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[ecrea] CFP: Gothic Feminism at the University of Kent

Thu Feb 18 13:28:47 GMT 2016

*Gothic Feminism: *

*The Representation of the Gothic Heroine in Cinema*

University of Kent

Thursday 26^th – Friday 27^th May 2016


Since its literary beginnings, the Gothic has featured distinctive
female characters who engage with, and are often central to, the uncanny
narratives characteristic of the genre. The eponymous ‘Gothic heroine’
conjures up images of the imperilled youngand inexperienced woman,
cautiously exploring the old dark house or castle where she is
physically confined by force – imprisoned by the tale’s tyrant – or
metaphorically trapped by societal expectations of marriage and
domesticity. The Gothic heroine is habitually motivated by an
investigative spirit and usually explores her surroundings in a quest to
uncover a sinister secret which shall, for example, reveal her love
interest’s past or provide explanation for her supposedly supernatural

The importance of the Gothic’s women protagonists is not limited to
these narrative functions but extends to considerations of the genre
itself; the Gothic can be /defined/ by its portrayal of the heroine.
Ellen Moers’ work on female literary traditions is a key text in this
respect, identifying the ‘Female Gothic’ as a distinctive mode within
the genre. The ‘Female Gothic’ highlights the prevalence of female
writers exploring the Gothic mode and the implied woman reader engaging
with the heroine’s exploits. Moers writes that ‘Female Gothic’ texts –
such as those by Ann Radcliffe – convey a specific form of ‘heroinism’
which evokes the idea of a ‘literary feminism’.

Moers’ work demonstrates how the Gothic and the Gothic heroine intersect
with feminist criticism because, as Helen Hanson notes, ‘the female
gothic bears a political charge’ (Hanson, 2007, 63). This ‘political
charge’ is equally applicable to the Gothic film and its representation
of the heroine. In cinema, the Gothic enjoyed particular attention with
the 1940s cycle of melodrama and /noir/ films which emphasised the
Gothic traits of the old dark house, mystery and domestic threat, with
the Gothic heroine’s exploits central throughout. Films such as
/Rebecca/ (1940), /Gaslight/ (1940/1944) and /Secret Beyond the Door/
(1947) are exemplary of this trend. Several writers have explored the
political and feminist ramifications of these films which have been seen
as Gothic or, as Mary Ann Doane writes, ‘paranoid woman’s films’ (Doane,
1987). The reception and interpretation of these films is inextricably
linked to societal contexts in which these films were made, as Diane
Waldman notes how the war and immediate post-war period offer distinct
visions – and varying degrees of validation – of the heroine’s feminine

This symposium seeks to re-engage with these theories and reflect
specifically upon the depiction of the Gothic heroine in film. Since the
release of /Rebecca/ over 75 years ago, has our evaluation of the Gothic
heroine necessarily changed? How does the Gothic heroine relate to its
literary predecessors? Can one speak of a cinematic Gothic heroine,
distinct and separate from the original Gothic literature? Victoria
Nelson notes that, in film history, ‘[in] a relatively short span of
time, the perennial swooning damsel in distress had turned into a
millennial female jock’ (Nelson, 2013, 136). How have the Gothic
heroines of the screen evolved and is it possible to trace this specific
lineage in contemporary representations? Whether the Gothic heroine be a
‘damsel’ or a ‘jock’, this inevitably raises the question of
interpretation: how should the Gothic heroine be evaluated and can such
a representation be thought of as ‘feminist’?

This symposium shall engage with these questions of representation,
interpretation and feminist enquiry in relation to the Gothic heroine
throughout film history including present day incarnations, with films
such as /Crimson Peak/ (2015) directly re-engaging with the Gothic
genre. This event seeks to wrestle with the difficulties posed by the
Gothic as a mode which emphasises terror, the uncanny and suspense,
alongside representations of women protagonists who given agency as
investigators motivating narrative development but are subjected to
horror for the story’s pleasure. These difficulties are not new to the
Gothic genre. As Fred Botting notes: ‘Women’s gothic, it seems,
straddles contradiction and challenge, persecution and pleasure’
(Botting, 2008, 153). Similarly, David Punter and Glennis Byron write
that ‘[whether] female Gothic should be seen as radical or conservative
has been an issue of particular concern’ (Punter and Bryon, 2004, 280).
This symposium shall illuminate the concerns, contradictions and
challenged posed by the Gothic heroine on-screen through reference to
specific case studies which re-engage with older examples of the Gothic
and/or explore contemporary films, reflecting upon the renewed academic
and commercial interest in the genre of recent years.

Topics can include but are not limited to:

-How interpretations of the Gothic heroine relates to large feminist
criticisms. Can Gothic film be said to be ‘progressive’? Is the Gothic
heroine always defined in relation to a patriarchy?

-In light of Moers’ work, can one speak of ‘heroinism’ and a ‘cinematic
feminism’ to Gothic film?

-Historical explorations of the Gothic heroine in cinema. How has
representations of the heroine changed and how does this relate to
larger social and political contextual concerns?

-Contemporary incarnations of the Gothic heroine.

-Comparisons between the cinematic Gothic heroine and the genre’s
literary beginnings.

-On-screen adaptations of Gothic literary texts.

-How does the Gothic heroine compare to other distinctive
representations of female protagonists in genres such as melodrama and
horror? Is the Gothic heroine a distinct and separate entity apart from
other genres, or is she inextricably linked to them?

-Can one speak of a separate Gothic heroine tradition in cinema?

-The reception of Gothic film and Gothic heroine audiences.

-The relationship between the heroine and space, particularly domestic
spaces such as the house. How does architecture relate to the
representation of the Gothic heroine?

-The significance of costume and fashion to the Gothic heroine’s identity.

-Comparisons between the Gothic heroine and other protagonists, such as
the archetypal ‘other woman’ or male lead. How, for example, is the
concept of ‘Gothic feminism’ affected by the genre’s representation of

-The Gothic heroine as virgin or mother figure.

Please submit proposals of 500 words, along with a short biographical
note (250 words) to (gothicfeminism2016 /at/ by *18th March 2016*.

Frances Kamm and Tamar Jeffers McDonald, University of Kent.


Botting, Fred. (2008). /Gothic Romanced: Consumption, Gender and
Technology in Contemporary Fictions/. Oxford: Routledge.

Doane, Mary Ann. (1987). /The Desire to Desire: The Woman’s Film of the
1940s/. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Hanson, Helen. (2007). /Hollywood Heroines: Women in Film Noir and the
Female Gothic Film/. London and New York: I. B. Tauris.

Moers, Ellen. (1976). /Literary Women/. New York: Doubleday and Co.

Nelson, Victoria. (2013). ‘Daughters of Darkness’. In: /Gothic: The Dark
Heart of Film/. London: BFI.

Punter, David. and Byron, Glennis. (2004). /The Gothic/. Oxford: Blackwell.

Waldman, Diane. (1983). ‘”At last I can tell it to someone!” Feminine
point of view and Subjectivity in the Gothic Romance Film of the 1940s’,
/Cinema Journal /23: 29-40.

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