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Victorian Gothic Revival: 19th Century Dark Romanticism

submitted on 13 November 2023 by

A Historical Storm of Darkness and Passion

Picture this: It's the 19th century, and the world is a swirling maelstrom of horse-drawn carriages, mustachioed gentlemen, and women in elaborate gowns with necklines that would make a Puritan faint. In the midst of all this chaos is the Victorian Gothic Revival, a dark and brooding movement that seeped into architecture, literature, and the darkest corners of the human soul.

A Tantalizing Tale of Two Revivals

Before we delve into the gloomy depths of Victorian Gothic Revival, it's important to understand that there were actually two Gothic revivals in England. The first occurred in the 18th century and was characterized by a fascination with medieval architecture and design. This period saw the construction of mock-Gothic castles and the revival of medieval-style arts and crafts. But that was only the beginning. As the 19th century rolled around, a darker and more intense form of Gothic revival swept the nation. This new movement was rooted in the Romanticism of the time, which glorified emotion, passion, and the supernatural. It was this second Gothic revival that gave us the Victorian Gothic Revival, a deliciously dark period that produced some of the most iconic architecture, literature, and art the world has ever seen.

Architectural Nightmares of a Bygone Era

One of the most tangible legacies of the Victorian Gothic Revival is its architecture. During this time, Gothic design was infused with the romantic sensibilities of the day, resulting in structures that were both grandiose and ominous. If you've ever walked past a towering Gothic cathedral and felt a shiver down your spine, you have the Victorian Gothic Revival to thank for that. Some of the most famous examples of Victorian Gothic architecture include the Palace of Westminster, the Natural History Museum, and the iconic Highgate Cemetery. These structures are characterized by their pointed arches, intricate stonework, and a sense of looming darkness that seems to follow you as you explore their cavernous interiors.

Literary Horrors That Haunt the Soul

Of course, no discussion of the Victorian Gothic Revival would be complete without mentioning its impact on literature. This was the age of the Gothic novel, which reveled in tales of supernatural horror, twisted family histories, and doomed love affairs. If you thought your family was messed up, just wait until you read some of these novels. Popular works from this time include Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Bram Stoker's Dracula, and Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. These dark and twisted tales were a far cry from the more genteel literature of the time, and they captivated audiences with their unflinching portrayal of the darker side of human nature. What's truly fascinating about these Gothic novels is how they managed to tap into the collective fears and anxieties of the Victorian era. At a time when society was grappling with rapid industrialization and increasing urbanization, these stories served as a stark reminder of the darkness lurking beneath the surface of civilization.

Artistic Feasts for the Morbidly Inclined

The art world was not immune to the lure of the Victorian Gothic Revival, and many artists embraced its dark and moody aesthetic. This movement was particularly popular among the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of artists who sought to capture the raw emotion and sensuality of the Gothic period. One of the most famous examples of Victorian Gothic art is John Everett Millais's painting Ophelia, which depicts the tragic Shakespearean character floating in a river, surrounded by flowers and foliage. The painting is a hauntingly beautiful representation of the themes of death, decay, and lost innocence that were so prevalent in the Gothic movement.

Practical Advice for Embracing Your Inner Dark Romantic

So, you've read this far and you're thinking, "Yes, I too want to descend into the glorious darkness of the Victorian Gothic Revival!" Fear not, intrepid explorer of the macabre, for here are some practical tips to help you embrace your newfound love of all things dark and gothic:
  • Visit Gothic architectural sites, such as cathedrals, cemeteries, and castles. Bask in their shadowy splendor and let your imagination run wild.
  • Read classic Gothic novels, and don't be afraid to explore lesser-known authors and works. The more you read, the deeper you'll be drawn into the Gothic world.
  • Explore Gothic art and try your hand at creating your own dark masterpiece. Whether you're a painter, photographer, or writer, there's something magical about delving into the darkness and creating something beautiful.
  • Embrace a Gothic-inspired fashion sense. Long flowing garments, lace, and velvet are your new best friends, as are ornate jewelry and dramatic makeup.
  • Finally, allow yourself to experience the full range of human emotion. The Victorian Gothic Revival was all about embracing passion, love, and even despair. To truly understand this movement, you must be willing to feel it all.
There you have it, a tantalizing taste of the Victorian Gothic Revival and all its dark charms. Whether you choose to explore its architectural wonders, delve into its literary depths, or simply enjoy its artistic offerings, there's no denying the enduring allure of this fascinating period in history.
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