During the Victorian age, mystery played a big part in the entertainment of readers. It is no wonder that, whether it was modeled on real-life events or was completely based on fantasy and involving unworldly creatures, what would then be called Gothic literature attracted a multitude of interested fans. The one thing connecting these dots is human fear. Fear of the other, fear of the unknown. Surely, it can take different forms: it can come from unusual, supernatural sources aswell as being caused by fellow humans. One of the earliest examples of Gothic fiction is surely embodied by Mary Shelley‘s “Frankenstein“, released in 1818. And in the following decades one could find many other works of fiction worthy of being included in such category; however, Darwin’s “Origin of Species” thoroughly contributed in creating a complex dilemma for human existence: what is there beyond life? It is in the second half of the 19th Century that thinkers faced the question with a newfound awareness and resolution. What was first suggested, would then be explored with no limits, no judgements: human fear could be approached both as a social, human condition as well as a reaction to the unknown supernatural.
However, in recent times, our contemporaneity has had to come to terms with new needs: do love and fear cohexist? And how? Not that this was not present in other ages, but in our times this seems the pretty dominant topic and it tends to get mixed with obsession and anxiety. This may sound like a cliché but the “Twilight” saga (supernatural element aside) perfectly highlight this trend. Stephenie Meyer’s novels present us with this vampire boy who falls in love with a human girl: good and evil continuously blend and exchange places all the time and fear goes hand in hand with love. And what about E.L. James’s “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy? Where is the fear, one might ask. In this case, desire is constantly paired with an idea of excess and attraction for the unknown; whether the female character is drawn to the male character and viceversa is not important. What is important is how the plot leaves the reader hooked.
What are the elements that these contemporary works have in common? What is the contemporary reader looking for? An edge. The reader of our times needs a familiar setting, they need to project themselves into the plot. Think of “Robinson Crusoe” and how many readers of the past dreamt of unknown lands just by reading that book. But we need more in our times. The setting has to be credible, we have to believe we might find ourselves in the same situations we are presented with. And that it is only our arbitrary choice that makes a difference. We need to live on the edge.