I’m not as familiar with the Gothic novels from the fifties and sixties as I am with the late sixties and seventies. Gothic novels of the sixties and seventies often conform to white feminism narratives of the time in that, it takes a liberated woman out of their element and places them somewhere less secure (often meaning: non-white) so the stakes are raised a bit, often before they realize it’s a lot safer to just go back to Ohio and get married. Yet, they managed to be subversive in creating an outlet addressing needs for passion, independence, and adventure women had which were not often addressed by other aspects of pop culture at the time.
Mexican Gothic fits in seamlessly with the more aesthetic aspects of the few earlier Gothic novels I have read. The woman in these novels must be independent, as the locale would scare away the less intrepid. She must be curious to a fault and unwilling to give up once a mystery presents itself. Often, the story is built around the idea of a woman being lured somewhere by her unconventionality. Here, there is a much more practical reason the somewhat frivolous Noemí must leave the comforts of her life of wealth and leisure in Mexico City—to go to the small village where her cousin has married a once-wealthy man who nevertheless owns a large (but decaying) family estate and discover if she truly is sick with tuberculosis or undergoing some type of breakdown.
Though that she goes at her father’s behest in itself demonstrates a very real problem the protagonist is somewhat in denial of though I think we are meant to view her attitude as ‘I have to get along in a society I don’t always agree with’ which is very relatable—especially now. Though initially, she does not wish to go, she gives in partly to buy herself a bit more freedom. Otherwise, her father might insist she actually settle down with one of her suitors. Instead, he will allow her to change her major to her latest passion—anthropology—as well as transfer to a more prestigious university.
The trope of flighty socialite is interesting because the stakes are simply much higher for Noemí despite her social standing. It is implied throughout the narrative that she is under some amount of pressure to choose something—if not necessarily a man than at least a course of study. Her father is depicted as reasonable—he doesn’t wish for his daughter to be forced into a marriage she doesn’t want, yet his understanding does not come without obligations.
Though there are few reminders of the situation even a wealthy, educated Latinx woman of the times would still face—that women could not vote at this time in Mexico is one of them—you never forget how women are still considered property. Though the situation where Noemí is held captive appears fantastic yet is not too far outside the realm of possibility. It poses the question of what a less reasonable man but one still allowed to make choices for you might do if all they care about is your body’s compliance but not you as an individual.
In an interesting reversal, the wealthy family is imported, Dracula-like, along with servants and even soil into the protagonist’s world and this is used very effectively both as a familiar trope and a way to address white colonialist attitudes as the family also imports their repellent (but far too prevalent even now) views on breeding and superiority: ‘She no longer wondered if Howard Doyle had a pair of calipers; now she wondered how many he kept,’ Noemí speculates at one point. Another reversal is how the love interest is sweet but somewhat passive, and in need of rescue, even the story’s conclusion makes you more certain of Noemí—that she will not submit to a passionless life—than you are that he will really choose to live in opposition of his family’s harmful white supremacist ideology without her there to remind him: ‘You have a damn choice.’