Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Mary E. Papke

Committee Members

Bill Hardwig, Amy Billone, Carolyn R. Hodges


Confinement and liminality, a condition of ambiguity existing in between two defined states, are both major characteristics of the Gothic. In this dissertation, I argue that the two rely on each other in order to create uncertainties and present captivating yet often ambiguous stories. This ambiguity has a key function in the Gothic, drawing in readers who want to make sense of the narrative but ultimately keeping final interpretation elusive. Avoiding absolute explanation heightens the horror or terror in the text by leaving readers uncertain. Liminality helps achieve ambiguity; characters trapped in liminal states necessarily remain in-between and unclearly defined. I argue that confinements can function as liminal spaces for the characters inside, as these confinements often call into question the line between protection and persecution, life and death, past and present, or sanity and madness. Rather than proceeding chronologically through texts, I look at specific instances of physical confinement, which I have divided into four major categories that also form the basis of my chapters: cloisters, graves, haunted houses, and asylums. Each category deals with different types of spatial confinement that function as liminal spaces for the characters inside. While the works on which I focus span a large time period, covering the “long” nineteenth-century, and move between America and Britain, they all share a common Gothic nature and utilize the trope of confinement.

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