Sexuality in the Gothic definitely advances a male-dominated hetero-normative agenda. From the very earliest Gothic novels, female sexuality is suppressed beneath a mandate of purity and purpose, and male heterosexuality is used as an instrument of power or evil. In Castle of Otranto, for example, Manfred's sexuality, while ostensibly employed in the interest of producing an heir, is wielded as a weapon of terror. He pursues Isabella relentlessly, saying “I will use the human means in my power for preserving my race; Isabella shall not escape me.” The use of the word 'escape' not only signals Isabella's unwillingness, but also Manfred's realization that he can use his sexual dominance and ability to impregnate women as a type of trap. In this way, Gothic male sexuality is just as much a tool of entrapment for women as the crypt or the dungeon cell.
Manfred isn't the only male in the Gothic to use his sexuality to entrap women. In Ann Radcliffe's The Italian, before the action of the novel begins, Schedoni has successfully trapped Olivia in marriage by raping her. He later confesses, "I ventured to solicit her hand: but she had not yet forgotten my brother, and she rejected me. My passion would no longer be trifled with. I caused her to be carried from her house, and she was afterwards willing to retrieve her honour by the marriage vow." Radcliffe doesn't have a taste for violent description, but instead presents Schedoni's rape of Olivia as the unspoken reason Olivia needed to 'retrieve her honour.' Olivia is trapped in this unhappy marriage until her husband tries to murder her and she fakes her own death, entering a convent.
When female sexuality is overtly part of the main narrative in a Gothic story, it is also used as a tool for entrapment, not in marriage, but in wickedness. Just as Eve is blamed for the fall of man by tempting Adam with the apple, women in the Gothic who exhibit any sexuality are responsible for all the ensuing evil. Matilda in Matthew Lewis' The Monk has many powers at her disposal. She can summon demons, use mirrors to magically see people at a distance, and create magic potions. To bring about the fall of Ambrosio, however, she does not rely on her magic powers, but uses sexuality instead. She begins her calculated temptation of Ambrosio in a small way she knows he will accept, by having a painting of herself as the Madonna placed in his cell. His first transgressive thoughts are due to the allure of the woman in the painting. Before long, Matilda has revealed her gender to him, discarding her male disguise, and seduced him into a sexual relationship. She uses her sexual power over him to lead him to commit viler and viler acts, leading to his complete fall from grace.
The heroine character in the Gothic novel has no room for sexuality. Her relationships with the hero are described by Frederick S. Frank as "annoyingly platonic." The heroine has good reasons for protecting her virginity. First, Gothic heroines originate in a culture in which marriageability was determined by virtue, and a woman's value was based on her marriageability. To serve a dutiful family role, a girl must be chaste until married. More importantly, however, if the villain steals the heroine's virginity, just like Olivia in The Italian, she can be trapped, either in an unwanted marriage to a monster, or in a convent.
Courtesy of Wendy Fall, Marquette University
Frank, Frederick S. The First Gothics : A Critical Guide to the English Gothic Novel . New York : Garland Pub., 1987. Print.
Eliza, or the Unhappy Nun: Exemplifying the Unlimited Tyranny Exercised by the Abbots and Abbesses Over the Ill-Fated Victims of Their Malice in the Gloomy Recesses of a Convent. Including the Adventures of Clementina, or The Constant Lovers, a True and Affecting Tale., Unknown
The Gothic Story of Courville Castle; or the Illegitimate Son, a Victim of Prejudice and Passion: Owing to the Early Impressions Inculcated with Unremitting Assiduity by an Implacable Mother Whose Resentment to Her Husband Excited Her Son to Envy, Usurpation, and Murder; but Retributive Justice at Length Restores the Right Heir to His Lawful Possessions. To Which is Added the English Earl: or the History of Robert Fitzwalter, Unknown
The Mysteries of a London Convent [transcript], William H. Hillyard
The Ruins of the Abbey of Fitz-Martin [Transcript], Thomas Isaac Horsley Curties