The Sexual Impulse

  • Barry Forshaw
Part of the The Palgrave Gothic Series book series (PAGO)


The feminine strain in Gothic writing has always been significant, not least in the predominance of female practitioners, Mary Shelley, of course, being the exemplar, but also Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Jane Austen’s parody of the subject, Northanger Abbey. While the latter book may ridicule the trappings of the macabre, it also performs something of a balancing act in allowing the flesh-creeping window-dressing to function on its own autonomous level — much as many of the films do, balancing parody and straight-faced engagement with the subject. Women Gothic writers have long (consciously or unconsciously) utilised a series of Freudian metaphors to express certain aspects of female sexuality (the dangerous journeys through damp corridors and tunnels hardly need any explanation in terms of the symbolism). But the buildings which are the essential settings of the Gothic — the castles and splendidly accoutred houses of old and decadent families — may also function as representations of the female psyche. And given the reliance on inheritance and heirdom in the genre (in an era in which any power that women might accrue would be through the death or beneficence of a male relative), it is interesting how often the very inheritances of the female protagonists represent a threat to those receiving them; the positive effects (such as the freeing of them from financial worries that inheritance grants them) are of little comfort.


Young Girl Essential Setting Female Protagonist Sexual Impulse Horror Film 
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© Barry Forshaw 2013

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  • Barry Forshaw

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