4YE Fright Nights: Five Gothic Novels Everyone Should Read

Credit: Tumblr
Credit: Tumblr

With Halloween upon us, and with Crimson Peak playing in cinema’s let take a dark and stormy stroll down the back of the creepy bookshelves into the area of Gothic Novels!

For those that wonder what that actually is, lets have a very quick history lesson. I do not refer to the black eyeliner, black dyed hair and black clothing of my teenage years when I say Gothic, I mean it in the ‘classical’ sense.

Gothic fiction, which is largely known now by the sub-genre of Gothic horror, is a specific type of literature that combines fiction, horror, death and romanticism and originated in England in the second half of the 18th century

So that’s the extremely basic history out of the way…let’s get to the guts!

Here is the what and why of my Top Five Gothic Novels (in no particular order).

The Castle of Otranto
by Horace Walpole

Credit: Penguin
Credit: Penguin

Written in 1764, this is THE Gothic Novel. The Castle of Otranto is attributed as the first Gothic Novel in the genre.

It has all the elements we now love; the supernatural, cursed lords, monks, princesses, romantic love, and, of course, gloomy castles. Without giving it all away, this is the story of Manfred, lord of the castle, and his family.

The book begins on the wedding-day of his sickly son Conrad and Princess Isabella. Before the wedding can take place, poor Conrad is crushed to death by a gigantic helmet that falls on him from above. This strange event is particularly ominous in light of an ancient prophecy whereby “the castle and lordship of Otranto should pass from the present family, whenever the real owner should be grown too large to inhabit it”.

I’ll leave you to find out what happens…

By Mary Wollenscroft Shelly

Credit: Penguin
Credit: Penguin

I think every ghoulish monster-lover knows this tale, but how many have actually read the book? With its subheading of The Modern Prometheus, Frankenstein is a combination of Gothic thriller, a passionate romance. It serves as a wonderful exploration of the human condition alongside a cautionary tale about the ethics of science.

When Victor Frankenstein becomes obsessed with discovering the cause of life he finds a way to re-animate lifeless matter. After assembling a human being from stolen body parts and bringing it to life, the ‘mad scientist’ recoils in horror at the creature’s hideousness. Tormented by isolation and loneliness, the once-innocent creature succumbs to his torment and and wreaks havoc in the name of revenge.

This one will take you through the gamut of emotion I can guarantee.

Bram Stoker

Credit: Penguin
Credit: Penguin

Forget your sparkles right now, this is the vampire story that started it all. Written by Irish novelist Bram Stoker, it’s worth noting he didn’t actually invent the Vampire as we know it. The charismatic and sophisticated vampire that we are all accustomed to was in fact from the pen of John Polidori with his publication of The Vampyre. Polidori was a contemporary of Shelly and Byron. Stoker however had much more success bringing the legend to a much wider audience.

This novel tells the story of Count Dracula’s attempt to move from Transylvania to England so he may find new blood and spread the un-dead curse. It also tells the battle between Dracula and a small group of men and women led by Professor Abraham Van Helsing. It is told through a series of letters, diary entries and uses a wonderful technique of not actually being in the present, but of witnessing events that have passed.

This one is particularly good to read on stormy nights.

Wuthering Heights
Emily Bronte

Credit; Penguin
Credit; Penguin

This, of all the books, is my favourite. Not just in the Gothic genre, but of all the books ever written. This is my number one. This is the book that really kicked it for me that I wanted to write. It is also the only book Emily Bronte ever wrote before she died aged 30.

When it was written Wuthering Heights was considered extremely controversial due to the depiction of mental and physical cruelty, it is a harsh and stark novel. It also challenged strict Victorian ideals of the day, including religious hypocrisy, morality, social classes and gender inequality.

The story starts with Mr Lockwood who, seeking some peace retreats to the Yorkshire moors, and rents a property called Thrushcross Grange. One afternoon, he makes the journey to visit his landlord, Heathcliff, who resides in the remote farmhouse, Wuthering Heights. When they are suddenly snowed in, Lockwood is begrudgingly allowed to stay and is shown to a bedchamber and notes there are books and graffiti left by a former inhabitant named Catherine. When he falls asleep and has a nightmare in which he sees the ghostly Catherine trying to enter through the window. The book then takes us back to the history of Heathcliff and Cathy and the turmoil of the intertwined families.

Read it again even if you have read it before, it’s timeless.

Daphne Du Maurier

Credit: Penguin
Credit: Penguin

This is one of the later novels of the genre, being published in the 1930’s and has never been out of print since. Most people with a literary bent can tell you the first line without even having read the book it has become that famous….

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

Our narrator, a naïve young woman in her early 20s, meets wealthy Englishman, Maximilian de Winter, a widower aged 42. A two week whirlwind courtship and then she agrees to marry him and, after the wedding and honeymoon, they head to his mansion in Cornwall,  a beautiful West Country estate called Manderley.

Then things go pear shaped as she meets the sinister house keeper Mrs Danvers who then proceeds to undermine in every aspect, particularly in a psychological way, the new Mrs de Winter by holding up the perfection of the former one.  What unfolds is a tale of psychotic behaviour, manipulation, ghosts of our own making and secrets and … fire!

Rebecca is considered an absolute must-read classic in the Gothic Horror genre.

While this is by no means a full list and there are so many more amazing Gothic Novels to dip your ghoulish toes into – such Turn of The Screw, The Fall of the House of Usher, Manfred, Jane Eyre, these ones, for me, capture every essence of the genre.

What about you, what’s your favourite Gothic horror story and why?  Let us know

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Jacie Anderson

Jacie holds a BA.Ed in Theatre and Literature from Edith Cowan University in Western Australia.
Apart from writing for 4YE, Jacie has her own blog https://thejaciea.wordpress.com/ and is also on twitter @mrsjanderson.
When not fangirling over Marvel, DrWho, Shakespeare,Tom Hiddleston, Richard Armitage, Game of Thrones and a large list of pop culture,Jacie listens to a lot of wide and varied music (preferably on vinyl) and is also currently writing a fiction novel a well as dabbling in FanFiction.
In between all that she finds time to be a mother and the occasional acting gig.
Jacie Anderson
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