By Catherine Spooner
At the Beyond Twilight: Young Adult Gothic Fiction event we ran on 27 September 2013, we invited participants to fill in a questionnaire about what they thought about Young Adult Gothic Fiction. Twenty-two attendees took up this invitation, too few to represent a scientific sample, but their answers made interesting reading nevertheless – offering a quick snapshot of what some contemporary readers, aged between 16 and 18, think about Gothic.
What is Gothic?
Readers were asked how they would define Gothic fiction. The most common association they had was with ‘dark’ or ‘darkness’ – eight out of twenty-two readers used this word. Six readers also used the word ‘horror’ – although sometimes to explain that Gothic is not straight horror, but mixed with something else. It’s ‘a combination of horror and romance, which Horace Walpole said was his combination of, as he deemed it, fanciful medieval romance and the strict realism of the 18th century’, said one particularly well-read respondent. My favourite comment, however, identified Gothic as ‘A decaying world of absolute consuming passion and recklessness. Characters should disturb the reader in every sense.’
When asked what they enjoyed about Gothic fiction, seven readers identified the fact that it was in some way surprising or different to the norm. ‘I like the imagination behind Gothic novels as they are so different to normal books,’ said one. Other features commented on were a sense of mystery and the potential to disturb. The idea that Gothic fiction affects the reader’s emotions in a particularly powerful way recurred in several responses. One reader liked ‘the fact that whether the characters we find completely ridiculous or completely endearing, we are, or should be, somewhat haunted by them.’ Another stated, ‘I love Gothic fiction and the idea that after reading a page of someone else’s work my mind is provoked, and I am left disturbed and scared. That is strangely exciting!’
Favourite Gothic novels
Despite the supposed backlash, Twilight evidently retains huge popularity. Six readers identified it as their favourite Gothic novel, with a further vote for New Moon. The Brontës prove perennially popular, however, with four mentions of Jane Eyre and five of Wuthering Heights. ‘I am completely in love with the book. The story completely devastated me and haunted my thoughts for a long time after I read it… and probably forever will’, one reader declared of Emily Brontë’s classic. We were pleased to note that two of our featured authors, Marcus Sedgwick and Chris Priestley, got a mention too!
Gothic’s current popularity
What is fuelling the current trend for Gothic fiction in children’s and young adult publishing? Five readers blamed the influence of Twilight. But others sought reasons in the nature of the teenage experience. ‘Teens are moody!’ explained one reader. Another considered Gothic is popular ‘because it makes young adult readers feel part of a mysterious, exciting culture.’ Other answers were particularly eloquent. One thought that ‘During the crucial teenage years, many teenagers are exploring their individuality and learning about the secrets of the world our childhood has been shielded from. The Gothic genre provokes teenagers explore their world, and their own minds, further.’ Another suggested that, ‘Young adults, or teens, need a place to escape to. We are in this limbo sort of age when we have more freedom than we ever had, but are still slightly confined by our parents. Through Gothic fiction we can lose ourselves in the characters’ torments and reckless acts and still feel like we have rebelled, through the book, when we have done nothing at all! I once heard that “hell is a teenage girl.” That will always stick with me and interest me.’
Tell us what YOU think!
Do you agree with our respondents? We’d love to hear your comments on any of these questions!