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Why do you like Gothic Romance? Please help me with my project!
Hi everyone!

I’m currently researching for an Extended Project Qualification on the origins and appeal of Gothic Romance literature, and in particular it's place in the world of literature today. As contemporary readers (and, in some cases, writers) of this genre, I’d be really grateful if some of you could give me an insight into why you like this genre. Is there anything that, for you, characterises the genre, and sets it apart from others?

What for you is the appeal of reading Gothic Romance? Do you think it appeals more to people of a certain gender or age? In your opinion, do people view it as a serious form of literature, or merely as a light, enjoyable read?

Recently there has been an influx of popular novels, films and TV series’ about vampires, werewolves and other supernatural concepts, following the ‘Twilight’ phenomenon. Do you see this as a welcome revival of the genre to the modern teenage conscience? Or maybe you think it is spoiling hundreds of years of tradition?

And finally, how do you view the portrayal of women within Gothic Romance literature? In the past, authors have been accused of only creating 2-dimensional female characters that conform to the stereotype of either the ‘damsel in distress’ or the ‘femme fetale’ – how far do you agree with this criticism?

Obviously, these are just guidelines, and any opinions/comments anyone would like to make outside of this would also be greatly appreciated!
Hello and welcome bianca_notte. So many good questions! I'll take a small stab at them.
First of all, if you care to, you can look back at my post dated 7-13-2010 and entitled Some Thoughts on Why? In it I state a (perhaps) rather unconventional response to gothic romances. Other than that, I find that they can be really good and really fun to read when you find the best ones of the genre.
As for the age question, I suppose it does have some bearing. I am a 48 year old woman who was definitely influenced by their popularity in my youth. They were pervasive! But I would imagine that their appeal transcends that. I'm sure new fans are being created all the time.
(08-24-2010, 07:19 PM)AliceChell Wrote: Hello and welcome bianca_notte. So many good questions! I'll take a small stab at them.
First of all, if you care to, you can look back at my post dated 7-13-2010 and entitled Some Thoughts on Why? In it I state a (perhaps) rather unconventional response to gothic romances. Other than that, I find that they can be really good and really fun to read when you find the best ones of the genre.
As for the age question, I suppose it does have some bearing. I am a 48 year old woman who was definitely influenced by their popularity in my youth. They were pervasive! But I would imagine that their appeal transcends that. I'm sure new fans are being created all the time.

Hiya! Thank you so much for taking the time to reply - it really helps me with my project. I read the thread you suggested, and find it interesting that nearly all the replies mention nostalgia as one of the appeals of the genre. Maybe this goes some way to explain why there aren't so many teenagers who read traditional Gothic Romance (Twilight excepted of course Tongue) - we haven't been around for long enough to really have any 'good old days' to try to relive!
Hello Bianca_notte. Interesting questions. My tuppenceworth-
Like AliceChell I am also a woman in my mid-forties, and I too, grew up reading '70s gothics. So there's a nostalgia factor to my love of the genre and I wouldn't be at all surprised to find that was common amongst us here.
I discovered the gothic novel as a spin off from my passion for ghost stories, and still have a fondness for supernatural elements in a story so long as they are done well. Having said that I have very strong views about the illegitimacy of calling the current batch of vampire/werewolf stories gothic. At the risk of offending fans: twilight-no, no, no, it's just wrong!
I think one of the things that drew me to these novels all those years ago was the fact that the heroine was the central character rather than the hero. In those days it was still relatively uncommon to find a woman undertaking the brave and daring deeds (such as investigating mysteries and risking death). In my opinion the intelligence of the heroine is an indicator of good gothic fiction. There is nothing worse than a too stupid to live heroine. When it comes to two-dimensional or stereotypical heroines I think that is an expression of a particular author's skill, or lack thereof, coupled with the publishing industry's desire to cash in on a hot genre by printing less discriminately than they might (compare with chick lit of a couple of years ago).
As for the question of literature vs light reading, for me one of the beauties of the gothic novel is that it can be either. There are the classics of centuries past that have achieved the status of literature or the pulp of the mid-twentieth century. You can read a serious or frivilous story depending on your mood-just as in many other genres.
Hope my views are of some help and good luck with your project.
I discovered the gothic romance when I was about 15. Till then I had been exploring all the genres the library could offer besides the well-known children's literature. I had just finished the Angélique-series by Anne and Serge Golon and was falling back to the regular Mills & Boon books, but as always missed the excitement and adventure in them. Then I came across Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt and this kind of novel was exactly what I craved. There's an easily identifiable heroine, intelligent and never at a loss for exactly the right words. People like her and confide in her. She gets her adventure when she starts living in an big and interesting house, which she needs to explore in order to solve a mystery. There is a love interest, but it doesn't get as much attention as the mystery, which suited me fine.

So to answer your questions one by one:
The appeal is reading about an adventure I myself would love to experience and being rewarded by having a mystery solved. Having the story in first person narrative helps the identifying with the heroine tremendously. And the house, be it a castle, monastery or mansion, holds an enormous appeal as well.
I think the gothic romance appeals more to older (I'm 51) people because they grew up reading books that didn't necessarily contain hot and steamy sex. I read a review on another forum with a younger population where one of Philippa Carr's books wasn't considered a historical romance because there was no sex in it....
Gothic romances can be either serious literature or a light, enjoyable read, whichever you like.
Novels with vampires, werewolves etc. are not, IMHO, gothic romances, though they can have a gothic setting. When I think of the word "gothic" I see am enormous cathedral with gargoyles and irregular nooks and crannies where you might find surprises. The gothic novel should also have such a setting: odd, interesting, mysterious, scary and beautiful at the same time. This setting is just as important as the main characters of the book. I realize this narrows the genre down at lot; neither Dracula nor Frankenstein qualify for me: they are horror stories. And I think the twilight series most definitely is not a gothic romance. So no worries of spoiling the genre. These books have their own genres: paranormal, supernatural, whatever.
I don't think the classic heroines of the gothic romance can be put in either the damsel in distress or the femme fatale boxes. She is a real woman who experiences distressing situations but can handle them herself. She can be a femme fatale if she wants to and can use this to her advantage, but that isn't what the story is about.
Thank you thank you thank you for the really interesting replies! I'm starting to see some patterns emerging here... mostly that A) a good gothic story really depends on having a strong, identifiable heroine (noticeably, always HEROINE instead of hero :p) and B) that Twilight is NOT Gothic! Have to say, am inclined to agree with both of the above!
When it comes to semantics it's a miracle we communicate at all. Dracula is the ultimate Gothic Romance. Victoria Holt's books are merely romantic mysteries. in MY humble opinion.
I think the keyword we shouldn't forget is "romance". The main type is the gothic "novel", or even gothic "literature", which clearly Dracula belongs to, but bianca_notte's question was about the appeal of gothic romances.

While looking up the differences in the various gothic subgenres, I came across several interesting quotes which I'd like to share here.

The Encyclopedia of gothic literature in an excerpt from the chapter "female Gothic":
Quote:Female Gothic romance is a major strand of Gothic literature that expresses sympathy for a female protagonist who is oppressed by a VILLAIN or patriarchal authority figure through STALKING, abusive relationships, or outright persecution.

The Free Dictionary says:
Quote:Gothic romance, type of novel that flourished in the late 18th and early 19th cent. in England. Gothic romances were mysteries, often involving the supernatural and heavily tinged with horror, and they were usually set against dark backgrounds of medieval ruins and haunted castles. The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole was the forerunner of the type, which included the works of Ann Radcliffe Radcliffe, Matthew Gregory Lewis and Charles R. Maturin, and the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Jane Austen's novel Northanger Abbey satirizes Gothic romances. The influence of the genre can be found in some works of Coleridge, Le Fanu, Poe, and the Brontës. During the 1960s so-called Gothic novels became enormously popular in England and the United States. Seemingly modeled on Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre and Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, these novels usually concern spirited young women, either governesses or new brides, who go to live in large gloomy mansions populated by peculiar servants and precocious children and presided over by darkly handsome men with mysterious pasts. Popular practitioners of this genre are Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, Catherine Cookson, and Dorothy Eden.

A companion to the gothic
sums up the Gothic romance conventions:
Quote:Those conventions involve not just allusions to, or interventions by, supernatural agencies, but a formal repertoire, which includes plot (labyrinthine, mysterious, driven by a traumatic or secret past), setting (castles and monasteries, ruins, tombs, sublime natural scenery), psychology (‘feminine’, passive, intensely inward and susceptible, versus a masculine, aristocratic will to power) and textuality (embedded poetic fragments, found manuscripts, the narrative's devolution onto its own cultural and material conditions.

I also read something interesting about the "damsel in distress" vs. "femme fatale" issue. It seems femme fatale have no place as protagonists in the female gothic romance, though I assume they could be in the male gothic romance genre. Here's what the Encyclopedia says:

Quote:The heroines tend to be powerless, either motherless or orphaned, sometimes low-born, and usually penniless. [...] Facing imprecise threats to body, sanity, and/or life, heroines of female Gothic works suffer extremes of cruelty and menace or enclosure in fetters, traps, slave quarters, female Gothic prisons, towers, asylums, cloisters, or premature burial. Typically, the weaklings cower and survive until they can be rescued from confinement. More motivated females seize the initiative to explore their cells and work out ways of freeing themselves.

And finally a quote from the Encyclopedia that I liked a lot myself, explaining the importance of the setting:
Quote:Female Gothic stories develop ATMOSPHERE by setting action within intricate architecture or over perplexing terrain
This confirms my belief, which was unfounded hitherto, that the house, in whatever shape or form, is in fact one of the main ingredients of the gothic romance. Wikipedia says "Romantic suspense involves an intrigue or mystery for the protagonists to solve." So if you add the main influence of the house and change "protagonists" into "female protagonist", you have a romantic gothic.

Now, I should quit before this post gets even longer... Wink
Very good points, Charybdis, and a well-constructed post!
I like novels in which houses or even dead women ('Rebecca' comes to mind as does a novel I just read 'A Presence in an Empty Room' by Velda Johnston) are characters and where heroes can be complex, handsome or not-- even anti-heroes. Gothic romance novels have these elements and more which appeal to me. I have found such elements lacking in regular romance novels; these seem to simplistic to me. I also think the element of rescue from danger by the hero is appealing...

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