13 female horror writers you should read

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Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell – English novelist and short story writer: 29 September 1810 Ð 12 November 1865. Author of ‘Life of Charlotte Bronte’. (Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images)

12.) Elizabeth Gaskell

Elizabeth Gaskell is best known as a sentimental Victorian novelist. She’s often overshadowed by the legacy of her friend Charlotte Brontë, who was the subject of a biography written by Gaskell. Gaskell is most recognized for her novel Cranford, which explores life in a small English village. She also wrote about the experiences of working class families in Manchester, then a hub of the Industrial Revolution.

However, beneath the tame exterior lay a woman who defied Victorian stereotypes of the frail woman and wrote some truly spine-chilling tales. Her gothic stories focus almost entirely on female protagonists and the extremes they experience while navigating the macabre.

Lois the Witch is Gaskell’s novella about a fictional version of the Salem witch trials, which the British Gaskell learned about from an ocean away and nearly two centuries after the events occurred. Other short stories by her include “The Squire’s Story”, “The Ghost in the Garden Room”, “Disappearances”, and “The Grey Woman”.

Throughout her lifetime, Gaskell combined her love of gothic fiction with a sharp eye for social critique, which informs her stories with a sense beyond a mere thrill or shiver. So, don’t underestimate this sedate-looking Victorian lady. She’s got more terror to deal out than you might imagine.

Where to start
Her short stories, naturally. My personal favorite is “The Old Nurse’s Story”, which features a remote manor house, its mysterious occupants, and lingering spirits. If the gothic style of this short appeals to you, then you’re free to dig into the rest of Gaskell’s work.

Since most of her writing is now in the public domain, you can read her ghost stories for free at Project Gutenberg, or listen to recordings of her work at Librivox. The Grey Woman and Other Tales is a good place to continue reading her spookiest work.