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Gaslighting in Romance: From Jane Eyre to the Present Day (and Why Writers Should Care)

is having a moment. It was the Merriam-Webster word of 2022, the title of a bestselling album by The Chicks, and the buzzy phenomenon that's been in countless headlines. As described in the 2007 book The Gaslighting Effect, it's a form of psychological harm in which abusers use lies and manipulation to make victims doubt their own perceptions and even sanity. The phrase itself refers to the title of a 1938 play (made into a 1944 film ), in which a man covers up a crime by making his wife believe she's losing her mind. If she's institutionalized, he'll get away with murder. Literally. It's also a key theme in my book Chick Magnet, in which the female protagonist is recovering from emotional abuse. Nic must learn to trust herself again, to strip away the doubts and misperceptions her ex carefully planted, in order to believe in her burgeoning feelings for the grumpy veterinarian living across the street. I want to argue that despite its recent trendiness, gaslighting isn't a new topic for romance. It's appeared in countless love stories on the page and on screen. Indeed, romance need to be aware of gaslighting both so they can consider building it into character backstories, but also so they can avoid its (unintentional) presence in the central romantic relationship. Take Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre , the 1847 novel that literary scholar Pamela Regis treats as one of the source texts for the genre in […]

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