- Perils of the Night: A Feminist Study of Nineteenth-Century Gothic by Eugenia C. DeLamotte, and: Refiguring the Father: New Feminist Readings of Patriarchy edited by Patricia Yaeger and Beth Kowaleski-Wallace (review)
- Victorian Review
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 17, Number 1, Summer 1991
- pp. 96-99
- View Citation
- Additional Information
REVIEWS Eugenia C. DeLamotte. Perils of the Night: A Feminist Study of Nineteenth-Century Gothic. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1990. ix + 352. $48.50 CAN. Patricia Yaeger and Beth Kowaleski-Wallace, eds. Refiguring the Father New Feminist Readings of Patriarchy. Afterword by Nancy K. Miller. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois UP, 1989. xxni + 319. $32.50 US (cloth). Fin de siècle cultural studies have been invigorated by new feminist theory, criticism, and practice. But feminist work has not been agitated by patriarchal anxiety of influence. Instead, to use a conveniently familiar metaphor of women ' s creativity and endurance, contemporary feminist works quilt together treasured squares in new patterns. As part of this ongoing project, the two books under review interrogate our assumptions about a genre—the nineteenth-century Gothic—and a figure/trope—the father. Both contribute to contemporary feminist literary studies. The first part of Perils of the Night explores the Gothic anxiety about boundaries of the self. Part two investigates the way this anxiety emerges as tellingly female in the genre ofwomen ' s Gothic, a fear that negotiates the patriarchy rather than the uncanny. DeLamotte posits that the women's Gothic—as opposed to the traditional form—was primarily concerned with die social and psychological constraints on women's freedom. Women characters in diese novels are not free to make themselves known through the act of "speaking I." This feminist vision of the Gothic questions the now-conventional idea of the evil Other as a disguised version of the self. Women's Gothics perceive "that in an important sense, the evil Other the Gothic heroine confronts is not a hidden self at all but is just what it appears to be: an Other that is profoundly alien, and hostile, to women and their concerns." The selection of texts that illuminate these and related themes offers no surprises—Frankenstein, Melmoth, Wuthering Heights, Villette. The groupings of popular and "classical" Gothic texts, such as those by Henry James and by Ann Radcliffe, are often instructive. The section on knowing and not knowing as quintessentially and unparadoxically Gothic terrors is particularly cogent. The Gothic tradition asks whether knowledge is possible. Reviews97 There are problems with the book. Its goals are rather diffuse. Some, moreover, invite rediscovery of the wheel, such as the plan to "cast new light on the many facets of the Gothic myth" and "on the structural as well as thematic aspects of the genre." As a result, the text walks us through some overly familiar territory, especially on Woman as Other and doubleness. Also, the sixty-page chapter on Vülette seems paradoxically to shrink the arena of the argument. The book might have been more fluent without oversimplifying, and it could have used shaping to eliminate the better-known points. Yet its argument on the boundaries of the self in the women ' s Gothic represents compelUng work. DeLamotte identifies here some of the contradictory impulses of the genre without "explaining away" or appropriating them for a flattened-out feminist project. Her distinctions between men's and women's Gothic are quite fruitful. In women's Gothic, "the isolato at the heart ... is not one of those singular individualists"—Melmoth, Frankenstein—"but the many Emilys, Emilias, Matildas, and JuUas who stand, in their very interchangeability, for Woman—the true ' separated one ' at the heart of a social order whose peculiar disorder it is to make her the fearful other." The exploration is especially productive on the contradictory impulses of women ' s Gothic and sublimity: "the heroine's impulse toward transcendence is always translated in happy Gothic into an impulse toward marriage." Thus the motifs of confinement and imprisonment, suffocation and silence, come to have ominous resonance in the daylight world where the heroine is released from her cathedral cell only to find herself gently manacled to domestic bliss. DeLamotte suggests that the genre is indeed subversive, but usually only because it subverts itself. For this reader, DeLamotte ' s strongest argument is that the most genuine terror in the woman ' s Gothic is that of the woman writer for her real subject: anger. Anger at the father as culpable patriarch—the dark-browed authority in front of the Gothic...