Chawton House presents… The Art of Freezing the Blood


Dr Kim Simpson looks at the meaning of gothic literature, and the women writers who pioneered the genre.

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In the first of our brand new series of booklets relating to Chawton House and its collections, Dr Kim Simpson looks at the meaning of gothic literature, and the women writers who pioneered the genre.

This booklet is based on The Art of Freezing the Blood, a 2018 exhibition at Chawton House curated by Dr Darren Bevin and Dr Kim Simpson.

  • 32pp, full colour with illustrations

Available as a print copy or digital download, select your choice from the dropdown menu. Please note that printed copies are currently in production and will be sent out from the 5 November onwards.

What is gothic?

Foul visions of bleeding nuns; craggy mountains surrounding forbidden monasteries; icy wastes home to unspeakable monsters; deep forests peopled with violent banditti; living paintings and moaning houses; castles with dank subterranean passages; damsels in distress and abominable villains; murder, incest, nightmares and the taboo … The Gothic attempted to provoke a physical reaction in its readers – to make Henry Tilney’s hair stand on end and Mary Shelley’s blood curdle. In writing about Ann Radcliffe, essayist William Hazlitt referred to her style of writing as ‘the art of freezing the blood’.

Despite its often gruesome subject matter, many of the Gothic’s most successful practitioners were women. Indeed, Gothic fiction gave women writers a space to work through many of the issues they faced in society as women. Ann Radcliffe was a pioneer of the genre, but she was not alone; other women such as Clara Reeve, Caroline Lamb, Regina Maria Roche, Eliza Parsons and Eleanor Sleath also shaped the genre, in dialogue with each other and with male writers too. William Lane’s Minerva Press, established in 1790, published many female Gothic novelists, and these women benefitted from the wide dissemination provided by circulating libraries, cheaply produced novellas, and magazines, where they could publish serial fiction in instalments.

Gothic is a genre which remains tightly woven into the cultural fabric we are all familiar with, but revisiting some of its earliest examples can tell us much about women’s vital role in developing the art of freezing the blood.

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Digital Download, Printed Copy

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