If you like your literature served with a side of gloom, doom, and medieval moodiness, the reading list we just compiled is going to make you a very happy bookworm. That's right, we're putting the library light on gothic novels, where haunted houses, spooky castles, supernatural happenings, curses, epic romances, and, of course, plenty of death and decay are found on every page.
But they're also much more than that. Often full of moralistic truths and allegorical stories about love and humanity, gothic novels tend to stretch from the darkest depths to the light and virtue of the heavens. Shrouded in all that darkness and juxtaposed so starkly against tragedy and macabre, the moments of tenderness and hope are even sweeter than usual. With 11 gothic novels to get excited about, the only thing left to do is choose which one you want to bury your nose in first.
As Oscar Wilde's only published novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray will have a special place on your bookshelves. You can expect decadence, debauchery, and all things grotesque in this metafictional portrait of a young man who is obsessed with beauty, art, and everything else that sits pretty on the surface of things. As he sinks further into the underbelly of 18th-century British society, his own painting transforms into something monstrous.
A Taste of the Gloom and Doom: "The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it."
A private shame, an unhappy memory, a haunted woman in the window… Attics always tend to represent sinister things, don't they? Flowers in the Attic is no exception, in fact, it takes the disturbing motif to a whole new level. It's about four young children locked away in the attic of their abusively superstitious grandmother's sprawling attic. There are five more books in the series, too, so you know you'll be able to come back from more macabre if once wasn't enough.
A Taste of the Gloom and Doom: "We lived in the attic, Christopher, Cory, Carrie, and me. Now there are only three."
This is one of those middle school or high school books you have to read for homework and, much to your surprise, actually really enjoy it. It's a literary classic, coming-of-age tale, and gothic novel all at once. The protagonist, Jane, is orphaned and sent to an abusive and often horrifying boarding school until she is able to start over as an adult.
A Taste of the Gloom and Doom: "Was it, I asked myself, a ray from the moon penetrating some aperture in the blind? No; moonlight was still, and this stirred; while I gazed, it glided up to the ceiling and quivered over my head."
If you're looking for a gothic novel with all the classic qualities but a more modern spin, pick up We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Published in 2006 by Shirley Jackson, it traces the mass death of a family in which all but two sisters have perished. It involves a lethal dose of arsenic in the sugar supply, an odd, inseparable pair of sisters, and one very mysterious cousin.
A Taste of the Gloom and Doom: "We eat the year away. We eat the spring and the summer and the fall. We wait for something to grow and then we eat it."
Known for her gothic fantasies and perfect conjurings of bygone eras, Anne Rice crafts an intelligent, gripping, and moving thriller with Interview With the Vampire. Set in New Orleans in the 1700s, a vampire's first-person confessions are at once and haunting, philosophically enlightening, and erotic. It's an easy favorite. Once you finish reading it, watch the movie adaptation, which stars Brad Pitt.
A Taste of the Gloom and Doom: "Evil is always possible. And goodness is eternally difficult."
Whether you read Charlotte Perkins Gilman's short story as a feminist gospel that speaks to the consequences of patriarchal oppression or as a horror story about one woman's descent into madness, it'll change the way you think. One of the first stories of its kind, it's a must-read. It's also a good choice for someone who thinks they may like gothic literature but doesn't want to commit to a full-on novel yet.
A Taste of the Gloom and Doom: "When you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide—plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions. The color is repellent, almost revolting; a smoldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight."
Dracula is the O.G. of gothic novels. In 1987, Irish author Bram Stoker brought the now-famous Count Dracula to life (though it's worth noting that he didn't actually invent him). It's about the vampire as he moves from his home in Transylvania to England, where tries to spread his curse of everlasting life that feeds on the blood of men and women.
A Taste of the Gloom and Doom: "Loneliness will sit over our roofs with brooding wings."
Nathaniel Hawthorne is the ultimate American romanticist, and he also happens to deliver a mean Gothic tale. Pick up his entire collection of short stories, each of which turns out to be an epic allegory/moralistic fairy tale for adults, addressing themes of materialism, repression, and humankind's impossible pursuit of dominating nature. If you want to get a taste of one before reading more, we recommend starting with "Rappaccini's Daughter." It takes place in a medieval Italian town and comes complete with a lush garden full of poisonous plants, a misguided doctor, and a beautiful young woman.
A Taste of the Gloom and Doom: "But there is an influence in the light of the morning that tends to rectify whatever errors of fancy, or even of judgment, we may have incurred during the sun's decline, or among the shadows of the night, or in the less wholesome glow of moonshine."
As described on Amazon, The Monk "is a Gothic festival of sex, magic and ghastly, ghostly violence rarely seen in literature." This 1796 novel follows a monk as he is seduced and ultimately corrupted. Even after 200 hundred years on library shelves, it's still considered controversial and horrifying.
A Taste of the Gloom and Doom: "Sometimes I felt the bloated Toad, hideous and pampered with the poisonous vapors of the dungeon, dragging his loathsome length along my bosom: Sometimes the quick cold Lizard rouzed me leaving his slimy track upon my face and entangling itself in the tresses of my wild and matted hair: Often have I at waking found my fingers ringed with the long worms which bred in the corrupted flesh of my Infant."
Crack open anything by Edgar Allan Poe, and you are sure to come across stories and images that are as poignant as they are dark and disturbing. The Raven is particularly cutting, a narrative poem packed with omens and mythology and oozing with a gothic mood.
A Taste of the Gloom and Doom: "Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December. And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor."
No gothic novel roundup is complete without Frankenstein. Mary Shelley's classic pivots around concerns as old as time: the limitations and dangers of science, and the concepts of personhood and belonging. It'll have you wondering what makes a monster a monster.
A Taste of the Gloom and Doom: "If I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear!"