Red Velvet and Absinthe: Gothic Paranormal Erotic Romance

Red Velvetby Madeline Iva

I mentioned RED VELVET AND ABSINTHE on my 10 obsessions list and wanted to rock out a little more about my fondness for all things gothic.

The collection is edited by Mitzi Szereto, with a forward by Kelly Armstrong and not only is it paranormal erotic romance –(which I love) it’s GOTHIC paranormal erotic romance.  Boo-ya!

I adore all the classic gothic authors: Poe, the Brontes, and especially Hoffman, LeFanu and others, but I love gothic in our modern era as well.  Daphne DuMaurier is awesome.  But as Kelly Armstrong mentions in her forward about our interest in all things Gothic:

From Herzog's Nosforatu
From Herzog’s Nosforatu

Classic Gothic literature….has gone in and out of fashion since Walpole.  In the sixties and seventies, it saw a revival with Gothic romantic suspense, most notably in the books of Victoria Holt, Barbara Michaels, and Mary Stewart.

(By the way, here’s a great post by Jennifer Brannen with some wonderful gothic romance titles to check out.)

Yes-yes-yes! This brings up a rarefied sub-genre that first introduced me to gothic:  60’s minimalist gothic suspense.

Golden Unicorn
this is an example of a 60’s minimalist gothic romantic suspense novel. The cover is awash in gold and the image of the unicorn, but the book’s setting is modern grey slab chilly through and through.

Check it out–the Golden Unicorn.  While the cover rocks my world and I was obsessed with it when I found it on a dusty shelf in a used book store, the setting inside is much more minimalistic.  You get winter sea and winter sky along with the cold sophistication of wealthy people at cocktail hour in a large frigid house.

Yet the heroine is not from that world.  She was adopted, and brought back to this bleak landscape because someone has died and mentioned her in their will.

There’s also a handsome man lurking in the background.  He’s the so-cold-he’s-burning-hot kind of guy (yum!) and since he’s the only other person under 50 in the whole book, you kinda get the feeling they’re gonna get together, though the romance is super understated and minimalist–just like everything else.

As the first gothic novel I read, there’s much of it that I don’t remember. However, I do remember is the setting.  Gothic is all about the emotional landscape brought to life all around the characters: this book had grey slab rocks, crashing seas, stormy clouds, and a heroine nobody wanted or loved as a child.  Something about the chilliness of the landscape made me feel so cozy in my warm house, with a throw that my grandmother had knit over me.

There were some really great images in Coppola’s Dracula. But it was actually, really derivative of Hertzog’s NOSFORATU– which is AWESOME.

Is that why we love gothic? Because the discomfort, danger, and drama make us appreciate our safety, comfort, and hum-drum day?

I think that’s part of it–but gothic is just a different in flavor from romantic suspense.  Romantic suspense is hard-headed and practical in some ways, like a shot of tequila.

Meanwhile, Mitzi Szereto notes her intro was written on a windswept moor somewhere in England.  How fun–and how fitting. Gothic is more windswept for sure, more lurid, and much more dramatic.  It’s full of hidden chasms that hold shocking surprises and reversals.  It’s more about decadence and perversity, as well as the sad monstrosity that some of us recognize from real life.  In this way paranormal is a perfect fit for gothic.

The interesting question is: how did the authors fit in the erotic aspect of the stories?  I’m all for settings that inspire a We-Shouldn’t-Have-Sex-But-I-Guess-We’re-Going-To-Anyway kind of moment.  For the heroine in The Golden Unicorn a little heat under the covers action would have been so welcome in that numb world.

I love all things Edward Gorey.
I love all things Edward Gorey. He is the lighter side of gothic.

Those kind of bad-choice moments make me squeal with happiness on the inside.   I love it when the major consequences to having that sex are revealed in the ugly light of day.  I love it when things go from exciting to bad to worse.

And yes, I love it when the storm finally passes away and you get the crazy gold light against the black storm clouds.  It puts me into an aesthetic frenzy and the raindrops hanging from every surface seem so rich and full of meaning.

Another image from NOSFORATU

All-in-all I simply cannot get enough of this gothic revival in romance.  I hope the trend continues to grow–not only within collections like Red Velvet–but within the various historical, paranormal, and erotic categories.

Thanks for stopping by today–please share your favorite gothic-y interest.  And if you haven’t already, please follow our blog. 🙂

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  • Post authorSofie Couch

    My favorites: Jane Eyre and Rebecca. Creeeeeepy! (and sexy.) Hey! It occurs to me, hey’re the same story!

    Reply to Sofie Couch
    • Post authorMadeline Iva

      Rebecca is a big favorite of mine too — so luxe. So tense. I think I could quote you whole sections of the dialogue from the movie.

      Reply to Madeline Iva
  • Post authorElizabeth Shore

    Ooooh, I *love* gothic romances – and make ’em erotic, too! Yes, please!

    One of my favorites, which may not be classified as true gothic although it includes many of the classic gothic elements, is Louisa May Alcott’s A Long Fatal Love Chase. Best line of the book: “I often feel as if I’d gladly sell my soul to Satan for a year of freedom.” And it just takes off from there. Delicious! Great Post, Madeline!

    Reply to Elizabeth Shore
    • Post authorMadeline Iva

      I read that this summer!!!! Yes — her evil heroines are the best evah!!!

      Reply to Madeline Iva
  • Post authorLizEverly

    Oooo, I loved the Mary Stewart books when I was in junior high. The books about the Authurian Legend. Crystal Cave. Hollow Hills and so on. I read one of her romantic suspenses from the 60s and loved it. I’d loved to see a resurgence of that 60′s minimalist gothic suspense.

    Reply to LizEverly
    • Post authorMadeline Iva

      Yeah, it’s cool innit. I read those Mary Stewart books in middle school when I librarian suggested them. They were kinda sexy, don’t you think?

      Reply to Madeline Iva
      • Post authorLizEverly

        If I remember correctly, they were a little sexy. But full of magic and crystals…

        Reply to LizEverly
  • Post authorWynngrave

    Rebecca has to be my favorite. Pity it hasn’t been remade although Hitchcock’so version was amazing.

    Reply to Wynngrave
    • Post authorMadeline Iva

      Hitchcock’s version *was* so amazing. The photography, the acting…and it’s l-o-n-g but without a sagging middle or sagging fourth act. Yeah, those would be pretty big shoes to fill.

      Reply to Madeline Iva
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