Literature: The Invention of "The Gothic"

Ref: C2344530

In 1764, Horace Walpole published his novel The Castle of Otranto. In the second edition, he added the subtitle "A Gothic Story", thus giving a name to what was to become one of the most popular types of fiction with the reading public for the next 50 years. But even though Walpole might have initiated a new literary genre, its roots nevertheless lay in an already-existing fusion of other literary, historiographical, architectural and social milieu. By the close of the century, the ivy-clad ruins of Medieval castles and abbeys, wild and "sublime" mountain scenery (usually in Italy or Spain), dissolute monks and other clerics, evil tyrants and innocent heroines with overwrought imaginations had all been thrown into the melting pot to keep the reader on the edge of his (or, more often perhaps, her) seat, and novels such as The Mysteries of Udolpho had made their author, Mrs. (Ann) Radcliffe, one of the most popular and highest earning writers of the century.

Course aim

To explore the idea of "the Gothic novel" when it was at the height of its popularity in the last fifty years of the eighteenth century. To examine how poetry, historiography, art, architecture and tourism were also implemented in "Gothic" culture.

Do I need any particular skills or experience?

  • You will need your own personal email address so that you’re able to login to the WEA’s digital learning platform: WEA Canvas. You will need to be able to understand how to follow URL links to pages on the internet. If you want to understand more about Canvas please visit:
  • You will need to be able to follow links to join our WEA live video learning platform: WEA Zoom. If you’d like to understand more about our video learning platform, Zoom please visit: and
  • This course is for a group of around 15 students studying in a live video-learning platform conference and an online digital learning environment platform from the comfort of your own home.
  • This is a live lecture delivered by a subject specialist in an online webinar video learning platform. You will need to be able to access the internet on a device with speakers or earphones. There will be opportunities to take part in discussions and chats. If you’d like to know how to use Zoom please visit:
  • No skills or experience needed
  • This course is for beginners
  • This course is for improvers
  • This course is suitable for beginners and improvers
  • For anyone with an interest in eighteenth-century literature, history, art and architecture.

By the end of the course I should be able to:

  • Identify the primary themes and structures of the three novels explored on the course, along with some knowledge about the lives of their authors;
  • Investigate the cultural and social milieu out of which "the Gothic novel" emerged, including its earliest antecedents (such as the plays of Shakespeare), and a clearer understanding of why the genre gained such popularity with the reading public:
  • Explore eighteenth-century literature (particularly poetry), historiography, art, architecture and travel writing;
  • Have an increased critical awareness when examining literary texts, both prose and poetry.

How will I be taught?

  • The WEA’s digital learning platform, Canvas will be used to provide resources or to support lessons, enable assessment, provide learner feedback and for other activities for individuals away from the course. If you want to understand more about our digital learning platform please visit:
  • The WEA tutor will use a range of different teaching and learning methods and encourage you and the group to be actively involved in your learning
  • You may be asked to undertake additional work in your own time to support your learning

What kind of feedback can I expect?

  • You will be able to keep a record of your progress and achievement using photos, audio, text or documents uploaded into the WEA’s digital learning platform, WEA Canvas.
  • You will be able to keep a digital portfolio of your work on WEA’s digital learning platform, Canvas.
  • A range of informal activities will be used by the tutor to see what you are learning which may include quizzes, question and answer, small projects and discussion
  • You will have opportunities to discuss your progress with your tutor
  • You will be encouraged to share your work with the group and discuss your learning

What else do I need to know?

  • What you need: You will need an internet connection, speakers, a microphone and a webcam so that you can use our video learning platform, Zoom. If you’d like to understand more Zoom please visit:
  • You will also need access to the internet outside of your sessions. You could do this using a smart phone, tablet, laptop or a desktop computer (at home or through a library etc.).
  • You will need a personal email address to join the WEA’s digital learning platform, Canvas so that you can receive resources, record your progress and achievement and to work with others and share ideas. If you want to understand more about our digital learning platform please visit:
  • It will be essential for students to have purchased three novels in advance of this course and to have read the Horace Walpole prior to the first week's lesson. Please see Canvas for details of the exact editions that you need. All other materials will be provided on weekly handouts.

Pre-course work, reading and information sources

  • Pre-course reading is required: resources will be made available to you using the WEA’s digital learning platform, Canvas:
  • You will have access to course resources and links to wider learning through the WEA’s digital learning platform, Canvas:
  • Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto, ed. Nick Groom (Oxford UP, 2014). Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho, ed. Bonamy Dobree, with an introduction by Terry Castle (Oxford UP, 2008). Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey, with an introduction by David Blair (Wordsworth Classics, 1992).

What can I do next?

Download full course information sheet

Literature: The Invention of "The Gothic"

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This course has been cancelled.


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  • You are paying the standard fee (with a credit or debit card) or you are on any of the qualifying benefits
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  • You have been resident in the UK, EU or EEA for the last 3 years
  • You are aged 19 years or older on 1st September 2020
  • You declare that the address you provide is correct and that you will provide evidence of this and your eligibility to live and work in the UK
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