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‘Only one antagonist’: The Demon Lover and the Feminine Experience in the Work of Shirley Jackson

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One of the most prominent tropes in Shirley Jackson's work is that of the ‘demon lover’ who seduces a woman from her home with promises of riches and ultimately destroys her. Jackson uses the demon lover to figure a jouissance excluded by the Symbolic order, which, because of its repression, returns with a destructive force. Jackson's demon lover tales, including ‘The Daemon Lover’, ‘The Beautiful Stranger’, and ‘The Tooth’, narrate a woman's gradual realization of her subjection to a demonic male figure, whose claim on her dispossesses her of both home and self. Women in these stories are offered an impossible choice: either conform to a passive position within rigidly defined gender roles or be abjected into a permanent state of anxiety, insecurity, and even madness outside of the Symbolic order. Jackson's second novel Hangsaman (1951), more than any other of Jackson's works, attempts to chart a path for feminine jouissance by imagining writing as a kind of witchcraft.
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Keywords: Das Ding (The Thing); Demon Lover; Uncanny; jouissance; schizophrenia; witchcraft

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Suffolk University

Publication date: 2013-11-01

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  • The official journal of the International Gothic Association considers the field of Gothic studies from the eighteenth century to the present day. The aim of Gothic Studies is not merely to open a forum for dialogue and cultural criticism, but to provide a specialist journal for scholars working in a field which is today taught or researched in almost all academic establishments. Gothic Studies invites contributions from scholars working within any period of the Gothic; interdisciplinary scholarship is especially welcome, as are readings in the media and beyond the written word.

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