In the 18th century English families were focused on preserving the privacy and security of their homes within the structures of traditional domesticity, which insisted upon resistance to external invaders and internal subversion. When Gothic fiction sets out to highlight the vulnerability of human constructions of society, it naturally also undermines the ideals of domesticity. Whether from supernatural invaders or human ones, the Gothic presents a continuous threat against the household from its very first novel. In Castle of Otranto the household is torn to pieces by a man who is willing to resort to violence and oathbreaking in order to perpetuate the male line of his family. Although a desire for a solid lineage of inheritance would normally be a domestically acceptable impulse, it is subverted in the Gothic, and converts him from the head of the family to their tormentor. Hippolita, who represents the epitome of wifely duty, supports her husband even as he descends into abuse and madness, thereby also contributing in a backhanded manner to the destruction of her household.
Ann Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho begins with verses in praise of the comfortable domestic scene, painting the home as a haven of support for its inhabitants. Within the first few pages, however, the domesticity of the St. Aubert family is shattered by the death of their two sons. From that point forward, the domestic happiness of the family is a sham. Monsieur St. Aubert becomes so obsessed with teaching his daughter Emily "to reject the first impulse of her feelings, and to look with cool examination upon the disappointments he sometimes threw her way;" that rather than causing her to grow, he causes her misery. The care of Monsieur St. Aubert is also not enough to prevent the death of his wife, after which their grief drives father and daughter away from any semblance of safety offered by the familial chateau. In this case, the broken state of the family's domestic lives serves to open a channel through which Gothic tropes can infect, haunt, and otherwise terrorize the survivors.
Courtesy of Wendy Fall, Marquette University
Jones, W. C. Subverting domesticity: The early gothic novels. (Order No. 1516459, University of Central Arkansas). ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 68. 2012. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1037065812?accountid=100. (1037065812).
Ethelred & Lidania; OR, The Sacrifice to Woden [Transcript], Sarah Scudgell Wilkinson