Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Girl in the Mansion

I confess. I wrote a Gothic Romance. And I love it. When you ask many a romance fan to list their favorite books, a few quintessential Gothics usually appear such as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. I ask you, where have all the Gothics gone?

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:
  1. There is a house (spooky or haunted).
  2. The young, usually orphaned, heroine is an innocent.
  3. Heroine has a negative female influence in her background (mother, step-mother, aunt).
  4. Enter the older ubermale who heroine is incredibly attracted to.
  5. The ubermale's motives are unknown, and he either loves/hates her or is trying to kill her.
  6. The presence of another woman enters the picture.
  7. The other woman is insane or promiscuous (or both).
  8. There is a young girl (or some other young charge/relative) who must come to trust the heroine.
  9. There's a terrible family secret behind ubermale.
  10. The plot thickens.
  11. People die, the storms roll in, heroine is nearly killed.
  12. Secret is revealed to heroine but usually through no action of her own.
  13. 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, the
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.)
Cinderella gets her Prince Charming. Jane gets her Rochester. They have lots of money.
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.


Alice Audrey said...

I loved Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, but I'm not a big Gothic fan.

Shelley Munro said...

I used to really like Victoria Holt. The first historical I wrote has gothic overtones. I like a good gothic.

Ms Menozzi said...

I confess, I prefer unpredictability in my reading. I hope to be somewhat unpredictable in my writing as well. I'm not overly fond of "formula" for this reason. Although, I do believe that most of the time we as writers do tend toward formulas, whether we mean to, or not.

It's something hardwired into us, I think. ;)

Happy TT!

Stephanie Adkins said...

Great list, Ella. I love Wuthering Heights. Happy Thursday! *hugs*

cmtorrens said...

I'm a big Gothic Fan. Loved Wuthering Heights.

Happy T13.

Ella Drake said...

Alice, Jane Eyre is one of my favs.

Shelley, I love reading gothic overtones in historicals!

Ms. Menozzi, I'm finding many sources who basically believe the formula is essentially because these books are all a re-telling of Jane Eyre. They're like comfort-food. Something you can count on.

Stephanie and Chris,
I'm, as you can guess, a big gothic fan and at one point, Wuthering Heights was my fav. Nowadays, I get a bit too depressed by it!

Inez Kelley said...

I have never been a fan of gothic but then I am in the minority who also disliked Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. *ducks*

Adelle Laudan said...

Very interesting. Happy T13!

Ella Drake said...

No need to duck, Inez!!! --though I might just lob something at you for the sheer fun of it :)
Like I said, now I find Wuthering Heights to be depressing & not to my taste. My last reading of Jane Eyre (probably my 5th or so), I was totally over Rochester.

Adelle, Thanks for stopping by!

Jennifer Leeland said...

Interesting. I'm NOT a big Gothic fan BUT I love film noir which (in my opinion) is an aggressive film version of gothic literature.
Funny. I don't like to READ gothic stuff, but I love to WATCH it.

Brenda ND said...

I'm writing a gothic romance too. I love them. Victoria Holt is still one of my favorite authors, but I'm really growing fond of Ella Drake's work. I may like her more than Victoria. Her characters get in more trouble. Grin.

Elise Logan said...

Oooh. Gothic.

I can't say it's my fave, but when I'm in the mood for it, nothing else will do.

Paige Tyler said...

Great TT! I used to totally read Gothic romances as a teen!


My TT is at

Heather said...

I love the occasional gothic. Loved Jane Eyre but had a hard time getting through WH--and I tried, twice. Great post, Ella!

Jolie Cain said...

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again" *sighs* That's one of my favorite opening lines ever. Du Maurier knew what she was doing. Also love Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart, the Bronte's. I think the first romance I ever read was a gothic. It's really the only genre that I like to read in first person. Great TT.

My TT is at

Janice said...

I've read Victoria Holt and loved her back when I was in HS.

Happy TT.

Yvette Davis said...

I loved Jane Eyre but detested Wuthering Heights. It didn't even make sense to me as a story! Oh well. So what you are saying here is the gothic romance formula is about making love unscary for women by scaring the pants off them? LOL Sounds reasonable....:)