Suicide clearly held a particular fascination for Richard Marsh (1857–1914),
one of the most prolific and popular fiction writers of the period, with
representations of suicide and reflections on it featuring widely throughout
his Gothic oeuvre. But this interest goes further than the astute
incorporation of cultural anxieties, which Marsh often used as a key
technique for heightening the disturbing effects of his work, to
considerations of its social, philosophical and scientific import. This is
evidenced not only through his fiction but also by a seemingly unpublished
essay (in the University of Reading archives), from 1891–1910, simply
entitled ‘Suicide’ (which includes the characteristically provocative
suggestion that ‘there may be something to be said even in favour of
suicide’). This chapter draws on examples from a range of Marsh's
multitudinous Gothic (or Gothic-inflected) texts, including Mrs Musgrave
(1895), A Master of Deception (1913) and A Spoiler of Men (1905), which
Johan Höglund identifies as containing arguably ‘the first instance of the
zombie character in British 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.