Leila Soikkonen

Leila Soikkonen
English Language and Literature
Åbo Akademi University


Confrontations between masculine and feminine in C.L. Moore’s speculative fiction

This paper explores encounters between the masculine and the feminine in C.L. Moore’s short  fiction, in particular her two early stories Scarlet Dream (1934) and Black God’s Kiss (1933), as  well as other key texts as necessary. In the stories discussed here, these encounters are portrayed as  journeys into other worlds, or the intrusion of the alien element to the world that we know. The  masculine is represented by and rooted in the everyday ‘reality’, in which the feminine is the trespasser or transgressor. If the story entails a journey into an alien world, this world in turn       represents the feminine.

C.L. Moore (1911-1987) wrote speculative fiction where the boundary between science fiction and  fantasy is often so blurred that the texts cannot be classified as one or the other. Her stories, written from the 1930s through the 1950s, discuss themes related to alterity and gender differences through often complex and overlapping metaphors, of which these alien worlds are one.

The feminine universe is never completely separate from the everyday reality, which in turn is revealed as porous and tenuous at best. The feminine can be reached, or intrude upon the masculine through concrete portals or through encounters with characters from the other side; these characters are usually female and the encounters in question somehow sexual or erotic.

The masculine is orderly, predictable, and subject to rules. The feminine, on the other hand, is portrayed as chaotic, surreal and unpredictable, something fundamentally different from the masculine that within the masculine framework. When the feminine bleeds into the masculine order, it simply cannot appear as other than grotesque or monstrous. However, the feminine is not necessarily malicious. It merely appears so to the majority of the male characters who wish to enter it. To feminine characters it is as often a potential source of empowerment.

The stories examined here are cases in point. They both depict journeys into the feminine, but the outcomes of these tales are very different due to the gender of the protagonist. What is crucial about these texts is that the feminine and the masculine are at almost constant odds, vying for supremacy.But while the masculine appears to prevail and the status quo remains, the feminine is never completely defeated. It remains in the shadows, and for every portal closed another opens. In her stories, Moore creates a fictional universe that spans much of her writing and which contains       numerous encounters with the feminine. The feminine is seen as something suppressed, but powerful and vengeful and waiting for an opportunity to strike. This could arguably be interpreted as a reflection of the status of feminist thought during the period between the first and second waves of feminism.

This paper is based on my forthcoming (2013-2014) doctoral dissertation on varieties of alterity and depictions of the Other in the speculative fiction of C.L. Moore.


alternate worlds, alternate dimensions, C.L. Moore, feminism, feminine, masculine, the Other, the sublime

Selected references:      

Alkon, Paul K. 2002. Science Fiction Before 1900: Imagination Discovers Technology. New York and London:       Routledge.

Ashley, Mike. 2000. Time Machines : The Story of the Science-Fiction Pulp Magazines from the Beginning to 1950. Liverpool Science Fiction Texts and Studies 24. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

Bredehoft, Thomas A. 1997. ‘Origin Stories: Feminist Science Fiction and C. L. Moore’s “Shambleau”’. Science       Fiction Studies 24 (3) (March 1): 369–386. doi:10.2307/4240642.

Cranny-Francis, Anne. 1990. Feminist Fiction. Feminist Uses of Generic Fiction. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Gamble, Sarah. 1991. ‘“Shambleau… and Others”: The Role of the Female in the Fiction of C.L. Moore’. In Where No Man Has Gone Before: Women and Science Fiction, edited by Lucie Armitt, 29–49. London and New York: Routledge.

Gubar, Susan. 1980. ‘C.L. Moore and the Conventions of Women’s Science Fiction (C.L. Moore Et Les Conventions De La Science-fiction Féminine)’. Science Fiction Studies 7 (1) (March 1): 16–27.

Kristeva, Julia. 1982. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Translated by Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press.

Makinen, Merja. 2001. Feminist Popular Fiction. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Mathews, Patricia. 1982. ‘C:L. Moore’s Classic Science Fiction’. In The Feminine Eye. Science Fiction and the Women Who Write It, 14–24. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., Inc.

Mishra, Vijay. 1994. The Gothic Sublime. State University of New York Press.

Moore, C.L. 2002a. Black Gods and Scarlet Dreams. London: Gollancz.

———. 2002b. ‘Black God’s Kiss’. In Black Gods and Scarlet Dreams, 39–68. London: Gollancz.

———. 2008a. ‘Scarlet Dream’. In Northwest of Earth, 89–114. Seattle: Planet Stories.

———. 2008b. Northwest of Earth. Seattle: Planet Stories.

Osherow, M. 2000. ‘The Dawn of a New Lilith: Revisionary Mythmaking in Women’s Science Fiction’. NWSA       Journal 12 (1): 68–83.

Russ, Joanna. 1995. To Write Like a Woman: Essays in Feminism and Science Fiction. Bloomington and       Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Salomon, Roger B. 2002. Mazes of the Serpent: An Anatomy of Horror Narrative. Ithaca and London: Cornell       University Press.

Villani, Jim. 1983. ‘The Woman Science Fiction Writer and the Non-Heroic Male Protagonist’. In Patterns of the       Fantastic. Academic Programming at CHICON IV, 21–30. Mercer Island: Starmont House.

Contact information:

Leila Soikkonen
+358 44 522 4235
Sylitie 2 B 7
FI-90800 Uleåborg

Åbo Akademi
English Language and Literature
Fabriksgatan 2
FI-20500 Åbo

Tel. +358 (0)2 215 4725
Fax +358 (0)2 215 4534


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  1. Pingback: Time and Space in Speculative Fiction | BEM's Blog

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