The Gothic narrative very often is a mirror and subversion of the romance paradigm. The romance framework, given definition by Northrop Frye, involves a (relatively) young hero undergoing a transformative experience in overcoming the obstacles that stand in his way of attaining the heroine of his dreams, the jeune fille (Fr. ‘young girl’). The main obstacle usually takes the form of a senex iratus (Lat. ‘angry old man’), often her father, who thwarts the fruition of his desires of a marital union with her. The hero is then sent into exile but he subsequently returns home to wed the jeune fille. The Gothic, however, while borrowing from the romance, is its perverse doppelganger. In the early Gothic, the hero seeks the heroine, but their relationship is often irritatingly platonic as they navigate the obstacles to being together. If, by some chance, the heroine is not killed in the course of the story, the resulting romantic relationship is not an unqualified happy ending, but instead there is a cloud hanging over the couple's future. For example, Theodore and Isabella are married at the end of Walpole's Castle of Otranto, but he can only tolerate this relationship because Isabella will help him mourn his murdered true love Matilda for the rest of this life. One of the romantic plots in Lewis' The Monk concludes similarly, when Antonia is murdered, and her suitor Lorenzo immediately replaces her with Virginia. The monk's other romantic plot, of Don Raymond and Agnes, concludes with their marriage, but only after Agnes has been deeply traumatized, and their baby has died as a result of spending its short life locked in a crypt. Lewis demonstrates an awareness of this subversion of the romantic paradigm in his qualified ending of their romantic tales: "The remaining years of Raymond and Agnes, of Lorenzo and Virginia, were happy as can be those allotted to Mortals, born to be the prey of grief, and sport of disappointment. "
The later Gothic tends to end not in marriage, but in the interruption of coitus (Lat. ‘sexual intercourse’), where the hero does not attain his desired union with the heroine. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) are two useful examples to illustrate this. The blissful unions of Victor Frankenstein and Arthur Godalming with their wives are thwarted by angry ‘father’ figures – the former’s consummation of marriage with Elizabeth is frustrated by the monster while the latter loses Lucy to Count Dracula. Another way this subversion is played out is evident in the homosocial world of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The marked absence of any possibility of a blissful union with a jeune fille negates the heterosexual love and courtship of the romance.
Courtesy of Jacqueline Chia, National University of Singapore and Wendy Fall, Marquette University.
Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays; Edited by Robert Denham. Toronto Ontario : University of Toronto Press, 2006. Print.
Inkle and Yarico; or, Love in a Cave. An Interesting Tale., Sarah Scudgell Wilkinson
The Mysteries of a London Convent [transcript], William H. Hillyard