I get this question a lot.
What do you write?
There was a time when this genre was well known by most, and then it sort of faded off into the sunset. Recently, the Gothic story has undergone some renovation, but I have high hopes that it’s making a come back.
The Gothic novel seems to have originated in England in the mid-1700s with Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto. Later, Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Monk by Matthew Lewis terrified and titillated audiences with a sort of blend between the macabre and the Romantic. These novels were followed by the poems and stories and novels of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, Mary Shelley, the Brontes, and Bram Stoker. And of course, we can’t forget the American forms of horror spun by Edgar Allan Poe. Contemporary writers like Victoria Holt popularized the genre by adding a pronounced thread of romance. And then came the sub-genre of Southern Gothic (but that deserves a blog post of its own).
In short, the elements in Gothic fiction usually include a mysterious setting in a remote spot and featuring an old house (often haunted, run-down, foreboding, with secret passages, odd architecture, etc). Often there is a supernatural segment—a ghost, vampire, etc.—or at least the hint that there could be. A female protagonist in trouble or leaving one life in search of another is often a main component. This, of course, requires a hero of some type, a romantic attachment, and passionate encounters. Sometimes there’s a touch of hereditary madness entangled with the history of the house, indirectly affecting the hero and/or heroine (Think Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester’s wife hidden away in the attic).
Nowadays, Gothic novels may have a few or all of these elements, and they have evolved into more of a horror genre, but I confess I still love the traditional Gothic … mad women in the attic and all.