In literature, the term Gothic refers to a genre that combines elements of both horror and romance which began in the 18th century. It dealt with emotional extremes and very dark themes, was usually set in the buildings of the medieval-Gothic style - castles, mansions, and monasteries, often remote, crumbling, and ruined, and often involved ghosts or other fearful creatures. The novels usually revolve around a heroine who is thrown into a suspensful situation, there is always a mystery to be solved, usually a murder or death will be a main plot point and the heroine will fear for her life. Often another major plot point in a Gothic romance will be our heroine being drawn to two men and the tension as she tries to determine which one is her friend and which her enemy. In many regency romances, the characters are reading Gothic novels such as those by Ann Radcliffe.
The term Gothic came to be applied to any type of story, or art form, that combined a dark and scary tone with a pleasing, thrilling result. Jane Austen even satirized the Gothic novel in her Northanger Abbey in which the heroine finds sinister secrets at every turn and works herself into a state because of the Gothic nature of the house where she is visiting.
Gothic Romance novels had their peak in the 1960's - 1970's and were pretty much replaced by new romantic suspense or romantic intrique books of today. An old Gothic is instantly recognized by its cover art which will feature an old mansion or castle in the background with only one window lit and in the foreground our heroine running away with a look of terror or fear on her face.
The Gothic style is found in present-day romance books in the Gothic genre, which has been further broken down into subcategories such as Modern Gothic, and Southern Gothic. Paranormal and fantasy genres also build on the Gothic background.