In Literary Women , Moers claims that the Female Gothic is "easily defined: the work that women writers have done in the literary mode that, since the eighteenth century, we have called the Gothic" Moers, In answering the many questions raised by the spectre of the Female Gothic, I want to complicate that definition by including in its the depiction of women in the Gothic, as well as the depiction of the men in Gothic novels, who inevitably either marry those women or try to kill them, or possibly both. Moreover, because Radcliffe and Lewis the defining authors of the 18th-century Gothic were intentionally reacting to each other's work and incorporated that reaction into their novels, I also include Lewis' depiction of heroines and heroes in my definition of the Female Gothic. This section is constructed to give the student of the Gothic a strong textual and critical introduction to the major issues that play themselves out in the politics of being a female writer and character in the 18th-century Gothic. Because so much of these gender politics are founded in the works of Radcliffe and Lewis, I have limited the discussion to their works. While this section is certainly not a comprehensive overview of the Female Gothic, it should provide clear direction to readers interested in the constitution of femininity and gender politics in the genre.
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It seemed ungrateful to question a literary category that made my scholarship and that of many of my peers even possible. Yet, I have wanted to write this article for some time, because categorizing a work as part of the Female Gothic seems to create more problems for analysis than it solves.
Other critics have examined closely the categorical problems inherent to a term that links a stable notion of gender to a notoriously slippery literary mode. This discussion takes a slightly different tack and questions why such a problematic term has had such a sustained and profound impact on feminist literary criticism up to this day.
This essay does not wish to disqualify the important work done on the Female Gothic. Rather, this essay attempts to explain why the discrepancy between available primary textual material and textual analysis exists and how it came to be.
By presenting Radcliffe as an anomaly—a special case—critics such as Walter Scott could acknowledge her artistry without having to re-evaluate the aesthetic contribution made by women authors in the emerging Gothic. Clara Reeve, for example, made important contributions to the developing Gothic mode. One discussion elaborates on whether the gender of the author correlates with a specific aesthetic. As many scholars have noted, women authors often create Gothic worlds that symbolize patriarchal power in which a virginal heroine attempts to overcome an exaggerated version of the subjugation women face in everyday life.
The works of Clara Reeve and Charlotte Smith, for example, often focus their energies on issues related to the public sphere and center their narratives on a male protagonist Bowstead, , Fletcher, , and Coykendall, Narratives that focus on the struggles of a virtuous heroine often portray her as not only suffering, but also exerting agency, displaying physical courage, and gaining empowerment within Gothic spaces Ledoux, In Zofloya , Charlotte Dacre creates a Byronic heroine who sadistically kills a Radcliffean heroine without hesitation or remorse.
In short, women do not exclusively write about distressed virtue and the domestic sphere, and even when they do, the female characters represent a diversity of experience. Finally, scholars have also considered whether the gender of the reader contributes to a text being labeled as Female Gothic.
Satires and critiques from the early nineteenth-century frame the readers as girls and women. Yet as I will discuss, part of the impetus behind those critiques forms around the notion that these narratives are unsuitable for women.
Again, the readership does not fall neatly along gendered lines. As with most Gothic Studies, discussions of the Female Gothic have disproportionately focused on one genre, the novel, and one novelist, Ann Radcliffe. At the same time, as several critics have noted, the Gothic mode transcends traditional genres and extends well beyond the novel Williams, and Gamer, For all the reasons discussed above, a robust meta-discussion about linking a gendered signifier to an aesthetic mode continues.
Smith and Wallace, In their introductory essay, Horner and Zlosnik suggest that:. Despite the considerable economic, social, and legal progress at least in the Western world made by women, Gothic texts still convey anxiety and anger about the lot of women.
Horner and Zlosnik, : 1. However, because my arguments hinge on how nineteenth-century critics—who operated mostly within stable gendered binaries—continue to influence twentieth and twenty-first century criticism, I focus my attention instead on an important concept from feminist thought: strategic essentialism.
Gayatri Spivak invokes this term to describe moments in which scholars put aside their critiques of essentialism to inspire political change Spivak, They did not have the luxury, early on, of questioning what it meant to be female or to choose an obscure author as their champion. Yet, her talent for sublime description supported the legitimacy of the burgeoning novel and elicited questions of whether the artistic merit of the Gothic romance should be better acknowledged.
These issues were further complicated by the amount of money publisher George Robinson paid Radcliffe for her later manuscripts, The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian From a feminist perspective, these extraordinary gains are undercut when examining the contract for Udolpho , which can be found in the Sadleir-Black Collection at the University of Virginia.
Legally, the agreement exists between William and George Robinson. Most of these manuscripts, by unknown or anonymous authors, simply recycled Gothic devices that proved popular for earlier novelists. Critics responded with alarm about what might happen if every woman fancied herself an author and every young woman began to consume these narratives.
Mrs Radcliffe, as an author, has the most decided claim to take her place among the favoured few, who have been distinguished as the founders of a class, or school. She led the way in a peculiar style of composition, affecting powerfully the mind of the reader, which has since been attempted by many, but in which no one has attained or approached the excellencies of the original inventor, unless, perhaps the author of The Family of Montorio Scott, : In the opening line, Scott clearly establishes Radcliffe as an innovator and a leader.
In McIntyre, : Scott seems to say that no one is as good as Radcliffe, except maybe the author of The Family of Montorio. One wonders why Scott refers to Charles Maturin as the author of Montorio , rather than by name. It could just be a stylistic flourish or a way of highlighting that novel, yet something more calculated seems to be going on here, which only becomes clear within the context of other reviews. Scott names a title rather than an author, because, by doing so, he can avoid any suggestion that a woman directly dominates over her male colleagues in this literary field.
Historical evidence reveals that anonymous women comprised the majority of Gothic authors Jacobs, For Scott, who is trying to canonize the novel, the association of Radcliffe with these anonymous women would undermine his argument. One of the chief reasons critics dismissed romance was the perception that it was primarily written and read by women and therefore associated with the down-market trade Jacobs, Not only does Scott obliquely separate Radcliffe from her male peers, but he also creates a sacred barrier between Radcliffe and other women writing in the same genre.
Scott creates a critical precedent, where exceptions to a male-dominated canon can be made for extraordinary women authors, which goes unchallenged until the recovery project of second-wave feminism. A more serious debate rages in non-fiction prose about the effect of novel reading on young women, and this debate becomes more urgent once the Gothic novel comes into fashion.
In short, young female readers dissipate their time in a fantasy world of masculine adventure, rather than learning the skills necessary to run a household and to perform femininity. Thomas James Mathias, whose observations about Radcliffe Scott quotes in Lives, takes this concern to another level, suggesting that Gothic novels might encourage young women to embrace French republican values. In this climate, Mathias suggests that, in addition to having talent and originality, Radcliffe can be trusted to maintain a certain moral and political conservatism:.
All these reviews are so flowery that they are difficult to cite in short segments. He denies this expectation and instead launches into aesthetic praise.
It is no coincidence then that in Pursuits Mathias singles out authors such as Mary Wollstonecraft and Charlotte Smith, whose heroines do not observe the strictest decorum, as having tarnished reputations that make them unfit authors for young female minds. Promoting romance reading as a virile act subverts the dominant stereotype of the romance reader as a flighty maiden.
To be fair, these comments exist within a much larger context. Ultimately, it is less important who influenced whom, as the influence was most likely reciprocal.
What is important, however, is how critics have interpreted this influence. Two other female authors, Mary Shelley and Jane Austen, will have such centennial celebrations in and The others focus on male Romantic poets. These events, with their impressive roster of speakers, promise renewed scholarly commitment to these authors. Yet, when one looks at the big picture implications of this line-up, we see that very little has changed with regard to the women authors that receive sustained study.
While Radcliffe should be celebrated, this essay works to explain why she enjoys that pride of place when she was influenced by and drew from so many of her contemporaries, including Clara Reeve, Sophia Lee, and Charlotte Smith. Perhaps the antidote to this phenomenon lies in going back to the original criticism.
In , the Critical Review reviewed the anonymously published Romance of the Forest. Palgrave Communications. The Spirit of the Public Journals for Oxford University Press: New York. Google Scholar. The Old English Baron. Eighteenth-Century Fiction ; 17 3 : — Ohio University Press: Athens, Ohio, pp — Doody M Deserts, ruins and troubled waters: Female dreams in fiction and the development of the Gothic novel.
Genre ; 10 , — Fitzgerald L Female gothic and the institutionalization of gothic studies. In: Wallace D and Smith A eds. The Female Gothic: New Directions. Palgrave Macmillan: New York. Critical Survey ; 4 1 : 3—8. Hogle J Introduction: The Gothic in western culture. In: Hogle J ed. The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction.
Horner A and Zlosnik S Introduction. In: Horner A and Zlosnik S eds. Women and the Gothic: An Edinburgh Companion. Jacobs E Eighteenth-century British circulating libraries and cultural book history. Book History ; 6 , 1— In: Pohl N and Schellenberg B eds. Reconsidering the Bluestockings. Women's Writing ; 18 3 : — Mathias TJ The pursuits of literature. Available through opac. Milbank A Female gothic. In: Mulvey-Roberts M ed.
“Female Gothic” by Ellen Moers
Was there ever a “Female Gothic”?
Instead of transgressing morality to gain immortality like his fellow literary overreachers, Victor Frankenstein does so in order to create human life. More importantly, and more interestingly Moers argues, that life is not cast in the stereotypical candy and roses most birth myths are during this time period. While postpartum depression and anxiety are common after the birth of a baby, discussions of it were not the norm in cultural mythology or literature at the time and remain taboo for the most part. To Moers, Victor is an ill equipped father and overreaching creative who underestimates the gravity of his creation and runs when he faces it, but he is also and more importantly a counterpart to a scared, young Mary Shelley coping with the death of her first child and the magnitude of being a mother.
Introduction: Defining the Female Gothic