Defining the Genre: Gothic Romance


Gothic romance is a genre you can’t find all too easily today. It was a popular genre a few decades ago and lovers of this romance sub-genre will have to troll secondhand bookstores to find titles. Classics of this genre are novels such as Wuthering Heights and Scarlet Letter. Well known authors of Gothic romance/horror include Ann Radcliffe of the past and Stephen King of the present.

A typical Gothic romance revolved around conflict and mysteries. It made the heroine choose between two male characters for love. One is bright, sunny, cheerful and charming. The other was dark, mysterious, secretive, and brooding. Plotlines of cursed leads and daring adventures took place on wind-swept moors, and places that were haunted. The heroine would embark on a thrilling journey to discover if her hero was worthy of love. Her task usually boiled down to find out if the hero really murdered his first wife, brother, mother, insert other relation.

It is interesting to note that Radcliffe introduced this brooding male as the Gothic villain, which developed into the Byronic hero. She is considered a pioneer of the genre. The movie Becoming Jane shows a meeting between Radcliffe and Jane Austen but there’s not basis for this meeting. However it does provide an interesting backdrop on the dual rise of the two types of popular novels.

As Gothic or dark romanticism developed it became more distinctly separated. The first direction of Gothic novels glorifies gore. The second took on the key aspects of modern romance. This new evolution made the focus on the romance instead of the mystery. These are the romances that disappeared after the eighties.

So what is a Byronic hero?

Trivia: The name of this hero comes from the English poet Lord Bryon.

The hero himself is highly intelligent, urbane, sophisticated and introspective. In other words he’s arrogant, mysterious, seductive, and moody (see bipolar). We see male figures like this all over, you could make the argument that Mr. Darcy is a Byronic hero on top of being a Regency hero, as Byronic heroes dislike social formalities and functions. Of course Mr. Darcy doesn’t have a troubled past or flippant air towards the wealthy and privileged, as he is one of that set. While Mr. Darcy was disliked he was not a complete social outcast and exiled from polite company. All these things are attributed to the Byronic hero.

What’s a good modern Gothic romance?

Some titles of the modern Gothic romance include: Bells of Widow’s Bay by Miriam Lynch, Castle Midnight by Evelyn McKenna, and Satan’s Rock by Marilyn Ross.

Authors to look for include (past and present authors): Victoria Holt, Dorothy Daniels, Theresa Weir, Phyllis Whitney, Barbara Michaels, Allison Knight, Mary Stewart, Joanna Challis, and Megan McKinney, Kay Hooper, Eve Silver… to name a few.

Trivia: In the 1980s Harlequin had an all Gothic line of books. See here for Gothic titles. Harlequin Intrigue also contains several titles that could satisfy your craving.

7 thoughts on “Defining the Genre: Gothic Romance”

  1. I’m not sure I see Mr. Darcy as a Byronic hero but I can see how the argument could (possibly) be made.

    Ah, Victoria Holt and Phyllis Whitney. I used to devour them! Haven’t read them in ages, though. Maybe this winter I’ll reread them.

  2. Oh, I love gothics! I can’t stay away from the gothic rack at the UBS, and I’m glad to see Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart being reissued. Whenever a review describes a book as having gothic elements, I know I have to give it a try.

  3. What a thrill to be included in such a terrific group of gothic writers. For those who love a true gothic, Red Rose Publishing is beginning a series called Shadowed Hearts Series, short gothic themed short works. Mine will be included. It’s called The Haunting of Hastings Hall.
    Watch my web page for a release date.
    And thanks for the mention. I LOVE Gothics.

  4. Oh, I can’t believe you didn’t mention the classic gothic novel, Jane Eyre! Edward Rochester is brooding, cynical, secretive, arrogant, and he toys with Jane and everyone around him.

    I love gothic stories and also more contemporary gothic mysteries. Give me a story with a big spooky house in the country and a dark secret and I’m happy.

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