Coleridge’s Gothic Influence

For today’s post I would like to look at the influence of the Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge on other writers!   Christabel is a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.    This poem was in fact never fully finished, but was nevertheless is one of Coleridge’s masterpieces.

This poem was influential to later authors, such as Edgar Allan Poe and Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu.    Poe’s poem The Sleeper and Le Fanu’s novella Carmilla both play on similar themes as Christabel.   Themes of a woman being taken into the home of a father of another young woman her age when she is beset by tragedy.   There are attacks, or fear of being attacked on the road in these works.

Coleridge chose a dark gothic romance theme for this poem.   He was, of course, a Romantic poet.    Samuel Taylor Coleridge was one of the older generation of Romantic poets, along with William Blake and William Wordsworth.   Wordsworth and Coleridge worked together on their poetry, and published together!    The first generation of Romantics were followed by the second generation of Romantics.   This second generation included George Gordon (Lord Byron), Percy Bysshe Shelley, and John Keats.   

Coleridge’s most popular poem is likely The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.   This was his longest major poem, and showed many of the dark themes that would be used in Christabel.   The Nightingale was another famous poem by Coleridge that would inspire other Romantics, especially Shelley and Keats.    Shelley’s To a Skylark is seen as very similar as The Nightingale.   Keats would write a poem Ode to a Nightingale, obviously taking cues from Coleridge.    These “bird centric” poems show the Romantics preoccupation with the natural world.

The Romantics obviously inspired later Victorian writers, especially those working in the Gothic Romance genre.    Poe was heavily influenced by the English Romantic poets, and this inspiration is seen very obviously seen in his story The Oval Portrait and his poem The Sleeper, which both take themes from Coleridge’s Christabel.   Le Fanu took inspiration from Coleridge’s unfinished masterpiece, as well, when writing his vampire novella Carmilla.    Carmilla is a beautiful and dark work about a young woman being enthralled by a seductive female vampire.    This can be seen as one of the earliest lesbian tales, and an early example of vampire lesbians.   The Romantic poets, just like Gothic Romance writers of the Victorian period, were obviously interested in female sexuality.   This can be seen in their poems, and it is no surprise these poems would go on to inspire other writers to write about sexuality.    Gothic Romance was the perfect genre to explore sexuality, since it utilized the supernatural, and therefore was not feared of these tales being taken as “real.”    The earlier Romantics were perfect people to explore sexuality in their time since they were seen as rebelling against societal norms!

There is a reason these works are still widely read, and are still inspiring modern authors!    These works were ahead of their times, and are strong indicators of the hidden lives and desires of their authors and readers.

Modern writers and filmmakers are still utilizing the elements of the Romantics, and the Gothic Romances.    A prime example is the film Crimson Peak (2015) by Guillermo del Toro.   This film looks like a classic Gothic Romance novel brought to life, but it was not an adaption of any one novel.   The inspiration was obvious, and some of the favorite tropes of the Romantics, and the Gothic Romance writers, were utilized.   There is a young wife moving into her husband’s family home, there is the deep dark family secret that will be uncovered, and there is the feeling of otherness and ostracism.   I will not ruin the plot for anyone interested in viewing this film, but needless to say it is a beautiful modern taken on the gothic!

I hope you have enjoyed my look at the ways in which the  Romantics inspired on another, and the Victorians.   Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is a poster for the film Crimson Peak.   I found the image on via

Further Reading/Watching

  • Christabel by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • The Oval Portrait by Edgar Allan Poe
  • Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu 
  • The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • The Nightingale by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • To a Skylark by Percy Bysshe Shelley
  • Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats 
  • Crimson Peak (2015)