Virginity is closely linked to beauty and purity in the Gothic. It is most closely described by its opposite, that which is man-made or corrupted. Therefore, for the Gothic, virginity is an indication of the individual’s state of mind. For example, beauty is brought to perfection in women, who are likened to the Virgin Mary or Greek or Egyptian virgins. These women usually fit into traditional moral and domestic definitions. Beauty is stereotyped in the Gothic by its ability to seduce and bring out the irrational in man. The idea of virginity is relevant to the individual who possesses an unblemished character, innocence, and sexual purity.
In terms of function, virginity at the beginning of the Gothic was certainly a key component of marriageability for young women. Once her virginity is lost, the heroine's conventional choices are few: she can marry the man who took her virginity, she can give up the idea of marriage and take holy orders, or she can die. Antonia in The Monk(1794) is an example of the last; once she has lost her virginity, Ambrosio decides she is hateful for it, and kills her. In the same novel, however, Lewis gives us Agnes, an example of a heroine who marries the man who impregnated her, although she is tortured nearly to death in the process. In Ann Radcliffe's The Italian (1797) Olivia attempts marriage with the man who took her virginity, but he nearly kills her, so she becomes a nun instead.
Courtesy of Bridget Kapler and Wendy Fall, both of Marquette University
Mulvey Roberts, Marie. The Handbook of the Gothic. New York : New York University Press, 2009. Print.