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Introduction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 September 2020

Richard J. Hand
Affiliation:
University of East Anglia
McRoy Jay
Affiliation:
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
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Summary

In Gothic: Four Hundred Years of Excess, Horror, Evil and Ruin (2000), his expansive introduction to the Gothic as a perpetually shifting aesthetic and socio-historical phenomenon, Richard Davenport-Hines notes that it is often difficult to ascertain precisely what people mean when they describe a text as informed by ‘Gothic’ sensibilities. Much of this confusion stems from the myriad ways that popular and academic discourses have deployed the term throughout the centuries following the destruction and pillaging of Rome by a combination of Scandinavian and Eastern European warriors (aka the Goths). From its earliest associations with destruction, violence, darkness and despair (connotations that persist to this day), ‘Gothic’ has been a very flexible term imbued with multiple connotations. While for many the term Gothic implies melancholic decay and decadence, for others it connotes a subcultural sartorial style grounded in dark colours (black, red), theatrical accents (French cuffs, lace trimming) and pallid complexions enhanced by dark eyeliner and lipstick.

More to the purposes of this volume, the term ‘Gothic’ is also frequently used to describe a particularly stylised approach to depicting location, desire and action in literature and film. For many contemporary film viewers, the term evokes images of derelict castles atop craggy hills or sprawling, labyrinthine ancestral mansions in various stages of ruin or disrepair. This association can, of course, be traced back to the influence of prominent eighteenth-and nineteenth-century Gothic novels like Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1764), Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) and Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897); each of these works features action set in similarly imposing locales. Indeed, the connection between the Gothic and architectural design is profound. In the sixteenth century, ‘Gothic’ was a pejorative descriptor for an architectural style that, emerging in Northern Europe between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries (or from the late Middle Ages to the early modern period), posed a radical – and, for some Renaissance critics, ‘barbaric’ – response to classical Greco-Roman design. Gothic architecture integrates Romanesque elements into its propensity towards verticality, while its inclusion of copious and, in the case of gargoyles, grotesque ornamentations departs more radically from classical conceits.

Type
Chapter
Information
Gothic Film
An Edinburgh Companion
, pp. 1 - 8
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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