Introduction: Modernity and the proliferation of the gothic

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Abstract

On the face of it, modernity would seem at odds with "the gothic." Granted, that highly mixed mode - a set of often-linked elements rather than a fixed genre - that began in English prose fiction, theater, and some poetry in the eighteenth century has by now crept, throughout the world yet with many of its initial features still visible, into a wide array of media: film, television, surreal art, comic books and graphic novels, paperback "romances" by the hundreds, computer and video games, labyrinthine Web sites in cyberspace, popular or avant-garde music, and the actions and dress of "goth" subcultures, not to mention parodies and self-parodies for more than two centuries. Nonetheless, this extensive "progress" always seems to be pulling backward too, recalling the gothic’s earlier forms, as was the case when the gothic as we now know it first came about. Even when placed at some distance from, while also referring to, the time of medieval "gothic" architecture - a misnomer applied by later neoclassicists to the "barbarity" of pointed-arch buildings dating from the 1100s to the 1300s, which were wrongly linked to the fifth-century "Goths" who helped end the Roman Empire - "modern gothic" certainly seemed a flagrant oxymoron when Horace Walpole published his novella The Castle of Otranto in 1764. He admitted as much himself in 1765 in the second edition, subtitled A gothic Story (the first use of that label), by way of a second preface that defines this new mode as a "blend" of the "two kinds of romance, the ancient and the modern." The "modern" there refers to the rising middle-class novel of that time, concerned heavily with the ideological aspirations of the growing bourgeoisie and anchored in the values of "nature" being "copied with success" and empirically verified "rules of probability" governing character motivation and behavior without supernatural intervention. All of these assumptions were key to that break from older absolutes of religion and politics that soon came to be called the "Enlightenment," a major assertion of modernity by largely Protestant thinkers, of whom Walpole was one. It was the elements in Otranto tinged with the old-style supernatural, though, thereby recalling "ancient romance" (really pastiches of Shakespearean, operatic, medieval-chivalric, once-Catholic, and ancient Greek features), that then attracted and still attract the most audience interest.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to the Modern gothic
PublisherCambridge University Press
Pages3-19
Number of pages17
ISBN (Print)9781139151757, 9781107023567
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2014

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

Cite this

Hogle, J. E. (2014). Introduction: Modernity and the proliferation of the gothic. In The Cambridge Companion to the Modern gothic (pp. 3-19). Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CCO9781139151757.003