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If you've ever read Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, you'll remember the heroine obsessing over some "horrid" books, but did you know that the books she mentioned were real novels, popular during Austen's day? Read some of these Gothic novels for yourself and see how they compare to today's horror novels.
The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe (1794)--An orphan girl is imprisoned in a mysterious castle. Check it out on Overdrive, get an ebook to keep from Project Gutenberg, or download the audiobook from Librivox.
The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis (1795)--When this book was written, its content was so scandalous that the author had to republish it with all the immoral parts taken out to save his family from shame. Check it out from Overdrive, download a copy from Project Gutenberg, or listen on Librivox.
The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (1764)--Believed to be the first gothic novel ever written. Check it out on Overdrive, download an ebook from Project Gutenberg, or listen to the audiobook on Librivox.
In the mood for something more "modern"? Why not try a Victorian penny dreadful? Penny dreadfuls were serial stories, sold weekly for one penny a section.
The String of Pearls (1846-1847)--The horrifying story of the barber Sweeney Todd, who, with the help of Mrs. Lovett, bakes his victims into meat pies. Read it on Wikisource or download the audiobook from Librivox.
Varney the Vampire; or, the Feast of Blood (1845-1847)--A series of stories about a reluctant vampire preying upon his victims. This penny dreadful was a major influence on Dracula (written in 1897) and other vampire novels. Read it on Project Gutenberg.