Gothic texts make for interesting reads, whether it is traditional Gothic, neo-Gothic or anything in between. Here is a list of Gothic texts that every literature geek should read.
Firstly, a quick definition of the Gothic genre. Unfortunately, Gothic doesn’t really have a single definition. Put simply, the Gothic is about transgression, but what does that mean? The main element of a Gothic text is that it transcends social boundaries. It combines horror with romanticism to create an aesthetically pleasing sort of terror that combines nature and the unnatural in a sometimes fantastical way, such as monsters like vampires, and in other instances it is grounded in reality through realistic settings or characters.
Macbeth – Technically, Shakespeare’s Macbeth predates the Gothic movement which is thought to have started in the mid to late 17th century, as Macbeth was written and performed in 1606. That being said, there is an astounding amount of elements associated with the Gothic genre that are interwoven in the narrative and symbolism. The witches of Macbeth provide a creature that only vaguely resembles the human form and is laced with demonic evil. This coupled with the personal plight of Macbeth and his “vaulting ambition” that spurs his inhumane actions, not to mention his wife who fuels his black desires make for a truly harrowing story. Regardless of the genre, everyone should read Macbeth.
Frankenstein – Arguably, Frankenstein marked the birth of the Gothic and is also seen as the first true science-fiction novel. (The initial first Gothic novel is The Castle of Otranto, but Frankenstein triggered a whole line of Gothic fiction, more so than the former). Mary Shelley completely revolutionised fiction in this way, such a dark story had not been seen before and it set the tone for the entire Gothic era in history. Although nowadays, Frankenstein is seen as a cheap backyard effect monster compared to the modern space age craze, the gruesome tale of Doctor Igor Frankenstein stitching body parts together is still the hallmark for all Gothic horror.
Dracula – Bram Stoker’s Dracula is timeless. Although Stoker did not invent the vampire as he was going off various myths and legends from across the world that predated his birth, he did define its modern form and characteristics. This novel depicts traditional vampires in all their glory, bringing together all the tales and folklore into one amazing package. Though the vampire has changed over the years, it is impossible to stray too far from the absolute basics, like the need to drink human blood which is completely horrific. On the other hand, the way it is written provokes a kind of perverse pleasure in the reader that is completely unparalleled.
Skellig – This one is children’s book and is slightly different to the preceding novels as it has been classified as Gothic by yours truly, so you could potentially disagree with me on this one. This was most likely the first Gothic novel I ever read and it made a lasting impression on me. The reason I call it Gothic, is because of the dark themes that lie under the narrative. It’s the darkest book I read as a child because it challenged my beliefs of the world that I had been exposed to through other children’s books. David Almond’s Skelling is a quintessential book to carry you through into “the real world” as it challenges naïveté but not so much to be scary to a child.
The Bloody Chamber – Angela Carter is a huge influence upon the sub-genre of the feminist Gothic. This is a particularly interesting sub-genre as while the original Gothic plays on conventions in order to transgress and rework the norm, the feminist Gothic does the same thing again but with a feminist spin. The Bloody Chamber contains several short stories written in this fashion that reworks fairytales in keeping with the feminist Gothic, with empowering women. However, Carter also simplifies some fairytales to their sexist cores and exposes their true meaning.
That concludes my top five Gothic novels, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Wolf Gift and Wuthering Heights were omitted due to word count.
I hope you have enjoyed this list, let me know if you read them or if you think I missed something in the comments below or on my Facebook page!