The Importance of Imagery in the Gothic Genre

The Importance of Imagery

My Victorian Gothic werewolf novella, The Lady in Yellow was recently reviewed by Readers Den. Although this review overall was favorable, and the reviewer said she really enjoyed the book, she made a comparison that threw me for a loop, and I’m afraid may had readers scurrying. Why was that an issue for me?

It wasn’t a bad comparison, but was out of genre and therefore misleading for my audience.  Let me elaborate.

Genre is Imagery

All genre fiction is built out of iconic images that are a bot like Tarot cards. The writer uses the familiar tropes and arranges them in surprising new ways and creates distinct characters to explore this maze. In the case of Gothic Romance – for this genre comes out of the Romantic Movement of the 18th century – the reader expects darkness, moonlight, haunted mansions, ruins. castles, abbeys, graveyards, a few monsters like vampires, werewolves, witches. In my case I like to take an innocent, a child or a sheltered young adult, and put them into a mysterious, alluring yet ambiguous environment and let them figure it out.

You can see by the headers and tone of this website that Gothic imagery is what I work to convey in my stories. Its what my target audience expects. These are signals and sign posts of what i aim to deliver, a promise I hope they will be able to count on.

Governess in Britten's Opera The Turn of the Screw

Governess Stories

When I wrote The Lady in Yellow I was inspired by a few things. A photo by Simon Marsden of a medieval mural in a French chateau that was called The Lady in Yellow. There was also my love for Henry James‘s The Turn of the Screw and Charlotte Bronte‘s Jane Eyre. Beauty and the Beast. I also have thing for twins and china dolls – I own a few that are over 200 years old, and the old English/ Celtic folk music such as Green Grow the Lilies that the twins sing in the story.

Both Turn of the Screw and Jane Eyre feature governesses, as does The Lady in Yellow. A governess is the perfect outsider: working class entering the world of the wealthy, single therefore vulnerable, often young, and isolated. Perfect for Gothic Romance. Mystery or Horror. My reviewer, perhaps not knowing of these older stories, compared The Lady to The Sound of Music based on the governess factor and the nuns.

That’s OK. That’s a classic and good story. But it is not Gothic. The iconic images of The Sound of Music are lots of wholesome singing children, bright mountain meadows, a love triangle. It does get dark once the Nazis show up.Nuns are Gothic but not nuns who sing show tunes. Then there is the phenomenon of the Sing Along Sound of Music with all its silliness and fun.It definitely does not have werewolves or the paranormal atmosphere to support them. Not only that—it has a happy ending!

People died young in Victorian times. In England, the power structure forced farmers off their lands into the coal darkened cities of the Industrial Revolution condemning them to lives of poverty, toil and sickness. As a result Spiritualism was born. The bereaved flocked to seances. Ghost stories thrived and ultimately Dracula was written and we’ve never looked back. The lurking  presence of death is the underground stream of Gothic fiction.

It would have been more apt to compare my book to Rocky Horror Picture Show even there is no governess in that.

Please don’t think I’m complaining. A review is a review and I love them. It was food for thought. Imagery is everything. Your genre should appear in all of your marketing and be so clear that no one can mistake what you’re about.

Hitchcock's Easy Virtue:A Victorian Beauty and the Beast

The Power of the Audience

In the end everything used in genre fiction has to appeal to the readers who love the genre and expect certain things. The tone, the atmosphere, the sense of dread, supernatural elements, power struggle, darkness and mystery—-there are all kinds of elements, but they are distinct. The images used to create crime novels may be similar, but the difference is apparent. Westerns, Romances, Cozy Mysteries, all have their stamp, even though some types of images are shared. I think Gothics are the most similar to Fairy Tales, vaguely supernatural, disturbing but familiar.

Anyway That’s my 2 cents. I would love for you to give The Lady in Yellow and leave a review – let me know if I’ve pulled it off. Comment on this blog and get a free digital copy.

You’ve heard of “The Woman in White” and
“The Woman in Black” now meet “The Lady in Yellow”.
When young Veronica Everly takes a position as governess to a pair of identical twins, she did not expect to join a family of werewolves, or to fall in love with her handsome employer, Rafe de Grimston. When Rafe makes her promise to redeem them all, she is faced with an agonizing choice. First she must uncover the mystery of the Lady in Yellow.


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