- The New Woman Gothic
IN DRACULA, there is a moment in Mina Murray's journal in which she briefly alludes to the late-nineteenth-century figure of the New Woman. Embedded in this novel of Gothic horror, Mina makes joking allusions to this stereotype. As she describes a delicious afternoon tea taken with Lucy Westenra, she remarks "I believe we should have shocked the 'New Woman' with our appetites." Going on to mention a recent proposal of marriage made to Lucy, she contemplates how the New Woman of the future might conduct her relationships: "But I suppose the New Woman won't condescend in future to accept; she will do the proposing herself. And a nice job she will make of it, too!" These brief allusions have led to much academic discussion of Mina and Lucy as potential New Woman figures, but what is particularly significant is how two supposedly distinct genres of Gothic and New Woman meet in this moment in Dracula.
In Patricia Murphy's informative and thought-provoking study, the term "New Woman Gothic" is coined as a way of exploring such meetings between the New Woman texts and the Gothic novel. In particular Murphy investigates how Gothic tropes are deployed in New Woman [End Page 398] narratives. Murphy asserts that she is not defining a distinct subgenre of literature as such, instead arguing convincingly that distinctly Gothic elements are appropriated and redefined by these New Woman novels in order to convey what she terms "female distress." She builds on recent work on the Gothic and gender from such critics as Kate Ferguson Ellis, Kelly Hurley, Maggie Kilgour, David Punter and Glennis Byron, among others, while distinguishing her own study through her focus on New Woman texts.
Murphy's introduction usefully sets out concepts key to understanding the Gothic and New Woman genres. She deftly defines both, not treating "Gothic" as a homogenous genre but delineating differences between subcategories of Romantic, Victorian, male and female Gothic—with Victorian and female Gothic being the two most relevant to her own study. These definitions serve to demonstrate the critical truism that Murphy acknowledges and is working from, that Gothic texts respond to their historical moment and tend to emerge from cultural anxiety: the French Revolution, publication of Darwin's theories, and the emergence of the New Woman are three examples Murphy cites. Murphy outlines too the notion that New Woman texts could be pro- or anti-New Woman, although her use of these two categories to define individual texts is sometimes open to question—Grant Allen's work in particular seems too ambiguous to be placed, as Murphy places it, in the category of pro–New Woman. But Murphy's analysis is especially strong when she uses this historical, contextual approach. It is a shame therefore that Murphy's use of psychoanalytic ideas is a little less careful; while she rightly and thoughtfully uses Julia Kristeva's theories of abjection, Murphy does not fully outline the more general psychoanalytic framework she will be using at the beginning of her book. This becomes more of an issue later on in the text, when Lacanian theory briefly crops up; in using the work of a writer so dense as Lacan, it would have been useful to flag key Lacanian ideas in the introduction.
Nonetheless, Murphy's prose style is lucid and eminently readable. The book is divided into three sections, each including readings of a wide range of texts. While the downfall of this is that at times it feels the texts are analysed somewhat briefly, and if a reader is searching for a particular novel, analysis is dispersed across different chapters, the breadth of research is impressive. Murphy's argument becomes all the stronger for being tested across a diverse number of novels, encompassing texts that are well-known as well as bringing to light some which are slightly more obscure. [End Page 399]
In part one, Murphy notes how the Gothic frequently builds upon the disturbing nature of unstable boundaries of life and death or self and...