Gothic Fiction and Why I Love It

Sam Turton talks us through her favourite genre.

Gothic fiction

How It All Started

My name is Sam and I’m a Gothic addict. Sign me up to Hotel Transylvania right now!

When I first decided to study English at university, I never dreamt that I would get to study a whole module on Gothic fiction. I was in my element! We read Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, Sheridan le Fanu’s Carmilla, Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire and many others. My essay for the unit focussed on Rice’s novel compared with Stoker’s Dracula and the representation of women in vampire fiction. Not surprisingly, I got my best mark in the whole three years on this module.

Vampires? No, they don’t sparkle in sunlight.

When you really start to look into the context of Gothic fiction, it’s incredibly interesting! Mary Shelley’s interest and horror at Galvinism and how it inspired her to write Frankenstein (which was friendly competition set by the most roguish of rogues, Lord Byron) is compelling enough, but when you look at the theory and history of vampire stories… Ooof!

Many modern vampire stories use the image of the blood sucker in tandem with the idea of the ‘fallen woman’: think about Lucy in Stoker’s Dracula. She is the absolute antithesis of how a lady should behave in polite Victorian society, with her three men on the go! What’s her punishment? To be bitten by Count Dracula and therefore put under his control but then also to receive blood transfusions from all of her suitors. Raging machismo much?! They might as well be tomcats all marking their territory. And what happens to poor Lucy because of all this male influence? Yep. She gets beheaded. She cannot catch a break. Compare her to the virtuous Mina who only has eyes for her beloved Jonathan Harker – Mina is also attacked by Dracula but is saved. Now, whichever way you slice it, you don’t need an English degree to see what Stoker was getting at here. Anyway, I could write a many thousand-worded essay on Lucy alone. I need to reign it in.  

Gothic Twinkl – now there’s an oxymoron!

It was this passion that led me to create and deliver a year 9 creative writing unit of work with a Gothic theme way back when. I loved writing it and the students loved learning about it. I used to go off at a tangent all the time! Imagine my absolute delight to discover that one of our amazing English content writers, Paul, had also devised a fabulous Gothic literature unit of work for Twinkl! The first lesson addresses the essentials, including an accessible Gothic literature definition and a look at Gothic literature themes and can be downloaded at absolutely zero cost! (We love your feedback here at Twinkl Secondary, so do let us know what you think.) The unit then goes on to look at why we love to be scared, how your students can produce their own Gothic writing and exposes them to a wide range of pre-19th century literature including the brothers Grimm, Edgar Allen Poe’s The Oval Portrait (you could introduce The Raven and The Tell-Tale Heart too) and Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. And because we know that all classes are different and need varying levels of support or challenge, all the PowerPoints are fully editable.

Gothic lessons

A Lesson Learned

Teaching Gothic fiction to my students also taught me a valuable lesson – try and involve your passions in your teaching. Looking back, teaching this unit was probably one of my most successful and I think that’s because the students were enthused by my passion. They really enjoyed asking me questions about vampires and werewolves which developed their critical thinking skills; we had great debates about why people like to be scared that stretched their powers of persuasion and vocabulary.

When you can and where you can, always let your real personality shine. You’re more than just a teacher.

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