a very negative light by male Gothicists: she is a figure of vice and sorcery in the same mould as the Caliph's sorcerer mother in Vathek. Lewis portrays female sexuality generally as a dangerous force, whether in the punishment of Agnes for her illicit trysts, the fate of the Bleeding Nun or the sexual manipulation of Matilda. Antonia's rape is the most terrible fate that can befall her, and thus defiled she must be eradicated before the final restoration of order, dying and returning to her mother and her natural innocence. Even Frankenstein, written by the daughter of the proto-feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, presents a cast of female characters, particularly Caroline and Elizabeth, who are self-sacrificing and very much confined to the domestic sphere - very different from the male arena of discovery figured in Walton and Frankenstein.

Anne Williams, in her book Art of Darkness, analyses the works of Radcliffe and others, and discerns a trend termed the Female Gothic. In novels of this kind, the female protagonists seek to understand and rationalise rather than to gain power as the male figures do. Williams sees the explaining away of the supernatural in Radcliffe as an over-emphasis on reason, in response to the male view of women as deficient in this particular faculty. The Gothic villain in this school of writing is a powerful egoist to be resisted and overcome: a representative of patriarchal authority at its worst who turns the home into a prison. The female Gothic tends to feature an orphaned heroine searching for an absent mother, and works towards marriage as a re-assimilation into society, thus presenting a conventional bourgeois conclusion. The crux of interpretation lies in whether this acquiescence is taken wholesale or read as a veiled protest against patriarchal oppression. Gilbert and Gubar's influential The Madwoman in the Attic (1979) put forward this thesis, claiming that women's writing was principally concerned with expressing the inexpressible in female experience, something the Gothic lends itself to very well.

In opposition is the Male Gothic, centred on Walpole and Lewis, which is said to have its basis in the Oedipal crisis in which the son conflicts with authority and female figures are defined as the 'Other'. These repressed desires are represented in the supernatural occurrences so are not rationalised. Williams sees the Bleeding Nun in The Monk as "the female principal haunting the patriarchal Symbolic order: the baffling woman at once pure and bloody; chaste and violent." The male Gothic focuses on the need for individual identity created through conflict and rebellion against society. Writers such as Lewis focus on satanic and Oedipally-driven villains whose implacable desires destroy the possibility of relationships with others. Whereas female Gothicists such as Radcliffe tended to be middle-class women who wrote for money, the male Gothic was mainly practised by affluent upper-class men such as Walpole, Lewis and Beckford. All three insert an element of almost camp theatricality into their works. While the female element of the genre concentrates on rights for their class and sex, the male school tends to focus on role-playing and excess in an act of self-fashioning.

Previous chapter/page Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Bibliomania.com Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.