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The Female Gothic

The term "Female Gothic" was coined in 1976 by the American literary scholar, Ellen Moers. It describes how 18th and 19th-century women novelists used coded expressions in their work to define fears of "entrapment within the domestic and within the female body". Such expressions include an anxious heroine (orphaned or with an absent mother), domestic imprisonment, and the menace of male tyranny and sexual violence.

Though supernatural terror threatens in these tales too, the threats are later revealed to have rational, natural origins. This was different to the Male Gothic novels of the period. In these books, readers are encouraged to suspend disbelief as devils, ghosts and ghouls race across the pages.

Also in male Gothic tales, women often take on the appearance of monstrous unnaturalness and tend to be vehicles for the writers' sexual fascinations.

Early Female Gothic writers include Anne Radcliffe, Mary Shelley, George Sand and the Brontës. Kicking the Victorian norm to the kerb, their writing displayed dissatisfaction with the era's patriarchal structures of control.

They also influenced 20th-century writers such as Daphne du Maurier and Shirley Jackson, who noted these same structures but further challenged them, often by giving their heroines the reins to control them.

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