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Six Gothic Novels to Read for Valentines Day

Written By Rachael Conrad

Rachael Conrad is an award-winning indie bookseller with over a decade of experience in the industry. When she's not reading or writing Rachael can often be found exploring the woods and tide pools of Maine and discussing who the best Chris is (it's Pine, obviously). Her writing can be found in Tor/Reactor, Polygon, and Kirkus Reviews."

There are a few things in particular that make a gothic novel truly, unequivocally gothic. Some of the key features include a decaying and isolated structure (the draftier the better), a mysterious hero who might be hiding his first wife in the attic, a heroine who wanders the halls of her home at night with only a lantern to guide her, emotional distress, and supernatural elements. One of the most important elements of a gothic novel, however, is romance. Who doesn’t want to explore the grounds of a rapidly decaying manor or its locked attic while slowly falling in love with the person who invited you to stay with them? 

Below you’ll find 6 examples of gothic novels that incorporate an element of romance to help heighten the stories that are being told. 

Rebecca, by Daphne DuMaurier 

A classic in truly every sense of the word, Rebecca is a perfect book to pick up if you’re in the mood to read gothic romance at its finest. 

Like many gothic works, Rebecca is very much about the woman who came before, lingering on even after death. When Max de Winter marries a young woman (who remains nameless throughout the book) in the wake of his first wife’s passing, he brings her to Manderlay, the estate that he calls home.  But his new wife soon finds that the staff, the grounds of her new home, and even Max himself, refuse to let go of the memory of Rebecca, driving them all to entangled obsession.

Mexican Gothic, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Mexican Gothic is a strange and sumptuous novel that follows in the footsteps of the gothic tales that came before it while still managing to turn the genre on its head. Drawing from scandalous stories full of madness and murder as well as the dark side of Mexico’s history, Mexican Gothic begins when Noemí’s father receives an unsettling letter from her cousin. Despite her reservations, Noemí heads to High Place, the distant house that her cousin has been calling home. What she discovers there is equal parts menacing and alluring, and seemingly impossible to escape. 

The Death of Jane Lawrence, by Caitlin Starling

It often feels like a necessary feature of a gothic tale for the female protagonist to be plain, practical but clever, and underestimated by her fellow characters. This especially applies to Jane Shoringfield, the hero of Caitlin Starling’s novel, The Death of Jane Lawrence

When Jane’s husband, the handsome Doctor Augustine Lawrence agrees to Jane’s proposal, it’s under one condition: that she never visits his crumbling family estate which sits just outside of town. Jane hesitantly agrees and keeps her questions to herself. But when a storm drives her unexpectedly to the manor, she discovers that her husband is no longer recognizable as the man she married, replaced by a deeply troubled figure. By morning, Augustine has returned to his old self, but Jane is determined to discover what about the house changed him. 

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    The Wife Upstairs, by Rachel Harris

    Rachel Harris’s novel, The Wife Upstairs, is a thrilling modern retelling of one of the most famous (and toxic) love triangles in gothic literature, Jane Eyre

    Set in a gated community called the Thornfield Estates, Jane—a dog walker by trade—has been stealing from the homes of her well-to-do clients, but life throws her a bone when she happens to meet Eddie Rochester. A recent widower, Eddie is Thornfield’s most eligible bachelor. He’s also the most mysterious. While the story goes that his first wife, Bea, drowned in a boating accident, Jane can’t help but feel that Eddie isn’t telling the whole truth, and as the two grow closer she becomes fascinated by Bea and her presence in Eddie’s house even after death. 

    The Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry

    Set in England during the late 19th century, The Essex Serpent is an atmospheric and ambitious example of what a gothic romance novel can be. 

    In the wake of her domineering first husband’s death, Cora Seaborne travels from the chaotic city streets of London to the fresh air of the coastal town of Essex with her young son and his nanny. Once there, Cora begins to hear rumors that an ancient and mysterious creature has returned to the nearby marshes. An amateur naturalist, Cora quickly becomes obsessed with finding this creature in order to claim the discovery of a new species for herself. She soon joins forces with William Ransome, a parish vicar who is equally determined to find the eponymous Essex Setpent, but for his own mysterious reasons. 

    Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen 

    Often overshadowed by Emma, Pride and Prejudice, and her other novels, Northanger Abbey is both a delightful gothic romance and a deftly written parody of the genre. This sense of dissonance comes from Catherine, Northanger’s naïve, seventeen-year-old protagonist, and the books that she always has her nose in (and that deeply influence the conclusions she jumps to). 

    While spending time with her family in Bath, Catherine meets, and swiftly falls in love, with the handsome and mysterious Henry Tilney, who subsequently invites her to his palatial home, Northanger Abbey. Once there, Catherine—who adores gothic novels herself—allows her imagination to get the better of her, and begins to question what really happened to Henry’s mother. Was her death an accident or something much more sinister?