Visualizing the Liminal: Confrontations with Female Passivity in Edith Wharton's Gothic Short Stories
Date Thesis Awarded
Honors Thesis -- Access Restricted On-Campus Only
Bachelors of Arts (BA)
The visualization of the self, or at least the visualization of womanhood, is made literal in Wharton’s Gothic imagination that likens women’s struggles to visual, physical interactions with states of being and liminal spaces. Like many other contributors to the Gothic genre, Wharton’s Gothic canon erases the boundaries between the real and the beyond, bringing to light the inherent division between the two binary spaces separated by (once invisible) thresholds and barriers. However, rather than constructing these spaces as inherently divided, Wharton complicates common constructions of liminality by using the Gothic’s blurring of logical and physical reality to create spaces and people in which the real, liminal, and beyond exist both side-by-side and all at once.
Wharton’s Gothic is constructed along this notion of simultaneous existence, with each primary physical space representing overlapping degrees of possibility until confirmation makes real one option over the other. Wharton’s women who traverse and transgress the liminal space operate in a similar state of double existence, being a member of both their present reality and the beyond, traveling towards a threshold that officially marks their movement from one state to the next. Wharton’s Gothic transgressive women, who are either drawn into or willingly explore the liminal, are defined, represented, and punished according to their passivity as morally definable liminal beings either guide or inhibit their exploration of consciousness. They are transgressive in the basest sense of the word, violating moral or social boundaries as they exist metaphorically and literally, as Wharton continuously illustrates the liminal as occurring within and alongside spatially defined areas (usually the home). In leading women outside of the safety of their constructed reality and domestic home, liminal beings force an uncomfortable confrontation with female passivity that reveal dark domestic secrets that would otherwise remain unseen.
Whitney, Mikeila, "Visualizing the Liminal: Confrontations with Female Passivity in Edith Wharton's Gothic Short Stories" (2023). Undergraduate Honors Theses. William & Mary. Paper 1951.
On-Campus Access Only