Tomorrow is the season finale of Showtime’s gooey, gory, incredibly Victorian Gothic-soup show Penny Dreadful, and I’m already pining. For your consideration, a celebratory book list.
Dracula, by Bram Stoker
The world’s best-known vampire novel essentially encoded the tropes for vampires and Gothic fiction, at least in combination with…
Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
Mary Shelley rewrote the rules of literature with Frankenstein. This is one of those books that I still go back to every few years.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, by Alan Moore
This iconic comic book series employs a large cast of literary characters from the infamous to the esoteric, and pits Victorian heroes against Victorian villains in century and genre spanning shenanigans.
The Magic Toyshop, by Angela Carter
Angela Carter, master of the whimsical and creepy, gives us orphans, tyrannical guardians, dysfunctional families, and really disturbing puppet shows.
Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters
Orphan Sue Trindler secures a position with a sheltered gentlewoman and her eccentric guardian as part of a con-game to steal an inheritance, only to find herself pitying—and perhaps falling for—her mark. But Sue is caught up in a plot more devious and much longer in the making than she ever imagined. This is a twisty, almost suffocatingly atmospheric pastiche of Victorian literature.
A Great and Terrible Beauty, by Libba Bray
Secret societies, corsets, magic, scandals, boarding school, and the fraught and complicated dynamics of teenage friendship.
Carmilla, by J. Sheridan Le Fanu
Carmilla predates and clearly influenced Stoker’s Dracula. It’s a short, yummy piece with all the Gothic hallmarks: castles, monsters, maidens, forests, nightmares, seductive and mysterious strangers, and blatant homoeroticism.
The Monstrumologist, by Rick Yancey
Yancey’s Printz-winning, page-turning horror builds an elaborate world of mythological monsters, midnight adventures, and Dickensian characters in an alternate 19th century America.
The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde
Okay, but here’s my question: film and TV versions of Dorian Gray are always sexy, but they’re always dark and smoldering sexy, not the boyish and blond sexy of Wild’s not-so-innocent protagonist, and it’s been more than a century, are we still so dependent on the very visual cues denoting purity and wickedness that Wilde lambasted in his novel?
Bellefleur, by Joyce Carol Oats
The Bellefleur clan is a powerful, notorious family, complete with millionaires, psychics, murderers, ghosts, spiritualists, mysteries, and a manor house. This sprawling, twisty novel is a modern classic of the American Gothic.
Affinity, by Sarah Waters
An upperclass spinster becomes a charitable Lady Visitor at a women’s prison, where she meets a beautiful and charismatic spiritualist. Gothic atmosphere, bottled.
The Woman In Black, by Susan Hill
This classic ghost story could have sprung straight from the 19th century English village where it takes place. It’s a short and page-turning read.
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, by Patrick Suskind
A perfumer’s apprentice with a refined nose becomes murderously obsessed with the perfect scent.
Wildthorne, by Jane Eagland
Told with stark detail and twisting flashbacks, this YA book combines the nightmarish setting of a Victorian madhouse with one teenager’s sexual awakening and fight to preserve her own sense of identity, while figuring out who did this to her.
Interview with the Vampire, by Anne Rice
Definitely in contention for the English language’s second most read, most referenced, most spoofed vampire novel. (We all know what it’s up against.)
The Ruby in the Smoke, by Philip Pullman
Pullman combines all the pulpy tropes and smoky atmosphere of penny dreadfuls with a dose of modern attitude and a cast of characters ferocious and funny and charming and heartbreaking.