“Compare and contrast the presentation of female protagonists in Gothic Literature, in order to determine the validity of Gothic as a serious genre rather than the merely macabre”
The three texts; Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter and Selected poems by John Keats project images of female characters in very different ways. Much of the portrayal of females is in correlation to the attitudes and position of women within society at the time of writing. The preconception of many people is that the Gothic genre is based entirely upon supernatural motif’s which have been labelled “Gothic” such as: bats, castles on hillsides and full moons. The Gothic sensibility is seen by some as an attempt to deal with the feared and unknown consequences of social change. Sensational thrills are provided by the characters going beyond the normal conduct of society and individuals, often ending up unhappily for the protagonist. However the transcendence from neoclassical ideals of order and reason toward romantic belief in emotion and imagination can explain the presence of stock devices as attempts to rouse the readers’ imaginative sympathies. The genre is not entirely limited to questions of moral or ethical imprudence. In the Later Victorian Gothic novels the darker side of the human psyche is explored calling into question the duality of human nature, science religion and the potential horrors and glories within the individual. In this way the novels reflect the powerful revolutionary changes taking place at the time which inspire and influence many of modern societies’ understanding of personal identity and social understanding. Many late eighteenth and early nineteenth century texts are a reflection of the morals for which the society of the time stood. John Keats lived through an era of change, dramatic economic crisis intensified social antagonisms, leading to the French Revolution of 1789. British Literature began a movement from a phase later labelled Romanticism into a more gothic genre valuing an ambiguous mixture of good and evil beyond the boundaries of human reason. The decline and suffering of human conditions, particularly through the Industrial Revolution, is reflected in the tone and defining elements of Gothic Literature. The letters of Keats reveal his abhorrence of tyranny and his passionate sympathy with suffering. Tragic events in his life including the death of almost his entire family and the nursing of his brother through Tuberculosis meant that Keats was well aware of the symptoms which preceded his own premature death. Many of Keats’s poems reveal, through visual imagery and thematic areas, his attempt to identify with something permanent in life. Keats’s letters are rich with speculations on the working of the imagination; this is a definitive concern of the Romantic period and its interest into investigation of the self. The concept of imagination and how one may even transcend it is something frequently explored in much of Keats’s work. The complex struggle Keats faced with the concept of beauty, mainly being the ultimate manifestation of truth in the imagination can be found in many of his poems including ‘Ode on Melancholy’ and ‘The Fall of Hyperion’. ‘The Eve of St Agnes’, a narrative poem in which the impulse continuously leans towards description, presents the reader with a central opposition between dream and reality. It is unclear whether or not; Porphyro has mislead Madeline through her enchantment of the superstition of St Agnes’ Eve, if indeed she is asleep and ‘Hoodwinked with faery fancy’ or, if she is herself actually compliant in the consummation of her relationship with Porphyro. Madeline in many ways is a typical female Gothic protagonist embodying the distinctive damsel in distress classic of the genre. Pursued by the evil Porphyro, with his ‘stratagem, that makes the beldame start’ he seeks to corrupt her and violate her innocence. Madeline’s imagination, presented...
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