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On the Dark Side
Gothic Style

On the Dark Side
  • The Gothic Quest (by )
  • Frankenstein (by )
  • Echoes of the 'Eighties, Leaves from the... (by )
  • The Castle of Otranto, : A Gothic Story (by )
  • Mrs. Radcliffe's Novels. The Italian, Th... (by )
  • Morning (by )
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When we think of Gothic style in architecture, literature, or fashion, we envision darkness and a sense of mystery. The origins of this style trace back to Gothic architecture, a medieval approach to design, which originated in northern France during the 12th century. Pointed arches, rib vaults, flying buttresses, and stained glass mark this dramatic, distinctive style. France’s Notre-Dame Cathedral and Basilica of Saint Denis are both ideal examples of this style. 

In The Gothic Quest, Ralph Adams Cram writes, “‘Gothic’ as we call this great manifestation, for lack of a better word, is less a method of construction than it is a mental attitude, the visualizing of a spiritual impulse”( p. 57).

Gothic novels such as Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Uldulpho (1794) and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), lured readers into stories brimming with mystery, fear, and horror. These novels also incorporated supernatural beings. Gothic storylines often unfolded in eerie, desolate, or remote settings such as castles, manors, or churchyards. Beyond vampires and monsters, clergy, brutish parents, and helpless heroines populated literary casts of characters.

During the Victorian era, there was a fascination with death. Many believe this emerged after Queen Victoria lost her husband, Prince Albert. She mourned his death for the rest of her life and earned the nickname, “widow of Windsor.” The queen’s ongoing mourning affected etiquette, which called for widowed women to clad themselves in black dresses and crepe veils for two years.   

“A woman in full mourning dress became the emblematic icon of bereavement in Europe and America during the nineteenth century” say Harold Koda and Jessica Regan, who curated Death Becomes Her, a recent exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan.
In Echoes of the Eighties, Leaves from the Diary of a Victorian Lady, Wilfred Partington writes, “Another great spirit has passed away. Dear old Thomas Carlyle died a few days ago. He just seemed to fade away; as was once said of one of the Kings of England.” In another passage, he writes, “One of the last things Carlyle said to Froude was: ‘Now mind, Froude, you don’t let the ‘Body Snatcher’ get hold of me’” (p. 35). 

In The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story, Horace Walpole writes, “They conveyed her to her chamber more dead than alive, and indifferent to all the strange circumstances she heard, except the death of her son”( p. 6).

Gothic’s sinister style also inspired a more recent genre of fashion. The term “goth” dates back to England during the 1980s. It took fashion cues from London’s 1970’s punk rock subculture and from 19th-century Gothic literature and horror films. The morbid fashions are dark, mysterious, and rebellious. Key looks include a pale complexion contrasted by black clothing as well as jet black hair, lips, and nails. 

The gothic sensibility also shaped the notion of the femme fatale and the vamp. Many fashion icons such as Angelina Jolie and Kelly Osbourne have rocked this sinister style. Modern day fashion houses such as Alexander McQueen are renowned for creating looks that evoke this eerie aesthetic.

By Regina Molaro

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