Gothic banner
Gothic frontpageGothic Ancestry
We start with the Germanic tribes of Goths, invading the Roman Empire in the days of its decline, eventually under the Visigoth (western Goth) leader Alaric sacking the city of Rome itself in the year 410. Like other barbarian tribes - the Huns, for instance - the Goths became rather unfairly a byword for destruction and pillage. Eventually, however, they carved their own kingdoms out of the ruins of the Empire, settled down, were converted to Christianity, and eventually disappeared as separate peoples.

In the very late 1000s, Suger, Abbot of St Denis in Paris, rebuilt the abbey church and introduced revolutionary pointed arches which he and his stonemasons discovered could bear weight far better than old-fashioned round-headed arches. Presumably they got the idea from the Arabs settled in Spain. Within a hundred years every new building in Europe had pointed arches and the style began to affect other forms of art too. It was the 16th-century art historian Giorgio Vasari who first blamed pointed-arch architecture on the Goths (he'd never heard of Abbot Suger) and called it 'German' as a term of abuse, contrasting it with the harmony and order of Classical Greek and Roman buildings. Before long 'German' turned into 'Gothic', and the word came to include everything dark, barbaric, superstitious and chaotic. Today, we look at Gothic art differently. It expresses something sublime and uplifting, the human spirit soaring upward to reach the eternal glory of God. And yet the arch comes to an abrupt stop as its two arms ram into one another at the apex ... so there's a sort of strain and anxiety in the shape as well.

From the 1760s, first in England and later elsewhere, a new form of horror literature made its appearance. The first to call itself 'Gothic' was Horace Walpole's yarn The Castle of Otranto (1764) which he described as 'A Gothic Story'. Gothic fiction borrowed a lot from medieval romances and the more violent bits of Shakespeare, and abounded in ghosts, murders, abductions, and all sorts of disagreeable happenings. Gothic novels were commonly set in the castles and abbeys of the Middle Ages - hence the reasons for calling them 'Gothic'.

The first wave of Gothic fiction was over by about 1820 - Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is often taken as the end-point - but its themes kept resurfacing until the word could really be applied to anything horrific, unsettling, dark, or bizarre. Writers and artists, and eventually people working in new genres like film, continually referred back to this growing body of work and so its scope was extended more and more.

Finally, in 1978 and 1979 in Britain the punk-rock movement began to develop offshoots of dark and pessimistic music which were described by a bemused music press as 'Gothic' in contrast with the general run of pop. The bands at the centre of this - Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Damned, largely - became the core of a subcultural style which used a huge range of influences from the past to signify melancholy, gloom and glamour. The first wave of Goth was pretty much petering out by about 1992, and for some time the Goth was a rara avis
indeed, although you can still find plenty of people about who were active in those days. By the time things began to turn up again about ten years later Goth had developed a broader aesthetic sensibility. Now we seem to be collapsing into another cyclical down-turn, and where that will lead is anyone's guess.

More On Gothic
There's a great variety of books, some academic and some not, to help you explore various aspects of Gotherie, should you so choose.

Gothic by Richard Davenport HinesGothic by Richard Davenport-Hines (4th Estate, 1997)
The subtitle ('400 Years of Excess, Horror, Evil and Ruin') may be  deliberately over-the-top and lurid for an over-the-top and lurid genre, but for my money this is still the best account of what Gothic is about.  Davenport-Hines is a very entertaining  writer and I was astonished at the amount he'd managed to uncover and describe in such amusing detail. Pretty good in its pictures and visuals, as well, which helps it score over similar books. I have some quibbles with D-H's basic argument about the history of the Gothic sensibility, and I think there could have been a little less about 18th-century landscape gardening, but excellent despite that.
A Companion to the Gothic by Punter et alA Companion to the Gothic, edited by David Punter (Blackwell, 2001)
Fairly weighty and academic, this - a collection of essays by experts in the 'Gothic Studies' field covering not just literature, thankfully, but para-narrative genres such as film. It's a good introduction, if you can plough through it, to the academic study of Gothic and all it entails, but it's still fairly closely tied down to literature, really. No pictures!
Goth Chic by Gavin BaddeleyGoth Chic, by Gavin Baddeley (Plexus, 2002)
This is very deliberately intended to fill in the gaps in Davenport-Hines's book, which are largely the popular culture side of Gothic, so here you get more pulp comics, modern fiction, and deathrock bands than 18th-century heroines in dark castles: a catalogue of the sensational and sometimes extreme (but then, wasn't
The Monk both?). Intelligently written, as Mr Baddeley is a bright cove, but I think it skates rather across the surface of the Gothic phenomenon, albeit making impressive patterns in the ice.
Goth by Paul HodkinsonGoth - Identity, Style & Subculture, by Paul Hodkinson (Berg, 2002)
This is Paul Hodkinson's sociology doctoral thesis, and full points to Berg for publishing it. Looks very nice indeed. Of course it suffers for being precisely a sociology doctoral thesis - that is, it spends a long time telling you what you may already know. But good for recording the ins and outs of Goth culture in a way the chaps of the International Gothic Association might actually find intellectually respectable.
Fashioning Gothic Bodies by Catherine Spooner

Fashioning Gothic Bodies, by Catherine Spooner (Manchester University Press, 2004)
Another doctoral thesis, but we applaud Catherine even more for managing to produce something which synthesises literary and visual influences on the Gothic - rather like the quite groundbreaking interdisciplinary work she did at Luton and Goldsmiths College. The big drawback of this account of deathliness in dress is that for a fashion history there AREN'T ENOUGH PICTURES! But that's a cost consideration, I imagine.

The Gothic edited by Punter and ByronThe Gothic, by David Punter & Glennis Byron (Blackwell, 2004)
More academic Gothic Studies, but I think intended more for the Eng.  Lit. undergraduate who's about to do a term's worth of Gothic as their special subject, so not as heavy as
A Companion to the Gothic ... A short encyclopedia of Gothic writers, and very useful from that point of view.
What Is Goth by VoltaireWhat Is Goth?, by Voltaire (Weiser, 2004)
A very funny sketch of Goth culture from someone involved in it, this time replete with pictures and a gently scathing commentary on Goths and all their subcategories and little quirks. Good-looking, but short, and you won't find a new copy for much less than twelve quid. Voltaire's also written
Paint It Black, an equally amusing guide to Gothic living.
The Goth Bible by Nancy KilpatrickThe Goth Bible, by Nancy Kilpatrick (Plexus, 2005)
A guide to the whole of Gothicness including gardening, drink and visiting cemeteries as well as art and books. I really applaud this book, although there are a few little errors here and there. Ms Kilpatrick has taken the time actually to speak to about a hundred participants in Goth culture (including the superannuated) and include their views and ideas. She has a wonderfully broad and compassionate approach to the whole thing. Very well done indeed, we think!
Goth's Dark Empire by Carol SiegelGoth's Dark Empire, by Carol Siegel  (Indiana University Press, 2005)
Carol Siegel has made a great and commendable effort to bring together comment about film, literature, and modern society with the Goth boys and girls she obviously feels a great affinity for, and the book is nowhere near as grimly incomprehensible as I feared - but it does bear the heavy marks of its Stateside context, in that for Siegel Goths are first and foremost sexual radicals challenging conservative morals. Not what I find at all.
Contemporary Gothic by Catherine Spooner

Contemporary Gothic, by Catherine Spooner (Reaktion, 2006)
At last! A book on Gothic, by an academic, which doesn't try to claim that it's 'about' any one thing in particular, and acknowledges its multifarious and contradictory aspects; which isn't disfigured by acco-speak; and which is excitingly transdisciplinary. Just what we expected from Catherine. Of course it can't cover everything, but what a delightful set of insights into the performativity and presentations of Goths and modern Gothic.  A longer review here.

A Gothic Reader

The Gothic Reader: A Critical Anthology, compiled by Martin Myrone (Tate Gallery, 2006)
This book hung around on my shelves for well over a year after I bought it at the Tate's 'Gothic Nightmares' Exhibition - dutifully, really, because I wasn't looking forward to a collection of dry or barely-readable 18th-century texts. In fact, it's great fun, and traces the development of the Georgian Gothic sensibility from pre-existing materials to its full expression in literature and art.  A longer review here.

Goth: Undead Subculture by Goodlad & BibbyGoth: Undead Subculture, edited by Lauren Goodlad & Michael Bibby (Duke U.P., 2007)
More in the same vein as Catherine's books, and if anything even more exciting because drawing on the expertise of a range of contributors it casts its net more widely (actually Catherine, Carol Siegel & Paul Hodkinson all have essays in this book). This approaches the Goth phenomenon sensitively and with insight, as one might hope when several of the contributors are Goths or former Goths. The essay by the gentleman who spent a while as a Gothically-glossed exotic dancer in an LA gay club has to be read to be believed. A provocative collision of the personal and the analytic. Longer review here.
Goth Culture by Dunja Brill

Goth Culture: Gender, Sexuality & Style, by Dunja Brill (Berg, 2008)
Goths are a humourless, self-involved lot, aren't they? Well, we know this isn't the case, but they do sometimes like to think of themselves as ultra-tolerant, self-expressive, gender-transgressive  social subversives. Dunja Brill's book, written from the inside, suggests this may not be quite as true as first appears, and instead marshals an impressive case that Goth culture is subtly (and in some cases not so subtly) gendered, and is more a way of negotiating with mainstream values rather than subverting them entirely. Engaging, humane stuff.  A longer review here.

Goth: Vamps and Dandies by Gavin BaddeleyGoth: Vamps and Dandies, by Gavin Baddeley (Plexus, 2009)
Mr Baddeley's second venture into Goth culture and a far superior one to 2002's
Goth Chic. With an abundance of visual illustration this tome traces Goth's 'DNA' down from the literary, artistic, musical and televisual influences which converged in modern Goth about 1979-81, and then the people, bands, books and movies which have skewed its development since. It's a near-impossible task - yet Gavin Baddeley pulls it off. A longer review here
Worldwide Gothic by Natasha ScharfWorldwide Gothic, by Natasha Scharf (IMP, 2011)
About time we had a new book, and this tackles a slightly new subject as well, looking at the global spread and generic sprawl of Goth from its UK origins, and how it came to penetrate all corners of the globe (and quite right too). It's a real achievement to gather together all this abstruse material into one place for the first time. A longer review here
Gothic Music: Sounds of the Uncanny, by Isabella van Elferen (Cardiff UP, 2013)
A dense, heavily academic work that encompasses much theorising on the nature of music (not all of it convincing) but which not only deserves points for even beginning to tackle the topic but builds towards a conclusion which is not only lyrical but positively  metaphysical. It's not an easy read, but it'll reward amply the reader who tries. A longer review here.
Terror and Wonder edited by Dale TownshendTerror and Wonder, edited by Dale Townshend (British Library, 2014)
A big book to accompany a big show - the British Library's exhibition celebrating the 250th anniversary of
The Castle Of Otranto, no less. Taking Gothic from its origins to the modern epoch, this is a familiar story but very well told, with lots of interesting material and some insightful essays. The book ends with a photographic evocation of Whitby Goth Weekend - a bit awkwardly! A longer review here
Gothic Evolution by Roberts et alGothic: Evolution of a Dark Subculture, by Chris Roberts and contributors (Goodman, 2014)
Heavy, glossy and full of pictures, this is a bit of an oddity. It comprises a series of essays on Gothic art, architecture, music and so on, but not bound together into an overarching narrative, and with oddly contrasting styles between the contributors. I'm not sure who it's intended to appeal to - but visually it's fantastic. A longer review here
Some Wear Leather by Harriman and BontjeSome Wear Leather, Some Wear Lace, by A Harriman & M Bontje (Intellect Books, 2014)
A wonderful, moving book, recounting the first flood of what then wasn't even called Goth, but 'post-punk', not so much in words as in the photographs of the brave and curiously unselfconscious young people who formed the movement; a do-it-yourself fashion and music subculture which was done by 1992 or so, morphing into something rather different (and more expensive). A longer review here
Art of Gothic by Natasha ScharfThe Art of Gothic, by Natasha Scharf (Omnibus Press, 2014)
Now, if you want heavy and glossy and full of pictures, Natasha Scharf's second book is for you - about a foot square and weighing - well, I haven't weighed it, but it's
substantial. Looking at the ways Goths express themselves through what they make and consume, this is a groundbreaking and beautiful book, sumptuously designed and making a real historiographical contribution in its interviews with subcultural producers. A longer review here
Post-Millennial Gothic by Catherine SpoonerPost-Millennial Gothic: Comedy, Romance, and the Rise of Happy Gothic, by Catherine Spooner (Bloomsbury, 2017)
What happens when Goths stop moping around the bus shelter and start getting on with the rest of life? They start making Gothic 'produce' that reflects the lives they lead, that's what, and that means that some of it is 'happy Gothic'. What happens when mainstream media start taking notice of Gotherie in a way which doesn't just involve ridicule? Well, 'Happy Gothic' makes its way into the general cultural mix of wider society. In this deft and insightful addition to her already strong corpus of work on modern Gothic, Dr Spooner traces this strange and exciting cultural shift in a way nobody else has matched. Go here for more.
Exuviae: A Fragmentary Grammar of Gothic by James RattueExuviae: A Fragmentary Grammar of Gothic, by me (Umbra Press, 2004)
And then there's this, which comes with the highest possible recommendation. Find out more on the
Sales page.


Gothic information
Gothic galleries
Gothic gardens
Things to buy
Go to homepage