In his Critique of Dialectical Reason, Sartre refers to a house as a vampire object, something that depends on its inhabitants to survive, absorbing and deriving all its properties from the human action that takes place within it. In Fantastika genres this idea can be fully realised, with horror and fantasy being particularly rife with cases of characters that seem to be fully embodying their environments, acting either as extensions or a personification of their places of residence. Interestingly, women seem to often find themselves in the heart of narratives like this. Like the literary successors of dryads, nereids, and naiads, these women are the soul of the houses they inhabit and have little to no agency in their narratives; at best they act as active agents of the will of the houses, at worst, they are little more than ghosts.
The following paper will examine the importance of women acting as the living embodiment of their houses, and how their treatment drastically changes across genres. Drawing examples from works such as Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, John Crowley’s Little, Big,and Helen Oyeyemi’s White is for Witching, this paper will also argue that the gender of the authors changes the way the fate of these women is presented, and what this reveals about the way we view the relationship between female bodies and the domestic sphere.
About the speaker
Marita Arvaniti is a PhD candidate at the University of Glasgow. Her research focuses on the relationship between theatre and the fantastic and explores the role played by drama and performance in the birth and evolution of contemporary fantasy. Other research interests include the self-referential nature of fantasy, folk horror, Terry Pratchett, and Diana Wynne Jones.