'Fin de Siècle Gothic’ in The Victorian Gothic: An Edinburgh Companion. Eds. Andrew Smith and William Hughes. Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh, 2012. Co-authored with Bryony Randall.
Two critical tendencies are in evidence in much scholarly work on the Gothic fictions of the Victorian fin de siècle: the idea that the period is characterised by anxieties of a particularly masculine kind, and the claim that much Gothic output of the period is misogynistic. My present research seeks to balance these perspectives by exploring the vast array of Gothic fictions produced by women writers in the period, to argue that these writers frequently adapted Gothic conventions in order to express specifically feminine – and sometimes feminist – concerns.
This area of work began in relation to research undertaken for a co-authored chapter for the Edinburgh Companion to the Victorian Gothic (April 2012). My co-author, Dr Bryony Randall from the University of Glasgow, and I sought to explore not only novels written by women, but also some of the many Gothic short stories published in the periodicals. Our study looked at female writers whose contribution to Gothic is already well-known (e.g. Vernon Lee) but came to focus upon a number of authors who today are either neglected or known for work other than their Gothic fictions. Edith Nesbit, for example, is remembered for her children’s stories, but what is less well-known are her unsettling and extremely effective Gothic short stories. These tales of haunted houses, revenants returning from the dead, vampiric creatures and sinister scientists, frequently feature heterosexual relationships in which the supernatural is a touchstone that reveals the fatal flaws in apparently loving relationships. Indeed, we argued that the fantastic is used in her stories as a mode through which to explore the systematic dismissal of women’s perspectives by men in a patriarchal society.
Our work on lesser-known women writers focused upon Charlotte Riddell and Florence Marryat. Riddell’s often rather formulaic short stories evince a fascination with legal arrangements around wealth and property. We argued that she employs the highly conventional form of the ghost story both to expose the vulnerability of women to men in the face of Victorian property laws, and to enable a meditation upon the moral use of money. In her fictions Gothic tonality is often provided not by the supernatural elements (indeed her ghosts are frequently benevolent protectors of the vulnerable living or seekers of justice) but by her presentations of ordinary human avarice and corruption. Finally, we explored the late-Victorian’s preferred figure of female monstrosity – the vampire – through a reading of Florence Maryatt’s The Blood of the Vampire. We proposed that while Marryat’s tale of a young West Indian heiress ‘infected’ by vampire and mixed-race blood does indeed appear indebted to contemporary male-authored scientific ideas about the dangers posed by women to men and by so-called ‘miscegenation’, that at the same time the extraordinary degree of sympathy generated for its central protagonist in turn suggests a critique of a remorselessly conventional society.A research sabbatical from the University of Brighton in 2012/13 has enabled me to continue to work on Nesbit, Riddell and Marryat, as well as other women writers of Gothic from the period. Publications on Nesbit and Riddell will be forthcoming in 2014.