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Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Department of English
The treatment of nuns and convents in gothic novels contributes to the presentation of various attitudes toward women who resist normative female roles. This is illustrated in the consideration of three central, and very different, gothic or post-gothic works: Matthew Lewis's The Monk (1796), Ann Radcliffe's The Italian (1796), and Charlotte Brontë's Villette (1853). These novels draw on conflicting popular associations of nuns and convents, including nuns as chaste, sexual, or tragic and convents as brothels, prisons, or liberating communities. In each novel, anti-Catholicism also comes into play in the way that nuns work as foci for explorations of female roles. Lewis's horrific figures of dying or dead nuns contribute to his novel's condemnation of sexually transgressive, active women as monstrous. Radcliffe breaks away from the presentation of female transgression as monstrous and takes a more positive view of the convent as a female community offering a limited space for female self-definition and resistance to heteronormative roles. Brontë uses Lucy Snowe's association with nuns and convents to highlight both Lucy's restraint under patriarchy and her rejection of imposed gender roles. Lucy establishes an active convent-like community of her own where she follows traditionally unfeminine intellectual and artistic pursuits, themselves connected with the nun in Villette. Lewis's The Monk, Radcliffe's The Italian, and Brontë's Villette, when viewed together, form a complex, layered picture of one gothic element that plays a varied part in the elaboration and transgression of normative roles for women in the gothic novel.
Hause, Marie, "The figure of the nun and the gothic construction of femininity in Matthew Lewis’s The Monk, Ann Radcliffe’s The Italian, and Charlotte Brontë’s Villette" (2010). Masters Theses. 390.