Gothic Horror is one of the oldest of the horror
genres. Darker, edgier
and on the Romanticism
end of Romanticism Versus Enlightenment
, it tends to play on both the thrill and the fear of the unknown, and places a great importance on atmosphere. It's usually heavily symbolic
, sometimes even dreamlike. In addition to being important to the horror genre, the first scifi
, and adventure
authors drew inspiration from Gothic horror, so it's sometimes considered the parent of all modern genre fiction.
Gothic fiction is usually used as a synonym or is the name given to Gothic horror stories that are saturated with the above mentioned scifi, fantasy, romance, mystery, or adventure elements.
The name "Gothic" comes from a kind of architecture from The Middle Ages
(christened as such by those who considered it barbaric in comparison to classical architecture, the name coming from the barbarian tribe of the Goths). There were a lot of Gothic ruins lying around Britain, and people in the 18th and 19th centuries developed an interest in them because (a) ruins are always kind of mysterious and melancholy and creepy and (b) they evoked the time period they were built in, which was thought of as a barbaric
time where people believed in (and did) all kinds of weird stuff. For this reason, most early Gothic horror novels were set in that era. They were usually also set in Catholic countries, because the Brits who wrote them considered Catholicism sinister
(yet also kinda cool
The renewed interest in Gothic stuff also led to the Gothic Revival movement in architecture, but for the purposes of this article we're not so interested in that.
Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto
, written in 1764, is considered the first Gothic horror novel. Walpole was a big fan of William Shakespeare
and proudly declared that he borrowed most of the tropes from
his idol's plays, particularly Hamlet
, and Romeo and Juliet
. Ann Radcliffe helped popularize the genre, and authors such as Matthew Lewis, Ludwig Flammenberg, Eliza Parsons, Eleanor Sleath, and Francis Lathom finished out the eighteenth century Gothic horror writers. The beginning of the nineteenth century saw Gothic horror being parodied by authors like Jane Austen
, but there were still straight examples provided by authors such as Lord Byron
and Mary Shelley
. By the time the Victorian era
rolled around Gothic horror was beginning to run out of steam, but there were still quite a few people writing it — in fact, most of the Gothic horror authors and works you've heard of probably come from this era, such as Edgar Allan Poe
and the Brontë sisters. There were a few more notable Gothic authors in the early 20th century, but by the 1950s or so the genre had given way to modern Horror
The Cosmic Horror Genre
is something of a Spiritual Successor
to Gothic Horror, with the genre's codifier H.P. Lovecraft
explicitly listing several masters of Gothic Horror as major influences. Where Gothic Horror drew upon classical mythology and legend to provide its nightmares, however, Cosmic Horror looked to the modern world itself, and pondered what would happen as man shone a light upon the last refuges of the creatures who once haunted the empty countryside now becoming suburbs, and reached beyond the limits of what he was meant to know. Perhaps Here There Be Dragons
, after all?
and Hammer Films
are responsible for successfully adapting this genre onto the big screen. For a modern take on the genre see Gaslamp Fantasy
and Supernatural Fiction
For an in-depth look go to Violet Books
(unfortunately deceased, but resurrected — appropriately enough) and the still-active Gaslight Reading & Discussion Site
. See also Lovecraft's essay Supernatural Horror in Literature
For a list of tropes used in the Gothic horror genre see Index of Gothic Horror Tropes
Authors who wrote partially or entirely in the Gothic fiction genre include:
- Horace Walpole (1717-1797). His novel The Castle of Otranto (1764) makes him the Trope Maker. Also gave us Haunted Castle.
- Eliza Parsons (1739-1811). Better known for her novel The Castle Of Wolfenbach (1793).
- William Beckford (1760-1844). Author of Vathek (1786) and started the subgenre of Orientalist Gothic, frightening because set beyond "civilised" Europe altogether.
- Ann Radcliffe (1764- 1823). Author of, among others, The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and The Italian (1797). Notably replaced real supernatural events with the "Scooby-Doo" Hoax.
- Regina Maria Roche (1764-1845). Her novel The Children Of The Abbey (1796) was a best-seller of its time. But she is best remembered for the moodier Clermont (1798).
- Carl Friedrich Kahlert (1765-1813), alias Ludwig Flammenberg. He is better known for the novel The Necromancer (1794), also known as The Tale of the Black Forest. The work was written in German and translated into English. The translator Peter Teuthold considerably revised the text and even added a chapter of his own. The Teuthold version is still the best known form of the work.
- Carl Grosse (1768-1847) alias Marquis de Grosse. Better known for Horrid Mysteries (1796), the English translation of his novel Der Genius (The Guiding Spirit, 1791-1795).
- Eleanor Sleath (1770-1847). Married name of Eleanor Carter. Better known for her novel ''The Orphan of the Rhine'' (1798).
- Charles Brockden Brown (1771-1810): The first important American Gothic writer, best known for Wieland (1798).
- Francis Lathom (1774-1832). His better known work in the genre was The Midnight Bell (1798). He is also known for The Mysterious Freebooter (1806), an early work of Historical Fiction Literature.
- Matthew Gregory Lewis (1775-1818). His novel The Monk (1796) gave us the Sinister Minister, who, among other sins, enters into a Deal with the Devil.
Pre-Victorian Nineteenth Century
- James Hogg (1770–1835). Best known for The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824), which gave us the Doppelgänger. The eponymous Sinner supposedly makes a Deal with the Devil, but it is never clear if this is true or all in his head. Also makes chilling use of Psychological Horror and "Rashomon"-Style.
- Jane Austen (1775-1817) — wrote Northanger Abbey (1817), the most famous Parody of the genre. The novel was written between 1798 and 1803, but remained unpublished for several years.
- E. T. A. Hoffmann (1776-1822). The most important German author of Gothic fiction. His novel The Devils Elixirs (1815) is a classic of the genre. His best known work, however, is the short story The Nutcracker (1816).
- Charles Robert Maturin (1782-1824). Author of Melmoth the Wanderer (1820), a notable use of the Nested Story style to tell a complex tale.
- Washington Irving (1783-1859): Author of numerous classic tales of terror. Some, like "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" (1820), have rational explanations a la Radcliffe. Others, like "The Devil And Tom Walker" (1824), are purely supernatural.
- Eaton Stannard Barrett (1786-1820). Wrote The Heroine (1813), a notable parody of the genre. Particularly of the Changeling Fantasy plots which had been used by several gothic novels. In these novels, characters of seemingly modest backgrounds often found themselves secret progeny of noble and/or affluent families. Barrett's "heroine", Cherry Wilkinson, is a farmer's daughter and an avid reader of gothic novels. She convinces herself that she is heiress Cherubina de Willoughby and embarks on a series of quixotic misadventures.
- Lord Byron (1788-1824). His Byronic Hero was a major contribution to Gothic fiction. The type was introduced in the narrative poem Childe Harolds Pilgrimage (1812-1818). His poem The Giaour (1813) is one of the earliest depictions of vampires in fiction. The satiric poem Don Juan (1818-1824) is not part of the genre, however.
- John William Polidori (1795-1821). He wrote the first vampire novel, The Vampyre (1819).
- Mary Shelley (1797-1851). Her novel Frankenstein (1818) gave us Frankenstein's Monster. She is also considered the first Science Fiction writer.
- Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873) of It Was a Dark and Stormy Night fame. He had an actual interest in the occult and the paranormal. He incorporated elements of his study in various tales, most notably Zanoni (1842). His most enduring work is probably The Coming Race (1871), combining elements of occultism, gothic horror, and science fiction.
- Marie Corelli (1855-1924) had this in some of her novels, notably Wormwood and Vendetta.
- Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864):Intertwined Gothic Horror with the history of New England in such stories and novels as "Young Goodman Brown" (1835), The House Of The Seven Gables (1851), etc.
- Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849). One of the most important writers of Gothic fiction; wrote the first Great Detective Mystery. He revisited classic gothic themes in the short stories "The Fall of the House of Usher" (1839), and "The Pit and the Pendulum" (1842), among many other classics of the genre. His best known Gothic poem is probably The Raven (1845).
- Charles Dickens (1812-1870). He gave us Victorian London or at least the Hollywood version of it. He tended to use old gothic tropes in new ways. Such as secret heirs to prominent families ("Oliver Twist", 1837-1839), and wicked uncles plotting or performing murder (The Mystery of Edwin Drood, 1870). All in an urban environment and graphically depicting the life of the low classes.
- J. Sheridan Le Fanu (1814-1873). Better known as the author of Carmilla (1872). Gave us the Occult Detective and Lesbian Vampires.
- Paul Féval (1816-1887) penned The Vampire Countess (1856), Knightshade (1860), and Vampire City (1875), all of which are classic examples of Our Vampires Are Different.
- George W.M. Reynolds (1814-1879). He wrote the serial novels The Mysteries Of London (c. 1844-1848), and The Mysteries Of The Court Of London (1848-1856). He was a pioneer of the "urban mysteries" style of gothic horror. Tales changing the story setting from the haunted castles of the past to the great metropolis of the Industrial Revolution. He luridly depicted the poverty, crime, and violence of London life. Reynolds also wrote three other gothic novels: Faust: a Romance of the Secret Tribunals (1847), Wagner the Wehr-Wolf (1846-7), and The Necromancer (1851-2).
- James Malcolm Rymer (1814–1884). Helped pave the way for the Friendly Neighborhood Vampire with the title character of Varney the Vampire (1847), which is also the Trope Codifier for many commonly used vampire tropes such as fangs, two-hole puncture wounds, and Super Strength, among others.
- Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855). Gave us the Madwoman in the Attic in Jane Eyre (1847).
- Emily Brontë (1818-1848). Author of Wuthering Heights (1847).
- Wilkie Collins (1824-1889). Author of The Woman in White (1859-1860).
- Mary E Braddon (1835-1915). Writer of sensation novels, which took on Gothic tropes like secret marriages and madwomen but generally left out supernatural elements. Author of Lady Audley's Secret (1862), one of the first mystery novels, and a possible forerunner to the Film Noir genre.
- Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888). While best known for Little Women (1868-1869), She Also Did reasonably successful "sensational" Gothic romances such as A Modern Mephistopheles (1877) under the pen name of A.M. Barnard, and one called A Long Fatal Love Chase that everyone in her own lifetime found too scandalous to publish. The latter was written in 1866 and first published in 1995.
- George Du Maurier (1834-1896). Author of the novel Trilby (1894), which was the Trope Namer and possibly the Trope Maker for The Svengali. Also the grandfather of Daphne du Maurier, author of Rebecca.
- Ouida (1839-1908) had Gothic elements in many of her stories. She even had some tales with zombies.
- Ambrose Bierce (1842-1913?). Another precursor to the Cosmic Horror Story. His short story An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (1890) is a classic case of Dying Dream. The lesser known An Inhabitant Of Carcosa (1886) is an influential use of the Eldritch Location. The mysterious disappearance of this author has also inspired younger storytellers.
- Henry James (1843-1916). Author of The Turn of the Screw (1898).
- Bram Stoker (1847-1912). Gave us Dracula (1897) and Überwald.
- Isidore Ducasse (1847-1870), aka Le Comte de Lautréamont, although it was only a pseudonym. Author of the self-consciously outrageous Les Chants de Maldoror (1868), later a canonical text for the Surrealist movement in France and Belgium.
- Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894). Gave us the Jekyll & Hyde trope through The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886).
- Mary Wilkins Freeman (1852-1930): Author of regional Gothic tales like "A Symphony in Lavender" (1883), "The Twelfth Guest" (1893), "Luella Miller" (1902), and "The Shadows on the Wall" (1903, adapted as an episode of Night Gallery).
- Oscar Wilde (1854-1900). Author of The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890).
- Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930). Creator of Sherlock Holmes. His novel The Hound of the Baskervilles (1901-1902) uses classic gothic horror elements, but of course more in the Ann Radcliffe, "Scooby-Doo" Hoax style. (On the other hand, he also wrote "Lot No. 249", an early Mummy tale, in an era when fascination with Ancient Egypt was gaining ground.)
- Arthur Machen (1863-1947). Author of The Great God Pan (1894).
- Robert W. Chambers (1865-1933). Paved the way for the emergence of the Cosmic Horror Story with The King in Yellow (1895).
- Montague Rhodes James (1862-1936). Credited with updating the ghost story for the 20th century. His works often used Sealed Evil in a Can. His short stories were collected in volumes such as Ghost Stories Of An Antiquary (1904), and its sequel More Ghost Stories (1911).
- Edith Wharton (1862-1937): Disciple of Henry James' . Wrote classic ghost stories, collected in volumes like Tales Of Men And Ghosts (1910).
- Algernon Blackwood (1869-1951). Influential writer of ghost stories. His better known works are The Willows (1907) and "The Wendigo" (1910). Both are influential works in the Cosmic Horror Story genre.
- William Hope Hodgson (1877-1918). Author of The House on the Borderland (1908), The Night Land (1912), and Carnacki the Ghost-Finder (1913).
- Hugh Walpole (1884-1941). Author in several genres. His better known gothic horror tale is Portrait of a Man With Red Hair (1925) … and yes, he is the descendant of Horace Walpole, the Trope Maker and author of The Castle of Otranto as earlier mentioned.
- Marjorie Bowen (1885-1952). Prolific author of gothic novels, horror tales, and historical novels. Several of her stories were collected posthumously in the collection "Kecksies And Other Twilight Tales" (1976). Her own life story was pretty horrific as well.
- Dennis Wheatley (1890 - 1977), author of The Devil Rides Out.
- Guy Endore (1900-1970):Author of the classic werewolf novel, The Werewolf Of Paris (1933).
- William Sloane (1906-1974): Author of two classic horror novels, To Walk The Night (1937) and The Edge Of Running Water (1939, filmed as The Devil Commands in 1941 with Boris Karloff).
- Daphne du Maurier (1908-1989). Granddaughter of the above-mentioned George du Maurier; wrote Rebecca (1938), Jamaica Inn (1936) and the original short story on which The Birds was based.
Authors influenced by Gothic Fiction: