Unstable Ground: Tracing a Gothic Lineage in Maggie O’Farrell’s Fiction
Since her debut in 2000, British author Maggie O’Farrell has published eight novels and one memoir, achieving consistent commercial success and several major awards, culminating in the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction. Despite such recognition, O’Farrell remains under-critiqued in both scholarship and non-academic literary criticism. Critics have particularly neglected O’Farrell’s extensive engagement with the Gothic tradition and have consequently both underestimated her feminist concerns and misinterpreted her signature atmosphere of haunting as psychological suspense, rather than as a Gothic trope intimating a species of knowledge at the borders of the tangible and the supernatural.
In this TPR presentation, I question how O’Farrell is situated in the post-millennial British literary landscape, drawing on both the small body of academic scholarship pertaining to her, and her non-academic reception. I then present an overview of my research to date, arguing for a reconsideration of her fiction in light of the Gothic tradition, focusing on how she reinvigorates tropes associated with the Female Gothic, and how her consistent use of the discourse of haunting relates to both her preoccupation with mortality, and the Gothic’s historic formation in opposition to the enlightenment’s discourse of rationality. I also provide an overview of my proposed thesis structure, methodology and timeframes.
Amy Walters is a PhD candidate in English Literature at the ANU and has been passionate about Maggie O’Farrell’s work since discovering it a decade and a half ago at the age of sixteen. She is also a writer and critic, and her work has been published in the Canberra Times, Kill Your Darlings, Meanjin and The Saturday Paper among other places.
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