Born in late 18th century England, the Gothic Romantic novel developed as a reaction to the formality that characterized Romantic literature up until that point. Having emerged out of the Romantic Movement, Gothic Romantic literature formed a sub-genre that shared many of Romanticism's central elements -- most importantly, the emphasis on emotion -- but went on to develop its own unique identity.
The mysterious and romantic mood of the Gothic Romantic novel produces feelings of fear and threat, while at the same time, passion in the reader. Mystery, suspense and supernatural, unexplainable events create a dark, strange, almost harrowing atmosphere that is central to the style and plot of Gothic Romantic literature.
The Gothic Romantic novel's plot takes place in a castle, an abbey or an old, abandoned family estate. Dark and claustrophobic, the story's setting creates a fearful and threatening atmosphere which is usually emphasized even further through the use of ghostly sounds, secret passages and dusty, webbed staircases. This surrounding s are usually dark, abandoned and desperate, conveying the message of the decay and deterioration of a once thriving place.
Gothic Romantic literature always consists of a hero and a villain. The hero is most often a lonely, isolated young woman who is oppressed by the villain, who is usually a strong and tyrannical male figure. The protagonist finds herself in a constant state of distress and in desperate need of a protector. She may be forced to do things against her will, like marry someone she does not love or let down the man she loves in order to save him. Her protector and savior will eventually enter the story dynamically, fall passionately in love with her and face the powerful villain, taking her with him and giving the novel the satisfying ending that the reader desires.
The Gothic Romantic novel is filled with sentiment -- usually sadness, fear and passion. The novel moves the reader by including consistent anxiety, suffering, crying, agitation and screaming. High emotions like terror, insanity and obsessive love lead the novel's characters toward absolute desperation. Great passion, panic and exaggerated grief over a lost love are common in the Gothic Romantic novel.
The heroine's fall from grace in a ruined world ruled by a powerful villain, and her reunion with her loved one, protector and savior are the main plot points of every Gothic Romantic novel. Supernatural and inexplicable events, obscure omens and visions, confusing prophecies and the fear of death are also central and important to the sub-genre's plot.
The Gothic Romantic novel was born in 1764, when Horace Walpole published "The Castle of Otranto," determining the elements that constitute this Romantic sub-genre. Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher," Matthew G. Lewis's "The Monk" and Ann Radcliffe's "The Mysteries of Udolpho" are other powerful examples of Gothic Romantic literature.
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