In order to reconcile the absence of sexually deviant witch figures (succubae, demonic women, etc.) within the formation of American national literature in the nineteenth century with the fantastic elements found in European variations on the gothic, my thesis aims to demonstrate transatlantic variants of erotic signifiers attached to witch figures in nineteenth-century gothic fiction and mediums across national traditions. I will begin by tracing the transatlantic and historical impact of Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger’s Malleus Maleficarum—an early modern handbook of sorts used widely in witchcraft inquisitions—on Early American witch trials, specifically where its influence deviates from a sexualized conception of the witch and where a different prosopography of the historical witch emerges. Next, I will assess a short sample of nineteenth-century American pulp fiction to demonstrate the historical impact of America’s erotically decoded witch type on fictionalized versions or caricatures of the witch. In doing so I hope to create a reading that informs a more transatlantically complex representation of The Scarlet Letter. Finally, in order to underscore the significance of these national and historical departures of The Scarlet Letter as a gothic novel, I will contrast Hawthorne’s novel with a selective reading of nineteenth-century gothic texts from England and France that employ the witch or demonic feminine motif in an erotically codified and fantastic setting, namely using Old World magic and history that draws from French and English traditions.To demonstrate the significance of erotically coded witches in the British tradition, I will briefly examine Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Christabel” as a gothic text that relies heavily on the erotic affect encoded in the figure of Geraldine. I will also touch on Prosper Mérimée’s “La Vénus d’Ille” and Théophile Gautier’s “La Morte Amoreuse,” two remarkable short stories that highlight the sublime terror of sexually deviant, occult female figures. Through such a collection of readings of witches and erotic, occult women I hope to amplify a more latent theme underlying The Scarlet Letter and America’s conflicted relationship with the gothic tradition: namely its crucial lack of erotic enchantment as a channel for the experience of gothic affect, the fantastic, and even sublime terror.
College and Department
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Cutler, Sylvia, "Salem Belles, Succubi, and The Scarlet Letter: Transatlantic Witchcraft and Gothic Erotic Affect" (2019). Theses and Dissertations. 8583.
Keywords: witchcraft, gothic, affect, erotic, Salem belles, witches, succubi, The Scarlet Letter, transatlantic, phantasmagoria, demonic women