Everyone should have a few guilty pleasures and one of mine is the romantic gothic fiction that was so popular in the 60’s & 70’s. Long out of print, to only be found tucked away in the dark corners of charity shops, ebay and car boot sales, I find their bewitching covers and the terrible deeds hinted at within impossible to resist.
So what is it about these small, usually unappealingly mouldy smelling, paperbacks I find so attractive? Maybe it was too much time spent watching Dark Shadows when I was growing up or a gradual disenchantment with an over-hyped, over-priced market in modern horror, but time and time again, like the proverbial moth to a flame, I find myself irresistibly drawn to these haunting tales of romantic suspense and supernatural horror.
Of course with all great loves there are a few fatal flaws. The obligatory happy endings for one. One could, and should, argue that love can only truly be called gothic if it is unrequited, doomed, tortured, twisted or taboo – think Poe’s Madeline and Roderick or Emily Bronte’s Catherine and Heathcliff.
But I guess for this particular genre, market forces dictated that the hapless heroine survive long enough to be swept off her feet by a real live hunk of (mostly) human love. To be fair, I’m sure many readers bought these books specifically for the ‘riding off into the sunset’ happy endings, but for those of us who prefer intrigue over romance, there are usually more than enough plot twists, villains and unhappy skeletons in the closet to keep us coming back for more.
Another criticism levelled at this type of fiction is the overall quality of writing. It is true that in the wrong hands these stories can come out clichéd and cheesy, with stereotyped characters, predictable plot twists and those “Oh come on! Give me a break!” moments that jar the reader out of the story. The subject matter and sheer numbers o titles published no doubt makes gothic romance an easy target.
But I do not think this genre is any more guilty of “hack” writing than any other and in the right hands many of these books contain absorbing, evocative stories, full of the kind over dramatic, melodrama that’s so fun to lose yourself in. And they are a credit to their authors – particularly when you consider the very restrictive guidelines they must of conformed to just to get published. In any event, literary snobbery aside, any book that gets people reading is a great book and there is no doubt the gothic romance genre has a loyal and avid readership.
So this blog is a collection of excerpts, cover art and reviews on some of my favourite reads in vintage romantic gothic fiction. In their hey day there must have been thousands of these novels published but these days they are becoming harder to come by and, just like the haunted houses they depict, many of them are falling into ever increasing states of decrepitude. I can only live in hope that someone, someday resurrects this forgotten genre and starts reprinting some of these titles, complete with their original gorgeous artwork, soon.