Homoerotic and Homophobic Possibilities in The Castle of Otranto
Eve Sedgwick describes the gothic novel as a “dialectic between the homosexual and homophobic” (92). Homosexuality was first recognized in the eighteenth century and resulted in far reaching social responses. With the establishment of the term “homosexuality”, social tensions appeared. These tensions found their way into novels as fears of sexuality and the struggle for sexual expression. Sedgwick terms this emerging homoeroticism as the “gothic unspeakable”, which is reflected through the depiction of male class and male sexuality (95). Although homosexuality is not explicitly discussed in the text of Otranto, some critics find the relationships and behaviours between the male characters to manifest Sedgwick’s queer reading of the gothic novel.
Research on Walpole has yet to turn up any concrete evidence that proves he had a preference for men. However, analysts of Walpole’s letters have found that he had developed strong intimate relationships with men that can only be described as romantic, and therefore homoerotic in nature (Fincher 231). Historically, Walpole has also been accused of being effeminate. In a pamphlet written by William Guthrie, an attack is made on Walpole’s “ambiguous gender”, of which Guthrie describes Walpole as “delicate” of “the third sex” and “possessing a most ladylike manner” (Fincher 233). There is always the possibility that Guthrie’s pamphlet was only written out of anger. Never the less, it functions as a piece of evidence that suggests Walpole’s sexuality, as well as provides an indication of the attitude towards homosexuality at the time.
If indeed Walpole had homoerotic tendencies, then his sexuality would “give rise to recurring themes and literary obsessions” (Haggerty 331). Homoeroticism is absent on a surface reading of Otranto. However, there appears to be some underlying themes pertaining to homoeroticism. Queer theorists state that Walpole imposes a fear of his sexuality in Otranto because of his personal homoerotic tendencies for men, and his understanding of the public's disapproval.
Preoccupation with the exposure of identity is a direct parallel to the exposure of one’s sexuality (Fincher 233). Here, Manfred’s fear of the exposure of his family history understood as Walpole’s fear of his sexuality being revealed. A homosexual outing and Manfred’s family outing share similar characteristics, such as ignorance and remaining silent. Sedgwick argues that the key concept of a sexual outing is the ignorance (qtd. in Fincher 234). The ignorance creates a feeling of the uncanny from the “revelation of the unknowing…as a weighty epistemological space” (qtd. in Fincher 234). When Theodore appears in the novel, Manfred is ignorant of Theodore’s identity. However, Manfred is uneasy around Theodore because he senses a problem with Theodore’s arrival, even though the problem has yet to be discovered. This anxiety mirrors the feeling of the...