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What is Gothic?
What is your definition of a Gothic? What makes a Gothic romance? How do you distinguish it from other forms of romances?
Well, for me a Gothic romance consists of a suspenseful mystery surrounding a heroine. Usually, the hero is mysterious or of a suspicious character. Unlike romantic suspense, in which the hero and heroine work together against some "bad guys", the heroine in a Gothic romance cannot trust the hero and is unsure which side is good and which side is bad until close to the end. Or, sometimes the heroine is in love with the hero but is unsure if the hero may have committed some heinous crime. There is an element of mistrust. Also in a Gothic, the heroine is at the center of the mystery and she is being terrorized for love or money. I've read different mysteries, romances, etc. and the lines are somewhat blurred at times, but what I consider a Gothic should have the above elements.
My idea of a Gothic ought to take place in a castle, set in olden days, have a supernatural element, whether real or imagined, have a strong hero and an intelligent heroine.
Fallover, would you sacrifice a good plot just to have your atmosphere?
Gothic fiction involved all of the elements that everyone here has mentioned. Terror, romance, mystery, the super natural, castles and the like are all parts of a true Gothic fiction novel. Would you want to sacrifice one for the other, I do not think you should have to.
I really like paigenumber's description. The basic elements that they listed are also what I consider to be gothic. The atmosphere is really important too, but it's definitely not worth sacrificing the plot for it. I think that the air of mystery is usually the most prevalent theme in gothic novels.
No one wants to sacrifice a plot, but if it does not contain the proper elements then you really cannot classify it as Gothic, it needs to have all the elements along with the plot. I would not want one without the other, because then it would just make it a run of the mill murder mystery.
I agree with Attagirl. There have been too many mysteries without the suspense and terror that are classified as Gothic. Also, some of them involve detectives and police officers solving mysteries- as in romantic suspense thrillers. As you stated elsewhere, sometimes it depends on the era it was written in. Some are classified Gothic because of the horrific nature of the work. It's not that I don't enjoy a good story, I just like to relate to a heroine who is caught up in a mystery and is able to see her way through while fighting for her life. Just like in movies, I prefer the eerie feeling you get from a pure gothic novel versus that in straight gore. That's why I prefer the historical romantic suspense with some mystery and the feel of terror.
The book publicists have classified gothic romances as everything from mystery to romance, including romantic suspense and occasionally gothic. The spine label "gothic" was deemed the kiss of death for many publishers, due to extensive returns of unsold books from bookstores when poorly written gothic romances flooded the market, trying to capitalize on the popularity of books by Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, Dorothy Eden, Daphne du Maurier, and other great gothic writers. Therefore, you will find gothic romance hiding behind many different spine labels.

The three key ingredients I would use to describe a gothic romance novel are romance, life threatening suspense, and a puzzle or mystery. Within that broader description, one finds the "classic gothic," which usually takes place in a large mansion where threats are made to the heroine's life while she tries to figure out if her potential love interest(s) is (are) good or evil. Gothic elements such as secret passages, ghosts, mazes, dungeons, etc., are often present in classic gothic romances, which can have either a contemporary or historical setting.

That's my take, anyway. What do others think?
You have described it wonderfully, GothicLover. I believe I have been a closet reader of Gothic fiction for so long because of the fact that as I was enjoying good Gothic novels, I did run across many of the embarassingly bad books. It was a shame to admit I liked Gothic romances simply for that reason. Even now I would find it difficult to hold up a Gothic romance with the typical cover illustration in public. Old habits have become hard to break.

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