Transgression is central to the Gothic because it serves as a means for writers to interrogate existing categories, limits and anxieties within society. By transgressing social limits the Gothic “reinforces the values and necessity of restoring or defining limits” through the presentment of the horrific outcomes of transgression. Most often, these transgressions reflect and refract current anxieties of the age as a way to deal and contain them. Anxieties regarding the dissolution of gender differences, due to the emergence of the New Woman; regarding the possibility of devolution and degeneration in man; and regarding fears of the working class (a repercussion of the French Revolution) are dealt with singly or in overlapping ways. Consider how in Dracula sexual differences are “ef(face)ed” by the trope of the vampiric mouth which is both “penetrator” and “orifice”; which is further complicated by the essentially male act of penetration to the neck by male and female vampires alike. The New Woman (who is gender ambiguous in being biologically female, yet desiring masculinity) seems to be parodied horrifically here. The New Woman is further parodied in the vampiric Lucy whose maternal instincts are reversed (with her feeding on children, instead), promiscuous (with multiple husband’s whose bloods are coursing through her) and blatant sexuality (in seducing Arthur). The threatening figure of the New Woman as Lucy, and the sexual ambiguity represented by all the vampires, are subdued and destroyed, vicariously for the reader. However such overt aims are problematized by the numerous Gothic works that lack reassuring closures, presenting their own narrators as unreliable and questionable, and revealing the covert monstrosity in mainstream society and the aristocrats that leaves the reader more insecure than not. The Gothic writers themselves seem to be unlikely proponents to restore societal limits and boundaries – since they, very often, were transgressors of those very boundaries (e.g. Shelley, Wilde, etc.). Thus, although Gothic transgression did interrogate current issues, its aims and intended effects were ambivalent.
Courtesy of Grace Dong Enping, National University of Singapore
See also: boundaries
Botting, Fred. Gothic. London and New York: Routledge, 1996. Print.
Craft, Christopher. ‘Kiss Me with Those Red Lips’: Gender and Inversion in Bram Stoker's Dracula. Dracula : Bram Stoker ed. Glennis Byron. Basingstoke, Hants.: Macmillan Press, 1999.
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