Oct 6 2014 2:00pm

Spooky, Sexy, and Mysterious: Top 10 Gothic Romance

Gothic romance is one of the oldest styles of romance novels; the formula of girl meets enigmatic boy in spooky location equals love has been around since the 1800s, but had its heyday during the 1960s and 1970s, when they could be found just about anywhere. Their popularity waned by the early 1980s, but there have been a few books lately which lead me to hope for a rebound.

What follows is a list of books and writers that have been important to the genre. While this sub-genre tends to have a strict structure there is enough difference in writing styles and enough twists in the plot usage that it should have a little something for everyone.

10. Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho

Why? This novel, published in 1794, is among those credited with launching the genre. While it has primarily fallen into obscurity now, it was popular enough during its zenith to inspire Jane Austen to mention it in her novel Northanger Abbey.

9. V.C. Andrews, Flowers in the Attic

Why? “At the top of the stairs there are four secrets hidden. Blond, beautiful, innocent, and struggling to stay alive…” This novel turns the secret in the attic trope completely on its head.

8. Barbara Michaels, Be Buried in the Rain

Why? Michaels is a popular voice in the genre and often mentioned when these books are discussed. I chose this novel because of the haunting poem it includes. “Justice Denied in Massachusetts” written by Edna St. Vincent Millay fits the text perfectly.

7. Phyllis A. Whitney, Amethyst Dreams/Columbella

Why? Winner of the Malice Domestic Award for Lifetime Achievement Whitney is one of the best known voices of this genre. In this novel (renamed, both titles listed here), the author takes all the key elements of the classic gothic and twists them up a bit.

6. Simone St. James, The Haunting of Maddy Clare

Why? St. James is an exciting new voice in the genre. This is the first of her three books and perhaps the most like a classic gothic. It is the story of an angry young ghost, a horrible crime and Mathew Ryder and Sarah Piper, two people desperate to solve the mystery and bring Maddy (and the people she is haunting) some peace. Delightfully eerie, chillingly atmospheric this modern gothic is not to be missed.

5. Susanna Kearsley, The Shadowy Horses

Why? Kearsley is the grand mistress of the modern gothic; a lyrical writer whose elegant prose lures you deep into her story and paints a mesmerizing picture of whatever location she wishes to bring you to. In this novel she introduces us to Robby, a young boy who has befriended the ghost of a Roman legionnaire—and who may just be able to uncover a great treasure.

4. Victoria Holt, Mistress of Mellyn

Why? Holt (The pen name of Jean Plaidy, a historical fiction writer) sold 56 million copies of her gothic romances, making her a top producer in this field. Her novels epitomized the popular gothic of the 1960s and 1970s with their covers of young girls standing before dark, brooding mansions. Mistress of Mellyn is her first book and set the stage for those that followed.

3. Mary Stewart, Nine Coaches Waiting

Why? Stewart is credited with the revival of the gothic romance that occurred in the 1960s. It was difficult to pick just one of her books, but this one most closely follows the classic gothic template. Heroine Linda Martin, a frightened little boy, Chateau Valmy and the dark and dangerous Raul Valmy all combine to create an ethereal, frightening tale. There is also the all-important crazy relative although they are not in the attic.

2. Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca

Why? Behind Jane Eyre, this is easily the most famous gothic ever written. When Max de Winter brings his new wife home to Manderley events conspire to make her fear her home, her husband and whatever ghosts haunts the halls of the house. The author’s exquisite writing makes this worth a read even if you are not a fan of the genre. The fact that we never know the name of the second Mrs. de Winter adds a delicious sense of the macabre to the reading experience.

1. Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

Why? This is the grandmother of all gothic romances. Originally published in October of 1847, it is still a vital part of the literary landscape today. 2011 saw yet another adaptation of the book into the movie, a factor which spreads its influence beyond the reading public. The story of Jane, Mr. Rochester and the secret in the attic has influenced writers for over a century. 

Have you read any gothic romance? Which are your favorites? 


To find out more about each book mentioned:

The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe  
Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews    
Be Buried in the Rain by Barbara Michaels  

Amethyst Dreams by Phyllis A Whitney


Columbella by Phyllis A Whitney

The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James  
The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley  
Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt  
Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart  
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier    
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë    














Maggie Boyd, blogger, reviewer, avid reader

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
Lee Brewer
1. LeeB.
Thanks for the suggestions. I've read the books by Holt, Bronte, Kearsley, St. James. Love gothics.
2. Scarlettleigh
I loved Barbara Michaels' books. They had the perfect combination of gothic, supernatural elements, but you didn't have to sleep with the lights on after reading them. I discovered her with Ammie, Come Home. To be honest the books written under Michaels were more of a favorite than her Elizabeth Peter's books. Although, I liked those too. A very talented author.

Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart is a classic. With this book, I fell in love with this type of hero characterization which continued for years- maybe even decades.

I never was interested in Flowers in the Attic, and now even less so, now that I know the twist -- but do agree that it should be included on the list.

I glommed Susanna Kearsley's books back in the early 2000's even when I had to order some books from Canada.

Your list brought back some great memories.
Maggie Boyd
3. maggieboyd66
@LeeB I love them too. I've been excited to see the Simone St. James books since it hints to a possible resurgence of this genre. I would love for them to come back.

@Scarletleigh I've ordered Susanna Kearsley's books from Canada just to get them that two or three months earlier. Unfortunately, that isn't a possiblity this time around since it looks like the book releases the same day in all three (UK, Canada, US) places.
4. Maria D.
I have read some Gothic romance - my favorite Mary Stewart is The Ivy ?Tree, I did enjoy reading Flowers in the Attic enough that I wanted to read the sequel but for some reason never did. I know I read some of Phyliss Whitney's books but for the life of me can't remember which ones - I read them as a young teen. I have not read anything by Barbara Michels but I'm going to have to correct that since I didn't realize she also wrote as Elizabeth Peters and I love those books. Great post!
Maggie Boyd
5. maggieboyd66
@Maria D. Definitely try Susanna Kearsley and Simone St. James if you like Stewart. They have similar voices in my opinion.
6. Margaret Andersen
I've read and loved most of these. I've never read Ann Radcliffe, but I plan to. Nor Flowers in the Attic which never appealed to me.
Maggie Boyd
7. maggieboyd66
@Margaret Anderson Flowers in the Attic is a hit or miss type book. It works for some but not all. Hopefully you will like the Ann Radcliffe. It is a bit old fashioned in style (surprise!) but intriguing none the less.
8. booklover19
If you have not read Eve Silver, try Seduced by a Stranger - really incredible, dark, gothic romance. A lot of Anne Stuart's books also have that gothic feel, even if not truly gothic romances.
9. Carol Sue
Oh, my gosh!!! The best gothic romance novelist of all is Madeleine Brent (aka Peter O'Donnell). Moonraker's Bride being the best one of his books (skip Stormswift).
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