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One From the Archive: Gothic Novels

First published in December 2015.

There is little that I enjoy better in winter than curling up with a startling Gothic novel.  Below are five of my favourites.

1. Florence and Giles by John Harding
‘In a remote and crumbling New England mansion, 12-year-old orphan Florence is neglected by her guardian uncle and banned from reading. Left to her own devices she devours books in secret and talks to herself – and narrates this, her story – in a unique language of her own invention. By night, she sleepwalks the corridors like one of the old house’s many ghosts and is troubled by a recurrent dream in which a mysterious woman appears to threaten her younger brother Giles. Sometimes Florence doesn’t sleepwalk at all, but simply pretends to so she can roam at will and search the house for clues to her own baffling past. After the sudden violent death of the children’s first governess, a second teacher, Miss Taylor, arrives, and immediately strange phenomena begin to occur. Florence becomes convinced that the new governess is a vengeful and malevolent spirit who means to do Giles harm. Against this powerful supernatural enemy, and without any adult to whom she can turn for help, Florence must use all her intelligence and ingenuity to both protect her little brother and preserve her private world. Inspired by and in the tradition of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, Florence & Giles is a gripping gothic page-turner told in a startlingly different and wonderfully captivating narrative voice.’

2. Dracula by Bram Stoker 9780141199337
‘A chilling masterpiece of the horror genre, “Dracula” also illuminated dark corners of Victorian sexuality. When Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania to advise Count Dracula on a London home, he makes a horrifying discovery. Soon afterwards, a number of disturbing incidents unfold in England: an unmanned ship is wrecked at Whitby; strange puncture marks appear on a young woman’s neck; and the inmate of a lunatic asylum raves about the arrival of his ‘Master’, while a determined group of adversaries prepares to face the terrifying Count.’

3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
‘”I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will.” Bronte’s infamous Gothic novel tells the story of orphan Jane, a child of unfortunate circumstances. Raised and treated badly by her aunt and cousins and eventually sent away to a cruel boarding school, it is not until Jane becomes a governess at Thornfield that she finds happiness. Meek, measured, but determined, Jane soon falls in love with her brooding and stormy master, Mr Rochester, but it is not long before strange and unnerving events occur in the house and Jane is forced to leave Thornfield to pursue her future.’

97818440887994. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
‘Working as a lady’s companion, our heroine’s outlook is bleak until, on a trip to the south of France, she meets a handsome widower whose proposal takes her by surprise. She accepts but, whisked from glamorous Monte Carlo to brooding Manderley, the new Mrs de Winter finds Max a changed man. And the memory of his dead wife Rebecca is for ever kept alive by the forbidding housekeeper Mrs Danvers… An international bestseller that has never gone out of print, Rebecca is the haunting story of a young woman consumed by love and the struggle to find her identity.’

5. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
‘For lucidity and compactness of style, James’s short novels, or novelles, are shining examples of his genius. Few other writings of the century have so captured the American imagination. When “Daisy Miller,” the tale of the girl from Schenectady, first appeared in 1878, it was an extraordinary success. James had discovered nothing less than “the American girl”–free spirited, flirtatious, an innocent abroad determined to defy European convention even if it meant scandal . . . or tragedy. But the subtle danger lurking beneath the surface in “Daisy Miller” evolves into a classic tale of terror and obsession in “The Turn Of The Screw.” “The imagination, ” Henry James said to Bernard Shaw, “has a life if its own.” In this blood-curdling story, that imagination weaves the lives of two children, a governess in love with her employer, and a sprawling country house into a flawless story, still unsurpassed as the prototype of modern horror fiction.” “The Turn Of The Screw” seems to have proved more fascinating to the general reading public than anything else of James’s except “Daisy Miller.”‘

Which are your favourite Gothic novels?  Are there any which you would recommend to me?

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Reading the World: Europe (One)

Since setting out my Reading the World project, and working out which books fit best for each country, I have found that there are a wealth of countries which I have read only one or two books from or about, and some which I have not touched upon at all.  Rather than discard these posts altogether, I thought that it would be a good idea to bring them together under the broad heading of ‘Europe’, and schedule a few posts which showcase fiction and non-fiction from many other countries on the continent.  Without further ado, here is part one.

1. Dracula by Bram Stoker (Transylvania, Romania) 9780141199337
‘A chilling masterpiece of the horror genre, Dracula also illuminated dark corners of Victorian sexuality. When Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania to advise Count Dracula on a London home, he makes a horrifying discovery. Soon afterwards, a number of disturbing incidents unfold in England: an unmanned ship is wrecked at Whitby; strange puncture marks appear on a young woman’s neck; and the inmate of a lunatic asylum raves about the arrival of his ‘Master’, while a determined group of adversaries prepares to face the terrifying Count.’

2. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (many different places around Europe)
‘Late one night, exploring her father’s library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters addressed ominously to ‘My dear and unfortunate successor’. Her discovery plunges her into a world she never dreamed of – a labyrinth where the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s mysterious fate connect to an evil hidden in the depths of history. In those few quiet moments, she unwittingly assumes a quest she will discover is her birthright – a hunt for the truth about Vlad the Impaler, the medieval ruler whose barbarous reign formed the basis of the Dracula myth. Deciphering obscure signs and hidden texts, reading codes worked into the fabric of medieval monastic traditions, and evading terrifying adversaries, one woman comes ever closer to the secret of her own past and a confrontation with the very definition of evil. Elizabeth Kostova’s debut novel is an adventure of monumental proportions – a captivating tale that blends fact and fantasy, history and the present with an assurance that is almost unbearably suspenseful – and utterly unforgettable.’

97807553908543. The Book of Summers by Emylia Hall (Hungary; review here)
‘Beth Lowe has been sent a parcel. Inside is a letter informing her that her long-estranged mother has died, and a scrapbook Beth has never seen before. Entitled The Book of Summers, it’s stuffed with photographs and mementos complied by her mother to record the seven glorious childhood summers Beth spent in rural Hungary. It was a time when she trod the tightrope between separated parents and two very different countries; her bewitching but imperfect Hungarian mother and her gentle, reticent English father; the dazzling house of a Hungarian artist and an empty-feeling cottage in deepest Devon. And it was a time that came to the most brutal of ends the year Beth turned sixteen. Since then, Beth hasn’t allowed herself to think about those years of her childhood. But the arrival of The Book of Summers brings the past tumbling back into the present; as vivid, painful and vital as ever.’

4. Liquidation by Imre Kertesz (Hungary)
‘Kingbitter, an editor at a publishing house on the verge of closure, believes himself to have been the closest friend of a celebrated writer and Auschwitz survivor, B, who recently committed suicide. Amongst the papers B has left him, Kingbitter finds a play entitled Liquidation that uncannily predicts the behaviour of B’s ex-wife, his mistress and Kingbitter himself. As he obsessively reads and rereads the play, Kingbitter becomes transfixed with the idea that buried within these papers is B’s great novel: the book that will explain his relationship with Auschwitz. Harrowing but also bleakly comic, Liquidation is both a literary detective novel and an exploration of how B’s decision to end his life after surviving the horrors of Auschwitz affects those he leaves behind.’

5. The Tiger’s Wife by Thea Obrecht (unnamed Balkan country) 9780753827406
‘Natalia is on a quest: to discover the truth about her beloved grandfather. He has died far from home, in circumstances shrouded in mystery. Recalling stories her grandfather told her as a child, Natalia suspects he may have died trying to unravel two mysteries. One was the fate of a tiger which escaped during German bombing raids in 1941; the other a man who claimed to be immortal. But, as Natalia learns, there are no simple truths or easy answers in this landscape echoing with myths but still scarred by war.’

 

Purchase from The Book Depository

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‘The Judge’s House’ by Bram Stoker **** (Reading Ireland Month)

The next Irish story I read for Reading Ireland Month, hosted by Cathy746books and The Fluff Is Raging, is Bram Stoker’s The Judge’s House.

Bram Stoker is mostly well-known for his gothic horror novel Dracula, a tale which has inspired numerous adaptations in many artistic media. The story of Count Dracula is known by pretty much everyone nowadays, regardless of them being fans of the horror genre or not.

3014867-M Dracula‘s immense success, however, has resulted in Stoker’s other stories to be rather neglected and not so widely read. The Judge’s House is a short story, first published in a magazine called Holly Leaves the Christmas Number of The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News in 1891. The story was not published in book form during Stoker’s lifetime, since it was included in the short story collection Dracula’s Guest and Other Weird Stories merely two years after his death, in 1914.

The story begins when Malcolm Malcolmson, a university student, decided to move into a rather old and abandoned house in a small English village in order to find some peace and quiet to concentrate on his studies. He rents the house for some months, despite the horrified looks on everyone’s face when he tells them about his decision.

Things go smoothly at first, as he manages to get a lot of his studying done (and drink quite generous amounts of tea in the process), but it is not long before strange things begin happening. The sudden appearance of rats in the house, the creepy and dusty portraits that loom over him and the unexplained presence of a hanging rope beside the fireplace are just some instances.

Since it is a short story, I do not want to get into much detail and give it out. I really enjoyed reading this, as it contained all the Victorian gothic and horror elements that I adore in such stories. Stoker’s writing is really captivating and it manages to keep you at the edge of your seat until you finally find out what happens.

On a side note, the edition I got of this story is a really pretty one belonging to the Travelman Short Stories, by Travelman Publishing. It does not have the format of a regular book, but rather that of a map. You open it like a map and read each page as it unfolds. I thought it to be an excellent and really innovative idea – traditional books are always beautiful but such unconventional formats are really refreshing once in a while. I also have one more short story by this series, William Trevor’s The Summer Visitor, which I will be reviewing in the next couple of days.

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Spooky Halloween Reads (Part One – Classics)

Halloween is merely one week away and what better way is there to get into the spooky mood than read some spooky books 🙂 In preparation, I have made a compilation of some of my favourite classic books to read during Halloween. Here are my choices:

1. The Complete Stories and Poems by Edgar Allan Poe132314

“The unabridged Edgar Allan Poe contains all of Poe’s classic tales and most haunting poems – presented, for the first time, in the order he originally wrote them. This complete collection of Poe’s versatile genius lets you share his journeys into the wondrous and macabre that have entertained and fascinated readers for generations. Not a word has been deleted!”

the-turn-of-the-screw-and-other-stories 2. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

“A very young woman’s first job: governess for two weirdly beautiful, strangely distant,  oddly silent children, Miles and Flora, at a forlorn estate. An estate haunted by a  beckoning evil. Half-seen figures who glare from dark towers and dusty windows- silent,  foul phantoms who, day by day, night by night, come closer, ever closer. With growing  horror, the helpless governess realizes the fiendish creatures want the children, seeking  to corrupt their bodies, possess their minds, own their souls. But worse-much worse- the  governess discovers that Miles and Flora have no terror of the lurking evil. For they want  the walking dead as badly as the dead want them.”

3. Dracula by Bram Stokerdracula-cover

“When Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania to help Count Dracula with the purchase of a London house, he makes horrifying discoveries about his client and his castle. Soon afterwards, a number of disturbing incidents unfold in England: an unmanned ship is wrecked at Whitby; strange puncture marks appear on a young woman’s neck; and the inmate of a lunatic asylum raves about the imminent arrival of his ‘Master’. In the ensuing battle of wits between the sinister Count Dracula and a determined group of adversaries, Bram Stoker created a masterpiece of the horror genre, probing deeply into questions of human identity and sanity, and illuminating dark corners of Victorian sexuality and desire.”

frankenstein-cover 4. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

“Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein when she was only eighteen. At once a  Gothic thriller, a passionate romance, and a cautionary tale about the dangers of  science, Frankenstein tells the story of committed science student Victor Frankenstein.  Obsessed with discovering the cause of generation and life and bestowing animation  upon lifeless matter, Frankenstein assembles a human being from stolen body parts  but; upon bringing it to life, he recoils in horror at the creature’s hideousness. Tormented  by isolation and loneliness, the once-innocent creature turns to evil and unleashes a  campaign of murderous revenge against his creator, Frankenstein.
 Frankenstein, an instant bestseller and an important ancestor of both the horror and  science fiction genres, not only tells a terrifying story, but also raises profound, disturbing questions about the very nature of life and the place of humankind within the cosmos: What does it mean to be human? What responsibilities do we have to each other? How far can we go in tampering with Nature? In our age, filled with news of organ donation genetic engineering, and bio-terrorism, these questions are more relevant than ever.”

5. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Lerouxgaston-leroux-1

“First published in French as a serial in 1909, “The Phantom of the Opera” is a riveting story that revolves around the young, Swedish Christine Daaé. Her father, a famous musician, dies, and she is raised in the Paris Opera House with his dying promise of a protective angel of music to guide her. After a time at the opera house, she begins hearing a voice, who eventually teaches her how to sing beautifully. All goes well until Christine’s childhood friend Raoul comes to visit his parents, who are patrons of the opera, and he sees Christine when she begins successfully singing on the stage. The voice, who is the deformed, murderous ‘ghost’ of the opera house named Erik, however, grows violent in his terrible jealousy, until Christine suddenly disappears. The phantom is in love, but it can only spell disaster. Leroux’s work, with characters ranging from the spoiled prima donna Carlotta to the mysterious Persian from Erik’s past, has been immortalized by memorable adaptations. Despite this, it remains a remarkable piece of Gothic horror literature in and of itself, deeper and darker than any version that follows.”

legend-of-sleepy-hollow6. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

” “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is a story by Washington Irving written while he was living  in Birmingham, England. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is among the earliest examples of  American fiction still read today. The story is set circa 1790 in the Dutch settlement of  Tarry Town (based on Tarrytown, New York), in a secluded glen called Sleepy Hollow. It  tells the story of Ichabod Crane, who is a lean, lanky, and extremely superstitious  schoolmaster from Connecticut, who competes with Abraham “Brom Bones” Van Brunt,  the town rowdy, for the hand of 18-year-old Katrina Van Tassel, the daughter and sole child  of a wealthy farmer, Baltus Van Tassel. As Crane leaves a party he attended at the Van  Tassel home on an autumn night, he is pursued by the Headless Horseman, who is supposedly the ghost of a Hessian trooper who had his head shot off by a stray cannonball during “some nameless battle” of the American Revolutionary War, and who “rides forth to the scene of battle in nightly quest of his head.”

7. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson9780141389509

“Few Victorian mysteries are more haunting, sinister and profound than Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It is when Mr. Utterson, a dry London lawyer, peruses the last will of his old friend Henry Jekyll that his suspicions are aroused. What is the relationship between upright, respectable Dr. Jekyll and the evil Edward Hyde? Who murdered the distinguished MP, Sir Danvers? So begins Stevenson’s spine-tingling horror story, the story of Dr. Jekyll’s infernal alter ego, and of a hunt throughout the nocturnal streets of London that culminates in some dreadful revelations.”

What are your favourite spooky classic reads? 🙂