The Best Gothic Literature You Should Read This Spooky Season
This article was written by The Zillennial Zine’s fall editorial intern Celeste MacMurray. Find her on Instagram at @clsmsanchezx. If you would like to share an article with The Zillennial, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s officially the start of October: the beginning of one of the most festively spooky times of the year. There are many ways to get into the Halloween spirit—pumpkin flavored treats, horror movies, pumpkin patches and carving and so many others. I personally love to binge watch as many horror movies as possible to get into the spooky spirit, but I often forget there are other ways as well. Literature can be perfect for the Halloween season, particularly the Gothic genre, because nothing sounds like fall more than being cozy with a book and some coffee or tea.
The Gothic literature genre, something I have discussed before in an article exploring the Southern Gothic, could be considered the predecessor of the horror film. The literature genre heavily relies on feelings of suspense, fear and anxiety, and the horrors are often paranormal just as often as they are psychological. In fact, the horrors don’t necessarily have to be supernatural, because they could just as easily be human nature. The Gothic is meant to explore the dark side of humans and our surroundings, hoping to instill in us an unsettled feeling and dread as we read.
Before film became a thing, novels were a classic form of entertainment dating back centuries as they were a way to share stories with the world. Gothic literature was a step in the road that eventually led to the creation of horror movies because many of the techniques and motifs within horror films can be traced back to Gothic novels. The earliest horror film to be released was in 1896 in France, with the release of Le Manoir Du Diable, often translated to The Haunted Castle or The House of the Devil. Then, later in the 1920s and 1930s, cinema experienced a surge of horror films recreating literature classics, such as Nosferatu (an adaptation of Dracula), Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, for example. If you’d like to learn more about the history of horror films, here is an amazing source that discusses it.
That being said, if you’d like some book recommendations for some of the best Gothic literature you should read this October, this is the perfect place for you. Take it from me, an English major, when I say that many of these books are Gothic classics for a reason.
While you might think that Dracula is one of the first vampiric novels to be released because of how popular it is, you’d be mistaken. The first vampiric story can be traced back to 1819 based on a short story called “The Vampyre” by John Polidori. Then, later in 1872, Carmilla was published—25 years before Dracula. Carmilla is a vampiric novel that unsettles you as the main character, Laura, becomes more and more sickly as the novel progresses after befriending Carmilla. Carmilla is a mysterious figure, as no one really knows anything about her or her past, and Laura frequently has night terrors with her in them that no one can explain. Not only does the novel feature a female vampire as the antagonist, but there is a heavily sapphic undertone to the friendship between Laura and Carmilla.
While you might think that Dracula is one of the first vampiric novels to be released because of how popular it is, you’d be mistaken. The first vampiric story can be traced back to 1819 based on a short story called “The Vampyre” by John Polidori. Then, later in 1872, Carmilla was published—25 years before Dracula. Carmilla is a vampiric novel that unsettles you as the main character, Laura, becomes more and more sickly as the novel progresses after befriending Carmilla. Carmilla is a mysterious figure, as no one really knows anything about her or her past, and Laura frequently has night terrors with her in them that no one can explain. Not only does the novel feature a female vampire as the antagonist but there is a heavily sapphic undertone to the friendship between Laura and Carmilla.
This novel is a timeless favorite I will never tire of. You may think you know the figure of Frankenstein based on modern adaptations you’ve seen, but after reading this novel you’ll realize you don’t. Published in 1818 and written by Mary Shelley at only the age of 19, she is also often credited as being the pioneer for the science fiction genre. This is due to Victor Frankenstein’s maddening pursuits to create life in the name of science that makes this novel science fiction in tandem to its status as a Gothic novel.
You will come to find out that Frankenstein isn’t the name of the monster at all, but rather the name of the man who created him. The Creature, as he is often called, was never actually given a name and isn’t at all how he’s portrayed in the media. He is articulate and well-read, and the novel details both his and Victor’s side of the story as the two clash with one another. This novel has a way of making you question who truly is the monster of the novel and what makes one.
Written by one of the famous Brontë sisters, Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights is a Gothic novel through and through. With its portrait of complicated human relationships, the cycle of violence, forbidden romance and the supernatural, there is not a dull moment throughout the novel. The story puts you on edge with its compelling characters and the appearances of ghosts—both physical apparitions and ghosts of the past. Mr. Lockwood, a guest in Thrushcross Grange, unravels the mystery behind the two, neighboring families of Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights: the Linton’s and the Earnshaw’s. Not to mention how the novel inspired Kate Bush’s iconic song by the same title.
If there is an author whose works completely encompass the Gothic genre, it would be none other than Edgar Allan Poe. His poems and short stories all explore horror in such a way that it manages to possess you and paralyze you with the fear and anxiety his characters experience. There is an overwhelming sense of foreboding in every short story of his that you read, as you can’t help but feel that something is wrong and tragedy is soon to come. His poetry also has a mystifying quality to it that entrances you.
What do you think is the best Gothic literature? Let us know and tell us about your favorites!