How Gothic Romance Led to Contemporary Romantic Thrillers
Romance novels and gothic novels
Novels and romance have gone hand in hand since the beginning of the form. In fact, many early novelists, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and gothic writer Ann Radcliffe, wanted their long works of fiction to be called romances rather than novels. This could have been an allusion to the romantic era in progress at the time, where art in all its forms emphasized emotions and passion rather than logic. But either way, with hindsight, it’s easy to see why love stories blended well with gothic literature from the start. The mortal danger turns out to be a perfect backdrop for the characters to fall in love. And tall, dark, and beautiful is a cliché for a reason…that reason is gothic romance.
The castle of Otranto by Henry Walpole is considered the first Gothic novel. It helped define the genre with the tropes of haunted castles, secret passageways, and unexpected trapdoors. It also has a strong romantic plot. The heroine, Isabella, faces extreme threat after threat throughout the novel. She can’t tell who is her enemy and who is a potential love interest. And the hero, Theodore, overcomes many obstacles to save her and prove himself worthy of her love at the end of the story. When the book came out in 1764, readers loved it. It is one of the first English books with supernatural elements. But moreover, he basically invented the Gothic genre by combining realism with exaggerated and improbable events. Henry Walpole’s bestseller inspired many other writers to great gothic tales.
In the 1790s, Ann Radcliff further popularized gothic romance, through bestsellers like The romance of the forest and The mysteries of Udolph. Jane Austen gave her take on a gothic romance in Abbot of Northangery, which offers a satirical take on the genre while fanning the flames of genre dominance. And the Bronte sisters, especially with Jane Eyre, made goth romances more popular than ever. Edgar Allen Poe created more demand for gothic novels in America (but his stories weren’t always romances). Towards the end of the century, Gothic novels became less popular and began to disappear.