So, apparently Hot Girl Summer has been replaced by Gothic Girl Fall, and I am so here for it. Mostly because I am really not a summer person, but also because Gothic literature is definitely my cup of tea (it also goes great with a cup of tea, if you were curious). Gothic literature is an offshoot of the Romantic movement (Romantic with a capital R) and is defined by an atmosphere of mystery and terror, with a little bit of romance. It’s pretty much Gothic architecture in literature form – creepy, but beautiful. So, perfect to read in the fall. On a rainy day with a cozy blanket, a candle, and a cup of tea. And if you want to be really authentic, the ghost of a dead lover outside your window (or in the attic, that works, too).
True Gothic literature is mostly from the 18th and early 19th centuries, but there are plenty of more contemporary novels that emulate the genre pretty impressively. Today, I’ve included some of both in this list.
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. This is possibly my favorite on this list. Not just because it’s my one of my favorite Austen novels, but because this is basically a satire of the whole Gothic genre. The protagonist, Catherine Morland, reads Anne Radcliffe’s quintessential Gothic novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho and goes to stay in an old abbey. And, being a nineteen-year-old romantic, she kind of lets her imagination run wild. This leans more towards the Romantic side of Gothic Romance, but it definitely still fits.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. If I had to pick one quintessential Gothic novel, it would be Wuthering Heights. This has everything: angsty romance, death, ghosts, nature, passion. It doesn’t get more Gothic Lit than this. Just a quick note that while this book definitely has romance, don’t go into it thinking the romance portrayed is in any way healthy. Personally, I liked this novel because I think it’s meant to show how toxic relationships can be (it’s a theme with all of the Brontë sisters), but I can definitely see why some readers don’t love it.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. If Wuthering Heights is not your cup of tea – which I completely understand – check out Jane Eyre. It’s dark and broody and set in the countryside. And there definitely is a relationship that’s only slightly less toxic than Cathy and Heathcliff. Just don’t judge me too hard if I have a love/hate thing with Mr. Rochester.
Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Frankenstein is a bit of a departure from traditional Gothic literature, in that the terror element is more existential than literal. But it’s still there, and it still counts. I mean, there is a reason Frankenstein’s monster is so frequently lumped together with Dracula. I love Frankenstein and I love Mary Shelly (she was seriously a badass). And there’s no better way to read classic horror than from the mother of science fiction herself.
The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe. Full disclosure, Poe isn’t exactly considered a Gothic author. In fact, his writing marks a departure from traditional Gothic literature. But he’s still one of the authors that come to mind when I think of Gothic lit.
The Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. This novel was actually inspired by the city of Edinburgh, and I can totally see why. (Fun story: this was assigned summer reading my senior year of high school and I ended up reading it on the plane to London and Edinburgh for a school trip.) It’s the quintessential Gothic novel about the human struggle between good and evil, with a healthy dose of mystery and terror.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. In my experience, the idea that darkness lies under decadence is an underlying theme in Gothic literature, and Dorian Gray is the perfect example. It is creepy and fascinating at the same time. Definitely one I’d like to reread soon. If you haven’t read Oscar Wilde yet, this should be on your reading list.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. If there is a modern novel that perfectly emulates Gothic romance, it’s Rebecca. I actually reread this last year, and loved it. It’s so dark and moody and just amazing. When the unnamed protagonist marries Mr. de Winter, she starts to learn more about the previous Mrs. de Winter. The ghost in this book might be metaphorical, but it is no less creepy.
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. I am not kidding when I say this is the scariest book I’ve ever read. And that includes Stephen King. This book not only kept me up several nights, it terrified me so much that I was too scared to walk down the hall in the dark to go to the bathroom. It will forever be the book I compare all vampire fiction to, and none of them have even come close. (To be fair, I have not yet read Dracula, which would probably be on this list as well.) If you want an atmosphere of pure terror, this is your book. It’s slow and creepy, and will probably steal your soul.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Probably my most unconventional pick for a Gothic literature recommendation, but I think it fits. To me, Gothic literature means mystery, with a little romance, and a highly developed atmosphere that is both terrifying and beautiful. Which is exactly Le Cirque des Rêves. Everything from the smells to the monochromatic color palette of everything in this book is just perfectly creepy. So if you want something with a Gothic feel that won’t scare you out of sleeping for a week, you should definitely try this one.
I am even more excited for fall reading after putting this post together! I’m definitely looking forward to some dark and mysterious reads (including Erin Morgenstern’s sophomore novel, The Starless Sea.
What’s your favorite Gothic novel?