Gothic Novels to read for the Fall


Nikki Gomez and Grace Chalhoub

Halloween is coming soon. Here is a list of gothic books recommended to put you in the mood.

“The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde- When Basil Hallward paints a portrait of the beautiful young Dorian Gray, Dorian is so taken by his beauty in the painting that he makes a wish: that the portrait will grow old, while he may remain forever young. Wilde’s only novel is an early example of magical realism, and caused bitter controversy among Victorian critics, playing a part in his downfall and imprisonment. 10/10

“Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley-   A young scientist named Victor Frankenstein creates a monster through a scientific experiment. The novel is written through a series of letters between Captain Robert Walton and his sister. Walton and Frankenstein cross paths when Walton’s crew spotted the scientist surrounded by a sea of ice as they were on their way to the North Pole. Walton nurses him back to health and retells Frankenstein’s story through letters addressed to his sister. 7/10

“Dracula” by Bram StokerWhen young English lawyer Jonathan Harker travels to Castle Dracula in Transylvania to conclude a real estate transaction with a nobleman named Count Dracula, he finds himself as a prisoner in the castle. Jonathan manages to escape, but Dracula follows in search of blood, spreading the undead curse. 7/10

“Northanger Abbey” by Jane Austen- Seventeen-year-old Catherine Morland, a young girl who loves gothic novels, is invited by handsome Henry Tilney to his home, Northanger Abbey, and fantasizes about the mystery that she hopes will befall her in Tilney’s medieval manor. In her posthumous bildungsroman and gothic parody, Austen creates a biting social commentary and criticizes society’s deprecatory views on novels. 10/10

“The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James- The perspective of the novel is told from an unreliable narrator recalling a ghost story. A governess becomes convinced that the estate she lives in is haunted while she is taking care of two children. She becomes terrified of these malicious ghosts–if there are any. 10/10

“Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson-  Dr. Jekyll invents a drug that allows his evil alternate persona, Mr. Hyde, to take control of him. Mr. Utterson, Jekyll’s lawyer and friend, notices the difference and unravels the mystery. 8/10

“The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson- A supernatural investigator named Dr. Montague tries to find scientific evidence of the supernatural by spending the summer in Hill House, which is rumored to be haunted. He invites two people with paranormal experiences to join him on his quest. 8/10

Traits of Gothic literature to detect

  • Melodrama
  • Violence
  • Dreary setting
  • Gothic castles, manors and cathedrals
  • Byronic hero
    • Context: The dark, brooding hero takes his name from the poet Lord Byron, known for his dark appearance, tempestuous mood swings and profligate sexual relations. Byron’s escapades were so dramatic that the writer John William Polidori fashioned his vampire Lord Ruthven after Byron in his short story “The Vampyre,” one of the first modern vampire stories.
  • Innocent maiden preyed upon by over-dominating man
  • Gloom
  • Seclusion
    • Context: Whether physical or emotional, isolation is almost always a trait of gothicism. This theme of isolation is related to Romanticism, which emphasized the struggles of an individual.
  • Catholicism
    • Context: Catholicism is a deeply mystic religion with a bloody past in Europe, and often appears in English gothic novels as a gaudy, double-sided, dark religion, often to juxtapose Anglicism with Catholicism. Bram Stoker plays with this motif in “Dracula,” in which one of the protagonists Jonathan Harker admits that the Anglican Church and its teachings do not protect against vampires.
  • Suspense
  • Supernatural activities
  • The juxtaposition of light and dark
  • Dark Omens
  • Doubles
    • Context: The idea of people having two sides to their personality particularly fascinated the Victorians, who were often expected to be the model of propriety in public whilst living secret personal lives. “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is perhaps the most popular example of the double-sided gothic hero.