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The Lesbian Gothic in "Fingersmith"
Transcript of The Lesbian Gothic in "Fingersmith"
What is the Lesbian Gothic?
'[Lesbian Gothic fiction] centers on female sexual orientation and it's cultural and political ramifications.'
(Palmer, 'The Lesbian Gothic', 3)
'Lesbian Gothic texts... reflect a move away from the focus on realist modes of writing to an emphasis on... the inscription of desire which typifies lesbian critical studies and the discussions of lesbian narrative.' (Palmer, 5)
How is the Lesbian Gothic shown through Characterisation?
Waters' uses characterisation to foreshadow the transgressive love between Maud and Sue. For instance:
There are constant parallels in the novel between the characters: 'One baby becomes another. Your mother was not your mother, your uncle not your uncle. Your life was not the life you were meant to live but Sue's; and she lived yours.' (Waters, 335)
Are there more Gothic characters in the text?
Typically in Gothic texts, characters are categorised by their sex:
Female characters: An innocent character who has been a victim of patriarchal oppression, or a transgressive vixen who symbolises rebelliousness and sexual liberation.
Male characters: An aggressive villain, a heroic "alpha male" or a passive victim
These characters are frequently blurred by Waters.
Maud/Sue - maidens or vixens?
Charles - is he truly heroic?
'He said, 'You ain't - you ain't the lady you seemed to be at Briar!
I said 'Look at you. You ain't the boy. That boy had nerve.' (Waters, 476)
The Presence and Absence of the Mother Figure
'From this perspective, the latent configuration of the Gothic paradigm seems to be that of a helpless daughter confronting the erotic power of a father or brother, with the mother noticeably absent.' (Kahane, 'The Gothic Mirror', 335)
This can be shown in Maud's story, where all mother figures are absent after she left the institution.
"Erotic power" of male characters - Mr Lilley controls Maud passively, whereas Mr Rivers is more forceful in his approach.
Transgression and the Gothic
'[...] terror is almost always sexual terror, and fear, flight, incarceration and escape are almost always coloured by exoticism of transgressive sexual aggression.' (Haggerty, Mothers and Lovers and the Erotics of Loss', 1)
The reader observes the interaction between Maud and Sue to take place in dark surroundings
The bleak atmosphere of Briar house is used as a vehicle in conveying the transgressive emotions of desire between Maud and Sue.
'The room was a dark one, like all the rooms there. Its walls were panelled all over in an old black wood, and its floor- which was bare, but for a couple of trifling Turkey carpets, that were here and there worn to the weave- was also black [...] There was a painting of a brown hill, and a vase full of dried leaves, and a dead snake in a glass case with a white egg in its mouth [...] the window panes [...] rattled in their frames’. (Waters, 65)
'The words sounded queer [...] her lip had grown dry. My lip was dry too, and I brought up my hand, to touch it. Then I took the hand away. It smelt of her. The smell made me shiver, inside. The shiver was a ghost of the shiver that had seized me- seized us both- as I moved against her in the night[...] I shivered again, remembering. I put the tip of one finger to my tongue. It tasted sharp- like vinegar, like blood.' (Waters, 141-142)
What is Gothic Fiction?
'The Gothic is particularly difficult to set within boundaries' (Fred Botting, 'Gothic', 3)
How Symbolism is used to reflect the idea of the Lesbian Gothic:
Maud's gloves - originally a signifier of male oppression but later become a token of Sue's love.
Knife - symbol of female liberation ( a phallic symbol).
'Doubling is employed in gothic narrative not only to enhance the air of mystery but also to illustrate the disintegration of a stable, unified self.' (
How is the setting Gothic?
Botting, Fred. Gothic. London: Routledge, 1996. Print.
Kahane, C. "The Gothic Mirror", Ed. Garner, Shelley Nelson, Claire Kahane and Madelon Sprengnether.
The (M)other Tongue
, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. 1985. Print.
Jackson, Rosemary, Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion (1981), London: Methuen.
Haggerty, George E. 'Mothers And Other Lovers: Gothic Fiction And The Erotics Of Loss'.
16.2 (2004): 157-172. Web.
. London: Cassell, 1999. Print.
The features of the Gothic enable the concept of the Lesbian Gothic to be explored.