I read a lot of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Gothic novels as part of my PhD research and I love them so I thought that, since Halloween is creeping up on us, I’d recommend some of my favourites.
All of these were published pre-1900 because that’s just who I am.
I have to start by recommending the original Gothic novel. Horace Walpole added a subtitle to the second edition of The Castle of Otranto in 1765 to draw attention to the fact that it was ‘A Gothic Story’ and thus, a new genre was born. I think Otranto is pretty tame for a Gothic novel but since Walpole started the genre (sort of), he needed to be on this list.
If you think that you can’t be shocked by a novel published in 1796 then you probably haven’t read The Monk. I’m not going to spoil the plot – you can do that by visiting the wikipedia page – but The Monk is wild even if you’re reading it in 2020. I never get tired of reading The Monk because it is packed full of Gothic tropes and horrifying revelations.
I’d honestly recommend all of Radcliffe’s novels on this list but The Italian is certainly my favourite so I’ve decided to focus on this one. It’s a response to The Monk but Radcliffe and Lewis wrote very different Gothic novels so Radcliffe takes the taboo themes that Lewis explores in The Monk and thoroughly reshapes them into what she considered Gothic. The Italian includes my favourite Gothic villain of all time and it’s just a great book.
Radcliffe’s other available novels are: A Sicilian Romance (1790), The Romance of the Forest (1791), and The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794).
This is another response to The Monk (and there are even more that I could talk about but I won’t) but this book is arguably more shocking than The Monk for a variety of reasons. It has been labelled racist and anti-feminist by academics and readers of Dacre’s own time weren’t sure what to make of it either. I’m not sure I agree with it being called anti-feminist but I can’t really make a decision about whether it’s racist or not because I’m white. It’s a fantastic story though and I’d highly recommend it.
Published in 1872, about 26 years before Dracula, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla is a wonderful vampiric tale which focuses on the terrifying nature of female friendship. I just love it and I could re-read it forever. There are no decent adaptations of the novella (including the 2014 web series) but there should be because it’s such a great Gothic horror novella.
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