The city emerged as an increasingly threatening social space in eighteenth and nineteenth-century Britain, particularly once the majority of the population began to be housed in cities. Urban Gothic literature reflects the anxieties of urbanization by representing the relationship of the individual to the city. The Gothic city is a nightmarish space which threatens one’s sense of self. It is replete with the problems of urbanity: rising crime, declining morality and the blurring of social boundaries. The city’s architecture is monstrous and inherently paradoxical: it is constructed by man, and yet its labyrinthine alleys remain unknowable, thus giving rise to the uncanny. This effect is compounded by the city’s ruins which symbolize moral decay; while the city is organic and constantly growing, the architectural ruins shadow it with a sense of death. The Gothic city is thus causative and symbolic of the threats to the individual and his alienation in an urban setting, in which it is possible for a person to be surrounded by people and feel completely alone. This odd combination of crowding and isolation leads to the loss of identity, as dramatized in Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), where Jekyll’s split identity indicates a fragmented sense of self.

The city is also increasingly a space of evil. In contrast to earlier Gothic writing such as The Castle of Otranto (1764) when evil acts were displaced to foreign locales, by the later 19th century Gothic the city had become the new locus for terror. The vampire’s invasion of urban London in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) literally brings the horror “home”. The city is used to confront the individual with the idea that evil is not externalized elsewhere, but rather literally exists within.
Courtesy of Erin Woodford, National University of Singapore, and Wendy Fall, Marquette University

See also: urban landscapes

Donovan-Condron, Kellie. "Urban Gothic in Charlotte Dacre's Zofloya." European Romantic Review 24.6 (2013): 683-97. Print.
Phillips, Lawrence, and Anne Veronica Witchard. London Gothic : Place, Space and the Gothic Imagination. London ; New York : Continuum, 2010. Print.
Railo, Eino. The Haunted Castle; a Study of the Elements of English Romanticism. New York, Humanities Press, 1964. Print.




The Affecting History of the Duchess of C**** Who Was Confined Nine Years in a Horrid Dungeon, Under Ground, Where Light Never Entered, a Straw Bed Being Her Only Resting Place, and Bread and Water Her Only Support, Conveyed by Means of a Turning-Box, by Her Inhuman Husband; Whom She Saw but Once During Her Long Imprisonment, Though Suffering by Hunger, Thirst, and Cold, the Most Severe Hardships, But Fortunately She Was at Last Discovered, and Released from the Dungeon, By Her Parents. [Transcript], Stéphanie Félicité Genlis