The Culture of Gothic Literature
In the late 1800’s, the many cultural changes in England brought changes to Gothic literature. Instead of situating fear in the outlying regions of the countryside, writers brought terror inside the heart of the city; London. Through the mangling of everyday settings and situations, Gothic tales began to create suspense and terror in its readers through fantastical supernatural events that occur within their neighborhoods. Bram Stoker’s Dracula serves as an example of this shift as Count Dracula moves from the sparsely inhabited countryside to the more populated hunting grounds of London. The “urban gothic” as defined by Kathleen Spencer takes social and cultural trends of the time and creates fictions that center on the insecurities and familiar surroundings of Victorian England. In response, the actions and behaviors of characters change as well. In one example of urban gothic fiction, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Stevenson utilizes the norms and expectations of society to create a disturbing narrative that addresses the emerging concerns of decadence in Victorian high society. The advancement of Gothicism from focusing on the supernatural to exposing the unnatural is also evident in Jekyll and Hyde when compared with Walpole’s The Castle of Ortranto. In Walpole’s narrative, terror comes from ghostly or other worldly revenge. The initiation of fear comes from an outside source. In Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde, the terror lies within the psychological issues of mankind.
Kathleen Spencer’s essay “Purity and Danger: Dracula, the Urban Gothic, and the Late Victorian Degeneracy Crisis,” exhibits the transition from rural to urban setting in Gothic literature. She points out that the move of the setting in Dracula strikes fear in the reader by locating the source of terror in their immediate vicinity. Spencer claims that:
The characters react with fear and revulsion at encountering what is not only unexpected, but unnatural according to the laws of the world they inhabit, and readers usually respond with the same feelings, not only because we identify with the characters, but because the world the characters initially inhabit is our own world. (199)
Likewise, the setting for the conflict between Jekyll and Hyde occurs in the dead center of civilized society. Additionally, support of this idea comes from Miyoshi’s essay, “Dr. Jekyll and the Emergence of Mr. Hyde,” when he states, “the setting is of a wasteland, but a wasteland hidden by the secure and relatively comfortable respectability of its inhabitants” (472). The insinuation that the world of respectability may be a façade creates a new kind of fear in the minds of the reader. Stevenson manipulates the setting to point out the duality of the city itself. By situating the conflict of the story in the middle of the city, especially during a time when immigration has become a social concern, the writer taps into the fears of the Victorians that...