Gothic Literature – The Illusion of Reality

Recently I have become involved with ‘gothic’ literature and after reading and article about literary techniques I became further fascinated with this irrational and brilliant genre. Coleridge talked about the ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ and this to me is the true magic of the gothic. One knows that the characters are fictional and that events recounted are fictitious and yet when one reads a gothic tale one becomes convinced of their reality, for some this can actually inspire fear and a disturbance of the psyche. The gothic operates on two levels, a duality reflected often within the structure of the literature itself: for example, in Dr Faustus we see the duality of Hell and Heaven, Mephistophilis and Faustus, Lucifer and Beelzebub, the Good angel and the Bad. This is also prevalent in Frankenstein where the creature and Victor are often compared, and contrasted throughout the book. The duality is also formed by the strange double effect of reading a gothic piece, firstly the characters are affected by the horror of the narrative, and secondly the readers are affected. In addition as the stories are often framed narratives, we are hearing the story from the report of yet another who has been affected by the tale.

This layering of narrative and effect is designed to somewhat distort the reader’s grasp on reality and emerge them in the tale. To make a comparison to a contemporary film: Inception, where it requires one to go into a certain depth of dreaming in order to plant an idea and trick the mind into believing that the idea is its own, we can see that the layered effect of the framed narrative achieves the same result. In Frankenstein we go into the letters of Walton, who then writes down the story he is being told by Frankenstein, and then Frankenstein tells Walton the story related by the Creature! This three tiered frame blurs the clear perception of the fictional and real, allowing the reader to fully access the story. In addition, seen most prevalently in Dracula, the use of common and recognisable mediums (such as letters and journals) to relate extraordinary and supernatural events further extenuates this illusion. Perhaps this is why the gothic genre has so taken hold of the human imagination, inspiring harrowing works of art, incredible literature and even music. The gothic tells us fundamental human truths, whilst disguising them in fantastic tales, further disguised as reality…


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