Date of Award

12-2011

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

English

Major Professor

Nancy M. Goslee

Committee Members

Amy Billone, Jenny Macfie, John Zomchick

Abstract

Abstract

This study examines the connection between power and identity in three Gothic novels, Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, William Godwin’s Caleb Williams, and Charles Robert Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer. Following the identity theories of Erik Erikson, I argue that identity has biological, psychological, and social aspects that are subject to change over time. As individual agency—the ability to function as a person—depends on a relatively certain and stable sense of personal identity, Gothic villains—both individuals and institutions—gain and maintain their power by disempowering their victims. In order to do so, they work to compromise these victims’ sense of personal identity, causing them to suffer identity crises that greatly reduce their ability to function. Employing various means—including threats of rape, destruction of reputation, imprisonment, forced exile, denial of freedom of thought, torture, and others—Gothic villains attempt to weaken their victims by placing them in situations that cause the fears that Erikson argues all people share to become paralyzing and debilitating states of anxiety, states in which the victims suffer from a temporary, or, in extreme cases, permanent loss of agency. These Gothic victims’ paranoia, identity crises, and subsequent loss of agency underscore the importance of individuals’ identity and constitute the horror that is at the heart of Gothic fiction.

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