The Oxford English Dictionary records early 19th Century usage of “abstraction” as secret or dishonest removal of wealth; “abstraction” as the consideration of qualities independently of material substance, especially concerning wealth and property, came into use in the later part of the Century. At the same time, the population of England began to reside increasingly in cities, where dwellings were less permanent than the ancestral rural estate, and it was more and more common for a person to 'belong' to multiple locations over the course of a lifetime. Gothic narratives often explore notions of fractured identities and a sense of dislocation that is either or both spatial and psychological, but rising capitalism and the abstraction of wealth from physical property was among the biggest anxieties of the time, turning tangible security into an ephemeral, easily transferable insecurity.
Narratives like Jekyll and Hyde (1886), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902) and Uncle Silas (1864) demonstrate the temptation such abstracted wealth has for criminal activity. Robert Louis Stevenson's The Bottle Imp (1891) gives a chilling account of how abstraction leads to a simultaneous conflation of the ideas of wealth and happiness, and the abstraction of self from society: one no longer feels any sense of responsibility about the fate of others. Financial abstraction also blurs the boundaries between social classes and even between races, since wealth, in all its dangerous fluidity, levels the playing field and contributing to late Victorian anxieties about the self and the potential for displacement or even erasure. The Gothic authors’ use of fragmentary, epistolary and therefore inherently unreliable narratives (eg. Frankenstein; Dracula) can therefore be said to reflect a desire to record the subjective and personal in an effort to prevent the complete abstraction of the self.
Courtesy of Annabelle Bok, National University of Singapore and Wendy Fall, Marquette University
Mulvey Roberts, Marie. The Handbook of the Gothic. New York : New York University Press, 2009. Print.
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
The Ruins of the Abbey of Fitz-Martin [Transcript], Thomas Isaac Horsley Curties