Accustomed as we are to the presence of nuns in the religious landscape of early modern Europe, we imagine a straightforward trajectory by which secular women who entered a convent took vows and donned a veil. This chapter interrogates the seemingly simple process by which laywomen were “converted” into nuns. Upon entering convents, women crossed a border that separated the profane from the sacred. The cloister setting, in turn, required them to adapt to a very different type of existence. They were expected to adhere to monastic principles, many of which were distinctly gendered. Using evidence from English and Spanish convents between 1450 and 1650, this paper will analyze the mechanisms, and the material considerations, that shaped this transformation. How did religious rules, convent architecture, male ecclesiastical oversight, material culture, the rhythms of daily life within the convent, and other factors shape the process by which secular women became nuns? Ultimately, the chapter argues, these conversions were uneven or incomplete. The mechanisms listed above that conditioned this conversion permitted and sometimes even encouraged a complicated identity that blurred the distinction between sacred and secular worlds.
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.