My Love Affair with Gothic Romance

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 [1940]
2. Rosemary’s Baby [1968]
3. The Hound Of The Baskervilles  [1959] (with Peter Cushing)
4. The Others  [2001]
5.The Innocents [1961] 

Gothic Romance
Blazer || Top || Jeans || Booties || Bag || Earrings || Nail polish

Did you already love Gothic literature yourself? If so, what’s your favourite? If not, have I inspired you to give it another go?

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  • Deeksha

    I absolutely love Wuthering Heights. In fact, it was the first big book that I ever read and that got me hooked to reading. I’ll probably take a look other books in your list.

  • Amanda, I think you were actually born to be English 🙂 I loooove gothic styles of dress and films but I haven’t done much reading of books like these so I definitely will be looking into your suggestions.

  • I keep meaning to read Wuthering Heights but I have just never got around to it. xx

    • I love it, but I know not everyone does 😉 In fact, I read a blog post lately with someone being disappointed by it, but that’s okay – to each his own, right? xx

  • Yes, on so so many levels. I love this post (American Eagle bahaha), but also I love everything you say. You hit it dead on with this: “A world layered in decadence, suppressed desire and passion; where the lines between good and evil are dangerously blurred…. The grand romantic gestures and love affairs of the novels need the darkness and the horror to burn twice as brightly.” Absolutely adore Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. Rebecca was amazing, and love everything that you’ve read. I’m slightly ashamed but I’m still going to share that recently I’ve been reading a lot of Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, and Madeleine Brent. Not brilliant gothic, but definitely satisfies my “gothic tooth” a bit. Grand, sweeping, romantic gestures… that’s what we need more of hahaha xx

    • Mistress of Mellyn is excellent so I think Holt definitely can satisfy that craving! I’ve never read Stewart’s Merlin Chronicles though – would you recommend them? xx

      • Actually, I’ve never read those either. But Nine Coaches Waiting is one of my all-time favorites. x

  • My siblings and I used to play a game when we were kids where we were three orphans who lived in a cave and we would have to sneak into the town and try to get food without being noticed otherwise we would be taken into care. I think we would have been great friends as kids 😀

    I LOVE Rebecca (the book – never seen the film), but I hate Wuthering Heights. It took me 3 tries to read, then I gave it to a charity shop so I would never have to look at it again (and now my grandma gave it to Jan for his birthday – I can’t escape it!)

    • Haha, that sounds like the best game ever! Did the series of books called “The Boxcar Children” make it over to England for reading when you were little – little Bev would have loved them, I think! xx

  • I cannot tell you how much I love this post! I, too, was that strange kid wandering around muttering to herself and/or hiding somewhere reading. 🙂 I did my master’s thesis on post-WWII Gothic Literature, and I got to totally geek out on spooky stuff for over a year. Have you read Elizabeth Bowen’s short story “Demon Lover” or Sarah Waters’ novel “The Little Stranger”?

    • That’s amazing! I haven’t read “Little Stranger” but I have read Waters’ “Fingersmith” and “The Paying Guests” Would you say it’s better than those two? xx

      • I love Waters’ other stuff, but “The Little Stranger” is totally and completely different than everything else she’s written. It’s completely spooky and atmospheric and is written very much in the vein of Henry James’ “Turn of the Screw.” Think less romance and more suspense! 🙂

        • Interesting! I’ll have to give it a read then. I enjoyed reading “Fingersmith” but I hated “Paying Guests” x

  • Ahhh the old days as en English undergrad reading Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights!! Still love these books 🙂

  • I too spent half of my childhood reading anything I could get my hands on!:)

  • Ashleigh

    I’ve been dying to visit highgate cemetary! I’ve heard it’s gorgeous. xx

    Ashleigh |

    • It’s so so lovely! one side you can do self-guided tours and wander through – the other side you have to pre-book onto a tour to explore (for safety reasons). That’s what I recommend doing because it’s where all the interesting Victorian graves are! x

  • Em

    I’ve never quite been able to get to grips with gothic lit. As a child i read lots of horror books, lots of whitby based novels – i loved the vampire/witch theme they inspired – but I could never get in to the classic gothic novel. 3 years of studying 19th century lit at Uni didn’t help either. Maybe it’s time to go back and try again? x

    • Haha, maybe, but if 3 years of study didn’t ignite a love, I’m sure few things would! 😉 x

  • I loved Jane Eyre, and all Edgar Allen Poe. At the school I taught, part of the 7th grade English curriculum was to teach a unit on short stories, including “Tell-Tale Heart”, and it typically fell around the 2nd half of October, so I included that story, The Monkey’s Paw, and The Most Dangerous game and did a Horror short story unit. They loved it!

    • I love that you teach a horror short story unit! That’s fabulous, plus I imagine that the kids actually love it! x

  • I love the Bronte sisters! Henry James is one of my favorites too. I was a strange child as well, who wanted to read and go to museums while my classmates went roller skating!

    Stamp, Please! Lifestyle and Travel

  • that sounds like me as a child! I also love re-reading things as an adult. I recently went back to Wuthering Heights and sooo much more there my 18 year old brain couldn’t absorb. that book is so beautifully twisted. I’d love to visit England and do a literary/ historical tour some day.

  • Heathcliff pisses me off. There, I said it. I have a half written blog post about it somewhere.

  • Loved this! I came across Poe very early on in life when a family friend gifted me an anthology of short stories that were most certainly NOT appropriate for my age… but they’ve definitely stayed with me and I adored studying Gothic literature at school and uni. So happy you included the Shadow of the Wind – it’s one of my all time favourite books! x

  • You are such a nerd.

    We would have had so much fun together growing up! My favorite games with my dolls were definitely having them all be in an orphanage or a boarding school. Because clearly the best make believe situations involve no adults.

    My freshman English class was actually on gothic literature. At Furman, all freshmen had to take a writing/reading, even if we had AP credit. (That counted towards the other English GER). Each English professor designed their own curriculum, so we had tons of literature options. I really enjoyed mine. I wrote a paper on The Haunting of Hill House, comparing the book to the 1999 film The Haunting. My final paper analyzed “The Yellow Wallpaper” within the historical context of the rest cure and limited understanding of postpartum depression.

    • No adults made for the best storyline. That’s why the Boxcar children were always so much more awesome than the Babysitter’s Club.

      Speaking of Furman, I just realised that I think I know someone who would have been in your graduation class, potentially. Emory University took AP English credit and luckily I had taken the test for English literature and English language so I got to start off English by taking specific classes (which sounds like what you had anyways) as opposed to a general English 101. I did my last paper that term on the noticeable lack of women in Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” and the whopping 3 instances when there is feminisation in the text.

      • I graduated in 2009. While I can’t claim to have known everyone at Furman, it is a fairly small school.

        I’d forgotten you went to Emory. I’ve met quite a few Kappa alums since moving to Georgia from Emory! Not that I can tell you any of their names…

        So Furman had its own special numbering system my first 3 years, which is also when we had trimesters and not semesters. English 11 was required of all freshmen; that was my gothic literature course. English 12 was essentially English 101. My most helpful AP credit was for BC Calculus, which meant I didn’t have to take ANY math in college. 😀 😀 😀

        Then I became that weird person who actually missed math after a few years. I’m always challenging my mental math abilities, just to stay sharp.

        • I definitely know a few Kappas! I wasn’t the most involved in the PanHellenic scene, but it was a Kappa that convinced me to Rush my Freshman year in the first place! x

  • haha I think you and I would have been friends as children – I wasn’t into tv or video games or sports – I enjoyed making up stories or reading books. I haven’t read much gothic in all honesty – it’s not as much in French or Spanish literature, but I’m slowly getting more interested in it! I just finished the Shadow of the Wind while were in Italy and it was amazing! And I must read Rebecca now!x

    • Haha, maybe that’s why we like reading each other’s blogs now. I’d have to say that my second favourite genre is probably magical realism – 100 Years of Solitude is probably one of my top 5 favourite ever books! xx

      • Yes 100% agree – it’s one of my favourite genres actually! I’m slowly starting to read more Spanish novels and that’s the next one on my list – I have a copy, I just need to start reading it now 🙂

        • The first time I read it, I did find myself flipping to the genealogy chart at the front of the book quite a lot- trying to keep all the family members straight! x

  • Miu

    I have even read 4 of your suggested books and I had no idea they were gothic 😉

  • Thanks Lauren! x