Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The Thirteenth Tale

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The Thirteenth Tale

by Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2006, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2007, 432 pages

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What is a gothic novel? Definitions of a gothic novel abound but most sources agree that it is one in which supernatural horrors and an atmosphere of terror are pervasive, and where the action usually takes place in a dark, mysterious building, typically a castle built in the Gothic architectural style*.

Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1764) is considered the first gothic novel, but it was Ann Radcliffe who popularized the form with novels such as The Mysteries of Udolpho. During the 19th century there was a Gothic revival in the world of architecture; and the world of literature saw a, perhaps, connected resurgence of Gothic literature, ranging from the "penny dreadfuls" to the works of Edgar Allan Poe and Bram Stoker, with a Gothic influence being seen in many mainstream writers of the day such as the Brontes, Charles Dickens and Oscar Wilde.

*Since at least the 16th century, gothic had been used as a term of disparagement to describe a culture that was considered rude or barbaric (presumably, the Goths being on a par with the Vandals in the eyes of those who coined the term). After the 18th century, it was used to describe the dominant architectural style of Europe before the revival of classical architecture in that century. Well known buildings built in the Gothic style include Kings College, Cambridge and Westminster Abbey, (more examples).

This article was originally published in October 2006, and has been updated for the October 2007 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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