chapter  7
20 Pages

The Failure of Heteronormativity in the Gothic Novel

ByGeorge E. Haggerty

Gothic endings are incredibly dissatisfying. Whether the beleaguered central couple is married at the end of the Radcliffe novel or a consummate villain is hurled with great fanfare into the abyss, endings never quite manage to tie up the loose ends in gothic fiction.1 For some, this signals a formal failure. Elizabeth R. Napier, for instance, argues that there is “instability and cross purposes in the form itself,” surely a diagnosis that might explain unsatisfying endings,2 but it seems to me that these forced endings are not really such a failure. These novels’ inability to reach a tidy close or ring with single-minded purpose in the last chapter can say more about the transgressive power of gothic fiction and the failure of normativity itself than it says about the technical limitations of the gothic genre. One understanding of what happens in gothic fiction is to say that order is restored and normativity-especially heteronormativity-is reestablished at the close, and readers can return to their lives with a sense that that marriage has contained all transgression. Traditional critics of gothic fiction often took this return to the normal for granted.3