Sunday, August 16, 2015

it's a gothic if we say it's a gothic...

The Lair of the White Worm...as gothic.  Paperback Library was perhaps the most opportunistic about  this kind of repackaging....
































































They at Paperback Library were particularly fond of conflating the original sort of Gothic fiction with post-Dark Shadows "supermarket gothics"...



Recycled for one of DC's short-lived gothic comics...

































But PL wasn't alone...the first Award edition explicitly labeled this as a gothic...cover by Jeff Jones.




















































And if gothic readers were disappointed, as they were, by a fairly standard suspense novel...



...imagine what the innocent gothic fan made of "Carmilla"...












































































































A Weird Tales serial, in boards from Arkham House, that *might* just fit if you squint at it the right way...






















As Kelly Robinson mentions in comments below, Dell Books decided to package this Newbery Award-winning YA historical novel as a gothic without tagging it in any way as a gothic (or a YA) for at least one edition that saw multiple printings as a "Fic" title (on the spine) and with gothics advertised on the back pages...the back cover headline is "Prisoner in a House of Strangers"...Dell also had a Yearling edition (digest-sized YA line) in print simultaneously.  Pretty outrageous, but as Ed Gorman has mentioned to me in email, paperback publishers could routinely look forward to over 100,000-copy sales for any gothic by the early 1970s.

For some good reading on the subject, including the repackaging of other sorts of suspense and horror books to sell them to the Phyllis Whitney-style gothic audience, please see this excerpt from Joanna Russ's essay "Somebody's Trying to Kill Me and I Think It's My Husband: The Modern Gothic" as collected in Russ's To Write Like a Woman.

The Vault of Evil post that inspired this one...

13 comments:

Ed Gorman said...

I always wanted to write a gothic because I read so many of them as a reviewer for a local newspaper. I didn't want to spoof them exactly but at least play around with the major tropes and characters. Why did I review so many gothics? Because if I didn't review one or two in my weekly column I heard from all these crazed gothic fans. Your cover montage here demonstrates how gothic-hungry publishers were. I'm surprised they didn't repackage Zane Grey as a gothic writer. Riders Of Midnight Castle. Still don't know how you know all this stuff when you're noted enough to buy beer. :) Great stuff,Todd. As usual.

Anonymous said...

As Northanger Abbey is a parody of Gothic novels the cover is more appropriate than the publisher may have known.

Todd Mason said...

Ed--did you ever read Joanna Russ's essay on the 1960s/70s gothics? I think you would enjoy it if you haven't already: "Somebody's. Trying. to. Kill. Me. and. I. Think. It's. My. Husband: The. Modern. Gothic" (I'll put the link to the incomplete Googlre Books post of the essay in the body of the post here...it is included in Russ's collection YO WRITE LIKE A WOMAN).

Purple and Grey were certainly the right colors for both the cover art and the prose of a lot of the more pedestrian gothics!

Do you remember any surprisingly good work that you came across? I've found some solid writing among some of the Romantic Suspense fiction that is much of the heir to the modern gothic of the Phyllis Whitney sort, along with the paranormal romances.

And I certainly did more drinking when I was 15 than I do nowb at 51, with no bloom of youth too much in evidence...this touches on a lot of my early reading, in the early '70s particularly, though after my first supermarket gothic, I didn't ganble that way again until I saw a familiar author name from my horror and suspense reading..and folks at the Vault of Evil website pointed all of us toward the Russell Kirk repackaging above (and a few others) some years back. But, thanks, Ed.

Anon, I've noted as much on the blog before...that the Austen is essentially from the era of the original Gothic fiction, Austen as OG, and her parodic impulse was shared by Paperback Library, who presumably felt that selling a public domain novel to those looking for Vera Caspary-style kicks was a win-win for everyone...profit for the publisher and elevation of literary taste, perhaps, for the reader. They definitely knew whay they were doing.

Todd Mason said...

Well, even more Victoria Holt than Vera Caspary...

Jerry House said...

I never saw a paperback cover of a man in pajamas running in fear from a darkened castle, estate, manor house, cottage, lighthouse, or what have you with a light burning in only one window. Wonder why? It might work on a reprinting of Thorne Smith's TOPPER (for example) and start a new trend. Or not.

Jim C. said...

I've always liked those Paperback Library gothic covers. I still have my copy of Carmilla and the Haunted Baronet. Another gem is The Lady of Glenwith Grange, a collection of short stories by Wilkie Collins. They also issued a second Collins collection, The Yellow Mask, along the same lines. Here's a link to a review of Glenwith Grange with several images of the cover.https://hauntedhearts.wordpress.com/2010/02/14/the-lady-of-glenwith-grange/

Todd Mason said...

Somehow, Jerry, I'm reminded of the MARATHON MAN promo imagery...but if more men were suddenly willing to toy with the notion, even fictionally, that their wives were alien creatures who might well want to do them in...hmm.

Thanks, Jim! Yeah, Vault of Evil's contributors were doing their best to collate all the Paperback Library titles...I imagine PAPERBACK PARADE has had a more systematic survey at some point, but I hadn't considered the range of things they were offering as supermarket gothics before looking at the Vault coverage (and added my old favorites and added a few more). The Wilkie Collins and the Russell Kirk weren't the only collections (indeed, even if we rule out the Le Fanu 2-novella book). ("Wait...the husband isn't a threat in this one...some lesbian vampire is! What IS this?")

Kelly Robinson said...

As a young girl, I read The Witch of Blackbird Pond because it was published with a Gothic cover that made it look like a "grown-up" book. I was hoping for something illicit, but I got a Newbery-winning historical about a plucky colonial girl. Sometimes it's hard to find good sleaze, especially when you're 12.

Todd Mason said...

Oddly enough, I just found that edition of the book the other day at what will probably be my (busted hand) physical therapist's office...I certainly read either the Dell Yearling or the available library edition at the time.

You know, the world seemed pretty full of attractive sexually-charged stuff even when I was twelve...for the Bicentennial!...much less the plethora now. Any attempts to keep me away from such were pretty ineffectual. But, retroactive sympathies!

Yvette said...

Oh I'm so familiar with this sort of erroneous packaging, Todd. :) Once upon a time I read tons of gothics and boy did I resent it when the cover misled me. Though truth to tell, I wasn't that easy to fool.

But on my Gothic Imagination Pinterest board, I do include Dracula and Susan Hill and Sheridan LeFanu covers simply because they look good and gothic-y. Nobody said I had to be authentic.

As you say, Todd: It's a Gothic if we say it's a Gothic. Ha!

Todd Mason said...

Paperback Library and to lesser extent Ace Books and Award Books agree! I tried to dig out your Pinterest board...boy, Pinterest sure is intrusive.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Wonderful covers Todd - the absurdity of it is entrancing - and you know what? I'm not really a fan of the genre, but I would probably try a couple of these on the strength of the covers (assuming I didn;t already know what a great read CONJURE WIFE was - REBECCA I have never got along with).

Todd Mason said...

You know, despite liking a lot of Du Maurier's shorter fiction--"The Birds" the novella is beak and crop ahead of the film, for example--I'v yet to read any of her novels...and if there's a novel that actually did help establish the '60s/'70s gothic template among these here, it's apparently REBECCA...though ROSEMARY'S BABY also was clearly a huge spur, as well as the likes of Whitney and Holt...