Reimagining the Gothic

Written By A.C. Wise

A.C. Wise is the author of the novels Wendy, Darling, and Hooked, along with the recent short story collection, The Ghost Sequences. Her work has won the Sunburst Award, and been a finalist for the Nebula, Stoker, World Fantasy, Locus, British Fantasy, Shirley Jackson, Ignyte, and Lambda Awards. In addition to her fiction, she contributes a regular review column to Apex Magazine. Find her online at

Gothic literature has long been associated with mist-covered moors, lonely manor houses, and women locked away for being “mad,” among other tropes. The past few years have seen a resurgence of the Gothic subgenre, but one that reimagines the well-known themes and characters, and moves the stories away from blasted heaths to fresh, new settings.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

image: Penguin Random House

Mexican Gothic makes use of many familiar Gothic tropes – an imperiled woman, a remote location, a rich family with secrets, a supernatural threat, and an outsider dropped into the midst of all of it who must uncover the truth. After receiving a concerning letter from her cousin, Noemi travels to the remote family estate belonging to her cousin’s husband. Her cousin’s concerns have been dismissed; like a good Gothic heroine, she is accused of imagining things. As Noemi investigates, she is placed in the role of outsider, resented and distrusted by a household bent on protecting its secrets. The house itself is every bit as isolated, and its atmosphere every bit as oppressive, as a classic Gothic house. Moreno-Garcia uses these tropes to examine literal oppression in the form of racism, colonialism, and exploitation of the land. Added to all that, Moreno-Garcia puts a fresh twist on the supernatural element by introducing cosmic horror, as people are literally and metaphorically consumed as the result of one wealthy family’s legacy of feeding off the land and its inhabitants.

The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas

image: Penguin Random House

The Hacienda similarly takes classic Gothic tropes and transports them to Mexico. Beatriz is her husband’s second wife, and like many Gothic heroines, her marriage is shadowed by the ghost of that former wife who died under mysterious circumstances. Cañas almost immediately flips the traditional Gothic script through by having Beatriz believed when she shares her unease. Rather than being dismissed, leaving her to cope with the supernatural alone, she has a support network, including a local priest, helping her to unravel the truth and uncover the dark secrets of her new home. There’s an excellent, slow-burning romance alongside the Gothic horror, and the infusion of magic as well. Like Moreno-Garcia, Cañas does an excellent job of blending multiple genres, enhancing the Gothic elements as she does.

The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling

image: Macmillan

Another reimagined Gothic novel that draws on other genres and effectively plays with expectations is The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling. Unlike many classic Gothic heroines who are subject to the whims of their dark, brooding husbands and employers, Jane is eminently practical and takes matters into her own hands. She proposes marriage to Dr. Lawrence as a mutually beneficial business arrangement, talking him into it past his reluctance. A romance develops after the marriage, and Starling does an excellent job of introducing romantic tension into the relationship, despite the characters already being wed. Jane soon finds herself trapped in her husband’s decaying home, once again haunted by the mysterious death of his previous love, and dealing with a seeming curse on the property. Magic becomes key to the story, with Jane wholeheartedly throwing herself into the pursuit of forbidden knowledge. Like Moreno-Garcia’s use of cosmic horror to highlight and play with certain Gothic tropes, Starling weaves in fantasy as Jane’s attempts to uncover the secrets of her husband’s house lead her to seeks initiation into a circle of magicians. The introduction of magic and forbidden knowledge also provides the opportunity for Starling to introduce throw Jane’s sanity into question, playing with the classic Gothic themes of “madness” versus gaslighting. 

Reluctant Immortals by Gwendolyn Kiste

Reluctant Immortals doesn’t only take on classic Gothic tropes, but reimagines the stories of two classic Gothic heroines, Lucy Westerna of Dracula fame, and Bertha Rochester, of Jane Eyre fame. After the events of their original tales, Lucy and Bee are now immortal, not by choice by as a result of the actions of the abusive men in their lives. They live together in a crumbling house in San Francisco during the Summer of Love, with Lucy dedicating herself to guarding Dracula’s scattered remains to ensure he never returns. When Rochester unexpectedly reappears with Jane in tow, Lucy, Bee, and Jane must band together to protect themselves and stop both Rochester and Dracula from wreaking havoc. Kiste uses the Gothic tropes and characters to explore the idea of monstrousness – whether it is an inherent quality or a choice. The character of Michael, a young soldier recently returned from war, allows Kiste to look at the ways violence is employed, or resisted, by the characters and further explore what makes someone monstrous. It’s always fascinating to see authors reimagine classic characters, and Kiste does a wonderful job of bringing Lucy and Bertha to the forefront as fully formed characters in their own right, rather than supporting characters in the background of someone else’s tale.

These are just a few examples of authors using Gothic tropes in fresh new ways. Additional titles for those looking to more recommended reading are:

That’s only scratching the surface of the authors and works reclaiming and reinventing the genre.

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