The Modern Gothic Romance had a wildly successful resurgence in the 60s and 70s with best selling authors such as Victoria Holt and Phyllis Whitney. In some sense, when broken down, their basic structure replicates those that had come before, such as Jane Eyre & Rebecca. If you take a close look, you can find that all of these Gothics have a certain unapologetic formula:
- There is a house (spooky or haunted).
- The young, usually orphaned, heroine is an innocent.
- Heroine has a negative female influence in her background (mother, step-mother, aunt).
- Enter the older ubermale who heroine is incredibly attracted to.
- The ubermale's motives are unknown, and he either loves/hates her or is trying to kill her.
- The presence of another woman enters the picture.
- The other woman is insane or promiscuous (or both).
- There is a young girl (or some other young charge/relative) who must come to trust the heroine.
- There's a terrible family secret behind ubermale.
- The plot thickens.
- People die, the storms roll in, heroine is nearly killed.
- Secret is revealed to heroine but usually through no action of her own.
- The mystery is resolved as some immoral crime, or simply the immorality of the obviously over-sexed, evil temptress, other woman.
(Much of this list was compiled from the incredibly entertaining and surprisingly academic paper "Somebody's Trying to Kill Me and I Think It's My Husband: The Modern Gothic" by Joanna Russ, Journal of Popular Culture, 6.4: 666-691.)If the Gothic Romance is so formulaic why then, write a gothic romance? This quote by Caesarea Abartis sums it up nicely:
After a trial by danger there will be a husband, and often wealth. Historically, theCinderella gets her Prince Charming. Jane gets her Rochester. They have lots of money.
Gothic novel was a way of purging horror and fear, a way of explicating and integrating the supernatural and irrational. In more recent Gothic novels the central character is female and love becomes a major interest: love solves the mystery and love is the reward for the heroine. ('The Ugly-Pretty, Dull-Bright, Weak-Strong Girl in the Gothic Mansion', Journal of Popular Culture, 13.2: 257-63.)
Paranormal Romances are sometimes considered an offshoot of Gothic. You have the suspense, the supernatural, all in a package that's safe and ends with love.
So, next week, I'll look at why I wrote a Gothic a bit further (and I broke some rules, diverged from formula). Until then, do you think formula is too constricting, or is it a comfortable lap blanket? Is it boring, cliche, predictable?
Read a Gothic lately?
The Forbidden Chamber releases from Samhain Publishing October 27th. A historical paranormal, gothic, set in a cursed house with an innocent young heroine with a not-so wonderful mother, an ubermale, a promiscuous other woman, the plot thickens, etc.