Date of Award
Honors College Thesis
Katherine H. Cochran
The Victorian era was arguably the most productive time for the Gothic genre. Laden with supernatural experiences and insanity around every corner, the Gothic created a distinct genre of eeriness and morbidity. The key to understanding the genre’s development lies in the culture that caused it to thrive. Victorian culture saw the emergence of supernatural experimentation, particularly in the Spiritualist movement, as well as the further development of psychology. These elements of Victorian culture are crucial in the development of the Gothic genre. Just as political or economic factors may influence the style, content, and format of a literary genre, even more influential is the society in which the literature is written. The prominence of the supernatural and psychology in Victorian culture led to texts that addressed both themes simultaneously, leading to ambiguity within the texts. This ambiguity can be clearly seen in two texts selected from the U.S. Gothic canon, written within ten years of one another: Henry James’s novella The Turn of the Screw and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper.” These two texts demonstrate the way the themes of the supernatural and madness have become a staple in Gothic fiction. By examining issues of Spiritualism, Freudian theory, and women’s medicine in The Turn of the Screw and “The Yellow Wallpaper,” readers and scholars alike can see the ways in which Victorians attempted to understand madness by manifesting it in the supernatural—and attempted to understand the supernatural as a psychological phenomenon.
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Craig, Stephanie F., "Ghosts of the Mind: The Supernatural and Madness in Victorian Gothic Literature" (2012). Honors Theses. 99.