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Gothic fiction - freedom for women

How and why has the Gothic been of importance in writing by and for women?
Literature Essay

  • Assessment: essay
  • Mark: A
  • Year: 2006
  • Wordcount: 3285

Excerpt:
The Gothic genre arose with the publication of Walpole’s Castle of Otranto in 1764, and achieved instantly a high popularity. It was particularly associated with female writers and readers (Markman 2003: 48). The Gothic novels of the first wave consist often of a formulaic plot around a hidden crime that feature stereotypical characters in a medieval setting and draw on supernatural occurrences (Markman 2003: 1-16). Within these tensions of gothic horror, female writers and readers started to explore their private fears and desires. On the one hand, many Gothic texts written by women draw on female fears of male oppression and betrayal. On the other hand, these texts picture female desires in exploring the themes of identity and sexuality, and feature heroines that are models of resistance.
This essay will examine the importance of Gothic fiction as a space of freedom for women during the late 18th century. In looking at Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest and Austen’s Northanger Abbey, I will particularly focus on the construction of female identity, the theme of female oppression as well as the function of the Gothic heroine. In the first part, I will examine the significance of Gothic fiction for the female reader. After that I will highlight the opportunities within this genre for the female author. The aim of this essay is to provide evidence that suggests that the significance of the Gothic genre lies in the texts’ function to serve as a “reflective distortion of social reality” (Meyers 2001: 17) with an aim to question and test out 18th century boundaries and limits.
Gothic texts crossed social boundaries in exploring “new extremes of feeling, through the representation of scenes and events well beyond the normal range of experience” (Clery 2000: 13). These new emotions are often linked to the texts’ exploration of female fears and desires that were regarded as inappropriate in 18th century society…

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