. . . Heroines discover a nightmare world beneath the pastoral. . . . [This] underground is a world of chaos, where the forces of the supernatural and of the illicit hold full sway. The ruined castles and abbeys are graphic symbols of the disintegration of a stable civilization; their underground reaches are the hiding places for all those forces which cannot stand the light of day.It is, sort of. It’s David Durant’s description of the twilight world of Ann Radcliffe’s Gothic romance novels. One, in particular, he says, “Sicilian Romance establishes the gothic geography.” In this novel, “Julia finds that the world consists of an interconnected series of underground sites, each one peopled with viler felons than the last.” These “felons” include the “bandits, rapists, and murderers” who “fill the. . . caverns,” as well as Julia’s own “villainous father.”
Not all of these villains are human, it seems, for some of them “can apparently pass through walls and come back from the dead to work their revenge” (Ann Radcliffe and the Conservative Gothic,” Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 22, No. 3 [Summer 1982]: 523-25).
Horror writers who ground their fiction in a detailed, complex, and believable world also ground their horrors in their readers’ acceptance--and, more often than not, it seems likely, in their appreciation as well.