The Gothic Economy: Women, Money, and Class

Kari Winter suggests that the Female Gothic developed in opposition to a "Male Gothic" due to the differing experiences men and women have of fear, the Gothic's primary element. Where men fear "the Other"--women, Catholics, Jews--women fear the everyday: "Female Gothic novelists uncovered the terror of the familiar: the routine brutality and injustice of the patriarchal family, conventional religion, and classist social structures" (Winter, 91). In particular, the Female Gothic manifests a fear of complete economic powerlessness, a situation as potentially terrifying as any Bleeding Nun. The excerpts below suggest the connection between the fear of economic dependency and the fears that illustrate themselves in the Female Gothic.


From The Mysteries of Udolpho, 379

[Emily] began to hope that [Montoni] meant to resign, now that her aunt was no more, the authority he had usurped over her; till she recollected, that the estates, which had occasioned so much contention, were now hers, and she then feared Montoni was about to employ some strategem for obtaining them, and that he would detain her his prisoner, til he suceeded. This thought, instead of overcoming her with despondency, roused all the latent powers of her fortitude into action; and the property, which she would willingly have resigned to secure the peace of her aunt, she resolved, that no common sufferings of her own should ever compel her to give to Montoni. For Valancourt's sake also she determined to preserve these estates, since they would afford the competency, by which she hoped to secure the comfort of their future lives.

From The Italian, 167-8

"You must excuse my extreme solicitude, then," replied the Confessor. "But how is it possible for me to see a family of your ancient estimation brought into such circumstances; its honours blighted by the folly of a thoughtless boy, without feeling sorrow and indignation, and looking round for even some desperate means of delivering it from disgrace." He paused.

"Disgrace!" exclaimed the Marchesa, "father, you you Disgrace! The word is a strong one, but it is, alas! just. And shall we submit to this? Is it possible we can submit to it?"

"There is no remedy," said Schedoni, coolly.

"Good God!" exclaimed the Marchesa, "that there should be no law to prevent, or, at least, to punish such criminal marriages!"

"It is much to be lamented," replied Schedoni.

"The woman who obtrudes herself upon a family, to dishonour it," continued the Marchesa, "deserves a punishment nearly equal to that of a state criminal, since she injures those who best support the state. She ought to suffer "

"Not nearly, but quite equal," interrupted the Confessor, "she deserves death!"


Kari Winter, "Sexual/Textual Politics of Terror" in Misogyny in Literature: An Essay Collection (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc. 1992), 89-101.

Justifying their insatiable desire for profit by arguing that inter-class love threatens the state as much as treason, the Confessor and the Marchesa ultimately conclude that they have the right, indeed the moral obligation, to execute their enemies. Through exposing their logic, Radcliffe shows how love that crosses class lines threatens the dominant class. Her analysis anticipates the arguments of Freud and psychoanalytic feminists that "sexuality, which supposedly unites the couple, disrupts the kingdom if uncontrolled; it, too, must be contained and organized" in order for the patriarchal order to reproduce itself (Mitchell 405).


Ellen Moers, Literary Women (New York: Anchor Press, 1977).

...Property seems to loom larger than love in Udolpho. The end of Emily's childhood idyl in The Valley is not her father's death, but an event which precedes it: his ruin. Through no falut of his own, but the collapse of some financial gentelman offstage, the family suddenly loses its money, its property, its valley of pastoral simiplicity. This is the real start of Emily's adventures, not her meeting with her lover. A lover is of course provided; his name is Valancourt; Emily will duly marry him at the distant end of all her trials. But property interests dominate the second half of the novel, and account for the curisoly delayed end of the love story.


Mary Poovey, "Ideology and the Mysteries of Udolpho," Criticism: A Quarterly for Literature and the Arts (vol.21, 1979), 307-330.

In [Udolpho], the most significant confrontation is between Emily's sentimental virtues and Montoni's materialistic desire. Money, in fact, lurks behind every turn of [the novel's] plot. Emily's hysteria within Udolpho is ultimately a consequence of her legal dependence on Montoni; as an orphan, she is penniless and powerless; as a female she has no legal rights. her immediate poverty, however, will soon be replaced by comparitive wealth, for upon coming of age Emily stands to inherit several valuable estates in Gascony. This situation not sexual desire motivates Montoni's original interest in Emily: as an imminent heiress, Emily is a potentially valuable commodity on the marriage market, and, quite simply, Montoni needs Emily's estates to pay off his gambling debts...In a society in which a single woman's value is intimately tied to both sexual purity and endowed property, the consequences of sexual and economic exploitation are effectively identical: either would curtail Emily's chance of attaining social identity through the only avenue open to her: marriage.