Entrapment, a favorite horror device of the Gothic, means to be confined or to be trapped in such a way that there is no way out. It is this sense of containment that contributes to the claustrophobic psychology of Gothic space. Claustrophobia, most often regarded as a consequence of physical entrapment, can also be more generally attributed to a character’s sense of helplessness, or a feeling of being caught up in some sinister plan or destiny over which the character has no control.
There are three types of entrapment: physical, mental, and existential. Physical entrapment would mean being physically trapped by physical devices. A recurring Gothic type of physical entrapment is that of the protagonist trapped in a maze of some kind and trying to escape, but inevitably returning to the same spot again and again. An example of physical entrapment can be found in Stoker’s Dracula. When Harker is being driven to the castle of Dracula, he experiences a moment of being physically trapped in the nightmare landscape of the Transylvania, as is evident in his remark that “[it] seemed to me that we were simply going over and over the same ground again; and so I took note of some salient point, and found that this was so” (Stoker).
Another type of physical entrapment is the motif of entombing the living, which is found in Lewis’ The Monk, in which Agnes is locked in a crypt as a punishment for trying to escape a convent. With this subplot, Lewis prods the common fear of being buried alive, which was frightfully grounded in reality in his day, when methods for discerning the presence of life in the body were notoriously unreliable, and many people were therefore buried alive. Later, the same location is used to entrap, rape, and murder Antonia, in which case the entrapment could be read as a metaphor for man's ability to entrap a woman in an unwanted marriage by raping her (see entry for rape).
Mental entrapment, on the other hand, is about being confined to a certain state of mind. The Gothic trope of madness, for example, is a form of mental entrapment. In a way, the insane are trapped in their own mental universe, into which no one else can penetrate. Renfield in Dracula, is doubly entrapped; physically locked up in an asylum, he is also limited to the confines of his mental universe, doomed to be continually misunderstood by Seward, or simply dismissed as insane.
Lastly, there is also existential entrapment, which takes the form of social entropy and ontological or epistemological entrapment. An example of existential entrapment can be found in Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; Dr. Jekyll feels trapped by societal notions of respectability, by a constant pressure of having to uphold his reputation as a gentleman in the eyes of the Victorian public. As a way of breaking out of this ‘prison’, Dr. Jekyll invents the figure of Hyde. Hyde is therefore Jekyll’s liberator, for it is as Hyde that Dr. Jekyll can truly express himself, unbound by considerations of maintaining his respectability.
Courtesy of Esther Leong, National University of Singapore and Wendy Fall, Marquette University
Winslow, Jacques-Bénigne. The Uncertainty of the Signs of Death: And the Danger of Precipitate Interments and Dissections, Demonstrated, I. from the Known Laws of the Animal Oeconomy. II. from the Structure of the Parts of the Human Body. and, III. from a Great Variety of Amusing and Well-Attested Instances of Persons Who have Return'd to Life in their Coffins, in their Graves, Under the Hands of the Surgeons, and After they had Remain'd Apparently Dead for a Considerable Time in the Water. with Proper Directions, both for Preventing such Accidents, and Repairing the Misfortunes Brought upon the Constitution by them. to the Whole is Added, a Curious and Entertaining Account of the Funeral Solemnities of Many Ancient and Modern Nations, Exhibiting the Precautions they made use of to Ascertain the Certainty of Death. Illustrated with Copper Plates. London : printed for M. Cooper, at the Globe in Pater-Noster-Row, 1746. Print.
Eliza, or the Unhappy Nun: Exemplifying the Unlimited Tyranny Exercised by the Abbots and Abbesses Over the Ill-Fated Victims of Their Malice in the Gloomy Recesses of a Convent. Including the Adventures of Clementina, or The Constant Lovers, a True and Affecting Tale., Unknown
Ethelred & Lidania; OR, The Sacrifice to Woden [Transcript], Sarah Scudgell Wilkinson
Horatio and Camilla; OR, THE NUNS OF ST. MARY. A TALE OF THE FOURTEENTH CENTURY [Transcript], Sarah Scudgell Wilkinson
The Affecting History of the Duchess of C**** Who Was Confined Nine Years in a Horrid Dungeon, Under Ground, Where Light Never Entered, a Straw Bed Being Her Only Resting Place, and Bread and Water Her Only Support, Conveyed by Means of a Turning-Box, by Her Inhuman Husband; Whom She Saw but Once During Her Long Imprisonment, Though Suffering by Hunger, Thirst, and Cold, the Most Severe Hardships, But Fortunately She Was at Last Discovered, and Released from the Dungeon, By Her Parents. [Transcript], Stéphanie Félicité Genlis
The Distressed Nun [Transcript], Isaac Crookenden
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
The Vindictive Monk or The Fatal Ring [Transcript], Isaac Crookenden