Incest in Victorian Literature Criticism: Novels - Essay

David Smith (essay date 1965)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Incest Patterns in Two Victorian Novels,” in Literature and Psychology, Vol. XV, No. 3, Summer, 1965, pp. 135-62.

[In the following essay, Smith argues that incest is a central theme in both Jane Eyre, where Jane struggles against her incestuous feelings for father figure Rochester, and Mill on the Floss, where the controversial flood-death scene and the passionate embrace between brother and sister illuminate the incestuous undercurrent of the novel.]


Even the initial reading of Jane Eyre1 will reveal that the central organizing element is...

(The entire section is 12400 words.)

Giles Mitchell (essay date 1973)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Incest, Demonism, and Death in Wuthering Heights,” in Literature and Psychology, Vol. 23, No. 1, 1973, pp. 27-36.

[In the following essay, Mitchell theorizes that there is no compelling moral or social reason for Heathcliff and Cathy not to marry each other, but they abstain from a sexual or marital relationship because they are already tightly bound by other ties, including a brother-sister relationship.]

It is clear to most readers of Wuthering Heights, and it is equally clear to Catherine Earnshaw, that she is betraying herself when she decides to marry Edgar Linton.1 She says that she loves Edgar “entirely and altogether”...

(The entire section is 5621 words.)

Sylvia Manning (essay date 1979)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Incest and the Structure of Henry Esmond,” in Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Vol. 34, No. 2, September, 1979, pp. 194-213.

[In the following essay, Manning contends that the incest motif permeates Henry Esmond beyond the commonly acknowledged feature of Henry and Rachel's marriage; Manning also theorizes that the author's own subconscious incest fantasy underlies the conflict between desire and social convention in the novel.]

The broader incestuous features of Henry Esmond are commonly acknowledged. Henry marries Rachel, who not only has served him as foster mother and called him her son, but who is the biological mother of the younger...

(The entire section is 8544 words.)

William R. Goetz (essay date 1982)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Genealogy and Incest in Wuthering Heights,” in Studies in the Novel, Vol. XIV, No. 4, Winter, 1982, pp. 359-76.

[In the following essay, Goetz examines two interpretation problems in Wuthering Heights: first he examines Catherine's choice to marry Edgar Linton instead of Heathcliff, and then he discusses the second half of the novel's complex kinship relationships.]

In arguing for the basic equivalence between language and systems of kinship, Claude Lévi-Strauss has pointed out that the situations of the two, in one important respect, are symmetrical but inverse. In the case of language, we know what the function or meaning of the phenomenon...

(The entire section is 8829 words.)

Anca Vlasopolos (essay date 1983)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Frankenstein's Hidden Skeleton: The Psycho-Politics of Oppression,” in Science-Fiction Studies, Vol. 10, No. 30, July, 1983, pp. 125-35.

[In the following essay, Vlasopolos suggests that despite some awkwardness of style and plot improbabilities Frankenstein is a coherent novel because of the conflict it presents between accepted socio-political forces and the private struggle of a man who views himself as driven to incest.]

Renewed interest in Frankenstein suggests that the novel possesses a covert structure which, despite some critics' charges of awkwardness of style and improbabilities of plot, gives the novel a coherence that has...

(The entire section is 6810 words.)

Johanna M. Smith (essay date 1987)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “‘My Only Sister Now’: Incest in Mansfield Park,” in Studies in the Novel, Vol. XIX, No. 1, Spring, 1987, pp. 1-15.

[In the following essay, Smith regards the happy ending of Mansfield Park to be a dismal failure and contends that the incestuous overtones of Fanny and Edmund's relationship reveal the crippling effects of sister-brother relationships within a constricted, hierarchical family structure.]

Regarded as a happy ending to Mansfield Park, the marriage of Fanny Price and Edmund Bertram is a dismal failure. Jane Austen, I believe, intends this failure: as Fanny settles into smug seclusion at Mansfield, “the daughter that he...

(The entire section is 6664 words.)

Kathryn B. McGuire (essay date 1988)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Incest Taboo in Wuthering Heights: A Modern Appraisal,” in American IMAGO, Vol. 45, No. 2, Summer, 1988, pp. 217-24.

[In the following essay, McGuire explores the incest theme in Wuthering Heights in the context of modern psychological breakthroughs in the study of incest; the critic draws on Ernest Jones' thesis of the relationship between incest, Satanism, vampirism, lycanthropy, and necrophilia, stating that Heathcliff demonstrates all these traits.]

Wuthering Heights has long been admired as a unique and powerful novel. The brooding atmosphere of Wuthering Heights, the intense characters, and the disturbing theme lure the...

(The entire section is 2744 words.)

Glenda A. Hudson (essay date 1992)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Incestuous Sibling Relationships: Mansfield Park, Emma and Sense and Sensibility,” in Sibling Love and Incest in Jane Austen's Fiction, Macmillan, 1992, pp. 33-60.

[In the following excerpt, Hudson proposes that far from being elegiac and nostalgic, most of Austen's novels conclude with an optimistic expulsion of menacing intruders from the home and family. Hudson maintains that, in Austen's works, incest creates a loving family circle where familial bonds are tightened and strengthened.]

Jane Austen's sister Cassandra attempted to persuade her to change the dénouement of Mansfield Park. According to Cassandra, Austen's failure...

(The entire section is 12096 words.)

Audra Dibert Himes (essay date 1997)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “‘Knew shame, and knew desire’: Ambivalence as Structure in Mary Shelley's Mathilda,” in Iconoclastic Departures: Mary Shelley after Frankenstein, edited by Syndy M. Conger, Frederick S. Frank, and Gregory O'Dea, Associated University Presses, 1997, pp. 115-29.

[In the following essay, Himes explains that while incest was a conventional theme of nineteeth-century literature, Mary Shelley treats this theme very differently in Mathilda by presenting Mathilda's desire as especially transgressive.]

“Such is my name, and such my tale,
                    Confessor—to thy secret ear,
          I breathe the sorrows I bewail,
And thank thee for...

(The entire section is 6208 words.)

Susan Anne Carlson (essay date 1998)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Incest and Rage in Charlotte Brontë's Novelettes,” in Creating Safe Space: Violence and Women's Writing, edited by Tomoko Kuribayashi and Julie Tharp, State University of New York Press, 1998, pp. 61-77.

[In the following essay, Carlson offers a close reading of Brontë's novelettes written between 1836 and 1839 and theorizes that the secret of Angria that Brontë created for her works allowed her to create a safe space and outlet for her forbidden fantasies of father-daughter seduction and female masochism.]

Charlotte Brontë, between the ages of thirteen and twenty-three, created a secret fantasy world called Angria, a world that she constructed in...

(The entire section is 8135 words.)

Jane M. Ford (essay date 1998)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Triangle in Charles Dickens,” in Patriarchy and Incest from Shakespeare to Joyce, University Press of Florida, 1998, pp. 54-79.

[In the following excerpt, Ford traces events in Dickens' life that parallel a search for first love depicted in many of his works. She explains that Dickens' lifelong fascination with father/daughter relationships was explored in most of his novels, and that Dombey and Son is an especially significant work on this theme.]

The relationship between psychobiographical data and the recurrent father/daughter theme is particularly explicit for Charles Dickens (1812-70). The early trauma of his relegation to the blacking...

(The entire section is 11762 words.)