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Classic Gothic Horror Novels

Updated on October 16, 2015
Classic Gothic Horror:  It was a dark and stormy night
Classic Gothic Horror: It was a dark and stormy night | Source

Andrew Michael Hurley, The Loney - Has Stephen King et al got it right?

Great Gothic Novel Classics for Christmas and Halloween

"It was a dark and stormy night" this Halloween - perfect weather for leafing through a classic Gothic novel whilst curled up on the sofa in front of the wood burning stove. Spine-chilling books for Halloween gifts and perfect Christmas ghost stories.

Gothic is hot. Author Andrew Michael Hurley's new Gothic novel 'The Loney' has hit the ground running this year - film rights bought up and all!

In this article I've selected some of the best loved books from the first Gothic novels to emerge in the mid eighteenth century to the most recent additions to the genre.

Novels such as The Castle of Otranto by Hugh Walpole - one of the first Gothic novels and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein show the historical roots of Gothic horror but classics continue to be written so I've included a few of the modern masterpieces of the Gothic novel - The Shining by Stephen King, Those Who Seek Forgiveness by Laurell K. Hamilton and The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter to single out just a few. 50 Shades of Grey, although perhaps not a masterpiece, is one of the latest books that might be classed as Gothic to capture the popular imagination - proving that the love of the romantic horror story is as strong as ever.

I hope that you'll enjoy my selection, add your own Gothic favorites (in the comments box at the end) and pass by again to see what I've added to my spine-chilling list.

NB "It was a dark and stormy night" is the opening words of the 1830 novel 'Paul Clifford' by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Image: lightning in the field behind Les Trois Chenes, Videix, Limousin, France. Photo by B L Walton

My Small Collection of Gothic Novels - Just a few from the Gothic novels I've read and loved

My favourite Gothic Novels
My favourite Gothic Novels | Source

Edgar Allan Poe, Dracula, Frankenstein ...

I've always loved the Gothic right from reading the stories of Edgar Allan Poe as a child. I love the dark and mysterious, the chilling and the dreadful. I felt drawn to the drama of Cathy in Wuthering Heights and adored the pure wickedness of Heathcliff.

So why is my collection, pictured above, so small? I've always haunted libraries, that's why. Over the years I've read enough books to stock a library and why buy if you can borrow? But right now I can't borrow. I live in the depths of rural France and sadly my French is not up to the task of reading the fabulous selection books in Rochechouart public library - pity really because Limousin really is a land of wolves and witches. I've bought a few of my favourite Gothic novels to re-read or to have to hand for reference - Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is a necessity and so is Dracula by Bram Stoker.

Frankenstein - By Mary Shelley

I can't even begin to tell the deep, dark and troubled story of Mary Shelley here. There is turmoil and sadness in her short life - she died aged just 53. She was an incredible woman dogged throughout her life by love and drugs, death and illness but through this darkness the light of genius shone out.

She was only 19 when she wrote Frankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus during a stay with the famously decadent and cruel romantic poet Lord Byron along with her lover Percy Shelley and friend Claire Clairmont.

It was "a wet, ungenial summer" in 1831 when the conversation of this talented group turned to the experiments of the 18th-century Erasmus Darwin who had apparently managed to bring dead matter back to life. They talked about galvanism bringing a corpse to life. They read German ghost stories and it was in this atmosphere that prompted Byron to suggest they each write their own tale of the supernatural.

That night Mary Godwin dreamed a dream and in this dream the idea for Frankenstein was born.

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein


Not an easy read, I found, but a fantastic experience. If, like me, you have grown up watching the Frankenstein films that resemble 'Night of the Living Dead', then you're in for a real treat.

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is epic and awesome in the true sense of the words. Geographically vast and varied, it is also socially replete. It is not about monsters and bringing the dead to life, it is about creation and the responsibility of the creator for his child. Frankenstein is about how the lack of love and cherishing creates monsters of us all.


What is Gothic Fiction?

Gothic fiction emerged in the late 18th century as an offshoot from the Romantic movement - a movement that stirred up the emotions, love, hate, desire, fear and the dark side of life. All this is told with a big spoonful of melodrama.

The Gothic builds up tension through vivid descriptions, strong visual imagery and specialises in such spine-chilling subjects as madness, death, the supernatural and insanity.

Are You A Fan Of The Gothic Novel? - Or does the vey thought give you the creeps?

Do You Love the Gothic?

See results

A Short History of Gothic on BBC Radio 4 - A great introduction to the range of Gothic novels over time

These four Gothic stories chosen for Radio 4 extra form a short series entitled A Short History of Gothic which was first broadcast on Saturday 12 December 2009 rekindled my memories of all those fabulous Gothic novels of my youth. Ever a sucker for a spooky tale, I listened to these four radio stories - all new to me - with such great pleasure. Don't you just love it when you find brand new authors and a whole treasure box of new books to read?

(I also love the announcer's brief history of Goth - Punk, The Bat Cave, Bauhouse, The Cure and Suzi and the Banshees

Markheim by Rober Louis Stevenson

The story of Markheim by Robert Louis Stevenson. In this story a murderous thief meets an unsettling stranger in a shop. The outcome is unusually satisfactory.

The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty

This includes the story of Clytie By Eudora Welty. A single woman living in a small town in Mississippi finds life intolerable. Look out for parallels to Greek mythology.

The Bloody Chamber: And Other Stories

The lady of the HouseThe Lady of the House of Love By Angela Carter. This new twist on a vampire tale is decorated with the lush, jewel-like quality of Carter's prose.

Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter collection 11-15

I'm not sure where 'Those Who Seek Forgiveness' came from so I'm including a whole collection of Anita Blake stories. Those Who Seek Forgiveness By Laurell K Hamilton. This is my personal favourite. Anita Blake has the mundane job of raising corpses from the dead. One day a lady comes into the office .... (Read some of Hamilton's Anita Blake vampire novels though and really didn't take to them. Did you like them? Let me know in the comments at the bottom of the page).

Bram Stoker's Dracula (Collector's Edition)

Stylistically this is not one of my favourite novels but you must forgive the lack of craft because this book is one of the main inspirations behind the whole Dracula myths. I especially love the fact that it takes place in Whitby, a fishing town on the cold and damp east coast of England - a town I used to love to visit as a child. Like Frankenstein, if you love Gothic, you really must read the 'real' Dracula for yourself to see what all the fuss is about.

My Favorite Gothic classics

The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allen Poe - Great Gothic poems

I couldn't choose just one Poe so I've gone for all of them

Wuthering Heights - By Emily Bronte

Who hasn't heard of that fatally dark hero Heathcliff? Haunted, dark, set on the bleak, romantic moors of Yorkshire, this is a book that you really must read as it's entered into our language and culture. No good watching the films. None of them even begin to live up to the book. Many just tackle the first half or concentrate on the Cathy / Heathcliff love affair. No good at all. Read the book and wallow in the dark and ghostly wickedness of it all.

Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier

Haunting and mystical despite it's modern setting. You might be familiar with the opening line, "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again".

The story begins with a young woman who is financially dependent on and working as a 'companion' for a demanding older and much richer American woman.

When her employer falls sick, the younger woman meets a wealthy man who sweeps her off her feet and deposits her as the new Mrs DeWinter in his vast country house, Manderley. Here she meets Mrs Danvers, the too-loyal servant of the late Mrs DeWinter. Spine-chilling.

Gothic Films of the Book - Gothic novels make great films

A new Frankenstein this time set 200 years after the original creation, Frankenstein's monster is all set to save mankind.

Wuthering Heights 2009

Old but good - did they finish the film or just leave it dangling at the half-way mark?

A flavour of Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

A new version of Rebecca - can it really improve on the original?

Dracula TV series 2013

A sumptuous new version of Dracula - I love the leading man!

The Castle of Otranto - Horace Walpole

Written in 1764 the full title of the first edition of the book was The Castle of Otranto, A Story. Translated by William Marshal, Gent. William Marshal was Walpole's pseudonym and Walpole made out that the tale originated from the Original Italian of Onuphrio Muralto, Canon of the Church of St. Nicholas at Otranto and a translation to boot! Wallpole put it about that it was based on a manuscript printed at Naples in 1529 and had been recently rediscovered in the library of "an ancient Catholic family in the north of England". Not happy with this mythology, Walpole created a history for the story that went back to the Crusades.

This is great story-telling!

The Castle of Otranto

The story begins with the wedding-day of the son of Manfred, lord of The Castle of Otranto. The sickly son, Conrad, is to marry princess Isabella however the arrangements go awry when a giant helmet (!) falls on the hapless Conrad who is is crushed to death. As it this isn't bad enough it brings to life an ancient prophecy .... I read this as a youngster and remember nothing of the plot whatsoever. I'll read it again.

The Mysteries of Udolpho - By Ann Radcliffe

The Mysteries of Udolpho was published in 1794. The heroine is Emily St. Aubert who , as well as the death of her father is subjected to supernatural terrors in a gloomy castle. This book is yet another contender for the title of 'archetypal Gothic novel'. It certainly captured the imagination of Jane Austen who used it in her own Gothic novel Northanger Abbey.

The Mysteries of Udolpho (Dover Giant Thrift Editions)

The Mysteries of Udolpho is set in 1584 in southern France and northern Italy (Italy seems to be a common setting for Gothic novels!) where French orphan, Emily St. Aubert, is imprisoned in the castle Udolpho by the wicked Signor Montoni. (Christian Grey, eat your heart out!)

Hound of the Baskervilles - By Arthur Conan Doyle

According to Wikipedia "The Hound of the Baskervilles is the 3rd of the four Sherlock Holmes novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle". Can this be true? Only four Sherlock Holmes novels? It's a book I remember reading during my formative years and loving. Since then I've seen various TV and film renditions of the story and it never fails to send a chill down my spine. I love Sherlock Holmes.

The Hound of the Baskervilles (Illustrated) (Top Five Classics Book 11)

The Hound of the Baskervilles was published as a serial in 1902. It takes place on Dartmoor in Devon, England's quite close to Exeter where I lived for a while. Dartmoor is isolated, cold, wet and bleak even today. The story is about an attempted murder inspired by the legend of a huge, supernatural dog. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a wonderful story-teller and still captures the public imagination.

In a Glass Darkly - Le Fanu

This is one of the books that I haven't read, although it's on my reading list now. I knew little about Sheridan Le Fanu and his collection of short stories before writing this article but the title 'In a Glass Darkly' captured my attention. The title comes from 1 Corinthians 13 (deliberately misquoted) describing humanity as perceiving the world "through a glass darkly". I'd seen the film 'Through a Glass Darkly' by Ingmar Bergman and it evidently left an impression on me - after all, the point of writing this article was to gather together a little Gothic reading list for myself.

In a Glass Darkly, v. 1/3

The stories in the collection are 'Green Tea', 'The Familiar', 'Mr. Justice Harbottle', 'The Room in the Dragon Volant' and 'Carmilla'.

The Monk - By Matthew Gregory Lewis

The Monk: A Romance was written by Matthew Gregory Lewis in only ten weeks before his twentieth birthday and published in 1796. Does this put you in mind of Mary Shelley? Perhaps the fact that I read nearly all (all of the books that I have read) when I was a teenager. Does the Gothic appeal to the young or is it that only the young have the concentration and tenacity to actually read the complicated and convoluted plots?

The Monk

Newly arrived in Madrid, Leonella and her niece, Antonia, visit a church to hear the sermon of a celebrated priest ...... (I'm with it so far but not sure that I'm up to the rest - come back and see if I've braved The Monk).

Psycho - Robert Bloch

Who hasn't seen Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 film version of Psycho? I know I did, was thrilled and chilled and horrified. The shower curtain scene must be firmly lodged in the psyche of several generations now. I've never read the book.

Psycho: A Novel

Psycho was published in 1957 and tells the story of Norman Bates, a fresh-faced and likable young man who runs a small hotel that was left stranded when a new bypass was built. It was at this hotel that Mary, on the run after stealing money from her employer, met Norman and fatally agreed to share dinner with him .....

The Shining - By Stephen King

I'm a Stephen King fan alright but I've had to ban myself from reading them - just too fascinatingly addictive - I was up all night reading his books. The Shining is no exception and it has, like many of his books, translated into an unforgettable film, although I believe that King was not happy with the Stanley Kubrick, film released in 1980 and starring Jack Nicholson. The Shining was King's third published novel.

The Shining

Stephen King is 'King of Horror' and this terrifying story has all the hallmarks of a good Gothic Horror story - psychotic husband with wife and psychic son in a remote and empty hotel cut off by a storm and crammed with evil paranormal activity. not for those of a nervous disposition.

The Misfortunes of Virtue - By The Marquis de Sade

Justine (or The Misfortunes of Virtue, 'Les infortunes de la vertu' in the original French) was written in 1791 by Donatien Alphonse Franois de Sade, otherwise known as the infamous Marquis de Sade.

Now if you thought The Monk by was a nifty piece of work, you might be interested to note that 'The Misfortunes of Virtue' was written in just two weeks in 1787 while imprisoned in the Bastille. (How very fitting for a Gothic novel!).

Justine, or the Misfortunes of Virtue (Oxford World's Classics)

Justine, a 12-year-old virgin is subjected to orgies, rapes, and punishments - I won't go into detail but doesn't it remind you of '50 Shades of Grey'?

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - by Robert Louis Stevenson

A true classic. How many times have you seen the film version of this story. This is a case of Gothic fact being stranger than Gothic fiction. The story goes that one night in late September or early October 1885, Stevenson's wife, Fanny Stevenson, heard Louis crying out during the early hours of the morning. She woke him up only to be chastised because he claimed to be "dreaming a fine bogey tale."

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

On the surface about a monstrous, science-based transformation of a man suffering from what is known in the psychiatric trade as 'dissociative identity disorder', in other words a 'split personality'. Dr. Henry Jekyll slips easily into the persona of the evil Edward Hyde.

Classic Gothic Novels On My Must-Read List - These are novels that I've stumbled across - some I haven't read - yet

  • Nachtstrm Castle: A Gothic Austen Novel by Snyder
  • Charles Brockden Brown : Three Gothic Novels : Wieland / Arthur Mervyn / Edgar Huntly (Library of America) by Charles Brockden Brown
  • Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bront
  • The Phantom Of The Opera by Gaston Leroux
  • The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  • The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
  • History of the Caliph Vathek by William Beckford
  • Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Maturin
  • Salathiel the Immortal by George Croly
  • Don't Look Now by Daphne du Maurier
  • Portrait of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  • The Old English Baron by Clara Reeve

Modern Gothic Novels - Some I've read and some are on my wish-list

  1. The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley's
  2. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
  3. Interview With The Vampire (The Vampire Chronicles, #1) by Anne Rice (fun film)
  4. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (one of my favourite novels)
  5. The Woman in Black by Susan Hill (Susan Hill is always a good read) - much better than the film!
  6. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (I've read two of her other books and loved them so I expect great things from this)
  7. Dragonwyck by Anya Seton (The film was good)
  8. The Gormenghast Novels (3) by Mervyn Peake (Heard this on the radio and didn't really enjoy it but might give the book a try)
  9. Bellefleur by Joyce Carol Oates (I've read other books by Joyce Carol Oates so I'm looking forward to this one.)
  10. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? by Henry Farrell (of course the film is a classic but I've never read the book)
  11. The Transformation by B.E. Scully: Verland
  12. Willy by Robert Dunbar
  13. Rustication: A Novel by Charles Palliser (top of mu must-read list)
  14. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
  15. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger (loved this comic Gothic novel set in Highgate Cemetery)
  16. The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, No.1) by Lemony Snicket
  17. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (A whole new look at london - from down-under. witty, dark and imaginative - very visual - I loved it).
  18. 50 Shades of Grey by E L James (Well - if you want to know more about domination, you have to wade through a lot of stuff for a little information. Other than that I can't really see why anyone would like to read this. I must admit there is a certain fascination about it and the main actors chosen for the film are exactly as I imagined them - most gratifying).
  19. Dark Witch by Nora Roberts
  20. The Matrix by Jonathan Aycliffe

Are Vampire and Zombie films Gothic?

If not why not? Have a look at this article, which highlights the links between Gothic horror and The Night of the Living Dead. I thought about putting on this list I Zombie - a book that I read because it was written by Al Ewing, the son of a friend, but is it Gothic? I'll have to look into this a bit but meanwhile, why don't you leave a comment in the box below?

Are Vampires and Zombies Gothic?

Of are they just horrors?

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© 2013 Barbara Walton

What are Your Favourite Gothic Novels? - I'd love to hear from you

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