"Frightened by a Word" : Shirley Jackson and Lesbian Gothic
Abstract: This study examines representations and configurations of lesbianism in literary narrative and, in particular, three novels by American author Shirley Jackson (1916-1965). As recent scholarly work has demonstrated, representations of sexuality between women in literature tend toward the ghostly, the Gothic. Examining the ideological import of such representations, this study likewise considers what happens in narrative once lesbianism is "occulted" this way. Central to this analysis is the issue of subjectivity, of who sees what, how, and why. In its examination of three novels by Shirley Jackson--Hangsaman (1951), The Haunting of Hill House (1959), and We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)--this study draws on theories of performativity and subjectivity as put forward by feminism/queer theory and, in particular, Judith Butler. Central to this investigation is how these texts repeat and, simultaneously, fail to repeat literary conventions linking lesbian and Gothic, as well as how that repetition, and its failure, affect overall interpretation.
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