Though criticism of the Gothic has recently been charged with reproducing its object of study, the tendency to Gothicize the Gothic can be traced at least as far back as the late eighteenth century. One remarkable example of this trend is the critical fortune of Matthew Gregory Lewis. Through the figure of ‘Monk’ Lewis, he was identified not only as creator of his novel but with his villain, Monk Ambrosio. This conflation in turn yields insight into the other well-known fact of his reception, the vociferous, if not entirely universal, condemnation of The Monk. Lewis‘s novel more than simply provided reviewers with a source of outrage; it appears to have subjected them to their worst fear for Gothic readers, textual influence, dictating the narrative of their own responses. Moreover, by reproducing the novels characters and plot, contemporary reviews map out ways in which The Monk supplied a Gothic tale that would prove ultimately inescapable in two centuries of Lewis‘s reception history.
Fitzgerald argues that Ellen Moers‘s account of the Female Gothic has its roots in a Lockean, European Enlightenment, philosophy of ownership. For Fitzgerald, this philosophy also influenced a 1970s feminist revision of the canon that involved identifying, and reclaiming, a ‘herstory’ of womens writing. Issues concerning the critical ownership of Ann Radcliffe, for example, illustrate how academic feminism has approached, and developed, the idea of what constitutes ‘womens writing’, whilst simultaneously indicating the extent to which Enlightenment ideas of ownership have shaped the Anglo-American feminist tradition.
Unlike Romantic authorship, the Gothic author has long been identified with unoriginality. A foundational moment in this association can be found in the reception of the original Gothic plagiarist, Matthew Lewis. Critics not only condemned Lewis for apparently usurping other authors property in The Castle Spectre but also did so by casting him as his own usurping villain. This parallel between Gothic conventions and critical language suggests that the Gothic might have played a crucial role in the history of our concepts of intellectual property, and particularly in the development of the now-familiar figure of the criminalized, and vilified, plagiarist.