Gothic is the genre of fear. Our fascination with it is almost always revived during times of instability and panic. In the wake of the French Revolution, the Marquis de Sade described the rise of the genre as 'the inevitable product of the revolutionary shock with which the whole of Europe resounded,' and literary critics in the late eighteenth century mocked the work of early gothic writers Anne Radcliffe and Matthew Lewis by referring to it as 'the terrorist school' of writing. As Fred Botting writes in Gothic, his lucid introduction to the genre, it expresses our unresolved feelings about 'the nature of power, law, society, family and sexuality' and yet is extremely concerned with issues of social disintegration and collapse. It's preoccupied with all that is immoral, fantastic, suspenseful, and sensational and yet prone to promoting middle-class values. It's interested in transgression, but it's ultimately more interested in restitution; it alludes to the past yet is carefully attuned to the present; it's designed to evoke excessive emotion, yet it's thoroughly ambivalent; it's the product of revolution and upheaval, yet it endeavors to contain their forces; it's terrifying, but pretty funny. And, importantly, the gothic always reflects the anxieties of its age in an appropriate package, so that by the nineteenth century, familiar tropes representing external threats like crumbling castles, aristocratic villains, and pesky ghosts had been swallowed and interiorized. In the nineteenth century, gothic horrors were more concerned with madness, disease, moral depravity, and decay than with evil aristocrats and depraved monks. Darwin's theories, the changing roles of women in society, and ethical issues raised by advances in science and technology haunted the Victorian gothic, and the repression of these fears returned again and again in the form of guilt, anxiety, and despair. 'Doubles, alter egos, mirrors, and animated representations of the disturbing parts of human identity became the stock devices,' Botting writes, 'signifying the alienation of the human subject from the culture and language in which s/he is located.' In the transition from modernity to post-modernity, the very idea of culture as something stable and real is challenged, and so postmodern gothic freaks itself out by dismantling modernist grand narratives and playing games. In the twentieth century, 'Gothic [was] everywhere and nowhere,' and 'narrative forms and devices spill[ed] over from worlds of fantasy and fiction into real and social spheres.
Carina Chocano (You Play the Girl: On Playboy Bunnies, Stepford Wives, Train Wrecks, & Other Mixed Messages)