5 Gothic Novels, By the Numbers

we-have-always-lived-in-the-castle001Gothic novels come in many flavors, ranging from the classics, like Matthew Lewis’s The Monk, that helped pave the way to some of my favorites, and newer works, like Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, that perfectly fit the bill. But my favorites all share the same things: creepy houses, mysterious relatives, unexplained ailments/physical deformities, and always a twisty secret. Below, I’ve ranked my favorite Gothic novels based on those components. There are too many greats to list them all, but here’s a good starter guide for someone looking forward to a chill-inducing Gothic summer:

My Cousin Rachel, by Daphne du Maurier
Every Gothic list worth its salt mentions Rebecca, but a lesser-known but still super rad novel is de Maurier’s other macabre tale, My Cousin Rachel. Philip Ashley goes to live with his cousin Ambrose, who falls in love and marries a woman named Rachel on a trip in Florence before randomly dying. Philip is immediately suspicious of Rachel, but finds himself inexplicably drawn to her. Is she guilty of murdering Ambrose? If you loved Rebecca‘s puzzling thrills, you’ll be equally gripped by My Cousin Rachel. 

 Breakdown:
Creepy houses: 1
Unpleasant attics: 0
Mysterious relatives: 1
Illness/physical impairments: 0
Deaths: 1
Poisonings: 0
Orphans: 1
Falling down the stairs: 0
Destructive fires: 0
Twisty secrets: 1
Total: 5

The Fall of the House of Usher, by Edgar Allan Poe
Right off the bat, readers get a very creepy feeling when introduced to the House of Usher, where an unnamed narrator is visiting his sick friend, Roderick Usher, who needs a bit of a cheer-up:

“About the whole mansion and domain there hung an atmosphere peculiar to themselves and their immediate vicinity which had no affinity with the air of heaven, but which had reeked up from the decayed trees, and the gray wall, and the silent tarn—a pestilent and mystic vapor, dull, sluggish, faintly discernible, and leaden-hued.”

Usher’s sister is sick, too, and the story lays out all the terrible things happening to the final Usher descendants in their threatening old house before they die. Every single sinister detail in this book pulls you further through castle halls and nightmarish forests and adds to the characters’ mounting insanity and the book’s Gothic rush. A terrifying, dramatic ending awaits you. If you’re truly invested in being totally disturbed, The Fall of the House of Usher will be wholly satisfying.

Breakdown:
Creepy houses: 1
Unpleasant attics: 0
Mysterious relatives: 1
Illness/physical impairments: 2
Deaths: 1
Poisonings: 0
Orphans: 0
Someone falling down the stairs: 0
Destructive fires: 0
Twisty secrets: 1/2
Total: 5 1/2

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë
Brontë’s classic tells the story of Jane, an orphan raised by her cruel and wealthy aunt and eventually shipped off to boarding school. Later, she becomes a governess for the ward of the rich Mr. Rochester, who she falls in love with after saving him from a fire. They part ways until another fire eats up his home, Thornfield, this time, taking Rochester’s sight and one hand. Jane returns to Rochester because…love. Just like any great gothic novel, this book features a creepy attic, and you wouldn’t believe what’s in this one even if I told you.

Breakdown:
Creepy houses: 1
Unpleasant attics: 1
Mysterious relatives: 1
Illness/physical impairments: 1
Deaths: 0
Poisonings: 0
Orphans: 1
Falling down the stairs: 0
Destructive fires: 2
Twisty secrets: 1
Total: 8

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson
Creepy mansion? Check. Tea times? Check. Wheelchair? Check. Arsenic, mysterious relative, destructive fire?  Check, check, check. And beneath it all: a heavy blanket of madness. We Have Always Lived In The Castle tells the story of the Blackwoods, a gang that will immediately put you at unease. In the beginning, we learn that several members of the Blackwood family died at the dinner table, but it still feels like everyone knows something you don’t. (And they do.) When a strange cousin shows up for a stay, your brain really starts struggling to put the pieces together. And then there’s the fire. And the twist. You’ll feel like you’re having a really odd dream you can’t wait to wake up and tell your friends about. Your friends will be like, “you dreamed what? That’s pretty messsed up.” See also (obviously): Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.

Breakdown:
Creepy houses: 1
Unpleasant attics: 1
Mysterious relatives: 5
Illness/physical impairments: 1
Deaths: Several
Poisons: Several
Orphans: 0
Falling down the stairs: 0
Destructive fires: 1
Twisty secrets: 1
Total: 10

My Sweet Audrina, by V.C. Andrews
Choosing just one V.C. Andrews book for a Gothic list is like being forced to choose one grunge song out of Nirvana’s discography, but here I go: My Sweet Audrina is possibly the most Gothicy book of all time. It’s not just that there are Gothic elements (and oh, there are), but the entire atmosphere is so puzzling and vague you could choke on it. It stars Audrina, a girl who seems odd in every way. She doesn’t know how old she is. There are no clocks in her house. Her dad religiously makes her sit in a weird rocking chair. Everyone keeps talking about her perfect older sister, who is dead. People keep falling down the stairs. There are so many menacing details that it seems like Andrews is distracting you from the heart of the story, but it’s all so delicious that it’s okay.

Breakdown:
Creepy houses: 1
Unpleasant attics: 1
Mysterious relatives: 5
Illness/physical impairments: 2
Deaths: 2
Poisonings: 0
Orphans: 0
Falling down the stairs: Too many to count
Destructive fires: 0
Twisty secrets: 1
Total: 14

What’s your favorite gothic novel?

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