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The Gothic and The Grim - Livres de Mois

In Novembers Livres du Mois we explore The Gothic and The Grim. I have selected books that I thought would be suitable in a bleak November setting, sat in the window of a decaying manor house reading by candle light as the rain lashes the window, the wind howls through the skeletal trees and the church bell tolls out over the graveyard in the darkness of the night. You know, your usual November things.

We will venture into books that tread through the obsession of beauty and immortality, to classics that capture the true grimness of winter on this damp isle. We will begin as it is close to the anniversary of Oscar Wildes death, with The Picture of Dorian Gray.


The Picture of Dorian Gray


Oscar Wilde

Dorian Gray is the subject of a full-length portrait in oil by Basil Hallward, an artist impressed and infatuated by Dorian's beauty; he believes that Dorian's beauty is responsible for the new mood in his art as a painter. Through Basil, Dorian meets Lord Henry Wotton, and he soon is enthralled by the aristocrat's hedonistic world view: that beauty and sensual fulfilment are the only things worth pursuing in life.

Newly understanding that his beauty will fade, Dorian expresses the desire to sell his soul, to ensure that the picture, rather than he, will age and fade. The wish is granted, and Dorian pursues a libertine life of varied amoral experiences while staying young and beautiful; all the while, his portrait ages and records every sin.

Written in his distinctively dazzling manner, Oscar Wilde’s story of a fashionable young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty is the author’s most popular work. The tale of Dorian Gray’s moral disintegration caused a scandal when it first appeared in 1890, but though Wilde was attacked for the novel’s corrupting influence, he responded that there is, in fact, “a terrible moral in Dorian Gray.”


Interview with the Vampire


Anne Rice

Interview with the Vampire is a gothic horror and vampire novel by American author Anne Rice, published in 1976. It was her debut novel. Based on a short story Rice wrote around 1968, the novel centers on vampire Louis de Pointe du Lac, who tells the story of his life to a reporter.

"This is the story of Louis, as told in his own words, of his journey through mortal and immortal life. Louis recounts how he became a vampire at the hands of the radiant and sinister Lestat and how he became indoctrinated, unwillingly, into the vampire way of life. His story ebbs and flows through the streets of New Orleans, defining crucial moments such as his discovery of the exquisite lost young child Claudia, wanting not to hurt but to comfort her with the last breaths of humanity he has inside. Yet, he makes Claudia a vampire, trapping her womanly passion, will, and intelligence inside the body of a small child. Louis and Claudia form a seemingly unbreakable alliance and even "settle down" for a while in the opulent French Quarter. Louis remembers Claudia's struggle to understand herself and the hatred they both have for Lestat that sends them halfway across the world to seek others of their kind. Louis and Claudia are desperate to find somewhere they belong, to find others who understand, and someone who knows what and why they are.

Originally a short story, the book took off as Anne wrote it, spinning the tragic and triumphant life experiences of a soul. As well as the struggles of its characters, Interview captures the political and social changes of two continents. The novel also introduces Lestat, Anne's most enduring character, a heady mixture of attraction and revulsion. The book, full of lush description, centres on the themes of immortality, change, loss, sexuality, and power.


Bleak House


Charles Dickens

Bleak House, in its atmosphere, symbolism and magnificent bleak comedy, is often regarded as the best of Dickens. A 'great Victorian novel', it is so inventive in its competing plots and styles that it eludes interpretation.

Bleak House opens in the twilight of foggy London, where fog grips the city most densely in the Court of Chancery where the obscure case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce rambles on with no end in sight. "Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on. This scarecrow of a suit has, over the course of time, become so complicated, that no man alive knows what it means."

" Bleak House is at once a complex mystery story that fully engages the reader in the work of detection, and an unforgettable indictment of an indifferent society. Its representations of a great city's underworld, and of the law's corruption and delay, draw upon the author's personal knowledge and experience. But it is Dickens' symbolic art that projects these things in a vision that embraces black comedy, cosmic farce, and tragic ruin."


Great Expectations


Charles Dickens

I thought this a very suitable book for this Livres du Mois as the story begins in a Graveyard. Great Expectations is the thirteenth novel by Charles Dickens and his penultimate completed novel, which depicts the education of an orphan nicknamed Pip.

The novel is set in Kent and London in the early to mid-19th century and contains some of Dickens's most celebrated scenes, starting in a graveyard, where the young Pip is accosted by the escaped convict Abel Magwitch. Great Expectations is full of extreme imagery – poverty, prison ships and chains, and fights to the death – and has a colourful cast of characters who have entered popular culture. These include the eccentric Miss Havisham, the beautiful but cold Estella, and Joe, the unsophisticated and kind blacksmith. Dickens's themes include wealth and poverty, love and rejection, and the eventual triumph of good over evil.

I have been fascinated with the beginning of this book since I first saw the black and white film of Miss Havisham's decaying wedding party as a child. The perfectly laid table of fine china strewn with cobwebs, the once beautiful bouquets faded of all life and colour and Miss Havisham herself, with her white vail covering the cruel plans she had for Pip behind her eyes. It was grief as I had never seen it and there are few things I find more fascinating than a crumbling mansion.




Susanna Clarke

Piranesi's house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house, steeped in Gothic atmosphere, full of startling images and surreal beauty, haunted by the tides and the clouds.

There is one other person in the house—a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.


I hope you may have found something new or even rediscovered an old classic to accompany you during the dim and windswept month of November.

If you prefer not to spend your time staring out of a window at a storm in quiet despair, you may find something more to your tastes in The Library.


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