The Madwoman as Antagonist in English Gothic Fiction

  • Author / Creator
    King, Shivaughn M.
  • This thesis aims to investigate the portrayal of madwoman characters as antagonists in English literature, in order to contribute to ongoing critical discussions on the subject of the madwoman in feminist literary criticism. The thesis performs a close reading of the characters of Bertha Mason in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847), Mrs. Danvers in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (1938) and its film adaptations, and Adeline March in Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale (2006). The selection of texts from three different centuries demonstrates historical continuity in the representation of madwoman antagonist literary characters. Furthermore, this thesis refers to these fictional texts as well as critical commentary in order to demonstrate that the terms “madness” and “madwoman” have an inherent connection to the term “mental illness” and thus to real-world perceptions of mental disorder. For this reason, the representation of madwoman characters as antagonists is particularly notable, in that it suggests an association between madness, and by extension mental illness, and the villainous actions of the characters. This thesis demonstrates that in each of the three texts in question, the madwoman antagonist is associated with violent and destructive actions. This results in the implication that madness makes these women inherently dangerous and destructive. Given that they are not the protagonists or viewpoint characters of the novels, these madwoman antagonists are also unable to tell their own stories, meaning the novels provide no counter-narrative to their negative portrayals.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2022
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Arts
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.