Gothic Heroines: Their Journey to Leadership

Hailey Turney, Spring 2021

Thesis Director: Orianne Smith

Committee Members: Jean Fernandez, Michele Osherow

My thesis focuses on a trajectory of Gothic heroines beginning shortly after the French Revolution and ending in the late nineteenth century. Exploring this trajectory from a feminist and historicist/Marxist perspective, I evaluate the Gothic heroine’s access to power through property, their major moments in the novel, their relationship with the community vs. the individual, and the type of heroine the novel needs/wants. This thesis analyzes five novels: The Mysteries of Udolpho by Anne Radcliffe, The Monk by Matthew Lewis, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, and Dracula by Bram Stoker. The heroines evaluated in these novels show an evolution of women adapting to their circumstances and finding themselves as leaders in the world.

What interested me in particular about these novels and their heroines is how the idea of property (real estate and the female body) is prioritized and recognized by the women in the novels as a source of power. One of the benefits of my argument is that it enables readers to rethink their assumptions about the characters in these novels. For instance, I read Nelly from Wuthering Heights as a heroine whereas critics often frame her as an unreliable narrator or a villain. Using extensive research on the French Revolution, property laws, divorce laws, and religious texts, this thesis demonstrates just how radically the role of Gothic heroine has evolved over time and serves as a bridge to connect novels from seemingly different areas and eras.