"(These stories) fill you with a kind of psychic dread. They address the soul."
While the genre of Romance Fiction cuts a wide swath between the happily-ever-after Chick Lit comedies to the strains and stains of Dark Erotica, the Gothic Tale cuts a winding moonlit path right across the middle. From Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre to Daphne DuMaurier's Rebecca to Stephanie Myer's Twilight series, Gothic Romance seeks to explore the mysteries of love, paying special attention to the dark side.
Through my 20's I wondered a lot about what people meant when they used the term dark side. Some would say it was sexual, others that it meant secrets----especially scandalous ones. Or it had to do with forbidden impulses, transgressive desires, those things we dare not speak about. Darkness describes the Unseen, as in the uncanny dimensions where spirits dwell. I began to realize there was a great rabbit hole of darkness. That what tantalized from the shadows, could lead to the abyss.
The Gothic novel as we know it, was born in the 18th century at a time of social upheaval, when revolutions were tearing down familiar social structures and leaving many aristocratic families decadent and penniless in their crumbling stately homes. Those of the literate class, able to spend their days writing and studying and thinking, spun tales describing what they'd lost, what they missed, what they'd been, and what they'd become. Their great, empty mansions were haunted by ghosts, their families by madness, their religious faith deteriorated to fantasies of undead lovers and corpse brides.
There was death a-plenty all around: in the theater of war, in the home, and in the soul. Under some of these old houses were crypts and tombs where people might be buried alive, or might clank their chains in hell, their howls echoing through the night.
A quick read of some of the classics in the genre will prove much of this. From Poe to Wilde to Stoker, we find aristocratic vampires and werewolves stalking their great halls and gardens to ravish the beautiful heroines. We find hidden crimes and scandals. If we're lucky we get an old cemetery, a Gothic cathedral, a castle, damask walls, wingback chairs, huge fireplaces, and libraries of arcane books read by dripping candlelight.
Oh, lost... and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again...
It should not be surprising that in our time, this 21st century, when humanity seems to be on the precipice of losing everything, that Gothic Fiction should be making a comeback.
For all those who celebrate the Zombie Apocalypse, or enjoy excursions to Dystopia, there are those of us, the True Romantics, who mourn the loss of beauty and art and love in the world.
Did I say love? The L-word?
In much of what passes for Romance in fiction these days Love seems to be missing. There is sex all over the place, page after page after page. But love? Some stories, in attempting to be full of positive virtue and love from the heart, are often corny, cheesy, or shallow. How about some good old sexual tension? Chemistry, intrigue, mystery? Neither of these polar opposites is even close to what the Gothic reader seeks.
The fan of Gothic tales is primarily interested in mystery, in the mysterious, what is hidden in the dark. That is why you will find lots of passion in Gothic Romance, but little explicit sex. It's not about the sex act. It's about parting the curtain over the beloved's soul.
"The driving force of drama is the dark side."
Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier was one of those books that made me want to write. By all accounts it's a Romance novel with Thriller elements---though you don't find that out until the last third of the book. If it had been a nice May-December story about a mousy young girl falling in love with a rich old man who harbors a dark secret, it might have done well in its time, but I doubt we'd still be reading it.
What has given Rebecca its power to endure in the Gothic. The title character haunts Manderly, a remote stately home in Cornwall. Truly haunts it. Though Rebecca is never described as ghost, she functions as one. And she is a great enemy to our nameless heroine, coming back into her husband's life, via her little boat called Je Reviens, or I Return, with lethal power. Then of course there is the witchlike Mrs. Danvers, through whom the dead Rebecca seems to act, Mrs. Danvers who, every day, brings Rebecca back to life in a kind of necromancy.
I can't say for sure, but as an author myself, I am convinced that DuMaurier was haunted by Rebecca, by Manderly, and Mrs. Danvers long before she built the other, nicer, characters around them.
I don't believe a writer can mature as an artist unless and until they allow the dark side to express itself in their work. The battle, or dance, of Light and Dark is the fuel of drama. The moral questions that arise as the author works this alchemy of imagery and language into something memorable, empower the work and lead to deeper thought in both writer and reader alike.
In engaging the Gothic, we tear the curtain away from our own mystery, our own madness, our own relationship with love and loss and death. On the other side is transformation. In all the old fairytales, which are also Gothic, redemption is always accomplished by love.
Note: In case you don't know of her, Barbara Steele is a British actress who made a series of Gothic Horror films in the 1960's in Italy. Her words of wisdom reflect a lifetime of working with these themes.
Find two of these, Black Sunday and Long Hair of Death in the Gothic Library on my blog: Alyne deWinter.com
Oh my, what a delicious account of what it is to love the Gothic Romance in all it's dark, gloomy, damasked and mysterious element.
I so enjoyed this generous post from the very talented deWinter. What a glorious guest post! You'll be hearing lots more of Alyne de Winter in just a short couple of weeks as I review one of her most popular books and interview the writer, herself!
I'll resume my regular posting schedule next Tuesday/Thursday with fresh installments of House of Hollow Wind.