The nineteenth century saw the rise of Gothic literature, a movement that embraced the deep emotions and beautiful imagery of Romanticism, yet had plots driven by madness, death, and destruction. The setting of Gothic tales, including those of American authors like Edgar Allen Poe, was always Europe, as Gothic literature depends on place with an awful history for its setting. Old World Europe, in the eyes of Gothic writers, held secret histories of macabre witchcraft, legacies of tortured men and cities burning, and dark woods full of monstrous creatures. Yet the Americas at the time were frontier lands, places of hope and unwritten history compared to Europe, with its catacombs of skeletons and century-long wars. It seemed, to American writers during the Antebellum period, that stories of horror and hopelessness were best left to Europe.
Then came the American Civil War, Reconstruction, and a Great Depression.
The carnage and violence of the Civil War broke Americans out of their Romantic ideals and plunged them straight into Realism. All literature suddenly lacked emotional drives, but painted the world in stark realities. One of these realities was the brutality of the Southern slave trade and the rigid caste system in Southern society. The Confederate loss of the Civil War plunged the once prosperous South into poverty, which was compounded half a century later with the Great Depression. Northern writers broke with Realism after World War I and started to question the meaning of existence and reality (Modernism), but this change didn't suit the South. After all, who cares about the meaning of life when you are too poor to eat?
These Southern writers took the verisimilitude of Realism and mixed it with the fantastic and emotional elements of Romanticism to create Southern Gothic literature, a literary movement that began in the early 1930s and ended by 1970. Southern Gothic stories are all in the HORROR genre, yet put a twist on the common horror tropes, as seen below.