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5 Gothic Reads that Will Thrill You

Just in time for Halloween, these lesser known tales will keep you turning pages late into the night.

1) Clarimonde, or La Morte Amoureuse (The Dead Lover), Théophile Gautier , 1836

Published in the Chronique de Paris on June 25, 1836, Theophile Gautier’s La Morte Amoureuse is one of the first and most influential vampire tales of the 19th Century. Clarimonde, as the novel is known in English, tells the tale of a young priest, Romuald, who is first haunted and then seduced by a beautiful courtesan turned vampiress. 

In spite of its brevity, Clarimonde explores various themes among which is the boundary between life and death; monster and human. This book also invented the idea of the gorgeous vamp femme fatale who partakes of her lover’s blood to stay alive, and whose love for him transcends even death.

I recently read this book and was blown away by its beauty. The language is lush and the characters memorable. What’s more, the ending is refreshing and offers a departure from 19th Century morals. Eroticism, nightmares, blood drinking, you’ll find it all in this obscure gem! 

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2) The Great God Pan, Arthur Machen, 1894

Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan suggests the existence of a spiritual realm that is imperceptible to the human eye. This book is filled with fair-skinned fairies, sex-crazed demons, and red-eyed changelings that abduct human children for their own sinister (often sexual) machinations.

This age-old story borrows from various sources including Greek Mythology and the Old Testament before the textual expurgation of incubi and succubi. The Pan deity is also a result from the contemporary exorcisms of Machen’s day. In the 19th century, it was widely believed that a demon could invade a weak soul and, if a child resulted from such a union, would pass on to the offspring.

In The Great God Pan, the experiment performed upon a seventeen-year-old female, Mary, results in her seeing the real world beyond the veil and, in doing so, she is raped by Pan. Mary goes insane, but bears a child nine months later from that unholy union. Years later, Helen Vaughan, the offspring of Pan and Mary, shocks London society by engaging in aberrant sexual behavior and destroys many lives.

Machen foreshadows these events with the Latin adage: “Et diabolus incarnatus est. Et homo factus est.” The English translation is: “And a devil was made incarnate. And a human being was produced.”

On publication, the book was widely denounced by the press as degenerate and horrific because of its decadent style and sexual content.

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3) Carmilla, Sheridan Le Fanu, 1872

The vampire has always been used to convey sexuality–and one of the earliest ones, the title character of Carmilla, is no exception. Twenty-six years before Bram Stoker ever dreamed of Dracula, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu wove together a luscious, haunting gothic mystery that centers around a lovely, immortal young woman with a taste for blood.

Le Fanu, often compared to Poe, was a Victorian writer whose tales of the occult have inspired horror writers for more than a century. Seemingly by happenstance, the mysterious and beautiful Carmilla comes to stay with the young and virtuous Laura. Laura, who has been living a lonely existence with her father in an isolated castle, finds herself enchanted with her exotic visitor. As the two become close friends, however, Laura dreams of nocturnal visitations and begins to lose her physical strength. Through much investigation, the gruesome truth about Carmilla and her family is revealed.

Many illustrators have interpreted Carmilla, but one of my all time favorites is Isabella Mazzanti. Her illustrations have an Edward Gory creepy-cuteness that I simply adore. Her hardcover book (in French) can be purchased here. To see more of her artwork click here.

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4) The Monk, Matthew G. Lewis, 1796

The Monk is one of the more lurid and transgressive Gothic novels. As such, it was first published anonymously, but the novel’s popularity coupled with its sales coaxed the author (a then member of Parliament) to assume authorship.

The title monastic is Ambrosio, who is abandoned by his parents as an infant. Raised in a Capuchin monastery, Ambrosio is a religious fast-tracker taught to disdain sin and hold himself up as a model of purity–an ideal that soon arouses the resentment of the devil (herself). I don’t want to give too much of this book away, but suffice it to say that within its scandalous pages you will find demonic pacts, rape, incest, ruined castles, femme fatales and more! Despite being written in 1796 this book will keep you turning pages late into the night. 

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5) Rapaccini’s Daughter, Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1844

Rappaccini’s Daughter is a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne first published in the December 1844 issue of The United States Magazine and Democratic Review, and later in the 1846 collection Mosses from an Old Manse. The story is set in Padua, Italy, in a distant and unspecified past. From his quarters, Giovanni Guasconti, a young student of letters, at the University of Padua, looks at Beatrice, the beautiful daughter of Dr. Giacomo Rappaccini, a scientist who works in isolation. Beatrice is confined to the lush and locked gardens, which are filled with poisonous plants grown by her father. Giovanni notices Beatrice’s strangely intimate relationship with the plants as well as the withering of fresh flowers and the death of an insect when exposed to her skin or breath. Having fallen in love, Giovanni enters the garden and meets with Beatrice. Giovanni soon discovers that Beatrice, having been raised in the presence of poison, is poisonous herself. Beatrice urges Giovanni to look past her poisonous exterior and see her pure and innocent essence, creating great feelings of doubt in Giovanni.

What happens next? Read on…

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