Eighteenth-century gothic novels and gendered spaces: What's left to say?

Gretchen M Cohenour, University of Rhode Island

Abstract

This study employs Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto , Ann Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho, and Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey to evidence how gender differences are reinforced or revised in specific domestic spaces in early British Gothic novels. This study conceptualizes space and place in terms of social relations including gender, class, politics, and geography. Concepts of gender and productions of idealized female and male behavior in particular places create "gendered spaces." Examining social boundaries frequently reveals domestic spaces and the objects they contain, oftentimes identifying these objects with gender or function. I suggest that our understanding and experience of domestic space within these early Gothic texts merit further attention in order to establish space as a socially constructed element. While texts from scholars like Gaston Bachelard, Henri LeFebvre, Shirley Ardener, and Doreen Massey have shown the connections between social identity and the physical and spatial constituents of one's surrounding environment, investigating how space and place are created and demarcated may lead us to more profound considerations of Gothic elements and defining character relations, not only in eighteenth-century literature, but also in today's. Julia Kristeva's theories of abjection, the Symbolic and Semiotic, and Kenneth Burke's rhetorical theory of dramatism provide important lenses for examining the uses and meanings of gender and space embedded in narrative constructions and socially performative actions in the Gothic novel. While not necessarily meant to be merely theoretical, my study does examine the purpose of the home and its rhetoric in these early Gothic novels to help determine the uses of space in connection with gender. I hope to show how these spaces reflect various borders and enclosures necessary for scholars to recognize a more distinct vulnerability of those borders created by construction (and deconstruction) of gender tropes. In turn, new ways of theorizing about gender and its role in Gothic texts may follow. Both Kristeva's and Burke's notion of openness, of possibility, and of ongoing conversation with texts and life not only imbues this project, but also remains its directive in the establishing of new ways of reading Gothic texts. ^

Subject Area

Literature, English

Recommended Citation

Gretchen M Cohenour, "Eighteenth-century gothic novels and gendered spaces: What's left to say?" (2008). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI3314452.
http://digitalcommons.uri.edu/dissertations/AAI3314452

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