Nicole C. Dittmer offers a reimagining of the popular Gothic female “monster” figure in early-to-mid-Victorian literature. Regardless of the extensive scholarship concerning monstrosities, these pre-fin-de-siècle figurations have often been neglected by critical studies or interpreted as fragments of mind and body which create a division between culture and nature. In Monstrous Women and Ecofeminism, Dittmer deploys monism to delineate from and contest such dualism, unifies the material-immaterial aspects of fictional women, and blurs the distinction between nature-culture. Blending intertextual disciplines of medical sciences, ecofeminism, and fiction, she exposes female monstrosities as material and semiotic figurations. This book, then, identifies how women in the Victorian Gothic are informed by the entanglement of both immaterial discourses and material conditions. When repressed by social customs, the monistic mind-body of the material-semiotic figure reacts to and disrupts processes of ontology, transforming women into “wild” and “monstrous” (re)presentations.
Nicole C. Dittmer is lecturer at The College of New Jersey and proofreader/editorial board member at Studies in Gothic Fiction.
Chapter One: Social Behavior and ‘Domesticated’ Women
Chapter Two: Forbidden Desire, Mental Degradation, and Nature: Repression of Gothic Madwomen
Chapter Three: Neglect, Rage, and Reaction: Female Criminality and the Victorian Gothic
Chapter Four: Monstrous Transformations and Victorian She-Wolves
Appendix: For Further Reading
About the Author
"Dittmer persuasively argues for a Spinozian unification of the mind-body-nature connection within the monstrous woman figure by conducting textual analysis of early-to-mid-Victorian Gothic literature and ephemeral penny publications alongside readings of contemporaneous medical, legal, and theological texts. She engages an ecofeminist lens to demonstrate how these monstrous women, from madwomen to she-wolves, use nature and the natural elements to their advantage. Dittmer reveals their acts of reclamation that undo misogynistic notions of 'proper female' domestication, morality, and sexuality. Given the current sociopolitical climate, this work feels more necessary and relevant than ever."
"In this thorough and thoughtful examination of the material and semiotic qualities of 'she-monsters,' Nicole C. Dittmer puts little-known texts by writers such as Reynolds, MacDonald, and Rymer in conversation with the works of Mary Elizabeth Braddon and the Brontës in order to explore how women act as nature's partners in reclaiming their agency and instincts from Victorian patriarchal oppression. Adopting a Spinozan, monistic, eco-Gothic framework in its analysis of the role and representation of psychosomatic agency, Dittmer's book charts productive and provocative new territory for literary and cultural study of the Gothic."
Dittmer offers a new and insightful reading of monstrosity and the Gothic mode through the unification of female ontologies. Particularly noteworthy is Dittmer’s ability to lucidly analyse canonical gothic novels alongside lesser-known ephemeral penny bloods and dreadfuls. By placing these narratives in dialogue with one another, Dittmer opens up the possibility of a re-evaluation of the interplay between class, gender, and literary representation within the field of monstrosity. Monstrous Women and Ecofeminism in the Victorian Gothic, 1837–1871, is a compelling and enriching addition to Gothic literary studies. Its interdisciplinary methodological approach is commendable and will be an asset to those in the fields of feminism, ecocriticism, and the medical humanities.