Identity, Science and the Gothic Novel

Late eighteenth-century science aimed to render the body transparent; in contrast, gothic novels of the same period often represented the body as an untrustworthy source of information about the self. In these novels, characters may often be reduced to a bodily or facial map, which may give clues as to personal character, motivation and intention. Yet the practice of reading the body – as practiced in sciences such as physiognomy, phrenology or criminology – also comes under intense interrogation. Through disastrous mis-readings, misdiagnoses and misidentifications, gothic novelists demonstrate how conflating body and self is deeply threatening to ideas of ‘unique’ personhood.

Gothic Studies