Gothic fiction has become a popular area for feminist studies. 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.
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.
However, at times she is made to feel sympathy for the monster which pursues her. Typical examples include: Mina in Dracula, Elizabeth in Frankenstein, Ophelia in Hamlet, Fay Wray in King Kong
The femme fatale
The other typical gothic female is sharply contrasting female predator. Dark haired, red lipped, wearing a tight black dress and with a startling cleavage – parodied by Morticia in the Addams family. A dangerous and rapacious creature, offering a real sexual threat. Often punished in their story for their transgressions.
Examples are: Lady Macbeth, Dracula’s brides
The mother figure
The dominating father is a key presence in the gothic but the role of the mother is also central to some narratives. In Frankenstein, Victor usurps the mother’s role by bringing the monster to life, causing an offence against nature. 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.
• Female characters play a very significant role but often ambivalent role in Gothic...