Gothic Elements of the Ukrainian Legend “The Living Grave”


Book cover of The Living Grave: A Ukrainian Legend by Liudmyla Starytska-Cherniakhivska

Gothic novels are like treasure chests for readers who love a good mix of suspense, romance, revenge, and mystery all wrapped up in one book. These stories have a unique way of pulling us into their spooky and mysterious worlds. They make us feel like we’re part of the adventure.

But have you ever wondered what exactly makes a gothic novel, well, gothic? Is there a secret recipe with specific ingredients? Or is it more about the overall feel of the story, kind of like how “the vibe of the thing”, famous from the Australian movie “The Castle”?

Let’s jump into the exciting world of gothic literature and take a closer look at “The Living Grave” as our perfect example. Together, we’ll explore and discover the special touches that make a novel truly gothic. This journey will not only show us what sets these stories apart but also why they continue to capture our imaginations today.

The Quintessential Gothic Setting

At the heart of every gothic tale lies a setting that is as mysterious as it is mesmerising. “The Living Grave” does not disappoint. It features an ancient castle that whispers tales of yore, and a venerable church that stands as a silent witness to the secrets buried within its walls. These settings are not just backgrounds for the story. They are characters in their own right, shaping the narrative and setting the tone for the eerie events that unfold.

The Enigmatic Elements

Gothic novels are known for their elements that evoke a sense of mystery and foreboding. “The Living Grave” masterfully incorporates these. The novella’s enigmatic grave, starlit nights pierced by crescent moons, and enveloping mists seem to hide more than just the physical world. These elements do more than set the scene. They invite the reader into a world where the boundaries between the real and the supernatural are blurred. Thus, they create an atmosphere ripe for suspense and mystery.

Characters that Captivate

A damsel in distress and a grotesque antagonist are staples of gothic literature. “The Living Grave” presents these characters, Doryna and her cruel father, Mr Zhmailo, in a way that both enthrals and horrifies the reader. These characters are not mere stereotypes; they are flawed, complex individuals. The damsel’s plight and the antagonist’s motives are woven into the fabric of the story. They make the reader question the nature of love, revenge, and redemption.

The Soundtrack of the Gothic

Sound plays a crucial role in setting the mood in gothic tales. And “The Living Grave” utilises this to its full effect with the haunting hoots of an owl. This eerie backdrop adds an auditory dimension to the already vivid setting, enhancing the sense of unease and anticipation that pervades the novel. Additionally, the melancholic songs featured in the novella at various points significantly enhance the story’s atmosphere. These tunes deepen the mood, adding layers of emotion and intrigue, making the setting feel even more immersive and impactful.

Beyond “The Vibe of the Thing”

While it’s tempting to attribute the allure of gothic novels to “the vibe of the thing”, it’s clear that there are definitive elements at play that define the genre. The intricate setting, mysterious elements, complex characters, and chilling soundscape all contribute to the unique appeal of gothic literature. “The Living Grave” exemplifies these aspects, offering readers a journey into the dark, enthralling world that is gothic fiction.


In essence, gothic novels are more than just stories. They are experiences that captivate the senses and challenge perceptions. They linger in the imagination long after the last page is turned. Whether you’re a long-time fan or new to the genre, the rich tapestry of gothic elements in novels like “The Living Grave” promises a reading adventure that is as profound as it is thrilling. So, embrace the mystery, and let the gothic tale unfold.

P.S.: We’ve just launched the second edition of “The Living Grave: a Ukrainian Legend” by Liudmyla Starytska-Cherniakhivska. This latest edition features an updated translation of the novella, along with comprehensive supplementary materials such as the author’s biography, a glossary, and more.