My Top 5 Influencial Books set in Mansions/Castles

Ever since I was a little girl i’ve been fascinated by old mansions and castles.  Living in Scotland i’m lucky to have been (and still am) spoilt for rich cultural and historical offerings.  As a child my family would get together in summer holidays and go on tours to castles and historical landmarks up and down the country.  My imagination would run wild, as I imagined time travelling and witnessing these places as they were once occupied.   The lush interors, mysterious stone steps, hidden rooms, breathtaking paintings and tapestries transported me to another world as I would listen to the stories of these strange other times with delight.  Being able to look at a 500 year old four poster bed where a king had once slept used to blow my mind (and still does).  There’s something fascinating about being inside a building and knowing the lives of people who passed there.  The love, the secrets, the joys and the heartaches, the ghosts and the suffering.  Its like an antique treasure chest of memories, all woven in the walls, the furnishings, the attics and the dreaded basements.

I find a lot of my own stories feature large houses or castles and I still think its the perfect setting for the classic ghost or gothic story.  Now as an adult with two young children of my own I’m rediscovering this love, and introducing them to the same delightful adventures and treasures of times gone past.

The following is a list personal to me, of the novels which have enchanted me and influenced my creative thoughts and by no means thoroughly or objectively judged!

1. Flowers in the Attic by Virginia Andrews

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This was one of the first novels I read as a teenager and it completely enchanted me.  I do have an obsession with attics and this may have been somewhat of an influence in that.  The fact that the story is completely sinister and horrifying is what seemed to attract me and I think this is possibly where my love of dark and disturbing fiction could have been born.  Virginia Andrews had such a talent for creating an atmosphere for suspense and dread and I would find her delicate suggestive narrative actually becoming my own forbidden thoughts.  I can picture the large looming house so well in my mind.  The grounds as they approach for the first time in the darkness and the lights in the towers of the barred up windows of the attic. The contrast between the grand and luxurious lifestyle in the house below to the torturous suffering of innocent children in the dark floor above I find completely haunting.  I  read this at least 3 times and found myself being drawn back to it again recently.

2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

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Unlike so many of you, I didnt actually study this book in school.  My introduction of the book was through my mother who has and still does have a great love for the Brontes.  This is definitely one of her favourite books and at an early age she passed on that passion to me.  Thornfield Hall has a definite romance and almost cosy atmosphere about it which is only tainted by the horror of a mad woman who we discover is locked in the floors above.  (Once again another mysterious secret locked up in the attic!)  The house sets the scene for this wonderful love story, as she explores her new residence, despite the strange warnings from the housekeeper.  She revels in the glorious view from the rooftop , below where the vast countryside is never-ending, as if holding infinite possibilities.   The mood is consistently set by the atmosphere of the house, the creepy sound of wild laughter, eerie creaks and the crescendo of the strange midnight bedroom blaze.  The reader cant help feeling devastated when near the end of the book, the house has become a ruin and that, I feel, represented all the love, heartache and feelings of the past which had now been put to rest as a memory as she would begin her new life.

3.  The Turn of The Screw by Henry James

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I adore this book and to me its the perfect ghost story.  The pace is suspenseful and the atmosphere is terrifying.  Its the classic element of travelling somewhere new (as in Jane Eyre) to a large mysterious house and being met with creepy occurrences which gradually get stranger and stranger to the point of the character questioning their own sanity.  I felt transfixed from the beginning as the scene was set and could feel the tenseness as it built up inside this old mansion and grounds.  The contrast between the assumed young and innocent children and confusing, terrifying sightings created an ongoing unsettling feeling.  I love the style of narrative and it couldn’t have been written better.

4. Dracula by Bram Stoker

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I only read this novel within the last couple of years and wonder why I waited so long.  The somewhat sensible and ordinary characters set within a seemingly ordinary time are soon to be met with an almost alien-like , terrifying creature which must have been mind blowing  when it was first published.  Regardless of the how familiar the trope of vampires is now in our everyday culture, this story doesn’t fail to be timeless in its beautifully woven narrative and inventive, believable descriptions.  As I turned the old, well worn pages of my copy I could almost feel the dust on the castle walls, see the flickering lights of candles in the mysterious chambers and hear the terrifying creaks from the coffin as the vampire arose into the night.

5. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

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Daphne Du Maurier has fast become one of my favourite authors, having recently discovered her wonderfully compelling short stories.  She was a definite master of contemporary gothic storytelling which is obviously highlighted in Rebecca, a novel immersed in atmosphere and suspense.  This again, was a book introduced to me by my mother which I’m dearly thankful for.

The famous line “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley” had been planted into my head as a child and still fills me with delight.  It conjures up the beautiful and compelling story of this  larger than life, looming ghost whose presence is felt within each magnificent room as our unnamed heroine creeps like a frightened mouse to the forbidden corners of this spooky mansion.  The West wing will always prompt imaginings for me of  secret and haunted parts where the unknown and the sinister is waiting, lurking behind a dark door, ready to jump.  The early dreamlike scene, where she travels for miles inside the grounds and finally reaches the clearing, unveiling Manderley in all its splendor, is a beautiful example of how, for all its strangeness,  a building can have an immense and emotional impact on a person.

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