A dark and stormy night. A mysterious castle, rife with hidden passageways. A wicked usurper. A strange prophecy. A beautiful heiress, innocent prey to his dark desires. Frightening apparitions! Family secrets! Madness! A really big helmet! And the faithful love who will overcome all obstacles to save her....
In a nutshell, this is Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto, the very first Gothic romance. It was published in 1764, the same year that Ann Radcliffe-- another famous Gothic writer-- was born. Today, we might find his work a bit absurd and overwrought, but Walpole deserves credit for trying something completely new.
Highly atmospheric-- part romantic suspense, part supernatural horror-- Gothic romances are all about emotion (the "sensibility" half of Sense and Sensibility). Walpole created characters that abandoned their famous British reserve and openly felt things-- terror, greed, horror, anger, sorrow, passion. Incidentally, he founded a genre of enduring popularity that continues to send readers on emotional roller coaster rides to this day.
Gothic romances have been making a comeback lately (the popular teen series Twilight by Stephenie Meyer is a perfect example), and I thought a small sampling would be the perfect way to celebrate All Hallows' Eve. I've divided the list into "Classic" and "Modern" Gothics. The moderns have all been published within the last decade or so; the classics range back nearly 200 years. Check them out!
The Weeping Ash by Joan Aiken (Fiction)
A Long Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott (Fiction)
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (Fiction) *
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (Fiction)
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (Fiction)
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier (Fiction)
The Wedding Guest by Anna Gilbert (Fiction)
Cousin Kate by Georgette Heyer (LP)
Seven for a Secret by Victoria Holt (Fiction)
Dark Shore by Susan Howatch (Fiction)
The Walker in Shadows by Barbara Michaels (Mystery)
Dragonwyck by Anya Seton (Fiction)
Thornyhold by Mary Stewart (Fiction)
The Castle in Transylvania by Jules Verne, with Charlotte Mandel, trans. (Horror)
The Trembling Hills by Phyllis A. Whitney (Fiction)
Grange House by Sarah Blake (Fiction)
Winterset by Candace Camp (LP)
The Bride Finder by Susan Carroll (Fiction)
The Countess by Catherine Coulter (LP)
Dracula in Love: The Private Diary of Mina Harker by Karen Essex (Horror)
After Midnight by Teresa Medeiros (Pbk-Romance)
The Dead Travel Fast by Deanna Raybourn (Pbk-Romance)
The Deadliest Sin by Caroline Richards (Pbk-Romance)
Too Wicked to Kiss by Erica Ridley (Pbk-Romance)
Ghost Moon by Karen Robards (Fiction)
Midnight Bayou by Nora Roberts (Fiction)
Stone Flower Garden by Deborah Smith (Fiction)
Porthminster Hall by Janet Tanner (Fiction)
The Brotherhood by Dawn Thompson (Pbk-Fiction)
On Winding Hill Road by Diane Tyrrel (Pbk-Romance)
* A quick note-- technically, Northanger Abbey isn't a true Gothic; it's actually a parody of the genre. But it does such a good job of creating that wonderful Gothic atmosphere that I couldn't resist including it.