Sweet Rocket

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A Very Gothic Week — The Art of the Gothic

It’s difficult to have any real discussion of Gothic genre novels without some mention of the sometimes gorgeous, often lurid, occasionally both at once cover art that was featured on many of these books during the 1960s-1970s Gothic revival. These books and their fantastic cover illustrations are so beloved by paperback collectors that the covers alone have several blogs dedicated to their appreciation (more on that later). Here’s an assortment of classic Gothic romance novel covers, brought to you by the incomparable Book Scans database:

Take care with your cockles, dear readers.

While most of the Dark Shadows’ volumes from Paperback Library featured stills from the TV show, this one has an artistic rendering of Victoria Winters. This could be due to the fact that several actresses played the character of Victoria Winters throughout the show’s original run.

As though the figural skull were not unusual enough, note that this Gothic’s author is proudly male. While many men wrote Gothics during the 1960s-1970s, most did so under female pseudonyms.

At Avon, Satanic Gothics are a subgenre, clearly identified by the satanic skull emblem on the cover. Discuss.

Jane Toombs, who is still writing romance, broke the mold by introducing an African-American heroine to Avon’s Gothic line.

I wish a better image of this beautiful cover were available.

Another gorgeous Avon Gothic.

Not sure if this Georgette Heyer Bantam is a Gothic or no, but it’s being marketed to the Gothic audience.

A Bantam example of that great 1960s-1970s Gothic romance tradition, the woman running from a house. This one is also a good example of a horror/fiction novel being repackaged as a Gothic to take advantage of the Gothic’s huge market share. Wonder how Richard Matheson felt when he saw that his Hell House had suddenly morphed into a Gothic, complete with woman running from Hell House? 

Some books were simply repackaged as Gothics when the genre became hip.  Theresa Charles’ “Happy Now I Go” got a whole new title, the much more Gothic-sounding “Dark Legacy.”

Shew – thank heavens this Dell woman running from a house has a key to the forbidding gate…

Freer’s Cove is so engrossing, in fact, that the woman in this Dell is unable to run from the house and instead becomes part of the landscape.

If all these women running from houses, renamed happy books and brave Gothic-writing men have whetted your appetite for more information about vintage Gothic paperbacks and the people who love them, you’re in for a treat. There are two absolutely wonderful blogs, Women Running From Houses and My Love Haunted Heart,  dedicated to vintage Gothic paperbacks and the artists who drew the bizarre and compelling art for these books. Check them out – you’ll never look at a big, creepy house without wanting to run from it again.


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A Very Gothic Week: Dark Shadows and the Gothic Novel Genre

Not by design, but just in time, anyway, this has become A Very Gothic Week here at Sweet Rocket. Yesterday was a review of the fabulous new gothic novel Sea of Secrets by Amanda DeWees. Today is Dark Shadows day.

Unfortunately, today’s post is inspired by the passing of Dark Shadows legend Jonathan Frid, who portrayed Barnabas Collins, arguably the most revolutionary vampire of the 20th century, on the gothic soap during  Dark Shadows’ original late 1960s-early 1970s run. Dark Shadows, and Frid’s characterization of Barnabas Collins in particular, transformed the popular notion of the vampire, turning vampires into romantic, heroic characters rather than horror movie monsters along the lines of Frankenstein and Mr. Hyde.

Dark Shadows did more than just turn Frid’s vampire and co-star David Selby’s werewolf Quentin Collins into sexy romantic leads. Despite its inauspicious beginnings as a half-hour afternoon soap, Dark Shadows became a cultural force, inspiring movies, comic books, records, and an entire genre of books, the Gothic novel.

One of the most popular and enduring of the cottage industries that sprung up around Dark Shadows’ characters was a series of Gothic paperback novels. According to Paperback Library, 33 Dark Shadows books were published between 1966 and 1973. All were authored by Canadian Dan Ross, but published under the pen name Marilyn Ross. Aside from House of Dark Shadows, which was a novelization of the movie of the same name, the Dark Shadows books were a series which featured an alternate storyline/history to that portrayed on the television show.

Like the show, the Dark Shadows books were written in the Gothic vein, although they did not always hew to the conventions of the Gothic-style first person narration and tight focus on the main character/narrator. More Gothic mystery than Gothic romance, the books fell into two categories: the early books featuring a mystery centered on a different Dark Shadows character with each volume, and the later books, which focused on Barnabas Collins and Quentin Collins as a sort-of Sherlock Holmes and Watson, solving paranormal and/or evil villian mysteries.

It’s not pure conjecture to state that Dark Shadows helped fuel the Gothic novel vogue of the 1960s and 1970s. The Gothic genre, which had fallen in and out of fashion like hemlines since the late 1700s, became a big deal in the wake of Dark Shadows’ success. While authors such as Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart had found success with their Gothic romances, publishers began to buy up Gothic stories in droves during the height of Dark Shadows’ popularity.  Many paperback publishers created lines especially for Gothics (including Paperback Library, which published the Dark Shadows novels), and Gothics became so popular during this period that the genre actually featured sub-genres, including historical Gothics, contemporary Gothics, paranormal Gothics, romantic Gothics and Gothic mysteries.

Meanwhile, Dark Shadows covered much of the same territory as the Gothic books published during (and after) its run, featuring mystery storylines, historical storylines set in the Victorian and Colonial periods and romantic storylines in addition to the show’s contemporary paranormal storyline. How influenced authors of Gothics were by Dark Shadows’ storylines and vice-versa is anyone’s guess, but it’s interesting to note that  Dan Ross – writing as Marilyn Ross, Clarissa Ross and Ann Gilmer, amongst other pseudonyms – published over 300 books (including the Dark Shadows books), many of them Gothics, during the 1960s and 1970s.

But as Dark Shadows’ fortunes went, so did the popularity of Gothic romances. After the cancellation of Dark Shadows in 1971, Gothics managed to hang on to their foothold in the paperback market for several years, but by the end of the 1970s, publication of Gothics had dwindled dramatically, supplanted by the surge in popularity of historical romance, especially that unique 1970s-1980s sub-genre of historical romance, the bodice-ripper. Many authors who’d first found success writing Gothic novels, including Barbara Michaels and Anne Stuart, moved on to subvert Gothic themes into romantic suspense or standard mysteries, while others, such as Mary Kay Simmons, moved on to bodice-rippers or other romance genres. Others simply drifted away.

The current popularity of paranormal romance would seem to create the perfect atmosphere for another Gothic revival, but alas. The one publisher that consistently published Gothics through the 1990s-2000s, Dorchester (under the Love Spell and Candleglow imprints), closed its physical doors in March of this year, and it remains to be seen whether it will survive as an electronic publisher.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, as Amanda DeWees’ wonderful Sea of Secrets has proven. Enduring Gothic classics, such as those by Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt, remain in print. E-books and self-publishing have revived many long-dead genres and writers who’d been unable to find a home with publishers.  There’s also hope that many of the 1960s-1970s Gothics may be republished as e-books; perhaps Gothics will experience the same e-book renaissance as older uber-traditional Regencies, which had slowly been phased out by publishers looking for books with more graphic sexuality and third-person narration, and are now re-emerging in e-book format. Belgrave House, which sprung up just to republish out-of-print books in e-book format, has done a wonderful job of bringing traditional Regencies back, and is beginning to add a few Gothics, as well.

If nothing else, maybe the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp Dark Shadows reboot due out later this year will give new life to this sadly neglected genre. Long live Gothics!