Female Gothic

I’m at the stage where I’m thinking of a submission package to agents/ publishers for my first book manuscript. Part of this includes a ‘market statement’ – the genre, readership, and which books I see mine sitting beside on the shelf.

I see The Songs of All Poets as a coming-of-age (bildungsroman) story, not just for the main character, Flora, a British girl, but also for Nisha, a Bengali Muslim servant, and perhaps for Bengal itself. It is set against a backdrop of the Bengal Renaissance, after all.

It’s like a Jane Eyre set in colonial Calcutta.

I came across the term ‘female gothic’ somewhere in my genre research. Previous readers of my MS have commented on its gothic overtones in the opening chapters. But as I read the attributes of the female gothic genre, I realised that I had written to this niche without realising it, though I always intended to draw on the motifs and tone of Bengali ghost stories which were popular with Bengal Renaissance writers, and particularly, Rabindranath Tagore.

The Female Gothic novel explores issues of women’s confinement in/by marriage. It draws on motifs of hauntings and the supernatural, ruins, madness, physical confinement, slavery, Madonna/whore, and immolation, amongst others. A key feature, interestingly, is that the supernatural shenanigans are explained as phenomena with real cause and effect. I read somewhere that female gothic writers ‘substitute terror for love’ – this is clearly the case with Songs.

Some examples of female gothic novels:

  • Jane Eyre
  • Wide Sargasso Sea
  • Rebecca
  • Wuthering Heights
  • Frankenstein

As a teenager I devoured Emily Bronte and Daphne Du Maurier, so I am not surprised that the first novel I wrote was in their tradition.

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