What’s so gothic about the detective novels?

It goes without saying that when people think about “gothic,” they think about the supernatural and hauntings. However, in detective novels, specifically Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone and Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet, readers barely see anything supernatural. The most supernatural thing in these two novels is the curse of the Moonstone, even then, it is left ambiguous whether there is an actual curse. When we think about the detective novels, we usually think about scientific methods and logic. In fact, S. S. Van Dine (1888-1939) published a set of twenty rules in 1928 for the detective novels. One of which denounces the presence of any supernatural factors in solving cases (Rule 8). So, how do the detective novels fit in with the Victorian gothic literature landscape?

In his article, John Bowen gives a few more identifying motifs of the gothic than just the supernatural. That includes: strange place; clashing time periods; questions of power, violence, and sexuality; the uncanny; the sublime; social crises; the feelings of terror, horror, and doubt. The Moonstone certainly invokes more traditional gothic motifs than A Study in Scarlet. In Collin’s The Moonstone, we have an ancient and sacred stone from India being brought to “modern” England; the Shivering Sand in Yorkshire where Rosanna Spearman meets her end; the physiognomic and/or racial others such as Rosanna, Limping Lucy, and Ezra Jennings; other numerous aspects; and most importantly, the terror that the novel brings to the readers. In Bowen’s article, he states that terror in the gothic “is concerned with the psychological experience of being full of fear and dread and thus of recognising human limits.” In other word, terror in the gothic is about giving readers a glimpse of the terrible things that could happen without actually showing the terrible things. In The Moonstone, readers are never shown the attacks of Godfrey or Mr. Lurker, the murders of the Indians and Godfrey, or the death of Lady Verinder. All of them are told and recounted to the readers. This allows the readers to feel the terror of the events, but still have a safe distance from them and immorality in the book, which is similar to other gothic novels like Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.

Like Collin’s The Moonstone, Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet and other Sherlock Holmes stories invoke a sense of terror in readers through the murders and mysteries that happen, whether in bustling London or in eerie Baskerville Hall in Dartmoor. In A Study in Scarlet, Holmes and Watson, like Mr. Lockwood in Wuthering Heights, are outsiders, looking into the murders that had already happened. In other word, while The Moonstone’s “detectives” are parts of the events in the book, Holmes is not. Most of the information he gets is from other people and his own observations after the fact. Interestingly, Bowen states that gothic generates a sense of intellectual doubt in readers, “create[ing] in our minds the possibility that there may be things beyond human power, reason and knowledge.” While this definition seems to talk about the supernatural and mythical, it can also be applied to Holmes’ Science of Deduction and Analysis (A Study in Scarlet, chapter 2). To an average person, which is Watson and the readers, this “science” seems unobtainable and ridiculous, to the point of magical, as Holmes can deduce the job of a random person on the street. Thus, while Holmes’ Science of Deduction and Analysis is grounded in logic, reason, and observation, it still contains a sense of unnatural and unreasonable, beyond the capability of an average human being.

In conclusion, what I’m trying to say is while the detective novels seem to stray away from the gothic conventions of Victorian novels, they, in fact, still utilize many gothic motifs, thus, allowing them to be a branch of the gothic genre.



Bowen, John. “Gothic motifs.” British Library, www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/gothic-motifs. Accessed 15 November 2022.

Siblings: The Drivers of Gothic Hauntings

Sibling relationships in Victorian novels are complicated, to say the least. Both Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations show different aspects of those complex relationships. Wuthering Heights is more explicit about the relationship between adoptive siblings with the infatuation between Catherine and Heathcliff and the mutual hate between Heathcliff and Hindley. However, when it comes to the relationship between Catherine and Hindley, who are siblings by blood, there are not much to it. Or to put it more precisely, the relationship is not explicitly shown to the readers. We can only pick up pieces of information from here and there from Nelly’s narrations, but it is not the focus of the story. One example of this is the fact that Hindley is invited to Catherine’s funeral, but he never comes or gives any excuse to not come (170, end of vol.2 ch.2).

Like Wuthering Heights, sibling relationships are not so great in Great Expectations. However, relationships between blood-related siblings are shown more clearly. Pip is raised “by hand” by his blood sister. Despite its abrupt end right before the start of his expectations, the abuse by his sister still traumatizes deep down. This trauma, and arguably his affection to her as his only known living blood relative, leads to his visions of his sister’s haunting spirit after her death (278, Ch. 35). Interestingly, there is another brother-sister pair where the sister haunts the brother: Miss Havisham and her brother, Arthur. Arthur is Miss Havisham’s half-brother that comes from an affair by their father. He also holds “a deep and mortal grudge against her” because he believes that she influences their father, even when most of the faults of his downfall and debts are his (180, Ch. 22). This is the grudge that leads him to work with Compeyson to defraud Miss Havisham. Yet, when all is said and done, on his deathbed, Arthur hallucinates his half-sister coming to him for revenge and taking him to his death (348-349, Ch. 42). He is haunted by Miss Havisham, even though that she is still alive. Thus, like Pip, Arthur is not haunted by his sister’s actual ghost, but by the idea of her mixing with his own emotions. While Mrs. Joe haunts Pip with the trauma of abuse from the past and their blood relation, Miss Havisham haunts Arthur with the grudge and possible guilt he has after deceiving her. On the opposite side, while they are not sibling by blood, Pip’s relationship with Joe, his brother in-law, can also be applied here. Pip’s upbringing is influenced by Joe’s personalities. Even after separated from Joe to live in London and being cruel to him, Pip is still “haunted” by Joe, his characters, and what he stands for.

Thus, essentially, it is the sibling relationships, whether blood-related, adoptive, or in-laws, that seems to drive the plot and story of Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations. In the former, the whole story begins because Catherine and Heathcliff love each other. In the latter, it is Joe’s affection and compassion that allows Pip to be kind and considerate to the convict, which then leads to his great expectations. Furthermore, it is the hate that Arthur has for Miss Havisham that kicks start the chain of events leading to Estella’s adoption and the convict’s meeting with Pip.

Heathcliff: The Cycle of Trauma and Abuse

Alexandra Lewis states that “Heathcliff himself becomes a symbolic embodiment of the operations of trauma upon the mind” (417). She goes on and shows how characters’ reactions with Heathcliff’s return are similar with actions of people who have experienced traumas (417-418). He intrudes people’s life. He makes Catherine unearth her violent emotions, leading to her eventual breakdown. He drives Hindley to murder attempts and more alcoholism with his presence. He scares Linton into doing his bidding. All of his actions and effects on people can be translate to trauma response, such as mood swings, breakdowns, constantly haunted by the memories, alcoholism, depression, and so on. Through Lewis’ view, Heathcliff essentially represents the traumatic memory that resurfaces after seemingly disappears for years and disrupts everyone’s life.

However, it is also important to remember that Heathcliff is how he is because of trauma. He is constantly being treated as the Other by everyone around him, tormented by Hindley, and antagonized even by Catherine herself. All of this abuse and trauma, along with the seemingly rejection from Catherine, lead him to run away. In other word, while Heathcliff seems to embody the work of traumatic memory, he is also created by traumas. Not only so, he is affected by traumas as well. And his trauma response is rage. Unlike other characters, whose traumatic memories seem to go away then come back, Heathcliff’s traumas stay with him, boiling and fueling his obsession for revenge. They also lead him to desecrate the graves, look for ghosts, and most importantly, traumatize the next generation. With his effects on Hareton, Linton, and Catherine the younger, the traumas are no longer contained within his generation’s cycle of trauma and abuse, but branching out to the next, potentially creating an entirely new cycle. This is also one of the commonly known results of trauma and abuse. Thus, through Lewis’ lens, Wuthering Heights represents trauma, its effects, and its cycle of existence through Heathcliff.


Lewis, Alexandra. “Memory Possessed: Trauma and Pathologies of Remembrance in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.” Pp. 406-423.

The Power of Women in Wuthering Heights

In the “Gothic motifs” video, John Bowen states that “at the heart of Gothic fiction is the question of power.” And it is clear that women in Wuthering Heights have little control or power over their life, no matter how strong headed or upper-class they are. Mrs. Earnshaw cannot do anything about her husband deciding to adopt Heathcliff. Catherine Earnshaw still decides to marry Edgar Linton despite her love for Heathcliff because it is the “right” thing for a young woman like her to do. Isabella Linton stays with Heathcliff for awhile after finding out how horrible he is, until she runs away after a violence confrontation between Heathcliff and Hindley and lives in London alone with her child until her death, playing straight with the theme of power and women mentioned by Bowen.

Yet, women in Wuthering Heights also seem to hold some sort of power over the men in their lives. Mrs. Earnshaw’s death starts Hindley’s spiral in hatred toward Heathcliff. Frances Earnshaw’s death marks the ruin of the Earnshaw’s household. Catherine’s death not only makes Edgar into a hermit, resulting in the younger Catherine’s innocence and unawareness around her family situation, but also drives Heathcliff to be more determined to enact his revenge on the living.

However, Catherine is shown to have more power over men than just through her death. In chapter XI of volume I, after the confrontation between Edgar and Heathcliff, Catherine tells Nelly that “if [she] cannot keep Heathcliff for [her] friend – if Edgar will be mean and jealous, [she]’ll try to break their hearts by breaking [her] own” (116) and how she is aware that Edgar “has been discreet in dreading to provoke” her (117). Her statements show that she is aware of the power she holds over Heathcliff and Edgar. She knows that if she is miserable, they will be too, thus, making them more incline to let her do what she wants. While it does not always work, it still makes them think twice when they know that are about to do something that will upset her. Moreover, Catherine also states that breaking her own heart is “a deed to be reserved for a forlorn hope” and she would not take Edgar by surprise by doing so (116-117). For her, breaking her own heart is a last-ditch effort to gain power and punish the men that push her into the corner with their behaviors. And by not wanting Edgar to be surprise when she does so, Catherine seems to want the men to know that it is them that push her to do this act.

In conclusion, I think that Catherine uses her rage and emotional outbursts as a way to gain control and power over the men in her life, especially Heathcliff and Edgar. And she ultimately triumphs over them in her death, as her grave is not in the chapel nor in any household graveyard but on a hill by the moor (170), where she is free from the institution and society that create many of her sufferings.

The Scandalous Sacrifice of Mr. Harry Carson

“So I naturally wished her to know what a sacrifice of prejudice, of – of myself, in short, I was willing to make for her sake; yet I don’t think she was aware of it after all. I believe I might have any lady in Manchester if I liked, and yet I was willing and ready to marry a poor dressmaker. Don’t you understand me now? And don’t you see what a sacrifice I was making to humour her?” (138).

In this dialogue passage, Mr. Carson is talking to Sally about his relationship with Mary Barton after she rejects him. The repetitions of “willing” and “sacrifice” not only stress the “hardship” he has gone through for Mary, but also make his courtship a favour for her rather than a part of a mutual relationship. Moreover, the phrases “sacrifice of prejudice” and “poor dressmaker” indicate that he is well aware of the differences in class and status between him and Mary, making it more seem like Mary owes him for liking and wanting to marry her. His awareness of his status is also shown when he says he could marry anyone in Manchester if he wants to, further establishing his ego and pride in his wealth. Additionally, the repetitions of “I” with active verbs and adjectives indicate his belief that it is him that put all the work and face all the “hardship” for the relationship. Thus, what I am really trying to say here is that I think these lines show Mr. Carson has great pride in his status, leading to him feeling entitled to Mary, who is poorer than him, and her affection.

Comparing Mr. Carson and Jem Wilson, we can see the differences in their reactions to Mary’s rejections. As the novel points out, while Jem accepts the rejection as final, Mr. Carson simply views it as Mary having a “caprice” (139-140). The novel attributes Jem’s acceptance as his genuine love and respect for Mary. However, I believe that wealth is also a factor in this acceptance. As I analyze earlier, Mr. Carson’s wealth makes him think that he is doing Mary a favour by loving her, thus, her rejection is something unthinkable. Meanwhile, Jem is in the same social class as Mary. He has no promise of wealth or stable life to offer her like Mr. Carson does. He also has his widow mother to take care of. Why would a beautiful lady like Mary agree to marry someone like him when she could do much better? Hence, in his mind, and possibly some other working-class men as well, rejection from a pretty lady, even when she is in the same class as them, is a final. This connection is shown more clearly when Mary talks to Will Wilson about Margaret. He states that since she is more well off than he is (as she is a singer), he wants to be second mate on a ship to have something to offer her when he asks for marriage (193).

Therefore, in the larger context of this novel and Victorian society (as well as our society overall), Mr. Carson’s dialogue shows how wealth influences decisions, perceptions, and marriage.