Gothic literature, also known as gothic fantasy or gothic horror, is an outgrowth of dark Romanticism that developed in the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The first use of the term in a literary context was in 1764 in the title of Howard Walpole's novel The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story. Other examples of nineteenth-century literature that were considered Gothic included Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, and Dracula by Bram Stoker.
One of the first American writers to employ Gothic elements was Washington Irving in his short story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." The acknowledged master of American Gothic literature, though, was Edgar Allen Poe.
Elements often present in early Gothic stories included castles, ancient houses, medieval backgrounds, aristocratic decadence, darkness, monsters, and the supernatural. To these elements, Poe added mental illness and psychological trauma.
Poe's famous short story "The Cask of Amontillado" contains numerous Gothic elements. For instance, throughout the story, the narrator shows the psychological instability of a person obsessed with revenge. The story begins at dusk "during the supreme madness of the carnival season," immediately setting a backdrop of darkness and madness. The narrator Montresor lives in a vast mysterious house with innumerable rooms and extensive underground cellars and catacombs.
When Fortunato and Montresor descend into the catacombs, they encounter deeper darkness lit only by flickering torches, dampness that brings on coughing fits, and ominous streaks of niter along the walls. Further on there are piles of skeletons, and the niter hangs like moss from the ceilings. These are all Gothic elements that Poe adds to lend frightening verisimilitude to the story.
Poe ends the story with one of the most horrifying of Gothic elements: a type of premature burial in which a man is chained in an utterly dark recess where he is left to go mad and then die in lonely agony.