I consider myself a gothic writer, novelist, and general life-liver. I love all things dark and mysterious and spend a good part of my impressionable youth reading that kind of literature. “Gothic” is a lifestyle, a mindset, and an aesthetic.
But what exactly is gothic? According to Google: “The adjective gothic describes something that is characterized by mystery, horror, and gloom — especially in literature. Gothic literature combines the genres of romance and horror. Some famous writers of Gothic fiction include Charlotte Bronte, Mary Shelley and Edgar Allan Poe.”
“I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.” - Edgar Allan Poe
Gothic works tend to carry specific themes, including but not limited to, the unreliable narrator, acute emphasis on intense emotions, and the pairing of joy and terror, death and love. Much of gothic literature also includes science fiction, making the two genres kind of like cousins (looking at you, Frankenstein).
The paranormal is also a huge influence in gothic literature. Hauntings, apparitions, and supernatural occurrences of all kinds can make the foundation for an amazing gothic tale. Through in a tragic past or two and you are ready to go.
Whether you are new to the gothic world or consider yourself having been birthed a goth from the womb, I thought I would share some books perfect for expanding your dark horizons. I’ll cover some classics and some more modern stories to shake things up. But don’t just take my word for it—unreliable narrator and all…
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. The story of Victor Frankenstein and the monstrous creature he created has held readers spellbound ever since it was published two centuries ago. On the surface, it is a novel of tense and steadily mounting horror; but on a more profound level, it offers searching illumination of the human condition in its portrayal of a scientist who oversteps the bounds of conscience, and of a monster brought to life in an alien world, ever more desperately attempting to escape the torture of his solitude. A novel of hallucinatory intensity, Frankenstein represents one of the most striking flowerings of the Romantic imagination.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. Set on the bleak moors of Yorkshire, Lockwood is forced to seek shelter at Wuthering Heights, the home of his new landlord, Heathcliff. The intense and wildly passionate Heathcliff tells the story of his life, his all-consuming love for Catherine Earnshaw and the doomed outcome of that relationship, leading to his revenge. Poetic, complex and grand in its scope, Emily Brontë's masterpiece is considered one of the most unique gothic novels of its time.
“He's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” - Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. The disturbing Mr. Hyde is making his repugnant presence known in late 19th Century London. But punishment for his vile acts are always parried by the good, and well-respected, Dr. Jekyll. Soon, the secret relationship between the two men will be revealed. A classic that continues to be referenced today, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde will forever be locked in literary history.
The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde. Dorian Gray is the subject of a full-length portrait in oil by Basil Hallward, an artist impressed and infatuated by Dorian's beauty; he believes that Dorian's beauty is responsible for the new mood in his art as a painter. Through Basil, Dorian meets Lord Henry Wotton, and he soon is enthralled by the aristocrat's hedonistic world view: that beauty and sensual fulfilment are the only things worth pursuing in life. Newly understanding that his beauty will fade, Dorian expresses the desire to sell his soul, to ensure that the picture, rather than he, will age and fade. The wish is granted, and Dorian pursues a libertine life of varied amoral experiences while staying young and beautiful; all the while, his portrait ages and records every sin.
Dracula by Bram Stoker. The hunt is on! Dr. Van Helsing and his accomplices begin the chase to track down the infamous vampire Count Dracula before he completes his quest of moving into England and further spreading the undead disease. Even with the garlic, the crosses, and the holy water, the Count manages to entrance a fellow lady vampire hunter and bring her to the undead side. An invincible foe Dracula may appear to be, but Van Helsing and his group will stop short not even to death itself until they have conquered the most notorious villain of all time. From Transylvania to England and then back again, this classic 19th century Gothic horror became the cornerstone for the horror genre that boomed in the century to follow.
The House on the Strand by Daphne Du Maurier. When Dick Young's friend, Professor Magnus Lane, offers him an escape from his troubles in the form of a new drug, Dick finds himself transported to fourteenth-century Cornwall. There, in the manor of Tywardreath, the domain of Sir Henry Champerhoune, he witnesses intrigue, adultery and murder. The more time Dick spends consumed in the past, the more he withdraws from the modern world. With each dose of the drug, his body and mind become addicted to this otherworld, and his attempts to change history bring terror to the present and put his own life in jeopardy.
"This, I think, was the essence of what it meant to me. To be bound, yet free; to be alone, yet in their company; to be born in my own time yet living, unknown, in theirs." - Daphne du Maurier, The House On The Strand
Beloved by Toni Morrison. Sethe, its protagonist, was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. And Sethe’s new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved.
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. Patrick Bateman moves among the young and trendy in 1980s Manhattan. Young, handsome, and well educated, Bateman earns his fortune on Wall Street by day while spending his nights in ways we cannot begin to fathom. Expressing his true self through torture and murder, Bateman prefigures an apocalyptic horror that no society could bear to confront.
Bloodborn by Stephanie Kemler. As the descendant of a centuries-old cult, Mina Coffin was never promised an ordinary life. The only things that keep her alive are drinking from open veins and keeping secrets. But truths drip from her lips like blood, and trust is a dangerous thing. Will falling in love with a man with killer instincts, being hunted by an ex-girlfriend with fangs, and a perilous accident threaten the peaceful life she built after years of turmoil? It will take a fight with her inner demons and the sacrifice of the ones who love her most to learn how strong she really is. Mina's journey is a long and gory one, but it's worth it. Even if she needs a few daggers and a lot of blood to find out.
Ashes by David Edgar Grinnell. Alice Reaper departs from her hometown Boydton, Virginia after her father's tragic death. She begins anew in the small town of Bedford, Ohio as nightmares and the memories of the past haunt her. Longing for inner peace, she struggles against her own darkness, demons, and the ashes of the life she once lived.
“Am I a shadow? I wonder if I too will become one of them. A shadow which spreads like wildfire and turns everything in my path to ash.” - David Edgar Grinnell, Ashes
You knew I had to include some of our own gothic writers at the end, right? It’s only fair. We are a gothic house after all.
What’s your favorite gothic novel? These are only a few of many, many gothic works. If your favorite didn’t make the list, drop a comment below and tell me what it was!
Many great gothic writers got their start by publishing in literary magazines and newspapers. Poe, Lovecraft, Dickens, and more began their writing career publishing their novels chapter by chapter, month by month. It’s one of the reasons we started the Magpie Messenger.
We wanted to bring back the old tradition of literary journals and indie authors just trying to get their work out there. It’s an open opportunity for everyone. And hey, how can you say no to more fresh gothic literature?
Be sure to check back every week for a new blog post! I promise it won't always be about gothic literature, but it will be interesting. It gives me a chance to connect with you and hopefully make your writing journey a little easier. So, until next week, remember that we may be different species but we are all part of the same family, so be kind to yourself and kind to others and I'll see you next week!
Ravven White is the founder of Curious Corvid Publishing, author of bestsellers I Am Ravven and The Cry of The Ravven. Her debut novel, The Sentimental Dead, arrives this Halloween. You can find her books on Amazon, Kindle, and in major bookstores worldwide. She lives in a castle under the sea with her loved ones. You can usually sense her arrival by a curious flapping of wings.
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