The Gothic Fantasy of History: Fear and Loss in the British Long Eighteenth Century
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This dissertation joins the ongoing scholarly debate about the form and function of gender in literary studies of the gothic. I reclaim the term “female gothic” to form an argument about historical representation in literary texts of the latter part of the British long eighteenth century. Based upon a combined sense of fear and loss that pervades the historical present, the female gothic generates its own model of history, what I call the “gothic fantasy of history.” Fear and loss in the present incites a retroactive fantasy of a lost historical past, which is ambivalently constructed as both an idyllic paradise and a barbarous monstrosity. At the same time, however, the writers of the female gothic exploit the work of fantasy that imagines a lost historical past to cast into relief the equally fantastic work that constructs the historical present as an enlightened age of reason and progress. In what I demonstrate is a prototypically gothic move, the twentieth-century psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan provides the key to unlocking the relations between gender, history, and fantasy. In the same way, the gothic provides the analytical tools necessary to deconstruct the haunting and daunting structure known as Lacanian psychoanalysis.
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