Boo! Gothic Fiction & Ghost Stories
The human love affair with ghosts and monsters has a long history, and reached a zenith in the mid-to-late 1800s. Writers such as Mary Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe, Bram Stoker and many others crafted stories of the supernatural, delighting their audiences with frightening tales of mystery, curses, and sometimes madness. Commonly known as Gothic fiction, the genre is still popular today, thanks to contemporary authors such as Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen King, and Anne Rice.
Gothic novels are often characterized by their emphasis on atmospheric settings such as graveyards, crumbling ruins, and bleak landscapes. Characters are generally subjected to such torments as madness, murder, and supernatural events, while an undercurrent of unrequited or forbidden love frequently heightens the story’s tension. The genre aims to build suspense and provoke strong emotions in the reader, hence thoroughly immersing the reader in the world of the novel. While the novels are a great deal of fun for teachers and students alike, they also often pointedly critique human nature and social expectations. A fun example is Jane Austen’s spoof of Gothic fiction, Northanger Abbey, which is ideal for high school students.
Younger students are already familiar with the Gothic fiction genre, although not by that name. They are well-versed in the characteristics of ghost stories and thrillers, and are always keen to try their hand at writing their own scary stories. Reading ghost and horror stories in class is a great way to focus on common gothic literary elements and how they can be used metaphorically, such as darkness, light, the depicted landscapes, various colors and the attributes associated with them, and so forth. Older students can plumb the depths of Gothic fiction much more deeply, reflecting on the novels’ social and/or political commentary and how the setting and events may reflect aspects of the human consciousness.
This week I’ve selected three Gothic fiction-related resources for various grade levels. While all examine the literary elements that are hallmarks of the Gothic fiction genre, the resources for middle and high school students encompass theatre and U.S. history and popular culture respectively, for additional dimension. I’ll also be featuring several new lessons and resources on this topic each day throughout the week on our Facebook and Twitter pages, so be sure to check those pages regularly.