Amongst the many tangled familial relationships in the Gothic that are fraught with incestuous desires and passions, cousin relationships occupy a curious space in which the incestuous nature of the bond is heightened by its relative acceptance by English society and the law. Beginning with Charlotte Smith's Emmeline, which blends the genre of the sentimental eighteenth-century novel with the Gothic, the cousin is ultimately rejected as a spousal choice in favour of non-kin. Emmeline's fluctuating status as family, mirroring the contemporary view of the cousin, renders the demands of consanguineous relations inferior to individual choice. Anna Maria Bennett's Ellen, Countess of Castle Howel is a sentimental novel with Gothic elements that positions the cousin as sibling-lover. It highlights the tensions between economic familial duty and individual choice, establishing the egalitarian consanguinity of the cousin/sibling as synonymous with romantic love.
This chapter views sibling incest in the context of a wider anthropological and sociological understanding of the incest taboo. A great deal of scholarly attention on incest in the Gothic has focused on Matthew Lewis's representation of sibling rape in The Monk, which is taken to be paradigmatic of sibling relationships in the genre. The chapter begins with Ann Radcliffe's The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne, an overlooked work that centres on a brother-sister relationship, and traces the development of these themes in A Sicilian Romance. Eleanor Sleath's The Orphan of the Rhine provides a fascinating and unique account of brother-sister desire intertwined with criticisms of the law. The chapter concludes with an examination of Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights that follows a gap of some forty-seven years that often causes it to be read within a well-established tradition of Romanticism and narcissistic incest.
In order to explore the implications of the representations of mother-son incest this chapter analyses Horace Walpole's The Mysterious Mother, a Gothic play involving mother-son incest in which the mother seduces her son on the night of her husband's funeral. The Gothic, whether reclaiming the mother or demonstrating her sexual agency, exposes heteronormative society as at once creating and rejecting queer sexualities. When George E. Haggerty's observation that the 'disgusting' notions of male victims in the Gothic are assessed in conjunction with the horror of mother-son incest, a clearer picture emerges. The chapter discusses Ernestus Berchtold; or, The Modern Oedipus: A Tale by John Polidori, a novel in which Polidori, perhaps most famous for The Vampyre and his role as Lord Byron's personal physician, depicts twin siblings haunted by their mother.
The relationships between heroines and their uncles in the Gothic novel are ones in which sexual threats are underpinned by financial entanglements and legal issues, often to a greater extent than is the case with other familial relationships. This chapter focuses on Ann Radcliffe's two most famous novels, The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian. The wealth of criticism that focuses on representations of property in Radcliffe's novels, according to certain lines of scholarship, recapitulates the Gothic narratives of female victimhood and resistance. In The Mysteries of Udolpho Radcliffe addresses property, inheritance and incestuous violence when Montoni threatens the heroine, Emily St Aubert, with rape by proxy through a withdrawal of his protection if she fails transfer her property to him. The incestuous desires of the uncle towards his niece are bound up with generations of thefts of property and person.
Father– daughter incest and the economics of exchange
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.