Bleeding Nuns: A Genealogy of the Female Gothic Grotesque

  • Alison Milbank


Although the aesthetics of the sublime have received exhaustive treatment in relation to the Gothic novel, those of the grotesque have received scant attention, despite the fact that the whole concept of the grotesque as an artistic mode was under intense scrutiny during the period of the rise of the Gothic in the latter half of the eighteenth century, with another phase of debate and development in the writing of Hugo, Ruskin and Bagehot in the nineteenth century.1 Given the way in which the monstrous, the hybrid and the disgusting are central to the Gothic genre, this neglect by recent critics is somewhat surprising. The Gothic grotesque, moreover, as this essay will demonstrate, comes to be associated with the female, in contrast to the sublime, which from Burke’s Enquiry (1757) onwards, came to be conceived in specifically masculine terms.2 Where the Female Gothic grotesque has received some study is in an article on the southern Gothic of Carson McCullers, by Sarah Gleeson-White, in which the unruliness and gigantism of the female body becomes a mode of escape from ’southern daintiness’.3 Similarly, Mary Russo discussed the grotesque portrayal of femininity in twentieth-century Hollywood as an inherently liberatory mode for gesturing to feminist unease with ‘normality’ and the constraint of gender roles.


Paradise Lost Subsequent Reference American Historical Association Modern Realism Female Subjectivity 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Victor Hugo, Cromwell, trans. Annie Ubersfeld (Paris: Garnier-Flammarion, 1986)Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Sarah Gleeson-White, ‘Revisiting the Southern Grotesque: Mikhail Bakhtin and the Case of Carson McCullers,’ Southern Literary Journal 33/2 (Spring 2001), 108–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 4.
    Mary Russo, The Female Grotesque: Risk, Excess and Modernity (New York: Routledge, 1994), 11.Google Scholar
  4. Jacqueline Howard’s Reading Gothic Fiction: A Bakhtinian Approach (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 8.
    Wolfgang Kayser, The Grotesque in Art and Literature, trans. Ulrich Weinstein (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981).Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    Geoffrey Harpham, On the Grotesque: Strategies of Contradiction in Art and Literature (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987), 5.Google Scholar
  7. 14.
    William Taylor, ‘Lenora: A Ballad,’ The Monthly Magazine (1796), Vol 1, 135–7Google Scholar
  8. 22.
    S. T. Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, in Aesthetical Essays, ed. J. Shawcross, 2 vols (London: Oxford University Press, 1907), I, 202.Google Scholar
  9. 27.
    See G. K. Chesterton, Robert Browning (London: Macmillan, 1903), 149.Google Scholar
  10. 28.
    Jean-Bertrand Barrière, ‘Character and Fancy in Victor Hugo,’ trans. Beth Brambert, Yale French Studies 13 (1954), 98–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 33.
    Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Faust, trans. and ed. Philip Wayne, 2 vols (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1959), 2Google Scholar
  12. 34.
    Terry Castle, The Female Thermometer: Eighteenth-Century Culture and the Invention of the Uncanny (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 125.Google Scholar
  13. 35.
    Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White, ed. John Sutherland (Oxford: Oxford University Press [1860], 1996), 33.Google Scholar
  14. 41.
    G. K. Chesterton, Criticisms and Appreciations of Charles Dickens (London: House of Stratus, 2001), 62.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Alison Milbank 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alison Milbank
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Theology and Religious StudiesUniversity of NottinghamUK

Personalised recommendations