A birthday bump in the night & CONTEST

150px-Ann_RadcliffeHappy birthday, a couple of days late, to Ann Radcliffe, 9 July 1764–7 February 1823, mistress of the gothick.

And, oh yes, a contest. We’ll be drawing the names of two people who are subscribers to the newsletter at the end of this month. Your prize–select items from your Amazon wishlist. For full details and a sample of the deathless prose of the Riskies newsletter, check out the one we sent out today here. And if you’re not signed up, then sign up already.

Ah yes. Gothics. The influence of the gothic novel is still with us today; its elements creep into films and novels, and paranormal-influenced romances must be the next step. So what is it about gothics people liked (then and now), other than a good scare and the idea of the TSTL heroine creeping around dark passages and wearing only her nightie?
The gothics of Radcliffe et al feature exotic, often Italian settings, sinister castles and abbeys–something very popular in the regency era, when landowners commissioned picturesque ruins and follies to grace their landscape. As well as the good scare, they have a strong moral twist of justice done and wrongs avenged, with one or two people, usually the hero/heroine or a narrator (like Robert Walton, the narrator of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein), who lives to tell the tale, and with whom we can identify. In some cases, as in Wuthering Heights, the matter-of-fact tone of the not-very-bright narrator (Mr. Lockwood) serves to strengthen the supernatural elements; if a twit like Mr. Lockwood can hear the ghostly Cathy at the window, then it must be true. The monsters, real or imagined, are instruments of justice or revenge, like Frankenstein’s monster, or Conan Doyle’s hound in Hound of the Baskervilles, written in 1902 but drawing strongly on the gothic tradition.
I have a soft spot for gothics since the hero of my book Dedication, Adam Ashworth, publishes gothic novels under the name of Mrs. Ravenwood, and I had a lot of fun creating purple passages to head each chapter. I based most of them on the work of the gothic novelist I knew best, Mrs. Ann Radcliffe. She published bestsellers beginning with The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), skewered by Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. The scene where Catherine explores an ancient chest and finds a laundry list is pure gothic pastiche. And remember the horrid veil?
Ah yes, the horrid veil.
If you’ve read Udolpho (it’s still in print) you’ll certainly remember the scene where the heroine discovers the veil and draws it aside (she’s creeping around a secret passage at the time, having been kidnapped to a mysterious castle) and swoons in horror at what she sees. It’s a tremendously effective scene. Every time she remembers it, which is fairly often, there’s a frisson of terror. And so on through the book. You’re still wondering. The references to the horrid veil become less frequent toward the end and you begin to wonder if Mrs. R has forgotten about it. Oh, surely not. Because if you were a character in a gothic who was denied such knowledge you know you’d go mad, or go into a nunnery, or have to pretend to be a ghost or some such. Then, when you’ve almost given up hope, Mrs. R. delivers, sort of. Busy tidying up the odds and ends of the novel, she reveals, in one throwaway sentence, that what the heroine saw behind the veil was the wax effigy of a worm-ridden corpse. Huh? I believe there’s a reason for the wax effigy being there–possibly a warning for visitors to keep out of the secret passage–you couldn’t expect the owner of a castle in a gothic to do anything sensible like post a “Keep Out” or “Servants Only” sign.

What do you like about gothic elements? Have you used them in your books? What gothic-influenced novels do you like? Could you write one with a straight face?

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3 Responses to A birthday bump in the night & CONTEST

  1. Amanda McCabe says:

    I do love a good Gothic!! When I was a kid I was addicted to Victoria Holt et al, and “Northanger Abbey” inspired me to seek out some of the originals (like “The Monk”–very disappointing!). Any book with a girl in her nightie running along a windswept cliff and I was there. I haven’t read one in ages…

    • I loved Barbara Michaels, author of some truly creepy books! The Monk was pretty tedious, wasn’t it? I remember being amused at Mrs. Radcliffe’s heroines, who despite living in the 16c had all the accomplishments of a young Regency lady and I was also intrigued by the idea of being kidnapped by brigands and being driven at breakneck speed for three days and nights through picturesque landscapes. What, no pit stops? And if the breakneck speed was the equivalent of the Royal Mail, that would have meant 10 mph.

  2. I do love a good Gothic. It’s the creepy, something is watching you, something is just around the corner element, I think. And the idea that a person can present as one person and actually be someone completely different. My second manuscript was a Gothic and I had a lot of fun writing it.

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