregory Lewis.)
The Monk
An illustration by Theodor von Holst from the
frontispiece of the 1831 edition of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus
"Marley's Ghost", original colour
illustration by John Leech from the 1843 edition of A Christmas Carol by Charle
A Christmas Carol

The rise and fall of Dracula

If the 18th century gave us the tyrant aristocratic lord, Mary Shelley gifted us the mad scientist, and Dickens the misanthrope, it was Bram Stoker who breathed new life into the tyrant aristocrat with one of the iconic Gothic villains, Dracula.
Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897) is a central work in the history of the Gothic, as influential in film and popular culture as it has been in fiction. It channels anxieties about multiple forms of otherness at the end of the nineteenth century and the apex of the British empire.
Dracula shares motifs of the Gothic genre: the dark castle setting, the woman in distress and a mysterious and supernatural plot. The count embodies the common Gothic archetype of the evil father and the dangerous lover, but it is their 'otherness' that poses the greatest threat.
Why did the tyrant lord resurface? Dracula represented worn-out European royalty and explored Freud's “return of the repressed”. The Count is destroyed, but so too symbolically is modern America, creating instability and leaving Gothic literature with no definite way forward.
A photograph of an 1899 first American
edition of Bram Stoker's Dracula.
1899 first American edition of Stoker's Dracula
A photograph of Bran Castle, Romania, lit up at night
Bran Castle in Romania
A handwritten note by Bram Stoker about
A handwritten note by Bram Stoker about Dracula

Gothic villainy changes with the times to reflect the concerns of the times.

The monks, bandits and aristocratic figures of the 18th century, changed to include criminals and scientists in the 19th. Settings shifted from distant time and lands to contemporary domestic settings.
Explore how and why the Gothic genre is just as important today as it was in the 18th century by studying the featured module Gothic Fictions: Villains, Virgins, Vampires on our BA (Hons) English course. 
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From the gothic novel to environmental literature, our course will take your love of reading in new directions. Explore texts that have shaped our world as you navigate the challenges of the future. Our curriculum is broad and diverse, giving you free rein to study an eclectic range of literature across cultures and geographies.

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