Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica
Called Gothic because its imaginative impulse was drawn from medieval buildings and ruins, such novels commonly used such settings as castles or monasteries equipped with subterranean passages, dark battlements, hidden panels, and trapdoors. The vogue was initiated in England by Horace Walpole’s immensely successful Castle of Otranto (1765). His most respectable follower was Ann Radcliffe, whose Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and Italian (1797) are among the best examples of the genre. A more sensational type of Gothic romance exploiting horror and violence flourished in Germany and was introduced to England by Matthew Gregory Lewis with The Monk (1796). Other landmarks of Gothic fiction are William Beckford’s Oriental romance Vathek (1786) and Charles Robert Maturin’s story of an Irish Faust, Melmoth the Wanderer (1820). The classic horror stories Frankenstein (1818), by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, and Dracula (1897), by Bram Stoker, are in the Gothic tradition but introduce the existential nature of humankind as its definitive mystery and terror.
Easy targets for satire, the early Gothic romances died of their own extravagances of plot, but Gothic atmospheric machinery continued to haunt the fiction of such major writers as the Brontë sisters, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and even Charles Dickens in Bleak House and Great Expectations. In the second half of the 20th century, the term was applied to paperback romances having the same kind of themes and trappings similar to the originals.
Types of Novel
The first Gothic fiction appeared with works like Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto (1765) and Matthew Gregory Lewis’ Monk (1796), which countered 18th-century “rationalism” with scenes of mystery, horror, and wonder. Gothic (the spelling “Gothick” better conveys the contemporary flavour) was a designation derived from architecture, and it carried—in opposition to the Italianate style of neoclassical building more appropriate to the Augustan Age—connotations of rough and primitive grandeur. The atmosphere of a Gothic novel was expected to be dark, tempestuous, ghostly, full of madness, outrage, superstition, and the spirit of revenge.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which maintains its original popularity and even notoriety, has in overplus the traditional Gothic ingredients, with its weird God-defying experiments, its eldritch shrieks, and, above all, its monster. Edgar Allan Poe developed the Gothic style brilliantly in the United States, and he has been a considerable influence. A good deal of early science fiction, like H.G. Wells’s Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), seems to spring out of the Gothic movement, and the Gothic atmosphere has been seriously cultivated in England in the later novels of Iris Murdoch and in the Gormenghast sequence beginning in 1946 of Mervyn Peake. It is noteworthy that Gothic fiction has always been approached in a spirit of deliberate suspension of the normal canons of taste. Like a circus trick, a piece of Gothic fiction asks to be considered as ingenious entertainment; the pity and terror are not aspects of a cathartic process but transient emotions to be, somewhat perversely, enjoyed for their own sake.