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Gothic & Victorian Classics TBR

goth

When I was younger, I really hated classics and had resolved never to read them, so convinced was I of my dislike for them. Now, after having read several classics, I can’t say that I’m head over heels in love with of any of them, but I do appreciate their literary merit, so I’ve been doing my best to expand my repertoire of classic novels (I owe it all to Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, which prompted my read of War and Peace). In the past two years, besides War and Peace, I’ve read Wuthering Heights, Northanger Abbey, Jane Eyre, and Rebecca (the only one I genuinely enjoyed, with no reservations).

Over this past year, as I’ve been writing my Fulbright application, I’ve rediscovered my teenage love for all things Gothic. I was a very emo teen, obsessed with horror and the macabre. I’m very intrigued by the Gothic literary aesthetic and all the anxieties it conveys about gender, class, race, imperialism, and much more (plus there’s so much draaaamaaaaaa). To that end, I’ve resolved to read several of the more well-known Gothic novels that have contributed to the construction of the genre. I have also rediscovered my love of the Victorian era, so I’ll also be looking to read classic books set during that time period, even if they may not be Gothic per se.

Another reason I really want to read these books is that there are a ton of modern-day novels that are based on these classics. I know that I don’t have to read the original books to enjoy the modern stories, but I would like to have that background. In another post, probably in mid-September, I’ll talk about my autumn TBR, which will consist of more modern Gothic stories!

Anyway, of course I want to share all these books with y’all, but I also want to have a super organized reference list of what I want to read; sometimes Goodreads just doesn’t cut it!


The Short & Pressing Reads

Frankenstein (1818) by Mary Shelley: Reading this right now! Often touted as the first sci-fi novel, it is also heavily associated with Gothic lit.

The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896) by H.G. Wells: This is the only book on this list that’s a bit of an outlier. It’s not really Gothic fiction, rather more sci-fi and horror, but it was written in the late Victorian era, plus there’s two (!) books I want to read soon based on it, and it’s super short. Will probably read this next!

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) by Robert Louis Stevenson: This is one of the most well-known works of literature in the Western world, considering how often it’s referenced! I’ve known about it since I was a child. It is supposed to encompass the urban Gothic feel of Victorian London pretty well! Will probably read this soon!

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) by Oscar Wilde: A book I want to read soon is based on this! But also, this seems to be a truly beloved classic and is hailed as one of the better, more readable Gothic novels. I really want to read this before October!

The Vampires

Carmilla (1872) by J. Sheridan LeFanu: Funny story. I was supposed to read this in a college class but I…didn’t. I need to remedy that. It’s a precursor to Dracula with lesbian undertones. Yes please!!!

Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897): Do I even need to explain? This is like…a must for anyone who wants to know anything about Gothic lit. I’ve avoided it because I’m not a huge fan of epistolary novels (a running theme in Gothic lit, joy), but it’s high-time I read it!

The Vampyre (1819) by John Polidori: Remember the ghost story competition that prompted Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein? This was one of the other short stories that competition produced. This came before pretty much any famous vampire lit in England.

The Blood of the Vampire (1897) by Florence Marryat: This novel is less well-known than its counterparts; perhaps it was overshadowed by the publication of Dracula in the very same year. It tells the tale of Harriet, daughter of a voodoo priestess and a mad scientist, who seems to sicken everyone she comes into contact with. Could she have the blood of the vampire running through her veins?

The Major Leagues

The Castle of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole: Often thought of as the very first Gothic novel, it tells the tale of Manfred, who sets out to marry his dead son’s virginal bride to be. It’s supposed to be super weird and super creepy and it’s the novel equivalent of the FIRST!!1! comment.

The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) by Ann Radcliffe: Otranto and Udolpho go hand in hand; if Walpole “invented” the Gothic, Radcliffe both perfected it and popularized it. This gigantic book tells the tale of young orphan Emily, who is trapped in a strange castle with an unwanted suitor and various other terrors.

Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) by Charles Maturin: Another massive book, it tells the tale of Melmoth, who has sold his soul to the devil in exchange for added life. Now he wanders the earth, desperate to find someone who will take over the covenant he made. Written by an Irish clergyman, Melmoth the Wanderer is a series of stories within stories that gradually reveal Melmoth’s life that supposedly ups the macabre and horror in the Gothic genre.

The Monk (1796) by Matthew Lewis: This trails Otranto and Udolpho as one of the major classics of Gothic lit. It’s filled with macabre and disturbing things like murder and incest, all about a monk who succumbs to temptation.

Foreign Lands

 The Italian (1797) by Ann Radcliffe: The mother of a young Italian nobleman is dead-set against the woman he wants to marry, and so she enlists a demonic, scheming monk to put a stop to the engagement, and he is willing to resort to all manner of horrific deeds to accomplish the task. Sounds sensational! Takes place in Italy.

Zofloya or the Moor (1806) by Charlotte Dacre: A tale of the downfall of a woman whose vices apparently exceed that of The Monk! One of those vices is her attraction to her Moorish servant. Lust! Revenge! Murder! Racism! Adultery! Satan! Rage! All the classic hallmarks of the Gothic tale. Takes place in Venice.

The Castle of Wolfenbach (1793) by Eliza Parsons: So this actually predates both Udolpho and The Monk, but is not nearly as well-known as either of them. It’s about a young girl trapped in her menacing uncle’s castle, which hides a terrible secret about his wife. Takes place in Germany.

Vathek (1786) by William Beckford: Probably chock-full of Orientalist nonsense, this book is about a Caliph who makes a terrible deal to sacrifice everything for power, culminating in a nasty fate. It’s weird, it’s obscure, it’s grotesque, it inspired Byron and Lovecraft. Takes place in…the Middle East?? Somewhere?

Frightening & Frightened Women 

Lady Audley’s Secret (1862) by Mary Elizabeth Braddon: Possibly more Victorian than Gothic, this highly sensational novel features an alluring female villain who has a secret that threatens the very fabric of Victorian society!!! Melodramatic and probably underwhelming to modern readers? Most likely. Do I still want to read it? Definitely.

The Turn of the Screw (1898) by Henry James: A very famous story about a governess who is haunted by some phantom specter who seems determined to steal the children, who don’t seem to be frightened of whatever it is. Very classic! I know literally nothing else about this book.

Uncle Silas (1864) by J. Sheridan Le Fanu: Part Gothic tale, part psychological thriller, this book is about young orphaned Maud, whose devious uncle plots to kill her and steal her fortune. Supposedly very disturbing and atmospheric and well-known in Gothic circles.

The Woman in White (1869) by Wilkie Collins: Another well-known classic, one I always confuse with Turn of the Screw for some reason! I have literally no clue what this book is about except it involves a ghost woman dressed in white. Also it’s long, but I will persevere.


This post took SO LONG to construct, omg. Do come talk to me about these books! What are your favorite Gothic tales? Which Gothic books do you most want to read? Are there any modern adaptations of these classics that you love and adore? Isn’t the 19th century fun??

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This Is My Genre Book Tag

I saw both Rachel and Callum do this and it looked like fun so why not!


➽ What is your favorite genre?

High fantasy! I’m talking specifically about secondary world fantasy compromising detailed worldbuilding that takes you out of our own world completely. So even though I do enjoy things like urban fantasy or paranormal, high fantasy is where it’s at for me. Also, in the spirit of high fantasy, this post is looooong (it’s only fitting).


➽ Who is your favorite author from that genre?

 

I stumbled across N.K. Jemisin way before the publication of The Fifth Season, when I was coming off a Game of Thrones high but looking for more diverse fantasy fiction that wasn’t Anglo-centric. N.K. Jemisin was the name I kept seeing again and again, and when I went into my Goodreads, I realized that I had already added her debut, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, onto my TBR. It seemed like fate, so I started reading, and I absolutely fell in love with her style and her creativity. Her worldbuilding is utterly superb, relying not one whit on Earth cultures and structures but creating something entirely new and original and unique. She likes playing around with narrative structure too, which is awesome. The three books pictured above are my favorites out of all her work.


➽ What is it about the genre that keeps pulling you back?

Whenever I read high fantasy – good high fantasy that is – I get these shivers of delight. Good high fantasy is all about potential, possibility, creativity. It’s about larger than life plots; grand, epic situations; gods descending into the mortal world; cataclysms and huge stakes; complex magic systems. It’s a genre where literally anything can happen; it’s a no holds barred arena and a talented, creative author can create something so epic and so spine-tingling that becomes a reality all its own. That feeling? That shiver you get when you read something so magical and epic and escapist? I’m absolutely addicted to that feeling.


➽ What is the book that started your love for the genre?

 

I have three books for this, because I’m extra like that, but also because each of these was formative for me in its own unique way!

Aurian by Maggie Furey is what introduced me to old-school high fantasy. It’s one of those chunky (600 pages!), classic ’90s fantasies. I read it when I was sixteen, and I remember feeling such a sense of pure and absolute wonder while reading it. I don’t even recall much of what it’s about, only that it involves dragons and a power struggle over a magical artifact, so like, when I say classic fantasy, I mean it – but what I remember is being awed by this dense secondary world so different from anything I had ever read, with its own culture and history and strange names.

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin might seem like a bit of a cop-out, given its popularity, but I think folks tend to forget that its roots are in classic ’90s fantasy as well! But what makes the series so intriguing is that Martin actually works to subvert so many classic fantasy tropes that had become cliched in the genre. I started the first book when I was seventeen, literally a few weeks before the first season of the show was set to air. I think that’s actually how I discovered the book; I saw a subway ad for the HBO show. It took me some time to get into it, by 2/3 of the way into the book, I was absolutely hooked, and from there I was a goner – I immediately got the next three books in the series and devoured them. A Game of Thrones reminded me what I love about high fantasy – if you wanna talk about dense worldbuilding, Martin is an absolute master at it! I’m not a huge fan of the show, but I think the books definitely inspire the sense of epic wonder and awe that I associate with high fantasy.

The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson is the first book in the Mistborn trilogy. Fresh off Martin and looking for more great fantasy, I found this series. Now, I’ll be the first to say that I have some issues with Sanderson’s writing – I find his dialogue stilted, his prose somewhat awkward, and I think he has a very particular way of incorporating female characters that bugs me – but his worldbuilding and plotting are SPECTACULAR. Like. I remember reading the final book in the series and nearly succumbing to tears of awe because Sanderson had managed to incorporate the tiniest, most insignificant details mentioned in book one, into the overall worldbuilding of the trilogy and I just. Damn. That sense of wonder and awe and sheer epicness. I love that feeling.


➽ If you had to recommend at least one book from your favourite genre to a non-reader/someone looking to start reading that genre, what book would you choose and why?

 

I also have three books for this! The thing about high fantasy is that a lot of people tend to be intimidated by it. I totally get that. It’s a commitment. Most of the books are over four hundred pages long and they’re full of new worlds and magic system and tons of characters and often you’re confused and have to refer to a glossary and there’s maps and there’s so much to navigate and absorb before you can even get into the actual plot! Not to mention there are so many fantasy series that are can be literal year-long commitments for some people. I mean, look at the Malazan series! Twelve books that are all 600+ pages! That’s insane! Plus the author just throws you into everything and leaves you to sink or swim on your own. I definitely wouldn’t recommend starting out with something like that if you’re not a fantasy reader. There is something to be said for starting with A Game of Thrones, since it’s so popular, but I actually don’t think it’s that accessible for fantasy newbies – it’s actually pretty dense and has an astonishing amount of characters thrown at you right off the bat. Instead, my recommendations are:

Truthwitch by Susan Dennard is a YA high fantasy book. Some people say that YA fantasy is Fantasy Lite, which, fine, that’s fair (sometimes), but I think Truthwitch straddles that line nicely. It’s got really detailed worldbuilding, but not so detailed as to be overwhelming. It’s well-written and well-plotted, relatively fast-paced with great actions scenes. For someone who isn’t ready to commit to a super long and dense fantasy book, I think this is a great start into the genre.

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang is being touted as a crossover adult and YA book, which I sort of agree with sometimes (and other times I don’t). This book is the opposite of dense, which I think is why folks are tempted to put it into the YA genre. It’s relatively straightforward, there’s not too much worldbuilding thrown at you all at once, and it’s very much focused on the coming of age of a single character. I think this is one of the most accessible adult high fantasy books out there and would be great for someone new to the genre. It’s also just a really good book.

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff is one I debated including, because it’s just…kind of a weird  book on so many levels. Take the narration style, which includes footnotes! But I think that actually makes it easier to navigate for the fantasy newbie? It means the worldbuilding is just sort of in the background for you to absorb or not absorb or absorb as much as you see fit. It’s not super heavily worked into the plot so there’s not a ton of tiny details and historical tidbits that you have to remember to understand the story, but it’s fascinating for fantasy nerds like me who LOVE that extra worldbuilding. It’s the best of both worlds! Plus, like The Poppy War, its focus is on a single character and her story, so the plot is rather straightforward and not overly convoluted like fantasy books that involve a gazillion different stories across like five continents.


➽ Why do you read?

For the thrill of it. For that spine-tingling shiver. For knowledge. For adventure. For inspiration. So many reasons!


Since I wasn’t tagged I won’t be tagging anyone, but please do pingback to me if you do this tag! This was super fun!

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The 90s Kid Book Tag

Considering that I’m generally just a ball of utter nostalgia, I jumped at the chance to do this book tag! Also, it’s Friday, I’m procrastinating on a book review, and in general I wanna kill time until I can eat lunch. 😀

I stumbled upon this tag at Books Are Only the Beginning but I think its original creator is The Literary Phoenix. (The divider thingies are also from there, because I just copied and pasted the whole format lmao). Here we go! (Also it’s long and image heavy so it’s going under a cut) Continue reading “The 90s Kid Book Tag”