The word gothic is a noun and an adjective describing an era of fashion. This fashion can be seen through people in what they wear, buildings, writings, music and images. Gothic fashions are meant to shock and scare people into a state of insecurity, it does this by following certain “stock features” (rules it abides to). In this study I plan to concentrate on Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Daphne Du-Maurier’s Rebecca, and The Woman In Black (author unknown). I will look at four certain “stock features” and find the similarities and differences between Dracula, Frankenstein (pre 1914), and Rebecca and The Woman In Black (the twentieth century). The features that I will be looking at are, buildings, quests and journeys, letters/diaries, and the use of the externals such as weather (pathetic fallacies).Order now
In all four of the gothic novels included in this study buildings play a big part. In Frankenstein and Dracula the main characters in each go to stay in huge, isolated buildings. In Dracula Jonathan Harker is working, as a solicitor and trying to move Dracula to London, and in Frankenstein Victor Frankenstein is creating his immortal monster in his rather overly huge student home. In the films of Dracula and Frankenstein we can see that in their own different way the buildings have become very isolated creating fear in the reader/viewers mind that danger is approaching. In Dracula Mr Harker has travelled deep into the darkest corner of Transylvania and there on the top of a mountain is a desolate castle.
This obviously spells out danger and also tells us a lot about the character living in this isolated castle, which in turn raises questions in our heads like what kind of being could live in this deserted palace. Where there is no surrounding village and no obvious food source? And also in Frankenstein we see that Victor has isolated himself in his “hall” to commit himself wholly to his project. We see that, bizarrely, the room actually changes in size during the film to add confusion, and makes the viewer aware that not everything is as it should be. The isolation of the building is also another factor that can make the viewer worry because whatever danger there may be the only person who will know about it is the isolated character-“no-one can hear you scream”.
In the two pre 1914 novels it is apparent the buildings have been used to create suspense and as places for evil to occur. However, in the 20th century novels the use of buildings is different. The buildings are described in much more detail in Rebecca and The Woman in Black, especially the surroundings, and both buildings seem less daunting and less obviously a place of danger. This is because of the language used by the authors to describe the places.
In Rebecca, the heroin reminisces about the building, saying just how perfect everything was with it. It can be considered that this is a cryptic warning, because if everything was perfect, and now everything has become overrun with shrubbery and hedgerow could there be an evil presence? it is definitely possible as many gothic productions follow in this direction. In The Woman in Black the character describes his/her way to the building in great detail and we are told how the building looks like it is growing out of the scenery as the character approaches.
Journeys are crucial in gothic writing; the fact that the main character is away from his or her natural, recognisable surroundings can create worry. This is because in a strange place wher you are a stranger to everyone and everyone is a stranger to you, you do not know who you can trust, this can cause worry and suspicion in the readers’ and characters’ mind. “Holding out his hand grasped mine with a strength that made me wince, an effect which was not lessened by the fact that it seemed as cold as ice-more like the hand of a dead than a living man-.”
This quote from Dracula shows that after his long and tiresome journey from London to Transylvania Mr Harker is weary and very aware. We see that in the film the castle is set high in a mountain (and that is the image created in our minds from the text) where it is obviously cold night, this would surely make Count Dracula’s hands cold, especially as hands and feet are most sensitive to heat and cold. And so surely this statement by Jonathan Harker is unjust. In Frankenstein Victor his made the journey to university, where he begins to create his monster.
In Rebecca the journey is somewhat different as it takes place in the heroin’s head as a dream. This is very strange because she has made the journey back to her old house and although she has not been there for a while she has in her mind all the precise changes that have taken place in her absence. And in The Woman in Black the main character is also travelling to a building. So in all four of the selected texts the main characters have made a journey to a building but they have been in very different ways and for many different reasons.
Letters and diaries are important features, of “the gothic” but also it is the way the stories are told, for example first person narrative. In all four of the selected texts we see that the author has used 1st person narrative, this puts the reader more in touch with the character and what they’re going through in the story. Also, mainly in Dracula and Frankenstein some of the chapters (all in Dracula) are written as letters, these letters portray the author of these letters’ deepest feelings so it is an easier way of knowing what’s going on. The narratives of gothic stories have not changed a lot over the years so it is very hard to compare the two time periods.
The scenery is used in a big way in gothic writing it shows feeling, and indicates danger and safety. It is hard to get this from the pre 1914 text that we have been issued with but it is quite easy with the twentieth century ones. However, as I have seen the films of both Dracula and Frankenstein it helps me to interpret the pathetic fallacies better. In the pre 1914 novels we can see that the contrast between dark and light and the weather is used in a big way. For example when Victor Frankenstein’s mother dies at the exact same moment a bolt of lightning strikes and fells a tree in the garden.
And in Dracula when Jonathan Harker arrives at Dracula’s castle it is a dark wet night this indicates that evil is present as that was the way that gothic writers worked in those days. In the twentieth century novels pathetic fallacies are used differently, in both Rebecca and The Woman in Black you will note as I have earlier explain that the buildings are described in great detail. The externals are used to set the scene, things like the shrubbery, hedgerows in Rebecca and the paths and the area surrounding the house in The Woman in Black, and although the weather is used in The Woman in Black it is not as important as the pre 1914 novels. So in pre 1914 novels the weather is used in the externals in a big way but in the twentieth century novels this has changed and the scenery itself had been used to set the mood.
In conclusion I can say that Gothic writing has changed over the years but the stock-features have stayed very much the same. I believe that this change has taken place because people themselves have changed. It the early 1900 hundreds people would be shocked and disgusted by the mentioning of Satan or of sex but now these topics come up in many conversations. So gothic writers of today have had to adapt to this and alter their work. Also it is apparent that people have become more sophisticated in many ways so the writing of today has to be much deeper and much more descriptive. So although the conventions of gothic have remained very similar, the writing has changed in many ways.