Emma Hill

Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

John C. Leffel, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Matthew Lessig, Ph.D.


Nineteenth-century women writers commonly use themes of entrapment and madness in what are now classified as gothic novels. In texts such as Jane Eyre, Frankenstein, and The Yellow Wallpaper, confinement and madness are synchronous in developing the figure of “the madwoman.” These texts were written during a time when it was uncommon for female writers to seek publication, and many used pseudonyms to get their works published or to be taken seriously by critics. The “madwoman” emerged as a powerful trope to articulate what writing under a patriarchal system feels like. That is to say, confinement scenarios resulting from female characters’ reputed “madness” parallel the authors’ own sense of entrapment writing under a patriarchal system. While this was a common move associated with texts now classified as “Female Gothic,” in this thesis I argue that we can identify and theorize author’s incorporation of the “madwoman” in non-gothic texts as well. Ultimately, close analysis of the figure of the “madwoman” and the host of issues and ideas this character introduces provides an opportunity to highlight issues of intersectionality regarding sexuality, gender roles, and mental illness.

The madwoman trope provides a means for female writers to express feelings of confinement in a profession run by men. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar officially coined the “madwoman” trope in the 1970s in their influential study, The Madwoman in the Attic. Although the “madwoman” is primarily encountered in 19th-century gothic texts, it can be traced in literary works prior to the 19th century through to the present day. But while this figure is typically encountered in proto-feministic texts penned by women, I argue that male writers strategically Hill 4 employ it as well in order to foster anti-feminist sentiment. My research is based on F. Scott Fitzgerald and his famous novel Tender is the Night; more specifically, the ways in which Fitzgerald deploys the madwoman trope to garner sympathy for his unfaithful male lead.