• Lesbian Lovers and Forbidden Caves: Sapphic Survival Horror in Caitlin Starling's The Luminous Dead

    Vicky Brewster (see profile)
    Horror, Queer Theory Group, Speculative and Science Fiction
    Queer theory, Caves, Abjection in literature
    Item Type:
    Conference paper
    Conf. Title:
    Fear2000: Horror Uncaged
    Conf. Org.:
    Sheffield Hallam University
    Conf. Loc.:
    Conf. Date:
    21-22 July, 2023
    caves, lesbian, queer theory, abject, haunting, phallic monsters
    Permanent URL:
    In 1894, Lord Alfred Douglas referred to homosexuality as “the love that dare not speak its name”, a phrase that describes the unmentionable nature of homosexuality in a period of time when sodomy was illegal. Even in the 21st century, there continues to be something unspeakable and forbidden about homosexuality. This paper equates the unspeakable nature of sapphic relationships, with the forbidden space of the uncharted cave. In Caitlin Starling’s novel The Luminous Dead, cave explorer Gyre appears exclusively in a system that has already claimed the lives of 35 previous cavers. Barbara Creed’s theory of the monstrous feminine focuses on woman as castrator, and using these theories, this paper argues that the cave acts as feminine space, both deadly and unchartable, constantly shifting despite its apparent solidity. Furthermore, the cave is stalked by wormlike creatures known as Tunnelers, a phallic monster intent on crushing Gyre and her sapphic desires, which is drawn to speech. However, the cave is also deadly to heteronormativity, having swallowed the bodies of handler Em’s parents. The cave is only conquerable as Gyre and Em learn to speak to one another (that being their only mode of communication), to overcome their past traumas and to trust and love one another in a sapphic relationship that allows Gyre to survive the cave. This paper will explore the link between discovery of unchartable places with the unspeakable nature of sapphic desire, demonstrating that disrupting heteronormativity by ‘knowing’ the cave results in survival, and an ability to chart the unchartable. Although haunted by the spectres of heteronormativity in the form of family trauma, Gyre and Em’s combined skills make it possible to leave the cave which is the sole setting of the story to discover what possibilities exist beyond it.
    Last Updated:
    7 months ago


    Item Name: docx fear2000-conference-paper.docx
    Activity: Downloads: 12