Transitioning Towards the Modern Gothic Novel

There was a transition away from the early Gothic novels towards horror / Gothic novels we known today. It began with classic novels such as Frankenstein, and The Vampyre which are perfect examples of the Gothic novel, which I also feel started the transition from the early Gothic novels such as The Italian toward the more horror based Gothic novels we are used to reading in modern literature. Frankenstein, and The Vampyre both contain many of the early Gothic characteristics, but also take the genre into new territories. Many elements of the modern Gothic novels that focus primarily on horror and terror can be found in these iconic novels taking the elements of the early Gothic novels to new levels.

            Characters found within the novels Frankenstein, and The Vampyre embody the wanderer character type. Victor Frankenstein, and his monster wander the desolate countryside due to the sins they committed. It is their punishment to be wanderers with no hope of finding love or a place within society. Lord Ruthven, and Aubrey in The Vampye are also wanders in a sense in that they travel from country to country seeking the pleasures of the world. They are wanders without love, but not wanderers as punishment for their sins. I feel the female characters in each of the novels needed to be stronger. I felt the female characters were primarily love interests for the main character, while also being a source of their pain. After Victory Frankenstien’s wife Elizabeth dies it causes him extreme pain, and forces him to be the wanderer. In The Vampyre Aubrey’s love interest Ianthe is killed at the end of the novel by the vampire, it causes Aubrey great anguish, and leads to his demise. Even though the female characters merely serve as a tool for the main characters downfall, the monster character excelled from the early Gothic novels. Victor Franenstein’s monster in Frankenstein, and the vampire in The Vampyre are the first characters found in Gothic literature to resemble those evil monsters found in the modern Gothic novel, hence the reason why I believe these two novels are the transitional novels to the modern Gothic novels that we now know. The monsters actually create terror, and the aftermath of their evil nature is actually seen in the murdered victims they leave behind. The monster in Frankenstein, and the vampire in The Vampyre can be viewed as horrific, while also being viewed as normal individual due to his appearance, and understood because of his elegant personality. The reader feels bad for the monster in his longing to belong, and his need for love, as that is something many people can relate to. The vampire dresses like a normal man, has normal friends, which is very identifiable to the reader. All great villains / monsters are terrifying while also their nature being identified with as a person which many modern Gothic novels villains encompass. I would completely disagree with James Twitchell’s view describing why males were interested in the vampire character “Essentially a young male is interested in the vampire safe because he sees in that scenario an acting out of his own buried desire that he may conquer the special woman, the mother who is virginal to the boy” (Twitchell 44). I feel people are interested in the vampire, and monster characters because of the feeling of fear that they create. Readers enjoy the feeling of fear, and horror, not what Twitchell believes “Although the vampire has everything any teen-ager wants-sex without confusion, plenty of money, an eternity of all-night parties” (Twitchell 44).

            The type of characters found in Frankenstein, and The Vampyre resemble those found in the modern Gothic novel, but also the use of the supernatural, and nature element. In the early Gothic novels supernatural elements would make door close suddenly, or cause a candle to go out at just the right moment by an apparent invisible hand. Throughout the years many critics used this invisible hand to interpret many aspects, even the economy “The economist, on the other hand resorts to the figure of an invisible hand to refer to the regular and natural course of the market” (Andriopoulos 741). The Gothic novel has moved away from this invisible hand aspect, and the transition started with Frankenstein, and The Vampyre in that these novels use the supernatural elements in a completely different way. The supernatural in Frankenstein created the monster, yes it was science based, but there was a supernatural element to it. The vampire himself is a supernatural being. Both of which were in a sense created by a supernatural aspect, and these beings are the central cause of the horror. In the early novels supernatural elements were used to create tension, and fear through manipulating the atmosphere, but in novels like Franekstein, and The Vampyre the supernatural was very important, and the true cause of the horror in the story. Most modern Gothic novels also use the supernatural element to create the terror, and horror, and not to simply manipulate the environment. These supernatural characteristics of the vampire character were first introduced in The Vampyre “An introduction to the work traces the history of vampirism and describes the principal appearances of the creature” (Switzer 109).

            These novels can also be viewed from a political and social aspect which is a key element to Gothic novels. I feel Frankenstien can be viewed as a warning to anyone who wishes to go against the social norms accepted by society. Victor Frankenstein went after the forbidden knowledge bringing the dead to life, and thus for doing so he was punished. An individual is expected to be part of society, and not be a wanderer as Frankenstein, it is a warning to anyone who chooses a life style outside of what is normally expected that they will be punished. Aubrey’s choice of lifestyle to befriend the cunning Lord Ruthven to travel the various countries seeking pleasures is punished for going against the expected conservative way of life expected by society.

            Even though they can be viewed in social aspects, the novels of Frankenstein, and The Vampyre are the first novel to transition towards the modern Gothic novel. These novels did this transition through their use of terror, and horror. The modern Gothic novels focus primarily on horror and terror, as people love the feeling that terror creates inside them. Burke explains this enjoyable feeling as the sublime, the same feeling we get when we are looking at a vast desert landscape, its beautiful, but also terrifying. The terror creates the sublime ” Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain and danger, that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime” (Burke 20). These novels move from strictly terror aspects but to horror elements. Since we not only fear the wrath of Victor’s monster, and the vampire, but we witness the results of the terror in the deaths of their victims which is the horror element. The deaths are not implied, but seen as a direct outcome of the terror. The modern Gothic novel utilizes fear and horror in a similar manner, which is why I feel these are transitional novels. The creatures in each of the novels are truly horrifying, not just an indivisible hand moving doors to create terror. In the early Gothic novels it was individuals behind the horrific acts, but these are the first novels in which a creature was behind the terror. The creature has become a staple in the modern Gothic novel for creating horror. People gravitate towards the feeling of terror, because it is considered sublime which is the ultimate human feeling ” No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.  For fear being an apprehension of pain or death, it operates in a manner that resembles actual pain. Whatever therefore is terrible, with regard to sight, is sublime” (Burke 39). There’s no better way of creating this feeling than a horrific creature such as the vampire, or Frankenstein’s monster.

            Early Gothic novels never used creatures to create the response of fear, which is a key attribute in my opinion of the modern Gothic novel. Franenstein, and The Vampyre were the novels that started the creature aspect of the Gothic. They also showed more horror than the early Gothic novels, by describing the deaths in great detail. These in addition to the various reasons I discussed are why I consider these two novels the transition novels into the modern Gothic novels that focus on horror, and terrifying creatures.

Works Cited

Hasanat, Fayeza. “Gothic background.” Webcourses, Jan. 2019,   

Burke, Edmund. A Philosophical Inquiry Into The Origin Of Our Ideas Of The Sublime And Beautiful. New York, Colier & Son Company, 1909-14.

Switzer, Richard. “Lord Ruthwen and the Vampires”. The French Review, vol. 29, no. 2, pp. 107-112. JSTOR.

Andriopoulos, Stefan. “The Invisible Hand: Supernatural Agency in Political Economy and the Gothic Nvoel”. The Johns Hopkins University Press, vol. 66, no. 3, pp. 739-758. JSTOR.

Twitchell, James. “Frankenstein and the Anatomy of Horror”. The Georgia Review, vol. 37, no. 1, pp. 41-78. JSTOR.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York, Dover Publications Inc, 1994.

Polidori, John. The Vampyre. London, Sherwood, Neely, And Jones Paternoster Row, 1819.