Defiant damsels: Gothic space and female agency in Emmeline, the mysteries of Udolpho and secresy

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This article seeks to destabilize the dominant feminist reading of Gothic space as an allegory of domestic imprisonment and, by extension, to call into question the female Gothic's reputation as a genre primarily concerned with depicting women's victimization. Reading Charlotte Smith's Emmeline (1788) and Eliza Fenwick's Secresy (1795) in opposition to Ann Radcliffe's iconic The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), the essay demonstrates that while women authors sometimes portray Gothic spaces as confining or threatening, they also depict them as settings in which female characters exhibit physical prowess and find economic enfranchisement. That representations of these defiant damsels persist over time and adapt to changing political conditions suggests that both authors and readers utilized the potential of this symbolically rich space to imagine multiple types of domestic scenarios and to entertain a variety of transgressive female fantasies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)331-347
Number of pages17
JournalWomen's Writing
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Aug 1 2011


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Gender Studies
  • Literature and Literary Theory

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