This chapter explores the ways that Pauline Hopkins employs the act of
suicide as a way to achieve justice in Of One Blood; or, The Hidden Self,
originally serialised in Colored American Magazine, 1902–1903. Although
Hopkins’ novel is hard to categorise, many of its features – haunted houses,
family secret, ghosts and incest – indicate its place within the Gothic
tradition. On the very first page of the novel, the main character, Reuel
Briggs, a Harvard medical student, asks ‘Is suicide wrong?’, setting up an
ongoing obsession of the character and the novel. After many plot twists and
revelations, the novel’s Gothic villain, Aubrey Livingston, commits murder.
Another character intones ‘Justice will be done’, and shortly thereafter,
Aubrey’s body is found floating in the Charles River. The narrator later
explains that ‘“death by thine own hand”, [was] whispered in [Aubrey’s] ear
while [he was] under hypnotic influence’; essentially he was forced to
commit suicide. In Hopkins’ novel, suicide offers an unusual solution that
both punishes the villain and relieves the victim of any sense that she has
been the cause of the destruction of another life.
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.