‘The Haunting Idea’: Female Gothic Metaphors and Feminist Theory

  • Diana Wallace


In Woman as Force in History (1946) Mary R. Beard identifies ‘one obtruding idea that haunts thousands of printed pages’ dealing with women: ‘It is the image of woman throughout long ages of the past as a being always and everywhere subject to male man or as a ghostly creature too shadowy to be even that real.’1 This is what Beard calls ‘the haunting idea’ (77), a phrase which has two suggestive meanings. In the first place, she is arguing that this is an idea that ‘haunts’ writing about women, in the sense that it is a notion to which such writing repeatedly, indeed, uncannily, returns. In the second, she is pointing to the way in which woman has been depicted as ‘ghostly’, haunting in the sense that she is disembodied/disempowered through being subjected to ’male man’. Beard wants to expose this notion as a fallacy, to argue that women have had power and ‘force’ in history. But what she does here is to draw attention to what has been one of the most powerful metaphors in feminist theory, the idea of woman as ‘dead’ or ‘buried (alive)’ within male power structures which render her ‘ghostly’. This is, of course, the metaphor which is played out again and again at the heart of Female Gothic fiction, made literal in the supposedly dead mother incarcerated in a cave-dungeon in Ann Radcliffe’s A Sicilian Romance (1790) whose ghostly groans haunt the castle of Mazzini.


Married Woman Feminist Theory Figurative Language Subsequent Reference Legal Fiction 
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Copyright information

© Diana Wallace 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Diana Wallace
    • 1
  1. 1.University of GlamorganUK

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