Thomas Ligotti, who began writing in the 1980s, is perhaps Gothic's
best-kept secret. Until the recent publication of his first two collections
of short stories by Penguin, his Gothic work (reminiscent, but by no means
derivative, of Poe and Lovecraft) has remained relatively obscure. This
chapter explores what could be termed Ligotti's materialistic
pessimism, or the belief that conscious and rational life is inherently
tragic, as it is largely dominated by the experience of pain and the
realisation of the inevitability of death. More specifically, the chapter
focuses on one of Ligotti's recurring solutions to the quandary of
existence, suicide, in selected stories from Songs of a Dead Dreamer (1986),
Grimscribe (1991), Teatro Grottesco (2006) and The Spectral Link (2014), but
also in his non-fiction treatise The Conspiracy against the Human Race
(2010) and his interviews in Born to Fear (2014). For Ligotti, antinatalism,
or mass suicide as a way of preventing future generations from suffering the
same fate, becomes an appealing, perhaps even the only real, option for a
human race who has, thus far, preferred to believe in the absurdity of
futurity and the fallacy of persistence.
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.