Date of Award
Union College Only
Bachelor of Arts
Gothic novel, Victorian literature, sexual orientation
At the end of the nineteenth century, the gothic novel developed in a way that reflected Victorian anxieties concerning human sexuality. Commonly referred to as the fin de siècle, this period was a time when England was rapidly progressing technologically, scientifically, and socially. Authors of gothic fiction began to express societal and cultural anxieties concerning these developments—as well as the very future of England—by, using tropes, such as supernatural subjects, monstrous characters, and frightening plots. For example, the controversial role of homosexuality in British society began to make its way into gothic novels. Authors including Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, and Robert Louis Stevenson—some of whom struggled with their own sexual orientations—endeavored to create a voice for the ostracized homosexual in fiction. These literary representations of same-sex desire contributed to the awareness of and the perpetuation of stereotypes for gay men. The modern stereotype of the “homosexual” gained notoriety as representations of same-sex relationships emerged and as psychological discussions attempted to explain the causes and treatments for such an ostensible “abnormality” during the period. This controversial topic concerning human sexuality was challenged by Christian values that created engrained social attitudes about sexuality and morality. Homosexuality became a heightened issue of contention during this period when Oscar Wilde published his homoerotic novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), and was subsequently arrested for his own homosexuality, which was outlawed at the time in England. In Chapter One, I show how Wilde packs his text with encrypted homoerotic themes that reflect his personal identity, mock societal prejudices about human sexuality, and warn against blind submission to socially accepted values. Through gender and sexuality studies and queer readings of Wilde’s work, I reveal that Dorian Gray emerges as a groundbreaking text that defies social norms and supports emerging psychological studies of human sexual orientation, such as Havelock Ellis’s Sexual Inversion (1897). In Chapter Two, I use Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) to explain how the supernatural elements of the gothic were a mechanism for demonizing the homosexual and characterizing gays as “other” in a society that rejects and punishes queerness. By evaluating Stoker’s own ambiguous sexuality alongside his generally homophobic novel, I show how Eve Kosofksy Sedgwick’s idea of “homosexual panic” helps to explain the driving force in suppressing the emerging homosexual during the age. In this way, Stoker’s homophobic novel is both a personal way of denying his own sexuality and his means of encrypting themes of sexual difference. Finally, in Chapter Three, I reveal how The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) synthesizes the decadent homosexual stereotype and the monstrous homosexual stereotype portrayed in Dorian Gray and Dracula as a way of exposing Victorian anxieties about sexuality and the dangers of acting on one’s inner desires, temptations, and pleasures. Sedgwick is again an important voice in this chapter as her idea of “homosocial desire” furthermore becomes paramount in characterizing the homosexual and homosocial themes in Jekyll and Hyde. In this way, the final chapter of this thesis harkens to the homosexual stereotypes discussed in previous chapters to show how stereotypes have persisted and become a defining trope of Victorian gothic horror.
Estes, Olivia M., "Sexuality Exposed: Homosexual Stereotypes and the Victorian Gothic Horror Novel" (2017). Honors Theses and Student Projects. 22.