“Darkness is different for me now. I know all its depths and textures”: the panoptical gaze in Sarah Waters’s "Affinity"

Elsa Adán Hernández


The aim of this essay is to analyse Sarah Waters’s novel Affinity (1999) from the perspective of the panoptical system of surveillance, based on the controlling power of the gaze, that was widely employed as a system of represión in Victorian society. It seeks to explore Milbank prison as a perfect example of Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon and Michel Foucault’s ideas about punishment and imprisonment. Drawing on Laura Mulvey’s notion of scopophilia, the essay goes on to explore the characteristics of the interaction and mutual attraction felt by two of the main characters, with the aim of proving that the gaze can be a powerful weapon to subjugate another person. Finally, it tackles the relevance of the third protagonist, Ruth Vigers, a lady’s maid whose job makes her invisible both to the readers and to other characters in the novel. The analysis shows that it is precisely her social invisibility that allows her to escape the gaze of this panoptical society and become the master puppeteer controlling everything from the shadows.


Desire; gaze; (Neo-)Victorianism; panopticon; Sarah Waters; scopophilia; surveillance

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.18172/jes.3762

Copyright (c) 2020 Elsa Adán Hernández

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© Universidad de La Rioja, 2013

ISSN 1576-6357

EISSN 1695-4300