Happy Halloween, everyone! Have you ever wondered why it is that popular opinion has long viewed old houses as creepy, scary and almost certainly “haunted”? Many will be quick to blame television — or Hollywood in general — but movies are only partly to blame. The trend actually began much earlier… with books.
Yes, before movies, television and the digital age arrived, people enjoyed a good scare through books. Mary Shelley first published her novel Frankenstein in 1818 — two hundred years ago! That book no doubt helped to shape and foment popular opinion regarding the inherent character of decrepit old buildings. Similar “Gothic novels” were popular in the 1700’s. A lot has changed since then — the concepts of “creepy” and “haunted” are now more closely associated with Victorian-era houses of the nineteenth century rather than earlier European castles (and more emphasis is now placed on romance).
Let’s take a look at some of the ways books (and Hollywood) have served to reinforce the stereotype that old houses are decidedly spooky (and probably haunted)!
In the 1960’s, Gothic novels experienced a dramatic revival in paperback form. With a strong emphasis on romance, these new stories shared little in common with older books in the Gothic tradition such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or Edgar Allen Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher — except for the inclusion of a creepy old house. The new genre was quite formulated; nearly every book cover featured an attractive young woman urgently fleeing a Victorian house — and that house typically featured a single illuminated window (easily spotted in the examples below).
Gothic novels weren’t the only way Victorian houses were maligned in the 1960’s… movies and television were more than happy to cash in on the new taste for neo-Gothic entertainment!