Women in Early Gothic fiction: From submissive females to Subversive Rebels

Mahjoub Hachmi


Throughout human history, women have often been seen under a binary system as the inferior ‘other’. Female subordination might be as old as the belief in the original sin. While both Adam and Eve sinned, the latter is held more responsible for the deterioration of human fate. For most of recorded history, very few voices were raised against women’s subordination. It was only towards the sixteenth century with the publication of Il Merito Della Donne (The Worth of Women) that it was believed that women could do better if given a chance. However, as Caine explains, women’s rights, their equality with men, and their status became a cultural issue only in the eighteenth century. The debate about women’s issues or feminism was certainly reflected in the literary genre, and Gothic fiction was said to be the best vehicle successfully used to depict women’s questions. It was in that period that women started on their way to freedom, and that Gothic fiction was born with Horace Walpole, Ann Radcliffe, and Matthew Lewis as its main founders. The conventional representation of femininity in their novels hides a subversive nature in reality. The apparently weak and submissive females are in reality endowed with challenging power that subverts the whole image of the female and destroys thus the whole patriarchal order carefully constructed by men. The conventional women's submission becomes an invitation to challenge that established order. This idea recapitulates my whole thesis in which I attempt to see how the Gothic submissive females are transformed into subversive forces that paved the way to women’s empowerment.  



Female empowerment – Patriarchal order – Gothic fiction – Subversion –Women subordination – Feminism.

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