»How am I to reconcile all these warring members?« – Emancipatory Writing in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Gothic Short Stories (working title)
Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865) is known as a Victorian writer of lengthy novels with detailed descriptions of daily life and is associated with literary realism and chronicles of industrial life. Contemporary academic appreciation mostly limits itself to her novels and her distinct realist mode of writing, her many short stories and especially her Gothic works have received only little attention. Gaskell is commonly considered a somewhat moralistic and didactic writer, conforming to her time’s views on gender and society, devoid of imagination or dark subversion.
However, Gaskell’s often traditional attitudes to morals, motherhood and wifehood do not mean an unreflecting acceptance of the prevalent Victorian middle-class gender ideology. Her critical and reflective treatment of the matter is not evident at first glance: it takes place on a number of levels, it is inconsistent, conflicting, and entangled – and precisely this reveals the complexity of her emancipatory efforts.
Her writing is a constant act of balance between conventional notions of morals and the critical reflection on gender roles. This tension and the resulting multidimensionality characterize her critical writing.
The doctoral project examines the manner in which Gaskell negotiates, balances, and reflects on gender ideologies in her short stories. Within this framework, her usage of Gothic tropes, figures, and atmospheres are especially drawn attention to. Five short stories, exemplary for her work, are analyzed in close readings; the socio-historical background, Victorian gender and family ideologies, theories on Victorian Gothic, and Gaskell’s own biography form part of the discussion. The particular focus of the study lies on questions of social and economic power, patriarchal family structures, sexuality and its oppression, motherhood, and female and male identities. The close analysis of the selected short stories is meant to lead to general conclusions on both her complete works and the specific character of her Gothic and emancipatory writing.
Anna Engler holds a Licentiate (equivalent to MA) in German and English Literature and Linguistics from the University of Zurich. She is a doctoral student in the field of Victorian Studies at the University of Zurich, where she is also part of the Doctoral Program of Gender Studies. She has produced the MA thesis “”With a loathsome demon soul looking out of the grey eyes”: The Angel of the House in the Light of Elizabeth Gaskell’s “The Poor Clare””, which has become the basis for her doctoral project.