In honour of Halloween tomorrow, I thought I’d nerd out a bit and discuss my one true love: gothic fiction. It’s fair to say that I was a precocious little kid, but not in the charming “my child will probably be the one to cure cancer / bring about world peace ” kind of way. More in the “my child could read at the age for 3 but she’s probably going to be a spinster surrounded by animals and cakes” sort of way. I can vividly remember the best Easter present the Easter bunny ever left for me: Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Stories”. I was 5 and the book was bigger than I was. That afternoon I had a massive strop about not wanting to eat my green beans for dinner and my punishment was having my new book taken away for the next few days. I was devastated.
A photo from a tour of Highgate Cemetery in Fall 2013
I was never a kid that liked to sit in front of the tv and veg out on cartoons all morning. Nor was I one that liked to run around playing ballgames outside. You could either find me reading, or wandering around the backyard in a world of my own. Most of my imaginary games outside seemed to involve me being an orphan or runaway, occasionally a dethroned princess. (Because tragedy is way more romantic, right?) More than 90% of them seemed to involve moors and rain. A herculean effort when you’re a kid in the New Mexico dessert surrounded by cactus, juniper and tumbleweeds. My imaginary world would have complicated storylines that would take days to complete. Sometimes, if I was in a particularly good mood with my younger brother I’d draft him in as the orphaned child I had to take care of. I’m sure he loved that.
I’ve always been a massive fan of horror and was exposed to scary films at an age many would consider too young. I was never scared. I lapped it up. (Thanks, Dad.) But it was reading “Dracula” after watching countless bad adaptations that my little world was rocked. I basically put my life on hold for two days to finish it. I didn’t really stop to eat or speak to anyone. When I finished it, I cried because it was over and I could never read it for the first time again. My tween and teen years were filled with the regular Spice Girl obsessions, but my initial love of all things Gothic never left me. Why would you crush on Freddie Prinze Jr when you had Jonathan Harker or Heathcliff or Mr Rochester to pick from? What makes romance better than by adding an equal dash of scary? Nothing.
I’ve always felt like a kindred sole to Austen’s Catherine Morland from “Northanger Abbey”. High school was marked with the usual “Pirates of the Carribbean” opening night viewings, swim team practice, opening-night school theatre production activities, but underneath all the bad American Eagle attire I was still the girl who longed to wear gowns and riding habits. And yet my private love for Gothic literature remained. In the midst of SAT prep I spent an unwise amount of time trying to track down a copy of Le Fanu’s “Carmilla”.
I love the ambience, the mystery, the atmosphere: old dilapidated homes, ancient family estates, overgrown gardens, lightning struck forests and rainswept moors. The pairing of love and horror, attraction and revulsion. A world layered in decadence, suppressed desire and passion; where the lines between good and evil are dangerously blurred. When thinking about the appeal of gothic literature, I had the quote “only in darkness do we appreciate light” ringing in my head. The grand romantic gestures and love affairs of the novels need the darkness and the horror to burn twice as brightly.
This love, at the core, was what motivated me to study abroad in England during university. During my MA degree, it’s what made me chose Daphne DuMaurier ‘s unnamed narrator from “Rebecca” as the character that I had to choreograph and dance a solo-dance to. Fastforward to today, and I live in England and have a Yorkshireman (coincidence only, I would have fallen for Sam no matter where he was from) to call my own – my childhood fantasies fulfilled in some very small and satisfying ways.
My Top 5 Gothic Reads:
1. Draculaby Bram Stoker
2. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
3. The Monk; a romance by Matthew Lewis
4. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
5. The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allen Poe and The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (since they are both novellas I thought there could be a tie.)
My Top 5 Modern Gothic Reads:
1. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
2. Interview With The Vampire by Anne Rice
3. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
4. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
5. The Shadow Of The Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron
My Top 5 Gothic Films (Modern or Classic):
1. Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca 
2. Rosemary’s Baby 
3. The Hound Of The Baskervilles  (with Peter Cushing)
4. The Others 
5.The Innocents 
Did you already love Gothic literature yourself? If so, what’s your favourite? If not, have I inspired you to give it another go?