I was named after Charlotte Brontë, so it's safe to say that I grew up
reading Jane Eyre . I loved Jane as a kid. I, too, wanted to go out and seek my fortune as a plain but determined young governess and get swept off my feet by a Mr. Rochester. I blame this (at least in part) for my love of moody, Gothic fiction and for my interest in moody, emotionally unavailable men. But even I must admit that there are, in fact, a few Gothic novels out there that aren't Jane Eyre (some of them aren't Wuthering Heights, either) . So if you're looking for a torrid, creepy romance that doesn't involve a problematic secret attic wife, here are a few excellent alternatives.
First, though, let's talk about
the Gothic novel. What makes a novel Gothic? Does it have to include a governess? Does it have to be set on the misty English moors? Does it even have to have a romance at all? Technically, a Gothic romance is any story "characterized by the use of desolate or remote settings and macabre, mysterious, or violent incidents." So a Gothic novel doesn't have to include vampires or love affairs with damaged, tortured rich men (but a lot of them do anyway). And if you're in the mood for brave young women trapped in big, foreboding mansions, one of these books might be for you:
'Rebecca' by Daphne du Maurier
One of the all-time creepy classics of the Gothic romance canon,
Rebecca starts off with a whirlwind marriage proposal. Our young, working class heroine has fallen for the charming widower Maxim de Winter. But when she arrives at his enormous, vaguely menacing estate, the new Mrs. de Winter begins to wonder if Rebecca, the late Mrs. de Winter, ever really left. Click here to buy.
'Jane Steele' by Lyndsay Faye
A Gothic retelling of a Gothic novel? Yes. Please.
Jane Steele is a lot like Jane Eyre, if Jane killed a lot more people. This Jane also has a rough childhood, and she also works as a governess, and she even falls in love with her hot boss. But will he discover her murderous past before it's too late? Click here to buy.
'Affinity' by Sarah Waters
Wealthy, troubled Victorian woman Margaret Prior has begun to visit the women’s ward of Millbank prison as part of her charity work. Despite the grim surroundings, she finds herself strangely drawn to Selina Dawes, a woman who's been imprisoned after a séance went horribly wrong. Skeptical at first, Margaret is pulled into the impossible realm of Selina's beliefs as her feelings for Selina grow stronger and more frightening.
Click here to buy.
'The Essex Serpent' by Sarah Perry
Cora is a widow from London, a well-to-do woman who's just moved to the Essex parish of Aldwinter. Will is the local vicar. It seems like a charming old time-y romance, but their meeting is marred by rumors about the Essex Serpent, a fearsome beasts that supposedly roams the marshes looking for wayward travelers to kill. If Victorian, monster-hunting romance is your jam, then
The Essex Serpent is the perfect Gothic novel for you. Click here to buy.
'White is for Witching' by Helen Oyeyemi
White is for Witching might not be a classic, steamy romance story, but it is Gothic as all get out (and Romantic with a capital "R"). The Silver family is grieving in a huge, isolated house on the cliffs near Dover. Both twins miss their mother with an unspeakable pain, but it's young Miranda who seems the most drawn to their strange and impossible house, and it's Miranda who disappears one night, leaving the survivors to tell her story. Click here to buy.
'Dragonwyck' by Anya Seton
Eighteen-year-old Miranda Wells is tired of her life, churning butter and turning down marriage proposals from farmers. So when she receives an invitation to (you guessed it) a mysterious mansion upstate, she's excited for a the change of scenery. She's thrilled by Dragonwyck and by the intriguing Nicholas Van Ryn, but the longer she stays at the grand estate, the further she becomes involved in its secrets.
Click here to buy.
'My Soul to Keep' by Tananarive Due
Jessica loves her husband David. He's the ideal man, in fact: handsome and brilliant, attentive, and forever young. But she knows that there is something he's not telling her, some part of himself that he's been holding back... like maybe he's actually 400 years old and sold his mortality to ensure that he would never die? And now Jessica and their daughter might be killed or else be made immortal, too? You know, something like that.
Click here to buy.
'Nine Coaches Waiting' by Mary Stewart
Linda Martin arrives at Chateau Valmy to (say it with me now) be a governess to the young Count Philippe de Valmy. But she soon discovers a plot on her young charge's life, as the charming Leon de Valmy lurks in the shadows and the also charming, roguish Raoul sweeps Linda away with his intensity and his incredibly reckless driving.
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'Mistress of Mellyn' by Victoria Holt
Martha Leigh has come to the towering mansion known as Mount Mellyn to work as a governess... but she knows very little about her employer, the enigmatic Connan TreMellyn. You can probably guess that Connan turns out to be both an arrogant asshole
and totally hot, and Martha's desire for him soon leads her into a web of dark secrets and all-too-present dangers. Click here to buy.
'Carmilla' by J. Sheridan Le Fanu
And then, of course, there's
Carmilla. If you like your Gothic romances with fewer boring widowers and a whole lot more lady vampires threatening to turn your daughters into fearsome creatures of the night, check out this classic Victorian vampire story (that was published before Dracula, thank you very much). Carmilla is that rare Gothic lady who gets to be a straight up monster, and she's a bloodsucking inspiration for all Gothic heroines out there. Click here to buy.