The English Gothic novel began with Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1765), which was enormously popular and quickly imitated by other novelists and soon became arecognizable genre. To most modern readers, however, The Castle of Otranto is dull reading; except for the villain Manfred, the characters are insipid; the action moves at a fast clip with no emphasis or suspense, despite the supernatural manifestations and a young maiden's flight through dark vaults. But contemporary readers found the novel electrifying original and thrillingly suspenseful, with its remote setting, its use of the supernatural, and its medieval trappings, all of which have been so frequently imitated and so poorly imitated that they have become stereotypes. The genre takes its name fromOtranto's medieval–or Gothic–setting; early Gothic novelists tended to set their novels in remote times like the Middle Ages and in remote places like Italy (Matthew Lewis's The Monk, 1796) or the Middle East (William Beckford'sVathek, 1786).
What makes a work Gothic is a combination of at least some of these elements:
- a castle, ruined or intact, haunted or not,
- ruined buildings which are sinister or which arouse a pleasing melancholy,
- dungeons, underground passages, crypts, and catacombs which, in modern houses, become spooky basements or attics,
- labyrinths, dark corridors, and winding stairs,
- shadows, a beam of moonlight in the blackness, a flickering candle, or the only source of light failing (a candle blown out or an electric failure),
- extreme landscapes, like rugged mountains, thick forests, or icy wastes, and extreme weather,
- omens and ancestral curses,
- magic, supernatural manifestations, or the suggestion of the supernatural,
- a passion-driven, wilful villain-hero or villain,
- a curious heroine with a tendency to faint and a need to be rescued–frequently,
- a hero whose true identity is revealed by the end of the novel,
- horrifying (or terrifying) events or the threat of such happenings.
The Gothic creates feelings of gloom, mystery, and suspense and tends to the dramatic and the sensational, like incest, diabolism, and nameless terrors. Most of us immediately recognize the Gothic (even if we don't know the name) when we encounter it in novels, poetry, plays, movies, and TV series. For some of us--and I include myself, the prospect of safely experiencing dread or horror is thrilling and enjoyable.
Elements of the Gothic have made their way into mainstream writing. They are found in Sir Walter Scott's novels, Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, and Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights and in Romantic poetry like Samuel Coleridge's "Christabel," Lord Byron's "The Giaour," and John Keats's "The Eve of St. Agnes." A tendency to the macabre and bizarre which appears in writers like William Faulkner, Truman Capote, and Flannery O'Connor has been called Southern Gothic.
from - http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/gothic/gothic.html
Gothic Horror description
Gothic fiction (sometimes referred to as Gothic horror) is a genre of literature that combines elements of both horror and romance. As a genre, it is generally believed to have been invented by the English author Horace Walpole, with his 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto. The effect of Gothic fiction feeds on a pleasing sort of terror, an extension of Romantic literary pleasures that were relatively new at the time of Walpole's novel. Melodrama and parody (including self-parody) were other long-standing features of the Gothic initiated by Walpole.
Gothic literature is intimately associated with the Gothic Revival architecture of the same era. In a way similar to the gothic revivalists' rejection of the clarity and rationalism of the neoclassical style of the Enlightened Establishment, the literary Gothic embodies an appreciation of the joys of extreme emotion, the thrills of fearfulness and awe inherent in the sublime, and a quest for atmosphere. The ruins of gothic buildings gave rise to multiple linked emotions by representing the inevitable decay and collapse of human creations—thus the urge to add fake ruins as eyecatchers in English landscape parks. English Gothic writers often associated medieval buildings with what they saw as a dark and terrifying period, characterized by harsh laws enforced by torture, and with mysterious, fantastic, and superstitiousrituals. In literature such Anti-Catholicism had a European dimension featuringRoman Catholic excesses such as the Inquisition (in southern European countries such as Italy and Spain).
Prominent features of Gothic fiction include terror (both psychological and physical), mystery, the supernatural, ghosts, haunted houses and Gothic architecture, castles,darkness, death, decay, doubles, madness, secrets, and hereditary curses.
The stock characters of Gothic fiction include tyrants, villains, bandits, maniacs,Byronic heroes, persecuted maidens, femmes fatales, monks, nuns, madwomen,magicians, vampires, werewolves, monsters, demons, dragons, angels, fallen angels,revenants, ghosts, perambulating skeletons, the Wandering Jew and the Devil himself.
From Princeton: http://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Gothic_fiction.html