I recently read Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre for the first time. Although it is largely classified as a classic novel, it also qualifies as a gothic romance. Along with other classics such as Frankenstein, Dracula, Wuthering Heights, Rebecca, and The Picture of Dorian Gray, “Jane Eyre” is, in fact, a key title in the gothic canon. So what exactly is gothic fiction?
Bethany Latham of NoveList put it succinctly:
Wind, rain, crumbling mansions. Family secrets, ancestral curses. The supernatural, madness. […] It is as much a tone as it is a type – there are Gothic romances, Gothic mysteries, and Gothic horror stories, but all share the same disquieting atmosphere, the same eerie feel.
Over the past year I devoured gothic romance novels. I discovered authors like Victoria Holt (a pseudonym of Eleanor Hibbert, who also wrote as Jean Plaidy and Philippa Carr) and Barbara Michaels (Barbara Mertz, who also wrote as Elizabeth Peters). Apart from the aforementioned classics, the first gothic to hook me was Victoria Holt’s On the Night of the Seventh Moon, which I picked up due to its Bavarian setting. It has ancient folklore, mystical forests, amnesia, German nobility, and more.
I find that these books are less about the romantic plot and more about the secrets and the suspense. They are not the romantic suspense novels of today, however, with serial killers and mob bosses and motorcycle clubs. Atmosphere plays an important role in the gothic romance. I love the sensationalism in these books, the intrinsic melodrama, the macabre, and the emphasis on old, ominous, decaying locations. I love the brooding Byronic anti-heroes and dauntless heroines, the danger, the madness, and the way the past always comes back to haunt the characters. And the book covers! Just look at these beauties.
The gothic romance had its heyday in the mid-20th century, but many of these novels are back in print and contemporary authors continue to revive the genre. I created a list of my favorite gothic romance titles (so far), and I will keep hunting for more!
Have you ever read in this genre? I’d love to hear your thoughts!