Although the title work from Wilkins' famous collection The Wind in the Rose-bush is more well-known than "The Southwest Chamber," this work is, like "Luella Miller," a trenchant examination of late C19/early C20 constructions of gender and one which deserves to be more widely read and studied.
Like "Luella Miller," "Chamber" examines the problematic side of how femininity is engendered in late C19 Western culture, but in this case the destructive energy is embodied not in the young woman (Maiden) but in her aged counterpart (Crone).
"Chamber" is also more aggressively "female." The malevolent supernatural is here manifested through everyday objects of a "spinstered" female domesticity: dressing gowns, night-caps, a closet that refuses to remain empty, a water pitcher, an ornamental broach. The only male character--significantly, he is a minister named John Dunn (cf. John Donne)--is literally excluded from the female space of the southwest chamber.
And the "space" of this story--both the chamber and the house in which it lies--is also decidedly
female: the house is inhabited by two spinsters, a young female ward, a widowed female boarder, an
unmarried female boarder, and the aforementioned male minister. The malevolent spirit is that of an
apparently spinster aunt, and her malevolence is predicated upon the fact a female of the family
married inappropriately. Marriage, it seems, is in this story grounds for serious trouble,
constituting almost a sort of familial betrayal which is to be avenged even from beyond the grave.
< back to "The Southwest Chamber"
< back to LitGothic's Mary E. Wilkins Freeman page