In the Gothic, people, places, and objects are drenched in memory. In particular, though, the Gothic explores the secret pieces of the characters' past; usually their darkest deeds, which inevitably haunt them at every opportunity, and twist their present fates. One example of this is in the chapbook Mysterious Murder, wherein the heroine’s father Lusigni tries to keep the secret that long ago he imprisoned and killed his own older brother. All of the torrid events that follow in Mysterious Murder can be tied back to Lusigni’s past sins.
In Ann Radcliffe's The Italian, the worst crimes twisting the character of Schedoni happened long ago. Schedoni's passions were so inflamed for his brother's wife that he murdered his brother and took his place, forcing Olivia to marry him. After he believes he has killed Olivia, as well, he discards his identity (the Count di Bruno) and goes into hiding as a monk, renaming himself 'Schedoni'. In the end, however, although he has done his best to bury them, the sins of his past return to contribute to his trial by the inquisition.
A slight variation of this convention is the more general "burden of the past," which concerns misfortunes and evil befalling one character as a result of another character's past actions. Such an example exists in Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, when the two children are "possessed" by the evil spirits of the dead maid and caretaker.
Courtesy of Wendy Fall, Marquette University
Thomson, Douglass. "Glossary of Gothic Literary Terms." Resources for the Study of Gothic Literature. Ed. Kala Aaron, et al. Web.
Books from 1808
Books from 1805
The Ruins of the Abbey of Fitz-Martin [Transcript], Thomas Isaac Horsley Curties
Books from 1801
The Gothic Story of Courville Castle; or the Illegitimate Son, a Victim of Prejudice and Passion: Owing to the Early Impressions Inculcated with Unremitting Assiduity by an Implacable Mother Whose Resentment to Her Husband Excited Her Son to Envy, Usurpation, and Murder; but Retributive Justice at Length Restores the Right Heir to His Lawful Possessions. To Which is Added the English Earl: or the History of Robert Fitzwalter, Unknown