Many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore

This summer I’m embarking on a Gothic literature reading project- an independent study directed by one of my professors- and, of course, I’ll be synthesizing my thoughts here.

First of all: why Gothic lit? Primarily as a foundation- I’m enmeshed in a larger project (I know, wheels within wheels) looking at gender stuff in Victorian ghost stories (19th century saw the rise of published women’s writing, it was a time of unrest with gender roles, a time of drastic social changes with roles and economics and world views, a time of “official” rigidity of social mores that leads to all this really cool submerged stuff.) Victorian ghost stories, and the Victorian Sensation fiction (which I’m also very interested in) has its roots in the Gothic.

My experience with Gothic literature is kind of hit and miss: I’ve read Dracula and Frankenstein several times each; I’ve read some of the more recent works (Neil Gaiman, Anne Rice, Elizabeth Kostova, Daphne du Maurier) but all of them just for fun, not as “works in a genre.”

Speaking of works in the genre–we all get an image in mind when someone refers to Gothic, whether it be Anne Rice, Evanescence or Pauley Perrette. The genre of Gothic literature is usually defined as some combination of horror and romance, physical spaces play a big part (think spooky houses and lonely cemeteries), misunderstandings, mistreated women, quest for the sublime (huh? I’m going to have to research that a bit), doubles, madness, and hereditary curses. How absolutely fabulous.

Here’s my reading list (so far):

  1. Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto
  2. Beckford’s Vathek
  3. Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho
  4. Lewis’s The Monk
  5. Austen’s Northanger Abbey
  6. Marsh The Beetle
  7. Five Victorian Ghost Novels, E.F. Bleiler, editor
  8. Botting’s The Gothic
I also get to add more if I choose; I think I’m going to up it to 10 books, just because it’s a nice round number. I’m going to include either Daphne du Maurier’s The Flight of the Falcon or The Scapegoat. (I’d go with Rebecca, but I read that earlier this year and that seems like cheating.)

The Flight of the Falcon is [possibly] my favorite du Maurier. A successful young tour guide meets a decrepit beggar woman from his past and gets pulled into a particularly violent college demonstration. I love this book. It blends the unrest of the twentieth century (student demonstrations, enforcers reminiscent of Hitler Youth) with the sense of timelessness contained in the ancient architecture of old Italian towns.

I’ve read The Scapegoat, I know, but it’s been ages and I don’t quite remember the plot. I know it includes doubles–the scapegoat is (I think) an illegitimate scion of an ancient house, his legitimate brother sets him up to take the fall for… something or other. No idea what happens next, I vaguely recall a huge stone mansion and flickering candlelight in a spiral staircase.

Anyone have a suggestion for my tenth book? Let me know! Or any resources, articles, websites, whatever that you think I shouldn’t miss?

I’m beginning with the first in the genre:  The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole. I’m starting it tonight. A storm is blowing in and the long white curtains are billowing in the wind. Maybe I’ll read by candlelight. (As Scooby would say, “spoooooky.”)

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