What we term Gothic literature begins in the Enlightenment and is very often interpreted as describing through a plot of incarceration and escape the narrative of Enlightenment emancipation itself from the superstition of the religious, especially the Catholic past. Hence, the critical scholarship on biblical allusion and structures in these works is scanty. Yet as this article seeks to demonstrate, such works were alive to scriptural reference and even used biblical analogies and exegetical practice as a hermeneutic. Indeed, dating from the early days of the higher criticism, Gothic novels often dramatize the dangers and ironies of Bible reading, as well as its salvific potential.

The Dangers of Bible Reading.

In that most notorious of fictions of terror of the 1790s, Matthew Lewis’s The Monk, the lascivious Father Ambrosio picks up a book that his prey, the beauteous Antonia, is reading:

"It was the Bible."

“How!” said the friar to himself, “Antonia reads the Bible, and is still so ignorant?”

But upon a further inspection, he found that Elvira had made exactly the same remark. The prudent mother, while she admired the beauties of the sacred writings, was convinced that, unrestricted, no reading more improper could be permitted to a young woman. Many of the narratives can only tend to excite ideas the worst calculated for a female breast: every thing is called plainly and roundly by its name; and the annals of a brothel would scarcely furnish a greater choice of indecent expressions.

(Lewis, 1998, pp. 222–223)

This attitude to scripture caused a public outcry and caused Lewis to make substantial changes in the fourth edition of the novel. Comparing the Bible to the history of a brothel was bound to offend those with a high account of biblical inspiration as well as general religious sensibilities. Elvira’s bowdlerizing version, in which she removed all offending passages and rewrote coarse expressions, while extreme, was not, however, without precedent in a period in which Archbishop Secker of Canterbury fulminated against a “frenzy of emending” of the biblical text by dissenters, who, John Lewis wrote, chose “not only to read but to interpret the Scriptures according to their particular Fancies” (Mandelbrote, 2001).

Sadly, the recipient of this edited scripture is so well protected from the loss of innocence that she is unable to use the Bible to identify her tempter and seducer. Antonia is drugged, raped, and murdered in the convent vaults by Ambrosio, who later discovers that he is actually her brother. Goaded on by the demonic Matilda, and disgusted by Antonia the moment he has had his way with her, Ambrosio plays the role of an Amnon to his sister’s Tamar, in a plot based on 2 Samuel 13. Such a tale of sexual violence would most certainly have been omitted from Antonia’s bowdlerized Bible, making the approving words of the narrator about its shocking realism all the more disingenuous.

The novel’s beginnings in Britain were very much an exercise in Protestant poetics, in which a writer like Daniel Defoe used a narrative about an individual to test out the limits of free will and the exercise of particular Providence. Robinson Crusoe (1719) describes the shipwrecking and later rescue and worldly success of an ordinary man on a desert island. Among the items he saves from the wreck are a number of Bibles, which are in themselves signs of divine grace and aid his conversion. Furthermore, he uses the Bible to instruct the native Friday in religion. Bible reading is the catalyst for Crusoe’s conversion, going through an orthodox Protestant movement from conviction of sin to repentance. He chances upon the words “I will deliver thee” from Psalm 50:15, which he feels convict him because he has indeed been delivered from shipwreck and illness but has not glorified God for it: “I had not owned and been thankful for that as a deliverance, and how could I expect greater deliverance?” (Defoe, 1998, p. 96). The implication of these last words is spiritual as well as physical and speaks of his final end. Such a thought sends him to his knees, shows him his past wickedness, and provokes further searching of the scriptures, to Acts 5:31: “He is exalted a Prince and a Savior, to give repentance, and to give remission.” After praying for that gift of repentance, Crusoe is able to return to the original Psalm 50 and find in another part of verse 15, “call on me and I shall deliver you,” the promise of true deliverance from sin, and his justification is quickly effected. Scripture first convicts and then saves him.

In contrast to Defoe, Gothic fiction from later in the century would render the salvific process of reading and interpretation much more problematic. The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Tale, by Horace Walpole, published in 1764, and usually taken to be the first Gothic novel, is given for its moral Exodus 20:5, in which “the sins of fathers are visited on their children to the third and fourth generation” (AV). This verse describing conviction for the sin of idolatry is enacted in horrific fashion in the novel itself, when the son and heir of the usurper Manfred is sliced in two by a gigantic helmet and his daughter accidentally killed by his own murderous hand. After a suitably apocalyptic divine vision of judgment, Manfred does repent but without any real hope of salvation: “I question not the will of heaven—poverty and prayer must fill up the woeful space, until Manfred shall be summoned to Ricardo” (Walpole, 1998, p. 114). Since Ricardo, his grandfather, was guilty of forgery and murder, this is not a hope of Paradise. Rather, Manfred sees himself as the enacted punishment upon the third or fourth generation.

Moreover, the novel was originally presented as a manuscript found in the house of a recusant Catholic family in the north of England and dating from at least as early as the sixteenth century, being a translation “by William Marshal, Gent. From the Original Italian of Onuphrio Muralto, Canon of the Church of St. Nicholas at Otranto” (Walpole, 1998, p. 1). There is furthermore a suggestion that the tale dates from an even earlier period, between the first and the last crusades. William Marshal was a historical character, famous over all Europe as the greatest knight of the age. By invoking such a celebrated figure, yet attributing him to the sixteenth century, Walpole both authenticates his story and makes fun of its claims to historicity in one and the same gesture. The question of textual authenticity is then highlighted exactly in the manner that the Authorized Version of the Bible was being questioned by Catholics and Dissenters alike in the eighteenth century as having bad readings from relying on unreliable manuscripts, and by Deists as containing contradictions and mathematical impossibilities in the case of structures such as Noah’s ark. So Walpole may be said to present the Bible ironically as either a text that condemns or one that is unreliable.

Furthermore, other scenes in Gothic novels show Bible reading to be rather less than helpful and its interpretation catastrophic. In the American novelist Charles Brockden Brown’s tale, Wieland; or, The Transformation (1798), the elder Wieland, an orphan in Saxony, chances upon the writings of the radical Huguenot sect, the Camisards. The biblical phrase “seek and ye shall find” incites him to study further:

"A Bible was easily procured, and he ardently entered on the study of it. His understanding had received a particular direction. All his reveries were fashioned in the same mould. His progress towards the formation of his creed was rapid. Every fact and sentiment in this book were viewed through a medium which the writings of the Camissard [sic] apostle had suggested. His constructions of the text were hasty, and formed on a narrow scale. Every thing was viewed in a disconnected position. One action and one precept were not employed to illustrate and restrict the meaning of another. Hence arose a thousand scruples to which he had hitherto been a stranger. He was alternately agitated by fear and by ecstacy. He imagined himself beset by the snares of a spiritual foe, and that his security lay in ceaseless watchfulness and prayer." (Brockden Brown, 1991, pp. 9–10)

Here John Lewis’s deprecation of “individual fancies” proves to be wholly justified. Wieland cuts himself off from society to devote himself to biblical study and eventually appears to be combusted by divine judgment. His son, similarly, comes to believe himself in receipt of a divine inspiration that directs him to kill his wife and children in a horrible parody of the story of the sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 12. In both cases, biblical interpretation was wholly literal, collapsing figural levels into a single meaning, in the manner of early Protestant exegesis. In the case of the elder Wieland, his is the method of a later fundamentalism, in which verses are severed from context and stand alone.

Brockden Brown sets his tale in the period of the First Great Awakening in America and seems to view religious enthusiasm as destructive of national political life. The imagery of light is used extensively throughout the novel to represent both a sense of particular Providence and religious experience and also the city on a hill/light on a lampstand of American self-identity, which is itself based on the parable of the lamp in the Sermon on the Mount. Enlightenment Deism is as helpless to deal with the appalling events of the novel as Protestant devotion, and the biblical parable is used ironically, as a mode of critique.

Modes of biblical exegesis are also much to the fore in James Hogg’s shocking Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824). Here the setting is Scotland at the time of the Covenanters, as the nation sought to defend a Calvinist liturgy and polity against the Stuarts. It is one of the earliest British fictional excursions into the idea of the double or doppelganger and narrates the family discord between an Anglican laird and his Calvinist wife. Two sons, George and Robert (names echoing their kingly exemplars in Hanoverian George and Robert the Bruce), are at odds, with Robert haunting his sibling like a shadow. Educated by a predestinarian Calvinist preacher, Robert is told that his religious duty is to oppose his latitudinarian brother, especially after his foster father informs him that he is now convinced of Robert’s effectual calling to salvation. Now on the side of the elect, he will be a sword of the Lord in opposing the degenerate. Elated by this acknowledgment, Robert goes out to find a second self reading the scriptures, who confirms his sense of election. Later he comes upon this figure again reading:

"I came up to him and addressed him, but he was so intent on his book that, though I spoke, he lifted not his eyes. I looked on the book also, and still it seemed a Bible, having columns, chapters, and verses; but it was in a language of which I was wholly ignorant, and all intersected with red lines and verses. A sensation resembling a stroke of electricity came over me, on first casting my eyes on that mysterious book, and I stood motionless. He looked up, smiled, closed his book, and put it in his bosom. “You seem strangely affected, dear sir, by looking at my book,” said he mildly."

“In the name of God, what book is that?” said I. “Is it a Bible?”

“It is my Bible, sir,” said he.

(Hogg, 1995, p. 97)

As the novel progresses it becomes evident to the reader that this double is actually demonic. The moment of election had been nothing of the sort but rather an ineffectual calling, which is a possibility in such diagrammatic presentations of double predestination as William Perkins’s A Golden Chain, which includes “a calling not effectual” leading to a relapse on the reprobate side of the chain or flow chart (Johnson, 2002, p. 111). Robert is not justified and then guided by his conscience and the Holy Spirit to holiness and sanctification. Rather, his fate is that prayed for by Mr. Wringhim, the minister, for his brother George, part of which goes as follows:

Set thou the wicked over him,And upon his right handGive thou his greatest enemy,Even Satan, leave to stand.And, when by thee he shall be judged,Let him remembered be;And let his prayer be turned to sinWhen he shall call on thee. …As he in cursing pleasure tookSo let it to him fall;As he delighted not to bless,So bless him not at all.

(Hogg, 1995, p. 27)

This is a metrical version of Psalm 109, and it rebounds upon the one praying, since it is not George but Robert over whom Satan is set. His prayer is turned to sin, and eventually he commits—or is helped by Satan to commit—suicide, evidence of the mortal sin of despair. The conceit depends upon the doctrine of double predestination from the beginning, whereby all are doomed, although God by his free grace elects some to be saved. This dualist religious anthropology provokes a Cain and Abel–like fraternal hatred by the despised (probably bastard) Robert for his favored elder brother, as well as an anxiety on the part of Robert about his own election, which leads to overconfidence, once he believes himself justified. Predestined to damnation, Robert’s reading of the Bible is necessarily nonsalvific. Hence the “Bible” his double reads is that of Satan and leads to damnation and death: he is cursed. Whereas in Wieland the Bible is used ironically to illustrate the failure of interpretation, here the scriptures rebound on the one who felt he controlled their interpretation, as one of the chosen. Instead, he ends up with his own Bible, which convicts.

The Bible as Hermeneutic Key.

In contrast to the fear of individual interpretation of scripture in early Gothic writing, a number of later tales of terror have a more positive construal of the Bible reading scene, even though they keep the same attitude to the text as something fragmentary or mysterious, which eludes easy interpretation. Indeed, it is the confidence of the sola scriptura evident in Brown’s or Hogg’s characters that is so dangerous.

The secret behind the huge narrative machinery of Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) is actually biblical and resides in a verse from Mark 8:36: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (AV). The novel recounts the wanderings of Melmoth, who sold his soul in Faustian fashion for longevity, but who can only be relieved of this burden of immortality by exchanging places with another. In each nested tale, a bargain is offered but never named. Only at the end do we learn that the verse was true and that indeed no one would exchange his chance of salvation for rescue from even the worst of human horror and injustice. To know this would offer a key for understanding the complex events of the multiple stories. Many of the characters are in no position to do this, however. The main heroine, Immalee/Isadora, was first courted and educated by Melmoth while lost like Robinson Crusoe on a desert island. Unlike Crusoe with Friday, Melmoth does not allow his student access to the Bible, although he does present the various religions as ethical systems from which Immalee chooses Christianity. Back in Spain with her family, Isidora, as she now is called, is still denied a biblical hermeneutic. She challenges Melmoth to tell her if he is truly a Christian, to which he replies that he “believe[s] and tremble[s]” (Maturin, 1989, p. 389). The narrative continues: “Isidora’s acquaintance with the book from which he quoted was too limited to permit her to understand the allusion. She knew, according to the religious education she had received, more of her breviary than her Bible” (Maturin 1989, p. 389). As a Spanish Catholic her biblical knowledge does not enable her to understand the truth that Melmoth’s words convey. He quotes from James 2:19: “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble” (AV).

What Maturin wishes to demonstrate in his tale of terror is the substitutionary sacrificial logic of Catholic belief, in which (in the perspective of this Irish Protestant minister) one’s sins are placed on another through prayer to the saints, indulgences, and the religious life of the monastic. The Inquistion, which plays a central role in the novel, is but a giant physical manifestation of a spiritual truth about the Church of Rome. Melmoth, therefore, and his satanic bargain, are a reversal of salvific biblical logic of Christ’s sacrifice for humanity, which is opposed in the novel to the ritual system of Rome.

Maturin was a descendent of Huguenots, who fled to Ireland after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, which indeed sets Melmoth’s original bargain at that time. Sheridan Le Fanu, the next great Irish Gothic writer, was also of Huguenot stock and the son of a Church of Ireland minister. Although his work shows the influence of the mysticism of Swedenborg, it is thoroughly biblical and presents the Bible as the true key to the mystery of life and his own plots. This is most clearly evident in his novel, Uncle Silas (1864), told in the first person by Maud Ruthyn, daughter and heir of a Swedenborgian recluse, who is forbidden the knowledge of a family scandal and instead is sent upon her father’s death to be the ward of her uncle—the next heir—who had been suspected (with good reason) of murdering a guest some years before. The innocent and ignorant Maud is to be the proof to the world of her uncle’s innocence and her father’s faith in his brother’s integrity.

Uncle Silas is an invalid and, like Maud’s father, a religious recluse. On first meeting Maud, he kisses her brow and

"placed his hand upon what I now perceived to be a large Bible, with two broad silk markers, red and gold, folded in it—the one, I might conjecture, indicating the place in the Old, the other in the New Testament. It stood on the small table that supported the waxlights, with a handsome cut bottle of eau-de-cologne, his gold and jewelled pencil-case, and his chased repeater, chain, and seals, beside it. There certainly were no indications of poverty in Uncle Silas’s room; and he said impressively—"

“Remember that book; in it your father placed his trust, in it he found his reward, in it lives my only hope; consult it, my beloved niece, day and night, as the oracle of life.”

(Le Fanu, 2000, pp. 203–204)

That, at least, is what Silas says, but already the placement of the scriptures alongside evidence of his expensive tastes in personal adornment gives a hint of possible hypocrisy in his claims to be an unworldly religious hermit. There is something of Belinda’s dressing-table in The Rape of the Lock about this. “Puffs, Powders, Patches, Bibles, Billet-doux” (Pope, 1966, p. 91) are jumbled together there, suggesting a somewhat confused hierarchy of value, and Uncle Silas’s Bible is similarly juxtaposed with a crystal vial of eau de cologne and other handsome appurtenances. Maud, however, notes the expensiveness of the objects but fails in interpretation of her uncle: “I had seen him; but he was still an enigma and a marvel. The living face did not expound the past, any more than the portrait portended the future. He was still a mystery and a vision” (Le Fanu, 2000, p. 205).

The knowledge she needs in order to make sense of Silas is actually within the Bible. On one occasion Maud is nursing him while he lies in a comatose state. Her attention is taken by the looking glass over the fireplace:

"A small thick Bible lay on the chimneypiece, and leaning its back against the mirror, I began to read in it with a mind as attentively directed as I could. While so engaged in turning over the leaves, I lighted upon two or three odd-looking papers, which had been folded into it. One was a broad printed thing, with names and dates written into blank spaces, and was about the size of a quarter of a yard of very broad ribbon. The others were mere scraps, with “Dudley Ruthyn” penned in my cousin’s vulgar round-hand at the foot. While I folded and replaced these, I really don’t know what caused me to fancy that something was moving behind me, as I stood with my back toward the bed. I do not recollect any sound whatever; but instinctively I glanced into the mirror, and my eyes were instantly fixed by what I saw."

The figure of Uncle Silas rose up, and dressed in a long white morning gown, slid over the end of the bed, and with two or three swift noiseless steps, stood behind me, with a death-like scowl and a simper. Preternaturally tall and thin, he stood for a moment almost touching me, with the white bandage pinned across his forehead, his bandaged arm stiffly by his side, and diving over my shoulder, with his long thin hand he snatched the Bible, and whispered over my head—“The serpent beguiled her and she did eat;” and after a momentary pause, he glided to the farthest window, and appeared to look out upon the midnight prospect.

(Le Fanu, 2000, pp. 292–293)

The Bible here is the key to the mystery of Silas because it contains the debts of her cousin to his father, and thus his dependence on him, as well as Silas’s own calculations about Maud’s inheritance. The whole plot to marry her to Dudley and thus gain Maud’s wealth for Silas lies within. Silas confirms that this is knowledge of good and evil by quoting from the story of the Fall in Genesis 3:13, suggesting that Maud has tasted forbidden fruit. While he judges her, the narration presents his motion as serpentine, with a sequence of alliterative esses imitating the hiss of a snake, and by the verb “slid” copying its movement.

Furthermore, the fact of the Bible being propped against the mirror offers the master key to the whole novel. So central was this to Le Fanu’s fictional project in his tales of the supernatural that he named a collection In a Glass Darkly, after the Authorized Version translation of 1 Corinthians 13:12: “now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” Entrapped within her uncle’s house, which becomes her prison, and denied the information that would justify her flight, Maud does indeed see only “darkly.” Early on in the novel, after the death of her mother, a visiting Swedenborgian minister, Dr. Bryerley, attempts to comfort her by explaining the afterlife. First he shows her a wall and describes what he knows lies behind it: a cottage garden and some children playing. Then he takes her to the mausoleum in the grounds where her mother has been buried and attempts to argue that the grave too is like a wall:

"“But Swedenborg sees beyond it, over, and through it, and has told me all that concerns us to know. He says your mamma is not there.”"

“She is taken away!” I cried, starting up, and with streaming eyes, gazing on the building which, though I stamped my feet in my distraction, I was afraid to approach. “Oh, is mamma taken away? Where is she? Where have they brought her to?”

I was uttering unconsciously very nearly the question with which Mary, in the grey of that wondrous morning on which she stood by the empty sepulchre, accosted the figure standing near.

(Le Fanu, 2000, p. 22)

Maud recognizes the grieving question as that of Mary Magdalene in John 20:13, but she remains without the vision of the Resurrection. Her imagination is unable to see beyond the limit of death, or through the glass, as it were. As a young child, her understanding of her mother’s removal is literal.

Finally, Maud will see through the glass when she comes to realize, at last, that her uncle plans her death. While Maud lies in a bed alongside her drunken governess-cum-jailer, the whole window frame of the room opens to admit her cousin Dudley, who then kills the governess in mistake for his cousin.

What saves Maud at this juncture, as she flees the house, is the central virtue of 1 Corinthians 13: love or charity. Maud’s kindness to Meg, the ill-treated daughter of Silas’s henchman, leads Meg and her lover Tom to aid her escape. Earlier, Maud had meditated on the love of Meg and others for herself and concluded that such relationships “are never quenched by time or distance, being founded on the affections, and so far heavenly” (Le Fanu, 2000, p. 297). Charity is the greatest virtue for St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 precisely because it outlasts time and is eternal. Freed from the deathly incarceration in Silas’s house, and from the fear of death that she faces as the knife descends in the dark bedroom, Maud in a sense moves beyond the limit of death to see and love “face to face.” The Swedenborgian element in all this lies in the mystic’s belief that already, in this life, we are attended by angelic and demonic forms, and by our ruling desires we accede to one side or the other, to be revealed in all its brute reality in the place of spirits after death, when hope, faith, and charity are made plain and all hypocrisy falls away.

The novel ends by praying for “the blessed second-sight” whereby the narrator may become aware of the angelic nature “under these beautiful forms of earth” (Le Fanu, 2000, p. 444). Maud becomes, indeed, a latter-day prophet of apocalypse as she writes, “through my sorrows, I have heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write, from henceforth blessed are the dead that die in the Lord’ ” in imitation of Revelation 14:13 (Le Fanu, 2000, p. 444). To employ this blessed second sight is therefore to have an apocalyptic perspective, in which history and time are uncovered to reveal their eternal significance, which is the other side of the “face-to-face” perspective Maud derives from 1 Corinthians 13.

One further nineteenth-century work of Gothic fiction that invokes the Bible as hermeneutic key in the uncovering of evil is Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, Dracula. Like Maturin and Le Fanu, Stoker came of Irish Protestant stock, and his fiction seeks to mediate between Catholic and Protestant from The Snake’s Pass (1890) onward to Dracula, in which a kind of ecumenical effort to defeat the designs of the vampiric Count Dracula is undertaken. The Protestant characters such as Jonathan Harker and his wife, Mina, seek to gather testimony to Dracula’s vampiric activity through the word, by means of typewriting, and John Seward’s diary on phonograph records. The Catholic layman Dr. Van Helsing improbably gains an indulgence to use the consecrated Eucharistic host to trap the vampires in their tombs, so takes a more ritual route. Orthodox Transylvanians employ traditional modes by wearing crucifixes and garlic.

In tracking Dracula once he arrives in the United Kingdom, the vampire opponents are given an enormous biblical clue to his activities in the form of the mental patient Renfield in Dr. Seward’s asylum, although it takes them a long time to make sense of it. Renfield is zoophagous: he eats increasingly larger and more complex organisms, beginning with flies, then spiders, moving up to sparrows and requesting a kitten, presumably for the same progress of ingestion. Seward religiously records Renfield’s every word and action, including mysterious references to a “Master” at hand, to whom he presents himself in the form of a John the Baptist, using the same bridal imagery for the Master’s arrival as John the Baptist in John 3:29, only transposing the aural imagery of the Gospel to visual and reversing the reference from groom to bride: “the bride-maidens rejoice the eyes that wait the coming of the bride; but when the bride draweth nigh, then the maidens shine not to the eyes that are filled” (Stoker, 1993, p. 133).

Seward studies the discourse of Renfield and the gaps within it as if it were a sacred text requiring commentary and explication, and he frequently has recourse to biblical analogies, such as “the real God taketh heed lest a sparrow fall; but the God created from human vanity sees no difference between an eagle and a sparrow” (Stoker, 1993, p. 133).

Despite the comparison with John the Baptist, Seward is slow to recognize who Renfield’s Master might be, even after Renfield strikes his doctor and laps up the dripping blood from the wound. He repeatedly quotes from Deuteronomy 12:23, “the blood is the life,” but Seward and the others fail to make the connection with Dracula’s bloodsucking. Renfield believes the life is in the blood and that he will become immortal by consuming as many lives as possible. But the reference is to the prohibition on blood drinking in the Law, because the life belongs to God its Creator. In that verse lies the explanation of Renfield’s behavior but also the nature of Dracula, who is a kind of Antichrist: he reverses Christ’s self-giving by taking, and making disciples through taking their own blood or promising them the blood of others. Dracula parodies the devil in the temptation of Christ in the Synoptic Gospels when he offers Renfield the world if he will fall down and worship him.

To defeat this satanic substitutionary sacrifice, the little group of Christians must be Christlike, offering their own blood to refill the veins of Lucy when depleted by vampiric draining and their lives in the service of ridding the world of Dracula’s reign of terror. Mina, who has been initiated against her will by Dracula in a form of blood baptism, offers her polluted nature and its psychic link to Dracula as an aid to tracking his movements and understanding his plans. This self-offering reverses the process of vampirism by rededicating blood back to God, so agreeing with Renfield that “the blood is the life” indeed. Self-giving and exchange through communication and communion then enables an ecumenical ecclesial community, which can defeat the vampire and allow his soul to rest.

Dracula is thus, as Noël Montague-Étienne Rarignac’s study of the novel (2012) argues, a sacred book, though not so much a hermetic text, as Rarignac claims, as a modern gospel, which witnesses paradoxically to the presence and activities of the Antichrist. It is presented as form of testimony, opening like Luke’s Gospel: “How these papers have been placed in sequence will be made manifest in the reading of them. All needless matters have been eliminated, so that a history almost at variance with the possibilities of later-day belief may stand forth as simple fact” (Stoker, 1993, p. 6). Luke writes, “it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed” (Luke 1:3–4, AV). Luke, too, relies on eyewitnesses. Mina Harker’s diary ends the novel, however, by revealing that they have no firm evidence for what happened, beyond “a mass of type-writing” (Stoker, 1993, p. 486). They need no proofs because they themselves are the testimony, just as Acts, the continuation of Luke’s Gospel, ends with the evidence of the confident preaching of St. Paul in Rome. The existence of the anti-Dracula “church” is itself the proof.

Rewriting the Bible.

Dracula comes close to actually asserting itself as a form of scripture. Indeed, the Gothic usurper, of which Dracula is an extreme example, always seeks to claim the prerogatives of the divine creator and to establish himself as his own author. Milton’s Lucifer, so popular an antihero in the Romantic period, lies behind figures such as William Beckford’s caliph in Vathek (1782), omnivorous of knowledge, power, and pleasure, Ambrosio the monk of Lewis’s novel, and Polidori’s 1819 vampiric protagonist, Lord Ruthven.

Although many texts show a fascination for this transgressive figure, the very fact that they can be read as satanic enscribes them within a biblical mode of reading by which their fallen nature is demonstrated. The most celebrated example of the rewriting of the Fall in a Gothic mode is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, first published in 1818, in which the Faustian Dr. Frankenstein sets himself up as godlike in his ambition:

"A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs. Pursuing these reflections, I thought that if I could bestow animation upon lifeless matter, I might in process of time (although I now found it impossible) renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption." (Shelley, 2008, p. 36)

He uses the word “creator” to describe himself and even suggests that he might bring the dead back to life, thus also setting him up as Christ, the Son of God, who brought Lazarus from stinking corruption in the tomb to life again in John 11. So the first-person narrative of the novel by Frankenstein is a new Genesis creation story. However, unlike the God of Genesis 2, who breathes into Adam, establishes an intimate relation with his creature, and finds him a companion, Frankenstein does no such thing. When the eye of the Creature opens, his creator flees in panic and thus refuses that parental role he had hitherto prided himself upon. Nor will he allow the Creature a wife.

Despite abandonment by his creator, the Creature does achieve some human relation for a time, and some education. He does not read the Bible itself but Milton’s biblical epic of 1667, Paradise Lost, and he uses that text to examine and evaluate his own identity and condition:

"Like Adam, I was created apparently united by no link to any other being in existence; but his state was far different from mine in every other respect. He had come forth from the hands of God a perfect creature, happy and prosperous, guarded by the especial care of his Creator; he was allowed to converse with and acquire knowledge from beings of a superior nature: but I was wretched, helpless, and alone." (Shelley, 2008, p. 105)

The Creature’s appearance is so monstrous—he is composed of body parts from a variety of corpses—that he is rejected and persecuted. Instead, he begins to see himself as Milton’s fallen archangel, Satan. In the poem, Satan falls out of envy and pride. Furthermore, he interprets the creation of humankind in Adam and Eve as a deliberate rejection of himself in favor of another race, and he seeks their downfall. In the same way the Creature, rejected by his creator, then hunts out Frankenstein’s own family and kills his brother, and later his bride. This only happens after a final refusal of responsibility by Frankenstein. Ana Acosta argues that in the beginning, having read both the Genesis narrative in Paradise Lost and Volney’s deeply skeptical treatise, The Ruins, or Meditations on the Revolutions of Empires (1791), where human turpitude in all institutions is excoriated, the Creature chooses the former (Acosta, 2006, p. 171). It might rather be argued that the problem for the Creature is that he has Milton’s poem and not the Bible. The innocence of Eden is only seen through the eyes of Satan in Paradise Lost and encourages a perverse satanic reading, or is capable of so doing. Although redemption is prophesied to Adam and Eve, it is not accomplished. Like Maud Ruthyn, the Creature is denied the biblical salvific knowledge that might have allowed him a different way of dealing with his situation.

Indeed, as we have seen, the eighteenth-century Gothic novel attends rather to the Old Testament, and the power of judgment to pursue the usurper. This befits texts that often originate from a Deistic background, where the redemption of Christ is not central. Shelley with Maturin marks a turning point in Victorian Gothic in which the whole Bible comes into play, and with it the sense of a salvific text and biblical hermeneutic in a post-Schleiermachian age. If this essay extended to Dickens and the Brontës as in a Gothic tradition, the Bible might fairly be described as the central intertext, although even here interpretation is still Gothic in being undertaken “in a glass darkly.”




  • Brockden Brown, Charles. Wieland and Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist. Edited by Jay Fliegelman. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1991 [1798].
  • Defoe, Daniel. Robinson Crusoe. Edited by J. Donald Crowley. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998 [1719].
  • Hogg, James. Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. Edited by J. A. Cuddon. London: Everyman, 1995 [1824].
  • Johnson, William Stacy, and John H. Leith, eds. Reformed Reader: A Sourcebook in Christian Theology. Vol. 1. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 2002.
  • Le Fanu, Joseph Sheridan. Uncle Silas: A Tale of Bartram-Haugh. Edited by Victor Sage. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 2000 [1864].
  • Lewis, Matthew. The Monk: A Romance. Edited by Christopher MacLachlan. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1998 [1794].
  • Mandelbrote, Scott. “The English Bible and Its Readers in the Eighteenth Century.” In Books and Their Readers in Eighteenth-Century England: New Essays, edited by Isabel Rivers, pp. 35–78. London: Continuum, 2001.
  • Maturin, Charles. Melmoth the Wanderer. Edited by Douglas Grant and Chris Baldick. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989 [1820].
  • Pope, Alexander. Poetical Works. Edited by Herbert Davis. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1966.
  • Rarignac, Noël Montague-Étienne. The Theology of Dracula: Reading the Book of Stoker as Sacred Text. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2012.
  • Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Edited by Maurice Hindle. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 2008 [1818].
  • Stoker, Bram. Dracula. Edited by Maurice Hindle. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1993 [1897].
  • Walpole, Horace. The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story. Edited by W. S. Lewis. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998 [1764].

Further Reading

  • Acosta, Ana M. Reading Genesis in the Long Eighteenth Century: From Milton to Mary Shelley. Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate, 2006. Includes a chapter on Frankenstein. Acosta traces the onset of secularization.
  • Campbell, Ian. “James Hogg and the Bible.” Scottish Literary Journal 10, no. 1 (1983): 14–29. Survey of use of scripture throughout Hogg’s fiction.
  • Hesford, Walter. “ ‘Do You Know the Author?’: The Question of Authorship in Wieland.” Early American Literature 17, no. 3 (1982–1983): 239–248. On biblical authority in the novel.
  • Milbank, Alison. Daughters of the House: Modes of the Gothic in Victorian Fiction. New York: St. Martin’s, 1992. Attends to biblical imagery in Le Fanu, Dickens, and the Brontës.
  • Sage, Victor. Horror Fiction in the Protestant Tradition. New York: St. Martin’s, 1988. Broad survey of religious themes, including attention to Pauline texts on death and resurrection.

Alison Milbank