Gothic horror is a genre known for its ominous atmosphere. Building a sense of underlying fear and unleashing it into full-blown terror, gothic horrors bring together elements of mystery, death, and dark pasts into uniquely chilling stories. Often featuring an unknown horror, these gripping novels have withstood the test of time.
Dating back to the 18th century and Horace Wapole's The Castle of Otranto, the genre stands out with a long legacy of nerve-wracking work. Literary figures from Clara Reeve and Ann Radcliffe to Edgar Allen Poe and Lord Byron have become celebrated for their gothic works.
With the novels that defined the genre and modern titles written in the same style, the list below has all the best gothic horrors, new and old.
In the iconic novel Dracula, Bram Stoker perfectly captures the eerie allure and mysterious terror of gothic horror novels. When a solicitor goes to visit Count Dracula, despite the dire warnings of those in Transylvania, he finds himself drawn to the sophisticated Count. Only after it is too late, he realizes that Dracula’s charm is hiding something more sinister.
Later, a world away on the English Coast, the solicitor's wife-to-be, Mina, learns of a mysterious shipwreck. Without a trace of the crew, only the captain’s dead body and 50 boxes of Transylvanian dirt are found aboard the ship. And the unnerving shipwreck is just the first of many strange occurrences that will haunt Mina, and eventually bring her face-to-face with Count Dracula himself.
Related: 8 Scariest Vampires in Literature
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstien tells the epic tale of Victor Frankenstien, the Monster he created, and the lengths each go to destroy the other. In a scientific experiment gone too far, Victor Frankenstein creates an unnatural Monster he can not contain. And once it is loose in the outside world, the Monster is hardened by the cruelty and rejection it meets at every turn.
Burning with hatred, the Monster pursues Victor who condemned him to live such a painful life. All the while Victor tracks the Monster determined to find his creation that has had such ruinous effects. The two hunt one another in a tale that spans decades and winds from quaint villages to frigid tundras.
Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca is a dark psychological masterpiece. Beginning as a romance, Rebecca plunges into a twisted story of obsession, suspicion, and doubt. After falling in love, marrying, and moving to her new husband’s estate at Manderley, life seems but a dream for Maxim de Winter’s new wife. But as the newly-wed begins to question the mysterious circumstances surrounding Maxim’s first wife Rebecca, she finds herself living a nightmare. Doubting her husband, his past, and eventually herself, the newly-wed spirals toward madness.
And when you finish the novel, watch Alfred Hitchcock's 1940 film or Netflix's adaptation of the classic.
The Hound of the Baskervilles
The most famous of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels, The Hound of the Baskervilles is filled with foreboding omens. The gothic mystery tells of the age old curse of Baskervilles that has led to all sorts of mysterious, sudden, and unexplainable deaths. Drawing its origins from a tale in which a massive hound ripped Hugo Baskerville to pieces, the curse has continued for generations. And when the monster returns to claim yet another from the Baskerville family, Sherlock Holmes must get to the bottom of it.
J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Victorian gothic tale grips with intrigue, mystery, and suspense. Living in a mansion with her father, Maud Ruthyn finds her life lonesome and hollow. However, it is only worsened by the arrival of governess Madame de la Rougierre.
Maud finds the woman’s presence ominous and disturbing. And though the governess is dismissed from her mansion, Maud crosses paths with the frightening woman again when she is sent to live with her Uncle Silas, following her father’s death. Though she is supposed to live with her uncle until she can inherit her father’s house, Maud finds the arrangement increasingly terrifying, as she realizes that her Uncle and Madame de la Rougierre have other plans for her.
Shirley Jackson award-winning author Elizabeth Hand creates a modern gothic horror novel in this story set against the edgy world of acid-folk music. When a young band is sent to a house secluded in the country to focus on developing their first album, the isolation stirs not just creativity, but something much darker. In the process of recording, the band’s lead singer vanishes within the house.
And while the record kick starts the careers of the remaining band members, the lead singer’s disappearance remains a mystery. Years later, a filmmaker gathers the band members back together to recount what really happened in the manor house that summer.
The Haunting of Hill House
The basis for the hit Netflix show of the same name, The Haunting of Hill House will leave you utterly speechless, as only Shirley Jackson can. Looking to confirm the supernatural forces he specializes in, Dr. Montague visits Hill House, a manor rumored to be haunted.
Spending the summer in the house, along with his assistant, a young woman familiar with spirits, and the manor’s heir, Dr. Montague and the others begin to sense strange occurrences. More than just ghost stories, the terrors they experience intensify, as one member of the group becomes particularly enraptured by the mysterious house.
When she receives a letter from her newly-wed cousin, in desperate need of her help, Noemí sets out for High Place–the grand house of her cousin's new family. But when she gets to High Place, Noemí finds danger lurking everywhere. The house hides the dark secrets of the family her cousin has married into.
Though they were once rich, the family’s fortunes have changed. In the now strange and disquieting house, the family’s patriarch takes an unsettling interest in Noemí, while her cousin’s husband shows himself to be both cunning and captivating. And the more involved Noemí becomes in the vexing family, the more troubling her situation becomes.
Daughters of the Lake
After a recent divorce, Kate Granger travels to her parents home near Lake Superior to clear her head. But while at the edge of the lake, Kate comes across a murdered woman with a baby in her arms. Though no one else can identify the woman, Kate recognizes her. Having seen her in her dreams, Kate becomes pulled into the secrets of the Lake, some of which are generations old. Kate must uncover all that is beneath the surface, in this suspenseful and enchanting gothic work from Wendy Webb.
From Shirley Jackson Award winner Hye-young Pyun, The Hole tells a dark and psychologically-twisting tale. Oghi causes a car accident that kills his wife and leaves him isolated in the neglectful care of his mother-in-law. Spending day-in and day-out in a bedroom in her house–paralyzed and unable to leave–Oghi reflects upon his wife.
Though smart and thoughtful, her life’s greatest achievement amounted to the garden in front of the house, which his mother-in-law has disturbingly taken to uprooting. Digging holes deep into the earth, his mother-in-law explains that she is trying to carry out her daughter’s work. Deeply distressed by her behavior and the growing holes in the front yard, Oghi looks for a way out. But try as he might to flee, Oghi can never escape the damage of his marriage.
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