What is Gothic?

The Nightmare . Oil on canvas, 101.6 × 127 cm.  Detroit Institute of Arts

The Nightmare. Oil on canvas, 101.6 × 127 cm. Detroit Institute of Arts

This is a loaded question that covers Medieval architecture to pulp-fiction resurgence films. We may think of a Gothic spires, monsters, death, cult horror, pop-fiction, and blackness. Although these are canonical for multiple facets of the Gothic, I want to focus on Gothic literature as a genre. According to encyclopedia.com, “The Gothic, a literary movement that focused on ruin, decay, death, terror, and chaos, and privileged irrationality and passion over rationality and reason, grew in response to the historical, sociological, psychological, and political contexts of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.” But what thematic discourse is used within Gothic texts that makes them “Gothic”?

Using Voyant for This Purpose

In order to analyze these texts effectively, a text analysis platform is necessary least I wish to manually track statements, words, and thematic discourse throughout the extent of X Gothic tales. Voyant is an open-source text analysis platform that accepts uploaded corpus materials and spits them out in beautiful visualization and analysis tools. According to its documentation:

Voyant Tools is a web-based text reading and analysis environment. It is a scholarly project that is designed to facilitate reading and interpretive practices for digital humanities students and scholars as well as for the general public.

What you can do with Voyant:

Use it to learn how computers-assisted analysis works. Check out our examples that show you how to do real academic tasks with Voyant.

Use it to study texts that you find on the web or texts that you have carefully edited and have on your computer.

Use it to add functionality to your online collections, journals, blogs or web sites so others can see through your texts with analytical tools.

Use it to add interactive evidence to your essays that you publish online. Add interactive panels right into your research essays (if they can be published online) so your readers can recapitulate your results.

Use it to develop your own tools using our functionality and code.

Essentially the tool is incredibly useful for analyzing how terms interact with each other within the text, the overlapping of terminology, and in what context these terms appear. For my purposes, I am concerned with the frequency of terms and how they are used to identify a genre-specific discourse for the Gothic. Once a definitive (although it would be always growing) bank of terminology is established, I would search through other literary genres to identify Gothic “moments” within texts otherwise not canonically “Gothic.” For example, although Modernism comes directly after the end of the Gothic period it is not canonically Gothic, but still uses Gothic elements within the literary genre. A definitive term bank would allow a quantitative explanation to my qualitative understandings of the Gothic genre.

For the purpose of understanding and experimenting with Voyant as a text analysis platform, below is the tool embedded displaying the textual information from a corpus built on Penny Dreadfuls. While this corpus is small and built for experimental purposes, it is important to note how the textual information is displayed in various ways for analytical approach.

In what ways does text analysis via the Voyant platform give us insight into the content of Penny Dreadfuls? What about the intended and represented audience? The political climate and systematic cultural institutionalized ideals of societal normalcy? What do the genres and themes of Penny Dreadfuls tell us, knowing that these consisted of many Gothic themes during the Victorian period? But beyond an analysis of the text in a literary context, the analysis of how the text is displayed is also an apparent way of interacting with this platform - specifically, how does the display show us the text in a way that may manipulate or stipulate our understandings of the corpus material?

I urge us to stretch the capacity and capabilities of the platform for a deeper understanding of the text. Similarly to how I aim to use the platform for understanding how Gothic themes are perpetuated canonically to then apply such a “bank” to non-canonical, non-Gothic, texts, how can the interpretation of a text be further understood, and even complicated, though a digital tool/platform such as Voyant?


Sinclair, Stéfan and Geoffrey Rockwell, 2016. Voyant Tools. Web. http://voyant-tools.org/.