This introduction situates the volume within the existing academic literature on gothic and family relations, and introduces the guiding research questions. Within Gothic studies, the central role of kinship relations has been acknowledged but it has seldom been studied as a topic in itself; within disciplines that study kinship, such as anthropology or history, the attention for Gothic has been lacking. Starting from the assumption that Gothic fiction is a key site where sociocultural figurations of the family are negotiated, this volume aims to analyze how Gothic figurations of kinship both contest and reinforce orthodox notions of the nuclear family. The chapters address such questions as: how does Gothic fiction mediate the ways in which the family is understood, both as a shifting constellation of social and personal ties and as a powerful regulatory ideal; how does Gothic fiction configure, refigure or disfigure conceptualizations and representations of kinship; when do cultural figurations of kinship become Gothic?
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book demonstrates that incest was representative of a range of interests crucial to writers of the Gothic, often women or homosexual men who adopted a critical stance in relation to the heteronormative patriarchal world. Incest, a sexual act associated with transgression, violations of power and violence, has readily been conflated with sexual violence in Gothic scholarship and consigned to one of two gendered plots. Sexuality, questions of ownership, inheritance, women's subjugation to male authority, laws of coverture and primogeniture and issues concerning gender roles pervade Gothic works from the mid-eighteenth century on. The incest thematic as employed by women writers in the early modern period is shown to be transgressively endogamic in Maureen Quilligan's excellent work on incest in Elizabethan England.
There are several problems that usually emerge in scholarship examining representations of father-daughter incest in the Gothic, even in works by scholars whose goal is to lay bare the feminist themes that are central to the genre. Principal among these is that representations of father-daughter incest often cause works to be placed in the gendered subgenre of Female Gothic and to be viewed through a lens predicated on this generic division. This chapter examines the incestuous relationships between fathers and daughters in Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, Ann Radcliffe's The Romance of the Forest and Mary Shelley's Matilda and the texts' attendant scholarship. These three works have been selected in order to compare the way that incest is rendered in a representative chronology of Gothic texts beginning with what has been traditionally defined as the original Gothic novel.