The American counter gothic: monstrous women and their monstrous texts

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Various texts theorize the wanton woman and the conditions that created her but none so much as Leslie Fiedler's Love and Death in the American Novel. His book speaks to a particularly American wanton, monstrous woman because, as Fiedler states quite accurately, the very roots of America are a result of our relationship with the other and with fear. The puritans feared God, Satan, Indians, and women. Over time, the United States has encountered myriad others to fear as well. As a result of this fear, says Fiedler, American literature is, at its heart, gothic literature. More importantly, this fear is demonstrated through a lack of mature love relations in American plotlines and in authors' characterizations of women. Fiedler is absolutely correct in his connection of an American gothic sensibility to a problematic relationship with women. However, his discussion of Hannah Webster Foster's novel, The Coquette, is inadequate. He suggests that Foster adheres to well-worn gothic motifs when, in fact, she does not. Eliza Wharton contains elements of a gothic and sentimental heroine. However, Eliza struggles in a culture of fear and convention and resists these forces as long as she can. This resistance to convention in the first novel written by a woman born in the United States indicates the beginning of a conversation with the American gothic consciousness Fiedler suggests. My claim, therefore, is that there is another set of stories and symbols that runs counter to this gothic sensibility so deeply entrenched in American literature. There are writers who create female characters that resist conventions but are aware of a "gothic "conversation, with Foster and The Coquette as the initiators of this conversation. Novels that also have this conversation include The Scarlet Letter, The Awakening, Lolita, and Sula. These texts were each simultaneously

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