There are three ways in which the forced vow is part of a larger Gothic narrative:
- As part of its engagement with Anti-Catholicism, the Gothic makes a deep exploration of the nature of vows. There seems to be a great anxiety in the Gothic that young women will be coerced into taking vows to become nuns. Once this happens, should that young woman be expected to maintain those forced vows? Also, should a vow be considered binding if it is not made with free will? This moral conflict is played out in many Gothic texts.
- Gothic novels and stories are also deeply suspicious of vows from a legal standpoint. The Gothic relentlessly worries about the shift from spoken vows to written contracts following the linguistic shift from privileging oral tradition toward privileging the written word. Oral tradition, which was valued by earlier cultures, becomes a fixation for Gothic nostalgia because the Gothic in general privileged the old ways over the new ones. In Gothic stories playing upon this tension between old and new, the spoken vow is placed in a superior position to the written one. One example of this is in “The Monk,” when Agnes’ brother Raymond secures a written command from the Pope to release Agnes from the convent, but the spoken words of the Abbess are more powerful than the paper Papal Bull.
- The Gothic is concerned with marriage, and the idea that a woman could be trapped into a marriage by a man who is trying to gain power over her inheritance. This anxiety is based on the cruel and centuries-old practice of a man raping a woman for force her to marry him (see the entry on rape), as illustrated by Olivia's story in Ann Radcliffe's The Italian.
Courtesy of Wendy Fall, Marquette University
See also: religion
Hoeveler, Diane. Where the Evidence Leads: Teaching Gothic Novels and the Law. e-Publications@Marquette, 2011. Print.