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Horace Walpole is credited/blamed for kicking off the ‘Gothic’ literature genre in 1765 with his novel The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Tale, which was intended as a subtle joke. Walpole meant ‘Gothic’ in the sense of ‘barbarous’ or ‘derived from the Middle Ages’, but his supernatural tale of perverse obsession and melodramatic tragedy sparked something of a movement to which his epithet was permanently applied.
From the 1790s, novelists like Ann Radcliffe (surely the Grandmother of the Gothic Novel) rediscovered Walpole’s fevered imaginings and ran with them, even though her novels always had natural, Scooby-Doo-esque conclusions finally unravelled by her meddling-kid protagonists. They were beautifully trashy novels, (stereo)typically read by impressionable and repressed young ladies by candlelight (probably with their nightgowns delicately draped over heaving bosoms, which is how I like to imagine it). It took other, braver (or less inhibited) authors like Matthew Lewis and his…
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