The Ladies of the House of Love: The Rosenbach’s Feminist & Queer Gothic Literature Book Club

Date / Time

  • July 11, 2023
    7:00 pm - 8:15 pm
  • August 8, 2023
    7:00 pm - 8:15 pm
  • August 15, 2023
    7:00 pm - 8:15 pm
  • September 12, 2023
    7:00 pm - 8:15 pm

The Ladies of the House of Love is sponsored by Emily and Michael Cavanagh


  • Admission for In-person Ladies of the House of Love is $20 per session. Members pay $10. Not a member? Learn more.
  • Admission for Virtual Ladies of the House of Love is $10 per session. Members pay $5.
  • This is an in-person program at The Rosenbach. Please check your spam folder for your email confirmation. If you have questions, please call (215) 732-1600 or email [email protected].
  • This program is for those 18 and older.

Register for all In-Person Sessions

Register for Cousin Kate Session

Register for the Gaywyck Session

Register Two Wings to Fly Away Session


As a literary genre, the Gothic is often associated with ominous castles, dark, stormy nights, and people fleeing from unnamed horrors.  But the Gothic is—and always has been—much more complicated and interesting than this, because it uses gender, ethnicity, sexuality, and the erotic to hint at the radical potential inherent in all of us. The Ladies of the House of Love book club reads historic and contemporary works of Gothic fiction inspired by the Rosenbach’s collections.  Each month, the club cozies up in the candle-lit, historic West Library of the Rosenbach mansion, views objects from the collection, and discusses the Gothic’s connections to gender, sexuality, race, and ethnicity.*   

Gothic novels often ask readers to consider–and be suspicious of– social structures. As such, we focus on writers from the “margins”–Queer people, women, and People of Color, for instance–grappling with how they question society and their characters’ places in it. Each club meeting will touch on the roots of the Gothic in the 18th and 19th centuries but focus on 21st-century themes. Join us for this special summer season of the book club, as we engage with the theme “Romance at the Rosenbach”! 

Meeting 1: Tuesday, July 11, 7 – 8:15 p.m.  Georgette Heyer, Cousin Kate 

English author Georgette Heyer (1902-1974) is considered one of the founding mothers of the period romance genre. A devoted student of the Regency era, Heyer found inspiration in the works of Jane Austen and other period authors. Cousin Kate features many themes and tropes derived from the Gothic: a stately though mysterious home, a brooding lord, passionate romance, and murder. Written by one of the founding authors of the Regency [or historical] romance genre, this novel will set the stage for the intersectional Queer texts we will read in the next two club meetings. 

Meeting 2: Tuesday, August 8, 7 – 8:15 p.m.  Vincent Virga, Gaywyck 

First published in 1980 and often hailed as the first Gothic romance featuring an openly gay plotline and main characters, Gaywyck adapts the most recognizable features of Gothic to a delectable romance between two men.  Handsome young Robert Whyte arrives on the doorstep of an ancient manor to catalog the books in the mansion’s library, encountering the foreboding presence of his new employer, Donough Gaylord.  Can you guess what happens next? Brace yourself for some intense, man-on-man Gothic romance.  

CANCELLED Bonus Session: VIRTUAL LADIES OF THE HOUSE OF LOVE! Tuesday, August 15, 7 – 8:15 p.m.  Encore Discussion of White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi via Zoom 

Back by popular demand, The Ladies of the House of Love are presenting an encore discussion of Helen Oyeyemi’s White is for Witching, but this time virtually rather than in-person.  The book club will meet via Zoom; you will receive the link upon registering. We are offering this new format to make the book club accessible to those who were unable to attend the spring in-person session, and any others who wish to join from a distance. 

Helen Oyeyemi’s unique and unsettling novel White is for Witching makes use of many of the most familiar tropes of the Gothic—an historic house full of secrets, a twisted love story, and a suspenseful aura of mystery—but applies them in innovative ways, to explore the long legacies of imperialism, colonialism, and racism, all explored within the context of a Queer relationship. We will pair a discussion of this complex yet tantalizing novel with a viewing of a prominent Black author represented in the Rosenbach’s collection who also critiqued European imperialism: René Maran, whose novel Batouala (the manuscript of which resides at the Rosenbach) uses sexuality to interrogate the same issues Oyeyemi explores. 

Space is limited for this fun, friendly, discussion-oriented online program, so register soon!  

Meeting 3: Thursday, September 12, 7 – 8:15 p.m.  Penny Mickelbury, Two Wings to Fly Away 

In 1856 Philadelphia, a cross-dressing fugitive from slavery named Genie Oliver uses her dress shop as a front for her work with the Underground Railroad. Reluctant white heiress Abby Read runs a rooming house, not only because she rejects the life of an idle society woman, but because she has no intention to ever marry a man. As racial and economic tensions simmer and boil over throughout Philadelphia and across the country, Abby and Genie discover a profound friendship, a shared purpose―and the promise of something more. 

*For the safety of collections, battery-operated electronic candles will be used. 


Book Club Facilitators

Dr. Petra Clark is a literary historian, educator, and library professional. She earned her PhD in English from the University of Delaware in 2019 with a specialization in Victorian literature and art, particularly focusing on magazines created by and for women during the late nineteenth century. Petra has taught college courses on everything from research writing and feminist literature to comics history and monster media, as well as a recent Rosenbach course on the artist Aubrey Beardsley. She currently works in the Special Collections department at the University of Delaware Library, but when she isn’t haunting the rare books stacks, she can usually be found reading creepy fiction with her cats.

Dr. Samantha Nystrom is an avid fan of reading, painting, baking, playing Scrabble, and analyzing stories. She learned how to do such narrative pondering during her time at the University of Delaware, where she received her PhD in English Literature. While at UD, she taught classes ranging from film studies to British Literature to composition, which focused on how identities are constructed and represented. Her class on British Literature, for example, focused on texts with the monstrous other, asking students:  Who is the true monster? Her research asked questions about the role gardens and landscapes had in constructing personal, national, and imperial identities within 19th-century Britain; her work on Walter Scott and Gothic landscapes and architecture will soon be published in the peer-reviewed journal, Studies in Romanticism. She currently lives in Philadelphia with her vampiric cat, Percy, and is a writer at Jefferson. 

Dr. Alexander Lawrence Ames, Director of Outreach & Engagement at the Rosenbach Museum & Library, vividly recalls his teenage experiences with Gothic literature: terrifying himself so thoroughly with J.S. LeFanu’s Uncle Silas that he dared not leave his bedroom, falling under the spell of Mrs. Radcliffe’s enchanting countrysides in The Romance of the Forest, feeling the pangs of youthful longing for the noble young Valancourt in The Mysteries of Udolpho, and hearing Mr. Rochester’s voice on the wind in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Dr. Ames will lead artifact show-and-tell sessions at each meeting of Ladies of the House of Love, to help club members situate book club selections in the context of the Rosenbach’s collections.  When not hosting book clubs or curating Rosenbach exhibitions, Dr. Ames is likely playing haunting melodies on his Celtic harp or strolling pensively across the castle grounds as twilight breaks.  

Book Purchase 

The Rosenbach has partnered with Harriett’s Bookshop of Philadelphia to supply copies of book club selections at reasonable prices.  Order your books here:  Learn more about Harriett’s Bookshop here: 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *