A Short Note on Gothic Fiction and List of Prominent Novelists of this Genre

Updated June 26, 2022

The Gothic fiction is a genre of literature that covers horror, death and at times romances. The Gothic fiction enjoyed its heyday from 1762-1820. The genre influenced the main course of English fiction in a surprising number of ways and inspired the sensational writers of today. It is however, surprising to note that the great critics like Saintsbury rated the Gothic fiction as inferior to other forms.

Gothic Fiction aka Novel Explained

The term “Gothic” accepts various connotations. Some critics say that Gothic is shoddy mystery mongering whereas others define it as a literary exploration of the avenues of death. The editor of the “Readers Companion to World Literature” considers Gothic novel as a novel of horror based on the supernatural.

It is believed to be the result of a playful reaction against the long domination of reason and authority. These novels brought to light the suppressed neurotic and erratic impulses of educated society.

The 18th century was rich in the production of Gothic novels. It consisted an atmosphere of wilderness, gloom and horror. The wired and eerie (causing fear) atmosphere of Gothic fiction was derived from the Gothic architecture which evoked the feelings of horror, wilderness, suspense and gloom. T

he Gothic gloom played upon inherent elements of natural and superstitious fear in human life. The Gothic gloom associated with Gothic architecture such as castles, convents, subterranean vaults, grated dungeons, ruined piles and dark galleries permeated by howling of wind and thunderous noises arouse emotion of fear.

Imagination played an important role in the Gothic novels. It took the Gothic mind to far off “distant lands”. The passionate and enthusiastic adoration of the past was brought back. The Gothic novels were written around the nucleus of ruin’. The ruined monasteries crumbling cathedrals and dilapidated castles with screeching owls, hovering bats and melancholy birds created an uncanny atmosphere of awe and horror.

Prominent Gothic Novelists

Who doesn’t know the Rebecca and Our wives under Sea as chilling plots of story in modern times! As the genre of the sort, dates back to early 18th century we will be listing down some very popular Gothic Novelists below, please read on:

Horace Walpole (1717- 1797): The Pioneer of Gothic Fiction

Horace Walpole is a pioneer in Gothic fiction. He gave its machinery, its characters, its castle and its Gothic name. “The Castle of Otranto” is a famous Gothic novel. In this novel, we have walking skeletons, pictures that move out of their frames and other blood curdling incidents.

He was followed by Miss Clara Reeve who wrote many Gothic romances. The chief of them being “The Old English Baron”. For the first time she used a new Gothic motif of identifying the hero. Then came Mrs. Anne Radcliff.

She wrote five romances but “The Italian” and “The Mysteries of Udolpho” are her finest romances. You’ ll amaze to see the REASONS controlling the super natural & the mysteries in her novels .She was the first novelist who employed scenery for its own sake into the novel. “Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Mathew Gregory Lewis (1775- 1818) and Others Novelists

Mathew Gregory Lewis, a talented Gothic novelist made a spine chilling and blood curdling use of magic and necromancy in his novel. His writings often called as “Gothic Horror”.

“The Monk” and “Vathek” by Beckford is also an important Gothic romance. “The Fatal Revenge” and three other novels by Charles Robert Maturin are also good attempts in Gothic fiction. There are some other minor but important Gothic novels.

This trend was so overpowering that it heavily influenced the literature of the Romantic Age. Jane Austen was very much influenced by this trend. We also notice this influence on Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats and Shelley. The influence of Gothic fiction is also visible on the Victorian and Modern literature.

Gothic fiction is a potential force in modern literature too. It frees the public mind from the fetters of conventional classical imagery and prepares the mind to receive impression of enthusiasm and wonder.

Richard Harris Barham (Pen name Thomas Ingoldsby), 1788-1845

The famous work of Richard Harris is Ingoldsby Legends. This collection comprises myths, legends, ghost stories, and poetry. Harris Barham was a priest of the Chapel Royal. His legends initially found place as series in the magazines of the time and ran popular through 19th Century too. The stories are full of humorous parodies and imitation of medieval folklore while the poem includes early version of children’s song “Bingo.

Emily Bronte (pen name Ellis Bell) 1818 –1848

Famous gothic work of Emily includes Wuthering Heights. The plot has two families in West Yorkshire moors and foster son Heathcliff. Wuthering Heights is unique combination of Romanticism and Gothic fiction. The famous classical work earned lot of controversy for portrayal of mental and physical cruelty, domestic abuse. Precisely, the storyline challenged the religious and societal values and more so, the Victorian morality.

Elizabeth Gaskell, 1810-1865

Famous gothic works of Gaskell includes: Lois the Witch, Mary Barton and The Grey Woman.

Lois the Witch is basically a novella of historical fiction. The plot runs around main character of the novel by name Lois Barclay.  She is raised in a church house in Barford, Warwickshire. As she loses her parents, she plans to live with her uncle and his family in Salem, Massachusetts. In the course however, she becomes part of the infamous witch trial of Salem. The trial had found many guilty of witchcraft and hanging & jail was their destiny.  

Mary Barton is about a murder-mystery that involves betrayal between two Victorian working-class families. The novel depicts story of the daughter of one family who ditches her lover from a working-class. Idea behind the betrayal is the plan of marrying another lover from industrialist family in the hope of making a better life

The Grey Woman is about mystery of a beautiful woman in painting. At one point of time the person who is fascinated by her charm comes to know that the lady looked all grey in looks. And, that it was some horror that turned her grey.

Other Legendary Novelists of Gothic Fiction

In later years the Gothic literature just evolved and produced many great novelists such as:

  • Wilkie Collins (1824-1899) with Gothic Fictions: The Woman in White & The Moonstone
  • Amelia B. Edwards (1831-1892) with Gothic Fiction: The Phantom Coach
  • Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1814-1873) with Gothic Fictions: Uncle Silas & Carmilla
  • Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) with Gothic Fiction: Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  • Arthur Machen (1863-1947) with Gothic Fiction: The Great God Pan
  • Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) with Gothic Fiction: The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • Bram Stoker (1847-1912) with Gothic Fiction: Dracula
  • H.G. Wells (1866-1946) with Gothic Fiction: The Stolen Body

Top Gothic Fictions of Modern Time

Find below some of the Novels in Gothic Genre that have gained quite a name among the literary fraternity. Most of these fiction works are bestsellers.

Sr. No.Gothic Novel & Author
1.Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier >> BUY IT HERE!
2.Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia >> BUY IT HERE!
3.The Broken Girls by Simone St. James >> BUY IT HERE!
4.The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths
5.Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield >> BUY IT HERE!
6.The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
7.The Widow’s House by Carol Goodman
8.Beloved by Toni Morrison
9.Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
10.The Ancestor by Danielle Trussoni
11.The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
12.The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters >> BUY IT HERE
13.The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
14.The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perrey >> BUY IT HERE!
15.Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand >> BUY IT HERE!

Gothic Fiction in Conclusion

In the vast genre of literary world, Gothic novels seem to mesmerise us most. The genre appears to be free to anything and everything without caring the criticism it may attract. At one hand they can ably portray the darkest of human nature and on the other the real-life horrors including abuse, racism and sexism. Experts hold that it is this genre that has facilitated the evolution of science fiction too. The first science-fiction Frankenstein and the modern time Harry Potter both, owe a lot to early novelists of Gothic genre.

The Walpole being the first gothic novelist used the word ‘gothic’ in the sense of ‘Medieval’ but it has got different connotation today. Founding member of the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies, Dr. Xavier Aldana Reyes puts that Gothic genre although got high acclaim in the Victorian era Prose, but it went on evolving only, even through the 21st century. Hence, all the modern gothic works carry the legacy of the Gothic Pioneers.

In the last let me clarify you that Gothic literature is not merely about lingering mysteries, brushes with the supernatural, family curses or crumbling old mansions as some would put it. It is about something which you know only when you read it. It is also different from horror which is otherwise an immediate fear. It’s rather about building tension. As you go inside the storyline, gives you fear but you tend to know more. Essentially, it gives you a feel of being trapped in it but you do not want to get out of that in real.

Beyond Gothic Fictions & Novelists Under Literature Reads

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