We’ve come to our last Gothic 101 post of this year 😭 These posts have taken a lot of time and brainpower for me to put together, but I’m not complaining because I’ve had a good time. Who knows, maybe I’ll do another series of Gothic posts next year for Spooky Month.
Today I want to talk about modern Gothic, which is something that always excites me. Everybody has their own definition of what “modern” is when talking about literature, but I tend to go for the Penguin Books edition, which is literature that was published after the end of World War II (1945), with a few exceptions here and there (Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier was published in 1938, but I still consider it to be modern Gothic).
What excites me about modern Gothic is that there are so many ways the genre can continue to grow. We’ve come a long way from the haunted castles of the late 18th century, and while we do sometimes go back there, there are tons of other places that we can go to. Modern Gothic is also where we now see the genre extend into other mediums, like movies and TV.
HOW CAN GOTHIC BE MODERN?
Like I’d said in my first Gothic 101 post, Gothic is a very flexible and versatile genre. A story doesn’t have to be set in a spooky castle with ghosts and vampires to be Gothic. It also does not have to be set in the past to be Gothic, but these days there are a lot of writers who seem to think that that’s the case. I personally disagree because a Gothic story can be set during any time period, whether that’s past, present, or future because that doesn’t make it any less Gothic.
When I was in university and I studied modern Gothic, the lecturers really stretched the meaning of Gothic and applied it to three things I personally would not have called Gothic before: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Dexter. I can’t really comment of Star Trek being Gothic because I’m still trying to come to terms with that interpretation, but I can definitely see where they were coming from with Buffy and Dexter. I haven’t seen Buffy (and I don’t want to because I hate Joss Whedon), but I have seen all of Dexter and read the first book so I would agree that it is Gothic.
While Dexter is primarily a crime fiction series, it does have some very Gothic elements. The protagonist is a serial killer who describes his homicidal urges as if they’re a different person, his kills are described in a lot of detail, and his double life as a serial killer is a huge secret that is kept from his sister and everyone around him. And there’s also a huge plot point that I can’t really say because it’s a massive spoiler, but trust me when I say that it’s pretty Gothic in an unconventional way.
A more traditional, but still modern, example of modern Gothic is The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. Which I have not read yet and I also have not watched the TV series. But, from what I have seen of some clips here and there, it feels more traditionally Gothic than Dexter, while being in a contemporary setting (it may seem period by now because the book was published in 1959, but it was modern back then). I usually try my best to not talk about books that I haven’t read, but from what I can gather by reading the blurb on Goodreads, this sounds to me like a good classic haunted house story. And what is more Gothic than a classic haunted house?
WHAT CAN MODERN GOTHIC DO THAT WE HAVEN’T SEEN BEFORE?
Gothic has always been a transgressive genre that pushes boundaries, but before the Second World War, there was still a lot of things that writers just couldn’t put into their work explicitly. Oscar Wilde was arrested and imprisoned for his sexuality, and although he wasn’t a Gothic author, the Marquis de Sade was imprisoned on Napoleon’s orders for “obscenity”. Although that one makes sense because Sade’s work is just downright disgusting.
Although there are people who think that creative works are restrained by censorship these days, that’s actually pretty false. People saying “don’t be racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic/ableist” is nothing compared to the threat of being imprisoned or having your book banned for showing your characters having sex or having them say fuck.
But I’m getting off-topic here, so I shall step down from my soapbox.
I am personally a believer that there will always be new ideas out there, and there will always be great stories out there to be told. While it may seem that everything could possibly be done has been done, there are always ways to twist things and turn them on their heads. Old Gothic novels will have had heroic protagonists, while as time has progressed, we have seen more anti-hero protagonists (Dexter Morgan, for example) and even outright villainous protagonists (like Patrick Bateman, if you consider American Psycho to be Gothic). And if we are to agree with my uni lecturers and call Star Trek Gothic, we could even see Gothic elements in sci-fi. Alien has often been called “a haunted house in space” so maybe sci-fi could be Gothic after all?
HOW COULD THE GENRE CHANGE EVEN MORE?
No genre is ever completely set in stone, and Gothic is no exception. Genres are always changing and shaping based on what is popular, and what the current social climate is when a book is written.
While I do appreciate and love a good homage to traditional classic Gothic, I am still excited to see where the genre can go and how it can grow and change. I recently finished reading Kerri Maniscalco’s Stalking Jack the Ripper series and I love how it had a classic Gothic feel, while also referring back to the classics – especially Frankenstein – and also blending in more modern elements. Specifically by being feminist as fuck. Compare Audrey Rose Wadsworth to Mina Harker: while Mina appears to be perfectly content to go into the typical Victorian married life that is expected of her and scoffs at the idea of the “new woman”, Audrey Rose outright rebels against it and does whatever she wants, no matter what polite society thinks of her.
As for what I would personally like to see from Gothic in the future, I really want to see more Gothic stories from LGBT+ people and from POC. Gothic is a genre that was invented by white people and has been dominated by white writers for a very long time, and Gothic stories are not exclusive to them. A story does not have to be set in western Europe and feature a bunch of straight white people in order to be Gothic because it can be set anywhere with any person as a character. And I feel like it’s about time for the genre to be diversified. But then again, maybe I’m not digging deep enough and just reading what’s been spoonfed to me. If you do know of any diverse Gothic books, let me know!