Let’s talk about Gothic Literature. It is October after all, and we like things a bit more spooky this time of the year. So, what exactly is Gothic Literature? Well, it is a genre that grew out of the Romantic literary movement in the 18th century, mostly in Europe. In 1764 Horace Walpole wrote a book titled The Castle Of Otranto, this book is credited as being the founding novel of the genre.
What constitutes a book to be Gothic Lit? Well it must have a few common things..
First… the setting. You can’t have a gothic story without a gloomy big manor house or castle that is in some stage of decay. Often the location or the atmosphere surrounding the house is one of the major stars of the story. Even better? The house is situated somewhere in the middle of an isolated moor, as in Wuthering Heights. The story will have a mix of pleasure and terror with some very intense and strong emotions. There is usually a damsel in distress that will on occasion fall in love with the strange character that owns the manor house, but always, she is going to feel a sense of doom, think about Jane Eyre at Thornfield Hall, where she falls in love with her mysterious employer, Edward Fairfax Rochester.
Following Gothic Literature is Gothic Horror, these two can easily meld together as so many of the elements are the same, in fact you can talk to some people about the two and they will tell you they are the same genre. There are two trains of thought on how gothic horror actually came about. Some credit Edgar Allan Poe, he took gothic literature and applied his fascination with fear into it. The other thought is a more common one and credits the genre to the three-day stay of Mary Shelley and her husband Percy Bysshe Shelly at Villa Diodati, the home of Lord Byron and John Polidori in Switzerland. The story goes that after Byron read the guest a story he challenged them all to create their own story. Out of this weekend, we were gifted Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, one of the great gothic horror stories to be written.
Location and feelings of dread are all present in the gothic horror story just as they are in the Literature, however, they go a step further and add in monsters, or something supernatural, and in many cases blood and gore.
So are you ready to jump into some great gothic literature to read this spooky season? Well here is our top five picks for you to start with.
- Frankenstein, Mary Shelley (1818 )
Victor Frankenstein attempts to play God by bringing corpses back to life. One of the different and compelling thing about Frankenstein is that the monster actually has feelings and humanity to it. This takes you from being scared of it to feelings of sorrow for it.
- Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte ( 1847 )
As I said before, it is the setting of Jane Eyre that is one of its shining stars. Strange attics, winding dark corridors, this house has it all. Plus the book is written in first person, giving it the feel of the character set in front of you telling you the horrors that befell her. We also have romance in this story when Jane develops feeling for Edward Rochester, the owner of the manor.
- Dracula, Bram Stoker ( 1897 )
The King of all Vampire stories that followed. Probably one of the most famous Gothic novel. It includes a spooky castle, a mysterious figure, several in fact, romance, pretty much everything you need to make a great gothic story.
- Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson ( 1959 )
The masterpiece of haunted house books that gathers four strangers, each with some psychic ability into a house. The story shows that the real horror isn’t the house itself but the mind.
- Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde ( 1890 )
Probably one of my favorite gothic stories. Dorian is painted by Basil Hallward who is obsessed with Grays beauty. Gray realizes that his beauty will soon fade as will his lavish lifestyle so he sells his soul and instead of him aging, the portrait does. A great story on the evils of excess.
But don’t stop with just these five if you find you enjoy the genre, Gothic has so much to offer, from classics to gothic romances that were published from the 1960s to the early 1990s by authors such as Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart, and Phyllis Whitney to newer ones, such as 2017’s The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry and the recently published Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. There is something for all of us in this genre. Happy reading!