When I was in 6th grade, my team (the ravens) did a focused project on a certain epic poem by Edgar Allen Poe (can you guess?). I loved the way Poe evoked a dark and dreary mood and evinced such mystery and gloom with the croak of the raven. Since then, I have periodically pondered weak and weary over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten gothic literature.
This March I decided to delve back into the gothic, and as soon as I made that decision, the Northeast conjured up a leviathan storm to knock down trees and winds to shake my entire house. So it seems I made the right choice. I’m construing gothic rather broadly– although I love the classic tale of a twisted family and a haunted house on a hill, I am also interested in contemporary lit that borrows mood and magic from Romantic predecessors.
Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
Nine years ago, I read Wuthering Heights in my high school English class, and I stubbornly loved it despite the criticisms of my classmates. This novel, written shortly before Emily Bronte died young, is a triumph of dark Romanticism. A Byronic, mercurial, gypsy-like man. Catherine, his everlasting love, who is poisoned by fits of extreme emotion and who is as wild as the winds over the moors. Oh yes, the moors of Yorkshire, maybe the most mood-inducing setting ever conceived. And of course the narrative structure of an outsider who visits and must unravel the tragic, disturbing history of an old noble family. I love it for its ambience, for its overblown emotionality (I AM HEATHCLIFF!! says Cathy), and its deliciously slowly unwinding plot.
So Much Blue – Percival Everett
This novel about an artist with a troubled past has a few beautifully updated hallmarks of gothic literature. The story is told in present, 10 years ago, and 30 years ago, in the introspective and troubled voice of the artist. It has clear echoes of The Portrait of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde): a secret painting that the artist wishes to conceal from everyone in his life, which is not a portrait but a giant canvas covered in blue shades. As the artist deals with modern struggles– addiction, marital infidelity, teenage daughters, he uses this hidden masterwork as a mirror for his inner angst.
Two Men – Elizabeth Stoddard
Elizabeth Stoddard was the subject of a research project with which I assisted one my professors in college. She was a queen of snark, as evidenced by the tone she takes in her letters, and was a woman who was determined to lead an unconventional intellectual life, despite the constraints of her society. Her three novels are all fascinating, with complex character development and hidden dramas. Two Men focuses on a blended family and the contrasting personalities and power struggles of its members. The title should hint that Stoddard is interested in the inner workings of men’s hearts and minds– as am I.
The Power – Naomi Alderman
This novel has gotten buzzy recently– women develop a strange dark power to control the world? Sign me the fuck up. I don’t know if this novel will qualify as gothic, but I have an inkling it will match well as I think about emotional power, the role of the supernatural, and the imbalances of gendered power (so present in Wuthering Heights!). Thanks to my friend Bridget for buying me the book! I really look forward into diving into this one next.
What’s next? I have some more gothic-inspired titles on my list, so I’ll happily send a second post your way in another week or so. Do you have suggestions for me? Do you want to quibble about the definition of literary gothic? I’d love to hear from you!
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