The Victorians drew on historical styles, including the Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance, in much of their architecture, and in doing so their buildings appropriated some of the mystery—and even horror—of the great medieval cathedrals and palaces they aped. During the twentieth century, cultural leaders revolted against the Victorians, seeing in them everything that the new century would not be. Their lives, their art, and especially their buildings were reviled. Queen Anne and neo-Gothic mansions were symbols of a nightmare that modernity strived to wake from. Too expensive for Depression-era and postwar populations to maintain, these structures were subdivided into apartments, or left to rot. Steven J. Mariconda notes in Icons of Horror and the Supernatural (2006), “[a]s a style favored by the upper class of their era, houses that were once places of privilege became symbols of a decayed aristocracy and places of mystery” for the solidly middle class middle America of the middle twentieth century. These spooky old homes entered the public imagination by midcentury when Charles Addams’s “Addams Family” cartoons and Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho located their transgressive characters in Second Empire style wrecks, establishing a cliché for houses of horror. In the United States, which has no ancient castles, these homes were the closest thing to hilltop ruins where Britain’s ghosts traditionally lived—defiantly opposed to clean, sleek, unadorned Modernism.
text © 2010 Jason Colavito (slightly adapted)
...it is Walpole’s version of the Gothic that we remember today: A gloomy, mystic style associated with his version of horror. Perhaps it is for this reason that today American haunted houses are almost invariably portrayed as neo-Gothic Victorians (or, in Europe, actual Gothic castles), complete with the signs of decay completing the illusion of age. Whether the house is Hill House from Shirley Jackson’s novel, the Overlook Hotel in Stephen King’s The Shining, or the Addams Family’s turreted abode, the haunted house remembers fearfully the nineteenth century’s infatuation with medieval architecture and that architecture’s link with ghosts, goblins, and other assorted horrors. Walpole’s twin births of Gothic architecture and Gothic fiction sealed the aesthetic link between the two once and for all.