The Influence of Landscapes on Gothic Literature


The relationship between geography and literature is complex and multifaceted. From epic poems that extol the majestic beauty of natural landscapes to crime novels set in grimy urban cities, geography has always played a significant role in shaping literary works. In particular, the genre of Gothic literature has been greatly influenced by the physical environment in which it is set.

Gothic literature emerged in the late 18th century and reached the height of its popularity in the 19th century. The term itself, “Gothic,” refers to a style of architecture that originated in medieval Europe, characterized by tall, dark, and imposing structures. This architectural style reflected the tumultuous and chaotic political and social climate of the time. It is no coincidence, then, that Gothic literature emerged in the midst of the Industrial Revolution, a period marked by rapid urbanization and industrialization, which brought about drastic changes in the physical landscape.

The Gothic literary tradition is known for its depiction of the macabre, supernatural, and psychological terror. However, it is the incorporation of eerie and foreboding landscapes that truly sets this genre apart. As literary critic David Punter notes, the landscape in Gothic literature is not simply a backdrop, but “a living presence that can affect the human characters and shape their psychology.” In essence, the landscape is a character in itself, influencing and sometimes even controlling the actions and emotions of the protagonists.

One of the key features of Gothic literature is the use of remote and isolated settings. These settings often include abandoned castles, desolate moors, and haunted mansions. Such landscapes evoke a feeling of uncertainty and isolation, and serve as a physical manifestation of the psychological turmoil experienced by the characters. For example, in Emily Bronte’s classic novel “Wuthering Heights,” the wild and unforgiving Yorkshire moors mirror the wild and tumultuous nature of the characters, particularly the brooding and passionate Heathcliff.

Similarly, Gothic literature frequently features ruined and decaying landscapes, highlighting the theme of decay and death that permeates the genre. The dilapidated and oppressive atmosphere of such landscapes creates a sense of unease and dread, setting the tone for the horrors that will unfold. A well-known example of this is the crumbling and labyrinthine castle in Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” which serves as a physical manifestation of the decaying and corrupt nature of Count Dracula himself.

The use of Gothic architecture in literature is also worth noting. Gothic architecture is characterized by soaring spires, intricate carvings, and pointed arches. Its grandeur and complexity evoke a sense of awe and intimidation, making it a perfect setting for Gothic literature. In Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” the Gothic castle where Victor Frankenstein conducts his experiments is a reflection of his god-like aspirations and the enormity of his creation.

Moreover, the physical landscapes in Gothic literature are often imbued with a sense of the supernatural. This can be seen in the presence of natural phenomena such as storms, fog, and darkness, which add to the eerie and unsettling atmosphere. In Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House,” the titular mansion is constantly shrouded in mist, evoking a sense of otherworldliness and mystery.

In conclusion, it is evident that the physical landscapes play a crucial role in shaping the tone, themes, and mood of Gothic literature. Through their use of isolated, ruined, and supernatural landscapes, Gothic writers not only create an atmosphere of fear and horror, but also explore deeper themes such as isolation, decay, and the human psyche. As such, the influence of geography on Gothic literature cannot be understated, and continues to be a defining feature of this genre today.