Jane Eyre. Wuthering Heights. “The Fall of the House of Usher”. All classic Gothic stories from the nineteenth century. But Gothic has never really gone away…or if it has, it’s baaaack (dun dun dun). This week on the blog, we’re looking at recent Gothic novels in YA.
To recap from last week’s post, here are the main Gothic tropes:
- An old, decrepit mansion in the wilderness.
- A mysterious, emotionally distant master of the house (or sometimes mistress, if it’s not a romance).
- A young woman (such as a governess) who is new to the scene.
- An orphaned/unwanted child or children living at the house.
- A terrible secret (sometimes supernatural).
- The mood of horror, usually related to a moral transgression (such as a murder).
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
Libba Bray’s 2003 YA novel A Great and Terrible Beauty is a good example of all the main Gothic tropes.
The central character, Gemma, loses her mother early in the book (and her father is unable to care for her, so she’s essentially an orphan) and is sent away to a boarding school in the woods, run by a mysterious headmistress who knows more than she’s saying. There are secrets that Gemma must unravel, an old chapel, and supernatural goings-on. And there’s a mysterious, distant love interest.
There’s even a new teacher to stand in for the governess, although usually the governess is the POV character. In this case, being YA, the story focuses on the (quasi-)orphan instead.
Bray’s novel explicitly explores the theme of last week’s post, the Gothic and the feminine. In the story, Gemma and her friends discover a form of magic that stands in for, and ties in with, their chafing against the restrictions of Victorian society and their awakening as women. They’re curious about love and sexuality, but there’s no approved outlet; they’re desperate to control their own lives and feel empowered, but society won’t permit it. Magic gives them freedom — but with limits and dangers attached, because this is a Gothic novel, after all.
(I should point out that this is the first in a trilogy. Books 2 and 3 are titled Rebel Angels and The Sweet Far Thing.)
A Gothic Reading List
Other recently published Gothic novels for YA readers include:
- Sharon Cameron – The Dark Unwinding and A Spark Unseen (steampunk)
- Leanna Renee Hieber – The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker, and The Perilous Prophecy of Guard and Goddess (another boarding school story, or at least that’s where it starts…)
- Kenneth Oppel – This Dark Endeavor and Such Wicked Intent (retelling of Frankenstein)
Your turn! Do you like Gothic stories? What do you like about them? What books can you add to the list?