Welcome one, welcome all, to ‘Emma Remembers Top 5 Wednesdays Exists And Decides To Join In’… again. Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme/challenge which was created by the wonderful Lainey from gingereadslainey and is now overseen by the equally lovely Sam from Thoughts of Tomes. Every Wednesday, participants devise their Top 5 based on a given topic.
This Wednesday’s theme is books which are Gateway Books To My Favourite Genre. Now, whenever I do these type of lists, I always seem to end up writing about Fantasy, specifically YA Fantasy so, for the sake of some variety (as I hear it is allegedly the spice of life), I have decided to talk about another of my favourite genres: Classics.
To be quite honest, the entire concept of having a genre as wide-reaching and wide-ranging as, simply, Classics baffles me. Especially since Classics are basically just books we (/someone) decided were important (for whatever reason) and so they remained in the culture and in the book world for years. Basically Someone Deems It Quality + Time Passed Since Publication = Classic. There are contemporary books today that could well become classics in the future, that’s just how it works.
All of this rambling is my way of saying that because the genre is so large and woolly, I understand when people feel they ought to read more classics yet don’t really know which ones to reach for. Maybe they had a bad experience of being forced to read a “classic” at school and so are put off the entire genre? Maybe they think they’re too difficult to read? Maybe they think they take too much time/effort to read, so they’d rather reach for something else. These are all entirely understandable reasons.
But I also know many people who say “oh I wish I read more classics” and then feel at loss as to how to start on that mission. I could go about basically saying “read some Dickens” or “read some Austen” or “read the Brontes” or even “read some Hardy” (if I really hated you)… instead of that I’ve decided to recommend some classics that specifically fall into the Classic Gothic fiction genre. Generally speaking, the Gothic genre is considered to have began in England in the latter half of the 18th century, growing in popularity into the 19th century, and continuing to this very day in fact. Common Gothic tropes include gloomy, decaying settings (i.e. a big scary castle), supernatural beings (an odd ghost or vampire or two), curses (gotta love a cursed mirror), some kind of transgression (oo sexy) etc. etc.
The reason I wish to recommend this genre in particular is that it’s about as far away as possible from the realist novels of the long nineteenth century which are usually taught as classics. Because of this, it would be easy to assume that this is what all classics are like but I assure you that’s not the case! And maybe you might end up finding something that tickles your fancy!
Now I’ve given an introduction that will probably be longer than the post itself… let’s get into the actual books:
Honourable Mention: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (x)
An honourable mention must be made for Northanger Abbey. The first of her novels (though not published until her death in 1817), this book tells the tale of impressionable young heroine Catherine Morland who reads a few too many Gothic novels and so thinks her life is like the fictions she reads. When she takes a trip to the eponymous Abbey, needless to say she thinks there’s something sinister afoot within its walls. This book acts as a satire of the popular Gothic novels of the day but I also think it’s a great introduction into the genre as it showcases a lot of tropes present in Gothic fiction.
5. The Monk by Matthew Lewis (x)
If you would like to see what a nineteen-year old boy writes as his offering for the Gothic genre then look no further than The Monk. Published in 1796, it’s so incredibly convoluted and full of violence, sin, and depravity… and it’s just wonderfully lurid and lewd. Monks, incest, demonic pacts, ruined castles, sinful transgressions of the flesh – I mean, really, it’s just a whistle-stop tour of the degenerate side of the Gothic genre so, if you’re into that kind of thing, I’d highly recommend this. Just, prepare yourself.
4. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (x)
If you would like to see what an eighteen/nineteen-year old girl writes as her offering for the Gothic genre then look no further than Frankenstein. Published in 1818, Frankenstein famously tells the story of over-reaching Victor Frankenstein who, through the use of galvanism, plays God and creates a monstrous (or not so monstrous) creature who he promptly abandons, considering him an abomination. The novel merges Romantic concerns with the Gothic genre in an interesting way, considering questions of religion, nature vs nurture and tabula rasa, alongside violent transgressions and supernatural occurrences.
3. Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (x)
Published in 1862, Lady Audley’s Secret was a highly popular sensation novel that I can’t really explain the plot of, otherwise I’d spoil it entirely. Basically it follows Lady Audley and she may or may not have a secret (spoiler alert: she does have one). The “sensation novel” sub-genre draws on ideas from the previous Gothic and Romantic movements, morphing it with suspense in order to create a truly sensational tale of secrets, bigamy, and maybe a little bit of murder too. The clash of the legacy of Gothic Romanticism meets Victorian anxieties about male vs. female domestic spheres creates a pretty interesting novel but, ultimately, because it’s a sensation novel it’s extremely readable, a page-turner, if you will. Ok so, critically, people may question its merit and quality and denigrate it a little but one thing is for sure – it shifted a lot of copies.
2. Dracula by Bram Stoker (x)
One of the most famous vampire novels in history, Stoker’s Dracula was published in 1897, on the cusp of the late-Victorian age, and echoes a very contemporary anxiety regarding the invasion of Britain by deviant foreign/outside influences. At least, that’s what it is under the surface, and there are some really interesting things about gender and sexuality, but mostly it’s just about the vampiric Count Dracula who lives in a creepy castle in the Carpathian Mountains. It would be remiss of me to mention Gothic fiction without signposting one of its most famous outputs, so Dracula is worth a read just to see where those pesky vampire novels of nowadays originated from.
1. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (x)
Published in 1938, du Maurier’s novel begins with a seemingly innocuous setting and plot – an unnamed female narrator meets a wealthy Englishman whilst holidaying in Monte Carlo, falls in love, gets married, goes back to his Cornish home: Manderley. The Gothic influence creeps slowly into the novel as the narrative unfolds and the reader begins to learn of the eponymous Rebecca. I would say Rebecca presents a more modern take on the Gothic than its predecessors but it certainly pays homage to the psychological versions of the supernatural, as opposed to having vampires and werewolves creeping around Manderley!
So there we have it – those were the top 5 books that I think are good introductions/gateways to my favourite genre.
Do you agree/disagree with my choices? Do you have a Top 5 Wednesday list or post of your own? Be sure to link it below if so; I’d love to take a look!