Panel 3: Motherhood and Domestic Gender Relations


Pathological Narcissism in a Gothic Setting: Joyce Carol Oates’s “Evil Eye”
Barbara Miceli (Uniwersytet Gdański)

Joyce Carol Oates’s writing has been defined several times as too violent, and she has been defined more than once a “gothic” writer. Indeed, her work displays a series of thematic and stylistic features belonging to the Gothic genre, which she assesses as simply “the horror invading everyday life.” One of the most recent examples of this tendency is her 2012 novella “Evil Eye,” published in the namesake collection, which recounts the difficult marriage between Austin, a middle-age successful man, and his younger and timorous wife Mariana. Their daily life is made even more difficult when Ines, Austin’s ex-wife, returns from the past to visit them. An evident physical mutilation she presents, and a dark secret from the former couple’s past, make her presence only one of the numerous gothic elements that the novella displays to describe the daily domestic horror of a relationship with a pathological narcissist husband. Austin, indeed, shows all the symptoms of such disorder when he deceives and gaslights the young wife and mistreats her both verbally and physically. The aim of this contribution is to analyze Oates’s novella to show how Gothic style and conventions can be functional to describe the “realistic assessment of modern life”–as Oates commented the label she was given–and perhaps to help victims of narcissistic abuse recognizing it and save themselves. Indeed, the Gothic, as Helene Meyers claims in her book Femicidal Fears, Narratives of the Female Gothic Experience (2001), offers a “novelistic lens for negotiating the minefield of contemporary discourses about female victimization” and “it also functions as a genre of social realism.” Furthermore, according to Myers, from the beginning, the Gothic has been concerned with women’s “psychological, and physical vulnerability,” hence “the Gothic world tends to be coterminous with, or the same as, the ‘real’ world.” All these elements make Oates’s novella not only a revival of the Gothic genre, but also, possibly, a cautionary tale.


The Monster Feels My Tiny Little Movements Inside: Motherhood and the Boundaries of Space in Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House
Jessica M. Moore (Ryerson University)

Where Shirley Jackson’s Hill House is defined by its own “internal geometry,” Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s narrator of “The Yellow Wallpaper” indicates that the titular wallpaper is “not arranged on any laws of radiation, or alternation, or repetition, or symmetry.” Although published sixty-seven years apart, Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892) and Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House (1959) were both written in periods characterized by rising waves of feminism and concerns over women’s mental health while confined to domestic spaces and roles. Both texts also address fears about motherhood: post-partum depression, filial and maternal responsibility, cultural constructions of the Good/Bad/Unnatural/Natural Mother, and the female doubling of mother and daughter. One could even argue that Jackson’s Haunting of Hill House is a kind of cultural sequel to “The Yellow Wallpaper,” a child’s echo of a mother’s horror. This paper explores the boundaries between agency and gothic space where the female body/mind alignment and the architecture of feminine space ultimately cleave (simultaneously dividing and clinging) to an internal (feminine) geometry of motherhood. While Roberta Rubenstein has previously suggested that gothic houses function as maternal spaces, this paper focusses on how female bodies inhabit and (in)form this space, and, in a sense, possess it. In both texts, the boundary between the house as space and the spatial geometry of female agency becomes blurred, resulting in a collapse between subject and object, inside and outside. Both Eleanor and the narrator of Gilman’s story confront fraught tensions of the mother/child dynamic—one fears she will never escape her mother’s shadow, the other that she will never escape the shadow of motherhood—by embodying space. The cleaving of bodies and identities (mother’s and child’s) is reflected in the characters’ desire to meld into these spaces, recreating a lost embodiment that both compels and horrifies them. But are these women trapped or simply attempting to navigate a more complex spatial construction of their own internal/maternal geometry? This paper traces the history and trajectory of a motif that, even now, continues to resonate in newer modes of the Gothic genre, such as Darren Aronofsky’s mother! (2017).


The X Files: Monstrous Birth, Holy Mother
Kerry Jessica Walsh (Georgia State University)

The enduring interest in dramatic science fiction television series The X-Files illustrates its significant cultural impact. The X-Files first aired on Fox from 1993 to 2002, with a feature film released in 1998; it was subsequently resurrected for another film in 2008 and additional “revival” seasons in 2016 and 2018. Clearly, the longevity of creator Chris Carter’s fictional universe reflects its position as a defining force in the evolution of television. In particular, the contribution of The X-Files to the development of contemporary notions of the Gothic, both on television and in film, cannot be understated. This paper examines the depiction of monstrous pregnancy and birth in The X-Files, focusing on the episodes “Eve” (season 1, episode 11), “Home” (season 4, episode 2), and “Terms of Endearment” (season 6, episode 7). I illustrate how these portrayals encompass themes of Othering which exemplify the Gothic tradition. I then locate the episodes within a larger discourse of Western cultural Othering, particularly of pregnant women, by specifically linking them to Julia Kristeva’s theory of abjection from her seminal work Powers of Horror: An Essay in Abjection, as well as to Barbara Creed’s reading of Kristeva in “Horror and the Monstrous-Feminine: An Imaginary Abjection.” In doing so, I assess how The X-Files reflects the Western tendency to view not only pregnant women but also women in general as deviant due to the mutability of the female body. In contrast, I also explore how the series portrays the often masculine-coded character of Dana Scully in opposition to the usual aberrant female body. Scully’s “miraculous” pregnancy, set within a broader character arc of stolen fertility and spiritual desire for motherhood, subverts notions of feminine monstrousness by using a quasi-religious narrative to ultimately position Scully as a transcendent yet incongruous figure, both monstrous and holy. This paper thus elucidates an aspect of the Gothic which remains relevant in film and television today.