Male and female Werthers
Romanticism and Gothic suicide
in Suicide and the Gothic
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If the Romantic Gothic hero is typically defined by his or her marginalisation from society and its norms and is characterised by excess, individualism and transgression, the ultimate act of defiance is self-annihilation. Given its associations with a long-standing interest in what has been characterised as ‘the Romantic agony’, it is perhaps surprising that suicide is not treated as a topic distinct from death in the critical literature on the Gothic – all the more so with respect to its connections with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) and its notoriety as a work causing suicidal contagion, with sufferers donning Werther’s blue coat and yellow waistcoat as if exchanging their bodies for his own. This chapter explores allusions to Werther within British Gothic writing about suicide, which are to be found particularly in writings by women. Their retellings of Werther’s story interrogate the relationship between infection and agency with respect to suicide. Works by Charlotte Dacre, Charlotte Smith, Sarah Farrell, Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley are considered .


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