In recent years, J. Sheridan Le Fanu's ghost-story collection In a Glass
Darkly (1871) has been interpreted through its Gothic, medical and
theological contexts. Yet the focus of these disparate literary and cultural
discourses at the moment of death and – more pointedly – in the enactment of
self-annihilation has never been explored. The first three narratives in the
collection, ‘Green Tea’, ‘The Familiar’ and ‘Mr Justice Harbottle’, depict
troubled, indeed persecuted, individuals – a diffident clergyman, a retired
naval officer, a notorious and corrupt hanging judge – whose lives end
prematurely following a personal contemplation of past actions known to
themselves, but not to their contemporaries. This chapter will consider the
deteriorating mental states of the Reverend Jennings and Captain Barton, the
respective protagonists of ‘Green Tea’ and ‘The Familiar’, and the
retrospective account which charts the final days of the unfortunate Mr
Justice Harbottle. All three stories amply illustrate the complex
relationship between introspection and self-destruction in the persecutory
tradition of Gothic fiction.
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.