Alienation and Abominations: Terror and Horror in Classic Gothic Novels and My Own Writing

Shae Ramsey


Eighteenth-century Gothic novelist Ann Radcliffe writes of two methods of invoking sensation in the reader: terror and horror. Terror “expands the soul and awakens the faculties,” while horror “contracts, freezes, and otherwise annihilates them.”1 In a 1971 article, Robert L. Platzner argues that Radcliffe believed in the distinction between terror and horror, but a contemporary perspective “must proceed beyond or outside of the constricting framework of late-eighteenth-century esthetic theory.”2 The purpose of this research was to determine whether the dichotomy between terror and horror exists, and to consider the relevance of Radcliffe’s theory in particular and the Gothic genre more broadly on modern horror writers. The difference between terror and horror is still important in our modern world, and that terror can be divided into subcategories, including social terror: those who should help us most do the least out of ignorance or malice. During this research, five works were read and analyzed. Work began with the first Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole, followed by examples of terror, Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, and horror, Matthew Lewis’s The Monk. Research then moved to the standout novels Frankenstein and Dracula. This experience with the Gothic novel bestowed a greater grasp of plot, character, and terror and horror; the author was then equipped to expand one of her own short stories. The original story is a character’s transformation into a monster taking place during a presentation to her classmates. The revised story utilizes physical and mental isolation as characters’ humanity crumbles apart; no authority figures can see this. This is a form of social terror, a feature of every Gothic novel often overlooked in favor of bumps in the night and grotesque monsters.


gothic terror; psychological horror; gaslighting

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