What are the gothic fiction novels that you must read?

The best gothic fiction fuses romantic ideals with horrific realities. Whether it’s suburban gothic, or a mediation on medieval life, gothic literature reminds us that things aren’t always what they seem. In this post, you’ll read about nine classic gothic novels that blend the mundane with the sublime.

Check out key features of gothic literature.

The Castle Of Otranto by Horace Walpole

With dark, stirring castles and cramped hallways, The Castle of Otranto is a gothic classic. Not only did it pioneer the gothic style, but it’s a fantastic story about things going wrong. Walpole fuses ideas regarding beauty, the supernatural and womanhood together, and the end result is quite distorted: but you can’t look away. The Castle of Otranto is not just a work of gothic fiction, but an exciting mystery that chills and frightens.

The Monk by Matthew Lewis

“An author, whether good or bad, or between both, is an animal whom every body is privileged to attack: for though all are not able to write books, all conceive themselves able to judge them.”

The Monk

A terrifying novel, with little redemption for its characters. That’s right: The Monk is evident that gothic fiction can get nasty. Matthew Lewis fuses Dante-esque imagery with his own theological perceptions, and the end result, even if you disagree, will chill you. The Monk is not an easy read, and nor should it be. It’s almost demonic, written with the ink of blood. The Monk is also interesting in terms of literary history: it was quite controversial when it was released, and even today, you can see why.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Austen saw many flaws in gothic literature, and she pokes fun at it in Northanger Abbey. Like any Austen novel, we follow our unlikely heroine, Catherine Morland as she comes of age. However, Austen is not interested in just depicting Morland’s life, but also parodying the more silly aspects of gothic literature. It’s great that Austen does that, because Northanger Abbey is both comedy and melodrama.

Northanger Abbey is the ‘gothic book for people who don’t read gothic novels.’ Perhaps you prefer a satricial bite, and in that case, Northanger Abbey is the perfect novel for you.

The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo

Gargoyle and wide city view from the roof of Notre Dame de Paris, France

Hugo is legendary in French and in global literature, yet The Hunchback of Notre-Dame is often not in the spotlight unlike Les Miserables. However, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame is the terrific and heartbreaking tale of our three flawed characters: Quasimodo, the hunchback who rings the bells of Notre Dame; Frollo, the archdeacon who is obsessive and dour; and finally, Esmeralda, the captivating Gypsy woman who strolls the streets of Paris.

As the story progresses with its medieval backdrop, Hugo ventures into dark territory. It’s not a pleasant novel, but it’s hard to forget. Often, we associate gothic literature with gimmicks and ‘darkness for the sake of it.’ In Hugo’s work, however, we read about damaged humans who are capable of both good and evil.

Although I’ve never seen the Disney film version, mainly because the book is different, I like the music due to its suitability to the novel. Especially this cover by L’Orchestra Cinematique.

The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

A human skull with a red rose in its teeth on a white background illuminated by light from the window. Props for Gothic photo shoot and Halloween, skull, rose and black gloves

You may have seen the musical, but have you read the book? The Phantom Of The Opera is both a beautiful romance and a chilling mystery. What Leroux does well is creating the necessary mood and tone for the story. It’s easy to see why storytellers are captivated by The Phantom, mainly due to the dark aesthetics and themes of obsession. The story is soaked in blood and tragedy, yet like The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, it reminds us that so too, are our lives.

It’s an essential work of gothic literature, yet sadly, people neglect it.

Read: Snowy Fiction’s Review Of The Phantom Of The Opera

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

I love Wuthering Heights, and many like it too. However, there is a chance you’ll dislike it! And that’s part of the beauty of Wuthering Heights: it invites a variety of opinions and reactions, like the very best works of literature. In Bronte’s fantastic novel, we follow Heathcliff and Cathy through melodramatic turmoil and pain. There’s death, stormy moors and bitter arguing.

It’s a journey like none other, and Wuthering Heights has shaped gothic fiction. You can see the influence in today’s pop culture, with ‘Heathcliff’ figures such as Kylo Ren (Star Wars sequels) and Severus Snape (Harry Potter). Just remember: Wuthering Heights is far from boring, and even if you hate it, you won’t stop thinking about it!

The Picture Of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

“You will always be fond of me. I represent to you all the sins you never had the courage to commit.”

The Picture Of Dorian Gray

Wilde fuses morality with bitterness in his tale about Dorian Gray, who falls in love with a portrait of himself. Yes, it’s well known. But it’s for a good reason, as Wilde shows off his genius. The characters and plot are carefully layered, and every story turn is thrilling. You’ll finish the novel disturbed. Perhaps, like Dorian, you’ll find yourself looking into the mirror for longer than usual.

I’ll keep the novel mysterious for those who have not read it, as it contains a few surprises…

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

Bradbury’s tale is moralistic (the motif of good versus evil is present) and genius in characterisation and horror. I read this book years ago, and I can still recall the clown-masked characters and gruesome settings. That’s because SWTWC is a carnival of intrigue, darkness and mystery. As we follow two boys through the traps and mazes, we find ourselves unable to look away. Like the very best horror and science fiction books, you can’t look away.

Child of God by Cormac McCarthy

Drenched in misery and murder, Child of God is normally not on ‘gothic reading lists.’ But it belongs there, as it champions the style of southern gothic. Shows such as American Horror Story and True Blood started from somewhere, and Child of God is the bloody genesis of small-town America. Gothic novels may predate McCarthy’s novel of nastiness, yet few stain themselves with the morbid realism that characterises gothic fiction.

It’s a hard, harrowing read. Often, I asked myself ‘what is the point?’ Which is precisely what Cormac McCarthy is pointing out: We spend time trying to understand evil, but often end up more confused than ever. However, a benefit of reading twisted gothic fiction is that it illuminates light on what’s good in life.

Here at Snowy Fictions, we have published numerous articles on gothic fiction. One of our most successful posts is about writing gothic fiction. What are your favourite gothic fiction novels? Comment below!

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