This chapter explores why so many fin-de-siècle Gothic novels conclude on
equally complex, if different, forms of suicide, including Wilde's The
Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), Machen's The Great God Pan (1894) and
Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886). The chapter
argues that, as in Jekyll and Hyde, images of the self-destructive self
should be seen within the context of models of social self-destruction found
in theories of degeneration. The writings of Edwin Lankester and Max Nordau,
in particular, suggest that society is prone to self-destruction when it
becomes overly refined and collapses back on to itself. Images of the body
thus need to be related to wider issues of the body politic. However, this
chapter argues that the fin-de- siècle Gothic does not simply replicate the
terms used in theories of degeneration but rather scrutinises how images of
wealth, cultural refinement and class-bound models of ‘civilisation’ lead to
Gothic representations of self-destruction that strangely liberate the
subject from the demands of the ostensibly degenerate body. The chapter
outlines how the death of the body becomes, in suicide, an act of agency in
which the self is able to transcend its corporeal limits and gain access to
a higher spiritual realm.
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.