This literary genre found its most natural settings in the very tall buildings of the Gothic style — often spelled "Gothick", to highlight their "medievalness" - castles, mansions, and monasteries, often remote, crumbling, and ruined. It was a fascination with this architecture and its related art, poetry (such as graveyard poets), and even landscape gardening that inspired the first wave of Gothic novelists. For example,Horace Walpole, whose The Castle of Otranto (1764) is often regarded as the first true Gothic romance, was obsessed with medieval Gothic architecture, and built his own house, Strawberry Hill, in that form, sparking a fashion for Gothic revival (Punter, 2004; 177).
His 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 (Punter, 2004; 178). The basic plot created many other Gothic staples, including a threatening mystery and an ancestral curse, as well as countless trappings such as hidden passages and oft-fainting heroines. The first edition was published disguised as an actual 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 romance, usually held in contempt by the educated as a tawdry and debased kind of writing, had only recently been made respectable by the works of Richardson and Fielding (Fuchs, 2004; 106). A romance with superstitious elements, and moreover void of didactical intention, was considered a setback and not acceptable as a modern production. Walpole's forgery, together with the blend of history and fiction that was contravening the principles of the Enlightenment, brought about the Gothic novel's association with fake documentation.
Clara Reeve, best known for her work The Old English Baron (1778), set out to take Walpole's plot and adapt it to the demands of the time by balancing fantastic elements with 18th century realism. The question now arose whether supernatural events that were not as evidently absurd as Walpole's would not lead the simpler minds to believe them possible. It was Ann Radcliffe's technique of the explained supernatural, in which every seemingly supernatural intrusion is eventually traced back to natural causes, and the impeccable conduct of her heroines that finally met with the approval of the reviewers. Radcliffe made the Gothic novel socially acceptable, ironically followed by an abrupt degradation of its renown. Her success attracted many imitators, mostly of low quality, which soon led to a general perception of the genre as inferior, formulaic, and stereotypical. Among other elements, Ann Radcliffe introduced the brooding figure of the Gothic villain, which developed into the Byronic hero. Radcliffe's novels, above all The Mysteries of Udolpho(1794), were best-sellers, although along with all novels they were looked down upon by well-educated people as sensationalist women's entertainment (despite some men's enjoyment of them).
"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid. I have read all Mrs. Radcliffe's works, and most of them with great pleasure. The Mysteries of Udolpho, when I had once begun it, I could not lay down again; I remember finishing it in two days – my hair standing on end the whole time." [said Henry]..."I am very glad to hear it indeed, and now I shall never be ashamed of liking Udolpho myself. " [replied Catherine]— Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (written 1798)
Radcliffe also provided an aesthetic for the genre in an influential article "On the Supernatural in Poetry" in The New Monthly Magazine 7, 1826, pp 145–52, examining the distinction and correlation between horror and terror in Gothic fiction (Wright 2007: 35-56).