|Domesticity and the Female Demon in Charlotte Dacre’s Zofloya and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights
Université de Montréal
This essay explores the transformations of the female demon in Dacre’s Zofloya and Brontë’s Wuthering Heights in relation to issues of femininity and domestic space. The mutability of the Gothic genre allows for the emergence of a new female demon introduced by Dacre and rewritten by Brontë. Tracing the domestication of Victoria and Catherine reveals the significance of the role of performance in the female demon’s acceptance into this feminized space. Masculinity and sensibility are also examined since the female demon is guided into the domestic sphere by effeminate male characters and then fall prey to their more masculine demon lovers. This essay argues that although the female demon’s newly acquired skill of performance and transformation allows her to explore the realm of the domestic, Dacre and Brontë suggest, by ultimately reverting to traditional Gothic perceptions of femininity, that her domestication is her demise.
In early examples of Gothic fiction produced in the eighteenth century, female demons were easily discernible by their grotesque appearances, physical deformities, and power over the supernatural. From the evil sorceress Carathis, the Caliph’s mother in Beckford’s Vathek, in her sinister laboratory with her company of mutes and mummies, to the demon Matilda in Lewis’ The Monk with her knowledge of witchcraft, the female monster clearly opposes eighteenth-century ideals of femininity. The concept of the female demon in the early eighteenth century requires that her deranged mind be reflected on her physical form. The representation of the female changes as the Gothic genre is “rewritten” by emerging women gothic writers beginning with Radcliffe. The distinction between horror writing or the Male gothic, and terror writing introduced by Radcliffe and other women writers, becomes rapidly obvious. The Female Gothic is a response from an increasing number of women writers and readers of Gothic novels in the 1790s (Clemens 41). Women writers reacted to the excessive violence in Gothic novels by borrowing and adding to the genre while exploring gender roles.
During this early period of the Female Gothic women writers incorporated two genres: on the one hand while they borrowed from the traditional Gothic they also included elements from the “novel of sentiment” (Clemens 42). The middle class associated with this type of “moral elite” and the cult of sensibility, as opposed to the excesses of the aristocracy or the brutality of the lower class. Victoria and Lilla in Charlotte Dacre’s Zofloya personify this balancing act between the genres of the Gothic and sensibility. Aristocratic excess as represented in the novel by Laurina, Victoria, Megalena and Signora Zappi shares space with its polar opposite, in the personification of sensibility–Lilla. This is where Dacre diverts from the early Female Gothic towards a more subversive version. Although the Female Gothic changes the face of gothic heroines and their foils, Valdine Clemens notes how, “[t]here is no overt questioning of the validity of the social system that serves women’s needs so poorly” (50). The conclusions to Female Gothic novels reinforce women’s place in society and their devotion to domesticity and Clemens suggests the term “Sentimental Female Gothic” (50), to distinguish these earlier works from more radical examples of the Female Gothic. Male Gothic writers responded to the works of anonymous female Gothic writers labelled “Rosa Matildas” by adding more violence against women in their novels, as Kari J. Winter notes, “the Gothic genre was produced by a dynamic process of action, reaction, and counterreaction, a perpetual writing and rewriting” (93). The flexibility of the genre provides its readers with a variety of perspectives of femininity, which undergo a number of changes from the traditional Gothic to the Sentimental Female Gothic, and finally to a particular type of Female Gothic introduced by Dacre that incorporates the excess and violence of the Male Gothic with issues of the domestic.
Radcliffe’s The Italian responds to Lewis’ The Monk through the creation of a new genre which incorporates sensibility and the Gothic; Dacre’s Zofloya is more like a “female version” (Miles 179) of The Monk. Although Dacre is influenced by Lewis’ novel as seen by her choice of pseudonym, her rewriting of the genre is less imitative and more subversive. Sue Chaplin recognizes how, “Dacre appropriates the horror aesthetic in order to subvert it” (138). Instead of toning down the violence associated with Lewis’ The Monk, she uses it to discuss issues of femininity. Sexual desire and the female obsession with love victimizes in Dacre’s work, which is more than any previous female Gothic writer had attempted (Haggerty 174). Through the excessive nature of the genre and her focus on issues of femininity, Dacre is able to supply her readers with a new concept of the female demon, one who should be feared not because of her physical deformity, but for her mutability and her uncanny ability to dissemble in order to cross social and gender boundaries. Diane Long Hoeveler and Adriana Craciun note how Dacre is “no feminist” (Hoeveler, “A Case Study”185; Craciun 113), but Zofloya does reveal how “literature participated in the larger culture’s attempt to rewrite appropriate feminine behaviour as passionless, passively domestic, and pious” (Hoeveler, “A Case Study” 185). Dacre’s exploration of femininity leaves her with two extremes in the forms of the masculine Victoria and the domestic Lilla, but unlike her adversary, Victoria’s fluidity does not allow her to be contained. Victoria transforms throughout the novel, and at times she balances precariously between these two forms of femininity. Chaplin notes how Victoria stands between these extremes when she first meets Zofloya but she “begins to shift from a position of mastery to a position of submission” (141) by the novel’s conclusion. Victoria and Lilla’s shared fate requires that they be examined as two examples of femininity which Dacre considers problematic. Her development of this hybrid Gothic genre and a new female demon place her novel Zofloya in a position in which it can be examined alongside later nineteenth-century Female Gothic novels.
Similar to Dacre, Emily Brontë moulds existing genres, the Gothic and elements of nineteenth-century Realism, in order to present new perspectives on domestic issues and femininity. The second wave of the Female Gothic includes Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights which reflects the genre’s concern with the fears and anxieties that women face in the reality of their everyday lives including their “confinement within the domestic space, their place within the family, the loss of their self identity and the threat of male sexual energies” (Avery 122). These become the “real” dangers explored by nineteenth-century Female Gothic writers, which replace most supernatural phenomena found in the traditional Gothic genre. Catherine Earnshaw, like her predecessor Victoria, finds freedom through mutability and transformation. These Gothic heroines do not require the aid of supernatural intervention and instead possess within themselves the ability to transgress boundaries through performance. The fluidity and instability of the genre embraced by these female writers allow for a variety of representations of the ideal of femininity, and an exploration of the margins of female sexuality while pushing beyond these social constraints.
The term “demonic” is comparable to Mary Russo’s definition of the grotesque which expands to include any “deviation from the social norm” (11), and it is significant that in this case the “female is always defined against the male norm” (12). Dacre and Brontë’s female demons are no longer physically grotesque, instead both authors emphasize the ability of the new female demon to “shape-shift” in order to conceal their true “demonic” selves, and roam freely within the domestic sphere. At first these female demons to not appear to desire a domestic life, but they eventually recognize the benefits of gaining access to this space as a way of disguising their true natures. These female demons are domesticated not by a mother figure, who is either absent in Wuthering Heights or disgraced in Zolfoya, but instead by domesticated men like Edgar Linton and Berenza. These feminized men insist on domesticating the female demon and instructing her on how to achieve their perception of the ideal of femininity. It is during this attempt at transformation that the female demons demonstrate an incredible ability to “shape-shift” and perform according to the expectations of society and their delicate male instructors. This newly acquired skill for performance and affectation allows Victoria and Catherine Earnshaw to deceive while secure within the domestic realm. Dacre and Brontë demonstrate how the perfection of this performance eventually leads to a loss of self which is taken advantage of by their demon lovers, Zofloya and Heathcliff. The female demons’ loss of self is a consequence of their dissembling and their exploration of the boundaries of female sexuality. The final transformation of the female demon is a regression towards the traditional Gothic genre of Beckford and Lewis. Victoria becomes a powerless fiend manipulated by Zofloya and Catherine is reduced to a wandering spirit cursed by Heathcliff. In an attempt by Dacre and Brontë to re-establish order and secure social/gender boundaries, they relapse into the traditional Gothic, diminishing their female demons into bloodied minions and ghosts at the command of a mysterious masculine power.
The cult of sensibility in the eighteenth century involves sensitizing consciousness “in order to be more acutely responsive to signals from the outside environment and from inside the body [and] takes for its basis the increase of women writers and readers” (Barker-Benfield xvii, xix), resulting in a gendering of sensibility. A moral code was also required so that the middle-class could differentiate themselves from the aristocracy and lower classes. Dacre clearly associates sensibility with weakness and she is not alone, as Craciun remarks, “excessive sensibility had been soundly discredited by Dacre’s time as a danger to both proper femininity and masculinity” (135). Indeed Chaplin goes so far as to credit sensibility for the “annihilation of Victoria” (141). Certainly sensibility plays an important role in the domestication of the female demon. Chaplin divides her discussion into two sections: Victoria pre-Zofloya and post-Zofloya and notes that once involved with the Moor, Victoria regresses into the “traditional heroine of sensibility” (140). I argue that her downfall, as well as Catherine’s, begins with the female demons’ introduction to the less imposing figures of Berenza and Edgar. The concept of sensibility being gendered female, and the fact that Dacre and Brontë choose the male characters of Berenza and Edgar Linton as guides for the novels’ heroines into the culture of sensibility, provides a unique example of gender reversal, another trope of the Gothic genre. Instead of the female heroine using her natural sensibility to come to the aid of a male character in need of moral salvation, Dacre and Emily Brontë play with gender role reversal.
Similar to the cult of sensibility, masculinity requires that one follow strict guidelines and codes that encourage a delicate balance between excess and refinement. Dacre immediately identifies Berenza as an aristocrat and a “man of peculiar sentiments” (58). His purpose for socializing is purely for analytical purposes in order to “increase his knowledge of the human heart” (Dacre 58). His interest lies in examining human relations and increasing his understanding of human emotions, but purely as an observer. Berenza sees in Victoria an opportunity to exercise “the power he believe[s] himself to possess over the human mind for modelling her afterwards” (Dacre 58-59). His class status and his refined nature provide Berenza with the freedom to take Victoria as his mistress, and not his wife (Dacre 60). Berenza’s decision to remove Victoria from the company of her mother and Ardolph is based on his need to “save her from seduction” (Dacre 61). Berenza “seizes” (Dacre 60) the hand of Victoria and begins his quest to reshape her into the ideal of femininity and sentiment:“[h]er wild and imperious character he would have essayed to render noble, firm, and dignified; her fierté he would have softened, and her boldness checked” (Dacre 59). Although Berenza appears to have authority over Victoria, Dacre makes it clear that unlike the typical Gothic heroine, Victoria is “beneath his roof, voluntarily in his power” (Dacre 90). Victoria learns from Berenza how to shape-shift and gain entry to this exclusive realm of sensibility and femininity.
Edgar Linton does not make Catherine’s reform a personal conquest, but he does have expectations for an ideal of femininity that Catherine feels she must attempt to fulfil in order to gain access to the refined and civilized realm of Thrushcross Grange. Catherine’s choice of a husband is similar to Victoria’s since both women marry the feminized male, as Hoeveler explains, this choice is unlike the typical fate of a wild-spirited young girl whose lover eventually leaves her to marry a virgin (Gothic Feminism 191). Catherine and Victoria choose a “safe” marriage by associating themselves with the “safely feminized man” (Hoeveler, Gothic Feminism 191). Since Edgar Linton is not up to the task of forcing Catherine into the domestic domain, the Linton’s bull-dog “drags Catherine kicking and screaming, into the other, proper world, with its other, proper husband” (Hoeveler, Gothic Feminism 192). Similar to Berenza’s need to reform Victoria, the Lintons treat Catherine as a “fetish…, a new object that they can shape into social conformity” (Hoeveler, Gothic Feminism 193). Edgar’s bourgeois status requires Catherine to repress her sexual nature, refine her manners, and civilize her appearance. Although she shape-shifts enough to enter into a marriage with Edgar, her ability to perform begins to disintegrate upon Heathcliff’s return.
Excess in its many forms including “over-exposure” (Russo 53), spectacle, and risk are components of the female grotesque. Female characters’ expressions of sexual desire are “equally central to the damnation of the individual” (Haggerty 173). These examples of excess apply to both Victoria and Catherine, as Dacre and Brontë move away from traditional representations of the female demon. Dacre describes Victoria’s natural tendency towards evil as a combination of a powerful spirit and physical beauty: “Victoria…beautiful and accomplished as an angel, was proud, haughty, and self-sufficient – of a wild, ardent, and irrepressible spirit, indifferent to reproof, careless of censure – of an implacable, revengeful, and cruel nature, and bent upon gaining the ascendancy in whatever she engaged” (Dacre 40). Her beauty opposes traditional concepts of the female demon, yet her nature and behaviour deviate from the norm (Russo 11). Similar to Dacre’s novel, Brontë focuses on the childhood of her heroine in order to emphasize her true nature. As a child Catherine is mischievous and tests the patience of her parents and Nelly: “[h]er spirits were always at high-water mark, her tongue always going – singing, laughing, and plaguing everybody who would not do the same…a wild wick slip she was – but she had the bonniest eye, and sweetest smile” (Brontë 40). Like Victoria, Catherine’s behaviour is excessive, her behaviour is child-like, but to an extreme. Her choice of a whip as a gift (Brontë 34) “carries associations of domination and the outdoors” (Ellis 210), which suggests more than just childish play. These two descriptions reveal the unique combination of independence, power, and beauty associated with the new female demon whose qualities are passed on into the late nineteenth century with such characters as Lucy in Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret.
In Dacre and Brontë’s works female bodies grow, transform, bleed, give birth, submit, conquer, and finally diminish. Their bodies are the battleground where issues of femininity are brutally worked out. Judith Butler’s theories on the permeability of the body and the constructs of gender and how the unstable definition of femininity allows for conflicting notions of the female body and women’s place in society can be applied to Dacre and Brontë’s female demons. In addition, Mary Russo describes the female grotesque as “multiple and changing” (8), while the classical body is statuesque, “static, self-contained, symmetrical, and sleek” (8). Artifice and performance are the female demons’ ultimate weapons. Victoria and Catherine’s ability to dissemble results in their unstable and inconstant personalities, while characters like Lilla from Zofloya and Isabella in Wuthering Heights are closely linked with the ideal of femininity and the classical body that is unchanging. Taking a moment to examine these two exemplars of femininity it is interesting to note how they both endure violent physical abuse. Craciun, in her discussion of Zofloya, interprets Lilla’s torture at the hands of Victoria as her degeneration “into an unsexed, unfemale, and unnatural body” (130-31) and as becoming as “dangerously mutable” (131) as the female demon. Lilla is stripped of her proper clothing and is scantily covered by a leopard skin, she is surrounded by savage nature and at the mercy of Victoria’s daggar, and yet she still maintains her status as the ideal of femininity. In fact it is her inability to “degenerate” as Victoria has done which incurs her wrath. The discourse associated with Russo’s classical body continues to envelop Lilla even at the point of her plunging into the abyss. As Dacre writes, “Clasping her thin hands upon her polished bosom, and with it some of her long tresses, still in pure unaltered modesty, essaying to veil it, she raised her eyes of heavenly blue…in figure, grace, and attitude, a miniature semblance of the Medicean Venus.” (Dacre 218). The violence to Lilla’s body is the workings of the female demon and Lilla’s inability to transform into “the unsexed, unfemale and unnatural body” leads to her death. As in the case of Isabella who endures Heathcliff’s physical and mental violence, these domestic figures do not experience transformation or empowerment as compared to their demonic counterparts. The ever-changing body of the female demon allows for her transgression into forbidden spaces.
The eighteenth century saw the creation of the public and private spheres through the society’s separation from the state. This division allowed for public opinion and the forum in which to discuss public matters became Habermas’ public sphere. Qualifying as a member of the public sphere lead to an emphasis on “being” and “seeming” in order to distinguish the nobleman, who has a right to seem, and the burgher, who has nothing and is compelled to be (Habermas 13). A different type of masculinity separated working class men from the middle class men of the public sphere. Male workers began to mimic middle class respectability in their appearance and mannerisms. The working class man had the ability to transform his body to appeal to the requirements of the public sphere, an impossible task for the women who also sought public recognition. The private sphere is soon gendered feminine, which Habermas traces through an increase in the reading audience. Women represent the reading audience beginning in the eighteenth century and they embrace the Gothic genre as both readers and writers. The woman writer plays an interesting role as she balances between the public and private spheres. Since women are naturally excluded from the public realm, they are shrouded with a veil of mystery within the private domain that Habermas considers transitory and obscure (Habermas 3). The role that women’s bodies plays in their exclusion from the public is explored further by Judith Butler, while Patricia McKee focuses on women’s knowledge as a defining factor. Within the private realm women’s experiences become inaccessible to public knowledge, which lead women to come to exist within an “unknowable realm” (McKee 4), similar to the Caliph’s witch-mother’s secret laboratory in her tower. Women fit into a space separate from public knowledge and order, but a place that “assumes characteristics of realms of obscurity discovered, or produced, by disciplines of knowledge” (McKee 5). Victoria and Catherine begin to inhabit the unruly and mysterious realm of nature, since they are excluded from the domestic sphere. The young Victoria’s place within the realm of the domestic is unstable not only because of her own “corrupt nature” (Dacre 49), but also because of her mother’s abandonment of the domestic sphere through her excessive sexual desire for Ardolph. Laurina’s attempt to return to the domestic as a promise to her dying husband is temporary as Ardolph reminds her in a letter: “[y]our present residence is no place for you, having forfeited, by a preference most gratefully recognised, all title to act as the wife” (Dacre 55). Catherine, like Victoria, rejects her role as a daughter and is barred from the domestic domain.
Catherine chooses power over her father’s approval. Her final words to her father demonstrate her awareness of his faults, and when he asks her to behave like a proper girl, she responds, “Why cannot you always be a good man, father?” (Brontë 41). The proper education required to instil in young Victoria and Catherine the desire for domesticity and femininity is absent. As a child, Catherine’s true nature runs wild among the moors, a “world untouched by man made gender divisions” (Ellis 213), but her need to dominate suggests that she will strive to become something far beyond herself. These female demons learn at an early age that they do not “fit into” the domestic space and begin to search outside the boundaries.
Performance allows for an exploration of the public and private spaces and in consequence exposes a variety of perceptions of femininity. Dacre and Brontë begin their novels by introducing readers to the natural disposition of their heroines during childhood. Eventually with the help of such domesticated male characters like Berenza and Edgar Linton, these female demons realize that by practicing a disciplined self-control they can dissemble their way into the domestic space that was denied them from birth. They are both persuaded to the benefits of pushing aside their wild ways and embracing the ideal of femininity, which according to Chaplin includes imitating the “language and gestures of sensibility” (138). By performing according to the expectations of these domesticated men, Victoria and Catherine are able to disguise themselves while simultaneously wreaking havoc within the sacred private realm. The performances required of Victoria force her to conceal and control her true emotions moving her away from the grotesque and closer to Russo’s description of the classical model of femininity (Russo 8). The ability to exert self-control brings Victoria closer to the feminine ideal enforced by Berenza. Dacre draws her readers’ attention to this newly acquired skill of deception and Victoria’s perfection of this performance: “[t]hus, too, did she learn the most refined artifice, which, by practice, became imbued into the mass of her other evil qualities” (75). More than once Victoria struggles to conceal her anger and hatred, and her ability to do so marks her success at truly becoming a new form of the female demon.
While mistress to Berenza, Victoria masters her performance in order to maintain her relationship and the protection it provides. Victoria confirms her feelings that she does not love Berenza (Dacre 97), but she uses her powers of deception to convince him otherwise, making it her primary duty to keep him under this “delusion” (Dacre 99): “well did she support the character she had assumed; and the tender refined Berenza became convinced, that he possessed the first pure and genuine affections of an innocent and lovely girl!” (Dacre 99). Victoria maintains her performance as she moves from being Berenza’s mistress to wife, and finally his murderer. Dacre provides her readers with other examples of deceitful women through the characters of Signora Zappi and Megalena Strozzi. These female characters fall under Russo’s definition of the grotesque since they are unable to contain and refine themselves (8). While Victoria repeats Signora Zappi’s errors by losing control of her passions, Megalena succeeds by maintaining her artifice and concealing her true emotions. It is the female demon’s ability to mask her true nature and enter into the realm of the domestic which instigates fear and anxiety in Dacre’s readers.
It takes the firm grasp of Skulker, the Linton’s bulldog, to drag Catherine into the domestic domain. During her time convalescing amidst the warmth and wealth of Thrushcross Grange, Cathy undergoes a transformation linking her more closely with the domestic and the ideal of femininity. Her need to dominate requires that she shape-shift in order to secure her place within this new realm. Catherine’s return to Wuthering Heights demonstrates the success of her transformation from the “wild, hatless little savage jumping around the house” (Brontë 51), to the “very dignified person, with brown ringlets…and a long cloth habit which she was obliged to hold up with both hands that she might sail in” (Brontë 51). Nelly recognizes Catherine’s “double character” (Brontë 66), since Catherine refrains from lady-like manners in Wuthering Heights, but never allows the Lintons to observe her true nature. Similar to Victoria’s error of revealing too much of her true self to Berenza while berating her mother with cruel comments, Catherine also frightens the more sensitive Edgar Linton with her cruelty towards Nelly and Little Hareton, and eventually himself when she hits him in her frenzy (Brontë 71). Edgar’s repulsion signals to Catherine, as it did to Victoria, that she has been excessive. Nelly’s exclamation for Edgar “[t]o take warning and begone! It’s a kindness to let you have a glimpse of her genuine disposition” (Brontë 71), reveals Catherine as the female demon whose ability to affect and perform allows her to disguise her true nature. Catherine realizes her error, and like Victoria is quick to make amends. She appeals to Edgar’s sensibility by threatening to make herself sick (Brontë 72), which is a tactic she uses again when her plans to unite Heathcliff and Edgar are ruined. It is because of these feminized male characters that Victoria and Catherine deny their true natures and as a result enter into the domestic, a space that cannot contain them for very long.
Having adopted the ‘discipline of sensibility’ from their domesticated male instructors, the female demons become more susceptible to their demon lovers. As Chaplin argues, although Victoria may have been acting the part of the heroine of sensibility with Berenza, she finds herself resorting to the “language of sensibility” (140) in Zofloya’s presence. Catherine also appears to lose control over her demon lover after her marriage to Edgar Linton. Her time spent in the domestic has softened her, making Heathcliff’s return even more destructive. In both cases the female demon suffers from a loss of self, brought about by the confusing transformations and dissembling they have been performing. The transformations of Zofloya and Heathcliff enable them to improve their class status and manhood, allowing them to have more influence and power over the weakened domesticated female demons. Heathcliff’s uncertain background, dark skin and gypsy-like appearance (Bronte 34-35) “insists on a kind of radical indeterminacy for the foundling” (Stevenson 67), which links him racially with the mysterious dark Moor in Zofloya. Heathcliff and Zofloya both disappear and return transformed. Heathcliff feels the pressure to transform himself according to Catherine’s expectations upon her return from Thrushcross Grange, when he tells Nelly, “I wish I had light hair and a fair skin, and was dressed and behaved as well, and had a chance of being as rich as [Edgar] will be” (Brontë 55). Unlike Victoria’s transformation into Lilla for a night with Henriquez (Dacre 217), Heathcliff is unable to change his dark looks, but he does succeed by leaving Wuthering Heights and returning a gentleman.
His “rebirth” (Stevenson 68) is as mysterious as his first appearance, except he has climbed the social ladder. Heathcliff’s new image as the “self-made man” (Stevenson 69), makes him more attuned to Catherine’s taste, and puts him closer to exacting revenge on Hindley. Gestures, mannerisms, and appearances, Butler argues, are “performative in the sense that the essence or identity that they otherwise purport to express fabrications manufactured and sustained through corporeal signs and discursive means” (136). Heathcliff’s transformation elevates him making him the prince young Cathy always imagined he could be (Brontë 56): “I was amazed…to behold the transformation of Heathcliff. He had grown a tall, athletic, well-formed man…A half-civilized ferocity lurked yet in the depressed brows and eyes full of black fire.” (Brontë 95). Unlike the spectacle made of the many transformations of the female demon, her male counterpart’s metamorphosis occurs behind the scenes and he is utterly successful at improving his social and masculine status.
Zofloya’s disappearance is shrouded in mystery, since he is thought to have been killed (Dacre 149), but upon his miraculous return Victoria is keen to notice some changes: “it occurred to her that the figure of the Moor possessed a grace and majesty which she had never before remarked; his face too seemed animated with charms…and his very dress to have acquired a more splendid, tasteful, and elegant appearance” (Dacre 153). Zofloya’s new image seeks to appease Victoria’s discomfort concerning his status as a servant. His new majestic appearance appeals to Victoria and allows her to be less apprehensive about sharing her deepest secrets with the Moor, since she cannot help thinking that, “Zofloya, before his sudden disappearance, and Zofloya, since his return, were widely different of each other” (Dacre 153). Anne K. Mellor focuses on Victoria’s sexuality and how the white males in the novel are unable to satisfy her sexual needs. Whether it is Count de Loredani, Count Berenza, or Henriquez they are all sexually ineffective as demonstrated within “the figural discourse of this text, white male bodies literally become smaller, weaker, less potent” (Mellor 172). As Mellor points out, the bodies of Victoria and Zofloya grow in size, as does Victoria’s sexual desire for him. This sexual desire between the “empowered white woman for a black man” (Mellor 173) represents a “culturally outlawed sexual desire” (Mellor 173), which finds a secure place within the Gothic genre. Along with other cultural faux pas, this taboo sexual relationship between Victoria and the Moor “enabled Dacre’s female readers to explore a far wider range of sexual options, a more aggressive libidinal subjectivity, than did the other writing of her day” (Mellor 173). Zofloya and Heathcliff share similarities in their origins, their transformations, and their treatment of the female demon. Zofloya and Heathcliff mirror the shape-shifting abilities of Victoria and Catherine, which link these male characters to the “demonic” and the socially deviant.
The successful transformations of Zofloya and Heathcliff demonstrate that although the female demon may perform and dissemble her way into forbidden spaces she can not cross all social and gender boundaries. Victoria and Catherine’s time within the domestic weakens them through their exposure to the culture of sensibility. What was once an excellent performance of the ideal of femininity has now become embedded into their personalities. The female demon loses her sense of self through her many transgressions across social and gender boundaries. This loss of self results in the female demons’ increased dependence on their metamorphosed male counterparts who lead them to their demise as traditional Gothic monsters.
Victoria becomes the traditional figure of the Gothic witch who sells her soul to the devil. She is reduced to this state through her increasing dependence on the Moor. Zofloya’s mastery over the female demon is slow and deliberate. Upon his miraculous return Zofloya’s new commanding and majestic appearance elevates his class status making it easier for Victoria to follow his advice. Zofloya maintains the appropriate tone and demeanor to ensure that his victim believes she is still in control. Slowly she begins to suspect that this may not be entirely the case: “[t]he Moor started back, and looked scowlingly upon Victoria; never before had she beheld him look so terrible: in an instant her proud rage subsided, her eyes were cast on the earth, and she trembled….Yes, Victoria, who never before trembled in the presence of mortal being…trembled now, in the presence of Zofloya” (Dacre 176). Control, restraint, and independence are successfully removed from Victoria. He insists that she involve him in all her schemes and when she fails he reprimands her: “you must place implicit confidence in me, and firm reliance; retire now to your chamber” (Dacre 191). Similar to Heathcliff and Catherine who cannot live without the other, Victoria’s domestication involves complete reliance on her male partner in crime. Her feminization is recognizable in her reactions to Zofloya’s powerful commands. Her trembling, “horror and awe” (Dacre 191) are the traits of sensibility which Victoria has been dissembling throughout the novel, but now finds herself enacting truthfully. Victoria is steadily reduced by Zofloya into her worst nightmare–“the abhorred Lilla…the pigmy, the immaterial speck, that she had deemed unworthy of a thought!” (Dacre 197). This is yet another example of the mutability of the female demon, as Craciun remarks, “[t]hat a degenerate, ‘unwieldy,’ and ‘dark’ woman such as Victoria can resemble and become the fragile and fair Lilla suggests the primacy of performance over fixed essence.” (151). Victoria who spends all of Volume I of the novel conniving and scheming quite well on her own, is reduced by Zofloya, into the traditional witch who sells herself to the devil to indulge in the excesses of ambition and sensual desires. The contract between Victoria and the devil has been reinforced throughout Volume II through promises of her soul and the suggestion that she has submitted to him physically (Dacre 235), but the novel’s ending drives home the point with Dacre’s obvious borrowing from Lewis’ The Monk. Victoria's promise to give herself “heart, body, and soul” (Dacre 253) seals the contract and Zofloya transforms into his true self–Satan. Victoria is made to suffer the same fate as her victim and is thrown into the “dreadful abyss” (Dacre 254). She is reduced to a distant and insignificant speck descending into the dark expanse. Victoria who “beheld no boundaries” (Dacre 81) degenerates into the traditionally female Gothic tropes of the victim of sensibility and the female grotesque simultaneously.
By the conclusion of Volume I of Wuthering Heights Catherine is no longer able to recognize herself. With Heathcliff’s return Catherine subsequently suffers from self-inflicted bouts of madness as she struggles to reconcile her split self represented by Edgar and Heathcliff. Catherine cannot identify herself in the mirror, as Nelly tells her, “It was yourself, Mrs. Linton” (Brontë 124). It is exactly her domestic role as “Mrs. Linton” which Catherine can no longer recognize. Catherine’s performance is complicated by Heathcliff who realizes that her domestication was a performance: “[y]ou teach me now how cruel you’ve been – cruel and false. Why did you betray your own heart, Cathy?…You have killed yourself” (Brontë 161). Catherine’s weakened state and her increased dependence on Heathcliff for her identity puts her completely in his power. The final domestication of Catherine is her transformation into the traditional Gothic ghost enforced by Heathcliff’s curse upon hearing of her death: “Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest, as long as I am living!…I cannot live without my life.” (Brontë 167). Catherine is cursed by her demon lover to be earth bound for eternity, a fate which she had clearly not imagined for herself when she tells Nelly, “I shall be incomparably beyond and above you all.”(Brontë 160). Catherine as a ghost is now for the first time made a victim of physical abuse. The traditional ghost is clearly linked with passive femininity when Lockwood is finally able to grasp Catherine’s ghost: “I pulled its wrist on to the broken pane, and rubbed it to and fro till the blood ran down and soaked the bed-clothes: still it wailed” (Brontë 23). Until this point Catherine as the new female demon, has remained elusive and untouchable. The result of being “caught” is violence, and this scene demonstrates how Catherine is no longer fluid and mutable. Instead she is transformed into the traditional Gothic ghost who must submit to patriarchal boundaries and violence.
The Gothic genre is itself flexible and dynamic, as it moves from the traditional “Male Gothic”, to the Sentimental Female Gothic, and finally to the more radical Female Gothic introduced by Charlotte Dacre and rewritten by Emily Brontë. The mutability of the Gothic genre allows for the emergence of a different type of female demon, and as a result varying perceptions of the ideal of femininity. Traditionally she is the grotesque sorceress whose appearance reflects her inner corruption. In Dacre’s Zofloya and Brontë’s Wuthering Heights the female demon no longer reveals herself through her physical form; instead, she has the power to “shape-shift” and use affectation to conceal her true nature. Both authors begin their novels by revealing the natural tendencies of their heroines in childhood. As Victoria and Catherine are introduced into the refined and civilized realm of the domestic, they are called upon by the effeminate male characters of Berenza and Edgar Linton to create an affected domestic self. The existence of dual natures in the female demon allows her to move freely among the unsuspecting inhabitants of the domestic sphere and claim it as her own. As a result of their time within the realm of sensibility the female demon becomes susceptible to the power of their demon lovers. Victoria and Catherine transform into traditional Gothic demons at the hands of Zofloya and Heathcliff, who share many similarities including their mysterious backgrounds, low class status, and their ability to shape-shift. The female demon’s newly acquired power of performance and transformation allows her to explore the realm of the domestic, but Dacre and Brontë suggest by reverting to traditional Gothic perceptions of femininity that her domestication is her undoing.
Lisa M. Wilson traces Dacre’s pseudonym “Rosa Matilda” from 1805 when she “outs” herself as Charlotte Dacre (395), to 1842 in America where the term “Rosa Matilda” takes on a life of its own. As Wilson states, “[i]n its very opacity, ‘Rosa Matilda’ summed up fears about the pseudonym’s ability to blur the essential lines of social demarcation, lines delineating boundaries between masculine and feminine, genius and hack, author and reader” (412).
Indeed Victoria is also “saved” by Zofloya when she is caught in difficult circumstances. As Zofloya announces before throwing her in the abyss: “‘thus do I now perform my promise to thee of saving from worldly ill!’” (Dacre 254). Salvation of women by men whether moral or physical is exposed by Dacre as a selfish ineffectual desire to dominate.
Habermas’ theory on “being” and “seeming” can be applied to the transformations of Zofloya and Heathcliff. Their movement up the social ladder is conspicuous and is dependent on their improved appearances. Dacre and Brontë call attention to Zofloya and Heathcliff’s physical improvements in clothing and mannerisms, which seem to be sufficient in gaining the approval of the Victoria and Catherine. Zofloya and Heathcliff’s methods for improving their class status remain a mystery.
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———. “Charlotte Dacre’s Zofloya: A Case Study in Miscegenation as Sexual and Racial Nausea.” European Romantic Review 8.2 (1997): 185-199.
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Domesticity and the Female Demon in Charlotte Dacre’s Zofloya and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights
Romanticism on the Net, Numéro 44, novembre 2006
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