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Gothic Horror as the Birth of a Genre

Gothic Horror as the Birth of a Genre

From Stephen King to Stephen Graham Jones, from John Carpenter to James Wan, everything we love about contemporary horror owes its existence to the Gothic Horror writers of centuries past. We have compiled some of the top genre-defining novels and stories into our Gothic Horror set which allows a peek back in time to the earliest tales of terror. 
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Mysteries of Udolpho - Ann Radcliffe (1794)
Despite being renowned as the archetypal piece of gothic horror literature, Mysteries is an often overlooked novel in the genre, likely because it didn’t have quite the same 20th century pop culture effect as Dracula and Frankenstein. Even though it was the most popular book of its time, even being referenced in the work of Jane Austen, it seemed to get lost as literary movements shifted. The novel deserves to be rediscovered and loved all the same. Though it could be argued as gothic romance over horror, it still has its delightful frights.
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Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus - Mary Shelley (1818)
Horror has a long history in folktales and fireside stories. The first horror novel of this kind came about when Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley, and Lord Byron spent a holiday inside because of inclement weather and passed the time telling spooky stories, which is when Mary first wrote down Frankenstein. If you haven’t read it, it’s highly recommended as a foundational piece of horror, science fiction, and popular literature written by women, and it’s wildly different from its pop culture interpretations.
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Edgar Allan Poe Collection (1831-1849)
Poe is credited for founding American gothic and horror literature as an entirely new category of writing. Hearts in the floors, ghosts of dead lovers, creepy birds, cursed mansions, and bloody murders…this collection has all of Poe’s most well-known stories, as well as a solid selection of poetry to introduce fans of the Master of Macabre to the rest of his body of work.
Castlevania - Netflix (2017)
Carmilla - Sheridan Le Fanu (1872)
Even though Carmilla flies under the radar as a ‘what if Dracula was a girl’ book, most people don’t know that Dracula is essentially ‘what if Carmilla was a man’! Written 25 years before Dracula, Le Fanu breaks ground in gothic vampire tales AND gives us the very first English horror novel with LGBTQ+ characters. All the way back in 1872! Wow!

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)
Romantic era was full of opium and cocaine, and so was Stevenson. Whether we take his word for the exceptionally fast writing and editing of this novella as the result of feverish nightmares of inspiration or a lot of drugs is unclear. It’s hard for us to imagine cranking out something so seminal to world literature in only 6 weeks. Modern scholars argue that the difference between Jekyll and Hyde is a direct projection of how he felt high vs. sober, at least without the violence. Hopefully.
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The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde (1890)
While its mainly a criticism of the excess of contemporary social movements, Wilde still manages to really get into a core trait of horror that would last forever: “something really weird and unexplainable is happening, and it's not strictly supernatural or strictly natural”. Perhaps more importantly, though, is Wilde’s representation of gay men and representation of himself as a gay male writer was incredibly dangerous at the time, as homophobic attitudes were returning after a long absence during the romantic era. Oscar Wilde was ultimately punished—with Dorian Gray as evidence—by being sent to a labor camp for his ‘crimes’ where he was overworked into an early death.
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Dracula - Bram Stoker (1897)
Contrary to popular belief, Dracula wasn’t the first vampire story, but as far as pop culture vamps go, it may as well be. The epistolary style was the most popular way to write horror at the time, and the original publication sold like hotcakes…largely because it aligned with a contemporary British anti-immigrant ideology. Horror has always been about tapping into personal or societal fears, and in this case, its Eastern European (Jewish) immigrants and sexually liberated women. But, its still a critical piece of horror history, in part because of its socio-political (even psychological) implications. 
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