While I was away I went to Whitby. On the coast in Yorkshire, I first learned of the existence of this town when I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula at about the age of 14. I adored it and yearned to see the castle on the cliff, the church, the harbour entrance where Dracula came ashore. It’s taken me a while but I finally got there. It did not disappoint – well, I suppose it did insofar as I didn’t see Dracula!
It got me thinking about the Gothic novel. I’ve read a few, the big notables mostly of which Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is the biggie. They’re not really for me these days. (But I might go back and have a read of some more, see if my interest is rekindled!) And I’ve never tried writing one. All the modern Vampire stuff has its roots in the Gothic novel of yesteryear. Elements include the following:
- Well that castle on the hill in Whitby is a classic. That’s often the setting of the traditional Gothic. It’s a ruin, but they’re not always. Sometimes they are relatively modern affairs, with secret rooms or passages, dark priest holes or cellars. A setting guaranteed to chill the blood before you begin.
- And then there is a secret: some old tale that means no-one will go near the place. Or they only go there to see the ghost and then get more than they bargain for. Something dramatic has happened here, or is believed to have happened. A young woman is supposed to be walled up inside, or some other gory detail from the past, preferably with her ghost wandering around. Headless maybe. Definitely something out of the ordinary anyway.
- And usually someone suspects something. Some highly strung female character in a long white frock swoons at the atmosphere of doom she feels exists, or has a vision of something terrible that is about to happen. Or a raven comes and bites someone’s ear lobe as a portent of evil. There is a general atmosphere of evil or mystery about the whole place and characters are charged with terror/panic/anger, and often given to lots of screaming.
- Someone, usually the highly strung female character needs rescuing from the cause of the problem: the deranged madwoman or the Zombie or Egyptian Mummy brought to life by a long lost curse. The panic-stricken female does a lot of fainting and gives lengthy emotional speeches, whilst her erstwhile companion does his best to remove her from the threat, narrowly escaping death several times. She, on the other hand, does irrational things that no sensible woman would ever do: she rushes headlong into danger by responding to noises in the middle of the night. She descends dark staircases to hidden rooms wearing only a flimsy nightie and carrying a candle which will blow out in the inevitable draught. She will also fall for the wrong man, the powerful baddie, whilst the hero, who appears weak by comparison, must eventually win her confidence, her heart and the day with little more than frenzied determination and a rolled up umbrella. Which he needs because the weather is always dreadful. The ‘dark and stormy night’ is typical of the Gothic novel.
So faced with all this information, a vivid imagination and a thousand ideas milling about in my head, am I about to write a Gothic romance? Not sure. Maybe a short story. Not certain I could keep it up for an entire novel.
What about you? Are you inspired to give it a go?
Are you the next Mary Shelley?