Thomas Percy’s The Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, first published in
1765, was a seminal text in English literature. A comprehensive three-volume
set of British ballads, it was one of the most significant collections of
the century, and its influence was felt on British editors and writers for
generations afterwards. The backdrop for this literary endeavour was a
culture war in English and Scottish literature which emanated from the
Glorious Revolution period in the late seventeenth century and found
expression in a variety of texts. At the core of this battle was a struggle
for cultural superiority between Scotland and England. Through The Reliques,
Percy posited a conception of British literary history which maintained that
the English were cultural inheritors of the Goths, a racial grouping which
he believed was superior and different to Scotland’s antecedents, the Celts.
By advancing this idea, Percy was aiming to defend and consolidate a
cultural position that favoured an interpretation of English predominance
over other constituent members of the United Kingdom. He also anticipates
Gothic literary approaches in his treatment of Scotland as practically a
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.