Evolution of a Haunted House: The use of setting in early and modern gothic novels
The setting for a novel plays a big part in how the story and its characters relate to the reader. This paper will examine how setting in gothic literature, plays an important role in the telling of a story by using Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto and Shirley Jackson’s The House on Haunted Hill as examples.
During the eighteenth century, the Romantic period of literature emerged. The works of this time were often filled with imagination, strong emotional contexts, and freedom from the classical notions of art and social conventions (wordiq.com). The Castle of Otranto, while considered by many to be a Romantic drama, had a style that was distinctively different (Mulvey-Roberts, 226). Elements, not previously seen in works of literature were added to the story, much in the way embellishments were added to buildings of the time. Horace Walpole, used elements of the macabre, mysterious, and violent incidents; along with desolate and remote settings to create the first true English-language gothic novel (Merriam-Webster.com).
The ruins of castles and other ancient settlements, set amongst the gloominess of the surrounding landscape provided the perfect backdrop for the early English gothic novel (Goldstein, Grider, Thomas 145-146). It was at once mysterious, foreboding, and could create a sense of fear and dread in the reader. Horace Walpole took advantage of setting in The Castle of Otranto. The castle evokes feelings of darkness, solitude, loneliness, and claustrophobia (Mulvey-Roberts, 174). There are secret passages, trap doors, secret rooms, and areas of ruin. The aim is to produce the classic emotion of fear of the unknown. Add in a haunted presence; a giant knight thought to be the ghost of Alfonso (Walpole, 42, 104) and the haunted house is born.
The phenomenon of the haunted house is not a recent concept. Examples have been found in writings as far back as the Roman Empire (Goldstein, Grider, Thomas, 144). Throughout literary history, the haunted house functions as the setting and as an actual character. The castle, house, or other building serves to develop the plot and works in conjunction with the haunted presence to assault the humans who dare to invade their domain (Goldstein, Grider, Thomas, 144).
Within the haunted setting, certain areas tend to be more haunted than others. The uppermost and the lowermost areas of a castle or house are considered to be ideal areas for hauntings. This can include but is not limited to, attics, bedrooms, dungeons, and subterranean caverns or tunnels. A staircase acts as a connecting structure on which action can cumulate (Goldstein, Grider, Thomas, 152). Gillian Bennett, an American folklorist states that, “Haunted places are thus seen to be no-go areas such as cellars and attics, or betwixt-and between places such as stairs and doorways . . . . All these expressions...