Ah, October! My favorite month of the year. Not just because I love the crisp air and the brilliant leaves, but because I’ve been crazy about Halloween for as long as I can remember. To me, it’s the ultimate imaginative holiday, from the vintage whimsy of the jointed cardboard skeletons my teachers used to pin up on bulletin boards to the eerie sophistication of candlelit Gothic mansions.Perhaps it’s no coincidence my romances are set during the regency, a time when horror was wildly popular. Gothic novels were the bestsellers of the era, so fashionable Jane Austen Ensuing page-turners like Eliza Parsons’ 1793 The Castle of Wolfenbach and Anne Radcliffe’s 1794 The Mysteries of Udolpho further established the Gothic archetypes: the swooning virgin in peril, the tyrannical and lust-crazed villain, and the gloomy foreign locale—often an isolated abbey or monastery, the better to highlight the villain’s lechery and exploit the anti-Catholic prejudices of the time. Matthew Gregory Lewis’s 1796 The Monk was so popular and so lurid (its main character, a monk seduced by a cross-dressing instrument of Satan, rapes and kills an innocent girl who turns out to be his sister) its fans included such legendary transgressors as Lord Byron and the Marquis de Sade. The story was penned in 1816 at a rained-out Geneva house party, after the far-off eruption of Mt. Tambora threw so much volcanic ash into the atmosphere that all of Europe suffered a cold and gloomy “Year Without a Summer.” Confined by the weather to his rented villa, Lord Byron suggested a ghost-story contest that was supposed to showcase his talents and those of his most prominent guest, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Instead, not only did eighteen-year-old Mary shine, but so did John Polidori, Byron’s young personal physician. Polidori's contribution to the contest was “The Vampyre,” the forerunner of the romantic vampire genre. (Sadly, Byron's guests were a tragedy-plagued group, and poor Polidori was not immune; he died five years later, age 26, having apparently committed suicide by drinking prussic acid.) And no discussion In an interesting twist of gothic interconnection, he might have been the father of Mary Shelley—if he had not already had a wife. Mary’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was so smitten with the married Fuseli that she practically stalked him, eventually going to his wife and proposing that the three of them live together; Fuseli’s wife, understandably, was not interested, and barred Miss Wollstonecraft from the house. Fuseli is probably best known for his 1781 oil painting The Nightmare, which depicts a sleeping woman with an incubus perched on her abdomen and the object of her dream, a grotesque horse with staring eyes, peering in from behind a curtain. My favorite in the creepiness department, however, is Fuseli's Blind Milton Dictating to his Daughters. Not only are Milton’s pale eyes disturbing (Fuseli seems to have been the master of the horrifying stare), but Milton’s daughter anachronistically wears a red ribbon tied around her neck—a gruesome fashion of the times that was meant to call to mind the victims of the French guillotine. How do you feel about all the gothic horrors abounding at this time of year? Do you have a favorite creepy book or movie? I’d love to hear about it!
Alyssa Everett's debut regency, A Tryst With Trouble, is available now for pre-order from Amazon. Her second, Ruined by Rumor, will be out in May. She hopes you'll visit her website and follow her on Twitter, where she promises not to spam you relentlessly.