What is Gothic fiction?

Folly Hall – Blog #011 of the 160 “Pretty Faces” book cover Challenge

This is book #106 on the list of 160 books that Gardner Francis Fox wrote from 1953 to 1986. This is the seventeenth book I scratched out a cover for.

Beatrice blindly accepts a position as witness to terror and companion of death…

gothic romance novel lynna cooper gardner f fox book cover
Blank bookcover with clipping path

Mr. Fox wrote 5 Gothic romance novels between 1973 to 1975. He wrote his Gothic romances and 14 other modern romance stories under the pseudonym Lynna Cooper.

The original back cover description…

A Trap of Terror…

When Beatrice Perrine’s father suddenly dies leaving her with little money, she has no choice but to become companion to Lady Ione Carlisle. But as Beatrice begins her duties at Carlisle Manor, she realizes that she has been hired to be more than just a companion . . . and it is with dread that she learns from the handsome Dunstan that the old house is known as “Folly Hall,” built to the specifications of a madman.

Beatrice soon discovers why, for she herself hears the strange sound of footsteps in the dark of night that threaten Lady Ione’s sanity, and she sees the wild man who roams the moors and slowly begins to haunt her dreams. Beatrice is determined to find an answer. But does not know that as she steps into the murky past and uncovers the secret labyrinth built into the walls of Folly Hall, she is entering a deadly trap of sheer terror—from which there is never a return…

What is Gothic fiction?

Gothic fiction, as the Gothic romance genre had a resurgence in the mid to late 70s in America. Publishing houses were scrambling to meet the demand. They were written from a woman’s first-person perspective. The stories read like they are coming from the pages of a woman’s diary. They had a sense of “horror” to them. They were filled with suspense and mystery. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula can be considered a Gothic romance.

Gothic fiction, its origin is attributed to English author Horace Walpole, with his 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto, subtitled (in its second edition) “A Gothic Story”.

from Wikipedia

Ann Radcliffe (1764-1828) developed the technique of the explained supernatural in which every seemingly supernatural intrusion is eventually traced back to natural causes. This seems to be the style template that most Gothic romance writers take when penning their own version. Radcliffe’s A Sicilian Romance (1790) can be seen as a huge influence on Fox’s stylistically written Gothic romances.

Here’s an excerpt from Folly Hall – chapter five:

She turned toward the doorway. Gion waited until he heard the boy’s footsteps fade. Then he stepped behind the woman and put a hand in her long, loose hair and tugged her head back. His right arm banded her middle, drawing her against him.

She came down the stairs like the great lady she was, head high and a faint smile on her lips. I heard the rustle of her petticoats, the brush of her dress against the treads, even as my cheeks burned. How much had she heard? What were her thoughts? Was she angry at me? I bit my lip, furious with myself at having been drawn into this scene with Dunstan and Godwin.

And those two! They stood like naughty children with their hands caught in the cookie jar. I flashed them a glance, then moved forward to greet Lady Ione. “Should you be up? After that long trip. . . .”

She laughed at me, caught me, and kissed me on both cheeks. “That’s for defending me, my dear. Oh, yes. I heard. How could I not hear with those two shouting at you and at each other?”

She put her arm about my middle and walked with me toward her big sons. “Now what is this latest quarrel about? Come, come. You might as well tell me. I’ll have it but of Beatrice if you don’t.”

They tried to pass it off, but finally Lady Ione discovered that the whole thing had begun because I claimed to hear limping footsteps. When she heard this she turned to me with a kind of radiance in her eyes.

Mr. Fox must have had an amazing time researching his Gothic romance novels. I can imagine him sitting in his study reading such classics from Ann Radcliffe and Clara Reeves. You know these stories were written by him since he takes much care in writing the “supernatural” elements. When you come to these elements they do lean towards the comic book. They feel a bit campy with witches in the woods and mysterious ancient cult sacrifices.

Now the most curious thing that strikes me about why I think Mr. Fox wrote these novels, besides for the paycheck, was the genre’s link with the pulps. When pulp magazine Weird Tales started it reprinted a lot of the old Victorian Gothic tales, like those written by Edgar Allen Poe and Charles Dickens. Mr. Fox would have already had a storehouse of ideas that he wanted to push out and he could use the Gothic romance genre to tap into those “weird tales” he never got to write for the pulps. He would use the typical elements of a Gothic story to lay out his and then filled it in with his own sense of wonder and suspense.

Some of the typical elements found in a work of Gothic literature:

  • Virginal maiden
  • Older, foolish woman
  • Hero
  • Tyrant/villain
  • Bandits/ruffians
  • Clergy/Mystic
  • Supporting family members like brothers and sisters and very young children.
  • The plot is usually set in a castle, an abbey, a monastery, or some other, usually religious edifice, and it is acknowledged that this building has secrets of its own.
original campbell book cover for lynna cooper folly hall gothic romance novel gardner f fox

Originally published in 1974 by Beagle Books

The cover Artist: “Campbell” based on the signature on cover.

I transcribed this book in 2019 with Akiko K.

I’ll bet you that every illustrator working in the 1970s did at least one Gothic romance cover or at least had one in his portfolio. How do you do a variation on a young woman at night in her nightgown running away from the creepy old Victorian castle?

Gothic 1970s romance novel book covers

Since I’m doing “Pretty Face” covers, I went with a pretty woman craning her neck to look into the star-filled night. In the Victorian era of romantic art, there were images of women with a “broken back”. The 1880s saw the revival of the Gothic as a powerful literary form allied to fin de siecle, which fictionalized contemporary fears like ethical degeneration and questioned the social structures of the time. I bought a copy of Bram Dijkstra’s Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siècle Culture back in art school. Now, this is a pretty heavy subject, but the first thing that caught my eye about this book was all of the illustrations. This book is filled with, all be it black and white photos, illustrations of the best of the best from the Victorian Symbolists like; Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John William Waterhouse, and Franz Von Stuck to name a few.

In chapter 4 of Idols of Perversity, The Weightless Woman, there is a section that looks at the sort of mesmerized woman looking off into the unknown. I took this theme and searched for a piece of reference and came up with my own scratchboard illustration for Folly Hall.

original scratchboard art by kurt Brugel for Gardner F Fox Lynna Cooper Gothic romance novel Folly Hall

I create the cover illustrations to size. I work on 6 x 6 black Ampersand Scratchboard. The book covers are 6 x 9, which leaves 3 inches for text. I want a clean, “Penguin Books” look and feel to the covers. I’m using the pretty faces motif to keep a unified look and feel to the whole library. The back cover has an image of the original cover, the date it was originally printed, and the original story description.

I used this photo from Malgorzata Jasinska’s empatia-stock Devianart account.

photo reference for Gothic romance novel book cover

I have to say I have a soft spot for the Gothic. I have very little love for horror but will always have an interested in the darkness.

Here’s a short video I put together of me working on the scratchboard process.

I have had many positive comments about the “new” covers. I feel pretty positive I will be able to do all 160 book covers.

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The original framed scratchboard art is for sale.

I will not be working on books in the order as Mr. Fox wrote them. I am doing the book cover designs based on when the transcribers who are assisting me, finish one. As they complete a book, it will be the newest release, so it will get a new book cover design. I also have to go back and replace the photo-bashed covers I made when I first started the Gardner Francis Fox Library in 2017.

Thank you for stopping by and finding out more about what I’m doing.


Kurt Brugel

Custodian & Illustrator