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Evolution of Gothic romance
#1
As the books in our book discussion illustrates, the essential points in the Gothic novel have changed over time. I think part of this has to do with the settings of the novel.

Early on, we have a moral tale of good vs. evil. Although not all of the early Gothics were like this, the very earliest did focus on that theme. These early Gothics were set in the medieval period even though they were written in the 18th century. Romances pre-date the Gothics, but these early Gothics concentrated more on suspense and mystery. The romances were a side issue, a subplot. We can all be guaranteed that the good and noble hero will win the virtuous virgin.

In Jane Eyre, we have a tale that really does focus on the romance between the hero and heroine. They are more 3-dimensional characters and the reader can sympathize with them. They are no longer the perfectly white (and rather dull) characters of the early novels. Unlike the early Gothics, where the hero discovers his noble birth rights, now we have the heroine attaining a fortune, making her a more suitable marriage prospect. The mystery/suspense in these novels is what drives a wedge in the romantic relationship. Jane Eyre was written contemporarily, but today, when authors choose to write historical Gothic romances, this is the formula they tend to follow.

When we move on to Rebecca, the settings again change. We are in the 20th century but moral values had not changed much early in that century, at least on the surface. Underneath, I believe the currents for a social/moral change was beginning and this is the impetus that drives the novel. (Had this story taken place today, it would not have been very believable.)

The modern Gothics take many forms and I feel the romance develops very quickly (too quickly sometimes). It is a reflection of the times that the hero and heroine can develop a romantic relationship even on the barest of acquaintances. Although most Gothic romances from this era still have virgins as the heroine and the "whores" as their rivals, it is not unusual to have a sexually experienced heroine.

On the whole, I'd much rather prefer the historical novels (like fallover) and the more restrained moral codes simply because I feel it adds more tension to the relationship between the hero and heroine. On the other hand, many of the modern romantic suspense stories can quicken my pulse with their thrilling adventures. I don't read many of the early Gothics. For me, they are more fitted for an academic, intellectual pursuit than pleasure-reading.
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#2
Thanks for the overview! I wish I had something as valuable to post, but there 's very little to add.

The one thing I would say though is that, as a modern reader, Jane Eyre speaks the most to me. The Castle of Otranto is clearly dated and its value lies as being one of the birth mothers of the Gothic novel. One would think that Rebecca would be more accessible because it was published in 1938 while Jane Eyre came out in 1847. But that's not the case at all.

As mentioned in another thread, the character of the narrator in Rebecca is that of a weak young woman. One who has no sense of identity except in relation to her husband. She is so passive that one forgets she even exists in the last part of the book. She is insecure, shy and impressionable.

In contrast, I keep thinking of the scene when Jane and Rochester express their love.

"Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!-I have as much soul as you-and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty, and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you! I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh; it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood both at God's feet, equal-as we are!"

To me, Jane and Rochester ARE equals. The narrator and Maxim in Rebecca are not. I would probably have to read the authors' biographies to understand why the difference.

The difference is especially amazing when you think that Jane Eyre was written at a time when women couldn't even vote and Rebecca was written when they could.
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#3
While I do consider "Rebecca" to be part of the gothic romance canon (Victoria Holt's "Mistress of Mellyn" is practically a remake of the storyline and sparked the gothic romance trend of the 60s and 70s), I've found it to be more a novel of obsession and betrayal, than "romance". Du Maurier herself hated that everyone thought it was a romance novel, and particular so after the Hitchcock movie adaptation made it seem like a romance.
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#4
Cherchezlafemme Wrote:(Victoria Holt's "Mistress of Mellyn" is practically a remake of the storyline and sparked the gothic romance trend of the 60s and 70s),

That's funny, I always thought "Mistress of Mellyn" copied "Jane Eyre". I guess I do see some elements of "Rebecca" in it.
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