Gothic literature has risen to mainstream, though many people may not recognize it in its current form. You can find it in books, in film and in television. I read an article recently from The Province about the Gothic vibe in the city of Vancouver titled Vancouver’s Gothic vibe: The City is perfect for dark, haunting movies and TV series. Now, I’ve been to Vancouver. I loved that city. It was one of the few places I could imagine myself living outside of Kansas City or somewhere on a beach. But I didn’t realize how significant this place had become to the Gothic.
“Forget about Transylvania and the monstrous wilds of Stephen King’s Maine,” they say. “Penned between glowering mountains, grim forests and unforgiving ocean, Vancouver is a goth paradise.” They definitely have the rich and rugged landscape piece down. The traditional Gothic story usually took place in the countryside in a big, frightening old castle or mansion of some sort. There are tons of places outside the city that would suit well for a setting.
I love the idea that a whole city is now identifying with the Gothic. From the literature beginning in 1764 to the marginalized penny dreadfuls and then to the subculture Goths who dress in black, the Gothic has traditionally been on the outside of the mainstream for a long time. Even when it was popular, it was marginalized in some way.
So, what is Gothic? According to the article linked above, “Lancaster University professor Catherine Spooner says that to qualify as Gothic, a written or filmed story needs three things: the past returning, a sense of claustrophobia, and psychic disintegration.” This is a dissection of the more modern Gothic I think, for it lacks the traditional analysis of the cyclical story and the triangular family dynamic. But, that doesn’t make the professor’s description wrong. She has updated the definition and the tropes to fit more with what you see in both modern written stories and on television or in film. And thinking of the recent “modern Gothic” stories I’ve read, this description fits them well. My most recent Gothic reads are Drood written by Dan Simmons and The Quick by Lauren Owen. Each is a story written by modern writers but set in the past. They carry a lot of the tropes of the traditional Gothic story, but also embrace these new qualifiers.
Usually when people find out that my background is in Gothic literature, one of the first questions I receive is “Does that come from the Goths? you know, the people who dress in all black?” I also get asked if I dress in black and told that I don’t look like a Goth. Ah ignorance. I’ve always had a bit of trouble explaining to people what Goths really are and where they come from. I usually go all the way back to Horace Walpole and his 1764 novel, The Castle of Otranto and then I quickly make my way up to the end of the punk era in England and the beginning of the 1980s Gothic rock scene, not that I’m terribly well-versed in that period. Sometimes I will go back to the Goths, but usually that’s too far for most people. But I think one of the best explanations for Goths and the Gothic comes from this article from The Province. “What unites most of the goth tribes is a perception of beauty in life’s darker side, a soft spot for 19th-century Gothic fiction and careful attention to dress…goths’ [have a] fascination with how love, terror and death intertwine.” Don’t we all? Isn’t that what makes us human? Edgar Allan Poe wrote that the most beautiful and sorrowful thing in the world is the death of a beautiful woman. It is melancholic, which is the most poetic of all tones.
Gothic is passionate love, forbidden love, evil and power. It is loss too, of course. The landscape of Vancouver is a great place for all of these things and film and tv producers have recognized this. The list of Gothic-inspired shows and films that have been filmed in Vancouver is extensive and can be found in the article I’ve linked to at the beginning of this post. When I was in Vancouver, I didn’t leave the city. But perhaps a future trip there would allow me the opportunity to explore this raw landscape.
Gothic literature will continue to exist in the public and mainstream consciousness and as our desires for stories change, it too will continue to change, but there will always be a part of it that hearkens back to its monstrous beginnings in the Italian countryside.
NOTE: Feature image courtesy of fineartamerica.com