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Still Life: Representations of Passivity in the Gothic Novel Open Access


Other title
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Wight, Dana L
Supervisor and department
Binhammer, Katherine (English and Film Studies)
Examining committee member and department
Harol, Corrinne (English and Film Studies)
McTavish, Lianne (Art and Design)
Sinnema, Peter (English and Film Studies)
Department of English and Film Studies
Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
This dissertation explores the strategic possibilities of passivity as a form of agency in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British gothic novel in order to recuperate its representations of the passive female body as sites of feminist resistance. Using the methodologies of feminist and psychoanalytic theories and gothic literary criticism, this project examines four specific representations of passivity: fainting, sleep, illness, and death. These conditions are characteristic of a gothic mode that emerges with the birth of the novel, and continues to develop throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As such, this project closely examines key texts published at fifty-year intervals between 1740 and 1847. The first chapter considers Samuel Richardson’s proto-gothic novel Pamela (1740), whose titular heroine repeatedly faints when she is attacked by her rapacious master. The second chapter investigates violent bedchamber scenes in Matthew Lewis’s The Monk (1796) and Ann Radcliffe’s The Italian (1797), in which the would-be victims of rape and murder prove impenetrable, as their sleeping forms render their attackers impotent and immobile. The third chapter moves into the nineteenth century with an analysis of illness as strategic incapacity in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847), while the fourth and final chapter returns to Richardson with an examination of the heroine’s will towards death in Clarissa (1748). The purpose of this project is to expand rather than narrow the gothic system of representation to include affirmative readings of passivity as a means to (re)discover embodied forms of subjectivity in the gothic novel.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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