Skip to main content
Kent Academic Repository

Gothic incest: transgression and counter-hegemony

Diplacidi, Jenny (2012) Gothic incest: transgression and counter-hegemony. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94307) (KAR id:94307)


In this thesis I will analyze representations of incest in the Gothic from 1764-1847 and argue that the genre’s critical genealogy, beginning with its contemporary reception, has viewed the Gothic as divided into a male tradition or its female counter, and subsequently informed understandings of incest as having distinct meanings produced by their presence in works designated as male or female. Although feminist criticism from the 1970s onwards has demonstrated that women writers articulated subversive views in the Gothic, such analyses have relied on psychological and sociological theories of incest that frequently reproduce gendered divisions and fail comprehensively to address the incest thematic. It is instead essential to do away with the genre’s gendered bifurcation and employ a broad methodological framework that applies the insights in recent work by anthropologists, feminist, social, and queer theorists, geneticists, and legal and social historians to specific incestuous configurations. In so doing, I argue that the genre’s complex depictions and disruptions of eighteenth-century ideologies of gender and sexuality are revealed through incestuous desires, threats, violence and transgressions.

This thesis is comprised of five chapters that explore the social, sexual and legal anxieties underlying representations of incest in different family relationships in the Gothic and contextualizes these accounts within analytic lenses suited to the particular kinship bond. It examines the ability of father-daughter incest to offer female sexual agency and to breakdown the exchange of women, and investigates the potential for equality in sibling relationships that troubled contemporary ideas of desire and laws as inherently natural or unnatural. It explores the sexual threats of uncles towards nieces that literalize the female body’s status as property, and how cousin marriage negotiated the changing status of family and the conflict between individual desires and obligation to the family as state. It analyzes how mother-son incest exposes the inadequacy of available gender and sexual ideologies to account for female desire, agency and aggression. Through these analyses I argue that Gothic writers use the incest convention in order to reveal the arbitrary legal, economic and social limitations on behaviour that are enforced by heteronormative culture and offer alternative models of family, sexuality and desire that counter the hegemony.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94307
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 25 April 2022 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of English
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 15 Jun 2023 11:32 UTC
Last Modified: 15 Jun 2023 11:32 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

  • Depositors only (login required):

Total unique views for this document in KAR since July 2020. For more details click on the image.