Along with the other novels of the day, Gothic novels often explored the issue of social class. Just like a Restoration novel of manners, the story line of a Gothic novel is often tied to the heroine’s class origins. For example, in The Italian (1794), Ellena thinks she is an orphan living in her Aunt’s household, so she is portrayed as lacking agency to change her status in a legitimate way, and must take in sewing work to support herself. When Vivaldi becomes interested in her, a series of catastrophes of a Gothic nature ensue, and it is revealed that Ellena is of noble birth, so she can marry Vivaldi after all. In this way, the Gothic presents its own (albeit much more violent) version of the class conflict so common in the eighteenth century, such as Samuel Richardson’s Pamela (1740).
The Gothic also tends to question the wisdom and behavior of the upper class, revealing again and again the folly of their adherence to antiquated codes of conduct. For example, the chapbook Fatal Jealousy is deeply skeptical of the upper class impulse to engage in duelling and to run off to the crusades for reasons that are unclear. The Gothic novel Castle of Otranto is heavily concerned with the autocratic authority of lords over their estates, particularly their mistreatment of women and people of lower social and economic status.
Courtesy of Wendy Fall, Marquette University
Kelly, Gary. "Social Conflict, Nation and Empire: From Gothicism to Romantic Orientalism." ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature, North America, 20, Apr. 1989. Available at:
Horatio and Camilla; OR, THE NUNS OF ST. MARY. A TALE OF THE FOURTEENTH CENTURY [Transcript], Sarah Scudgell Wilkinson