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Reading: Isabella Kelly and the Minerva Gothic Challenge

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Isabella Kelly and the Minerva Gothic Challenge

Author:

Yael Shapira

Bar-Ilan University, IL
About Yael
Senior Lecturer, Department of English Literature and Linguistics
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Abstract

This essay uses Isabella Kelly (c. 1759–1857) to demonstrate the critical and historical value of Minerva novelists for gothic scholarship. Minerva’s fictions have traditionally been dismissed by gothic critics as uninteresting ‘imitations’ of Radcliffe and Lewis. I propose that we need to question this too-simple label: rather than disqualifying them from serious study, Minerva novels’ formulaic gothic elements are an entry point for fertile analysis, exposing a lively dialogue between many novels that is itself an under-examined part of the gothic’s history. I also address the dilemma of scope: should gothic scholars read Minerva novels individually and closely, or as a large mass viewed from afar? Drawing on the insights of recent scholarship, I propose that there are unique benefits to a combined perspective, which recognises the potential richness of individual Minerva gothics while noting the distinctive features that arise from their publication as part of a larger mass. Isabella Kelly’s seven Minerva novels allow me to test both of these methodological assertions. A ‘semi-distant’ overview of Kelly’s career reveals her rapidly changing, diverse and creative use of gothic materials over time, exposing an aspect of gothic authorship not visible in traditional accounts. I then zoom in on a single Kelly novel, The Ruins of Avondale Priory (1796), to show the surprisingly complex, idiosyncratic uses to which she puts familiar tropes. Examined closely, Kelly’s novel proves less an ‘imitation’of canonical gothics than one in a chain of adaptations to which those more famous works also belong. Kelly’s case also shows how Minerva novels challenge critical categories formed on the basis of the canon alone, such as the supposed division of gothic fiction into distinct ‘male’ and ‘female’ strands.
How to Cite: Shapira, Y., 2020. Isabella Kelly and the Minerva Gothic Challenge. Romantic Textualities: Literature and Print Culture, 1780–1840, (23), pp.168–184.
Published on 30 Aug 2020.
Peer Reviewed

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