Who Are You, Mrs Walter Shandy, Aberratio Naturae?
The aim of this paper is to examine the critically unacknowledged aspect of the canonical Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne: the authorial delineation and narrative management of the character of Mrs Shandy, who is a silent presence in the background even though the pivotal personal events for the narrator of this spoof-autobiography are his conception and birth. The novel, otherwise thoroughly structurally and thematically experimental, seems to be fossilized in the ancient and Christian philosophers' assumptions about the physical incompleteness of the "weaker vessel" and the malign influence of her disturbing physiology, which for centuries fed into the ontological concept of a woman as Nature's aberration, aberratio naturae. Mrs Shandy's muteness, a striking contrast to her husband's verbosity, her absence and exclusion from the affairs of the male dominated household seem to run counter to the novel's progressive form and linguistic audacity, the sociological shifts slowly taking root and medical discoveries made before and during this age of paradoxes.
This paper reads The Monk by M. G. Lewis in the context of the literary and visual responses to the French Revolution, suggesting that its digestion of the horrors across the Channel is exhibited especially in its depictions of women. Lewis plays with public and domestic representations of femininity, steeped in social expectation and a rich cultural and religious imaginary. The novel’s ambivalence in the representation of femininity draws on the one hand on Catholic symbolism, especially its depictions of the Madonna and the virgin saints, and on the other, on the way the revolutionaries used the body of the queen, Marie Antoinette, to portray the corruption of the royal family. The Monk fictionalizes the ways in which the female body was exposed, both by the Church and by the Revolution, and appropriated to become a highly politicized entity, a tool in ideological argumentation.
This paper employs Deleuze and Kristeva in an examination of certain Gothic conventions. It argues that repetition of these conventions- which endows Gothicism with formulaic coherence and consistence but might also lead to predictability and stylistic deadlock-is leavened by a novelty that Deleuze would categorize as literary “gift.” This particular kind of “gift” reveals itself in the fiction of successive Gothic writers on the level of plot and is applied to the repetition of the genre’s motifs and conventions. One convention, the supernatural, is affiliated with “the Other” in the early stages of the genre’s development and can often be seen as mapping the same territories as Kristeva’s abject. The lens of Kristeva’s abjection allows us to internalize the Other and thus to reexamine the Gothic self; it also allows us to broaden our understanding of the Gothic as a commentary on the political, the social and the domestic. Two early Gothic texts, Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto and Lewis’s The Monk, are presented as examples of repetition of the Gothic convention of the abjected supernatural, Walpole’s story revealing horrors of a political nature, Lewis’s reshaping Gothic’s dynamics into a commentary on the social and the domestic.