Tag Archives: Mary Shelley

The Gothic Tradition

22 Jul

The Gothic tradition has been with us for over two hundred years, and is most strongly identified with the works of Horace Walpole and Ann Radcliffe, which are full of heroes and heroines menaced by feudal villains amid crumbling ruins. While the repertoire of claustrophobic settings, gloomy themes, and threatening atmosphere established the Gothic genre, later writers from Poe onwards achieved an ever greater sophistication, and a shift in emphasis from cruelty to decadence. Modern Gothic is distinguished by its imaginative variety of voice, from the chilling depiction of a disordered mind to the sinister suggestion of vampirism. While writers such as Le Fanu, Hawthorne, Hardy, Faulkner and Borges are the earliest literary exponents of the form, the central role of female writers from Anna Laetitia Aikin to Isabel Allende and Angela Carter in its development should also be emphasised. While the Gothic tale shares some characteristics with the ghost story and tales of horror and fantasy, it also boasts a number of distinctive features that define this powerful and unsettling literary form.

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Frankenstein: Mary Shelley’s Modern Prometheus

18 Oct

Who would have thought that Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, the frail, delicate wife of the famous poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, would be responsible for writing, in 1818, what was to become one of the world’s most famous works of horror fiction, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. In her preface to this Gothic tale of terror she records that she, her husband and fellow poet the ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’ Lord Byron had spent the wet summer of 1816 in Switzerland reading German ghost stories. Following this, all three agreed to write tales of the supernatural, of which hers was the only one to be completed (she also records that the original concept came to her in a half-waking nightmare).

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