You may have heard of Gothic architecture, or the Goths and Visigoths in the 3rd-5th Centuries, or the goth subculture of music and fashion. But have you heard of Gothic fiction? Maybe! Have you read it? Probably! Many required reading books in school fall into the Gothic genre, such as Dracula and Frankenstein and even Jane Eyre. But what makes a book Gothic? Is Gothic horror and Gothic romance the same as just Gothic?
So what is it? A quick way to describe it would be the story of a person trapped in a spooky house. Often, the house has a grand and storied history but is now in decay, and the humanity of the people who live there is in question, and there's one beautiful but brooding man among the wreckage. Often, there are ghosts or the possibility of ghosts. Sometimes the concept of the Devil involved, though not always. Evil on the other hand is a pretty common topic.
The term Gothic being attached to this genre is usually attributed to Horace Walpole, who wrote Otranto in 1764 and gave it the subtitle A Gothic Story when the second edition was published. Many of the more famous Gothic fiction novels were written around this time, in what is considered the Romantic period of literature, which is why you sometimes see the term 'Gothic romance'. To be fair, there was also a long-lived series of dime novels that were romances, but set in spooky castles and often showing a woman on the cover in a gauzy Victorian style nightgown, holding a candelabra while running away from a darkened castle. And to be fair, Gothic fiction sometimes involves a romantic relationship or two. The term 'Gothic horror' sometimes gets used to describe Gothic books that lean more into the horrific side of this kind of story and pull from horror fiction tropes, but they're still Gothic fiction at their core.
Just because Gothic fiction started in the 18th Century doesn't mean the genre is dead, though. It's not the most popular genre, sure, but there are still authors who write in this style and have for quite a while. There are tons of different interpretations or subgenres of Gothic out there now too, like Southern Gothic (set in the Southern United States) or postcolonial Gothic (discussing or involving places recovering from colonial rule). So if you want to try a Gothic novel without dealing with the more difficult language (or content that hasn't aged well) of older books, there are still plenty out there to try.