Charlotte Dacre's relatively neglected fictions create a unique space in the dialectic of violence that characterizes so much of British Romanticism. Her simultaneous attraction to and repulsion from violence is reflective of an era that apotheosized the sublime, which formed its imagination on the bloody Revolution in France and the increasingly visible brutalities of industrialism, and that made the Gothic its most popular literary commodity. But Dacre's peculiar contribution to this hermeneutic is to build through her four major novels a mythology by which violence emerges, most of all, from feminine libidinous drives. This essay, therefore, begins by contrasting Dacre's approach to feminine sexual desire with that of two other notable women writers of the period, Letitia Elizabeth Landon and Mary Tighe. The essay continues to explore Dacre's most purely Gothic expression, Zofloya (1806), particularly through the scene in which Victoria stalks, attacks, and murders a girl whom she perceives to be her sexual rival. And it concludes with an analysis of a lesser-known novel, The Passions (1811), and its vibrant anti-heroine, Appollonia Zulmer. Troped as noble hunter, ferocious goddess, social critic, and scorned woman, Appollonia is Dacre's most complex vision of the meaning of feminine violence. Still, Dacre's ultimate inclination is toward tragic irony: though she vigorously rewrites the conventional Gothic script (where women are the victims of demonic men), she does not envision anything like the comic release dreamed of, more than a century later, in Hélène Cixous's "The Laugh of the Medusa."
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