Dr. Lilia Melani admits that
[1.] 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. [2.] 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.
(p. 89) John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress (1607) features "the monster Apollyon", "goblins who haunt the Valley of the Shadow of Death", and "another pilgrim taken to a mysterious door at the city's foot and thrust through: "Then I saw," he ends, soberly, "that there was a way to Hell, even from the Gates of Heaven."
(p. 280) Aeschylus's Agamenon (c. 458 BC) features "the goddess Artemis, who loved Troy, blew great winds on the fleet to keep the Greeks from sailing." Then Agamenon sacrified "daughter Iphigenia" "Against the wild objections of his wife." Agamenon's "father, Atreus, punished Agamenon's brother Thyestes for sleeping with Atresus' wife by roasting Thyestes' children and serving them to his brother."
Other supernatural thrillers are Marlowe's Doctor Faustus (p. 287) and Beowulf (p. 359).
In the nineteenth century, the soap opera of choice was the “Gothic novel,” a story of mystery and vague supernatural threat, set in fantastic and menacing places (or in central Europe, which, for most readers, amounted to the same thing). Gothic heroines languished in ruined castles, threatened by ancient spells, insane wives, and mysterious noblemen who avoid sunlight and mirrors. Here is Emily of the wildly popular The Mysteries of Udolpho: plucky but not too bright, wandering through the strange echoing castle of Count Morano.
“explore the darker impulses of human nature, such as paranoia, barbarism and the taboo,” explains Ledoux. “Some of the markers of Gothic literature aren’t often what one would think; it doesn’t have to be supernatural, but deals with confusion about boundaries, such as those between what is alive and dead, or animal and human.”
"us[s]e dark elements to uncover social atrocities, or to offer alternative solutions to these issues. “In a fantasy world, you can offer an alternative vision of something that you can’t through realistic writing,” explains Ledoux.
Informed by genre and reader-response theories, the [Ledoux's] book illustrates how Gothic scenes depicting violence and heightened emotion challenged conventional thinking and normative behaviors, revealing the Gothic’s transgressive spirit as a dynamic force within the sociopolitical landscape of the 18th- and 19th-century Atlantic world.
The history of the word gothic is embedded in thousands of years worth of countercultural movements, from invading outsiders becoming kings to towering spires replacing solid columns to artists finding beauty in darkness.