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Ten Early Gothic Novels

Sometime described as an extreme form of Romanticism, Gothic fiction is a genre combining elements of horror, fantasy, realism, and the macabre which became extremely popular in eighteenth-century England and Germany. These sublime and terrifying books are perfect for traipsing about ruins and spelunking.

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Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto (1764) is widely regarded as the first example of the Gothic genre. Anne Radcliffe and Clara Reeve quickly followed suit with their own horrifying stories. 

The subject material of Schiller, E.T.A. Hoffmann, and Meinhold's Schauerromans is similar to that of the English Gothic novelists, but these novels tend to centre around robbers, necromancy and the activities of secret societies.

Romantic authors, Shelley, Reynolds, and Polidori introduce the Byronic hero into the misty atmosphere of the Gothic setting. Polidori is credited with inspiring the vampire fiction craze which continues today.

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    The Castle of Otranto

    'Look, my lord! See heaven itself declares against your impious intentions!' The Castle of Otranto (1764) is the first supernatural English novel and one of the most influential works of Gothic fiction. It inaugurated a literary genre that will be forever associated with the effects that Walpole pioneered. Professing to be a translation of a mysterious Italian tale from the darkest Middle Ages, the novel tells of Manfred, prince of Otranto, whose fear of an ancient prophecy sets him on a course of destruction. After the grotesque death of his only son, Conrad, on his wedding day, Manfred determines to marry the bride-to-be. The virgin Isabella flees through a castle riddled with secret passages. Chilling coincidences, ghostly visitations, arcane revelations, and violent combat combine in a heady mix that terrified the novel's first readers. In this new edition Nick Groom examines the reasons for its extraordinary impact and the Gothic culture from which it sprang. The Castle of Otranto was a game-changer, and Walpole the writer who paved the way for modern horror exponents. ABOUT THE SERIES: For over 100 years Oxford World's Classics has made available the widest range of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford's commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, helpful notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more.

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    The Mysteries of Udolpho

    With its insightful portrayals of her protagonist's inner life, Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho was a hugely influential work of early Gothic horror. This Penguin Classics edition is edited with an introduction and notes by Jacqueline Howard.Emily St Aubert lives with her loving, enlightened parents in exquisitely happy rural isolation. But when she is tragically orphaned, the beautiful young woman is thrown on the mercy of her heartless aunt's sinister new husband. The villainous Signor Montoni has designs upon his wife's fortune, and that of her niece, and imprisons them in the gloomy medieval castle Udolpho. Separated from her beloved Valancourt, Emily must cope with torments of wild imaginings and terrors, as ghostly omens and attempts upon her virtue and life threaten to overwhelm her. One of the most popular novels of its time, The Mysteries of Udolpho continues to grip readers with its vivid characters, its sublime Alpine settings and its dramatic sense of suspense and danger.In her introduction, Jacqueline Howard discusses the novel's huge success when it was first published, its place as a groundbreaking work of the Gothic genre, and Radcliffe's imaginative use of history, poetry, landscape and the supernatural. This edition also includes further reading, a chronology, and notes.Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823) was the leading exponent of Gothic fiction. During her lifetime she published five novels including A Sicilian Romance (1790), The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and The Italian (1797), as well as a collection of European travel writings. Her novels were immensely popular, and much imitated. If you enjoyed The Mysteries of Udolpho, you might like Edgar Allen Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Writings, also available in Penguin Classics.

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    The Monk

    Matthew Lewis's Gothic masterpiece, depicting a holy man slowly becoming entangled in a web of sin, The Monk is edited with an introduction by Christopher MacLachlan in Penguin Classics.Savaged by critics for its blasphemy and obscenity, particularly since the author was a Member of Parliament, The Monk soon attracted thousands of readers keen to see if this Gothic novel lived up to its lurid reputation. With acute psychological insight, Lewis shows the diabolical decline of Ambrosio, a worthy superior of the Capuchins of Madrid who is tempted by Matilda, a young girl who has entered his monastery disguised as a boy. Descending into a hell of his own creation, Ambrosio is driven to magic and murder in an attempt to conceal his crimes from the Inquisition. The Monk was greatly admired by the Marquis de Sade, who saw it as a response to the upheavals of the French Revolution, yet it also reveals something more universal: the way violent and erotic impulses lurking within us all can break through every barrier of social restraint.Matthew Gregory Lewis (1775-1818) was educated at Oxford after which he held a position in the British Embassy at The Hague. It was there in 1794, that he wrote the racy novel The Monk, under the influence of the early German romantics. Its controversial publication in 1796, due to Lewis' new status as MP, earned him fame and the book a great deal of popularity.If you enjoyed The Monk, you might like Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, also available in Penguin Classics.

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    The Robbers and Wallenstein

    Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805) was one of the most influential of all playwrights, the author of deeply moving dramas that explored human fears, desires and ideals. Written at the age of twenty-one, The Robbers was his first play. A passionate consideration of liberty, fraternity and deep betrayal, it quickly established his fame throughout Germany and wider Europe. Wallenstein, produced nineteen years later, is regarded as Schiller's masterpiece: a deeply moving exploration of a flawed general's struggle to bring the Thirty Years War to an end against the will of his Emperor. Depicting the deep corruption caused by constant fighting between Protestants and Catholics, it is at once a meditation on the unbounded possible strength of humanity, and a tragic recognition of what can happen when men allow themselves to be weak.

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    The Devil's Elixirs

    The charismatic monk Medardus becomes implicated in a deadly mystery against his will. As he travels towards Rome he wrestles with the enigma of his own identity while pursued by his murderous doppelganger. The monk's only hope for salvation lies with the beautiful Aurelie; but in order to escape the curse which lies over his family, he must evade the sinister powers of the living and the dead. In this lively and disturbing gothic tale, Hoffmann combines elements of the fantastic and the sublime to analyse the seductive ambiguities of art and the deeply divided nature of the human imagination.

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    The Vampyre and Other Tales of the Macabre

    'Upon her neck and breast was blood, and upon her throat were the marks of teeth having opened the vein: - to this the men pointed, crying, simultaneously struck with horror, "a Vampyre, a Vampyre!"' John Polidori's classic tale of the vampyre was a product of the same ghost-story competition that produced Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Set in Italy, Greece, and London, Polidori's tales is a reaction to the dominating presence of his employer Lord Byron, and transformed the figure of the vampire from the bestial ghoul of earlier mythologies into the glamorous aristocrat whose violence and sexual allure make him literally a 'lady-killer'. Polidori's tale introduced the vampire into English fiction, and launched a vampire craze that has never subsided. 'The Vampyre' was first published in 1819 in the London New Monthly Magazine. The present volume selects thirteen other tales of the macabre first published in the leading London and Dublin magazines between 1819 and 1838, including Edward Bulwer's chilling account of the doppelganger, Letitia Landon's elegant reworking of the Gothic romance, William Carleton's terrifying description of an actual lynching, and James Hogg's ghoulish exploitation of the cholera epidemic of 1831-2. ABOUT THE SERIES: For over 100 years Oxford World's Classics has made available the widest range of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford's commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, helpful notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more.

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    The Old English Baron

    'Though I have been dead these fifteen years, I still command here, and none can enter these gates without my permission.' When Sir Philip Harclay returns to England after a long absence, he finds that his childhood friend, Arthur, Lord Lovel, is no longer alive, and that the castle and estates of the Lovel family have twice changed hands. But a mysteriously abandoned set of rooms in the castle of Lovel promises to disclose the secrets of the past. After a series of frantic episodes and surprising revelations, culminating in a trial by combat, the crimes of the usurper and the legitimacy of the true heir are finally discovered. 'The literary offspring of the castle of Otranto', as Reeve described it, The Old English Baron provides an ambitious rewriting of Horace Walpole's groundbreaking work, transporting the trappings of the Gothic to medieval England. Innovative and original in its day, Reeve's historical romance is increasingly recognized as a major influence on the development of Gothic fiction. ABOUT THE SERIES: For over 100 years Oxford World's Classics has made available the widest range of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford's commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, helpful notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more.

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    Zastrozzi

    Zastrozzi, the arch-villain of the tale, is sworn to avenge the wrongs done to his mother. Prepared to go to any lengths to execute his horrific plans, he enlists the help of the willing Matilda. Together they vow to destroy Verezzi and Julia, the subjects of their wrath, and embark upon a fateful chain of events that can lead only on catastrophe.

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    Joanna is a Front-End Developer at Bookwitty. You can actually find a coffee cup from the Amsterdam Concertgebouw artist lounge on her desk. She has twice won certificates of honour (and a free ... Show More

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