Submitted to the College of Graduate Studies Bridgewater State University Bridgewater, Massachusetts in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts in English
Masters of Arts in English
Women in eighteenth-century Gothic novels are often portrayed by scholars as mildly rebellious in their characters and behaviors, but ultimately submissive to male characters until eventually returning to domestic circumstances similar to their origins. I join these scholarly conversations about Gothic heroines through my analysis of female curiosity and epistemophilia as they are applied to the domestic sphere. I concur with the critics who see female knowledge and sexuality as inextricably connected and feared in the domain of patriarchal influence. I argue, however, that rather than being trapped in the domestic sphere, novelist Ann Radcliffe’s heroines apply epistemophilia—a drive to acquire knowledge—to the domestic sphere itself to uncover and acquire the secrets hidden from them by male authority figures. This thesis begins by establishing the Biblical “Adam and Eve” account in Genesis, which brand Eve the untrustworthy transgressive female unable to command her blasphemous curiosity, as the precedent for all curious females that appear thereafter, acting as a blueprint for future heroines. Then, I look to the “Bluebeard” fairy tale to solidify the connection between female curiosity and sexuality as I note the similarity of the young wife’s actions in the fairy tale to those of Eve. I analyze the necessity of the wife’s transgression and disobedience in her journey toward obtaining knowledge that could act as equalizer in the power dynamics between men and women. Next, I situate my argument within historical context, discussing the rise of the domestic sphere, middle-class gender roles, the Gothic novel, and Enlightenment feminism. Finally, I follow with an extensive exploration of Radcliffe’s Gothic novels The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and A Sicilian Romance (1790), arguing that her revisionary account of Eve’s transgressive act rewards her heroines with knowledge and provides them with the intellectual capability necessary to enable their autonomous decisions.
Govoni, Katelyn. (2021). The Forbidden Female: Epistemophilia in the Domestic Gothic Tradition. In BSU Master’s Theses and Projects. Item 100.
Available at https://vc.bridgew.edu/theses/100
Copyright © 2021 Katelyn Govoni