Book Club Nominees

7 Dark Gothic Works of Women’s Literature

by @Bad Janet, curator of HOWLS Book Club nominees for March’s “Gothicc” category

This is a category of Gothic feminist literature. I’ve always been drawn to stories of dark and disturbing undertones of repressed women, society forcing them into isolation, madness, and horror. Here are some of the best in history and some modern takes. 

Cover of A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner. Cover shows a watercolor pattern of rainbow colors.

A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner

The story opens with a brief first-person account of the funeral of Emily Grierson, an elderly Southern woman whose funeral is the obligation of their small town. It then proceeds in a non-linear fashion to the narrator’s recollections of Emily’s archaic, and increasingly strange behavior throughout the years. Emily’s father refuses for her to marry. Her father dies when Emily is about the age of 30, which takes her by surprise. She refuses to give up his corpse, and the townspeople write it off as her grieving process. (Goodreads)

One of my favorite short stories! I love how this story unfolds and it is delightfully morbid.

Nominated as a trifecta of reads including: A Rose for Emily, The Yellowpaper, and Carmilla

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Cover of Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Cover shows a patterned wallpaper of light toned yellow scrolling lines against a dark yellow background.

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The Yellow Wallpaper is a short story first published in 1892. It is regarded as an important early work of American feminist literature for its illustration of the attitudes towards mental and physical health of women in the 19th century. 

The story is a collection of journal entries written by a woman whose physician husband has rented an old mansion for the summer.  As a form of treatment from what he calls a “temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency”, a diagnosis common to women during that period. She slowly slips into madness. (Goodreads)

I first read this story in 10th grade and it has never left me. Descending into madness at another’s hand is something that could happen to any of us under the right circumstances of oppression, manipulation, and isolation and that’s terrifying!

Nominated as a trifecta of reads including: A Rose for Emily, The Yellowpaper, and Carmilla

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu.Cover shows an abstract drawing of two women with dark hair. The drawing is done entirely in red and black tones.

Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

In an isolated castle deep in the Austrian forest, Laura leads a solitary life with only her ailing father for company. Until one moonlit night, a horse-drawn carriage crashes into view, carrying an unexpected guest – the beautiful Carmilla. So begins a feverish friendship between Laura and her mysterious, entrancing companion. But as Carmilla becomes increasingly strange and volatile, prone to eerie nocturnal wanderings, Laura finds herself tormented by nightmares and growing weaker by the day… Pre-dating Dracula by twenty-six years, Carmilla is the original vampire story, steeped in sexual tension and gothic romance. (Goodreads)

I just finished reading Dracula and I thought this would be a good companion book to it. There have been several movie adaptations of this story so it obviously caught a lot of people’s attention and I’m anxious to read it!

Nominated as a trifecta of reads including: A Rose for Emily, The Yellowpaper, and Carmilla

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of Rebecca by Daphnie du Maurier. Cover shows a white woman with red hair bent over and hugging her knees. She is wearing a black long sleeved open back gown against a black background. She is leaning far enough forward that we can see the top of her back. She is wearing a gold choker and beads in her hair. Her hair is in an updo.

Rebecca by Daphnie du Maurier

The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady’s maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives–presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave. (Goodreads)

I really enjoyed this story! To me it has Alfred Hitchcock vibes all the way!

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of The Mad Women's Ball by Victoria Mas. Cover shows an abstract image full of colors that looks like the image seen through a kaleidoscope. Colors of blue, gold, white, and red create a symmetrical pattern against a black background.

The Mad Women’s Ball by Victoria Mas

A literary historical novel detailing the horrors faced by institutionalized women in 19th century Paris—soon to be a major film with Amazon Studios

The Salpetriere Asylum: Paris, 1885. Dr. Charcot holds all of Paris in thrall with his displays of hypnotism on women who have been deemed mad and cast out from society. But the truth is much more complicated—these women are often simply inconvenient, unwanted wives, those who have lost something precious, wayward daughters, or girls born from adulterous relationships. For Parisian society, the highlight of the year is the Lenten ball—the Madwomen’s Ball—when the great and good come to gawk at the patients of the Salpetriere dressed up in their finery for one night only. For the women themselves, it is a rare moment of hope.

Genevieve is a senior nurse. After the childhood death of her sister Blandine, she shunned religion and placed her faith in both the celebrated psychiatrist Dr. Charcot and science. But everything begins to change when she meets Eugenie—the 19-year-old daughter of a bourgeois family that has locked her away in the asylum. Because Eugenie has a secret: she sees spirits. Inspired by the scandalous, banned work that all of Paris is talking about, The Book of Spirits, Eugenie is determined to escape from the asylum—and the bonds of her gender—and seek out those who will believe in her. And for that she will need Genevieve’s help. (Goodreads)

This book is at the top of my tbr list. It just sounds so good and I’m fascinated/horrified by how easily women could be thrown into asylums.

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Cover of The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell. Cover shows a repeated image of a young victorian girl wearing a dress with a collar and wearing a bonnet against a black background. She is holding an apple.

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

When newly widowed Elsie is sent to see out her pregnancy at her late husband’s crumbling country estate, The Bridge, what greets her is far from the life of wealth and privilege she was expecting . . A Victorian ghost story that evokes a most unsettling kind of fear, this is a tale that creeps its way through the consciousness in ways you least expect–much like the silent companions themselves. (Goodreads)

I have not read this one yet but it had me at Victorian ghost story.

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Cover of White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi. Cover shows two black silhouettes of trees framing the scene, two white silhouettes of trees behind them, and in the center, some distance away, the silhouette of a house. A girl stands at the edge of the path , leaning into the woods; she is also in silhouette.

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

In a vast, mysterious house on the cliffs near Dover, the Silver family is reeling from the hole punched into its heart. Lily is gone and her twins, Miranda and Eliot, and her husband, the gentle Luc, mourn her absence with unspoken intensity. All is not well with the house, either, which creaks and grumbles and malignly confuses visitors in its mazy rooms, forcing winter apples in the garden when the branches should be bare. Generations of women inhabit its walls. And Miranda, with her new appetite for chalk and her keen sense for spirits, is more attuned to them than she is to her brother and father. She is leaving them slowly -when one dark night she vanishes entirely, the survivors are left to tell her story. (Goodreads)

This is a spine-tingling tale that has Gothic roots but an utterly modern sensibility. Told by a quartet of crystalline voices, it is electrifying in its expression of myth and memory, loss and magic, fear and love. I’ve heard so much about this book, I want to check it out and see what the hubbub is all about.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

And The Winner Is…

Out of these seven books, HOWLers voted to read The Mad Women’s Ball by Victoria Mas. Join HOWL Society on Monday, March 14, 2022 to begin discussion!

Bailey Wend works as an admin for climate science education by day and is a studio singer/thespian by night. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her librarian/writer/hot sauce making husband and their pupper Arrow. Bailey is an avid reader of all genres with a special love for horror. Follow her Bookstagram at the_hidden_bookcase

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