Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Jane Garrity

Second Advisor

Laura Winkiel

Third Advisor

Janice Ho

Fourth Advisor

Kelly Hurley

Fifth Advisor

Lorraine Bayard de Volo


Giving Up the Ghost: The Gothic Maternity of Literary Modernism explores Gothic maternal images and motifs in modernist fiction that have been previously disregarded in contemporary criticism. Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room; Jean Rhys’s Good Morning, Midnight; James Joyce’s “Ithaca” chapter in Ulysses, and Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent each reveal the crucial role of the Gothic in exploring maternal identity in early twentieth-century literature. This study shows that Gothic motherhood is a fundamental constituent of modernism.

Rather than explore modernist writing already defined as Gothic, this study posits that uncovering how non-Gothic modernist fiction drew from the Gothic provides a more holistic view of the extent to which the Gothic influenced the formulation of modernist maternal identity. The Gothic genre, as I show, is integrated into the fabric of modernist maternal identity and characterized by its early twentieth-century modernity. Acknowledging the significance of the conventions that enable haunted moments of maternity in modernism effectively reworks our understanding of modernist aesthetics.

This study posits that the selected modernist novels’ engagement with Gothic maternity reveals the uncanny to be a presence that has been always trying to make itself known. The appearance of the maternal Gothic in modernism, gesturing always toward images of paradoxical death and procreation, is a re-introduction with modernist motherhood. Ghostly maternal imagery in modernism acknowledges, combats, and/or extricates the profusion of creationist and fertile imagery traditionally associated with maternal identity and enacts narrative experimentation out of ghostly maternity.