by Lisa Greer
I've been thinking a lot about gothic romance lately and why it's loved by fans old and new. What's so appealing about this genre, and why should you give gothic romance a try?
I think we've all experienced love—the sensation of your heart bumping faster when you see him or her, wondering if you can live without the beloved, feelings so strong for someone else that you don't need to eat or sleep, at least not much. And of course, mature love that is tested and stands strong through the years.
And if not love, then surely you've felt terror. That thumping sound you hear in the middle of the night that makes your heart stop for a minute or how you go looking behind the door after watching a scary movie. If those types of terror aren’t for you, then there’s always the icy grip of death, of impending loneliness, or any number of things perhaps that only frighten you. Terror and love are emotions, states of being, even actions that we all understand.
That is why I write what I do—gothic romance. The beloved authors of the genre like Victoria Holt, Barbara Michaels, and Emily Bronte understood that intersection of fear and desire.
Gothic romance in its most common, pure form, the type that makes its fans swoon, deals in scary realities—haunted houses, castles and troubled lords aside. A critic once said, in fact, that gothic romance is the choice between two men. And it is, isn't it? And isn't that choice an all too real one in life, if we broaden the scope a bit? The choice between opposites? For good or evil...one path or the other.
Gothic romance reached its zenith in the 60s and 70s with authors like Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt. They kept going strong in some circles even into the early 90s with their mix of romance, Byronic heroes, ghosts, suspense, and danger—in spite of the fact that they should have been outmoded before they ever became popular.
But that wasn't the case. The genre adapted to the modern and post modern eras and still does and harkens back to the Victorian Era in some cases. Love and terror worked then, and they work now. The characters who play out the dramas of desire and fear are ones we can identify with, too—or at least that we love reading about.
The heroines of most gothic romances are hip and intelligent, but they don't mind relying on a man to do some of the fighting for them when it comes to ghosts or being trapped in the family mausoleum. They drink sherry and beer, smoke cigarettes, and wear miniskirts—or they don't. They write masters theses, act as dutiful daughters to their ailing professorial fathers, or work as art gallery owners. They are orphans, governesses, and heiresses, alone, yet strong. They are all of us as women.
And the heroes, well, the heroes are often Byronic—dark, isolated, secretive. They are mad with old loves and losses or haunted by sordid pasts. But sometimes they're not. Sometimes, the hero is the good friend, the guy who stands beside the heroine, the one who is the picture of mental health. And that's part of the fun. In many gothic romances, you'll have your doubts about the heroine's choice, and she will for a while, too.
Of course, gothic romance has been around since well before the 20th century. The mother of the gothic, Ann Radcliffe, and others were writing Gothic and gothic romance in the 18th century. My favorite gothic romance is still Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. What novel captures the solipsism of first love and the terror of its loss as well as that book? What Byronic Hero is better drawn than the gypsy Heathcliff? The macabre, mysterious, and frightening have always attracted readers. We do understand love... and terror, or at least we want to feel we are not alone with either emotion.
Here's a little from The Montmoors 2: The Bastard Returns for your reading pleasure.
The mysteries of Montmoor Hall deepen with each passing day…and night. A ghost haunts governess Catherine Roth while the master, Andrew Montmoor, is away.
To make matters worse, Catherine is falling in love with the troubled master of Montmoor Hall even though she knows Andrew is lying to her…but about what? And what will happen when the bastard brother, handsome Benjamin Smitt, returns to claim what is his?
She woke up in the night, not sure what had roused her. Catherine opened her eyes, and in front of her shimmered the image of Monroe Montmoor. He appeared exactly as he had in his portrait, and glowered with what could only be fury, and his green eyes blazed at her. He stood, silent and strangely translucent.
“No.” The whisper escaped Catherine's lips before she could stop it.
A twisted grin crossed his full lips, and she wanted to scream. A smile on his face struck her as more terrible than a frown. If he was so grotesque in death, what manner of monster must he have been in life?
With his gnarled, blue veined hand, he reached out toward her, and his mouth worked soundlessly, even as Catherine's mind screamed that his hand coming toward her was impossible. She didn't want him to touch her, would go mad if she heard what such a specter had to say. He shuffled a few steps closer to the bed.
He's going to touch me, to do something...
Jolted from her paralysis, Catherine screamed, a gut wrenching sound that made her own ears ring. The figure disintegrated, disappearing by degrees.
Her door burst open within seconds, and a disheveled Montmoor appeared at her side wearing a silken nightshirt that, thankfully, covered his body down to his calves.
“What in God's name is going on?” He sat on the edge of the bed and took her in his arms, and she didn't resist. Catherine sobbed against his warm neck, aware of his arms holding her tight.
“I saw something.”
“I think it was a spirit, a ghost, though I've never seen one before. I don't even believe in them!” She heard her voice rise to a hysterical pitch.
His arms tightened around her, and she felt his breath against her hair as his hands twined in the silky strands.
“It's the curse.”
“Why do you say that?” She remembered his words from the night before with a shudder.
“Because I believe what you saw was my great grandfather, his spirit. He’s vengeful. He never rests. He walks the halls.” His voice grew louder with each terrible word, and a wild look entered his eyes.
Catherine pulled away from him, frightened even more by his strange reaction.
“That's foolish. I couldn't have seen a spirit. It must have been a nightmare from being in a new and different place.” She almost believed it herself as long as she avoided looking at him.
“Tell me exactly what you saw.” He ground the words out, and all at once Catherine grew uncomfortable with his closeness to her on the bed. She crossed her arms over the thin chemise she wore, one of the lacy ones left by his sister, Alice. And did she really elope? There was something so strange about the story, about the way Lord Montmoor had not met her eyes when he had told it.
He leaned back, looking into her eyes.
“I saw the man in the portrait. Your great grandfather.” She forced herself to meet his gaze. The skin at the nape of his neck glowed in the light from the brass candelabra he had laid on the bedside table.
“As I assumed. He doesn't want you here.”
“Why wouldn't he want me here? And how do you know?”
Montmoor broke the intense gaze between them. “My destiny is sealed—or that is his wish—for me to be cursed and lonely.”
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