I’m defining the era as pre-1840. The following information may give you an idea where to begin as you search for what work you’d like to read for the tour. You may also want to read the LitGothic page for some additional ideas. Some people may also be interested in the gothic novels that Catherine Moreland references in Austen’s Northanger Abbey. You can find some information about those novels here.
Keep in mind that although the literary gothic extends to present day, we’re only counting books or stories written before 1840 for this current tour.
Other than the year written guideline, I don’t want to be too picky: if the work you want to read is not on this list but if you think it fits the gothic tradition, then go ahead and select it!
The button for this tour is an image I took in September 2005. It is a gargoyle on the side of Notre Dame. Feel free to use it to promote the tour on your blog.
How the tour works: If you are new to the Classics Circuit, please read this paragraph so you may have a better understanding of how the tour operates. First, make sure you sign up via the form, not in the comments. You must have a blog to be a tour participant. On the sign up form, please indicate either which days you want to post, or which days you are unable to post on your blog. Someone from the Classics Circuit will email you your assigned date. We will post a schedule on this blog linking to all the participating blogs. On your assigned day in your time zone, please post about your selected work. If this is not clear, feel free to email rebecca[at]rebeccareid[dot]com. Thanks for your interest in joining the Circuit! If you do not have a blog, I still encourage you to follow the tour once it begins in October.
Disclaimer: I am not an expert or student of gothic literature at all. I am simply a reader of classics (like the rest of you) that decided to compile a list of what I’ve found classified as gothic literature, pre-1840s. If you are a gothic literature expert, please share what I’ve missed in the comments for those that come along in the future.
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Earliest Gothic Novels
One of the earliest and most influential novels on the development of the gothic novels was The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole. His friend William Beckford also wrote a gothic novel, Vathek, and both men created gothic revival architecture houses to play on the impact of gothic fiction as a new development. Horace Walpole’s home, Strawberry Hill, still stands and is open to visitors.
The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (1764). Claiming to be an ancient Italian manuscript recently uncovered, Otranto centers on Manfred, a cruel Lord of a castle, in a tale with secret tunnels, long-lost children, and death bed confessions.
- “The original Gothic novel sets a standard of melodrama that soap operas would be proud to follow. And I say that in a good way. With hidden sons, love triangles, returning from the dead and ghosts and giants abounding, this quick read is good for a glimpse into what shaped the Gothic era of writing. … If you’re interested in Gothic literature, why not read the source? It’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s bound to entertain you. Four stars.” Sly Sionnach on LibraryThing
The Old English Baron by Clara Reeve (1778). Originally published anonymously as The Champion of Virture. A castle baron returns to England to find his estate usurped, spawning a series of revelations, horrors, and betrayals. (via Wikipedia)
- “[It] is more of a Romantic murder mystery than a supernatural story. Yes, there is a ghost, but the crux of the story is a young man of character who finds himself wronged at every turn, but eventually discovers the secrets hidden in his master’s castle. On one hand, a lighter read than “Otranto,” but on the other less of a gothic story and more of a chivalric tale with gothic elements. Four Stars.” Eric Strauss on Goodreads
Vathek by William Beckford (1787). Originally written in French. Inspired by The Arabian Nights, it details the fall of power of an Arabian Caliph who renounces Islam and seeks to gain supernatural powers. (via Wikipedia)
- “Postmodernism has nothing on Vathek. An absolutely bizarre Gothic tale, rich in Orientalism and deviltry. You may think that the modern era has corned the market in strange, difficult texts, but there is truly nothing new under the sun. Vathek is stranger than strange. Four Stars.” Jack at Goodreads
Zeluco by John Moore (1789). A story about an evil Italian nobleman, as well as a lengthy social commentary.
- Rated Five Stars. John Ervin on Goodreads.
- “The romantic will love to shudder at Udolpho; but those of mature age, who know what human nature is, will take up again and again Dr. Moore’s Zeluco.” — Anna Lætitia Barbauld. Quoted on book description on Amazon.
Emmeline, or the Orphan of the Castle by Charlotte Smith (1788). A Cinderella story in a gothic castle.
- “A fascinating book, written when the ‘women’s novel’, as satirised in Northanger Abbey, was a mix of moral tract (where the good are good and the bad are bad, and the consequences are mostly just in the end); romantic novel (swooning, duelling and beautiful countryside) and – just – character driven plot…” otterley at LibraryThing
The Ghost-Seer by Friedrich Schiller (1787-9). Unfinished by the author at his death, this novel was still incredibly popular, featuring necromancy and conspiracies.
- “Schiller’s prose is, like his fellow Romantics, alluring and powerful, a work of sheer beauty. The imagery he creates through setting and plot is nothing short of astonishing. It casts a spell which can not be broken until the very end when the mystery is known to all.” Gertrude and Victoria at Goodreads
Later Eighteenth Century Gothic Novels
One of the most prominent novelists at the end of the 1700s was Ann Radcliffe, who wrote in the tradition of the female gothic and was influential in the rise in popularity of the gothic novel. Among many other authors, significant books were written by the authors Eliza Parsons and Regina Maria Roche.
The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne. A Highland Story (1789). Passions of the characters lead the plot, but the Scottish landscape and the castles are also central.
- “Hilarious, though I don’t know what I would have thought of it had I not read it during university with a professor to explain the genre, its value, and its intent. The symbolism is laughably obvious and wonderfully exaggerated. I don’t even remember much of the story, but that’s not really the book’s point. Its point is simply supposed to spook you and to get you all caught up in the characters’ many passions. As my professor taught me, this is the original cheap romance novel, and it should be loved for being just that. Four Stars.” ChiaraBeth at LibraryThing
A Sicilian Romance (1790). A history of fallen Italian aristocrats, as related by a tourist who heard the story from a monk.
- “A wonderful example of Gothic literature. I really enjoyed Radcliffe’s style and how she set up the setting in for the whole story, she was able to make me see and feel how the world around the characters looked, the dark cathedral and the twists and turns they all took as the searched it for the “ghost.” The way the author voiced the story, was my favourite part of the whole novel. I almost wished it was thunder storming out as I was reading it, just to make it that much better.” Jules at Jules’ Book Reviews
The Romance of the Forest. (1791). The epitome of a gothic novel: a beautiful orphaned heiress, a dashing hero, and a villain. (via Amazon publisher’s summary)
- “It is a romance novel and adventure in one. A guilty pleasure for young girls whose imaginations had a tendency to run wild. What evil lurked each time they took the carriage out? What unknown spirit lived within the forest? Three Stars.” Gigi at Goodreads
The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794). Orphaned young woman faces supernatural terrors in her house, and becomes prey to an Italian brigand.
- “There is quite a bit to enjoy about The Mysteries of Udolpho. Radcliffe does conjure up beautiful French and Italian countrysides, creepy castles with labryinthine secret passages, and myriad sunrises and sunsets to admire. There is a lot of atmosphere in the book and I do appreciate that (ooooh, the black veil, creepy).” Scuffed Slippers and Wormy Books
The Italian (1797). Love, devotion and persecution during the Holy Inquisition. (via Wikipedia)
- “Radcliffe is exceptionally good at creating suspense and in ratchetting up the tension. Her prose is pleasing, and although she’s been criticised for going overboard with the descriptive passages I didn’t find that a problem at all in The Italian. … Despite its faults The Italian is reasonably entertaining. Four stars.” Dfordoom at Goodreads
The Castle of Wolfenbach by Eliza Parsons (1793). A young woman in peril seeks refuge in a gloomy castle.
- “The story speeds along, packed with tales of woe, heroes and villains, titles and society, swooning and fainting, weeping and wailing, swooning and fainting… And eventually, of course, the good are rewarded and the bad are punished. “The Castle of Wolfenbach” isn’t great literature but it is very readable and wonderful entertainment.” “ Fleur Fisher Reads
The Mysterious Warning by Eliza Parsons (1796). After an orphaned young man has been disinherited from his father, he hears a supernatural warning from beyond the grave urging him to flee for his life. (via Amazon publisher summary)
- “It is indeed satisfyingly “horrid,” filled with hideous misdeeds by profligate nobles, abductions, murders and banditry. Multiple subplots keep the action hot, and Frederick escapes death with remarkable frequency. The smartest character in the book is an admirable servant who foils evil plots and watches over Frederick’s interests.” Patto at Amazon
The Children of the Abbey by Regina Maria Roche (1796). A gothic romance in which two young people are robbed of their inheritance.
- “An excellent piece of work depicting an era where people were described by their character – not physical attributes; where honor and integrity were paramont considerations in personal as well as business matters. Five stars.” Patricia Covill at Amazon
Clermont by Regina Maria Roche (1798). A young woman lives in seclusion with her father until a mysterious visitor prompts her to search out the truth about him.
- “This was fluff of the finest order-an exquisitely creamy cheesecake-not a single gram of nutritional value, but so very rich and sweet. If ever you’re in a mood to shut your brain off and be simply entertained, even by the cliched and improbable, try Clermont. Four stars.” Keshena Booker at Goodreads
The Necromancer; or, The Tale of the Black Forest by Ludwig Flammenberg (Carl Friedrich Kahlert) (1794). A mysterious wizard haunts two adventurers. (via Wikipedia)
- No positive reviews found.
The Midnight Bell by Francis Lathom. (1798). A hero seeks to regain his estate after it’s taken from him.
- “I about fell over laughing repeatedly due to the ridiculous situations these characters got into along with just how unappealing any of the characters are. The heroine faints every other chapter. The hero cries at the drop of a hat. The story-telling is all tell and no show. But still, with all of its faults it is very entertaining.” mabrown2 at LibraryThing
Orphan of the Rhine. by Eleanor Sleath (1798). Unlike other gothic novels, the author of this one was herself a Catholic. It deals with a family that has hidden secrets.
- “An Ann Radcliffe wannabe, Sleath treats us to dastardly murders, mysterious monks, shocking discoveries in ruined towers, beleaguered characters with assumed names, last-minute rescues from hideous fates and edifying deathbed scenes. Three stars.” Patto at Amazon
Around the turn of the century, Matthew Gregory Lewis wrote some significant gothic novels. In America, Charles Brockden Brown, approached the gothic from a slightly different way.
Lewis was heavily influenced by Ann Radcliffe’s emphasis on the supernatural, but he took things a step farther by describing the gruesome scenes, thus becoming more known as a horror-gothic novelist. In addition to those mentioned below, Lewis also wrote the following: Tales of Terror, The Bravo of Venice (1805), and The Anaconda, from Romantic Tales (1808).
The Monk: a romance (1796). Written before the author turned 20. A well respected monk faces his downfall when he falls for a woman.
- “[This] completely dispels the notion that classics are dull and boring! While I wouldn’t say this was an easy read (due to the 18th century writing style and language you do need to concentrate) it was a real pageturner. … This book has almost every element of the gothic novel that you can think of: ghostly apparitions, haunted castles, ancient monasteries, bad weather, fortune telling gypsies, an evil prioress, dark dungeons and shadowy crypts, witchcraft, magic and pacts with the devil. It’s also very daring for the 18th century; with themes of murder, rape, incest, violence and torture, I can see exactly why it was so controversial in its day.” She Reads Novels
Castle Spectre (1799). A gothic romantic play that takes place in Wales.
- “The reading is made more interesting by Lewis’ own notes throughout, and his finishing appeal to the reader makes me wish to have seen the play back when it was being performed. There are quite a lot of predictable events and characters in the play … but on the whole it was an entertaining read.” Bjorn Andre Haugland at Goodreads
Charles Brockden Brown
One of the most prolific American writers before James Fenimore Cooper, Brown wrote with revolutionary ideas as well as enlightenment scientific ideas. His novels are often characterized as gothic fiction due to his emphasis on the captivity narrative. (via Wikipedia)
Wieland; or The Transformation by Charles Brockden Brown (1798). A tale of horror and mystery among German immigrants in Pennsylvania.
- “Setting a gothic romance among American Quakers proves to be an interesting conceit, as is allowing the swooning heroine to narrate the whole thing herself. … This was not just an enjoyable and unusual execution of the gothic novel, but simply a good read, and a fascinating precursor to other American writers like Edgar Allen Poe.” bibliographing
Arthur Mervyn by Charles Brockden Brown (1799). Terror during the 1793 yellow fever epidemic in Pennsylvanai.
- “The book is also a frightening and enlightening look at human behavior in the face of terror.” Lauren Albert at Goodreads
Ormond; or, the Secret Witness by Charles Brockden Brown (1799). The fall of a Pennsylvania family.
- “this is a gothic tale that explores myriad social controversies in the intense political climate of the late eighteen century, most especially the role of women in society. The plot will keep your interest though the prose can be dense. Three stars.” Emily at Goodreads
Edgar Huntly by Charles Brockden Brown (1799). An American gothic tale about a man who sleepwalks and his entanglement in a murder mystery.
- “A psychological thriller worth every minute of the read!!!!!” Mia at Goodreads
Jane Talbot by Charles Brockden Brown (1801). See below.
- “A series of 70 letters which tell the touching love story of the title character, a young American widow, and Henry Colden, the only son of a wealthy but imperious sire who opposes their union. The events narrated occur in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Japan, Java and Europe of the 1790′s. Another major character is Jane’s adoptive mother who abhors Henry as an unbeliever and (she supposes) profligate who would ruin her daughter. I can’t get over how much I admire the first (and in many respects to this day the greatest) of the Great American Novelists, Charles Brockden Brown!” Mark Stevenson at Goodreads
Zofloya, or, The Moor. A Romance of the Fifteenth Century by Charlotte Dacre aka Rose Matilda (1806). A spoiled daughter in the fifteenth century Italy follows a series of adventures dealing with lust, betrayal and murder.
- “I found Zofloya to be an engrossing page-turner. Part Castle of Otranto, part Caleb Williams, the story of the evil Italian beauty, Victoria, her ill-fated family, and the doomed “innocents” who cross her path is not your typical “damsel in distress” Gothic read.” Laura at Goodreads
Zastrozzi by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1810). An outlaw obsessed with revenge against his father and half-brother.
- “Quite a good little read.” Everett Darling at Goodreads
Later Pre-Victorian Gothic Novels/Stories
The Devil’s Elixir by E.T.A. Hoffman (1815). A monk finds the devil’s elixir and cannot resist it.
- “Simply the best horror story I’ve ever read, although i’m not much of an horror fan.” Nina at Goodreads
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818).
- “What is it about Shelley’s story that keeps drawing me back? I think, in part, it’s the depth and substance. The beauty. The horror. The fact that each and every time I read it, I walk away with something new.” Becky’s Book Reviews
- “The story is emotional and it pushes the reader’s feelings toward those of complete and utter despair, both from the Doctor’s perspective and that of the monster’s. The monster himself is not terrifying. He is a lost soul in part a product of his environment. I think that the story is more heartbreaking than it is scary.” Layers of Thought
The Vampyre by John Polidori (1819). The first vampire story, and only 30-35 pages long…
- “Polidori’s tale is short and has a plot so slimline that any introduction would be a spoiler, but it is easy and enjoyable as a read and fascinating for its part in literary history both with its origins … and with its place as the first in the long line of English language vampire fiction.” Juxtabook
- “On the inside and all the way down to his gooey, undead center, Lord Ruthven is a walking, talking warehouse of evil, corruption and sadism and there is not a single redeeming aspect to his personality. I found the outward angel and the inner devil to be a perfect combination for this eerie, gothic tale. Four stars.” Stephen at Goodreads
Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Maturin (1820). A cruel villain seeking to get out of his pack with the devil. Charles Maturin was a Church of Ireland clergyman labeled as “eccentric” who wrote a number of gothic novels and plays. This is the most well known (and only one I found in print and with current reviews).
- “This book is already pretty long, but I think it should have been twice its length. A very slow-moving, atmospheric, very well-written story containing stories containing stories. The organization is a little slipshod, and I get the feeling that the author just stopped the story and finished it before he had originally wanted to, but that doesn’t really detract from the MAJESTY of this work.” Clint Kyle at Goodreads
The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg (1824). Part-gothic horror and part psychological mystery, this is a terrifying story of one man’s decent into madness.
- “By turns sinister, terrifying, amusing, fanatical, complex, simple,realistic, supernatural, ludicrous, coarse, lyrical,poetic…All combining to make a wonderful read. Four stars.” Marie on Goodreads
The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo (1831). The deformed bell-ringer of Notre Dame falls for Esmerelda. The novel is gothic in its emphasis on the architecture of Notre Dame.
- “The dark, brooding and punishing interactions between the complex characters are a mastery of storytelling. The relationships of the characters with themselves are also part of this complex plot. … once you get through the descriptive sections (I skimmed some of them) you’ll discover a phenomenal book which certainly deserves the “classic” stature which has been bestowed upon it.” Man of La Book
Satires of Gothic novels
The Heroine by Eaton Stannard Barrett (1813).
- “This book is a highly amusing parody of the Romantic-era gothic novel and (perhaps unintentionally) of female quixotism. If you can get your hands on it, it’s a good read.” Veronica at Goodreads
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (1818). Catherine Moreland loves reading gothic literature, and tries to place everything she sees and everyone she meets into the gothic context to hilarious consequences.
- “Catherine is an interesting character, and I enjoyed her love for the gothic literature, and was amused by her quest to find her own gothic adventure. This book also has an interesting take on the social class of the time the differences between them.” Jules’ Book Reviews
Nightmare Abbey by Thomas Love Peacock (1818). A ridiculous satire of the romantic poets.
- “Slight, but fun; and all the better, I suspect, if you know your Romantic poets.” Eve’s Alexandria
No Reviews Found
- Horrid Mysteries by Marquis de Grosse (1796). From German. A hero finds himself caught in a secret revolutionary society.
- Vancenza; or the Dangers of Credulity by Mary Robinson (1792).
- Anonymous. Count Roderic’s Castle (1794), The Haunted Castle (1794), The Animated Skeleton (1798) and The New Monk (1798)
- Anonymous. Fantasmagoriana, ou Recueil d’Histoires d’Apparitions de Spectres, Revenans, Fantomes, etc.; traduit de l’allemand, par un Amateur (Paris: Lenormant et Schoell, 1812).
- Don Corrado de Gerrera by Nikolay Gnedich¨s (1803). The first Russian gothic novel.
- St. Irvyne; or, The Rosicrucian by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1811). A follow up to Zastrozzi. A solitary wanderer meets and alchemist who has secret to immortality.
- “A Terrible Vengeance” by Nikolai Gogol (1831). A gothic horror story. It is folkloric in tone and is about evil spirits in the everyday world.
- “Viy” by Nikolai Gogol (1835). A gothic horror story about a demonic character.
Books and authors that may be considered Gothic
If you know of others books and authors, please leave a comment and I’ll try to add it to this list.
- William Godwin. Caleb Williams.
- Washington Irving. Selected Stories.