This chapter argues the case for a partial overlap between Diderot and Charles Maturin who are conventionally labelled Enlightenment and Gothic. In Diderot's novel, the notion of the automaton is linked to the system of an anti-society of isolated Cartesian cells. And it becomes associated with horror and superstition, a phalanstery of mastery and slavery which anticipates the automatism of the Marquis de Sade. Diderot himself had been imprisoned in Vincennes and unnerved by the experience to the point of apparent capitulation to the authorities, so he had studied at first hand the condition he writes about. Automatism is indeed part of the theatre of terror and the relation between hypocrisy, acting and ritualized behaviour is part of Maturin's meditation. Maturin and Diderot independently share a self-conscious fictional heritage whose master trope is the theatre; this shapes the different questions they ask of the novel genre in a common manner.
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.