From dolls to demons: exploring categorisations of the female figure in Gothic literature through a selection of nineteenth and twentieth century texts
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This thesis will examine various representations of female agency and identity in both classic and contemporary selected Gothic texts. It will use feminist, psychoanalytic and selected aspects of literary theory in order to analyse four different stages of the female condition within this genre of literature. In doing this it will use examples from the literary Gothic that represent how the identity of these female characters is divided into binary oppositions of ‘civilised’ or ‘native women’. The deciding (and usually masculine) agents of this categorisation, as well as the activity that occurs within the divide between these two groups, will be the focus of this thesis that I will use to portray how female identity is more complex than the rigid limitations of these patriarchal classifications. My core objective is to analyse the collective image of women in selected Gothic literary texts in order to illustrate how this particular genre has given a voice to the struggles that women encounter during their search for identity within a society that places so many physical and behavioural demands on them. Originally an offshoot of Romantic literature, the Gothic engages with the supernatural in a deliberate effort to validate what is sublime and terrifying about the unknown. In the face of Enlightenment rationality, it facilitates encounters between reader and text that validate fears and insecurities that science often dismisses. This subversive quality of the Gothic, which still remains an inherent and essential feature of modern texts in the genre today, creates an active space for the uncanny, which thereby allows for the subversion of certain realities and identities in fiction that may or may not be possible in real life, and this is especially true in the area of female agency. This study will examine how these selected Gothic texts imagine, represent and explore women’s sociocultural and sexual identity within the divide between these ‘civilised’ and ‘native’ women, by offering characters that transcend the normative boundaries of gender identity by imagining gender-construction in a very different and emancipatory manner.
Women in Gothic literature