by Bram Stoker (1897)
Gothic fiction has a long history and was created by a man called Horace. Horatio Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford, to give him his full title, wrote The Castle of Otranto in 1764 and launched a genre that has chilled and thrilled many readers, and padded the wallets of countless authors.
Gothic fiction is also labeled as gothic horror but it can be called gothic romance too as love, passion and lust are essential elements – think of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera or The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Dracula, the title character from the 1897 novel, is the ultimate gothic villain.
This genre appears to have partly grown out of Gothic architecture characterized by dramatic and rather ominous designs. The main location, usually a building, is a vital element to gothic fiction – you will encounter decaying hotels, crumbling apartment blocks and manor houses that have seen better days, but foreboding castles are hard to beat for ratcheting up the fear factor. The Castle of Otranto has a tyrant (Manfred), a girl in need of saving (Isabella) and a clean-cut hero (Theodore). The name Otranto even sounds gothic. The castle provides the dark and threatening back-drop to a series of complex events that begins with a massive helmet dropping out of the sky and crushing a young bridegroom just before his wedding. Being crushed by a huge piece of headwear remains one of the literature’s most original and unexpected deaths.
Gothic horror sees characters fall in love very quickly and virginal maidens need rescuing at regular intervals. The fear felt by characters can be psychological or physical. Madness is a reoccurring theme along with decay and the supernatural is just a coffin away. You don’t need to see whatever is terrible to know it is terrifying. There are monsters and men of God, who are usually very ungodly.
Horace, who built a gothic mansion in London’s Strawberry Hill, would probably turn in his tomb if he discovered gothic fiction was still being churned out today. Shadowmancer by G. P. Taylor and The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon are two hyper-modern examples of gothic writing.
The Gormenghast series by Mervyn Peake and Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin are another two prime examples from the second half of the 20th century.
When virgins are not being chased around castle ramparts, they are stumbling over fallen masonry in abandoned abbeys or tripping over gnarled roots in overgrown forests… at night. One thing is certain when opening a gothic horror novel: you are going to see drama and feel a few tingles down the spine.
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The novel that started the genre – all sorts of shenanigans in a castle.
Originally written in French. Vathek makes a pact with the Devil and that means trouble.
Orphaned heroine Emily is imprisoned in her evil guardian’s gloomy fortress.
Set in a sinister monastery, you meet the maddest, baddest monk.
Robert Colwan, a clergyman’s son, thinks he is untouchable.
This short story is so scary and house-hunters should avoid homes like this one.
Nautical gothic fiction - Phillip Vanderdecken and his quest to release his father.
A gothic mystery brimming with psychological terror.
Another one you all know – a crumbling castle in Transylvania and that vampire.
Manderley is the haunting location for this novel of psychological drama.
Tom Wallace discovers his psychic abilities and find mind reading is not pleasant.
There’s a young woman, a scholar and an aristocrat in a haunted house. It’s no joke.
A woman starts a new life in London but tragedy follows.
A hotel in the off-season, evil forces and a boy with psychic powers. Classic King.
Another influential novel where the horror is all about location, location, location.
The Bellefleurs live in an enormous mansion on the shores of mythical Lake Noir.
Something is murdering Nazi troops stationed in a remote castle in the Transylvanian alps.
A young solicitor has some hair-raising experiences in Eel Marsh House.
A young bride describes her marriage and nightmares in the Rimbauer mansion.
A fanatical killer, a mansion in Georgia and hospital too.
A gothic suspense story with a book inside the book.