B2 High-Intermediate US 51 Folder Collection
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Imagine a haunted house.
Does it look like … this?
A decaying structure with severe angles and
intricate woodwork?

Maybe some bats flying out of a tower.
This is the Victorian mansion.
It's ghostly presence traces back to paintings
like this one from the 1920s:

artist Edward Hopper's “House by the Railroad,”
which shows an old Victorian house, abandoned

and isolated.
Remember this one because it comes back in

Throughout 20th-century pop culture, similar-looking
mansions appeared again and again as signifiers

of dread in horror movies, television, and
Gothic pulp novels.

It was featured famously as the menacing Bates
mansion in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho

and the kooky home of the Addams Family.
But it wasn't always like that – so why
do we associate this house with death?

The later part of the Victorian era, named
after England's Queen Victoria, was known

as the Gilded Age in America.
It followed the bloody American Civil War
and was simultaneously an era of rampant income

inequality, political corruption, and industrialization
that helped create a new wealthy class.

And the choice home for the “nouveau riche,”
or “new rich,” was the Victorian.

It was the McMansion of its time: a gaudy
and unbalanced monstrosity that showed off

the wealth of certain American families.
Borrowed from medieval Europe's Gothic architecture,
these houses were designed to be imposing

and make a statement.
They were a mismatched combination of towers
and turrets, ornate gingerbread trim, and

sloped, bloated roofs, called the Mansard
roof, which drew from the French imperial

Inside was a maze of rooms like parlors, drawing
rooms, libraries, and observatories,

places that were often unoccupied, with the
curtains drawn to keep out sunlight, which

could damage the clutter of heavy, expensive

Spooky, right?
Late 19th-century wealthy Americans wanted
to emulate Europe

but after World War I, that changed, as the
American vision turned toward progress and

Modern architects ushered in an era of clean
lines and simplicity as the new hallmark of

The Victorian, in comparison, became an antiquated
symbol of excess, whose architectural style

was described as “grotesque,” and the
mansions were called “mongrel types desecrating

the landscape.”
Critics of the time began to associate the
houses with death, offensive reminders of

the troubling Gilded Age.
These houses slowly became an unwelcome presence,
and eventually the wealthy owners moved on.

And when the Great Depression swept across
the country in the 1930s, a lot of the houses

were abandoned or became boarding houses for
the working poor.

Without their affluent tenants to maintain
them, the ornate structures quickly eroded,

deepening their association with decay.
Enter Charles Addams.
A cartoonist working for the New Yorker who
introduced the world to the Addams Family.

A reclusive collection of ghouls who are morbidly
anti-social and mysteriously wealthy.

“A toast!
To the glorious mysteries of life, to all
that binds a family as one.

To mirth, to merriment, to manslaughter!”
These popular cartoons began appearing in
the late '30s, but it wasn't until November

1945 that Addams finally showed us the exterior
of the strange home the family occupies.

It was the Victorian.
The Addams Family was a dark perversion of
the ideal American family, and their mansion

represented that.
Charles Addams later said in an interview
that he chose it because Victorians are just

“better for haunts.”
It was here that the Victorian became permanently
associated with horror, and by the time Alfred

Hitchcock made his iconic film, Psycho, in
1960, audiences immediately recognized the

Bates mansion as a place of unspoken dread,
of something not quite right.

In the promotional trailer for the film, Hitchcock
describes the house's appearance as:

“A little more sinister-looking, less innocent
than the motel itself.”

And when he takes you inside ...
“You see even in daylight this place still
looks a bit sinister.”

And his inspiration?
It was Hopper, from 1925.
It's not hard to see the similarity.
Both are towering, empty, and isolated – decaying
relics that loomed over a world that had long

moved on.
The Victorian mansion died over 100 years
ago, but its persistent presence in Gothic-inspired

art and pop culture has made it an iconic
symbol of dread, and now serves as an immediate

signal to audiences:
There's something not quite right about
this house.

So you probably caught that ghost in the window
around the two-minute mark, but there's

actually four others hidden throughout this
video – did you see those?

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Why the Victorian mansion is a horror icon

51 Folder Collection
Liang Chen published on November 20, 2018
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