“The Pauper and the Provider: Servant Negotiations of Gender and Class in Ann Radcliffe's The Romance of the Forest”
The Gothic genre has long been the realm of the ‘other’, a space where marginalized and liminal voices develop their moral and social selves and react to mainstream ideologies and values. While the most obvious examples of this phenomenon are the ghouls, ghosts, and monsters (human or otherwise) which populate much of Gothic fiction from the birth of Frankenstein onward, there is also another subclass of highly significant ‘others’ who are critically placed in the earliest Gothic novels and adaptations. While not explicitly ‘monsters’, these figures are sometimes invasive, frightening, and damaging to the social structure, at once both highly visible and invisible, defined by a social role and yet capable of transcending that role at will. Through their verbal and non-verbal narratives, their performance of a highly ‘gothicized’ self, they expose the social, moral, and political factors and flaws which construct identity within the works of authors such as Horace Walpole, Ann Radcliffe, and other early Gothic writers.
Servant characters, figures defined through a range of assumptions about lower class economic identity, superstition, intelligence, and values, are as pervasive in early Gothic literature (and, indeed, Gothic literature more generally) as they are widely marginalized in contemporary critical theory. They are undoubtedly supporting characters, yet when they do make an appearance their impact is surprisingly profound. From the verbal retelling of castle gossip to the active performance of terror, servants construct narratives which influence the choices and beliefs of the Gothic protagonists and the realities of the reading audience.
Ann Radcliffe is one of the most seminal of the early Gothic writers, yet she is also one whose politics and social identity has been much discussed as a means of parsing the genre’s responses to the political upheaval occurring at the time. The 1790s, the decade in which most of Radcliffe’s works were published, saw the development of new British and French political and social realities, realities which grew out of the rise of a more republican political awareness, reactionary tensions, violent revolution, and political dissent. This has great implications for all characters in Radcliffe’s work, but most particularly for those trying to negotiate political identities therein. This becomes even more apparent when those identities are defined by shifting perceptions of gender and class. Male servants in Ann Radcliffe's early Gothic novels are frequently underexplored in critical examinations of gender identity in Radcliffe's literary politics due to a long tradition of social and literary marginalization. However, class-specific masculine identities built on a socio-moral and political ideologies and domestic anxieties are not only particularly evident in Radcliffe's The Romance of the Forest (1791), but also effectively problematize an already unstable masculine ideal therein. Servant masculine identity in Radcliffe's work is developed through the contrast between servant characters and their employers, through examples of potentially revolutionary active and narrative agency by male servants, and through the instance of the heroine and male servant's joint 'flight' from the Gothic space.
I and my friends at Sheffield Gothic are pleased to announce the publication of new research in this field undertaken within the University of Sheffield Gothic Studies program. The academic journal Gothic Studies has recently published the article “The Pauper and the Provider: Servant Negotiations of Gender and Class in Ann Radcliffe's The Romance of the Forest” (Volume 18, Number 2, November 2016, pp. 37-51). This work is part of my broader research into servant narratives in the early Gothic mode, and directly addresses the impact of male servants and their political and social identities and narratives in Radcliffe’s The Romance of the Forest. This article establishes that the male servant character in the early Gothic novel is essential to understanding socio-gendered identity in one of Radcliffe's earlier novels, and that this figure’s incorporation into discussions of Gothic class and gender politics is as pervasive in foundational Gothic works as it is profound.
This article is available online at: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/contentone/manup/gothst/2016/00000018/00000002/art00003
It is also available in print form and through subscription. Gothic Studies is published through Manchester University Press and is the official journal of the International Gothic Association.
For more information on Gothic servants and for updates on future research, please follow the official ‘Servants and the Gothic’ project on Twitter at @gothicservants, or follow my professional account at @kathleenh42
Dr. Kathleen "Queen of the Goths" Hudson is an eternal member of Sheffield Gothic: while she lives the American Dream, Sheffield Gothic continues to worship her from across the pond.