Female Characters in Gothic Texts

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Many commentators have noticed how females in Gothic fiction often fall into one of two categories: the trembling and innocent victim or the shameless and dangerous predator. However, others have noticed how women writers have often used the Gothic to explore aspects of femininity and sexuality. The mad woman in the attic in JANE EYRE has become a key symbol of Gothic feminism.

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The Persecuted Maiden

The trembling victim: frail, blonde, silent, passive, helpless and innocent. Fear and terror portrayed through her often over exaggerated reactions. She is often shown fleeing a rapacious and predatory male (Manfred in The Castle of Otranto). However, at times she is made to feel sympathy for the monster which pursues her.

EXAMPLES: Mina in Dracula and Elizabeth in Frankenstein.

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The Femme Fatale

The other typical gothic female is the sharply contrasting female predator. Dark haired, red lipped, wearing a tight black dress and with a startling cleavage - parodied by Morticia in the Adams Family. A dangerous and rapacious creature, offering a real sexual threat. Often punished in their sotry for their transgressions.

EXAMPLES: Lady Macbeth, Dracula's brides

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The Mother Figure

The dominating father is a key presence in the gothic. In Frankenstein, Victor usurps the mother's role by bringing the monster to life. In Macbeth, Lady Macbeth says she would be prepared to sacrifice her children for Macbeth to be king.

In many Gothic stories, the mother is a destructive character.

In The Monk, Antonio's mother is slaughtered; however, in The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter changes the mother's role - she appears as the knight in shining armour to rescue her daughter.

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Further Ideas

  • Female characters play a very significant role but often ambivalent role in Gothic texts
  • The stories may play out a battle between the sexes or explore the uneasy relationship between pain and love
  • They may be objects of male fantasy
  • Used to express feeling and heighten terror
  • Femme fatales may represent emancipated women who no longer submit to male control (portrayed as dangerous by men who don't agree with their emancipation)
  • The female gothic character's role has changed from the original Gothic stories of the 18th and 19th century to Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber
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