This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel: Gothic literature

The real Chateau (Castle) Frankenstein

You can have a horror novel without gothic elements, but it’s impossible to have a gothic novel without horror. This Dark Endeavor has both in spades.

On Novel Novice we’ve talked before about what elements make a gothic novel (here and here) but Kenneth Oppel captures them so well, it’s worth revisiting.

Like horror, the birth of the gothic novel is attributed to Horace Walpole, who wrote The Castle of Otranto in 1764. The genre combines horror and romance, and its purpose is to instill terror in the reader.

Prominent features of Gothic fiction include:

  • Mystery, the supernatural, ghosts, haunted houses and Gothic architecture, castles (or chateaus with hidden passages), darkness, death, decay, doubles (twins), madness, secrets (like the Dark Library) and hereditary curses.

The stock characters of Gothic fiction include:

  • Tyrants, villains, bandits, maniacs (Polidori), Byronic heroes (Victor, to a point), virginal maidens (Elizabeth), femmes fatales, monks, nuns (religious debates), madwomen, magicians (alchemists), vampires, werewolves, monsters, demons, dragons, angels, fallen angels, revenants, ghosts and the devil.

Religion in gothic novels

The reformation of the Catholic Church by Henry VIII started a trend of anti-Catholicism in England. Over the next few centuries, political treaties eased discrimination of Catholics by allowing them to build cathedrals and practice their religion, but a strong sense of anti-Catholicism showed up in Gothic literature. Most Gothic novels are set in countries outside England (Switzerland/Germany), known to be the centers of the Catholic Church.

To readers, a character’s flaws are directly associated with their Catholic beliefs. Oppel attacks this touchy subject through Elizabeth and her debates on religion v. science with Victor.

Classic gothic literature

If you’re interested in reading more gothic pieces, here are some classics:

  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831) by Victor Hugo
  • “Young Goodman Brown” (1835) by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • The Fall of the House of Usher (1839) by Edgar Allan Poe
  • The Yellow Wallpaper (1892) by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  • The Phantom of the Opera (1910) by Gaston Leroux
  • Jane Eyre (1847) by Charlotte Brontë

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