Scream queens

The fe­male au­thors that in­vented Gothic lit­er­a­ture

All About History - - CONTENTS - Writ­ten by Beth Wy­att

Dur­ing the 19th cen­tury, a hun­gry, in­creas­ingly lit­er­ate au­di­ence of Vic­to­ri­ans con­sumed the novel, trans­form­ing writ­ers into house­hold names. But most re­mark­ably of all, the era ush­ered in a wave of fe­male pi­o­neers, an early form of girl power which vi­talised lit­er­a­ture with rich sto­ries, and in­spired fem­i­nists of the fu­ture.

The Gothic genre which played a hand in this vic­tory, with its frighet­ful form of­fer­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to ex­plore themes and is­sues pre­vi­ously side­lined or ig­nored in other works. Amidst the eerie cas­tles, strik­ing land­scapes and Me­dieval set­tings, these fe­male writ­ers could call into ques­tion male-dom­i­nated so­ci­ety, turn tra­di­tional power dy­nam­ics on their head, and use the su­per­nat­u­ral as a ve­hi­cle for the sen­sual. This isn’t to say that the genre was al­ways em­pow­er­ing, as texts such as Bram Stoker’s Drac­ula prove. With his con­trast­ing de­pic­tions of the vir­tu­ous Mina Harker and sala­cious Lucy Westenra, au­thor is per­ceived to have been as­sail­ing the ‘New Woman’ – a term used at the end of the cen­tury to de­scribe the fe­males who were try­ing to push against the bar­ri­ers dic­tat­ing what they could not (and should not) achieve.

But al­though fe­male nov­el­ists led the way in break­ing new ground, this was un­der in­tense scru­tiny and prej­u­dice. Many used male aliases, crit­i­cism was lev­elled at their de­vi­a­tion from ‘fem­i­nine’ mat­ters – Mary Shel­ley was de­scribed as hav­ing a “mas­cu­line mind” – and some of their fam­i­lies felt com­pelled to re­write as­pects of their char­ac­ters af­ter their deaths, for ex­am­ple Jane Austen’s brother Henry pur­pose­fully played down her am­bi­tions, in­ten­tions, and knack for so­cial cri­tique. Nev­er­the­less, their ac­com­plish­ments were many, and their books have brought joy to gen­er­a­tions of read­ers. In this bi­cen­te­nary year of Emily Brontë’s birth­day, and the pub­li­ca­tion of Mary Shel­ley’s Franken­stein, dis­cover how Gothic fic­tion shaped the lives of ten ta­lented women.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.