The Glasgow Review Issue 2

Back to list of Issues

Early Female Gothic: Zofloya and Manfroné; or the One-Handed Monk

Helen Stoddart

The only obvious excesses in Jane Austen's novels are those of nicety. Yet even from Austen we get important glimpses of a darker, more transgressive fictional underworld, though these are couched within the made-safe terms of literary parody. In Northanger Abbey (1818) the titles of actual Gothic novels of the day are explicitly and satirically dropped into an exchange between the naïve heroine of the novel, Catherine Morland, and her recent acquaintance, the rather foolish Isabella Thorpe, who has taken upon herself to be Catherine's Gothic mentor, and recommends a list of suitably unsavoury reading:

`Dear creature! how much I am obliged to you; and when you have finished Udolpho, we will read The Italian together; and I have made out a list of ten or twelve more of the same kind for you.'

`Have you indeed! How glad am I! - What are they all?'

`I will read you their names directly; here they are, in my pocket book. Castle of Wolfenbach, Clermont, Mysterious Warnings, Necromancer of the Black Forest, Midnight Bell, Orphan of the Rhine, and Horrid Mysteries. Those will last us some time.'

`Yes, pretty well; but are they all horrid, are you sure they are all horrid?'[2]

Not only is there slapdash arithmetic that reflects badly on the intelligence of the enthusiast, but her inability to perceive any qualitative distinction between the novels of Radcliffe on the one hand and the `Horrid Novels' on the other, is unmistakably a jibe at the lack of literary discretion displayed by the readership of such texts. Yet Catherine's eager need to confirm the distastefulness of these novels also suggests the wonderfully prurient energies which contemporary readers gave over to their consumption. Naturally, Austen's novel cannot itself escape without (self-) implication here. As with any parody, it displays a gentle mocking of its subject, the popular Gothic, which of course belies an extensive knowledge of the genre, a knowledge only to be gleaned by a lively appetite on the part of the author for such reading.

Probing a little further into the authors on this list (whose names matter nothing to Isabella) it emerges that three of them are women: Eliza Parsons (The Castle of Wolfenbach, 1793 and The Mysterious Warning, 1796), Regina Maria Roche (Clermont, 1798), and Eleanor Sleath (The Orphan of the Rhine, 1798). The extreme popularity of these novels is not in doubt, but not so easy to establish however are the reasons for the Gothic's appeal, and in particular its pre-eminence amongst women readers and writers - something which has continued to the present day. Feminist critics often sound edgy in their assessments of what women were doing with these texts - and about what the texts did to women. In A Vindication of the Rights of Women Mary Wollstonecraft becomes self-righteous about women who are `subjected by ignorance to their sensations' by reading the `stupid novelists, who, knowing little of human nature, work up stale tales.' There is a missionary project discernible in her tone :

When, therefore, I advise my sex not to read such flimsy works, it is to induce them to read something superiour ... The best method, I believe, that can be adopted to cure a fondness for novels is to ridicule them ... [3]

The snobbery in this (`read something superior') is unmistakable, but it is underwritten by a fear that `fondness for novels' might pose a threat to women's intellectual development. And likewise, in more recent critical accounts, a kind of double pull goes on, between recognising the positive position of women as authors of the texts and the confrontating their figurations of female characters.Broadly two possibilities are on offer, and both are kinds of hysteric: the fainting, virginal heroine and the virago or demoniac woman who is always sexually active. Both lose or have lost control over their bodies; bodies which are determined by sexuality - either excessively passive or excessively active.

The suggestions I have to make about the popular appeal of the early Gothic will be derived from an examination of two early nineteenth century texts, Charlotte Dacre's Zofloya and Mary-Anne Radcliffe's Manfroné; Or the One-Handed Monkwhich are, in separate ways, highly representative of the first cycle of the Gothic. Both are popular novels by women writers. Manfroné, was first published by William Lane's Minerva Press[4], tsource of many of the more sentimental Gothic romances. The less happily resolved and frequently violently transgressive versions of early Gothic such as Zofloyahave been associated with male writers like Lewis and Maturin, so in this sense Zofloya is also transgressive of conventional gender expectations.

The literary obscurity of these novels begs some brief notes of exposition before offering an analysis.Zofloyapresents the catastrophic demise of a family of Italian aristocrats and centres on the only daughter, the much indulged Victoria. Her parents' blissful marriage is destroyed by Count Ardolph, a professional marriage wrecker who seduces her mother and murders her father. Victoria escapes the imprisonment into which they place her and flees to Venice to join her friend Berenza. Proving herself worthy of him by saving him from a night-time assassin (who turns out to be her own brother Leonardo) she agrees to marry Berenza though, quickly disillusioned, she no longer loves him. Soon she begins to lust after his younger brother, Henriquez, but he only has eyes for the pure and angelic Lilla. After Victoria dreams that Henriquez's black servant, Zofloya, effects the deaths and attachments she desires, Zofloya then begins to help her make these happen in reality. She poisons Berenza, kidnaps and imprisons Lilla, and magically dupes Henriquez into sleeping with her, which then precipitates his suicide. In the final scenes she meets up with Leonardo who, now a bandit, murders Ardolph. His mother dies shortly afterwards as a result of Ardolph's beatings. Leonardo kills himself. Victoria can only avoid the horrors of the Inquisition by giving herself over completely to Zofloya's power, but at the last moment he reveals his true demonic features and triumphantly hurls her over a precipice.

Manfroné is even more convoluted. Here the family is threatened by a profligate father rather than a mother. The heroine Rosalina is contracted by her father, Rudolpho, to marry the evil Prince di Manfroné in exchange for the clearance of a debt. Rosalina is in love with her neighbour Montalto. He is the son of her father's enemy, and, though believed to be dead, is in fact held captive by Rudolpho. After attempted rape, kidnapping, and various other attacks by the Manfroné/father collaboration (including an attempted murder by her father), Rosalina is eventually saved from Manfroné (now in disguise as Grimaldi the monk) by Montalto. When Manfroné is killed, it is revealed that one of his hands is missing. This uncovers him as both the attempted rapist of the first scene and her father's murderer - the skeletal hand which Rudolpho cut from Manfroné is found clutching a dagger that is eventually lodged in Rudolfo's own heart.

What jumps out at the reader, even from these boiled down accounts, are highly distorted and dissatisfied representations of totally dysfunctional families in which the place of females and female sexuality is, to say the least, unsettled. Both novels, despite very different endings, produce fictional space for a violent presentation of female fears and ambitions which undermine family structures. Trauma is, however, contained within an aesthetic of distance and of disbelief. The figures of women in these texts may be passionate and hysterical, yet in foregrounding of the logic of spectacle, the spectral and the sublime lay traces of fictionality within the conventions of the early Gothic, and wedge a gap between the `emptiness' of the figures in the text and the reading subject.

Here is a sample of extra-diegetic commentary from Zofloya:

When the mind is dissatisfied, whether on grounds just or unjust, it ever views objects through an exaggerated medium; trifles which in a sane state, would have passed unnoticed, are twisted from their proper significance, to aid the conceptions of a disturbed imagination. (p.122)

Thisis an update on the heroine Victoria's increasingly rocky psychological stability. It also reads like some generalising literary critical account of the distortions of the Gothic, and thereby illustrates how the genre already incorporated its own crude psychoanalytic theory of the symptoms of projection of states of `disturbed imagination' `through an exaggerated medium'. Gothic novels have always been concerned, often self-consciously, with psychology and are littered with observations on the workings of the distressed or dissatisfied mind, observations upon which the texts perform fictional elaborations. To read these observations as the particular personal symptoms, as the literary projections of the socially and sexually dissatisfied woman novelist, in this case Charlotte Dacre, would be to elide all distinction between writer and character. What they reveal, rather, is that, even at its origins in the 1764-1820 period, Gothic fiction was devising a literary framework, a fictional space, for the dramatisation of various forms of transgression and disturbance; social, political and sexual.

The most glaring sites of unrest in bothZofloyaand Manfronéare parental relationships: mother/daughter in Zofloyaand father/daughter in Manfroné. Both cases provide examples of the way Gothic pre-figured psychoanalysis, by playing out the dramas which Freud would later write up and label - in this case `Family Romances'.[5] Stephen Heath's defines `the novelistic' as `the ideological category of the narrative elaborated in film as it is of that of the novel', and finds it interchangeable with `Family Romance', which he describes as addressing:

the definition of forms of individual meaning within the limits of existing social representations and their determining social relations, the provision and maintenance of the fictions of the individual; in historical reality it encounters a permanent crisis of identity that must be perman-ently resolved by remembering the history of the individual subject.[6]

In short, dramas of disturbed and neurotic families - the stuff of Gothic fiction - are part and parcel of the working out of the limits and functions of the individual within any given period.

The passage I have cited from Zofloya seems at first to encapsulate well this work of the novelistic in terms of its description of an individual character (Victoria), and the way the world is given meaning through individual subjectivisation. However it also leaves no doubt that part of the nature of Gothic fiction's performances of character and scene will undermine the establishment or stability of any definition of individual meaning: `a permanent crisis of identity' is more likely to be exacerbated than quelled by fictions of the family which endlessly bring into disrepute the name of the so-called `Family Romance'. It does this not just through its themes of incest, rape and infanticide but by denying the `imaginary specialness' of identity in its formations of the fiction of the individual - by its suppression of any `history of the individual subject'.

The extract began as contemplation of an individual character, Victoria.Zofloyarecounts the disastrous making and moulding of her identity and her battle to follow her own desires in the face of those who seek possession and control over her. The whole moralistic thrust rests on an assumption of the non-essential, social nature of identity. This is clear from the start:

for we are in great measure the creatures of education, rather than of organisation: the former can almost always surmount the defects of the latter. (p.12)

Good character is a family affair and huge stress is placed on the importance of the mother's role in setting a shining example for her children to reduplicate in their own actions. Laurina fails quite spectacularly to do this and therefore is, in the terms of the novel, a bad mother. Her children are described in the first pages as spoilt but not yet beyond the pale:

Such were the children whom early education had tended equally to corrupt; and such were the children whom to preserve from future depravity, required the most vigilant care, aided by such brilliant examples of virtue and decorum as should induce the desire of emulation. Thus would have been counteracted the evils engendered by the want of steady attention to the propensities of childhood. (p.2)

The direct effect the mother's poor example has on the children is stressed at regular intervals. She fails to protect them from, in the closing words of the novel, `the suggestions of infernal influences'. (p.260) Something of the Frankensteinian theme of monstrous reproduction suggested by Victoria in this moment of recrimination:

that which I have been, my mother made me! ... can I reflect upon my deeds of horror, without arraigning thee as the primary cause? ... For these crimes - all, all I say, rising out of thy example, I am now a despised exile in the midst of robbers. (p.250)

The children have become outsiders, socially unacceptable in their mother/creator's shadow.

Eve Sedgwick has outlined a connection between writing on a page and the formation of character in the Gothic novel in which identity manifests itself through various marked or inscribed surfaces, including the face.[7] This link between writing/authorship and the making of characters is manifest in Mary Shelley's reference to her production of Frankenstein, the text,asher `hideous progeny', and in Frankenstein's intra-diegetic construction of a monster.[8] The metaphor is made literal when his Creature describes Frankenstein `the author of at once my existence and of its unspeakable torments'.(p.189) Berenza's disapproving deliberation on Victoria's predicament also relates parenting to authorship:

Yet still more severe were his reflections against the authors of this mischief, the parent, whose example and conduct had corrupted the sentiments of her daughter. But mentally he promised himself to restrain and correct the improper bias of Victoria's character. (p.63)

The metaphor also crops up frequently in Manfroné. Just as Rosalina's father is lifting his sword in preparation to kill her, or `rub her out' as he significantly puts it, she acknowledges him as `the author of my being.' (Vol.3, p.206) The cumulative effect of these recurrences is to suggest an implicit inscription of the fictionality of these characters, as well as their mobility and possibilities.

Both Zofloya and Manfronéwork within the Gothic convention of using physiognomy as a register of character, morality and meaning. Actual features often seem directly to describe personality, as with Manfroné, his:

forbidding countenance; his black eyes rolled beneath his bushy exuberant brows, and seemed an index to the dark thoughts of his heart. (Vol.1, p.20)

Or with Ardolph; Leonardo declares that he:

could never forget those accursed features, stamped with indelible characters on his burning brain!

In Gothic novels, `characters' fall into `types', (both words again being heavily overdetermined by their semantic association with the written figures which constitute them), and are drawn by the use of various circulating and pre-established short-hand conventions. Lilla and Rosalina are both good because of their frailty - they are `pale', `fairy-like' and `seraphic' whereas Victoria's features are `bold masculine features' (p.207) with a `masculine spirit', and so are transgressive in terms of gender also. Bad characters are always marred by, amongst other things, some form of dark or livid `hue' in their complexion. Sexually desirable men such as Montalto and, significantly, Zofloya, are said to have a `interesting figure'. Due to this common typology, it is often difficult to differentiate between characters intra-diegetically, or across texts. Thus there is a continual struggle, again outlined by Sedgwick, between the importance of deciphering these codes, both for characters and readers, and the need to maintain the impression that there are, somehow, `real' people behind the stock verbal descriptions. As you might expect, this presents more complications for the ideological work of the fictions of the individual described by Heath. These fictions must be supported by the idea of the `imaginary specialness' of each individual who is described in standardised fictional embodiments.

The result of the manifestation of identity through surface marks is that duplicity, fakery and acting all become possibilites. All three are at the core of Zofloya. Victoria starts green, a mere apprentice, but soon learns the skills of the masquerade. She puts them to use when she is imprisoned by Ardolph - the first time her will is curtailed. For the benefit of her gaoler `did she learn the most refined artifice, which, by practice became imbued into the mass of her other evil qualities.' (p.46) She adopts the face of the obediently accepting girl who stays behind locked doors, only to serve the intention of the real, transgressive Victoria - which is to cut and run. Of course her gaoler, Signora di Modena, also has many `varied and unworthy artifices' as do all the irreprievably bad characters: Ardolph, Megalina Strozzi, Zofloya and Victoria all deal most artfully in disguise and dissimulation. So it is the practice of masquerade which always marks out bad characters - a refusal to be themselves, or at least to be one person. This is certainly the case in Manfroné as no one ever quite knows who Manfroné is as he goes through at least three different identities. It is only in some later twentieth century versions of women's Gothic that the mobilisation of masquerade begins to be valued as an asset rather than cursed as a character flaw.

Some definitions need to be put in place at this point. Masquerade in the Gothic mode raises issues around the spectacular and the spectral - two concepts that can't always easily be separated. How, then, is spectacle to be understood? One acceptable definition might emphasise theatricality:

The image shows everything, and because it shows everything it can say nothing; it frames a world and banishes into non-existence everything beyond that frame. The will-to-spectacle is the assertion that a world of foreground is the only world that matters or the only world that is.[9]

This is a useful reminder of Gothic's historical connections with the stage:[10] Gothic frequently insists on our attention to impressive surfaces and foreground - the sheer presenceof the figure or scene - and at the same time does not necessarily require any simultaneous belief in the possibility or the veracity of this presence. This mixture of attraction and disbelief, Gothic's theatricality, has become a defining feature of camp art, a sensibility often associated with Gothic literature.[11]Spectacle's defining muteness also connects to certain definitions of melodrama and of female hysteria. Lacan refers to the hysteric's practice of `putting on stage' her somatised symptoms - of articulating through her body what she cannot say in language, of bringing the symptom precisely to the foreground. It is no coincidence then. that derogatory criticism has frequently used the terms `stagey', `theatrical' and `hysterical' to dismiss the popular Gothic.[12]

But an alternative definition of spectacle arises from Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle.[13] Although Debord's project is to describe the importance of spectacle in post-industrial, technological society, at an abstract level his definitions have pertinence here - not least in connecting to Terry Castle's description of the `spectralising habit of modern times' which has roots in `a new sensibility of the eighteenth century', itself `a new phenomenology of self and other'.[14]Debord describes a society in which:

everything in life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacle. Everything that was directly lived has moved into a representation.[15]

This means that

spectacle in general, as a concrete inversion of life, is the autonomous movement of the non-living. (my emphasis)[16]

In this formulation we can recognise the convergence of the spectacle with the spectral. In the spectacle the representation, the sign, (whether literary or pictorial) becomes separated from the object represented, the referent, and therefore, insofar as it is constituted by solely by appearing, it is not the object at all but the death of the object. Thus, for Debord:

the critique which reaches the truth of the spectacle exposes it as the visible negation of life, as a negation of life that has become visible.[17]

The underside of spectacle is, potentially, always negation, death and disbelief. In the Gothic there is something of this logic at work in the constructions of character - in the emphasis on vividly blazoned surfaces and the immediacy of recognition, in the emphasis on character and type, which invites both fascination and yet disbelief in the obviousness of their status as fictional literary representations. Castle enables us to tie some of these ideas down historically to the beginnings of Romanticism:

In ... Romantic self-absorption, the other was indeed reduced to a phantom - a purely mental effect, an image, as it were, on the screen of consciousness itself. The corporeality of the other - his or her actual life in the world - became strangely insubstantial and indistinct: what mattered was the mental picture, the ghost, the haunting image.[18]

Whereas with Debord, spectacle is an instrument of social unification - aseparate consciousness and a false vision - in Castle's definition the spectral is an unconsciousprojectionof the mind's contents, and the basis of the `symptomatic projections of modern psychic life.'[19]

In both Manfronéand Zofloya there is a constant dialectic of belief and disbelief which is articulated in the minds of the two heroines, Victoria and Rosalina, and which is focused on Manfroné and Zofloya, the two most spectacular and spectral characters and, significantly, the ones in whom the heroines' sexual fears are invested. Rosalina is well aware of the way the mind distorts perception. She tells her servant Carletta, who has just glimpsed the black vacancy behind Grimaldi's (Manfroné's) cowl:

I conclude that it was your fears, or the shade of the cowl, that darkened the father's face. (Vol.2, p.43)

Her own perception of Manfroné is complicated by its mediation:

A large mirror at the farther extremity of the chamber attracted her notice; she approached it, but started back with terror, for as she was looking at it, whether her fears made her imagine it, or what she saw was a dreadful reality, but the glass reflected a tall figure gliding along the farther end of the chamber opposite to it and which instantly vanished; for as she turned round, no sound of footsteps could she hear, or discover any place where the person, if such it was, had left the chamber. (Vol.1, p.105)

Rosalina, however, had, in the mirror observed his figure gliding along the wall, which had greatly alarmed her; but at length, after having surveyed the apartment, and becoming convinced that she was its only inhabitant, she concluded that it was the effect of her disturbed imagination, and by degrees recovered of her terror. (Vol.2, p.222)

Though we are told later that her mind is `too well-cultured to be alarmed at air-formed fancies' (Vol.3, p.130), after her sight of Manfroné in the mirror she appears to regress despite herself:

Superstition with her ominous voice, had never breathed her fearful tales into Rosalina's ear, for her natural good sense made her reject what could only have effect on the weak and incredulous; but what she had just witnessed staggered her belief that spirits were not allowed to visit the world. (Vol.1, pp.105-6)

Anne McWhir describes the way `the Gothic novel plays at converting us to belief in the supernatural, but it always maintains the level of a game'.[20] This seems to be what is going on here, in the weighing-up of the spooky presence of Manfroné, the faceless and `horrible spectre', the `ideal or spectral figure' (Vol.1, p.151 & 107), with his noiseless `gliding' movement, with the eventual explaining away of all these. It is in this space of doubt between the two, the spectral and the rational, `where uncertainty and fear can be explored and experienced, not just repressed'.[21]

Despite the explanations Manfroné remains the constant locus of projected sexual fears as well as of fantasies of empowerment. Among these are Rosalina's fears about her father, who at one point grabs her in the dark and at another threatens to kill her - which raises the question of whether Rudolpho cuts off Manfroné's hand (in a scene utterly over-determined by phallic symbolism) out of protectiveness or rivalry. Rosalina's sight of Manfroné through his reflection in her mirror is more than an incidental detail. The mirror divides an object in two, making it both present and absent, real and unreal. It may reflect, as Lacan points out, not just what is seen but what is willed to be seen.[22] and to some extent it is suggested that Rosalina is in part projecting what she sees. Just as Zofloya appeared in Victoria's dreams, Manfroné haunts Rosalina's dreams (Vol.1, p.204-5). Her abduction is part of her unconscious thought before it actually happens, as though she were inviting it to happen. Manfroné is a figure who appears to bring about `involuntarily repetition' of an unconscious thought or desire in the real - the `uncanny'.

The combination of, on the one hand, astonishment and fascination with, on the other, distance and disbelief, features in accounts of the sublime, starting with Burke's A Philosophical Enquiry Into the Origins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful,itself a heavily influential text in relation to Gothic beginnings.[23] This is what he says about the reception of sublime objects :

It is a common observation, that objects which in the reality would shock, are in tragical, and such like representations, the source of a very high species of pleasure ... the satisfaction has been commonly attributed to, first, the comfort we receive in considering that so melancholy a story is no more than a fiction; and next, to the contemplation of our own freedom from the evils which we see represented.[24]

The sublime may be beautiful and may possess a power to terrorise that is physically affecting, but for Burke this is `a healthy exercise of the nerves of the body which would otherwise fall into languor'[25] - it lets you know you're still alive. However there must always be a conscious gap between the sublime object and the contemplator of it. Later accounts also stress the importance of the sublime in drawing attention to the inadequacy of representation itself. Kant hints at this when he defines the sublime as an object:

the representation of which determines the mind to regard the elevation of nature beyond our reach as equivalent to a presentation.[26]

In other words, an object which has such an immensity or suggestion of limitlessness that it calls attention to the insufficiency of its artistic mediation. This is an idea taken up in much the same way by Lacan in The Ethic of Psychoanalysis.[27] So, although all spectacles are certainly not sublime, the two may be connected in terms of an aesthetics of reception, and an implicit inscription of the `lack' in representation.

Whereas most discussion of the sublime in early Gothic focuses only on landscape, in Zofloya it extends to character. Zofloya is the most sublime figure in early Gothic fiction - his sole rival is Melmoth. In this description he is shown to embody all the aspects of both sublime beauty and terror as they are outlined in Burke's Enquiry:

Victoria obeyed; the manner of Zofloya was such as inspired involuntary awe: he took his station beside her. The soul of Victoria was a stranger to fear, yet uncommon sensations filled her bosom, as she observed her proximity to the Moor. The dim twilight increasing to darkness, which now began to spread its sombre shadows around, threw a deeper tint over his figure, and his countenance was more strongly contrasted by the snow white turban which encircled his brows, and by the large bracelets of pearl upon his arms and legs. Yet his form and attitude, as he sat beside her, was majestic, and solemnly beautiful - not the beauty which may freely be admired, but acknowledged with sensations awful and indescribable. (p.145)

The description is complete - his power, signalled by Victoria's fearful obedience, her admiration and her awe, his ability to affect, to produce `sensations', a certain boundlessness in his figure which cannot be framed by language is `indescribable', and finally of course his darkness of complexion which is complemented by the growing darkness of the scene. His blackness, which in Victoria's culture immediately relegates him to the class level of a menial, is an indicator also of his status in terms of complete difference and otherness - foreign, a servant, black, sexual and demonic. The `white turban' and `large bracelets of pearl' both indicate his cultural otherness and the alluring attraction for Victoria of his exotic eastern appearance. The `boundlessness' of his figure suggests that his sublimity is also transgressive in the sense that it involves a defiance of or resistance to framing within literary representation.

Zofloya can almost be read as a deliberation on spectacle and sublimity. Victoria encourages the dissolution of the boundary between herself and Zofloya, the sublime and demonic object. Zofloya maintains a religious otherness in his demonic power as well as his secular cultural/racial difference. Difference and distance both eventually disappear so that she actually becomes involved with the sublime, and this is her ultimate transgression - to enter the zone of the limitless. Naturally the outcome of this is her hysterical degeneration. Eventually Victoria becomes the spectacle and, according to the logic of the spectacle, becomes an empty negation of herself - she no longer exists.

Both Manfroné and Zofloya are fictions which, within the space of the spectral and the spectacular, give vent to the fears, projections and desires of their female heroines. In Zofloya, fantasy takes over, whereas in Manfronéit is ultimately repressed in the restoration of order. It is no coincidence that it is in the latter novel that female sexuality is securely placed within a renewed and restored family structure, and the `romance' continues, whereas Zofloya'soutcome is nothing but the spectacular and bloody death of the family. Yet despite very different narrative resolutions, both novels at least open up a space in which the underside of the family and particularly men's sexual threat to women is dramatised. As well as this challenge at the level of dramatisation, however, the `Family Romance', understood as one of the fictional processes which enables `the provision and maintenance of the fictions of the individual', is also undermined. This can be read in the close relationship in the texts between character as identity and the written markings of character which make identity legible in highly visible ways. Between reliance on surface `character' markings and the constitution of identities through the written characters on the page, there is a revealing tension. Like hieroglyphic figures then, the meaning and value of each character appears to be immediately and completely accessible. Yet in signifying through such crude surface markings and over-familiar codes (stereotyping), the texts merely draw attention to a certain failure to communicate individual character adequately at all.

This tendency can be linked to the predominance of the modes of spectacle, the spectral and the sublime, in these texts. Characters are spectacular in that their values are always visibly and immediately in the foreground - they `show everything'. Yet because of this emphasis on appearance only and the weight placed on the reading of signs or codes, the characters are the negation of the fiction that a real individual is being shaped and brought to life in the text. In this sense the spectacular is always haunted by the spectral and by the double impulses of belief and disbelief, the real and the unreal.

Finally, both texts show how the concept of the sublime can be applied not only to descriptions of Gothic landscape, but to character also. As in spectacle, the contemplation of the sublime object is always informed by an aesthetics of distance from an impressive presence. Any manifestation of the sublime always suggests more of itself than can actually be witnessed through its form within representation. In this respect the spectacular, the spectral and the sublime are all present in the figuration of character in these two texts. Their co-presence constitutes a pervasive aesthetics of distance and disbelief which provides a way of approaching early female Gothic in terms other than those driven either by knee-jerk feminist validations of women's writing per se, or by Wollstonecraft's anxious ridicule.


[1] Charlotte Dacre, Zofloya, (1806), (London: The Fortune Press, 1927) and Mary-Anne Radcliffe, Manfroné; or the One-Handed Monk, (1809), (New York: Arno Press, 1972). Page references are to these editions.

[2] Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1971), pp. 23-4.

[3] Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, (1792) in The Works of Mary Wollstonecraft, Janet Todd and Marilyn Butler (eds.) Vol.5, (London: William Pickering, 1989) pp.255-258.

[4] See Coral Ann Howells, Love, Mystery and Misery, (London: Athlone Press, 1978) pp.51-53 and Terry Lovell, Consuming Fiction, (London: Verso, 1987) pp.80-82.

[5] Sigmund Freud, `Family Romances', (1909), Standard Edition, Vol.IX, pp.235-41.

[6] Stephen Heath, Questions of Cinema, (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1981) p.125.

[7] Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick,The Coherence of Gothic Conventions, (London: Methuen, 1986) pp. 140-70.

[8] Mary Shelley, `Author's Introduction' (1831), in Frankenstein (1818), ed. Paddy Lyons, (London: Everyman, 1992). p.199.

[9] Dana Polan, `"Above All Else to Make You See": Cinema and the Ideology of the Spectacle', in Jonathan Arac (ed.), Postmodernism and Politics, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1986) p.63.

[10] Howells, op. cit., pp.9-11 & pp.16-21.

[11] Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985) p.11.

[12] For example: Leslie Fiedler Love and Death in the American Novel, (London: Jonathan Cape, 1967) pp.138-39.

[13]Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle, (1967), (London, A Wheeton & Co, 1977).

[14] Terry Castle, `The Spectralisation of the Other in the Mysteries of Udolpho,' inFelicity Nussbaum and Laura Brown (eds.), The New Eighteenth Century, (New York: Methuen, 1986), p.237.

[15] Debord, op. cit., paragraph 1.

[16] Debord, op. cit., paragraph 2.

[17] Debord, op. cit., paragraph 10.

[18] Castle, op. cit., p.249.

[19] Castle, op. cit., p.237.

[20] Anne McWhir, `The Gothic Transgression of Disbelief: Walpole, Radcliffe and Lewis', in Kenneth W. Graham (ed.), Gothic Fiction - Prohibition/Transgression, (New York: A.M.S. Press, 1989) p.38.

[21] McWhir, op. cit., pp.34-5.

[22] Jacques Lacan, `Cure psychanalytique a l'aide de la poupée fleur', translated by Jacqueline Rose and quoted in Sexuality in the Field of Vision, Jacqueline Rose, (London: Verso, 1986) p.53.

[23] Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry Into the Origins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful, (1757), ed. James Boulton, (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987).

[24] Burke, op. cit., p.44.

[25] Burke, op. cit., p.136.

[26] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgement, (1790), translated by James C. Meredith, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964) p.119.

[27] Jacques Lacan, The Ethic of Psychoanalysis, (1959-60), Seminar, Livre VII, (Paris: Seuil, 1986) translated by Slavoj Zizek and quoted in Slavoj Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology, (London, Verso, 1989) p.202-3.