The Spectre of Menopause: 'This deep sense of time passing, through one's flesh'

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This paper explores Gothic temporality as a common trope in medical and autobiographical depictions of the menopause and the menopausal subject. The menopause is a temporal discombobulation par excellence; the ticking clock of fertility, the looming spectre of the ‘end of womanhood’, to quote Suzanne Moore: ‘this deep sense of time passing, through one’s flesh’. Gothic tropes have long been used by medical texts to describe the menopause, from nineteenth century links to mental illness and hysteria, to the vocabulary of failure and loss that permeates medical advice literature. Within an economic system of reproduction which values women only insofar as they are fertile, the menopause is figured as the transition into uselessness or genderlessness, or even as enacting a sort of death. The menopause is often conceived of with a sense of spectral dread. The menopausal woman is likewise constructed as a Gothic figure. She is a profound expression of other; between alive and dead, without gender, an unstable and fluctuating body in a state of transition and liminality. She is an embodiment of temporal instability, evoking the age-old Gothic conflation of womb and tomb, and her body itself becomes a decaying Gothic ruin. Yet it is hard to find examples of menopausal women as central characters in Gothic literature. In autobiographical writing, such as newspaper features, there is a franker exploration of the menopause and the menopausal subject, and these are also suffused with Gothic metaphors. Symptoms are described in terms which echo the effects of the Gothic: burning hot flushes, states of terror, sleeplessness, palpitations, the body attacking itself from the inside out. These pieces also explore the construction of the menopausal woman as a spectral, haunting, or monstrous figure in society, as grotesque and taboo, and the silencing and abjection she experiences. Yet there is a sense in these writings that the menopausal woman can enact a grotesque reversal on these medical and social constructions. If the menopausal body is a Gothic ruin, it is also ‘a site in which deviant behaviours arise’, women challenging established definitions of themselves as purely reproductive vessels. The fearful sense of time running out for the body is countered by the realisation of the cyclical nature of time, that after loss comes renewal. Thus while temporality is key to the gothicisation of the female (non)reproductive body, temporality can also be the factor that gives rise to an empowering Gothic view of the menopause.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - Aug 2016
EventTemporal Discombobulations: Time and the Experience of the Gothic - University of Surrey
Duration: 22 Aug 201624 Aug 2016


ConferenceTemporal Discombobulations


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