Monstrous Bodies and Gender in 18th and 19th Century Print Culture

It is no secret that gothic literature—for the purpose of this study, literature of relevant themes (horror, sexuality, death) during the time period between the publishing of The Castle of Otranto, into the late Victorian era, with Bram Stoker’s Dracula—delve into themes of demonology and gender relations in an especially vivid way. It seems that certain things about the ethic or moral standing of a character are assumed by their gender in this genre. Scholars like Jeffrey Cohen, Gilbert and Gubar and Toni Reed are among the countless scholars that note religious, ethical implications in the 18th and 19th centuries with regards to the gender of a character. I’d like to visualize this in order to concretize the phenomenon and bring it forward from the realm of literary interpretation to the digital humanities; gendered statistics. In a word map, for example, I would divide between male and female title characters: novels like “Justine: or the misfortunes of virtue” and “Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded” which would pull words like ‘Justine — Pamela —- Virtue —- misfortune —- rewarded’ compared with a male gendered search, for example, “The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” “The Monk” and “Dracula” would yield results like “strange —- Monk —- Dracula” suggesting a far more eerie and monstrous quality to the books about male gender. Word mapped attitudes about gender may expose a truth about regarding monster literature as a typical male-character dominated field—does this suggest that there lies something inherently monstrous about the male character? or perhaps once the data is run it will yield the opposite result; that there are more females references with unethical or monstrous qualities. Scholars like Toni Reed often talk about the demon-lover; the case of him being typically a man who preys on a virtuous female, angelic and innocent. Will the data map show different results? Will the data map yield a relationship between religious ideals of good/evil ethical/unethical, or will depictions of monstrosity be a neutral tie between the sexes—and therefore expose a lie to gender?

Gender, sexuality morality are directly linked in gothic texts. Christian tradition borrows the core positive/negative binarism from the Aristotelian masculine/feminine paradigm and constructs a black and white view of gender and morality alike. A binary view of good and evil in the Catholic Church leads to themes of laden Catholicism or fractured Catholicism running rampant in gothic tales. I will run a search, hopefully also learning to work with full text transcriptions of select texts, to identify the relationship between religious temperaments and gender relations of the 18th and 19th centuries over time.

If either good or evil is largely associated with feminine title characters, what does that mean about the way gender was regarded at large?

I want to run our marc data for a testing sample of at least one hundred books and study their titles, epigraphs, and other blocks of text to see how often the word “female” is associated with “good”, “angel” etc. or “evil”, “demon”, “devil”, etc. And then reverse the study for the male. In literature where sexual tensions and gender tensions became manifest through supernatural means, will studying gothic texts on a numerically exactive mass scale reveal that the face of these tensions changed through the decades between 1760 and 1850, or that they remained the same? What happens when it is a female writer, publisher or female-run printing press that churns out the title pages, edits the work? Are women still portrayed in a limiting and binary light–either an angel or a demon, virtuous or punished, two-dimensional? For this sub-sect of the study I’ll concentrate on the fields indicating gender identities of Authorship Claims as well as take special interest in conducting research on the identities of female publishers.

Gender and the ethical implications of gender and their representation in works of literature expose how stereotypes and social norms affect print culture; or vice versa, how print culture affects culturally accepted stereotypes of gender. And the way that gothic novels, because of their popularity and mass production, fashioned the 18-19th century habits of being.

RELATED SOURCES Rather, Lois. Women as Printers. Oakland: Rather Press, 1970. Women, work and the industrial revolution: female involvement in the English printing trades, c. 1700-1840 Rebecca W. Davidson, Curator of Graphic Arts (2000-2004). Unseen Hands, Women Printers, Binders and Book Designers. From the Princeton University Library, Graphic Arts Collection.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *