Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Epic List: Elements of Gothic Novels

I thought we could start a list of the elements that make Gothic novels, well, Gothic. I have started the list, and I would love for you to add elements to the comments. I'll revise the list and give credit where it is due as well.

I have divided the list up into sections as well.

-- questionable, dark hero
-- heroine in danger (usually ages 18-25)
-- virgin heroine 
-- hero with secrets
-- recluse
-- sick or dying matriarch or patriarch
-- evil stepmother or aunt or other older female figure
-- evil older male character (anti-hero, antagonist)
-- child in danger
-- old sea captain
-- heir or heiress in danger
-- orphaned heroine
-- heroine of lowly means turned governess
-- gypsies
-- old crones with "the sight"
-- witches
-- deceased wife or husband who still haunts the hero or heroine
-- kind male friend who helps the heroine but is not a love interest
-- childhood friend who wants to be love interest
-- "mad" woman or relative
-- the Other-- person who is not Anglo Saxon and thus appears mysterious or frightening
--"monstrous" person or deformed person
--disabled person who seems threatening (thinking of villains in wheelchairs etc).
-- servant girl who informs heroine of dangerous goings on
-- hero with a limp
-- idiot savant
-- angry peasants
-- mute child (or adult) with a secret
-- blind child or adult
-- vicar or priest who is not what he seems
-- vampires
-- evil servants colluding with their masters
-- cute, mysterious or clever cat (Thanks, Hannah. How could I have forgotten this one??)
-- lovable or courageous dog (And again, Hannah's contribution...)
-- child or adult who has second sight or vision (~Hannah)
-- secret benefactor
-- cruel school mistress or head of orphanage
-- missing person (childhood friend or sibling, often)
-- seductive lord or lady

-- exotic locale
-- haunted ancestral home or mansion or castle
-- island
-- lighthouse
-- on the moors
-- old, abandoned church
-- old abbey
-- isolated home or cottage
-- in Cornwall
-- turrets and towers
-- by the sea
-- ancient ruins
-- caves
-- coves
-- huts
-- sheds
-- secret rooms or passages
-- green houses (hothouses)
-- attics
-- pavilions
-- graveyards
-- family burial plot
-- tunnels
-- basements
-- crypts
-- family burial vaults
-- ancient burial mounds
-- train
-- secret garden/garden maze (Thanks, Hannah!)
-- urban setting and its seamy elements: Urban Gothic (Thanks, Todd...)
-- right before or at Christmas
-- heroine's childhood home
-- sailboats
-- ships
-- orphanages
-- girls' finishing schools
-- Pagan ruins/in the woods
-- moat
-- the bayou/rural Louisiana
-- old springhouse

Supernatural Elements:
-- frightening animals (black dogs, hares, black cats, crows, etc)
-- familiars
-- incantations/spells
-- mist and fog
-- ghosts and spirits
-- voices
-- strange laughter
-- extrasensory perception
-- reincarnation
-- possession
-- patches of cold
-- mysterious lights
-- visions and nightmares with portents 
-- Satanic books
-- devil worship
-- exorcism
-- curses and cursed items
-- voodoo
-- patches of cold air/rooms
-- phone calls from the beyond
-- seances
-- mediums
-- premonitions
-- omens
-- portents

Creepy/common elements:
-- old statues or figurines
-- family heirlooms like jewelry
-- medallions
-- talismans
-- voodoo dolls
-- porcelain dolls
-- exotic flowers
-- power blackouts
-- flickering lights
-- old books
-- mysterious letters
-- diaries or journals of the deceased
-- twins
-- mirrors
-- maps
-- secret panels
-- family portraits of the former, now dead, wife
-- family portraits of ancestors that seem to change
-- black candles used for rituals
-- sacrificial rites
-- old trunks of clothing or belongings
-- twisting, unsafe roads
-- paths in the woods
-- screeching birds
-- howling
-- footsteps in the hall
-- secret will
-- invisible horses and riders
-- peeping toms
-- masks
-- scorpions in the bed or in a shoe
-- snakes in the bed or in the room
-- poison
-- laudanum
-- opium abuse
-- marijuana abuse
-- sleepwalking (Thanks, Shaindel.)
-- bats
-- sleeping pills and lots of them
-- hallucinations
-- creaking doors that open and shut for no reason
-- skeleton keys
-- locked rooms
-- small, locked boxes
-- dust
-- rooms of the deceased that have been preserved and untouched
-- murders finally uncovered
-- murderers uncovered only after many years
-- literal skeleton hidden in a house
-- decaying corpse hidden in a trunk or in the basement (Thanks, Todd!)
-- death by drowning
-- house fires set by enemies
-- cobwebs
-- chippendale desks with secret drawers and cubbyholes
-- snuff
-- pipes/tobacco
-- lavender
-- violet
-- death couch where deceased loved ones were laid out
-- family birthmark that is passed down
-- death masks (and other parts to resemble the beloved)
-- jasmine
-- moss
-- cypress
-- tangled vines
-- whippoorwills
-- alligators

Taboo Elements:
-- incest or hints of it (Thanks, Shaindel!)
-- necrophilia or hints of it
-- lesbianism (Thanks again, Shaindel! I think this is your category.)
-- orgies (Um, Shaindel again. I'm sensing a pattern.)
-- rape or unwanted sexual contact with humans or ghosts
-- secret love child (~Hannah)
-- secret STDs like syphilus (~Hannah)
-- secret adulterous affairs resulting in children
-- ritual human sacrifice
-- murder/suicide that no one speaks of

Natural elements:
-- moaning wind
-- tree limbs scratching at windows
-- rain
-- sleet
-- storms
-- hurricanes
-- blizzards
-- lightning
-- thunder
-- fog
-- mist
-- full moons
-- no moon at all/dark night
-- mountains
-- willows
-- dense woods
-- unnatural stillness
-- dangerous cliffs
-- deadly sea
-- December, bone chilling weather\
-- fire

Classic foods and beverages in Gothic novels:
-- sauterne
-- sherry
-- whisky
-- gin
-- meal on a tray
-- spiked tea
-- port from the wine cellar
-- boiled puddings
-- broth
-- cigarettes (not a food but some characters smoke as if they are)
-- brandy
-- rum
-- buttered toast
-- black coffee
-- roast beef (this one seems to show up in every other Gothic Novel!)
-- quince jelly
-- speckled brown eggs


Anonymous said...

I think often there's an element of "incest." We could broaden this as "taboo-breaking," but it seems to often be incestual or borderline incestual. The strange relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff, the father who seems a little "too" obsessed with his daughter after the death of her mother in several gothic tales, etc.

lisalgreer said...

Good one. :) I think I'll add it to creepy elements.

jwade19 said...

OMG, I'm laughing so much at this list that tears are coming out of my eyes.

This is EPIC!! I think you've covered almost everything about the gothic novel, Lisa. Here's just a few more I didn't see (perhaps I missed them):
- Garden maze or "secret" garden

- Adult or child possessing second sight
- Cute, mysterious or clever cat
- Lovable or courageous dog

- Secret love child
- Diseases of the sexual kind

Again, EPIC list. Well done :)

lisalgreer said...

Hannah, thanks. LOL. I like lists... can you tell? HA. I will definitely add yours, too! I hadn't thought of some of those. I'm sure we will be adding even more as time goes on. Perhaps I'll repost it later and rename it Epic List of Gothic Novel Elements. LOL.

Todd Jeffries said...

Considering Shaindel's comment, I am mindful of Ian McEwan's The Cement Garden. Though I don't recall a supernatural element, there is definitely a pervasive unease and tension, including the incest taboo at work and the crumbling family manse, and the children's mum putrefying in a trunk in the basement. A very dark book. Not set in the country side but in a decaying urban area. I was just reading the list and wondered if there's such a thing as Urban Gothic?

lisalgreer said...

Todd, yes... there is definitely a such thing as Urban Gothic. I have read some of those for sure. I am thinking even some of Dickens' novels would fit in there (for older ones-- 'A Christmas Carol' and others come to mind...). I am going to add some of these elements to the list. The body in the trunk... skeletons, etc... and the urban area too. Great ideas! :)

Alex and Lynn Ward said...

Great list lisa.
I see the beginnings of a drinking game.

lisalgreer said...

Ha, Lynn. I do, too. Now, I'm adding another category, too-- food and drinks in Gothic novels.

That could inspire drinking as in drink every time you see whisky in the novel (the common spelling in Gothics).


Denise Brown said...

I read a gothic novel - a saga that went down a couple generations - that involved a woman who grew up, married, had a son and ended up secluding herself in a portion of the castle. She was incestuous with her son, grew to hate herself for it and at one point in the book stabbed herself in her eyes with a fork to punish herself. I would like to read it as an adult but cannot remember the title or author.

Anyone know of it?

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