Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences



Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Lee Behlman

Committee Member

Patricia Matthew

Committee Member

Monika Elbert


As new scientific theories, especially Darwinism, became known to the public at the end of the nineteenth century, the abhuman, a term Kelly Hurley, in her work The Gothic Body Sexuality, Materialism, and Degeneration at the Fin De Siecle, has adapted for academic use from a work of fiction by William Hope Hodgson, found its place in Victorian Gothic literature. Hurley’s central concern is how the morphic quality of the human form in these works speaks to a larger cultural anxiety of shifting identities, “an anxiety generated by scientific discourses, biological and sociomedical, which served to dismantle conventional notions of ‘the abhuman’ as radically as did the Gothic which arose in response to it” (Hurley, 5). While I agree with this notion and make use of it, the central issue I wish to explore is how the concept of gender fits into the construction of the abhuman.

This study explores how the female abhuman is shaped not just as a response to larger cultural tensions, but how the new discourses that propagate such tensions are factored into her creation to express a specific fear of emergent feminism. I address the female abhuman specifically, and in so doing situate her within a culture largely afraid of the progress of women’s rights. By taking a closer look at four vital texts - Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan, and Richard Marsh’s The Beetle - 1 begin the work of answering this crucial question: what is it about the female abhuman that is unique and intrinsic to her alone, and what do these qualities say about the culture out of which she is born? To answer this question, I explore the complexities of the female abhuman through a comprehensive understanding of the cultural climate out of which she arises, her physical attributes, her juxtaposition with domesticated women, and finally her punishment at the hands of the male-dominated society in which she resides.

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