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Friday, September 20, 2013

Catherine Crowe

I have spent the past year studying for a Masters in English Literature in London, England.  Though the program in which I was enrolled did not focus specifically on Victorian literature, I studied numerous Victorian works, including Villette, one of my personal favorites.  Among the topics I wrote about during my studies were the male gaze in Villette and homosocial desire in the works of Henry James.  My dissertation topic, however, revolved around truth in the works of Catherine Crowe (1790-1872), a Victorian novelist and short story writer popular in her time, though mostly forgotten today.  Her work The Night Side of Nature remains a important work for those with an interest in the supernatural.

I first came across Crowe's name while reading through the book Women Novelists of Queen Victoria's Reign.  In the work, Crowe is praised for her progressive views on women, being ahead of her time in believing that women should be educated in the same subjects as men.  Crowe's fictional writings are domestic works that portray female protagonists that overcome the obstacles of the patriarchal Victorian society and are vindicated through their actions.  Her first novel Susan Hopley (1841) deals with the title heroine's struggle to solve the mysterious disappearance of her brother and murder of her guardian.  Though the truth of what has happened is revealed early on to Susan through a dream, the whole of the novel is spent trying to produce evidence that validates the dream.  Men and Women (1844) also deals with an unsolved murder and a female protagonist is instrumental in seeing her fiance cleared of the crime.  Linny Lockwood (1854) details the forlorn marriage of the titular character and her restoration to dignity through honesty and selflessness. 

Additionally, Crowe wrote numerous short stories dealing with the supernatural.  As a firm believer in spiritualism, Crowe included numerous supernatural elements in her fictional works.  Despite her inclusion of these elements, Crowe continued to write in a realistic vein, illustrating her belief that the supernatural was not incompatible with realism as a genre.  Eventually, Crowe believed, spiritualism would be proven as a manifestation of a hitherto unknown law of nature.  Nevertheless, Crowe's fiction differs from the Gothic fiction of the early 19th century which also used supernatural elements in that Crowe infused her supernatural elements in realistic settings.  In upcoming blogs, I will look at Crowe's works and show how her use of the supernatural differs from that of Gothic fiction.


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