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    Wilderness and Female ‘Monstrosity’: A Material Ecofeminist Reading of Victorian Gothic Fiction

    Dittmer, Nicole (2021) Wilderness and Female ‘Monstrosity’: A Material Ecofeminist Reading of Victorian Gothic Fiction. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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    This thesis proposes a reimagining of the popular Gothic figure of female monstrosity in early-to-mid-Victorian literature. Regardless of the extensive scholarship concerning monstrous figurations (i.e. hysterical madwomen, violent criminals, and shapeshifting shewolves), the pre-fin-de-siècle female monster has often been neglected by critical studies or interpreted as a result of Cartesian dualism. This Western thought fragments women into mind and body segments while creating a division between culture and nature. It is here that this thesis uses monism to delineate from and contest this dualism, unifying the material and immaterial aspects of fictional women and blurring the distinction between nature and culture. It begins with an analysis of cultural and medical discourses of the early-to-mid-Victorian era then moves to key and ephemeral gothic narratives of the period: Wuthering Heights (1847), Jane Eyre (1847), and The Wronged Wife (1870), then moves to The String of Pearls (1846-47), The Dark Woman (1870), and Lady Audley’s Secret (1862), concluding with ‘The White Wolf of the Hartz Mountains’ (1837-39), Wagner, The Wehr-Wolf (1857), and ‘The Gray Wolf’ (1871). Blending such varied disciplines as neurology, ecology, psychology, biology, and literature, this thesis examines the female monster in gothic narratives as a material and semiotic figure. As figurations, women in the Victorian Gothic are informed by the entanglement of both immaterial discourses and material conditions. When repressed by social customs, most notably the reduction of female behavior to biological reproductivity, the monistic mind-body of the material-semiotic female figure reacts to and disrupts the processes of ontology, transforming women into “wild” and “monstrous” (re)presentations. Offering a New Materialism approach to the interdisciplinary readings of the early-to-midVictorian Gothic, this thesis identifies assumed “monstrous” women as monistic mind-body figurations, rejecting social confines and reclaiming nature (i.e. environment, instincts, weather) as an agentic space for personal expression.

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