Date of Completion
Gothic, Novel, Gender, Grosse, Beckford, Lewis, Vathek, Monk
Dr. Jean Marsden
Dr. Samuel F. Pickering
Dr. Ray Anselment
Field of Study
Doctor of Philosophy
Beyond Gender: The Violation
of Convention in the Gothic Novel
Dennis Lazor, Ph.D.
University of Connecticut, 2013
The temptation to label Gothic texts as "Male" or "Female" and the tendency to base those labels upon biological conceptions of gender has hindered more than aided critical evaluations of eighteenth-century Gothic texts. Such a tendency obscures the fact that some male writers struggle against the roles the patriarchal culture imposes upon them and so view themselves, or are viewed by others, as "non-male" members of the society. Contributing even further to this distancing male writers experience from the masculine norm are the tensions of adolescence (the unformed male), homosexuality (the "deviant" male), and libertinism (the unrestrained male). Three writers in particular--William Beckford, M. G. Lewis, and Karl Grosse--examine in their work the problematic nature of identity as a function of gender. They also question the validity of the masculine standard by which both women and men are judged through their novels' indictment of the destruction of the domestic circle.
My contention is that neither the man nor his work is "male" by eighteenth-century standards, since their chief preoccupation is with the themes which critics have increasingly viewed as the realm of the Female Gothic: the difficulty in constructing an identity in a patriarchal culture which is antagonistic toward the "other"; the manner in which tyranny, through its abuse of power, perverts and destroys the domestic circle; the problem of controlling sexuality by channeling desire toward socially acceptable outlets; the imprisonment that ensues from being non-male in a male-centered world; and the passionate attempt to escape confinement through the creation of a romantic idyll.
What then is essentially "male" or "female" about Gothic literature of the Eighteenth Century has less to do with gender as determined by human physiology than with how writers position themselves in relation to the predominately patriarchal notions of the time. In terms of thematics, the novels of Beckford, Lewis, and Grosse can be viewed as "female" texts, since they focus upon the nature of identity as a reaction against the masculine norm and move beyond rigid and simplistic sex-based determinations of what constitutes male and female.
Lazor, Dennis, "Beyond Gender: The Violation of Convention in the Gothic Novel" (2013). Doctoral Dissertations. 280.