The best Gothic novels
The following list is not supposed to represent the ten most definitive Gothic novels ever published – it’s a list to inspire debate and discussion as much as it is a list of recommendations of classic Gothic works of fiction. Nevertheless, we reckon the reader of Gothic fiction could do worse than seek out these ten important Gothic novels. We’ve included some of our favourite interesting trivia about each novel as we go.
William Baldwin, Beware the Cat. What’s this? Surely any list of the best Gothic novels in English has to begin with The Castle of Otranto? But no: that book comes second on our list. Instead, we begin with this obscure short novel written during the early 1550s, during the reign of the boy-king, Edward VI (1547-53). Contrary to what many scholars of the novel claim, the English novel didn’t begin in 1719 with Robinson Crusoe – and nor, we would contend, did the Gothic novel begin with The Castle of Otranto. Instead, the first recognisably ‘Gothic’ novel in English is this wonderfully inventive comic skit that features werewolves, talking cats, jokes about poo, jibes at Catholicism, and even – anticipating Terry Pratchett by some four-and-a-half centuries – jokey footnotes and marginal glosses to the text. We discuss Beware the Cat in more detail in our book, The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History. You can read Baldwin’s novel online here. Read the rest of this entry
A reading of Blake’s classic poem
‘Jerusalem’ is one of the most famous hymns around, a sort of alternative national anthem for England. Yet the poem on which Hubert Parry based his hymn, although commonly referred to as ‘William Blake’s “Jerusalem”’, is actually from a much larger poetic work titled Milton a Poem and was largely ignored when it was published in 1804. It became well-known when it was set to music by Parry during the First World War (curiously, it was Robert Bridges, the Poet Laureate and the one who got Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poems into print, who suggested the idea to Parry). In this post, we’re going to delve deeper into the poem we know as ‘Jerusalem’, focusing on William Blake’s use of language.
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills? Read the rest of this entry
An introduction to a classic revenge tragedy
The Spanish Tragedy is one of the lesser-known gems among surviving Elizabethan drama – at least, it’s less well-known than the works of Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare. Its influence on later plays in the ‘revenge tragedy’ genre was considerable – most notably, on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Indeeed, Kyd, who died shortly after being tortured for information about his friend Kit Marlowe, is the leading candidate for the authorship of the ‘Ur–Hamlet’, which served as the prototype for Shakespeare’s play. (We discuss the ‘two Hamlets’ in our book, The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History.) What follows is a short introduction to the play, and an analysis of some of its themes and features. Those who wish to avoid spoilers of the play are advised to skip the next couple of paragraphs! Read the rest of this entry