With ghosts and gloom, madness and murder, death and decay, and above all the central attraction of gothic literature–a dark house hiding terrible secrets–Crimson Peak is a modern masterpiece of the gothic genre, rife with literary roots and influences. As director Guillermo del Toro has repeatedly noted, it’s not a horror movie: it’s a classic gothic romance.
Crimson Peak follows Edith (Mia Wasikowska) to Allerdale Hall, the crumbling manor estate of her charming new husband, Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), and his mysterious sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain). According to del Toro, the film “is sort of a hybrid of many impulses that were boiling in [the Victorian] era–sexual tension, romantic tension–and the fight between the rational and the supernatural.” Edith, named after acclaimed 19th century writer Edith Wharton, isn’t your typical fainting gothic heroine, and Crimson Peak is very much a critical response to some of the more old-fashioned elements of the gothic tradition while remaining an earnest love letter to the genre. As del Toro has said, “the gothic impregnates literature all the way through our days.” So let’s take a look at a few of the most prominent literary influences that inspired the dark, lush hybrid that is Crimson Peak.
Image Credit: The British Library
THE ORIGINAL GOTHIC NOVELS
Speaking on his preparation for the film, Tom Hiddleston noted that he read two of the “founding gothic romance novels” at del Toro’s recommendation: The Castle of Otranto and The Mysteries of Udolpho.
The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole
Published in 1764, The Castle of Otranto is typically regarded as the very first gothic novel. Featuring some of the earliest depictions of gothic tropes, including forbidden love and passionate murder in a seemingly haunted familial estate, Otranto launched an entire literary movement.
The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe
Ann Radcliffe was also one of the earliest pioneers of the genre, and The Mysteries of Udolpho, published in 1794, is practically the archetypal gothic romance. It was so iconic, in fact, that Jane Austen would later satirize it in Northanger Abbey, about a young heroine who starts to see everyone in her life as gothic archetypes after reading Udolpho.
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THE BRONTË SISTERS
The all-consuming, torturous passion of the Brontë sisters’ works is very much alive in Crimson Peak, so Guillermo del Toro’s longtime Brontë love should come as no surprise. “I had such a crush on… all the Brontë sisters because I thought, ‘what remarkable beings these are.’ They were magical when I was growing up.”
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
“The complexity, psychologically, of Jane Eyre — I love it,” says del Toro. “She falls in love, madly, with this man, but he cannot take her.” Like Crimson Peak, Jane Eyre is very much a female-driven story, with Edith and Jane as the moral centers of each, respectively (funnily enough, Mia Wasikowska has played both).
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Appropriately, the first film del Toro ever watched was an adaptation of Wuthering Heights when he was only four years old. From its depiction of monstrous love to its conflicted, brooding Romantic hero, Crimson Peak proves Wuthering Height‘s influences stuck with him.
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
A shocking, proto-feminist novel of dark secrets and marital betrayal, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, like Crimson Peak, examines the dark side of romance.
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LATER GOTHIC FICTION
“The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe
Once great families fallen into ill-repute and once grand estates fallen into decay are a cornerstone of gothic literature, and are represented with aplomb in the short story “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe. In both Poe’s story and del Toro’s film, the houses are living, breathing characters in and of themselves.
Uncle Silas by Sheridan Le Fanu
With gothic romance, says del Toro, “You need to follow a great romance, a great love story, but then go beyond that–under their skin, literally. And the ideal for me is Uncle Silas by J. Sheridan Le Fanu.” Le Fanu’s Victorian novel was one of the earliest ‘locked room mysteries’, following a young heiress as she uncovers dark secrets (and are there any other kind, in gothic lit?) from her family’s past.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Published in 1938, Rebecca is arguably the most prominent gothic work of the 20th century. There are elements of Rebecca‘s fictional Manderley estate and its residents (especially the unforgettable Mrs. Danvers) in the Sharpes of Allerdale Hall, and del Toro has cited the memorable film adaptation by Alfred Hitchcock as a major tonal influence on Crimson Peak.
What are your favorite hallmarks of the gothic genre? Any obvious del Toro inspirations that we missed? Let us know in the comments!