Published online by Cambridge University Press: 29 July 2021
There is an inherently Gothic lexicon at work in Betty Friedan’s landmark feminist study The Feminine Mystique (1963), connecting ‘the problem that has no name’ with the burial alive of the typical 1960s housewife. That language of unspeakable or unnameable enclosure recurs throughout the female Gothic and transcends the perceived disparity between its popular and literary manifestations. Victoria Holt’s popular Gothic romance, Mistress of Mellyn (1961), is shown to encapsulate just as successfully as more ‘serious’ Gothic texts many of the political concerns of second-wave feminism, including domestic incarceration, sisterhood, objectification by the masculine gaze and the allure of a ‘Super-Male’. Turning to the literary end of the Gothic spectrum, the chapter discusses these themes in selected works by Angela Carter; in Anne Sexton’s poem ‘Rapunzel’ (1971); Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987); and in Sarah Waters’s Fingersmith (2002). Thereafter it examines the interface between second- and third-wave feminist generations, noting how often, in Gothics, older women continue to be associated with monstrosity or sexual redundancy. While, in the Gothic, women are depicted as the victims of libertine sexuality, violation and coercion, this chapter also explores the roles that women themselves perform in the patriarchal exploitation of their sisters.