I’ve never been particularly taken with Gothic monsters like Frankenstein or vampires like Dracula, nor did I understand why mature men and women wrote or enjoyed reading these kind of fantastical stories.
But I’m beginning to understand. The Gothic revival that produced these Gothic fantasies emerged during the Industrial Revolution when it was glaringly apparent that the old ways were disappearing. People were moving off the farms and into often wretched hovels in the city to work in factories in which lives were at risk, hours long and for which there were few safeguards. If your arm was cut off in a spinning wheel, or your legs smashed in a mining accident, there was no recompense. There wasn’t even anything resembling disability payments or unemployment compensation.
Technology and science were drastically changing the world, and for huge numbers, it seemed to be producing a machine that was grinding inexorably to destroy human society as we know it.
And that’s what Dracula was – a metaphor of an economic system run amok, draining the life blood of the very people who fed it. That is what Frankenstein was – a terrible invention of science stalking the lives of ordinary people without consideration of any kind.
The interesting thing is that these Gothic monsters still stalk us. In metaphorical terms they appear, most blatantly, in science fiction novels and movies. They are terrible creatures of evil from another universe totally without kindness, seeking only power.
What are these modern Gothic monsters really for those of us living in the 21st century?
For some it is climate change and the destruction of our home planet Earth. For some it is capitalism, or immigration, terrorism, or the horrifying tools of modern militaries. For some it is materialism, or sexual liberation, or the unstoppable spread of a deadly virus sweeping around the globe. For some it is an Apocalypse sent forth by an angry God.
Perhaps our Gothic metaphors are a way of trying to deal with these very real fears. Perhaps they are a way of disguising them to ourselves, or ways of convincing ourselves that our fears, like the metaphors, are fantastical.
However we deal with them, I now see that they arise from deep within the human psyche. And I can see why they grow so strong in times of turmoil and uncertainty.