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Research Guides@Tufts

The Rise of Gothic Fiction in England & the United States

Gothic Fiction from the 18th Century to the Romantics

Gothic Fiction: 1764-1832

"Gothic fiction began as a sophisticated joke. Horace Walpole first applied the word ‘Gothic’ to a novel in the subtitle – ‘A Gothic Story’ – of The Castle of Otranto, published in 1764. When he used the word it meant something like ‘barbarous’, as well as ‘deriving from the Middle Ages’. Walpole pretended that the story itself was an antique relic, providing a preface in which a translator claims to have discovered the tale, published in Italian in 1529, ‘in the library of an ancient catholic family in the north of England.'" 

"In the 1790s, novelists rediscovered what Walpole had imagined. The doyenne of Gothic novelists was Ann Radcliffe, and her most famous novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) took its title from the name of a fictional Italian castle where much of the action is set. Like Walpole, she created a brooding aristocratic villain, Montoni, to threaten her resourceful virgin heroine Emily with an unspeakable fate."

"A second wave of Gothic novels in the second and third decades of the 19th century established new conventions. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) gave a scientific form to the supernatural formula. Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) featured a Byronic anti-hero who had sold his soul for a prolonged life. And James Hogg’s elaborately titled The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824) is the story of a man pursued by his own double. A character’s sense of encountering a double of him- or herself, also essential to Frankenstein, was established as a powerful new Gothic motif."

Read more in The Origins of the Gothic by John Mullen.


The links below will take you to some of the most important works of English and American Gothic fiction from the 18th Century through the Romantic era.