Domesticity and the Victorian Gothic short story: "Flesh and blood is not made for such encounters"
Relieved that the beneficent spirit of his dead mother has ceased possessing him, the narrator of Margaret Oliphant's 'The Portrait' confesses that 'flesh and blood is not made for such encounters.' Though flesh and blood may indeed not be 'made for' encounters with the unreal, Gothic fiction repeatedly forces human beings and the world they inhabit into such confrontations. This study focuses on key questions that Victorian Gothic short stories raise when they locate the site of these encounters in the home. Constructing the home as a sanctuary from the competitive world outside it, Victorian domesticity located the means of maintaining that separation in women's supposed authority in the realm of emotions and morality. While domesticity thereby contained the middle-class woman in a limited mundane place, it also granted her a kind of power there, a power uncovered as a source of irrevocable tension in Gothic short stories predominantly featuring a home My analyses of five stories--Dickens's 'The Haunted Man,' Gaskell's 'The Old Nurse's Story,' LeFanu's 'Carmilla,' Hardy's 'The Fiddler of the Reels,' and 'The Portrait'--examine the conflicts at work in the juncture of Gothic and domesticity. In these stories, women characters who are denied domestic power open the home up to the destructive force of unregulated emotions, while women wielding authority become imbued with a disturbing unearthliness. With neither the absence nor the presence of women's power in the home insuring its invulnerability against forces of the 'unreal' and 'unnatural'--forces representing class conflicts as well as sexual tensions--an alien, unsettling presence permeates the middle-class home, destabilizing it as a haven of the known and safe. The Gothic short story thus defamiliarizes domesticity and its place: both its literal place in the Victorian home and its figurative place in the ideologies that prescribe values and norms according to gender