Crumbling mansions, creepy atmosphere, long-buried secrets, murder – gothic conventions are readily recognizable. There are many types of gothic fiction; this subgenre of suspense is as much a tone as it is a type. Gothic romances, mysteries, and horror all share the same disquieting atmosphere.
Gothic romances traditionally feature an inexperienced protagonist, often a heroine, haunted by the supernatural, the past, or a present, tangible threat. Modern heroines have found a bit more agency but will still pursue a love connection that eventually resolves to a happily ever after.
Gothic mysteries and horror instill an abiding sense of unease: science gone sideways, ancestral curses tormenting descendants, lovers who are not what they seem, madness, mayhem, cruelty, and death all abound. Narrators can be unreliable and occasionally unhinged. An ever-increasing sense of inevitability threatens the protagonist: lucky ones face an ambiguous conclusion; unlucky ones end up dead…or worse.
Southern Gothic shares the eerie ambiance of its cousins but is limited to the American South; authors are often born and raised there (e.g., Flannery O’Connor). There are undercurrents of class conflict, corruption, and the legacy of racism. Characterizations include the grotesque, individuals so defective physically, mentally, or both, that they’re as disturbing as that gothic original, Frankenstein’s monster.
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