Paranoia and hysteria are both symptoms of psychiatric illnesses, but the terms have been appropriated to represent modes of narrative on Gothic literature, often taking the form of a gender-specific subplot in which paranoia is associated with males, and hysteria with females.
Eve Sedgwick has written extensively about the paranoid male, linking his paranoia to homophobia. His subplot may circle around his sexual uncertainty; perhaps his hatred of women makes it difficult for him to marry, or perhaps he is a shade too effeminate and dissipated to pursue a heroine properly. Often, the hero is involved in a strangely platonic relationship with the heroine, which is kept pure until she dies, or their marriage is presented as a sort of afterthought, devoid of any detail. Alternatively, many early Gothic works (Shelley's Frankenstein, Walpole's Melmoth, Hogg's Justified Sinner) contain subplots in which the paranoid male is persecuted by and considers himself transparent to and under compulsion of another male. During the Restoration period, homophobia was on the rise, but at the same time homosexual men gathered routinely in molly houses, where they were (mostly) left alone. In this way, there is a sense of a whole spectrum of homosocial and heterosocial desire, running together as a current within society. In this analogy, the homosocial relationships deemed 'farthest from the norm' on the spectrum are channeled away from the mainstream to the molly houses, where the subject can be avoided by the offended parties. Still, everyone is aware of these undercurrents, whose undulations almost imperceptibly swirl around the more "straight"-forward male and female relationships. The paranoid male in the Gothic, Sedgwick theorizes, represses his fear that he is in one of the divergent streams. Perhaps, considering that the larger project of the Gothic seems to have been to frighten people and explore the perversity of the 'other,' these paranoid male subplots appear in the Gothic for the dual purposes of exploiting homophobic sentiment and exploring (what was then termed) 'perverse' desires. Sedgwick does not take an explicit position on this idea, but instead is satisfied to say that homophobia was a force in the development of the Gothic. Sedgwick's work further suggests that a second meaning for the "unspeakable" (after the Faustian bargain) could be some type of homosocial desire. As an example, Sedgwick proposes Melmoth the Wanderer, who practices "that nameless art which is held in just abomination by all 'who name the name of Christ.'"
The hysteric female can be viewed as a 'flipped' version of the male paranoiac; while the male represses his fears about the nature of his sexuality, the female's hysterics seem to circle around her inability to direct her sexuality as she pleases, or her desperation to maintain her purity. It is difficult to consider female hysterics in the Gothic in the Freudian sense of repression, however, since her sexuality is repressed from without, as well as within. Much of the time, the Gothic female is both literally and figuratively kept in a cage, crypt, cell, or cave in which she does not have the choice of how her sexuality will be exploited.
Courtesy of Wendy Fall, Marquette University
Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Between Men : English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire . New York : Columbia University Press, 1985. Print.
---. The Coherence of Gothic Conventions . New York : Arno Press, Rev. 1980. Print.