Why are Gothic tales so popular?
What are they?
Gothic tales usually involve a beautiful heroine trapped in an exotic place such as a castle with a dungeon and an oubliette, or a haunted manor. The atmosphere of the novel is a character in itself. Besides the danger of the setting, we know the heroine is in danger from an antagonist. We know she should leave, but she doesn’t. We love the danger. We love the romance. We can’t wait to see what happens. In the end, the heroine uses her brains, beauty and lofty character to survive and outwit the villain. A hero may rescue her, but we know the heroine brought about her own deliverance.
I grew up reading Victoria Holt. She is the queen of the Gothic novel, but the Gothic tale has been around a long time. You can see it in…
- Beauty and the Beast
- Phantom of the Opera
- Jane Eyre
- Wuthering Heights
- Other Rooms, Other Voices
- Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte
Truly, Southern Gothic is a subcategory of this genre: the old antebellum mansion falling into ruins, that is possibly haunted. Perhaps the heroine must spend the night in order to collect an inheritance. Think of the endless possibilities.
Why do these stories have staying power?
According to Professor Hannah Harvey from Eastern Tennessee State University, people relate to fairy tales because they reveal the human condition. These stories use fantasy to help us work through problems and contradictory desires. Bruno Bettelheim said fantasy presents a real world that presents powerful truths.
In any case, the heroine faces her fears and survives. The castle, haunted manor, and villain are not strong enough to defeat her. Stories like this inspire us, entertain us, and give us hope.