Gothic Tropes: Madness

Madness is the monster that lurks inside our own minds. And in some ways, it is the most terrifying monster of all. Its intangibility means that it cannot be fought, and its irrational nature makes it nearly impossible to understand. Perhaps this is why insanity crops up as one of the most common themes in Gothic literature. I present it in this post as one trope, but madness is explored in many different ways in both the victims and the villains of Gothic literature, and the way it is presented has changed over time. Continue reading Gothic Tropes: Madness

Halloween in Literature

The day has finally come! Here at The Gothic Library, I’ve been celebrating all month—taking my faithful readers through a tour of ghost stories, horror films, and haunted houses. Today I want to explore some of the literature surrounding the holiday itself. Below are a few works from the past three centuries that celebrate or take place during this spookiest of nights: Continue reading Halloween in Literature

Dead and Vengeful Cats in Gothic Fiction

I spend a lot of time thinking about how much I love cats. They’re cute, cuddly, clever, and just a little bit demonic. Sadly, I don’t own an adorable fluff-ball myself, so I must find other venues for my cat appreciation. This generally involves visiting friends who own cats, looking at cats on social media, and of course, reading books that feature cats. Fortunately, cats—long associated with magic, mystery, and devilry—often feature prominently in gothic literature. Less fortunately, they also have a tendency to die in these stories… But cats are not creatures to be trifled with, and they are particularly adept at exacting revenge. Below are some of my favorite tales starring dead and/or vengeful cats:

  1. “The Black Cat” by Edgar Allan Poe (1843)

The black cat coverEdgar Allan Poe was also quite the cat fan, although you might not know it from how they are treated in his fiction. One of Poe’s most popular short stories is “The Black Cat.” Told from the perspective of a murderer, the story features a black cat named Pluto (appropriately associated with the Roman god of the underworld) who serves first as the narrator’s victim and then ultimately as the cause of his demise. The narrator is initially very close with his pet, but as he descends into alcoholism he becomes violent toward all those he used to love. He maims and ultimately kills Pluto, though he is plagued by guilt throughout. Immediately after hanging his beloved pet from a tree, the narrator’s house catches on fire. But this is only the beginning of the cat’s revenge. He soon comes across a second cat that looks exactly like his dead friend, except for the white noose-like markings around its neck. After one of the narrator’s rages ends with him killing his wife and walling her up in the cellar, it is this cat that alerts the police to the location of the woman’s body and prevents its master from getting away with murder.

  1. “The Squaw” by Bram Stoker (1914)

the squaw coverStoker’s name is generally associated only with his groundbreaking vampire novel, Dracula, but he actually wrote a number of other novels and short stories, as well. Several of his short stories were published posthumously in a collection titled Dracula’s Guest and other Weird Stories. Among these is a particularly disturbing tale, “The Squaw.” I first encountered this story as part of an audiobook collection called Classic Tales of Horror. Generally undisturbed by violence and gore, I nonetheless found myself quite distressed at the description of the senseless killing of a kitten in the opening pages of this story. The tale begins with a honeymooning couple who encounter a brash American while sightseeing in Germany. The American has the brilliant idea to toss pebbles from a great height in order to startle a mother cat and her kitten below. Of course, he ends up accidentally killing the kitten and setting the mother cat on the warpath. She stalks the group throughout the rest of the story as they continue their sight-seeing, until their visit to a medieval torture chamber provides the perfect opportunity for revenge… “The Squaw” is definitely an underrated story, although the American’s speech and his garbled story about an encounter with a Native American woman make it somewhat difficult to follow at times. But I promise you’ll be in for an emotional roller coaster as you mourn the death of the kitten and cheer on its murderous mother.

  1. “The Cats of Ulthar” by H.P. Lovecraft (1920)

cats of ulthar coverUsually when the words “H.P. Lovecraft” and “cat” are mentioned in the same sentence, it’s in reference to the man’s blatant racism. But Lovecraft’s own poorly-named pet aside, one of my favorite Lovecraft stories features a whole town full of vengeful felines. Set in a town called Ulthar, the story opens by describing a strange old couple who seem to delight in capturing and killing the neighborhood cats. One day, however, the couple crosses the wrong gypsy orphan boy when they take his beloved black kitten. The boy prays to his gods, and that night all of the remaining cats in the village gather to exact a chilling revenge on the sadistic couple. After that night, the town enacts a law stating that no man may kill a cat…for his own safety.

  1. Pet Sematary by Stephen King (1983)

pet sematary coverHere, Stephen King steers us slightly away from the direct revenge narrative. However, Church, the family pet featured prominently in this horror novel, shares many characteristics with the above-mentioned creepy cats. The story begins with the family of Louis Creed moving to a new town and trying to settle into their new lives. They meet a friendly neighbor named Jud who shows them the spot in the woods labeled “Pet Sematary” not far from their house where many of the townspeople bury their pets. One day, Church gets run over and instead of burying him in the “Pet Sematary,” Jud takes Louis to an ancient burial ground where all those who are buried rise again. When the cat comes back to life, however, he is not quite the same. Violent, though not necessarily vengeful, the reanimated cat serves as an ominous foreshadowing of what will happen when Louis tries to raise his toddler son from the dead in the same manner.

I also wanted to make a special mention of a cat owned by the father of the Gothic novel himself, Horace Walpole. Walpole owned a cat named Selima whose death was memorialized by the eighteenth-century graveyard poet Thomas Gray in a somewhat mocking elegy titled “Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Goldfishes.” (Check it out, it’s a great poem.) Somewhat morbidly, Walpole had the first stanza of his friend’s poem engraved on the tub in which his cat drowned, which he then prominently displayed in his trend-setting gothic home.

ode on the death of a favorite cat

Have you read any of these tales? Got any other creepy cat stories to recommend? Share your thoughts in the comments! And, of course, feel free to post pictures of your feline friends!

iClassics Kickstarter—Interactive Gothic Lit for Students!

A brand new Kickstarter just launched last week with the hopes of using technology to make classic literature fun and accessible for students. iClassics is a Barcelona-based company that works to create an “interactive, illustrated, digital library,” as they explain on their website. At present, they already have several interactive literature collections available as apps for iOS devices. With the Kickstarter, they hope to raise enough funds to make the apps available to Android users, make them available in more languages, create new content, and make them free for as many students as possible.

iClassics Kickstarter image Continue reading iClassics Kickstarter—Interactive Gothic Lit for Students!

The Best Bars for Gothic Lit Nerds (NYC Edition)

Some of you may know that I recently moved to New York City to begin my career in publishing. NYC is a great place to be a book nerd. Aside from the career prospects, it’s got amazing libraries, innumerable bookstores–including book-buyer’s heaven: Strand Bookstore, and constant opportunities to meet your favorite authors at book signings and events. The city is also a great place to be a goth, what with its diverse nightlife and themed bars and events. Since moving here, I’ve been looking for places where I can combine these two loves, and I discovered a surprising number of dark, literature-themed bars! Whether you’re specifically obsessed with gothic lit like me, or just a general literature nerd with a bit of a dark side, these bars provide the perfect atmosphere for indulging in languid literary musings over a decadent cocktail. I haven’t made it out to all of them yet, but I’m making my way down the list. If you’ve been to any of these before, let me know your thoughts in the comments! Continue reading The Best Bars for Gothic Lit Nerds (NYC Edition)

The Zombie Literary Canon

So I’ve written before about the vampire literary canon, which granted has a bit more solid of a literary tradition. But with the rising popularity of zombies in TV shows like The Walking Dead and iZombie, as well as in the mildly uncomfortable new zombie subgenre of paranormal romance books, I figured that an examination of the literary history of these brain-eating undead was in order. While more popular with visual media like movies, video games and TV, zombies still have a strong literary presence, especially in recent decades. Below are some works that I consider to be part of the zombie literary canon.

Continue reading The Zombie Literary Canon

Gothic Tropes: The Unreliable Narrator

This is one of my favorite gothic tropes. Often used in horror or mystery, an unreliable narrator is a first-person narrator of a story whose words the reader is not meant to take at face value. The narrator may be deliberately lying or their words may be influenced by unconscious bias or delusions. In the case of gothic fiction, it is most often this last reason that causes many narrators to be considered unreliable. Continue reading Gothic Tropes: The Unreliable Narrator