The Halloween season is upon us, and though your usual festivities may be curtailed this year, Bas Bleu readers know there are plenty of haunted houses to explore in the pages of a good book. (Though somehow, faced with COVID-19 and all the other scares 2020 has thrown at us, these seven creepy, spooky houses from classic literature feel like an escape from our fears?) Whether you’re thrilled by creaking doors and things that go bump in the night or you’re in the habit of running past that weird old house on the corner, you’ll want to read about these eerie edifices with the lights on.
Otranto, The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole: Published in 1784 and widely heralded as the first Gothic novel, Walpole’s popular tale “built” the archetypal spooky house. Home to Lord Manfred and his family, the castle begins its story as a wedding site, but things quickly go south when the groom is crushed to death. Haunted by a maddeningly vague prophecy—“that the castle and lordship of Otranto should pass from the present family, whenever the real owner should be grown too large to inhabit it”—Manfred proceeds to make a series of very bad choices in his efforts to retain his power. Drama ensues, complete with chases through underground passageways, ancestral portraits coming to life, trapdoors slamming, doors creaking…
Bluebeard’s palace, “Barbe bleue” by Charles Perrault: This French folktale has as many adaptations as its titular character has wives—and every one serves as a woman’s worst nightmare. Bluebeard is rich and powerful, with a gorgeous château and a penchant for marrying beautiful women who mysteriously disappear. While her husband is away on business, Bluebeard’s newest wife heads straight for the one room she’s forbidden to enter…and boy, does she regret it.
Bly, The Turn of the Screw by Henry James: You can’t blame a girl for trying; after all, when Jane Eyre fell in love with her employer, things worked out in the end. Unfortunately for Henry James’s unnamed governess, “big, ugly, antique” Bly is no Thornfield Hall. Yes, it’s an isolated English country estate, where the young woman arrives to care for her boss’s niece and nephew. But instead of a brooding lord of the manor (who keeps his first wife locked in the attic), Bly is haunted by the ghosts of the former governess and her malevolent lover—who do not have the children’s best interests at heart.
Dracula’s castle, Dracula by Bram Stoker: Talk about real-estate drama! Newly minted solicitor Jonathan Harker is sent to the mountains of Transylvania to assist Count Dracula with the purchase of his new London home. Unfortunately for Harker, the charismatic (and undead) aristocrat shares his palatial mountain estate with a trio of female vampires. When Dracula heads to England, hungry for a change of scenery and “cuisine,” he leaves Harker behind, trapped inside the castle and at the mercy of his bloodsucking hostesses.
The House of Usher, “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe: Here’s a tip: If your host for the weekend tells you he thinks his house is alive, it’s time to pack your bags and head home. In Edgar Allan Poe’s thrillingly grotesque short story, the unluckiest houseguest in the world has a front-row seat to the (literal) destruction of a family. For as the once-grand Usher mansion deteriorates and decays, so too do its inhabitants, culminating in an (in)famous literary finale that just might scare you to death.
The Overlook Hotel, The Shining by Stephen King: After eight months of coronavirus-induced cabin fever, we’re admittedly more sympathetic to Jack Torrance, a struggling writer who accepts the job of winter caretaker at the Overlook Hotel. As if alcoholism and writer’s block aren’t demons enough for Jack to fight, the isolated Colorado hotel turns out to be haunted…in a bad, bad way. It doesn’t take long for Jack’s poor wife and son to discover “this inhuman place makes human monsters.” Forget the thirteenth floor: Room 217 is the hotel room you’ll want to avoid on your next trip.
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