“A Pleasure of that Too Intense kind”: Women’s Desires and Identity in Stella Gibbons’s Gothic London
Authors: Mills, R.
Journal: Studies in Gothic Fiction
Publisher: Cardiff University Press
Stella Gibbons (1902-1989) is best known for the rural novel Cold Comfort Farm (1932), which Avril Horner and Sue Zlosnik discuss as “comic Gothic.” In contrast, Gibbons’s little-studied Hampstead novels Westwood (1946) and Here Be Dragons (1956) map a melancholic Gothic fragmented city, marked by the Second World War, in which romantic attachment and marriage threaten young women’s comfort, self-sufficiency, and subjectivity. Excessive emotion and eroticism imperil women’s independence and identity, while the men they desire embody the temptation and corruption of the city. Gibbons employs Gothic language of spells, illusion, and entrapment to heighten anxieties around stifling domesticity and sacrificing the self for love. The London Gothic geographies, atmosphere, and doubling of characters and spaces reinforce cautionary tales of the ill-effects of submission to love, while dedication to a career and community are offered as a means to resist Gothic desires and control Gothic spaces. This reading of space and female identity in Gibbons’s London novels is intended to extend and add nuance to scholarship of her works beyond Cold Comfort Farm, and contribute to the emerging study of the “middlebrow Gothic.”