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2.12 - Victorian Domestic Gothic Fiction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 July 2020

Catherine Spooner
Affiliation:
Lancaster University
Dale Townshend
Affiliation:
Manchester Metropolitan University
Angela Wright
Affiliation:
University of Sheffield
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Summary

Tracing the evolution of Brontëan Gothic into sensation fiction between the late 1840s and mid-1860s, this chapter explores the dialogue between Victorian Gothic novels with a domestic setting and contemporary debates about gender known as the Woman Question. Representing the home as the site of violence, infidelity and dysfunction rather than as the tranquil refuge envisioned by domestic ideology, the fiction examined here is informed by, and even explicitly alludes to, topical controversies regarding marriage and gender roles sparked by such events as Caroline Norton’s campaign to reform child custody law, the passage of the Matrimonial Causes Act and the establishment of the civil divorce court. Yet, while their representation of women’s domestic entrapment has feminist undertones, these ideologically conflicted works also echo anxieties about the breakdown of separate spheres reminiscent of the period’s conservative discourses. These anxieties are most evident in the portrayal of the sexually deviant woman, a highly controversial figure in Victorian culture, and one depicted in these examples of domestic Gothic with pronounced, and often aesthetically complex, ambivalence.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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