The Female Gothic Novel Analysis

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In The Rise of the Novel, Ian Watt underlines the “changed nature” of eighteenth-century mainstream literary production that witnesses a textual revolution since the inception of the gothic genre, which gains its popularity with the publication of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764) (qtd. in Hock-soon Ng 1). Contrary to the realistic narratives of Daniel Defoe and Samuel Richardson, which mark the outset of the century, gothic writers tantalize their works with fantastic events, breaking with the Enlightenment ideological discourse that values rationality (Botting 3). Yet, the gothic genre has been maligned as a ‘marginalized’ literary form in relation to nineteenth-century realistic literature. Juliann Fleenor, in The Female Gothic, further elucidates this: “The Gothic has generally had a negative critical reception. From the first it has been seen as outside the mainstream of literature […]. [C]ompared to the realistic novel, the critics maintaining that the latter is superior because it is more real” (qtd. in Anna Haningerová 14). In fact, its peripherized position seems “congenial” to that of women in the nineteenth-century patriarchal society (14). Accordingly, women novelists take up this genre that becomes an established mode in their literary texts since the eighteenth-century. Indeed, it is feminized with the literary works of Ann Radcliffe and consolidated by her female successors that participate in ‘the rise of the female gothic novel’ and the inauguration of an autonomous ‘female gothic tradition.’
While examining its nineteenth-century narratives, Anne Williams claims that the female gothic serves a “counter-feminist” aim (qtd. in Greta Olson 13). Its traditional plot upholds the conventional representati...

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...strosity of their characters. They centralize their narratives around the story of monstrous women who are neither foils to the heroines nor doubles to female authors. Instead, they are endowed with much leeway to articulate their authorial “I” and verbalize their stories in which they assert their agency and individuality. Through their new gothic monsters, twentieth-century female gothic novelists manage not only to construct a counter-discourse in which they subvert all kinds of binary mechanisms, but also to present a new feminist approach to the traditional female gothic, which suggests the ways that can undermine the conventional perception of identity, gender and sex as fixed and natural categories. Accordingly, I will refer to Judith Butler’s theory of gender performativity in order to read their narratives as stories of gender and sexual construction.

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