Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Jonathan Allison


Thus, Uncertain Inheritance traces the heiress in Anglo-Irish Big House novels situated at key times of change for the Irish Ascendancy. The Gothic triad of orphaned heiress, dead mother, and sinister uncle does not belong exclusively to the realm of Irish Gothic authors, but rather this triad is used for different discursive purposes than in its English counterparts. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Uncle Silas (1864), Sommerville and Ross’s An Irish Cousin (1903), and Elizabeth Bowen’s The Last September (1929) use the Gothic trope of absent mothers both to address anxieties about and to question the Irish “half” of the Ascendancy Anglo-Irish identity, and use a feminist, postcolonial framework to show how Ascendancy women were both privileged and oppressed by the patriarchal structure of Ascendancy families. This dissertation examines the intersection of Big House and Gothic scholarship in the form of the feminine Irish Gothic: the Gothic trope of the dead mother plays a different role in Irish Gothic novels than in the English counterparts. Namely, the dead mother is used in these Irish Gothic texts to signal Anglo-Irish anxieties about their declining political, social, and cultural power in Ireland, and about the ambivalent political and cultural relationship of the Ascendancy Anglo-Irish to Great Britain. This dissertation argues that the absent mother, and thus absence of maternal lineage, in these texts directly mirrors concerns and uncertainties about the Irish half of Anglo-Irish identity, and that the quest for the mother in these Irish Gothic texts is also a quest for origins.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)