According to Frederick S. Frank, one of the main formal characteristics of the Gothic is “A Constant Vicissitude of Interesting Passions.” Frank takes this phrase from Walpole’s preface to the first edition of Castle of Otranto. Acute emotions, many of them sexual or psychopathic, must drive the characters to extreme behavior in the Gothic novel. Powerful feelings are not limited to the human characters, but can motivate demonic and spectral personalities of the Gothic as well. Traditionally, the victimized female heroine expresses her excessive sensibilities through weeping, fainting, and hysterical palpitations. Gothic villains may seem cold and remorseless, but are actually creatures of titanic and destructive passion and surfeited with “pale ire, envy, and despair.” The proto-Gothic villain, Walpole’s Manfred, “was naturally humane; and his virtues were always ready to operate, when his passions did not obscure his reason.”
Courtesy of Wendy Fall, Marquette University
Frank, Frederick S. The First Gothics : A Critical Guide to the English Gothic Novel. New York : Garland Pub., 1987. Print.