Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Gothic Romance

When I was growing up in the '70s & '80s, my mom was a voracious reader of Gothic romances, so there were always books by Dorothy Eden, Victoria Holt, &, to a lesser extent, Phyllis Whitney around the house.  They were usually slim novels with suitably lurid covers.  The plots were a kind of "mystery lite" - there were usually mysterious circumstances (or a secret to be unveiled), a crime involved (often murder), & an innocent young woman in danger (with romantic possibilities).  Not a straightforward mystery & not terrifying or grisly enough to qualify as horror, the romance usually confined to a few chaste embraces, they were great reads for a teenage girl - or, at least, my mom never stopped me from reading them. 

Wikipedia indicates that these gothic romances were popular between the 1950s-70s: "Many featured covers depicting a terror-stricken woman in diaphanous attire in front of a gloomy castle, often with a single lit window. Many were published under the Paperback Library Gothic imprint and were marketed to a female audience. Though the authors were mostly women, some men wrote Gothic romances under female pseudonyms."

Of the three authors of this genre with which I am most familiar, Phyllis Whitney was an American, Dorothy Eden was from New Zealand, & Victoria Holt (a pseudonym of Eleanor Hibbert, who also wrote under the names Jean Plaidy & Philippa Carr) was British. Phyllis Whitney was once called - by the New York Times, no less - "The Queen of American Gothics", but according to Wikipedia, she preferred to be known as a writer of "romantic novels of suspense".  She & Dorothy Eden featured (at least in my experience) more contemporary plots, whereas Victoria Holt's novels tended to be set further in the past.

Gothic romance books are entertaining, easy reads in a similiar vein to classics of the genre such as Charlotte Brontë 's Jane Eyre & Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca. If you enjoy reading books that are suspenseful but not violent, romantic but not explicit, these novels make great guilty pleasure reading. The library catalog features titles by all three of these authors.  I would recommend: Let Us Prey by Dorothy Eden (alternate title: Cat's Prey); Lord of the Far Island by Victoria Holt (mostly because we don't have The Pride of the Peacock); & Spindrift by Phyllis Whitney.  What you'll find in these books: mistaken identities, mysterious noises in houses with empty wings, poor relations, webs of deceit, & a domineering mother-in-law.

Other gothic romance authors of this period include Mary Stewart (This Rough Magic) & M. M. Kaye (Death in Zanzibar, Death in Kenya).  More recent examples of this genre might include: The Observations by Jane Harris, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, & The Drowning Tree by Carol Goodman.  Also check out our gothic fiction booklist!

Some other gothic fiction from the library catalog:

Gothic!: Ten Original Dark Tales edited by Deborah Noyes

Gothic Classics edited by Tom Pomplun

Gothic Writers: A Critical and Bibliographical gGuide edited by Douglass H. Thomson, Jack G. Voller, and Frederick S. Frank [eBook]

Gothic:  Four Hundred Years of Excess, Horror, Evil, and Ruin by Richard Davenport-Hines

The New Gothic: A Collection of Contemporary Gothic Fiction edited by Bradford Morrow, Patrick McGrath

Find out more about gothic suspense/romance online:

The BookShelf: Gothic Suspense & Romance

American Gothic Romance Authors

Gothic Romantic Suspense Paperbacks

Sweet Rocket: Classic Gothic Romance

1 comment:

J.E. Cornett said...

Thanks for including my blog on your list of resources! As a fellow librarian, I love your site!