The dangerous and devious strategy of being unintelligible : women's rhetoric in Gothic novels, 1798-1815
Bentley, Melissa Kay.
Thesis (M.A.)--Georgetown University, 2010.; Includes bibliographical references.; Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format. This thesis examines the discursive strategies employed by female Gothic novelists in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Britain. At time of the French Revolution, ruling patriarchy enforced strong, ideologically laden binaries: male/female, rational/irrational, public/private, etc. Since these binaries were organized around principles of opposition, women, on the "wrong" side of the binary were disempowered. Charlotte Lennox's The Female Quixote demonstrates repressive ideological education at work: Arabella, the protagonist, is devious and unintelligible and is forcibly made to fit within the rigid binary. To prevent oppression and vindicate themselves to ruling patriarchy, many women in the years following turned to the Gothic, a devious genre that focuses on the symbol of female entrapment and resists forcible closure. Perplexingly, female Gothic novels of this period appropriate binaries, concluding with shockingly abrupt finality. This thesis argues that women needed to express themselves intelligibly within these confines or else risk forced capitulation. To do so, women needed to be proficient in both patriarchy's and their own interpretive strategies and discourses and reconcile two antithetical poles. Only once women were able to gain discursive fluency could they fashion their views as concordant with patriarchal values. Women employed a wide array of rhetorical strategies to express themselves in patriarchy's idiolect: 1. capitulation, 2. deception, 3. semantic reinscription, and 4. satire. To explore these strategies, this thesis analyzes Gothic novels written in the late 1790's and early nineteenth century: Charlotte Dacre's Zofloya, Sydney Owenson's The Wild Irish Girl, F.C. Patrick's More Ghosts!, and Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey.
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