Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)
Dracula
by Bram Stoker (1897)
You know this one - a crumbling castle in Transylvania and that vampire.

Gothic fiction has a long history and was created by a man called Horace. Horatio Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford, to give him his full title, wrote The Castle of Otranto in 1764 and launched a genre that has chilled and thrilled many readers, and padded the wallets of countless authors.

Gothic fiction is also labeled as gothic horror but it can be called gothic romance too as love, passion and lust are essential elements – think of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera or The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Dracula, the title character from the 1897 novel, is the ultimate gothic villain.

This genre appears to have partly grown out of Gothic architecture characterized by dramatic and rather ominous designs. The main location, usually a building, is a vital element to gothic fiction – you will encounter decaying hotels, crumbling apartment blocks and manor houses that have seen better days, but foreboding castles are hard to beat for ratcheting up the fear factor. The Castle of Otranto has a tyrant (Manfred), a girl in need of saving (Isabella) and a clean-cut hero (Theodore). The name Otranto even sounds gothic. The castle provides the dark and threatening back-drop to a series of complex events that begins with a massive helmet dropping out of the sky and crushing a young bridegroom just before his wedding. Being crushed by a huge piece of headwear remains one of the literature’s most original and unexpected deaths.

Gothic horror sees characters fall in love very quickly and virginal maidens need rescuing at regular intervals. The fear felt by characters can be psychological or physical. Madness is a reoccurring theme along with decay and the supernatural is just a coffin away. You don’t need to see whatever is terrible to know it is terrifying. There are monsters and men of God, who are usually very ungodly.

Horace, who built a gothic mansion in London’s Strawberry Hill, would probably turn in his tomb if he discovered gothic fiction was still being churned out today. Shadowmancer by G. P. Taylor and The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon are two hyper-modern examples of gothic writing.

The Gormenghast series by Mervyn Peake and Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin are another two prime examples from the second half of the 20th century.

When virgins are not being chased around castle ramparts, they are stumbling over fallen masonry in abandoned abbeys or tripping over gnarled roots in overgrown forests… at night. One thing is certain when opening a gothic horror novel: you are going to see drama and feel a few tingles down the spine.

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A Timeline of Gothic Fiction

The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (1764)
The Castle of Otranto
by Horace Walpole (1764)

The novel that started the genre – all sorts of shenanigans in a castle.

Vathek: An Arabian Tale by William Beckford (1786)
Vathek: An Arabian Tale
by William Beckford (1786)

Originally written in French. Vathek makes a pact with the Devil and that means trouble.

The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe (1794)
The Mysteries of Udolpho
by Ann Radcliffe (1794)

Orphaned heroine Emily is imprisoned in her evil guardian’s gloomy fortress.

The Monk by Matthew Lewis (1796)
The Monk
by Matthew Lewis (1796)

Set in a sinister monastery, you meet the maddest, baddest monk.

Zastrozzi: A Romance by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1810)
Zastrozzi: A Romance
by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1810)

Gothic fantasy. Zastrozzi, the arch-villain, has sworn to avenge the wrongs done to his mother.
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1818)
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus
by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1818)

Another one you know - written when Shelley was just 19.
Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Robert Maturin (1820)
Melmoth the Wanderer
by Charles Robert Maturin (1820)

A Faustian pact means the villain needs a victim to release him from his awful bargain.
The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg (1824)
The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner
by James Hogg (1824)

Robert Colwan, a clergyman’s son, thinks he is untouchable.

The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe (1839)
The Fall of the House of Usher
by Edgar Allan Poe (1839)

This short story is so scary and house-hunters should avoid homes like this one.

The Phantom Ship by Frederick Marryat (1839)
The Phantom Ship
by Frederick Marryat (1839)

Nautical gothic fiction - Phillip Vanderdecken and his quest to release his father.

Uncle Silas by Sheridan Le Fanu (1864)
Uncle Silas
by Sheridan Le Fanu (1864)

A gothic mystery brimming with psychological terror.

The Lair of the White Worm by Bram Stoker (1911)
The Lair of the White Worm
by Bram Stoker (1911)

Another one you all know – a crumbling castle in Transylvania and that vampire.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938)
Rebecca
by Daphne du Maurier (1938)

Manderley is the haunting location for this novel of psychological drama.

Dragonwyck by Anya Seton (1944)
Dragonwyck
by Anya Seton (1944)
A young woman travels to her cousin’s house on the Hudson River. What could go wrong?
A Stir of Echoes by Richard Matheson (1958)
A Stir of Echoes
by Richard Matheson (1958)

Tom Wallace discovers his psychic abilities and find mind reading is not pleasant.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (1959)
The Haunting of Hill House
by Shirley Jackson (1959)

There’s a young woman, a scholar and an aristocrat in a haunted house. It’s no joke.

Julia by Peter Straub (1975)
Julia
by Peter Straub (1975)

A woman starts a new life in London but tragedy follows.

The Shining by Stephen King (1977)
The Shining
by Stephen King (1977)

A hotel in the off-season, evil forces and a boy with psychic powers. Classic King.

The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons (1978)
The House Next Door
by Anne Rivers Siddons (1978)

Another influential novel where the horror is all about location, location, location.

Bellefleur by Joyce Carol Oates (1980)
Bellefleur
by Joyce Carol Oates (1980)

The Bellefleurs live in an enormous mansion on the shores of mythical Lake Noir.

The Keep by F. Paul Wilson (1981)
The Keep
by F. Paul Wilson (1981)

Something is murdering Nazi troops stationed in a remote castle in the Transylvanian alps.

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill (1983)
The Woman in Black
by Susan Hill (1983)

A young solicitor has some hair-raising experiences in Eel Marsh House.

The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer: My Life at Rose Red by Ellen Rimbauer (2002)
The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer: My Life at Rose Red
by Ellen Rimbauer (2002)

A young bride describes her marriage and nightmares in the Rimbauer mansion.

Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Cherie Priest (2005)
Four and Twenty Blackbirds
by Cherie Priest (2005)

A fanatical killer, a mansion in Georgia and hospital too.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (2006)
The Thirteenth Tale
by Diane Setterfield (2006)

A gothic suspense story with a book inside the book.

The Fiendish Faces of Dracula:








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