Date of Award

5-2016

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

English

Major Professor

Mary E. Papke

Committee Members

William Hardwig, Amy Billone, Carolyn R. Hodges

Abstract

Traditionally, naturalism and the Gothic have been seen as genres that have little to do with one another. However, Frank Norris, one of the practitioners and theoreticians of canonical naturalism, argued that the roots of naturalism lie not in realism (as is often argued) but in romanticism. This project seeks to explore Norris’s claim by positing a new genre—Gothic naturalism. Gothic naturalism is a hybrid genre that combines the Gothic’s haunting nature and representations of the abject, grotesque, and uncanny with canonical naturalism’s interrogation of making choices and the forces of chance, determinism, and heredity. Although naturalism is traditionally seen as a male genre, I argue that women writers have made significant contributions to naturalism but that, because their work often draws heavily from the Gothic, thus far critics have largely omitted them from discussions of naturalism. In discussing determinism, I explore female agency and the complexity with which it is portrayed in Gothic naturalist texts by writers such as Elizabeth Stoddard, Louisa May Alcott, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, Edith Wharton, and Edith Summers Kelley. Gothic naturalism shows gender itself as something that both haunts and frequently overdetermines female characters. Agency also becomes illusory for female characters in Gothic naturalism as they frequently encounter situations with only negative outcomes or face situations where they must make a choice only to find there are no ‘good’ choices to be made. This project contributes to naturalist studies first by exploring how naturalism collaborates with other genres but also by examining women writers frequently left out of naturalist criticism. Indeed, several of the writers discussed have not been considered as naturalist authors until now. This project also contributes to American Gothic studies by exploring the psychological manifestations of the Gothic rather than its more superficial trappings and supernatural elements.

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