The Gothic genre is making a big comeback of late with numerous film and TV series taking inspiration from and adapting literature to meet its fanbase. But where did it all begin? Here at Impact we argue why these books are timeless. After all, there’s a reason they’re called ‘classics’…
Charlotte Dacre’s Zofloya
Charlotte Dacre’s Zofloya is a hidden gem, or rather bloodbath, of gothic literature. This may be because eighteenth century critics found a novel radically representing female sexual desire too subversive, making Dacre’s gothic novels far less known than contemporaries Matthew Lewis and Ann Radcliffe. Based on Lewis’ The Monk, Dacre applies the satanic descent to a woman: Victoria di Loredani. This wealthy, headstrong character begins the novel as a typical heroine, yet her sexual desire leads to a descent into increasingly bloodthirsty actions.
What’s refreshing about this disturbing novel is how Dacre subverts Gothic stereotypes. The novel is called Zofloya, after the servant who provides Victoria with the supernatural powers to enact her deepest, darkest desires. Yet the plot features many characters and subverts several gothic stock characters: the idealised innocent woman, libertine lovers, seducers and those seduced. Replete with witchcraft, seduction and bloodthirsty vengeance, there is a danger of bathos, but Dacre avoids this to explore a subtext of dichotomies: nature and nurture, gender, race and class. The dark content of this novel makes it ideal for mysterious Halloween evenings, with a violent plot that radically critiques the society presented in other gothic texts.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
There isn’t much that hasn’t been said about this novel. Therefore, any intricate readings I can offer would be wasted on these 200 words. So, I want to talk about why Frankenstein, to me, is the best gothic text purely from a technical standpoint.
Frankenstein is one of the few gothic books that seem to understand that it is telling a story and does so in an interesting and enjoyable way. Shelly uses three different perspectives to cleverly unveil the character of Frankenstein over a couple hundred pages as succinctly and continuously stimulating as possible. The reason this book is worth reading more than any other Gothic is that this one is quick, and every interesting aspect of the novel is available on the surface as the story doesn’t stray from the core relationship between Frankenstein and his creation. Which is a fascinating look at the old nature vs nurture argument on personality.
Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights
The first themes that come to mind when I think about this novel are those present in both the supernatural and Gothic genre. They play an important part in the novel’s structure, whether it is to do with the setting where Wuthering Heights is located, (described as an “atmospheric tumult” by Lockwood, on the first page); the inside descriptions of the house; or of course the life and death of the characters.
First, we have the gothic setting of the house. The description of the room where Lockwood stays in, for example, is described in conventional Gothic terms of the 19th century with “a few mildewed books… covered with writing scratched on the pain”. The theme of life and death, meanwhile, is presented when Lockwood encounters Catherine Earnshaw’s uninvited ghost grabbing his hand through the jagged opening of a glass window, where she exclaims she “wants to come in” (p. 27). Heathcliff also tells Cathy (as recounted by the words of Nelly Dean) that he wishes to be haunted by her ghost, and claims that “nothing that God or Satan could inflict would part us” (Ch. 15), “be with me always- take any form- drive me mad!… I cannot live without my soul!” (Ch 16). Heathcliff himself is also presented supernaturally, teased by others for being an illegitimate orphan unwelcomed into the Earnshaw family. He is even described as an “imp of Satan”.
Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell
If you’re looking for something gothic, what could be more horrifying than a graphic novel detailing the gruesome acts of the infamous ‘Jack the Ripper’. A graphic novel which depicts not only gruesome acts of violence, but also includes terrifying dialogue, and does not shy away from portraying every tiny detail about some truly graphic murders.
If for some reason, this description fits just what you’re looking for, firstly: go make sure you’re not a psychopath, and secondly, go check out Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell.
Quick word of warning, this is a big text – the graphic novel itself could easily be used as a murder weapon, and if (like me) you happen to drop it (e.g. knocking it off your bed due to your inability to pay attention – definitely not based on personal experience), the resonating sound of it thumping against the floor is enough to give you a fright.
But if you’re able to move past it’s daunting size, this is definitely a gothic adventure which is sure to horrify you. Some scenes are so grotesque, so horribly detailed, you may even find yourself needing to shut the book and escape for a moment just to get away from it all.
It’s a text that provides everything you want in all things gothic: violence, sex, grotesque imagery, the supernatural, and, my personal favourite, a character who agrees that William Blake was insane.
A graphic novel which tells the story of Jack the Ripper in an entirely fictional, yet intriguing sense, this is not a text to ignore. If you’re after something frightening, something truly horrible, look no further than From Hell.
Matthew Lewis’ The Monk
I fell down the rabbit hole a bit with this novel. It was something I picked up on a whim and then proceeded to devour with strange fascination. So, how can I sell this novel to you? As far as the gothic form goes it’s one of the earliest – published in 1796. Lewis became an overnight celebrity and even went on to tour the Continent, staying with the Shelley’s and Lord Byron on the way. Strange, right? Anyway, the novel itself was rather reminiscent of one of Shakespeare’s comedies when I first started reading. Some might disagree with me, but the stories within the text and the sub-plots that persisted had a play like quality that at times seemed more bizarre and comedic than serious and daunting.
Not to say that the entirety of the novel adheres to this. It is riddled with ghost stories, lust and satanic rituals as we follow the Abbott Ambrose on his steady descent into damnation. There is a lot of biblical and satanic imagery in this text which perhaps explains why it was heavily censored at the time of its publication. In conclusion, if you’re looking for something strange and a little off the beaten track then I recommend you pick up this lost literary treasure and give it a go. You’ve been warned…
Did we miss anything? Comment below your favourite Gothic novel!
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