Wight 2012 Passivity

Title Information

Author: Dana Wight

Title: Still Life

Subtitle: Representations of Passivity in the Gothic Novel

Thesis: Ph.D. Thesis, University of Alberta

Year: Fall 2012

Pages: 300pp.

Language: English

Keywords: 18th Century | English History | Representations: Literature / Matthew Lewis, Ann Radcliffe, Samuel Richardson

Full Text

Link: Library and Archives Canada (Free Access)

Additional Information

Abstract: »This dissertation explores the strategic possibilities of passivity as a form of agency in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British gothic novel in order to recuperate its representations of the passive female body as sites of feminist resistance. Using the methodologies of feminist and psychoanalytic theories and gothic literary criticism, this project examines four specific representations of passivity: fainting, sleep, illness, and death. These conditions are characteristic of a gothic mode that emerges with the birth of the novel, and continues to develop throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As such, this project closely examines key texts published at fifty-year intervals between 1740 and 1847. The first chapter considers Samuel Richardson's proto-gothic novel Pamela (1740), whose titular heroine repeatedly faints when she is attacked by her rapacious master. The second chapter investigates violent bedchamber scenes in Matthew Lewis's The Monk (1796) and Ann Radcliffe's The Italian (1797), in which the would-be victims of rape and murder prove impenetrable, as their sleeping forms render their attackers impotent and immobile. The third chapter oves into the nineteenth century with an analysis of illness as strategic incapacity in Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights (1847), while the fourth and final chapter returns to Richardson with an examination of the heroine's will towards death in Clarissa (1748). The purpose of this project is to expand rather than narrow the gothic system of representation to include affirmative readings of passivity as a means to (re)discover embodied forms of subjectivity in the gothic novel.« (Source: Thesis)


  Introduction. La nature morte: Passivitiy and Agency in the Gothic Mode (p. 1)
    Critical Position (p. 4)
    Conceptual Framework (p. 12)
    Periodisation and Historical Scope (p. 21)
    Chapter Breakdown (p. 30)
  Chapter 1. "I fell into a Fit with my Fright and Terror" Fainting and the Gothic Heroine in Richardson's Pamela (p. 38)
    The Sacrificial Virgin: Fainting and the (Re)Construction of Subjectivity (p. 46)
    Fainting and Embodied Subjectivity (p. 55)
    Fainting, Feinting, and Other Literary Swoons (p. 62)
    Lincolnshire and Pamela's Psychological Terror (p. 69)
    Failure of the Feminine "I" (p. 76)
    Conclusion (p. 82)
  Chapter 2. "Beauty sleeping in the lap of horror": The Somnolent Heroine in Radcliffe and Lewis (p. 86)
    Terror, Horror, and Gender Distinctions in the Gothic Mode (P. 91)
    Sleeping Heroines in Radcliffe and Lewis (p. 99)
    Prophetic Sleep: Gothic Dreams and Nightmares (p. 108)
    Subjectivity and Visibility (p. 115)
    Agency and Accountability (p. 124)
    Confession, Crime, and Punishment (p. 132)
    Conclusion (p. 136)
  Chapter 3. "I'll cry myself sick!": Wilful Illness and the Gothic Mode in Brontë's Wuthering Heights (p. 141)
    Illness and Subjectivity (p. 147)
    The Sickroom Idyll: Literary and Historical Constructions of Illness (p. 152)
    Willful Invalidism and the Invocation of Illness (p. 161)
    Causes and Affect: Becoming Ill (p. 169)
    Depression, Delirium, Death (p. 180)
    Conclusion (p. 196)
  Chapter 4. "I will die first!": The Will Towards Death in Richardson's Clarissa (p. 199)
    Clarissa and the Gothic Mode (p. 207)
    Will and Consent (p. 221)
    Language and Subjectivity (p. 232)
    Clarissa's Will Towards Death (p. 240)
    The Death of Clarissa (p. 253)
    Conclusion (p. 267)
  Works Cited (p. 274)
  Appendix (p. 293)

Wikipedia: Matthew Lewis (writer): The Monk; Ann Radcliffe: The Italian (novel); Samuel Richardson: Clarissa, Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded

Added: October 11, 2014 – Last updated: October 11, 2014