“Monstrous Othering”: The Gothic Nature of Origin-Tracing in Law and Literature

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Much Gothic literature touches upon the concepts of familial injustice, disconnect from origin, and ill-treatment of the “monstrously-othered” or abandoned child. Certain works of fiction mirror those judicial discourses that involve contentious issues of unknown ancestry, not least anonymous gamete donation and cross-border surrogacy. Three novels in particular see their characters rendered monstrous by law, society, or unwritten norms of behavior: the clones of Katzuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, the unnamed monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Emily Brontë’s Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, share common features and horrific fates of endless exile. They are abused largely because of their genetic losses and unknowable origins, and thereby doomed to undertake fruitless quests and suffer flawed or fatal reunions. Dehumanizing policies of disenfranchisement enable or perpetuate such inequalities, but are justified in law, to preserve social order. In courtrooms too, there is a judicial need to balance conflicting human rights and interests: privacy, identity, family life. A “monstrous othering” can thus result, permanently exiling certain individuals from fundamental human rights protections. This is so despite the principles of child welfare paramountcy and best interests, not least where cross-border surrogacy, contact vetoes and sealed birth records are involved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)247-275
JournalAdoption & Culture
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 01 Nov 2021


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