Agriculture, Body Sculpture, Gothic Culture
Gothic Parody in Gibbons, Atwood and Weldon
in Gothic Studies
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This essay examines a particular kind of female Gothic. Seizing the moment at which features of Gothic form had become sufficiently established to become part of a cultural inheritance, some twentieth-century women writers, we argue, created comic Gothic fictions that extended the boundaries of potential feminine identity. Stella Gibbon‘s Cold Comfort Farm pits an Austen sensibility against a rural Radcliffean scenario and proceeds to parody both as literary ancestors of a contemporary narrative of femininity. Fay Weldon‘s The Life and Loves of a She-Devil (1983) also appropriates aspects of Gothic to spin a darkly comic tale of literary and literally constructed ‘woman’. The essay also looks at the Canadian novel published a year earlier, Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood, which engages playfully with the relationship between Gothic writing and the feminine. Such texts constitute a challenge to the grand récit of gender difference, a challenge that has yet to be recognized fully by feminist critics many of whom have concentrated their energies on the feminist pursuit of life-writing. Female writers of comic Gothic, however, confront the stuff of patriarchy‘s nightmares and transform it into fictions of wry scepticism or celebratory anarchy. Through parody as ‘repetition with critical difference’, the boundaries of gender difference are destabilized in the service of creating different possibilities for female subjectivity. In their resistance both to tragic closure and their recasting of the fears of patriarchal society from a feminine perspective, such texts transform a literature of terror into a literature of liberation.

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