Last Updated on September 1, 2023 by BiblioLifestyle
Gothic literature is a captivating genre of storytelling that immerses readers in a world of darkness, mystery, and the supernatural. From its origins in 18th-century England to its contemporary manifestations, gothic literature has consistently enthralled audiences with its distinctive blend of horror, romance, and psychological depth. This guide explores the defining characteristics, themes, and variations of gothic literature, providing insights into the influences that shape this genre. We will also offer a selection of must-read gothic literature books for every enthusiast of this intriguing genre.
Gothic Literature: The Fundamentals
What is Gothic Literature?
Gothic literature is a genre that has its roots in 18th-century English literature. It centers around dark themes of terror, horror, and the supernatural while also exploring emotional topics like guilt, passion, and anxiety. The key aspects of gothic literature are mystery, suspense, the uncanny, fear of the unknown, and often supernatural elements like ghosts or vampires.
Common settings for Gothic stories are isolated castles, graveyards, old churches, crumbling old mansions, shadowy corridors, windswept moors, and remote locations. These settings create a gloomy atmosphere of dread and fear. The characters are often troubled and tormented protagonists who find themselves in dangerous situations or haunted by the past.
Main Ideas of Gothic Literature
Gothic literature often explores themes of duality, tragedy, and oppression. It is a genre that focuses on psychological aspects, exploring intense emotions or contrasting states such as love-hate relationships. Morality also comes into play in gothic novels, with characters often struggling between the forces of good and evil.
Gothic literature is also full of symbols and imagery that bring an atmosphere of suspense to the narrative. These symbols frequently represent death, decay, or some other form of corruption. They are also used to evoke fear in the reader as they follow along with the story.
Features of Gothic Literature
Gothic literature can have many different elements that add to its eerie atmosphere. These features include:
- A focus on intense emotions such as fear or suspense
- Mysterious, suspenseful, and often supernatural elements
- Tension between good and evil characters or forces
- Gloomy settings such as isolated castles, graveyards, or old churches
- Themes of love, betrayal, and revenge
- Symbols of death and decay
- Characters with troubled pasts that come back to haunt them and who grapple with strong emotions like fear and guilt
Types of Gothic Literature
The gothic literature genre has been around for centuries, and it is still expanding today. There are many different types of Gothic literature, some of which include:
- Gothic Horror Stories like those by Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, as well as contemporary works like Stephen King’s novels.
- Romantic Gothic is another subgenre that emerged in the late 18th century and focused on brooding characters who are often tormented by the past or some kind of mysterious force.
- Historical Gothic, which takes place in the past and focuses on the decadence of old families
- Psychological Gothic, which explores intense emotions and situations that cause psychological distress
- Southern Gothic, a type of literature set in the American South, has elements of horror but also explores themes like racism and prejudice
- Urban Gothic takes place in a modern-day setting, usually set in the city, explores the darker side of city life, and incorporates elements of science fiction.
- Gothic Romance focuses on themes of love, revenge, and tragedy. It often features dark and mysterious characters whom the protagonist is drawn to despite their warnings.
17 Must-Read Gothic Novels
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
An isolated mansion. A chillingly charismatic aristocrat. And a brave socialite drawn to expose their treacherous secrets. . . . From the author of Gods of Jade and Shadowcomes “a terrifying twist on classic gothic horror” (Kirkus Reviews) set in glamorous 1950s Mexico.
Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
From the instant #1 New York Times bestselling author of the “eerie and fascinating” (USA TODAY) The Thirteenth Tale comes a richly imagined, powerful new novel about the wrenching disappearance of three little girls and the wide-reaching effect it has on their small town.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
“Last Night I Dreamt I went to Manderley Again…” With these words, the reader is ushered into an isolated gray stone mansion on the windswept Cornish coast, as the second Mrs. Maxim de Winter recalls the chilling events that transpired as she began her new life as the young bride of a husband she barely knew.
The Shining by Stephen King
Jack Torrance’s new job at the Overlook Hotel is the perfect chance for a fresh start. As the off-season caretaker at the atmospheric old hotel, he’ll have plenty of time to spend reconnecting with his family and working on his writing. But as the harsh winter weather sets in, the idyllic location feels ever more remote . . . and more sinister. And the only one to notice the strange and terrible forces gathering around the Overlook is Danny Torrance, a uniquely gifted five-year-old.
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
The terrible spectacle of the beast, the fog of the moor, the discovery of a body, this classic horror story pits detective against dog. When Sir Charles Baskerville is found dead on the wild Devon moorland with the footprints of a giant hound nearby, the blame is placed on a family curse. It is left to Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson to solve the mystery of the legend of the phantom hound before Sir Charles’ heir comes to an equally gruesome end.
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
A finalist for the Kirkus Prize, Andrew Carnegie Medal, Aspen Words Literary Prize, and a New York Times bestseller, this majestic, stirring, and widely praised novel from two-time National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward, the story of a family on a journey through rural Mississippi, is a “tour de force” (O, The Oprah Magazine) and a timeless work of fiction that is destined to become a classic.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a haunting; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers–and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perrey
A historical novel, set in late nineteenth-century England, about an intellectually minded young widow, a pious vicar, and a rumored mythical serpent that explores questions about science and religion, skepticism, and faith, independence, and love.
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Northanger Abbey tells the story of Catherine Morland, a naive young woman whose perceptions of the world around her are greatly influenced by the romantic gothic novels to which she is addicted. When she moves to Bath she sees mystery and intrigue all around her, not least of all in Northanger Abbey itself, the home of General Tilney and his handsome son Henry, where Catherine suspects a sinister crime has occurred.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
A novel of intense power and intrigue, Jane Eyre has dazzled generations of readers with its depiction of a woman’s quest for freedom. Having grown up an orphan in the home of her cruel aunt and at a harsh charity school, Jane Eyre becomes an independent and spirited survivor-qualities that serve her well as governess at Thornfield Hall. But when she finds love with her sardonic employer, Rochester, the discovery of his terrible secret forces her to make a choice. Should she stay with him whatever the consequences or follow her convictions, even if it means leaving her beloved?
Melmoth by Sarah Perry
It has been years since Helen Franklin left England. In Prague, working as a translator, she has found a home of sorts–or, at least, refuge. That changes when her friend Karel discovers a mysterious letter in the library, a strange confession and a curious warning that speaks of Melmoth the Witness, a dark legend found in obscure fairy tales and antique village lore. As such superstition has it, Melmoth travels through the ages, dooming those she persuades to join her to a damnation of timeless, itinerant solitude. To Helen it all seems the stuff of unenlightened fantasy. But, unaware, as she wanders the cobblestone streets Helen is being watched. And then Karel disappears. . . .
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality their lives are changed profoundly and forever, and they discover how hard it can be to truly live and how easy it is to kill.
Selected Works of Edgar Allan Poe
From the mysterious to the macabre, the works of Edgar Allan Poe have the power to evoke readers’ deepest emotions. Poe’s stories and poems explore the darker side of life and still offer lessons and insight into human behavior today. This handsome Word Cloud edition presents many of Poe’s best-known works, including “The Raven,” “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher,” along with dozens of other short stories and poems.
Are you a fan of gothic literature?
Have you read any books from this list? Are any of these books on your TBR? What are your favorite books of gothic literature? What gothic books would you add to this list?