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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Department of English


Female Power and the Supernatural in Early Gothic Literature


Early gothic literature often goes overlooked as sensationalist writing dependent on a repetitive plot and character types. However, Anne Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, Matthew Lewis’s The Monk, and Charlotte Dacre’s Zofloya, or The Moor, offer insight into political and social issues of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. This essay examines the use of the supernatural in early gothic literature and the way in which it effects, possesses and even controls female characters within the novels. By analyzing the heroines of each novel as a basis for the study, their varied fates in relation to the supernatural make evident that there is a gendered power dynamic. The male characters’ abilities to use the supernatural to their advantage show further how the supernatural works in favor of masculinity. Thus, early gothic literature presents the idea that the supernatural works inherently against women, symbolizing the oppressive and patriarchal chaos of the everyday.

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