Monday, 8 July 2019

Classic Gothic

A little reading list on the evolution of Gothic fiction. There's a good article on The Origins of the Gothic Novel here:

Gothic fiction began as a sophisticated joke. Horace Walpole first applied the word ‘Gothic’ to a novel in the subtitle – ‘A Gothic Story’ – of The Castle of Otranto, published in 1764. When he used the word it meant something like ‘barbarous’, as well as ‘deriving from the Middle Ages’. Walpole pretended that the story itself was an antique relic, providing a preface in which a translator claims to have discovered the tale, published in Italian in 1529, ‘in the library of an ancient catholic family in the north of England’. The story itself, ‘founded on truth’, was written three or four centuries earlier still (Preface). Some readers were duly deceived by this fiction and aggrieved when it was revealed to be a modern ‘fake’.

The Romance of the Forest by Ann Radcliffe
Publication date: 1791

An early Gothic novel which inspired Austen's Northanger Abbey. It is a spooky tail of a young woman in a desolate forest in a remote region. An atmospheric story of romance and tragedy. 

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Publication date: 1823

A story exploring emotional abuse and revenge, posing the question: do the actions of others justify our actions against them. In a time when physical ugliness was said to be an outward sign of the ugliness of the spirit, here a beautiful soul is gradually deformed to match the character's outward appearance.  

The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe
Publication date: 1842

This is an extremely short story, but one that made a lasting impression on writers to come. A dark and mysterious dinner party with a sinister guest.


The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
Publication date: 1910

A novel not dissimilar to Frankenstein in that the villain's personality is apparently moulded by public reaction to his deformity, so he dresses as the Red Death from Poe's work above. I read this in 2008, before I started this blog, so no review. But I did write a prequel.

I was prompted to write this list because, whilst reading Frankenstein, I began to wonder about the timeline. I'm always surprised Poe's work is so old, and Leroux's work not as old as it feels. The genre does span a significant time frame. What are your favourite Gothic novels?

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