The Gothic: A Very Short Introduction by Nick Groom

The Gothic The Gothic is one of a series of books offering very short introductions to a wide variety of different topics. I have read one of the other books in this series – The Tudors – and found it a good way to gain a brief overview of a subject without going into an overwhelming amount of detail. I was attracted to this particular title because I enjoy reading Gothic novels, but the book does cover other aspects of Gothic culture as well as literature.

Nick Groom begins by explaining the history of the Goths (who originated from Germanic barbarian tribes) and how their influence spread throughout Europe. He then looks at Gothic architecture, before moving on to the more recent past and discussing the development of Gothic fiction, music, art and film. For such a short book (150 pages) it’s surprisingly comprehensive, but it really is intended to be just an introduction. If you want to explore any of the topics covered in the book in more detail, Groom gives some suggestions for further reading at the end.

This is a fascinating little book, but I don’t think it succeeds in showing how the different meanings of the term Gothic are related to each other. In the preface the author states that each of these meanings and associations are “part of a common history and occasionally share common features”, but I feel that I still don’t really understand how the Gothic culture with which we’re familiar today is connected with the original Goths of the fourth and fifth centuries. I did still enjoy reading the book, though. The chapters on literature were of particular interest to me, and as I hadn’t heard of some of the Gothic novels Groom talks about, I now have a whole list of titles to investigate!

I found the book itself very well presented (as was the other book I read, on the Tudors); the text is divided into short, manageable sections, there are some useful maps, photographs and illustrations and references are provided at the back. I think The Gothic and the other titles in the Very Short Introduction series will appeal to many different types of reader, from the student who wants to gain a general understanding before delving more deeply into one area to the non-academic reader who just wants to learn something new and interesting.

You can find a full list of all the Very Short Introductions on the Oxford University Press website.

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