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In Gothic texts, it is the men who are demonised. The women are simply passive victims of male ambition. To what extent do you agree with this assessment of Gothic fiction?


The idea of women in Gothic texts being the passive victims due to the ambitions of men can be illustrated in Frankenstein where the protagonist is Frankenstein who indirectly kills his female loved ones for his transgression. For Dr Faustus, the lack of any significant female characters displays the abundance of a gender for passive victims: it can be seen that Faustus is the victim to demonising Lucifer and Mephistopheles. For The Bloody Chamber, with Carter being a feminist, the women are sometimes demonised such as in The Lady Of House Of Love as well as the men such such as during The Bloody Chamber. Either way, for the text to be Gothic  a threatening character needs to control a weaker and more passive character in order to provoke a fear from the audience (for Dr Faustus) and reader (Frankenstein and The Bloody Chamber).
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Frankenstein portrays women as being domesticated and weak. For this reason, they are the stereotypical passive victim when against a more powerful and wicked creature (being the monster). Caroline is described ‘as a fair exotic is sheltered by the gardener’. By comparing Caroline to that of an exotic plant makes clear that she needs to be cared for more in order to survive. As well as this, it could also confirm the role of a women in the novel. With the majority of the setting being in the French Alps where it is extremely cold, icy and dangerous, from Shelley comparing Caroline to an exotic plants makes clear that she (and women) have no role in the transgression for knowledge as an exotic plant would not last long at all at the North Pole. Even though Shelley was a feminist, she brings the point forward that women are passive to men’s actions: the transgression for knowledge.

However, it is not just the passive female characters that portray the men as demonised. Even though the monster was born innocent, ‘a grin wrinkled its cheeks’, the neglection as a parental figure from Frankenstein and the neglection of humanity makes the monster become vengeful. Therefore, there is a desire or ‘ambition’ from the monster which the reader will assume is male considering the characteristics women characters are given contrast against that of the monster. The female characters such as Elizabeth and Justine do not provoke the monster in anyway to deserve to die. It is Frankenstein that provokes the monster which makes him threaten Frankenstein, ‘I will be with you on your wedding night’. Therefore, in the case of Frankenstein, the men are demonised and this is displayed most vividly from the monster killing Justine and Elizabeth who would not and, more importantly, could not have influenced the monster in anyway to make him in anyway vengeful to themselves.

In The Bloody Chamber, Carter questions gender roles by reversing the roles of characters in her short stories such as The Lady Of The House Of Love (LOHOL). However, the demonised Countess is only wicked and threatening because of her sexual frustration, ‘I smell the blood of an Englishman’. The Countess is compared to the giant in the tale Jack and the Beanstalk. This makes the reader see her as a fierce and powerful character. Even though the words are copied exactly from Jack and the Beanstalk, the mention of ‘blood’ could suggest her sexual hunger for a male virgin. This outcry from the Countess is then followed by ‘One hot, ripe summer’ which leads into an Aryan-like description of the English soldier. To use the word ‘ripe’ gives the impression that the soldier is sexually active and ready to lose his virginity making him seem even more appealing to the Countess. Therefore, the Countess in this short story has become demonised leaving the soldier to become the victim (who isn't passive as he does end up killing the Countess - Carter’s stories rarely have a passive victim in them).

On the other hand, The Bloody Chamber features the men as the demonised character with the women being the passive victim. The Marquis was based on the infamous Marquis de Sade who wrote the book ‘120 days in Sodom’. Therefore, the reader will inherit a sense of fear for the newly-wed young girl who seems to have married a psychopath. He describes his torture chamber key as the ‘key to my enfer’. Some might say that by describing where the key leads to, he is trying to provoke the girl’s curiosity so that while the Marquis is away, she will go and look into his torture chamber. This brings the point forward that the Marquis might have wanted the girl to look into the torture chamber so that he has an excuse to kill her along with his other wives. The problem is that the girl is not a passive victim. Carter installs a plot device being that the girl rings her mother, ‘I telephoned my mother’. This is the action from the girl that saves her life as it is the mother who kills the Marquis. Therefore, at first, the Marquis and the reader could have foreshadowed the fate of the girl considering the fate of the Marquis’ last wives. However, this girl is not a passive victim. This makes clear that the demonisation of the Marquis is ultimately what caused his death.

There is a deficiency of women in Dr Faustus making it difficult to come to a conclusion whether it is the women that are passive victims. Putting this aside, it is clear that Lucifer and Mephistopheles are the demonised characters: they are always in power and the most dangerous. This is why Faustus looks to transgress. One of his requests is to have power and domination, ‘I’ll be great emperor of the world’. Faustus can sense the demonisation of Mephistopheles which encourages him to transgress further: he wants to share this wickedness with Mephistopheles. However, in essence, Faustus turns out to be the closest character to a victim. Faustus’s actions mean nothing in the play because whenever he repents, Lucifer and Mephistopheles easily manipulate Faustus so that that the dark arts, once again, ‘cheers my soul’. However, in the play, there is no passive victim. Faustus requests the presence of Mephistopheles and signs the contract for his soul too. The actions of the demonised characters were not because of Lucifer and Mephistopheles’ ambition too: they want souls to ‘enlarge his kingdom’.

Ultimately, the passive victim only appears in Frankenstein being Justine and Caroline because they are the only characters in the three Gothic texts that are stereotypical domesticated women that have nothing to do with the plot of the story directly. They have been dragged into the plot by Frankenstein because of the creature he made. The Bloody Chamber does have some temporary passive victims throughout the short stories. However, the tendency is for the roles to become reversed so that the demonised character becomes passive and vice versa such as in The Courtship Of Mr Lyon and The Bloody Chamber. Looking at Dr Faustus, the only passive victim may only be the Pope who, due to no fault of his own (and possibly the fact that there was a reformation at the time this play was written), he has been criticized and mocked. However, a main theme through the Gothic texts is that each one always has a demonised character to create a sense of fear and even panic to the audience/reader which is extremely important for a Gothic text.

About Will Green

A student in England studying Automotive Engineering with Motorsport, Will created Ask Will Online back in 2010 to help students revise and bloggers make money. You can follow AskWillOnline via @AskWillOnline.

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