H.P. Lovecraft wrote of "the thrill of the chimney-corner whisper." That's what gothic romance writers explored. The genre flourished in Austen's time with books like The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Monk by Ann Radcliffe. With a middle class suddenly at leisure, there was time for novel-reading, especially for women, and gothic romances were extremely popular. A gothic heroine was young, virginal, naive, tender-hearted, a beautiful singer or piano player (angelic in nature), living in some tragic circumstance (newly and unfairly impoverished, orphaned, etc). In short, completely unrealistic.
Austen loved to play with this ideal. Her heroines like Elizabeth Bennet and Catherine Morland are emphatically not good at music or painting, their families are large and untragic. Catherine is naive and tender-hearted, but the rest of her story clashes with the idea of a gothic heroine in humorous ways. Her anguish comes from missing an outing. Her moments of terror were all in her head.
In college I took a literature course on Romance and Realism, in which we studied gothic romance, among other genres. I was fascinated by this genre, and often thought that if I went on to do a PhD, I'd explore gothic romance in some way for my dissertation. Instead I got an MFA in creative writing, but the gothic romance always intrigued me. midnight in austenland allowed me to explore gothic romance, where it intersects with horror, romance, character drama, and fantasy, and add comedy as well, a mishmash of genre that all seemed to fit together. For a book nerd like me, this kind of storytelling is absolute indulgent fun.
From my research notes, elements of a gothic romance:
Crumbling ruins (abbey?)
Meeting of fanciful past and strictly realistic present
Brooding gothic villain
Gothic romance as examination of the caging of women in certain roles
More is going on than you know, what seems to be isn'€™t
Meeting of two times, modern and ancient
Passion and danger of falling in love with the wrong man
Danger at home--women in danger in the domestic environment (paralleled by fearing what'€™s inside herself)
Inclement weather - fog, rain, lightning, thunder
In the 19th and 20th centuries, gothic romance naturally branched into both the horror and mystery genres as we know them. My story hinged on a somewhat traditional murder mystery plot. Agatha Christie is the queen of the modern mystery, and I read many of her books, although I knew I could neither hope to replicate her style nor did I try. Her mysteries are so complex and subtle, they must be the entire focus of the story. I had other things I wanted to achieve with this story besides the mystery element. For this book, the mystery subplot must support the central story, not the other way around.
Agatha Christie books I read in 2010:
And Then There Were None
Appointment with Death
Witness for the Prosecution
A Murder Is Announced
Three Little Pigs
The Murder of Lord Edgware
Other books I enjoyed and leaned on during the writing of this book included Austen's books (naturally), especially Northanger Abbey; Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier; Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte; and The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson.