Gothic Monsters and Masculinity: Neutralizing the New Woman in Victorian Gothic Literature

Sara Schoch

Abstract

Gothic literature of the nineteenth century was deeply concerned with threats to masculinity. Beginning with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and spanning the century, these novels captured an important sense of social unrest attributable to contemporary changes in intellectual and social thought which reverberated throughout the century and threatened to topple patriarchal gender norms. Two major shifts contributing to this instability were the transition from the Baconian to the Darwinian scientific model, and the threat posed by the emerging model of the New Woman to the Victorian feminine ideal embodied in the “angel in the house.”  These changes threatened the foundation upon which masculinity and thus, patriarchal society, rested its dominance. This article explores textual attempts to neutralize such threats by vilifying the New Woman and glorifying the “angel in the house” in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and concludes that such attempts ultimately reaffirm the female’s power in this male-dominated society.   

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