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.
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.