Saturday, September 05, 2009


Both for my personal pleasure and because they relate directly to an idea I’ve got, I’ve been reading or re-reading what I call “big gothic mindfuck novels” lately. These include :

The Magus by John Fowles

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Shadowland by Peter Straub

These novels have certain things in common.
  • They are long and dense, full of sensual description (particularly of lush landscape, food, and striking physical aspects of character).
  • The prose is meaty and traditional, eschewing clipped modern sentences and formal or postmodern experimentation in favor of vivid description, interior monologue, and character development.
  • The sensibility is very British
  • The protagonists are young/callow/arrogant/about to get a serious lesson via the events of the novel (not all of these apply in every case; the narrator of Rebecca, certainly, is not arrogant).
  • The plots involve…
................. - a large and opulent mansion/estate
................. - isolation at said mansion/estate
................. - rising threat of personal harm to the protagonist
................. - an older, charismatic, intimidatingly experienced mentor figure who is potentially or actually malevolent
................. - a mysterious woman
................. - sexual intrigue
................. - illusions or deceptions of some sort that force the protagonist to question his or her own senses and/or the nature of reality
................. - ominous animals
  • The stories are rich and satisfying, full of incidents and surprises.
If you have not read any of these three novels (and if the qualities listed above sound appealing) then you ought to acquire and read them immediately. I never knew that Shadowland was directly inspired by the The Magus until I read the introduction to the newest mass market paperback edition a few weeks ago. I encountered both novels independently, many years ago.

My question, anyway, is—can anyone recommend other novels that fall into this category? Novels that are as good as the ones listed above? (Because another thing they have in common is that they are all excellent.) My little mini-genre is rather small and exclusive. What am I missing?


waggish said...


N A said...

I love Lanark, but I definitely wouldn't put it in this category--doesn't have the basic element of the big isolated mansion/estate. And most importantly, it's a formally experimental novel, arguably a pretty radical one. The novels in this category are all in a more formally traditional vein. But I haven't read Gormenghast--I'll check that out further. Thanks!

waggish said...

Part 3 (the first section, that is) of Lanark maybe? Gray does insist on how much of Lanark is ripped off from 19th century novels.

Gene Wolfe's Book of the Long Sun?

Jose Donoso's A House in the Country?

Little Miss Nomad said...

Have you read Jane Eyre?

ERIN NEWBY said...

i'd second the bronte suggestion, although i'd go for emily and wuthering heights (what it lacks in opulence it makes up for in isolation, utter creepiness, and proper ghosts) before charlotte's marginally-more-buoyant offerings. the romantic thread is more compellingly screwed, too. wilkie collins is also good at this sort of thing - try the moonstone or, better, the woman in white.

paula said...

I took a Gothic lit course in grad school and loved it. I've read The Monk by Matthew Lewis twice (wrote about if for that site I used to write for...I also tried to and have not given up in turning it into a screenplay) Also, Melmoth the Wanderer comes up from that time...very dense shit.

Frankenstein is not neccessarily Goth, but I believe it deserverdly classic. I wrote a paper about how it's all about her miscarrying.

Angela Carter can be very gothic and strange. Oh- Hawthorne! He hold up, solidly.

I loved The Magus- even if it's silly. I want to read Rebecca- thanks for mentioning it.

That's it for now. I love Gothic lit. It's late and I'm watching tennis!

N A said...

Great suggestions all.

David, I'd never heard of A House in the Country before, so that goes on the list.

Kati--of course, Jane Eyre! I can't believe I didn't think of that.

Erin, good call, my friend Hel also endorses those Wilkie Collins books, which I havent read yet.

Paula, The Monk goes on my list too. Definitely read Rebecca. I actually read it for the first time on the beach just now--so good! I'm now reading lots and lots of du Maurier.

Anonymous said...

Have you tried Patrick McGrath's The Asylum or Dr. Haggard's Disease?
May not be exactly what you're looking for but falls into the category of modern gothic.

N A said...

Good thinking. McGrath wrote the introduction to the recent NYRB collection of Du Maurier stories, "Don't Look Now." In fact, I think he also selected the stories.

ERIN NEWBY said...

yes, collins is quite the thing. if you can get your hands on some of the lesser-known or even out-of-print works, you'll find some brilliant opium-addled oddities; he wrote a ton of books, mostly forgotten. i seem to remember a horrific legless character, called miserrimus, who walks about on his hands and poisons people. like something out of a nightmare. he's in 'the law and the lady', i believe. there's also 'poor miss finch', about a blind woman who falls in love with a blue man, then regains her sight.

christian said...

Bleak House by Dickens has a lot of the elements you're describing, though it has a lot of other elements too. Much darker than his other stuff.

N A said...

I'm getting so much useful information here. Can't wait to read more Collins now after I'm off my current du Maurier kick.