Get The Halloween 'Spirit' With These Gothic Readings

English professor Marjean Purinton recommends her favorite eerie 19th century literature.

With Halloween fast approaching, here is a list of 19th century novels, dramas and short stories recommended by Texas Tech University English professor Marjean Purinton, author of the forthcoming book “Staging Grotesques and Ghosts: British Romantic Techno-gothic Drama.”

 


Novels

Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus”

Frankenstein

Victor Frankenstein, a brilliant but wayward scientist, builds a human from dead flesh and then, horrified at what he has done, abandons his creation. The creature, an outcast because of his appearance, learns language and becomes civilized, but when rejected by society seeks revenge on his creator. So begins a cycle of destruction in which Frankenstein and his monster lose all vestiges of their humanity in monomaniacal hatred.


Charles Brockden Brown’s “Edgar Huntly; or, Memoirs of a Sleepwalker”

Sleepwalker

Edgar Huntly, a young man who lives with his uncle and sisters on a farm outside Philadelphia, is determined to learn who murdered his friend Waldegrave. Walking near the elm tree under which Waldegrave was killed late one night, Huntly sees Clithero half-dressed, digging in the ground and weeping loudly. Huntly concludes Clithero may be the murderer and that Clithero is sleepwalking. Huntly decides to follow Clithero when he sleep walks, but after an initial disappointment ends up getting more than he bargained for.


Wilke Collins’ “The Woman in White”

Woman

Walter Hartright, a young art teacher, meets a mysterious and distressed woman dressed in white. He helps her on her way, but later learns she has escaped from an asylum. The next day, he travels to his new job at Limmeridge House in Cumberland. One of the students in the house, Laura Fairlie, bears an astonishing resemblance to the woman in white, who is known to the household and whose name is Anne Catherick. The mentally disabled Anne had lived near Limmeridge as a child and was devoted to Laura’s mother, who first dressed her in white. Walter and Laura fall in love. Laura, however, has promised her father she will marry Sir Percival Glyde. After their honeymoon, Sir Percival and Lady Glyde return to his house, Blackwater Park in Hampshire; they are accompanied by Glyde's friend, Count Fosco. Glyde unsuccessfully attempts to bully Laura into signing a document allowing him to use her marriage settlement of 20,000 pounds. Glyde reveals to Fosco the resemblance between Laura and Anne, and Fosco and Glyde plot to switch the identities of Laura and the terminally-ill Anne, so Anne’s death can be passed off as Laura’s and Glyde can inherit her money.


Louisa May Alcott’s “A Long Fatal Love Chase”

Fatal

The ostentatiously Faustian plot centers on Rosamond Vivian, a discontented maiden who lives on an English island with only her bitter old grandfather for company and who begins the novel by rashly declaring: “I often feel as if I’d gladly sell my soul to Satan for a year of freedom.” Right on cue, a man named Phillip Tempest — a man who bears a more than trivial resemblance to Mephistopheles — walks in the door. Within a month, Rosamond is in love, and although she realizes this man is “no saint,” she marries him, believing with the fatuousness of youth that her love will save him. She sails away from her lonely island in Tempest’s yacht and begins her married life. Much to his surprise, Tempest finds he, too, has fallen in love. He tries to make Rosamond happy; however, after a year in his company, she begins to realize how conscienceless and cruel he is. She then discovers Tempest has a wife and son already, making her the unwitting mistress of a man who grossly deceived her. She packs a few items, stealthily climbs down from her second-floor balcony and catches the next train to Paris. Tempest pursues her, beginning the obsessive “chase” of the title.


Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”

Dracula

Jonathan Harker, a young London lawyer, travels to Transylvania to help a rich nobleman, Count Dracula, purchase an estate in England. Dracula is planning to immigrate to England and wants Harker to help him hammer out all the legal details. Harker is at first impressed by Dracula’s suave politeness, but is soon creeped out by the Count’s uncanny ability to communicate with wolves and by the lack of servants – or anyone else – in the Count’s huge castle. Soon after, Harker realizes he’s a prisoner. When he tries to escape, he is discovered and almost seduced/devoured by three sexy vampires, the brides of Dracula. Dracula rescues him at the last minute, and Harker realizes Dracula is only keeping him alive to finish the real estate transaction. Harker escapes but is delayed returning to England. While waiting for him, his fiancée, Mina, loses her best friend to mysterious blood loss. Dr. Van Helsing realizes there’s a vampire involved. Harker and Van Helsing swear to get rid of Dracula once and for all.


Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”

Hyde

An eminently sensible, trustworthy lawyer named Mr. Utterson listens as his friend Enfield tells a gruesome tale of assault. The tale describes a sinister figure named Mr. Hyde who tramples a young girl, disappears into a door on the street and reemerges to pay off her relatives with a check signed by a respectable gentleman, Dr. Jekyll. One of Utterson’s clients and close friends, Jekyll has written a will transferring all of his property to this same Mr. Hyde. A year later, a servant witnesses Hyde brutally beat to death an old man. Jekyll now claims to have ended all relations with Hyde. For a few months, Jekyll acts especially friendly and sociable, as if a weight has been lifted from his shoulders. But then Jekyll suddenly refuses visitors. Jekyll’s butler visits Utterson in a state of desperation: Jekyll has secluded himself in his laboratory for several weeks, and now the voice that comes from the room sounds nothing like the doctor’s.


Dramas

Joanna Baillie’s “Orra”

Orra

“Orra” is set in the 15th century in the darkest section of the Black Forest. Orra’s guardian wants her to marry the guardian’s son so Orra’s estate and his can be combined. But Orra loves someone else. To punish Orra, the guardian sends her to an abandoned castle deep in the Black Forest. She is accompanied only by her nurse, and she is to remain in seclusion until she changes her mind. Orra has an active imagination, which is stimulated by her isolation and by the ghost stories that her nurse likes to tell. Meanwhile, Orra’s lover has joined with a group of outlaws, and he determines he will appropriate their services to help him rescue Orra. He determines he will enter her chamber by way of the castle’s underground passageways. Orra retires for the evening after having just heard about her ancestral huntsman believed to be a murderer and consequently a ghost who visits the castle at night. When her lover appears, Orra mistakes him for the ghost of her wicked ancestor.


Matthew Lewis’ “The Castle Spectre”

Spectre

“The Castle Spectre” relates the tale of the villainous Earl Osmond, who has overthrown his brother and inadvertently killed Lady Evelina, the woman he hoped to marry, who married his brother instead. To minimize his beautiful and virtuous niece Angela’s threat to his power (as heir to the rightful lord), Osmond placed her with a peasant couple who reared her as their child. When he makes the fateful decision to call her back to the court, however, her resemblance to Evelina makes him fall in love with her. But during the last weeks of her peasant existence, she fell in love with the lowly Edric, and even the opportunity to marry an earl is not temptation enough to shake her fidelity to this humble swain, who is soon revealed to be more than he seems.


Short Stories

Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”

Sleepy Hollow

The “Legend” relates the tale of Ichabod Crane, a lean, lanky and extremely superstitious schoolmaster from Connecticut, who competes with Abraham “Brom Bones” Van Brunt, the town rowdy, for the hand of 18-year-old Katrina Van Tassel, the daughter and sole child of a wealthy farmer. Bones, the local hero, vies with Ichabod for Katrina’s hand, playing a series of pranks on the jittery schoolmaster. The tension between the three is brought to a head when Crane attends a harvest party at the Van Tassels’ home. He dances, partakes of the feast and listens to ghostly legends, but his true aim is to propose to Katrina after the guests leave. After failing to secure Katrina’s hand, Ichabod rides home “heavy-hearted and crestfallen” through the woods. As he passes several purportedly haunted spots, his active imagination is engorged by the ghost stories told at the party. Ichabod encounters a cloaked rider at an intersection in a menacing swamp. Unsettled by his fellow traveler’s eerie size and silence, the teacher is horrified to discover his companion’s head is not on his shoulders, but on his saddle.


Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”

Edgar Allen Poe

An unnamed narrator claims he is nervous but not mad. He says he is going to tell a story in which he will defend his sanity yet confess to having killed an old man. His motivation was neither passion nor desire for money, but rather a fear of the man’s pale blue eye. Again, he insists he is not crazy because his cool and measured actions, though criminal, are not those of a madman.


Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark”

Birthmark

Aylmer is a brilliant, recognized scientist and philosopher who has dropped his focus from his career and experiments to marry the beautiful Georgiana, who is physically perfect except for a small red birthmark in the shape of a hand on her cheek. As the story progresses, Aylmer becomes unnaturally obsessed with the birthmark on Georgiana’s cheek. After Aylmer dreams of cutting the birthmark out of his wife’s cheek, Georgiana declares she would risk her life having the birthmark removed from her cheek rather than to continue to endure his horror and distress that comes upon him when he sees her. He begins to experiment on her and describes some of the successes, but as he questions how she is feeling, Georgiana begins to suspect that Aylmer has been experimenting on her the entire time without her knowledge and consent.


Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat”

Black Cat

Because he is due to die the next day, the narrator has decided to present the facts of a past event that has terrified and destroyed him, although he claims he is not mad and hopes someone else will be able to explain his story logically. He begins by describing his kind and humane younger self: he keeps many pets because animals such as dogs are so loving and faithful, and at a young age he marries a woman who also loves pets. In their household they have a number of animals, including a large and beautiful black cat named Pluto. Although his wife often refers to the superstition that black cats are actually disguised witches, the narrator is particularly fond of the unusually intelligent cat. In subsequent years, the narrator becomes increasingly moody and irritable due to alcoholism, and he begins to verbally abuse and threaten his wife as well as his pets. After cutting out one of Pluto’s eyes with a pen-knife while drunk, he completes his attack on Pluto by hanging the cat from a tree. The same night as the cat’s death, the house is set on fire. On the single wall that did not fall in the fire is an image of a gigantic cat with a rope around its neck.


Mary Shelley’s “The Transformation”

Frankenstein

Having squandered his wealth, the feckless Guido returns home to claim the hand of his beloved Juliet, but finds himself censured by her father. Angry at his chastisement, his temperament gets the better of him and he is punished with banishment. While plotting his revenge, he witnesses a mighty storm and from the raging sea emerges a strange figure. Although he is initially repelled by the dwarfish form before him, the stranger soon makes him an offer he can’t refuse, but by surrendering his identity and selling his soul to this mysterious creature, Guido makes yet another fatal error.

Marjean Purinton

Marjean Purinton
is a member of the Teaching Academy and a recipient of a President's Excellence in Teaching Award.

She teaches in the Women's Studies Program and is the Teaching Section Editor for the online project British Women Playwrights Around 1800.

She is past President of the International Conference on Romanticism.


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Women's & Gender Studies

Women's & Gender Studies is an interdisciplinary academic program that examines the cultural and social construction of gender, explores the history, experiences and contributions of women to society, and studies the influences of gender on the lives of women and men.

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