Love on the Moors: Gothic Romance

by Lindsey

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!

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4 responses to “Love on the Moors: Gothic Romance”

  1. Shannon says:

    In the early 70’s, when I was about 13, my favorite maternal Aunt introduced me to Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart. I was a voracious reader who favored mystery and history, and who was just noticing boys, so she thought I’d enjoy the gothic romance genre. She knew me very well and I read every book our rural library had; what else is there to do on a hot, sultry, Louisiana summer day? My favorite book is still Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart. A few years ago, I was finally able to obtain a paperback copy and it’s one of my most treasured books – both because I love to read it, and because it brings back my beloved Aunt, who passed away about the same time I found my copy. The 1970’s was a wonderful time to be a teenaged female reader – Harlequin, Historical Romance, and Gothic Romance novels hit their prime during that decade, and I savored every page. Kathleen E Woodiwiss, Johanna Lindsey, and Janet Dailey were pioneers of a different sort than Laura Ingalls Wilder, and they all helped expand my literary universe, which eventually led to my degree in English. Their literary accomplishments inspired a lifelong passion for the written word, and gave my lonely bayou life a new pathway to run along. I think I will go read Touch Not the Cat! It’s a Snow Day here on our island, and I’ve never read the book on a Snow Day!

  2. Lindsey Anderson says:

    I’m adding that Mary Stewart book to my list, Shannon! Today would be a perfect day to get lost in a romance. I’m still working my way through a lot of the big historical romances published in the 70s but I love their sweeping plots. Thanks so much for sharing! It was wonderful to read this morning.

  3. Jackie Parker says:

    I can’t speak to her other novels, but Kate Morton’s The Distant Hours is a more (relatively) recently Gothic (light on the) Romance. It has ALL the tropes, but one of the timelines is modern-day(ish). Crumbling castles, tragic love, long-buried secrets, eerie everything, etc. The rest of her work sounds solidly Gothic as well, but I haven’t read them.

  4. Max says:

    Really informative!

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