It all started when Dover had a particular warehouse sale that seemed to include an inordinate amount of Thrift Editions which fell under the catagory of "Gothic Fiction." I really didn't have an exact definition of that term, nor was I sure what differentiated Gothic from plain old horror, supernatural, or paranormal. I began doing research, and found that this is a rather fuzzy term indeed, and depending on the source, it could be very inclusive of many styles.
The most succinct definition comes from a web page on literary terms and definitions which gives some specific charateristics that put Gothic literature/fiction/novels into their own category. This includes "wild and desolate landscapes, ancient buildings such as ruined monasteries; cathedrals; castles with dungeons, torture chambers, secret doors, and winding stariways; apparitions, phantoms, demons and necromancers; an atmosphere of brooding gloom; and youthful, handsome heroes and fainting (or screaming!) heroines who face off against corrupt aristocrats, wicked witches, and hideous monsters." Other sources state that an ancient curse or secret is often involved, and so is romance and melodrama. Often humor can play a part, either because melodrama can be silly, or there is deliberate humor, for instance in the form of parody.
Another good definition comes from About.com. And Encyclopedia Brittanica provides still more interesting information, and states that the heyday of the Gothic Novel was the 1790s. The general concensus among most articles is that the genre began with Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto of 1765. In fact, the most explicit, perhaps the original definition of Gothic Novel, is found in the introduction of the Dover edition of this book. It is quite detailed and narrowly defines the Gothic Novel as it existed in the 1700s to about 1820. In order to be considered Gothic, a specific plot was employed involving a criminal who has usurped an estate from its rightful heir. Gradually, the Gothic Novel evolved and still exists today in a much broader form, as mentioned above, though some may debate whether these are truly "Gothic."
And finally, Goodreads provides a list of the "Best Gothic Books Of All Time" of which there are (at least at the time of this writing) 310, voted on by members. When I saw how many of these books I either owned and/or had already read, I was convinced that another Index Page needed to be added to my Genres, Styles category. So here they are, to provide you with hours and hours of creepy entertainment. Enjoy!