Such a tamed sublime, associated with only the blandest of religious feeling, typifies Mrs. Radcliffe's scaling down of Gothic elements to fit them into a domestic novel whose major theme Emily's father imparts to her, telling her that true happiness resides "in a state of peace not tumult," a condition attained by prudently steering between the extremes of "the evils of susceptibility" (emotional overindulgence) and insensitivity. . . . Thus, by implication, the transports of sublimity must be made to nourish, not overpower, the tranquility associated with beauty. Gothic terrors, then, must be reduced to creating stimulating occasions for the growth of a disciplined sensibility. Terror, imaginary or real, is to be, in our terms, a "learning experience."
Insight as to how such uncertainties might contribute to the formation of a certain kind of subject is provided by Nancy Armstrong in her Foucauldian reading of the novel, Desire and Domestic Fiction. Armstrong demonstrates that eighteenth- and nineteenth-century novels and conduct-books were active in the work of middle-class suject formation. Most important for our purposes is Armstrong's invocation of the Gothic at precisely the point where she discusses surveillance: in her account of the eponymous heroine's rise to middle-class power in Richardson's Pamela (1740). According to Armstrong, Pamela's forced move from the house where she is first persecuted to an estate in Lincolnshire indicates a relocation of the arena of power from aristocratic display to middle-class surveillance:
For the Lincolnshire Estate is represented as a grimly gothic version of the first manor house. . . . the nightmarish version of the country house leaves no doubt that the threat of self-annihilation intensifies as the assault on Pamela's body becomes more a matter of ocular rape than physical penetraion. Such a shift in the strategy of sexual violation to the violation of psychological depths provides a strategy for discovering more depths within the female body to write about. . . . Pamela wins the struggle to interpret both herself and all domestic relations from the moment the coach swerves off the road to her father's house and delivers her to Mr. B.'s Lincolnshire estate. The power dominating at the estate is already female power. It is the power of domestic surveillance.. . . With Foucault in mind, we may extend this emphasis on surveillance of others to self-monitoring: for Foucault, the distinctive feature of the modern subject is surveillance of the depths of the self. . . . Radcliffean Gothic contributed to the formation of that subject by encouraging the adoption of habitual internal surveillance in heroines and readers alike.
The author of the following pages thought it possible to reconcile the two kinds. Desirous of leaving the power of fancy at liberty to expatiate through the boundless realms of invention, and thence of creating more interesting situations, he wished to conduct the mortal agents in his drama according to the rules of probability; in short, to make them think, speak, and act, as it might be supposed ordinary men and women would do in extraordinary positions. . . .
My rule was nature. However grave, important, or even melancholy, the sensations of heroes and princes may be, they do not stamp the same affections on their domestics: at least the latter do not, or should not be made to, express their passions in the same dignified tone. In my humble opinion, the contrast between the sublime of the one and the naivete of the other, sets the pathetic of the former in a stronger light.
Notoriously, as well, the Gothic seems to offer a privileged view of individual and family psychology. Certain features of the Oedipal family are insistently foregrounded there: absolutes of license and prohibition, for instance; a preoccupation possibilities of incest; a fascinated proscription of sexual activity; an atmosphere dominated by the threat of violence between generations. Even the reader who does not accept the Oedipal family as a transhistorical given can learn a lot from the Gothic about the terms and conditions under which it came to be enforced as a norm for bourgeois society. Indeed, traces of the Gothic are ubiquitous in Freud's writing, and not only in literary studies like "The Uncanny" or "Delusion and Dream"; it is not surprising, though maybe circular, that psychoanalysis should be used as a tool for explicating these texts that provided many of its structuring metaphors.
Particularly relevant for the Gothic novel is the perception Freud arrived at in the case of Dr. Schreber: that paranoia is the psychosis that makes graphic the mechanisms of homophobia. In our argument about the Gothic, . . . we will not take Freud's analysis on faith, but examine its grounds and workings closely in a single novel [Confessions of a Justified Sinner]. To begin with, however, it is true that the limited group of fictions that represent the "classic" early Gothic contains a large subgroup--Caleb Williams, Frankenstein, Confessions of a Justified Sinner, probably Melmoth, possibly The Italian--whose plots might be mapped almost point for point onto the case of Dr. Schreber: most saliently, each is about one or more males who not only is persecuted by, but considers himself transparent to and often under the compulsion of, another male. If we follow Freud in hypothesizing that such a sense of persecution represents the fearful, phantasmic rejection by recasting of an original homosexual (or even merely homosocial) desire, then it would make sense to think of this group of novels as embodying strongly homophobic mechanisms. (This is not to say that the authors . . ., or the overall cultural effects of the novels, were necessarily homophobic, but merely that through these novels a tradition of homophobic thematics was a force in the development of the Gothic.)
"Why did that unaccountable terror seize upon me?" he thought. "Why was it that I saw some strange mystery in my friend's disappearance? Was it a monition or a monomania? What if I am wrong after all? What if this chain of evidence which I have constructed link by link is woven out of my own folly? What if this edifice of horror and suspicion is a mere collection of crochets--the nervous fancies of a hypochondriacal bachelor? Mr. Harcourt Talboys sees no meaning in the events out of which I have created a horrible mystery. I lay the separate links of the chain before him, and he cannot recognize their fitness. He is unable to put them together. Oh, my God, if it should be in myself all this time that the mystery lies; if--" he smiled bitterly, and shook his head. "I have the handwriting in my pocket-book which is the evidence of the conspiracy," he thought. "It remains for me to discover the darker half of my lady's secret." (254)