From its beginnings, the Gothic has insisted on endless examinations of the family. Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto is mainly concerned with family as it pertains to inheritance and usurpation in the context of aristocratic primogeniture. Female Gothic writers have used the milieu to question restrictive gender and sexual ideologies entrenched in family structures. Mary Wollstonecraft's Marie, or The Wrongs of Woman (1798) is about a woman trapped by a tyrannical father, then a tyrannical husband, then an insane asylum, and deeply questions the role of a woman as a slave of her family circumstances. Ann Radcliffe's novels also circle around the ideas of women ruled by tyrannical or ill-intentioned men whose authority works to marginalize female subjectivity.
Industrial development in the Nineteenth century encouraged urbanization and by 1850 more than half of England lived in cities and worked in industry. This changing economic condition inevitably challenged conventional ideology of the family which became redefined to include members “whether actually living together or not” and “connected by (either) blood or affinity” (OED).
By this definition, the patriarchal figure became freed from monogamy. Dracula, as a symbol of the new money-obsessed class, had three vampire wives. Similarly, with ready money, many figures of authority were in command of the imp-child. Instead of a genealogical right, the new capitalist society allowed wealth to gain patriarchal authority over many.
While the new factory communities introduced new figures of authority, with respect to cloth and steel, production becomes increasingly specifically gendered. Through personifying industrial production, Gothic tropes seem to suggest via Frankenstein and Dracula that while possible, the resultant single-parent offspring are unnatural and terrifying. At the same time, economically active working class women and the ‘masculine’ New Woman threatened conventional notions of feminine dependency. Writers like Stevenson reacted by only presenting negative working women (in both sense of the word) while Stoker singles intellectual Mina out for Dracula’s sanction.
Proliferation of child labor positioned children as ‘property generating property’ as exemplified in The Bottle Imp. Dracula’s brute beast children also aid his creation of vampire children. The horror of the four female vampires’ feeding off children is an implicit Gothic comment on the inhumane nature of this exploitation.
Courtesy of Yao Lingyun, National University of Singapore and Wendy Fall, Marquette University
Hughes, William, David Punter, and Andrew Smith. The Encyclopedia of the Gothic Chichester, West Sussex, UK : Wiley-Blackwell, 2013. Print.