19 Early Gothic Short Stories, eerie classics of the Gothic tradition

Sometimes we just want to stroll around crumbling castles and be confronted with strange happenings for a short period.

Nothing like immersing oneself in a classic short story – and, more specifically, a Gothic one – for a few shivers down the spine, encounters with vampires, ghosts, or other monsters during a night of reading!

We invite you today to light a candle and take a warm blanket for a selection of gothic short stories, exploring madness, obsession, and ruins from classic tales by authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, Algernon Blackwood, Edith Warton, and more.

Dear Reader, the following selection only contains stories in the public domain. I offer links where you can read or download the story online, but they are available on other sites, libraries, and bookshops!

The Sandman (1815) by E. T. A. Hoffmann

A tale of obsession and madness, The Sandman follows Nathanael, a young student whose childhood memories are plagued by a scary old man. As a child, Nathanael believed this shadowy figure to be the mythical Sandman, who put children to sleep by snatching their eyes. When confronted with this same malevolent force as an adult, he is driven insane as he attempts to confront his childhood fears.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1820), by Washington Irving

In the isolated Dutch colony of Sleepy Hollow, Ichabod Crane, a timid schoolmaster, competes with the local hero for the hand of Katrina Van Tassel, the 18-year-old daughter and lone child of a wealthy farmer. As he exits a party at Van Tassel’s estate one fall evening, Crane is chased by the Headless Horseman, a ghost claiming to be the spirit of a Hessian warrior killed by a stray cannonball during the Revolutionary War.

“The Fall of the House of Usher” Illustrated by Arthur Rackham, in the collection “Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination” (1935)

The Fall of the House of Usher (1839), by Edgar Allan Poe

In one of Poe’s most famous classic tales filled with mystery, suspense, and death, a nameless narrator is sent to care for a reclusive friend and his sister in an ancient, haunted home. Both are psychologically and physically ill, and their paranoia and agitation are worsened by bizarre events on the property. Soon after, the narrator begins to feel the creepy old house’s ghostly impulses.

Rappaccini’s Daughter (1844), by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Giovanni Guasconti, a literature student in Renaissance-era Padua, is intrigued by Beatrice, the daughter of the recluse scholar Dr. Rappaccini. The Gothic atmosphere intensifies as Giovanni sees an unsettling link between Beatrice and the toxic plants in her father’s garden,

Ultor de Lacy (1861), by Sheridan Le Fanu

Captain Ultor De Lacy has charmed his way into Una Ardagh’s family home and begins to seek her affections. The housekeeper recognizes Ultor as a voracious vampire focused on seducing, marrying, and sustaining himself on Una’s blood. Doctor Hesselius, disguised as a hunchbacked peddler, tries to warn Una’s father, who refuses to believe in such superstitions and therefore unknowingly thwarts the Doctor’s attempts to save his daughter before she succumbs.

The Signal-Man (1866), by Charles Dickens

The title’s railway signalman tells the narrator about a ghost that has been tormenting him. The signalman’s job is to supervise the movements of passing trains from a signal-box in a deep cutting at a tunnel entrance on a lonely stretch of railway line. When there is a threat, his fellow signalmen notify him via telegraph and alarm. He receives phantom warnings of peril three times when his bell sounds in a way that only he can hear. Following each warning, a ghost appears, followed by a tragic accident.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Body Snatcher

The Body Snatcher (1884), by Robert Louis Stevenson

Two student anatomists obtain human remains in the early hours of the morning. The dreary persons who transport the remains rarely speak, and the students’ worries are never spoken aloud. Until one morning, when the drapery is removed from the face of a new acquisition, and one pupil knows it as the face of a dear friend who was alive and well only a few days before. Famously influenced by Burke and Hare’s Anatomy Murders

The Horla (1886), by Guy de Maupassant

The Horla depicts the gradual breakdown of a mind, from sadness to insanity – ailments with which Maupassant was intimately acquainted. The hero gradually feels invaded by another, who acts through him: the Horla, an invisible, unconscious entity that manipulates him. As a result, there is confusion, worry, and anxiety. Until the irreversible happens.

Ken’s Mystery (1888), by Julian Hawthorne

Blending Gaelic stories with Gothic mystery, this is the story of Kenningale – or Ken, as his friends call him. While traveling home late on Halloween in Ireland, he encountered an intriguing and gorgeous woman in a graveyard, and she requested him to play his banjo for her. Later that night, he ran into her…or was it her? She begged him to play once more. But what was the source of her coldness and pallor? And why did she regain her vigor and colour while he was chilled to the bone?

Amour Dure (1890), by Vernon Lee

This is the story of a young historian researching the counterfactual city-state of Urbania, told through diary entries. He becomes entangled with a long-dead femme fatale, the Renaissance beauty Medea di Carpi, who reaches out to him through various media across the centuries, dragging him to his doom.

The Mark of the Beast (1891), by Rudyard Kipling

When a carousing Englishman desecrates the sanctified image of the Hindu god Hanuman, a leprous “Silver Man” curses him. The following night brings more terrors to the unfortunate man’s home.

The Yellow Wallpaper (1892), by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

After her physician husband diagnoses her with “temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency” following the birth of her child, a woman is locked into a bedroom on the second floor of a mansion, with barred windows and fading yellow wallpaper. As the yellow wallpaper in front of her changes and the gloomy mood is accentuated, she becomes persuaded that there is a human shape in the design and that she must liberate her.

The Yellow Wall-paper illustrated by Joseph Henry Hatfield, 1892

Lot No. 249 (1892), by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Abercrombie Smith, a young medical student at Oxford, is summoned to the room of fellow student Bellingham – a zealous Egyptologist who looks to have fainted due to a severe shock – and utilizes his medical talents to resuscitate him. But this is far from the first bizarre episode involving Bellingham, who appears to be becoming increasingly preoccupied with studies on a strange and spooky Mummy that he keeps in his chamber. Abercrombie Smith suspects that something otherworldly is going on after a succession of mysterious and hazardous attacks on pupils against whom Bellingham has a vendetta. He embarks on an investigation to solve the mystery…

The Duchess at Prayer (1900), by Edith Wharton

An old man leads a visitor inside Duchess Violante’s apartments, where he tells the sad story of the Duchess, whose rooms have been empty since her mysterious death. Though seemingly admired for her religious devotion, the Duchess’s true motivations and the noticeable disparity between her public person and private actions gradually emerge.

Luella Miller (1902), by Mary Wilkins Freeman

Luella Miller is an enigmatic and unnerving woman who appears to have a peculiar effect on everyone around her. As the residents of the little village become involved in Luella’s life, a sequence of terrible and frightening occurrences unfolds.

The Monkey’s Paw (1902), by W.W. Jacobs

One day, an old acquaintance of Mr. Zhang returns to see him and his family after spending years traveling in the mystical highlands of China’s Yunnan Province. He tells the Zhangs about a monkey’s paw that has magical abilities to give its owner three wishes. Against his better judgment, he grudgingly gives the monkey paw to the Zhang family, along with a warning that making wishes comes at an expensive price….

The Monkey’s Paw, illustrated by Maurice Grieffenhagen

The White People (1904), by Arthur Machen

Cotgrave and his companion Ambrose debate the thin line that divides sorcery and the sacred. Unable to agree on the essence of good and evil, or what distinguishes a sinner from a saint, Ambrose lends his colleague a book. The green book, surprisingly well-kept for its age, accompanies Cotgrave on his way home, where he opens it to discover a weird, intriguing tale. Its pages feature a journal of a young girl who immerses herself in the realm of magic. As she gains proficiency in witchcraft, the girl begins to refer to odd entities and unfamiliar places, all while attempting to conceal her hidden existence.

The Wendigo (1910), by Algernon Blackwood

Days removed from society, Five men look for moose in the snow-covered wilderness where residents dread to venture, but instead discover something more horrifying and otherworldly. One of them is swept away with a rush of wind and the stench of savage nature, leaving them to wonder: who will be next?

A Vine on a House (1913), by Ambrose Bierce

When Matilda Harding mysteriously vanishes, people begin to notice that a vine growing on the Harding house bears an uncanny resemblance to her. The events that unfold next are terrifying to the Harding family…

For more Gothic Fiction, see our selection of Early Gothic Books to read for some chills and thrills.