Carlos Ruiz Zafón's Top Ten

Top Ten Gothic novels of the 20th Century.

I've read all but one of them--number 10.  And I'm not completely certain I agree with the choices.  I wonder about the absence of The Violent Bear it Away or A Good Man is Hard to Find  (If we can include Angela Carter in short story format, we most certainly can include Flannery O'Connor.) And what of the wonders of H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, T.E.D. Klein, and others of their ilk.  And where is Rebecca?  Perhaps 10 of the more famous Gothic Novels of the 20th Century.  But quibbling aside, one could do worse than this starter list in reading the Gothic Novel.  I'd would strongly suggest the Shirley Jackson novel as the entry point.  Obviously judging by some reviews, Ms. Jackson's work needs a wider exposure to the public and I don't know that there is any better introduction than The Haunting of Hill House--"Whatever walks there, walks alone."


  1. To my mind, the gothic novel was a creature of the 19th century, though that influence has continued. In any event, while gothic elements are found in O'Connor's work (which is my research focus), I would not go so far as to call her two novels or her two collections of stories "gothic"; the Christian themes dominate (in almost every one of her works), and the "gothic," where it exists, is window-dressing or catalyst for O'Connor's central concern: the sacramental vision through fiction. Well, those are some different thoughts, for whatever they might be worth.

  2. Dear R.T.,

    Here I must disagree with you. While invented and largely used in the 19th Century, the Gothic is neither confined to nor defined by the century of origin. Flannery O'Connor is, along with Faulkner, Percy, and some elements of Truman Capote, the apotheosis of the Southern Gothic. The conventions of the Gothic were adapted and translated to the new environment and there are few stories as gothic in origin and sense as "Good Country People," "Parker's Back," and even, in a certain sense "A Good Man is Hard to Find." And if the end of "The Violent Bear it Away" is not fundamentally Gothic in purpose and convention, then neither are Matthew Lewis's "The Monk" nor the novels of Ann Radcliffe and Hugh Walpole. It just doesn't get any more Gothic than physical relations with the Devil.

    While I agree with your premise about the central turning point of Flannery O'Connor's work, I do not agree with the definition this seems to imply for the Gothic. Christian themes dominate in most Gothic works as well (though not nearly so precise and well considered as Flannery O'Connor's). So, Gothic and Christian are not antithetical, but intricately and ornately intertwined (at times--not necessarily so as both Shirley Jackson and Angela Carter demonstrate.) But even in that grand old Gothic Dracula we can see the intertangling of Christian elements and themes--Dracula hurt by holy water and crucifixes--Mina Harker imprisoned at the end within a circle of ground consecrated by the Eucharist--etc.

    And I certainly wouldn't say that the Gothic was window-dressing in O'Connor--the incident and atmosphere of each of the stories is exactingly drawn--and while not all of the stories are necessarily Gothic ("A Late Encounter with the Enemy" comes to mind as one that has nearly no trace of the Gothic)--a good many of them are fashioned quite deliberately to bring forth this element.

    Finally, Gothic also has to do with the use of language and symbols, both of which are perfected in O'Connor's work. There is a rhythm straight out of older translations of the Bible (KJV and Douay-Rheims) and a build-up of sonorities that takes the place of stone edifices and haunted cathedrals. While most of the supernatural elements of the Gothic are not overt, they still exist in the symbolic actions of the characters--stealing a wooden leg, etc.

    But, obviously, we'll agree to disagree on this one because I do read O'Connor as ineluctably and fundamentally gothic in tone and theme. (Because after all, the fundamental roots of the Gothic are a belief in the predominance of the supernatural life--an absolutely (pardon the pun) crucial element of O'Connor's fiction.

    Thank you for the comment and for provoking some thought on this matter.




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