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I love a good ghost story, and so naturally I was drawn to The Haunting of Bly Manor on Netflix. As I was watching it, something about the story seemed familiar, and upon Googling it, I learned that it was yet another adaptation of Henry James’ gothic novella The Turn of the Screw. I originally read the book in University and loved it. It was spooky and suspenseful, and it had a big twist I never saw coming. 

 

The Turn of the Screw

If you haven’t watched the series or read the book, the story is set in a country house named Bly Manor, where a young governess is charged with the care of two orphans named Miles and Flora. Something doesn’t seem quite right about the house, however, and she becomes convinced the house is haunted.

 

In the hundred plus years since its original publication, the novel has become a cornerstone of gothic literature, and has been adapted several times into radio and film, including the recent film The Turning, the 2001 film The Others starring Nicole Kidman, and a 1961 film titled The Innocents, starring Deborah Kerr. I’m a big fan of horror in general, but especially Gothic fiction for the suspenseful and atmospheric elements of these stories.

 

If you’re not familiar with the genre, Gothic fiction and regular horror have some distinct The Castle of Otranto differences. Gothic fiction is a sub-genre of horror which combines horror, death, and sometimes romance. The term Gothic is generally associated with the Gothic architecture of medieval Europe which is the setting for many of the novels, and originated during the romantic movement of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

 

Gothic’s origins have been attributed to the English author Horace Walpole and his 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto. Books by Anne Radcliffe, Bram Stoker, Mary Shelly, and Daphne Du Maurier further developed the genre, and examples of Gothic writing can be found in Russia, US, England, and Ireland, each with their own unique characteristics.

 

In her 1818 novel Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen parodied the genre by introducing a naïve heroine who read far too much Gothic fiction and begins to imagine herself as the heroine of a Gothic novel such as Anne Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho. If you haven’t read Udolpho you can still appreciate Austen’s parody, but I suggest reading Radcliffe simply because she was one of the first to incorporate supernatural elements into her novel.

 

Right about now you’re probably wondering what makes a novel Gothic as opposed to straight up horror. The most obvious element is the setting. Almost every Gothic novel is set in an isolated estate, castle or house that is either said to be haunted or cursed. There are almost always secret passages, abandoned rooms/wings, and it is dark, possibly abandoned, and generally creates a sense of fear or foreboding. The weather is also unsettled, and it’s often foggy or raining.

 

A recent novel that is a great example of setting is Laura Purcell’s The House of Whispers which takes place in a sprawling house by the sea in Cornwall, Setting a novel in the UK isn’t a requirement, but the weather and the landscape make it a popular choice. The location of the house is remote and far from the city, and even comes with its own crazy lady in the attic. Cornish folklore plays into the story, and it’s exactly the kind of creepy that will keep you up at night.

 

Another major element is a character, often a woman, in peril. The character faces terrifying events, and often becomes trapped in the house, castle, etc.. In Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s new novel Mexican Gothic, the central character is socialite Noemí Taboada travels to High Place, an isolated house in the Mexican countryside and begins having visions of blood and doom in her dreams. The house contains many secrets, and if Noemi isn’t careful, she may find it impossible to leave.  

 

Also key to the story is something supernatural such as a ghost or a monster. The monster can be literal like Frankenstein’s monster, a vampire like Dracula, or even a mutant or cyborg. Graham Masterson’s House of a Hundred Whispers is a great example of a supernatural Gothic. Masterson’s novel is set in an isolated local in a Tudor mansion nestled in the English moors. The novel begins with the murder of the owner, the former Governor of Dartmoor Prison and just gets spookier from there. The author integrates elements of local folklore and witchcraft, and the story is a highly suspenseful haunted house ghost story.  

 

If you're interested in learning more about the major elements of Gothic horror, check out that link for a more detailed explanation. Meanwhile, if you plan to read any of the novels I’ve suggested, I have one piece of advice: Don’t turn out the lights!

 

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Happy Reading!

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