E. J. Clery, Women's Gothic: From Clara Reeve to Mary Shelley. Devon, U.K.: Northcote House, 2000 viii + 168 pp. $21.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-7463-0872-8).
Harriet Kramer Linkin
New Mexico State University, Las Cruces
The explosion of interest in Gothic literature during the past twenty-five years has resulted in a tremendous group of books, especially among scholars working on women's Gothic literature or the female Gothic (notably Bette Roberts's 1980 The Gothic Romance, Julian Fleenor's 1983 collection The Female Gothic, Kate Ferguson Ellis's 1989 The Contested Castle, Eugenia DeLamotte's 1990 Perils of the Night, Michelle Massé's 1992 In the Name of Love, Terry Castle's 1995 The Female Thermometer, Anne Williams's 1995 Art of Darkness, and Diane Hoeveler's 1998 Gothic Feminism). Emma Clery's Women's Gothic makes a rich contribution to the field that is both distinctive and innovative in looking exclusively at women's Gothic literature to argue against the simplicity of a separatist tradition that differentiates the male Gothic from the female Gothic. Rather than read women's Gothic works as "parables of patriarchy involving the heroine's danger from wicked father figures, and her search for the absent mother," the classic approach that positions the "'Female Gothic'" within the "notion of a distinctive women's tradition" (as Ellen Moers usefully defined "Female Gothic" in her 1977 opus Literary Women), Clery productively turns the issue of valuation upside down to ask "what happens if we lay aside our assumptions about women's writing and look again at women's Gothic? What we find there suggests the need for another story: wild passions, the sublime, supernatural phenomena, violent conflict, murder and torture, sexual excess and perversion, outlandish settings, strange minglings of history and fantasy" (2). That is the story Clery seeks to tell in Women's Gothic as she offers lucid, concise, and finely researched overviews of the works of Clara Reeve, Sophia Lee, Ann Radcliffe, Joanna Baillie, Charlotte Dacre, and Mary Shelley for Isobel Armstrong's "Writers and Their Work" series (which currently includes over one hundred brief studies of authors and literary movements).