The literary genre of horror may have begun as early as the time of ancient Rome and ancient Greece, but it definitely reached an art form during the Victorian Age. Many writers of that time period created horror stories full of thematic elements that can be recognized within the contemporary horror genre. Elements such as a haunted house or castle, a dark atmosphere full of dread and mystery, a family curse, hidden secrets, emotional extremes, and encounters with the supernatural became a part of what is known as the "Victorian Gothic" genre. Often times these stories would be published in the newspapers a chapter at a time. Writers like Charles Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe would often have their work published in that format.
Another popular literary genre of that time period is known as the "penny dreadful". These writings were more of a mass produced shock fiction, full of blood, terror, and adventure. This was also the original realm of true crime publishing. Why the term "penny dreadful"? Because these were sold for a penny each on the streets to the working classes, who could not afford the pricier newspapers. The "Penny Dreadfuls" brought to life such characters as Varney the Vampire, Springheel Jack, and Sweeney Todd. They also recounted the adventures of Dick Turpin, a notorious highwayman, and the exploits of pirates on the high seas, and gunslingers of the Wild West. Here in the States, these papers were known as "Blood and Thunders". And even Louisa May Alcott, known for her classic novel, "Little Women" wrote horror stories under the pseudonym A.M. Barnard.
Here at San Jose Public Library, we have many of the classic Victorian Gothic novels, as well as movies which bring these icons of horror to life. We also have many contemporary novels in our collection which continue the themes of Victorian Gothic Horror.
A Local Connection: Most Victorian Gothic novels take place in haunted homes or castles. We have a beautiful house here in the San Jose area, that is known for its' enigmatic owner and designer, as well as for stories of hauntings. It is, of course, the Winchester Mystery House, which has inspired writers and seekers of the paranormal worldwide. They are currently hosting their Halloween Haunt tours....but I would encourage you to visit during other times of the year too. The home and its' tales are intriguing at any time of the year.