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Characteristics of Gothic in Literature and the Arts


The term 'gothic' in the arts has different characteristics to the same term in literature. Gothic art lasted between the 12th century and the 16th century and manifested itself in the form of sculpture, painting and architecture. Gothic literature, however, didn't appear until around 1760 and is still around today, in some forms.

Gothic Arts and Architecture

The main characteristic of Gothic sculpture and painting is that they both normally depicted religious scenes or figures. The theme of transcendence was often visited in Gothic sculpture and painting. Gothic sculpture was normally used on or in buildings, and so gargoyles and grotesques are another common feature of Gothic art. In architecture, the main characteristics included pointed arches, ribbed and fanned vaulted ceilings, towers or spires, buttresses and stained glass.

The Gothic Novel

The Gothic novel was the first emergence of Gothic literature, and was sometimes referred to as the Gothic romance. These kinds of novels were characterized by elements of horror, suspense and mystery. Gothic novels attempted to find understanding through exploring the darker side of life. They often contained ruined old buildings, wild landscapes, good and handsome heroes, terrified heroines and, of course, an evil character. Arguably the most famous Gothic novel is Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein.'

American Gothic

Sometimes referred to as wilderness Gothic, American Gothic literature swaps the old, mysterious castles and abbeys of British and European Gothic stories for the backdrop of the American wilderness or small town. This kind of literature is often set in small colonial settlements, such as the setting of 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,' or in a large house on a family estate. Like the Gothic novel, American Gothic fiction was characterized by murder, mystery, horror and hauntings.

Southern Gothic

Southern Gothic literature is a more recent Gothic subgenre, where tales are set in the American South. The characteristics of Southern Gothic writing include use of the ironic, unusual, absurd or supernatural. Unlike previous forms of Gothic writing, Southern Gothic authors don't do this purely for suspense or entertainment, but rather to explore the topics of social change and unrest in the Southern states. Protagonists in Southern Gothic literature tend not to conform to stereotypes. They are usually flawed and often grotesque.

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