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Female Gothic Motifs in Mona Caird's The Wing of A^rael Agnies^ka Lahicka Recent attempts to revive critical interest in Mona Caird's works have not proven altogether successful, despite her unquestionable importance as one of the key New Woman figures offin-de-siècle Britain. Most of her novels, with the notable exception of The Daughters of Danaus (1894), remain unpublished and unavailable to the modern reader. The few critics who choose to include Caird's work in their analyses typically emphasize the radical feminist, antivivisection and anti-eugenic content of her writings rather than her novels' aesthetics or artistic achievement.1 Caird's fictional oeuvre, discussed in a wide socio-historical context, is habitually linked with her non-fictional writings (such as the accomplished and influential essays collected in TheMoruUty of Marriage /1897]) and treated either as an expression of radical firstwave feminism, or as a préfiguration of the concerns of the second wave feminist movement of the 1970s. Content, then, remains the main focus of critical interest in Caird's writings, even though her aesthetic principles and narrative techniques may occasionally be evoked in discussions of feminist poetics and literary canon. If, in the words of Ann Heilmann, "\f]in-de-nècle fiction became the site of contestation between masculinist (decadent) and feminist (ethically grounded) aesthetics of art, between (high) 'art' and the world of mass culture and commerce" (New Woman Fiction 156), Caird's novels may be perceived as an excellent illustration of the latter, feminist, aesthetics in the making. This essay seeks to examine Caird's use of a popular, "feminine" genre as a means of expressing her radical feminist politics, and to treat her novels, in Lyn Pykett's terms, as "self-conscious aesthetic artefacts which situate Victorian Review (2005) A. Zabicka themselves in relation to the developing aesthetic of the novel of the modern woman" (141). Caird's 1889 novel, The Wing ofA^rael, explores the ideology of middle-class Victorian marriage and motherhood. The writer sets out to express her radical feminist beliefs employing the tools of traditional "feminine" narrative. Her revolutionary politics and incendiary subject matter go hand in hand with the standards of a feminised popular genre — in this case, the Gothic novel. The most obvious explanation for this strategy is Caird's attempt to present the readerwith a forceful account of patriarchal reality that would disturb (and hopefully galvanize the public into action), yet simultaneously offer satisfaction to conventional reader expectations. Thus the popular literary genre — the female Gothic — serves as a repository of conventional themes to be transformed in order to fit a feminist purpose. It is immediately obvious to any reader familiar with the female Gothic tradition that The Wing ofA^raelconfidendy employs its set of requisite conventions. Since the novel has long been out of print, I will summarize the plot in order to bring out the Gothic lurkingwithin. At the age of eight, Viola Sedley — a brooding, impressionable, neurotic girl — pushes the handsome, overbearing Phillip Dendraith out of the window of his crumbling casde in a fit of rage, with near-fatal results. Overcome by a sense of guilt at her apparendy murderous propensities (and educated into the feminine position of duty and sacrifice by her downtrodden mother), she allows herself to be wooed by the cynical Philip ten years later, despite her violent protests occasioned by Philip's inordinate cruelty and incipient sadism she is finally coerced into marrying him for financial reasons. The love interest of the novel — the witty, humane Harry Lancaster — attempts to persuade Viola against this marriage of convenience, but she is duly married off amidst melodramatic presentiments of impending disaster. On their return from their marriage tour, the Dendraiths occupy Upton Casde, the site of their original altercation (as well as the site of wife-murder by one of Philip's ancestors), and their doomed relationship deteriorates on a volume 31 number 1 Female Gothic Motifs daily basis. Viola's desperate plan to run away with Harry is frustrated by the ever-watchful Philip. Faced with his sadistic threats, she kills him in the aptly named Death Chamber, the very place where his ancestor murdered...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 5-20
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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