Foreign fantasy: Gothic and Romantic eras
Lists of recommended books on the English-language web suffer from multiple ailments, the most serious of which are anglocentrism and recency bias. Here is my small contribution to correcting this issue in the form of a list of works of fantastic literature written in languages other than English between the 1770s and 1870s. These include gothic novels, short stories about ghosts, vampires, and doppelgängers, as well as fairy tales and ballads inspired by folklore beliefs. Antecedents to modern weird fiction are also represented by the writings of authors who delighted in grotesque and hallucinatory visions.
My primary sources for this list were academic historical studies of the gothic, horror, and fantasy genres of fiction. Thus each “vote” I registered for a book reflects a claim about its historical significance. This could be because of it influence on other writers or because it was the first to introduce a new theme. However, a book’s rating or even its inclusion on this list should not be interpreted as an indicator of its literary quality, let alone its appeal to a modern reader!
For instance, Jan Potocki’s The Manuscript Found in Saragossa is a singularly brilliant novel that I have re-read several times am still enthralled by; it is vibrant, engaging, and at times truly hilarious. On the other hand, I seriously doubt there are many people out there who would read something like The Horrid Mysteries by Carl Grosse for pleasure; its high rating stems solely from it being referenced in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.
I should warn lovers of supernatural tales that not every book on this list necessarily involves otherworldly phenomena. Because a hefty portion of my sources were books about gothic fiction, one possible criterion for inclusion was simply a general “gothic mood”, sometimes represented only by a type of setting or dramatic events.
On a lesser note, I recognize that William Beckford’s Vathek qualifies only on a technicality, as it was originally written in French by an English author; however, it makes sense to consider it a part of French literature, as it was influenced by Galland’s translation of The Arabian Nights and Voltaire.
Whenever possible, I attempted to link to recent English translations of each listed work. Sadly, some of the books have not received proper English editions in decades.
If you’re interested in foreign fantasy fiction of later periods, take a look at my sequel list. And, if you prefer to read something from within the Anglosphere after all, I have a list of Gothic romances and early horror novels in English and its companion list of classic ghost stories and weird tales as well.