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TransGothic Methods



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Huthwaite, Desmond 


This dissertation sustains a consideration of what specifically ‘TransGothic’ reading methodologies could involve and effectuate. In so doing, it challenges certain underlying assumptions present in existing scholarship on the imbrication of gothic and trans: that breadth of trans’s definition is a good thing; that identifying, chronicling, and celebrating transness is the telos of our scholarship; that transness and not cisness is our principal object. This thesis is interested not in concretising an inherent connection between trans and gothic based on the traffic in tropes between these two fields, but in treating the collision between gothic and trans as an opportunity to probe and nuance the investments of each field. I examine how transgender studies can do more than simply add value to gothic, and the gothic can do more than supply transgender studies with tropes and imagery for expounding its theories.

A chapter on Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho examines the novel’s overlooked technology of gender-switching corpses. A historicist reading of these corpses allows the novel to divulge information about the effort that went into consolidating as natural a paradigm of binary sex and gender. More optimistically, this chapter also considers how gothic fiction makes room for ‘the everyday enactment of ambiguity’ concerning the sexed status of bodies, within and potentially also without the diegetic space of the novel.

A chapter on Matthew Lewis’s The Monk treats the prototypically transmasc Rosario-Matilda. A familiar face in queer gothic studies, where s/he has been read as either enabling the novel’s sublimated portrayal of homosexual desire or anticipating the imitative structure of (all) gender described in Judith Butler’s theory of performativity, Rosario-Matilda has been claimed by a more recent outcrop of self-avowedly trans scholarship as an early example of transgender subjectivity. While such defensiveness is forgivable in the face of queer theory’s appropriative tendency, this chapter steers a course between the overly demanding ‘high-theory’ approach of queer theory and the overly hopeful avowals of transgender experience and identity as sufficient in their own right, by speculating about the forms of ‘t4t’ desire and becoming that may have been kindled by the reading of this novel.

A chapter on Charlotte Dacre’s Zofloya contributes to an increasingly central push within transgender studies for a reappraisal of the formerly hallowed concept of sex plasticity. The masculinising morphology of this novel’s protagonist, Victoria, has proven a source of relish for queer gothic scholars. My chapter attenuates that relish by explicating Victoria’s sex plasticity as a function of her whiteness—whiteness that comes to the fore when Victoria is read in conjunction with the titular Moor, Zofloya, who is too often decentred in queer interpretations of this novel.

A chapter on Frances Burney’s The Wanderer connects the novel’s struggle to extrapolate an all-encompassing concept of ‘female difficulty’ with the ressentiment of contemporary gender critical feminism. This chapter aims to underscore how, ironically, the harder Burney tries to construe a model of the difficulties experienced by early-nineteenth-century cis women, the more exactly she ends up describing the plight of trans women in the current era.

A coda reflects on the broader relationship between transgender activism and literary study, and provides some theoretical justification for my ongoing avoidance of ‘identificatory’ methods of reading throughout the thesis.





Barr, Rebecca


Gothic, Methodology, Queer Theory, Transgender Studies


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Arts and Humanities Research Council (2268494)