Tales of Terror: 6 Best Gothic Classics

A chill running down your spine, a romance under the shadow of death, dark hallways, haunted houses, and desolate moors. Well, this paints quite a picture, doesn’t it? If you are a fan of gothic novels, this is bound to intrigue you. For those whose interest is piqued yet do not have an inkling and are wondering what gothic novels are, worry not. We are here to help get your feet dipped in the fascinating waters of the gothic genre.

Way back in the 18th century, the Romantic literary movement took Europe by storm. Gothic Literature is a product of the movement. In the late 1700s, this brooding and terrifyingly gloomy genre emerged to sate the readers’ need for the eerie and macabre. Gothic fiction brings to us a sensational meeting of the past and present. In their bid to explain the unexplainable, Gothic novels were the first to present us with supernatural phenomena, horror, and psychological dilemma. The works depict the evil of the world instead of bringing to us sugar-coated fluffs.

Let us have a look at six early gothic classics that are bound to draw you into a literary world of spine-chilling darkness.

The First Gothic Novel

Book: The Castle of Otranto

Author: Horace Walpole

Horace Walpole

Horace Walpole can be credited for the birth of the gothic genre. In 1764, he came out with The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story. This was the first time when the word “gothic” was used in a literary context. Walpole’s novel inspired the rise of gothic literature. The book starts off with the death of Lord Manfred’s son on his wedding day. The frail boy was killed by s helmet falling from the heavens. This dramatic event gave credence to the prophecy that predicted the horrifying demise of the people living in Lord Manfred’s castle. Soon after his son’s death, Manfred sets out to divorce his wife and marry his son’s bride. However, his plans never seem to come to fruition. The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story is one of those stories that is rife with gothic tropes that we find in today’s novels of the same genre well. It is no wonder that this book is still one of the most-read gothic novels.

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A Spooky House Story

Book: The Fall of the House of Usher

Author: Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe, circa 1849, restored, squared off

First published in 1839 in Bruton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe deserves its fame as one of the most famous southern gothic novels. The book starts off with the narrator visiting his friend, Roderick Usher. He finds both Usher and his sister, Madeline, to be gravely ill. Poe’s book has a gloomy atmosphere where sickness and death reign supreme. The dark metaphors make us melancholy and really contemplate life. Poe is undoubtedly one of the finest authors of the gothic genre. All his tales of terror are a must-read for fans of the genre.

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The Flagship of Gothic Tales

Book: Dracula

Author: Bram Stoker  

Bram Stoker 1906

Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, Dracula, is the one that popularized the vampire tropes. The book’s popularity endures even today. The strong characters and gripping narrative make it a treat for readers. The epistolary novel follows Count Dracula. After imprisoning his lawyer, Johnathan Harker, the Transylvanian count sets out for London in order to sate his blood lust. In England, we meet Lucy Westenra, a gregarious lady about to get married. When she unexplainably becomes lethargic her friends and acquaintances take it upon themselves to find the cause. Dracula is an unmissable gothic novel that is sure to intrigue all vampire fans.

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A Shock to the Senses

Book: The Monk

Author: Matthew Lewis

Matthew Gregory Lewis by George Lethbridge Saunders, after Unknown artist

The Monk, penned by Matthew Lewis, still succeeds in shocking the reader centuries after its publication. Naturally, the 1796 novel still maintains its status as one of the most controversial gothic novels. The book is set during the age of the Spanish Inquisition. It follows Ambrosio, a young monk who believes himself to be immune from temptation. Little does he know that soon he would find himself on a path fraught with murder, incest, torture, and sorcery. With its vivid and gory descriptions of mutilated bodies, occult practices, dungeons, and spirits, the classic masterpiece has become a precursor to the horror genre. This book should be read by all fans of gothic and horror literature.

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When Terror Meets Sentiments

Book: The Mysteries of Udolpho

Author: Ann Radcliffe

Ann Radcliffe

Ann Radcliffe is rightfully known as the queen of gothic literature. Her stories are indeed spooky and bone-tingling. Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho is a stellar gothic novel. The book revolves around Emily St. Aubert, an innocent and beautiful orphaned girl. Circumstances lead her to the clutches of Montoni, a devious man who traps her in a terrifyingly isolated castle. Radcliffe continuously teases her readers with the possibility of supernatural occurrences. By the end, when all is explained in a rational manner, the reader is left all the more flabbergasted. The vivid and poetic writing style takes the reader on a wild ride in different exotic places and makes them experience terror while enjoying the creepy natural spaces of the 16th century. This book is bound to delight fans of gothic romance.

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The Last Gothic Classic

Book: Melmoth the Wanderer

Author: Charles Robert Maturin  


Considered to be the last gothic classic, Melmoth the Wanderer, penned by the Irish author Charles Robert Maturin, follows a man who makes a deal with the devil. When he finally realizes his blunder, he haunts poor people enticing them with the hope of happiness. His aim is to have someone exchange places with him. With an intricate exploration of horrors of all kinds, this book is indeed a cornerstone in the gothic genre.

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The Gothic genre is still as popular today as it was two centuries ago. Every now and then, we all require a dose of thrill. Gothic works not only provide that thrill but also succeeds in creeping us out. After reading a good gothic novel, you might not be able to get a peaceful night’s sleep. Still, you might long to pick up another tale of terror to shock your senses. I mean who doesn’t like to be transported to windy moors and cavernous houses, haunted by vampires or perhaps your very own personal demons? Do comment and let us know whether gothic literature is your cup of coffee. If so, what is the creepiest read you have come across to date?

Note: The cover image came from Pexels used with permission from WordPress. All other images belong to the public domain.

2 thoughts on “Tales of Terror: 6 Best Gothic Classics

  1. “The Monk” seems to have everything! I’m definitely checking that one out since I love neo-gothic writers, such as Ruth Ware. Thank you!


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