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The Demon Lover and the Feminine Experience in the Work of Shirley Jackson
Wyatt Bonikowski

One of the most prominent tropes in Shirley Jackson‘s work is that of the ‘demon lover’ who seduces a woman from her home with promises of riches and ultimately destroys her. Jackson uses the demon lover to figure a jouissance excluded by the Symbolic order, which, because of its repression, returns with a destructive force. Jackson‘s demon lover tales, including ‘The Daemon Lover’, ‘The Beautiful Stranger’, and ‘The Tooth’, narrate a womans gradual realization of her subjection to a demonic male figure whose claim on her dispossesses her of both home and self. Women in these stories are offered an impossible choice: either conform to a passive position within rigidly defined gender roles or be abjected into a permanent state of anxiety, insecurity, and even madness outside of the Symbolic order. Jackson‘s second novel Hangsaman (1951), more than any other of Jacksons works, attempts to chart a path for feminine jouissance by imagining writing as a kind of witchcraft.

Gothic Studies