Gothic fiction, which is largely known by the subgenre of Gothic horror, is a genre or mode of literature and film that combines fiction and horror, death, and at times romance. Its origin is attributed to English author Horace Walpole, with his 1764 novelThe Castle of Otranto, subtitled (in its second edition) "A Gothic Story". 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. The most common of these 'pleasures' among Gothic readers was the sublime - an indescribable feeling that "takes us beyond ourselves." The literary genre originated in England in the second half of the 18th century where, following Walpole, it was further developed by Clara Reeve, Ann Radcliffe, William Thomas Beckford and Matthew Lewis. The genre had much success in the 19th century, as witnessed in prose by Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and the works of Edgar Allan Poe as well as Charles Dickens with his novella, A Christmas Carol, and in poetry in the work of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Lord Byron. Another well known novel in this genre, dating from the late Victorian era, is Bram Stoker's Dracula. The name Gothic, which originally referred to the Goths, and then came to mean "German", refers to the Gothic architecture of the medieval era of European history, in which many of these stories take place. This extreme form of Romanticism was very popular throughout Europe, especially among English- and German-language writers and artists. The English Gothic novel also led to new novel types such as the German Schauerroman and the French roman noir.
The Castle of Otranto (1764) is regarded as the first Gothic novel. The aesthetics of the book have shaped modern-day gothic books, films, art, music and the goth subculture.
The novel usually regarded as the first Gothic novel is The Castle of Otranto by English author Horace Walpole, which was first published in 1764. Walpole's declared aim was to combine elements of the medieval romance, which he deemed too fanciful, and the modern novel, which he considered to be too confined to strict realism. The basic plot created many other staple Gothic generic traits, including threatening mysteries and ancestral curses, as well as countless trappings such as hidden passages and oft-fainting heroines.
Walpole published the first edition disguised as a medieval romance from Italy discovered and republished by a fictitious translator. When Walpole admitted to his authorship in the second edition, its originally favourable reception by literary reviewers changed into rejection. The reviewers' rejection reflected a larger cultural bias: the romance was usually held in contempt by the educated as a tawdry and debased kind of writing; the genre had gained some respectability only through the works of Samuel Richardson and Henry Fielding. A romance with superstitious elements, and moreover void of didactical intention, was considered a setback and not acceptable. Walpole's forgery, together with the blend of history and fiction, contravened the principles of the Enlightenment and associated the Gothic novel with fake documentation.
Matthew Lewis' lurid tale of monastic debauchery, black magic and diabolism entitled The Monk (1796) offered the first continental novel to follow the conventions of the Gothic novel. Though Lewis's novel could be read as a pastiche of the emerging genre, self-parody had been a constituent part of the Gothic from the time of the genre's inception with Walpole's Otranto. Lewis's portrayal of depraved monks, sadistic inquisitors and spectral nuns—and his scurrilous view of the Catholic Church—appalled some readers, but The Monk was important in the genre's development.
The Monk also influenced Ann Radcliffe in her last novel, The Italian (1797). In this book, the hapless protagonists are ensnared in a web of deceit by a malignant monk called Schedoni and eventually dragged before the tribunals of the Inquisition in Rome, leading one contemporary to remark that if Radcliffe wished to transcend the horror of these scenes, she would have to visit hell itself.
The Marquis de Sade used a subgothic framework for some of his fiction, notably The Misfortunes of Virtue and Eugenie de Franval, though the Marquis himself never thought of his like this. Sade critiqued the genre in the preface of his Reflections on the novel (1800) stating that the Gothic is "the inevitable product of the revolutionary shock with which the whole of Europe resounded". Contemporary critics of the genre also noted the correlation between the French RevolutionaryTerror and the "terrorist school" of writing represented by Radcliffe and Lewis. Sade considered The Monk to be superior to the work of Ann Radcliffe.