- Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
- Dracula, Bram Stoker
- Jekyll & Hyde, RL Stevenson
- Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
- Jane Eyre, Bronte
- Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
Classic Gothic Literature:
Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
Frankenstein (or The Modern Prometheus) is a must read, in my opinion, particularly if you like Gothic novels with Sci-Fi elements. Mary Shelley kicked off the Gothic/Sci-Fi genre with Frankenstein – as it is considered the first true novel in this genre- and masterfully tied in the ideas governed by the Romantics (like her husband) such as, individuality and freedom of choice.
Frankenstein follows the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young man with an aptitude for science. However, Victor is far too ambitious to settle for the simple elements of science he is studying and so decides to take the power of life into his own hands- which ultimately leads to the creature of his creature. Contrary to popular beliefs, the creature in the novel is left unnamed and is simply referred to as ‘the Creature’, ‘the Daemon’, ‘the wretch’ and so forth. After his creation he is abandoned by Victor and we see, through Victor and the Creature’s narrative, how they both lead their lives after this. The creature struggles with his abandonment, loneliness and inability to be accepted by anyone, while Victor struggles with trying to forget what he had done. Ultimately, death, violence and hatred ensues until the novels resolution.
This novel is amazing, clever and insightful. It deals with themes such as, duality, doppelgangers, isolation, science vs religion, ambition, morality and social expectations- all of which are entwined and the characters are well defined and developed.
In the end you are left thinking- who is the true monster of this story, Victor or his creature, or are they one and the same?
Dracula, by Bram Stoker
Dracula is a great classic for those who love vampires, the idea of vampires or is generally interested in the figure of Dracula himself! Introducing the character of Count Dracula, which I am sure were are all familiar with, Stoker goes on to expand the mythology surrounding vampires such as their weaknesses and aversions with specific focus on the Count.
The story follows Johnathan Harker, a solicitor, who is tasked with helping the Count with his real estate transactions. However, Harker soon realises he is a prisoner of the Count and finds himself in all sorts of trouble about the castle – primarily with ‘the sisters’. Harker soon realises Dracula’s true identity and has to escape the castle. The story, however, is also told by Harker’s fiancée, a group of men and women led by Professor Abraham Van Helsing, and Lucy -a young woman being stalked. The group find themselves trying to prevent Dracula from enacting his plans- though it proves more difficult than they realised- in order to save everyone. The story is mainly told through diary entries, letters and newspaper articles – each of which give significant and detailed insight into each characters contact with vampires.
Dracula is a wonderful novel that is rich in lore, has amazing character descriptions (specifically for the vampires which are eerie and unnatural yet humanoid), and an interesting plot. Stoker deals with the themes of death, isolation, gender, religion, sexuality and psychiatry (alienism).
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson
If you enjoyed Frankenstein or you are interested in the themes of duality and morality, the The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde is the perfect novella for you. Stevenson introduces the characters of Jekyll and Hyde and tackles the complexity of human nature within them, much like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and his creature, Stevenson’s characters try to transcend the boundaries of science ultimately leading to a conflict between the creator and the creature.
We follow Utterson’s view of the story as he tries to figure out why Jekyll is so attached to Hyde. As Jekyll’s behaviour becomes more detached and he isolates himself, Utterson attempts to figure out whether or not Hyde is blackmailing Jekyll or is involved in this change to Jekyll’s personality. However, Utterson struggles to come to terms with who the hideous and deformed Hyde is, and cannot breach the wall Jekyll has put up in order to be alone. As Utterson unravels the truth, we can see the true extent to which Jekyll has gone in order to change his own morality. The final part of the story, which explains how Jekyll achieved this separation of Jekyll and Hyde, is told by Jekyll himself, so we can see his thoughts and emotions during this turbulent time.
This story is an in-depth analysis on human nature and tackles our morality, the split of good and evil, while simultaneously appealing to the contextual fear of de-evolution and humans animalistic tendencies of selfishness and greed.
Ultimately, the reader is left with the distinct notion that we cannot be purely good (for even Jekyll himself, without Hyde, is not pure good) or purely evil and that, by extension, Jekyll and Hyde where never two separate characters or beings but rather were always one person.
Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
Great Expectations is a prime example of a bildungsroman and is full of gothic, societal and prejudicial elements. Dickens is a master when it comes to intertwining themes and elements to create a larger story, but he also is clever and quick witted in terms of his social criticisms- some of which are still relevant in our modern society. Great Expectations follows Pip as he tries to transcend the rigid class structure, and evaluates how society sees people based on their social class.
The main character of this novel is Pip, the name itself suggesting this is a story of personal growth. We follow him as he grows up ‘by hand’ under his sisters directive, meets two mysterious convicts, is surprised by a secret and mysterious benefactor, and attempts to use this money to become a gentleman. His ambition to become a gentleman is primarily influenced by his infatuation with Estella and the belief that Miss Havisham is his benefactor. However, as he grows older the story becomes much more complex and is filled with secrets, betrayals, heartbreak and prejudice to the lower social classes.
Dickens deals with the issues of crime, the judicial system, social class, gentlemen vs gentle men, childhood and personal growth throughout the novel. He masterfully uses characters to portray and expand on these themes and the characters themselves are so complex and in depth that you have genuine emotions and empathy for them.
The ending is ambiguous, heart-breaking and a staple on Pip’s own personal growth.
Jane Eyre, by Bronte
Jane Eyre is a beautiful, innovative and progressive beyond its years. A story of personal growth, feminism and independence, Bronte truly created a masterpiece. The focus on independence and hard-work over money and social class is intriguing, clever and makes the character of Jane easy to connect with and easy to admire.
Jane is orphaned, taken in by a woman who cares little for her and with siblings that are rude and abusive she struggles to even exist in the home, any retaliation is considered unnecessary and deviant and she has no money and is seen as a burden. However, we watch as Jane escapes this situation, becomes educated (albeit at a questionable school), gets a job and works her way through life. Jane is, at multiple times, given the option to marry – which would mean she would have a financially stable life. However, Jane does not succumb to this temptation but rather chooses to work and be independent, with the mindset of only being with someone for love. The main male character is Mr Rochester, initially seen as arrogant and disliked by Jane. However, the two grow close- until odd things start to happen in the home.
Bronte deals with similar themes to Dickens such as, social criticism, class and prejudice. However, she also deals with Christian morality, sexuality, feminism and the world as a whole from the perspective of a woman. The themes are clear, interesting and dealt with in an impressive manner- as is expected with a character as headstrong as Jane.
By the end of the novel Jane is one of the most admirable characters in fiction and is so even with her flaws and faults.
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice is a novel of manners, but is also seen as bildungsroman, but is more likely to be classed as a romantic novel. If you like romance then this is perfect for you, if you don’t the book is still a great read as it deals with so much more than just love! Jane Austen cleverly explores social attitudes, independence and love throughout the novel and introduces one of the most loved male characters of all time -Mr Darcy. Of course, the book also introduces Elizabeth Bennet – a feisty, headstrong young woman with an aptitude for independence- the main character who is also well loved.
The story follows Elizabeth as she and her sisters navigate love marriage and social expectations. However, Elizabeth cares little about what others think of her. When Elizabeth meets Mr Darcy she immediately dislikes him, and makes this very clear. We watch as she helps her sisters, criticises Mr Darcy and confronts him when he is the cause of her sisters heartbreak- that is until she begins to realise the truth. Mr Darcy is not all he seems and her first impression may have been dreadfully wrong.
We also follow Elizabeth’s sisters as they marry, get into trouble and create problems that require creative solutions.
Austen evaluates independence, pride and prejudice throughout this novel and also delves into feminism with characters who break away from their social shackles, but also with those who choose to conform, or are forced to.