top of page

Gothic Novel Elements

A guide to elements of Gothic novels

The Gothic genre arose in the 18th century, the first novel being The Castle of Otranto. The Gothic novels of the 18th century are notably different from those we see later in the 19th century, as they are characterized by their outlandishness, exaggerations, and supernatural elements. Old armour coming to life to attack? That’s not a Resident Evil 4 video game reference, rather what you might read in a Gothic novel. Spirits stepping out of their paintings? Not a Harry Potter reference, instead what you’ll find in a Gothic novel.

The publication of The Castle of Otranto is priceless, as the author, Walpole, claimed he discovered the manuscript within castle ruins, an ancient relic recording true events and proving the existence of the supernatural. This is all part and parcel of the Gothic novel genre. The stories are all exaggerated tales that rely on mood setting and atmospheric context. The villains are Faust-like, barbarous, enjoy keeping damsels imprisoned, and are not above making pacts with genies or devils to get what they want.

European settings are a must, Italy being the most popular choice of the times. Religious elements are nearly always present, be it the ruins of a monastery, abandoned cathedrals, Catholic catacombs, or otherwise.

Some authors went to the extremes with the elements, especially the supernatural, while others let the setting and circumstances create the illusion and sense of foreboding, supernatural intervention, and fear.

The list in the graphic is not a complete list, merely a few highlights.

To learn more about the elements and how and why those elements changed during the three stages of Gothicism (Pre-Radcliffe, Post-Radcliffe, and Victorian Gothic), explore the Book Club Kit for A Spark of Romance, which offers a wonderful crash course on the three stages and the elements, and even includes a story generator:

Book Club Kit Page

bottom of page