The heroine of the Gothic story usually suffers from an unfortunate upbringing in the absence of family. Most of the time, she doesn’t know the truth of her ancestry; it is later revealed in a letter, in a manuscript, or by a long-lost relative. Her genealogy, once it is unveiled, is usually a plot device that is the key to her salvation. In the chapbook “Oakcliffe Hall,” for example, the heroine Ellinor doesn’t know the truth of her parentage until she reads her family’s papers after they have died. Only after she reads them does she realize her family members sacrificed themselves and killed her intended lover to prevent her from unwittingly committing an act of incest, since her intended paramour turns out to be her own half-brother. Secret parentage can also be revealed by visiting ruins, or by a knowledgeable person interpreting a birthmark or identificatory talisman.
Courtesy of Wendy Fall, Marquette University
See also: revealed genealogy
Frank, Frederick S. The First Gothics : A Critical Guide to the English Gothic Novel. New York : Garland Pub.,1987. Print.