13 Early Gothic Books to read for some chills and thrills

One of the oldest subgenres of the horror genres, Gothic Horror – sometimes called Gothic Fiction or Gothic Literature – carries us to those dark places full of cobwebs where a dreamlike ambiance can make it quite difficult to know if what is happening is the reality of a dream/nightmare. The present is constantly haunted by the past, assuring you to create a quite haunting tale.

Putting a great emphasis on ambiance, Gothic Horror had an influence exceeding the limits of the horror genre and inspiring authors of science-fiction, romance, thriller, and adventures using gothic motifs and aesthetics in their works.

Today, we invite you to explore the ruins of decaying castles filled with mysteries and classic tales and to become more familiar with this important genre with this list of classic books of Gothic Horror that have influenced many other stories after.

The Castle of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole

Considered the first Gothic horror novel, The Castle of Otranto is set in a remote medieval land, where the harsh and arrogant Prince Manfred reigns. He banishes his wife to the castle prison and plans to marry Isabella, his recently departed son’s gorgeous fiancée. His plans are foiled, however, when a kind peasant helps Isabella escape through the castle’s underground tunnels. Supernatural and horrible occurrences take place, alluding to a prophecy that foretells the prince’s demise and opens the way for justice for Isabella’s savior, and rightful heir to the throne.

The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) by Ann Radcliffe

Emily St. Aubert enjoys a contented life in idyllic rural seclusion, surrounded by her caring and enlightened parents. However, tragedy strikes when she loses her parents, leaving her in the care of her cruel aunt and her sinister new husband. This wicked man, Signor Montoni, harbors intentions of acquiring both his wife’s wealth and that of her niece. He confines them within the foreboding medieval fortress known as Castle Udolpho. Separated from her beloved Valancourt, Emily finds herself grappling with tormenting visions and fears as Ghostly forebodings and malevolent attacks on her virtue and life emerge.

The Monk (1796) by Matthew Lewis

This is the tale of Ambrosio’s terrifying fall from grace, who is initially seduced by temptations offered by a girl posing as a boy inside his monastery. He then descends into a sequence of progressively heinous deeds involving magic, murder, incest, and torture. The Monk examines how violent and sexual desires may overcome obstacles of social and moral constraint through a combination of sensationalism and deep psychological understanding.

Frankenstein (1818) by Mary Shelley

Victor Frankenstein’s activities resulted in an enormous tragedy. Driven by a passionate yearning to grant life, he has instead given birth to a monster. This rejected creature, rejected by its creator and ostracised by society, follows Dr. Frankenstein with a heart filled with terror and violence. The creature follows its creator across the wide expanse of the planet, driven by a craving for vengeance and a proclivity for murder.

The Essential Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe by Edgar Allan Poe
No list of the Gothic genre would be complete without the work coming from Edgar Allan Poe, described as The Founding Father of Gothic Literature. He is the writer of classic tales and poems of the genre, including “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Raven,” “Annabel Lee,” and “The Bells.”

Woman in White (1859) by Wilkie Collins

On a tragic night, while returning home, Walter Hartwright sees a mysterious person known as the ‘lady in white’ and offers her assistance. This encounter represents the start of a chain of events in his life. Following that, Walter gets a job as a drawing instructor in northern England and falls in love with one of his students, Laura Fairlie. Laura, on the other hand, is engaged to Sir Percival Glyde. When Laura receives a letter warning her not to marry Glyde, the plot develops. Walter has a strong suspicion that the sender of this letter is the enigmatic ‘lady in white’ he previously helped.

Carmilla (1872) by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Laura’s calm existence in the secluded Styrian countryside takes a dramatic turn when she comes paths with the intriguing and alluring Carmilla. Their connection sparks a growing attachment, but as the relationship progresses, Laura becomes engulfed in a universe of weird nightmares, menacing shadows, and an unyielding malevolence that refuses to let go.

The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1886) by Robert Louis Stevenson

The idea of split personality was first explored in Robert Louis Stevenson’s unsettling psychological fiction. A London-based barrister named Gabriel John Utterson investigates a series of bizarre incidents involving his lifelong friend Dr. Henry Jekyll and a person going by the name of Edward Hyde, which leads to a search for a killer through the city’s mist-shrouded streets.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) by Oscar Wilde

Dorian Grey, enchanted by the appeal of his own faultless painting, makes a Faustian bargain to exchange his soul for eternal youth and beauty. He becomes embroiled in a debauched dual existence, guided by the cunning Lord Henry Wotton. This allows him to pursue his most nefarious impulses while maintaining the appearance of a refined gentleman in the eyes of high society. The steady deterioration of Dorian’s portrait is the only evidence of his journey into decadence.

Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker

Jonathan Harker, a young lawyer, embarks on a mission and unwittingly becomes confined within a castle in Transylvania by his enigmatic host. Meanwhile, back in his homeland, his fiancée and friends confront a menacing malevolent force that appears determined to inflict suffering and wreak havoc. The unsettling question arises: has the devil truly arrived on the shores of England? What insatiable hunger drives this malevolent presence?

The Turn of the Screw (1898) by Henry James

A young governess is assigned to a rural estate to care for two orphaned children. Her stay in the home, however, takes an unsettling turn as she begins to sense an overwhelming atmosphere of malevolence within its walls. Soon, she is gripped by the fear that an evil presence is stalking the children in her care.

The Phantom of the Opera (1910) by Gaston Leroux

The new managers of the Paris Opera House make a terrible mistake by dismissing warnings about the horrific ‘Opera ghost’ said to haunt the theatre. Their carelessness turns disastrous. This malicious Phantom catches Christine Daaé’s mind, emerging as her ‘Angel of Music’ – an ethereal voice that raises her singing to unmatched heights. The Phantom’s jealousy escalates when Christine catches the attention of a handsome young Viscount, pushing him to seek vengeance. When Christine unexpectedly vanishes after a spectacular performance, everything suggests that the Phantom’s reckoning has arrived.