My Favourite Gothic Novels for Wild and Windswept Nights

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These classic Gothic novels will send a delicious chill up your spine! Get ready for secret passages, dark plots, rapacious villains, and Gothic fiction at its best, from Ann Radcliffe to Wilkie Collins to Louisa May Alcott.

Woman in Victorian-style white dress, with a muddy hem

Best Classic Gothic Novels

My sixteenth year was the one I discovered Gothic novels. I was living in Chile with my family, and books in English weren’t as plentiful as I would’ve liked. When we discovered the book library at the American Association, I felt like I’d struck it rich.

Well, someone who donated books to that library must’ve loved Gothic fiction, for it was there that I stumbled upon such classics as The Woman in White, Wuthering Heights, and The Phantom of the Opera. I hauled my treasures home and as was my practice, saved them to read on days that matched their mood. For Gothic novels, that means grey, gloomy days or dark and stormy nights.

It didn’t take me long to become familiar with all the trademarks of the Gothic genre: moldering castles, trapdoors, ghostly sightings, wild scenery, isolated heroes and heroines, ancestral secrets…the lot. Since those early forays into Gothic fiction I’ve read some weird ones, many that lie on the edges of the genre, and one that’s just plain trash. (Well, I didn’t finish that last one!)

I love classic Gothic romances, and they’re particularly satisfying to read this time of year. Check out one of these novels to read on a cold and windy night in late autumn or winter. Snuggle up with tea and blankets–these stories may send a chill up your spine, and when they do, a little extra comfort will be quite welcome(:

7 Famous Classic Gothic Novels to Read on Dark and Stormy Nights

The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole - picture of white, statue-like figure crouching down

The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole

This Gothic novel is short, so you really could tackle most of it on just one cozy night! It’s also an important one to read, as it’s counted the very first Gothic novel, written in 1764. It tells the story of Manfred and his machinations to control his family line and thwart an ancient prophecy.

Dracula by Bram Stoker - drawing of black-cloaked vampire figure emerging from a red background

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Forget what you think you know about this genre-spawning classic. The original Dracula is firmly Victorian with one of the best, most epic good-versus-evil narratives you’ll ever read. You get a dose of the nightmarish castle of Count Dracula before the plot moves to London. A small band of intrepid heroes, led by Dr. Van Helsing, fight to overcome the spreading evil. It’s a fast-paced story, wonderfully dramatic and deliciously creepy. I would especially recommend this book to anyone who loves Victorian literature–it’s a great way to expand your knowledge of the genre.

The Fisherman's Lady by George MacDonald - montage drawing of man on the Scottish coast with a woman and a stately home in the background

The Fisherman’s Lady by George MacDonald

This book takes place on the rugged Scottish coast and follows the story of Malcolm MacPhail, a fisherman. I was expecting a romance when I picked this up, but didn’t know it would be a good Gothic tale to boot! There’s family secrets to discover, hidden stairways, crumbling castles, and thugs who abduct people. And because it’s George MacDonald, you also get shots of spiritual insight that make this more than just an entertaining read. Note: The sequel to this is The Marquis’ Secret.

Related: If you love books set in Scotland, here are 6 more picks to check out!

The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe - painting of a woman in black sitting on a balcony looking out at the mountains

The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe

Thanks to the world’s undying love for Jane Austen, many people have heard of The Mysteries of Udolpho. Austen satirizes it (lovingly, I believe) in Northanger Abbey. But not many people have actually read it. Perhaps because it’s long and packed with descriptions of scenery that it make feel more like a travel narrative. Personally, I don’t mind if the masses pass it up. That way, this unusual and dreamlike book can remain a hidden treasure.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins - painting of a mysterious, tree-lined lane

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

A classic in the Victorian Gothic genre, this “sensation” novel was the Harry Potter of its day…with lines out the door when each weekly segment appeared in All the Year Round. The story is certainly sensational–with nefarious plots, family secrets, insanity, and all that–but it’s also extremely well written. Collins was an eloquent writer, and his use of multiple narrators (including the villain) make it a compelling read.

A Long, Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott - profile of a girl with shadows in the background

A Long, Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott

Remember how Jo had a penchant for dark, melodramatic potboilers before she decided to write her family’s story instead? Well, so did Louisa May Alcott. She wrote A Long, Fatal Love Chase two years before Little Women, although the novel wasn’t published until 1995. The heroine, Rosamond Vivian, lives on a lonely island with her grandfather but longs for love and freedom. She thinks she finds both in Philip Tempest. But with a last name like that, how can she? Tempest becomes her stalker, and Rosamond is forced to adopt a series of disguises as she flees from country to country. The story is a far cry from Little Women, but it’s so much fun to read!

The Italian by Ann Radcliffe - Bearded man in a monk's habit holding a sleeping woman

The Italian by Ann Radcliffe

Shorter and more tightly paced than The Mysteries of Udolpho, The Italian still delivers the rich texture and romantic settings of Radcliffe’s earlier novel. The villain, Father Schedoni, is especially memorable. The “Italian” of the title, he takes confessions in the church but also acts as assassin and kidnapper. I’ve always thought this book would make an excellent stage or screenplay.

Have you read any Gothic novels? If so, which ones do you like best?

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Black and white photograph of the misty ruins of an abbey

My Favourite Gothic Novels for Wild and Windswept Nights
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14 Comments

  1. Thanks for this fun list, Elsie! I read The Woman in White a few years ago and really enjoyed it. Last Halloween I tackled Dracula. Yes, it was “deliciously creepy” and very different than I’d expected. I especially liked the way Stoker weaves the story through the eyes of multiple characters. Your list makes me want to read MacDonald’s novel next!

    1. Yes, I’m so glad I know the original Dracula novel now! It was a riveting story, but also very well written. The Woman in White is just plain amazing and one of my favourite novels ever.

    1. I know, I’ve only read that one by her, too! I’m planning on getting another one or two of hers read this year. My unofficial reading theme for the year is new-to-me-books by authors I already know.

      1. Reading REBECCA now, finally, for the 1st time… figured, since we all have nothing *but* time, it seems, these days…. 😉 Exquisite, lush, beautiful prose, as I’d expect from Du Maurier. Nostalgia, time’s passing, and its lingering ghosts. “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again….” Do pick it up, you’ll love it!

        1. Rebecca is excellent! I hadn’t read anything else by Du Maurier, but a couple of months ago I picked up The House on the Strand. It was really good, too, and makes me want more of her! I want to read My Cousin Rachel next, because the recent film version was intriguing to me.

  2. Have you read The Picture of Dorian Gray? I don’t know if it qualifies as Gothic but it is deliciously creepy and so so good. One of my favorites. BTW thank you for this list. I prefer to read classics and I agree, Dracula is suprisingly different than expected but oh so good.

    1. Yes, I’ve read Dorian Gray, and it’s a very compelling, vivid read indeed. Perfect book for a get-under-the-covers-during-a-storm kind of night. It certainly has Gothic elements in it, even if it’s not completely in the genre.

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