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Defending Estella from 'Great Expectations'

A case for one of Dickens’ frostiest characters.

To match with the chilly weather that we are getting this January I thought I’d write about one of the iciest characters out there, Estella from Charles Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations.’ Her reputation precedes her, and I for one can’t understand Pip’s infatuation with her… or people’s hatred of her. Yes, she is coarse, and haughty and horrible to Pip but by the end of the novel, in my opinion, she becomes the most rounded character still around, whose journey has had actual meaning and impact. I got so bored of all the other characters that Estella was the only reason I could keep reading, and here’s why.

Estella’s initial behaviour towards Pip throws a narrative hook to the audience, as for quite some time we are asking ourselves why she is such an annoying little thing. Her behaviour is enthralling to Pip, and his motivation to become a gentleman stems from his, slightly annoying, obsession with her. Without her, there really is no story, as although she isn’t the physical money, she is the reason as to why Pip wants, and uses the money. It also presents, what the audience think will be, the greatest love story ever. It would probably send Shakespeare spinning in his grave, crying that his ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ had been nicked by Dickens. She’s also the cause of Pip becoming an unlikeable character, as a lot of the time, he considers what Estella would do, or what she would think, prompting his disapproval towards other characters like the boringly kind Joe. She may not influence every single character, but she influences the most important – Pip. That’s enough to cement her importance in the novel and Dickens canon, no matter how many people dislike her.

So, upon her introduction, Estella throws out certain signals to the reader and the characters. She propels the story forward as she gives Pip the motivation to become a gentleman, and wills the reader to stick with her, in the hope that she becomes a bit nicer, and in the hope that her and Pip run off into the sunset together. I am making the assumption now that everyone wants Pip and Estella to get together, and I think from the offset people just assume that it is going to happen… what makes her such a great character, and in my opinion the best in the novel, is that of course, this doesn’t happen. But more on that later.

Estella’s character development builds throughout the novel but isn’t stretched out enough to deter us from being interested. It becomes clear that, as Pip is the plaything of Estella, Estella is the plaything of Miss Havisham. Personally, I wouldn’t like the idea of living with a jilted psycho lady who should be in one of those McDonald’s ‘like getting your money’s worth?’ adverts… as she’s always in her wedding dress. In her later life she plucks up the courage to tell Havisham that she is the cause of her coldness, and the reason she cannot love. Estella has been conditioned this way, and has been forced to dispel one of humanities’ greatest instincts – to love and to be loved. She’s really a tragic heroine. We see that here:

“You stock and stone!” exclaimed Miss Havisham. “You cold, cold heart!”

“What?” said Estella, preserving her attitude of indifference as she leaned against the great chimney-piece and only moving her eyes; “do you reproach me for being cold? You?”

“Are you not?” was the fierce retort.

“You should know,” said Estella. “I am what you have made me. Take all the praise, take all the blame; take all the success, take all the failure; in short, take me.”[1]

Some critics think that we never truly get to know Estella, but she never really knows herself. A whole part of her, her ability to love, and be loved, is shut down by Havisham very early on in her life, and in Victorian society, there isn’t much else for a woman to do. Nobody can control someone else’s ability to love, we choose who we love and we ourselves are aware of it. Estella has this taken away from her, probably before she could even walk. For a character who has a whole part of her identity taken away from her before she understands it, I argue that we get to know Estella pretty well, and that she oozes with tragic complexity. Havisham has literally stolen Estella’s ability to love, and Estella is rightly mad about it. It’s here that we understand her, as she isn’t cruel to Pip as she is cruel herself but is cruel to him because she knows no different. She doesn’t have the capacity to be kind, and we can see that it greatly upsets her.

Estella also provides a real ‘EastEnders’ ‘duff duff’ moment, with the revelation that she is the daughter of Magwitch. The character provides a great dramatic revelation, one that drums home the main theme of the novel, subverted expectations. The haughtiest character in the novel is brought down to Earth by her paternity, which levels all the characters. No one is fully pure, no one’s status is fully preserved, there is social mobility and every character represents this in some respect. Estella’s ‘fall from grace’ is particularly notable, as she goes from one extreme to the other. She goes from being the most uppity little missy out there, to being the daughter of the lowest of the low. Dickens knows how to pack a punch.

Her abusive marriage to Bentley Drummle brings her to the end of her character arc, and this abuse, unfortunately, is what she needs. She has been moulded by Miss Havisham, and her suffering at Drummle’s hands breaks this mould. She now can start afresh, as she has had an emotional, traumatic experience that she can reflect on, and learn from. This experience makes her more vulnerable, and probably more empathetic. It is unclear what this abuse specifically is, but it obviously adds a dimension to what she has already suffered at Havisham’s hands, meaning this has shaken her up that bit more. Be it physical or verbal, it serves as proof that someone so brainwashed needs a significant experience to be roused from such a state, and clearly marriage to Mr Drummle is enough to compel Estella to change. In comparison, majority of the other characters just fade away, or conveniently die.

It’s so right that Pip and Estella don’t end up together, as if they did, her character development would have been hurried along in a fairly unnatural fashion. Estella isn’t ready to love after her marriage to Drummle, and it makes sense that Dickens left the ending ambiguous. We don’t know whether they get together, and it would be nice for them to in the future, but it wouldn’t make sense for Estella to be with Pip at the end of the novel. She is still discovering herself and how to love, and Dickens made the right in decision not to rush this huge development in the last few pages.

In comparison, Pip pretty much lands back at square one, having squandered all of his money. Sure, he learns things, but there’s not a lot of implication that he will grow, learn and develop. Estella will, and its right that this happens off the page, as she is now free from the grasp of Miss Havisham, and the grasp of Dickens’ pen.


[1] Charles Dickens, Great Expectations, Chapter 38.

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The Gothic in 'A Christmas Carol'

Searching for the Gothic in Dickens’ Christmas classic!

‘A Christmas Carol’ is a classic Christmas story, as it encompasses all that should be at the heart of Christmas. Love, joy, family… and a prize turkey that can feed the five thousand. It also gives us the lesson that people can change and that sometimes they should, in a quick hit of one hundred and seventeen pages… depending on your edition.

This happiness however doesn’t come about on its own, and is only really facilitated by Scrooge’s conversion, which in turn is only facilitated by the appearance of the three Ghosts… four if you count Marley.

If we want to find the Gothic in the novel, we should start with Dickens’ finest creation. Scrooge! He kind of fits into the archetypal Gothic patriarch mould, a figure that is tyrannical, uncompromising and relentless. We get this from Manfred, in ‘The Castle of Otranto,’ and the Marquis in ‘A Sicilian Romance.’ He squeezes all the money he can out of everyone he can, he seeks to control Bob Cratchit, refusing to let him put more coal on the fire, and is unforgiving towards the plight of all the poor and needy, thinking they should pop their clogs to ‘decrease the surplus population.’[1] What a nice man.

Trying not to be rude to the man but let’s be real here – he is bloody scary looking:

“The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice.”[2]

There is an obvious harshness to his appearance, with the ‘pointed’ nose, and his ‘grating’ voice. ‘Grating’ brings up ideas of ‘scratching’ and ‘grinding,’ and you don’t really want to hear those kinds of tones at Christmas. He really he sounds like a dead man walking, especially as his lips are turning ‘blue.’ Fun fact, having blue lips is called cyanosis, which is induced by extremely cold temperatures or a lack of oxygen in the blood. A lack of oxygen would definitely result in death. His appearance perhaps doesn’t resemble the classic Gothic patriarchs I listed above, but his appearance is terrifying, and considering the Gothic is supposed to be antithetical to the civilised, Enlightened world, we can definitely place the haggard character in that category.

The Ghosts fit in well with this too, especially Marley’s and the Ghost of Christmas Future. It is the ‘otherness’ of the Ghosts that make them Gothic, as well as their ability to transcend the physical world and laws of nature.

With Marley especially there is the conflict between the living and the dead, and the physical and the ethereal. Dickens immediately messes with our minds, saying the ‘Marley was dead: to begin with.’[3] As a reader we are all screaming that once you’re dead, you’re dead – that’s the end, not the beginning. This brings out the supernatural element, establishing it early within the narrative. Marley’s ability to shapeshift is Gothic too, although perhaps not in the classic sense. Traditionally, the shapeshifting of Gothic characters links into their ability to change their character, like Catherine Earnshaw to Catherine Linton in ‘Wuthering Heights.’ Marley physically changes into the doorknocker, which is a fairly potent and distressing image, which showcases his physical shapeshifting abilities.

Marley’s ghost can also link closer to ideas about bodily monstrosity and body horror, as he is quite literally, falling apart. Every director makes a meal of Marley’s runaway jaw. It is a great moment. The presence of his chains is also confusing, as he is not a physical being, yet he is held down by physical chains. It is a Gothic image of confinement and restraint, as his body and mind are confined, he cannot be fully free. The irony of course is that he is constrained by his own heinous crimes. It is a classic trope in the Gothic genre to be refined and constrained, stopping full expression of the soul… again, I reference Catherine Earnshaw and Catherine Linton.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is also a very Gothic image, as there is the element of the unknown and the element of mystery. We literally cannot see who, or what, is there. It is therefore something we cannot understand, which again, ties nicely in with the Gothic genre. It is not a heteronormative being, it’s form cannot be understood by Scrooge, making it appear as a classic example of the ‘other.’ Its main function is to tell Scrooge that he is going to die, and to show him his fate. There is an obvious darkness to this, and the idea that in that moment, Scrooge is doomed. This too is a Gothic element, the foreshadowing idea of death, and the idea that meeting our maker cannot be avoided and is inevitable. Scrooge can put it off by turning into Father Christmas, but he can never truly avoid it.

Away from the physical appearances of the characters, we could even say that the novel is Gothic as it looks at the darker side of humanity. Scrooge is everything that he wouldn’t want someone to be, cruel, pessimistic, tyrannical… I could go on. The Gothic genre frequently looks at humanity and explores their darkest desires, such as Ambrosio’s lust in ‘The Monk.’ Scrooge’s desire perhaps isn’t that seedy, as he purely desires money. However, like Ambrosio, this desire pushes him to do bad things, and alienate all of those around him. Dickens pays attention to Scrooge’s desires that disrupt those around him for the worse, a trope that the Gothic genre frequently employs.

Scrooge really provides an anatomy of the human psyche, as we witness his conversion from miser to merry man. Here he appears to depart from the classic Gothic villains, who don’t get the chance to convert or change… as most of them all die. Again, Scrooge exhibits the Gothic trope of shapeshifting, much like Marley before him, as his character jumps from one end of the spectrum to the other. Proof that with a little help from some Gothic ghouls, everyone can embody the true spirit of Christmas.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Thanks for reading!


[1] Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (London, Penguin Classics Read Red, 2007) p. 10.

[2] Ibid., p. 2.

[3] Ibid., p. 1.

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GUILTY! Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell and Anne Boleyn: Who was the most responsible figure for Anne's downfall?

3 iconic figures. 3 historians. A guide to the ending of one of the most dramatic marriages in British history – who was responsible?…

The controversial union of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn in January 1536 led to the break with Rome, and the formation of the Church of England. Their marriage ended with Anne’s execution in May 1536. Historians have disagreed over who was responsible for her demise, and have noted that Anne herself, Henry and Thomas Cromwell were the most important figures in the events that occurred in 1536. When defining the word ‘responsible’ one most consider the people that it is being applied to. If Anne were responsible for her own fall, as Bernard argues, one must take from this that she was guilty of adultery, and therefore deserved to be executed. For Cromwell and Henry, the term ‘responsible’ explains their role in her downfall and subsequent death. David Starkey argues that Henry initiated her demise, making him responsible. As it was Cromwell who crafted the trial of Anne, ensuring that she would not survive the ordeal, he is the most responsible figure for her downfall, as argued by Tracy Borman, making her theories the most convincing.

Borman credibly argues that Thomas Cromwell, who she defines as Anne’s “greatest adversary,”[1] was the most responsible for her sudden demise. Both Anne and Cromwell were reformers, and the religious changes that Cromwell made to England enhanced his power, as First Minister, as well as Anne’s presence within the Church of England, as both could easily influence Henry. To understand Borman’s argument, one must look at the reasons as to why Cromwell may have wanted rid of Anne. Borman’s strong argument rests on the idea that Anne and Cromwell were caught in a bitter power struggle, peaking in early 1536. This idea can be given credence when examining the controversial sermon delivered by John Skip, Anne’s almoner on the 2nd April 1536.[2] Skip spoke of the “evil counsellor” Haman, the greedy enemy of Queen Esther in the New Testament, who persecuted Jews, and placed their riches into the royal treasury.[3] Through her almoner, Anne attempted to expose Cromwell’s avarice to the entire congregation, and paint herself as the heroic Queen Esther, who would save the clergy. The insinuation that Cromwell was the greedy counsellor provides evidence of the conflict between Anne and Cromwell, which had been escalating for several months, therefore making Borman’s ideas highly valuable. Both had previously argued over what the money extorted from the clergy should be used for, with Anne arguing that it should be put to “better use,”[4] meaning education. According to Eustace Chapuys, the Spanish ambassador, Anne even threatened Cromwell saying that she would “like to see his head off his shoulders.”[5] This thought would have only crossed Anne’s mind if Cromwell and herself were caught in conflict with one another. By evidencing that there was a power struggle between the two figures, it is conceivable to think that Cromwell was indeed an enemy of Anne. This provides significant reasons as to why Cromwell was the most responsible for Anne’s downfall, therefore making the opinions of Borman highly valid and credible.

Borman has already established reasons explaining why Cromwell may have plotted Anne’s downfall, and to further support these assertions examines his involvement in the events that followed, cementing her valid theory that Cromwell was the most responsible for Anne’s fall, as he crafted and shaped the events that led to her death, beginning with an altercation he had with Henry. Cromwell proposed an alliance with the pope to Henry, but he refused. This displayed Henry’s loyalty to Anne, who had previously threatened to have him killed. Borman notes that Chapuys believed that Cromwell began plotting the fall of Anne because of his humiliation at the hands of Henry.[6] Cromwell retreated to his house in Stepney, searching for “incontrovertible proof that Anne was a traitor.”[7] This makes Cromwell appear to be the most responsible for Anne’s fall, as he is undertaking the task of planning it, cementing the valuable opinion of Borman. Cromwell writes to Chapuys, stating that he “set himself to devise and conspire the affair”[8] of Anne’s downfall, which, in the light of their political conflict, which is well justified, would benefit Cromwell greatly. This builds on Borman’s convincing assertion that Cromwell was solely responsible for Anne’s fall, due to the conflict between the two. Borman argues that this evidence makes Cromwell the most responsible for Anne’s fall, as he confessed that he planned it. This makes him directly responsible for the events of 1536, as Anne’s imprisonment, trial and execution were of his own design, therefore making Borman’s views highly valuable.

When finding evidence for Cromwell’s involvement in organising Anne’s fall, Borman cites the evidence provided by Mark Smeaton, after his arrest on the 30th April 1536.[9] It is believed that Smeaton, according to contemporary George Constantine, was racked in order to ensure a confession of guilt.[10] Borman uses this to support her credible argument, that Cromwell was the most responsible for Anne’s fall, as he only needed one guilty confession to condemn her, and as the punishment for adultery was death, kill her. The arrest of Will Brereton, on the 4th May 1536,[11] is used by Borman to further support her argument that Cromwell was the most responsible for the fall of Anne. Brereton managed churches in Cheshire and had previously blocked Cromwell’s reforms. Oddly he was not in Anne’s circle, making him an unlikely person to have committed adultery with her.[12] Removing Brereton would further Cromwell’s cause, in getting rid of his rival at court and pushing his religious reforms in the north. Borman uses this evidence to justly support the idea that Cromwell was the sole architect of Anne’s fall, and that he was in complete control, making him the most responsible for it. His control is explained through the forced confession of Smeaton, and his condemning of Will Brereton, who would allow him to tighten his religious grip on the north, if he were got rid of.

Cromwell’s involvement in Anne’s fall, and his wish to destroy her, is also conveyed by his choice of jurors, which sealed Anne’s fate. By placing her enemies, such as Suffolk and Norfolk on the jury, Cromwell ensured that Anne would not escape the trial alive, which suited his political needs.[13] The evidence above, validly argued by Borman asserts the notion that Cromwell was in a power struggle with Anne, and then planned her downfall, making him solely responsible for it. Therefore, Borman’s views can be seen as highly valuable when assessing who was the most responsible for Anne’s fall, as by claiming Cromwell’s guilt, and evidencing Skip’s sermon, one can clearly see why Cromwell would want to be rid of Anne, as they were caught in a power struggle. The letters of Chapuys, and the arrests of Smeaton and Brereton also support the idea that Cromwell was the most responsible for the fall of Anne, as he himself planned her arrest and trial, which he knew would lead to her execution, therefore making the views of Borman highly convincing.

David Starkey disagrees with the views of Borman, arguing that Henry was the most responsible figure for Anne’s fall, as he was responsible for the decisions that led to her investigation and arrest. Starkey writes Henry was the most responsible for Anne’s downfall as it was he who instructed Cromwell to investigate “certain causes of treason”[14] against Anne, and with this signal, Cromwell put together a case that would certainly see Anne fall. Starkey argues that without Henry’s agreement, Cromwell would not have acted, therefore making Henry the most responsible for the fall of Anne, as it was he who gave Cromwell the authority to investigate her. Anne was investigated in the “profoundest secrecy,”[15] and as Cromwell would not have acted without the permission of Henry, Starkey argues that this makes him the most responsible for the fall of his wife. Although this signing of the “commission”[16] can be recognised as Henry making his formal decision to move against Anne, Starkey argues that his decision was made the day before, and can be seen in his behaviour to her brother George. Although Starkey mentions that Henry “vacillated,”[17] he revealed his hostilities towards his wife by announcing that “Sir Nicholas Carew, the Queen’s Chief antagonist, had been elected a Knight of the Garter, in preference to her brother, George, Lord Rochford”[18] on the “23rd April 1536.”[19] From this act it can be inferred that the Boleyn’s were quickly losing favour and status within the Tudor court. Starkey uses this to provide evidence of Henry’s guilt, as the decisions concerning the fate of Anne’s family and herself came from Henry.  Starkey highlights the significance of this event, explaining that “to exclude Rochford was an acute public rebuff.”[20] By citing this action Starkey argues that this shows Anne’s decreasing favour, and Henry’s decision to allow others, like Cromwell, to plot the demise of his wife. As Henry acts as the puppet master, and Cromwell as the puppet in this scenario, Starkey argues that Henry is the most responsible for the demise of Anne, as it was ultimately his decision to launch the investigation against her. In order to understand this further, one must examine Henry’s motives and why he may have wanted rid of his current queen.

An event on the 29th of January could explain Henry’s growing dislike for his wife, giving him cause to authorise her downfall. On the day of Catherine of Aragon’s burial, Anne miscarried of a male child. Chapuys notes that she “miscarried of her saviour,” as this baby would’ve been the son and heir that Henry had craved so desperately for.[21] Historians believe this to be the catalyst of her downfall, and a source of tension between the couple, as Anne herself was blamed for her inability to provide a male heir. Retha M Warnicke notes the growing intensity of the situation upon Nicholas Sanders’[22] revelation that Anne gave birth to a “shapeless mass of flesh.”[23] During this time, such a child insinuated gross sexual adultery on Anne’s part, which harmed Henry’s honour. Henry is frequently portrayed as a patriarchal, dominant figure as he was obsessed with masculinity. Having a wife with a greater sexual appetite than him, as the deformed baby suggested, did not reflect well on him.[24] When discussing whether Henry was responsible for Anne’s fall, it can be argued that this incident would have motivated him to organise an investigation against her. This event put Henry’s reputation at stake, and also Anne’s. Therefore, due to the implications of such a child, one can understand why Henry would show growing dislike towards his wife and her family. This particular event explains why Henry might have been motivated to move against his wife as argued by Starkey.

Anne’s relationship with Henry, according to contemporaries like Chapuys, was a tumultuous one, as the pair were “changeable” and prone to “lovers quarrels,”[25] further explaining why Henry may have wanted rid of his second queen. Anne’s “abrasive”[26] attitude was becoming increasingly “intolerable to her husband,”[27] and provides another reason as to why Henry may have wanted rid of her, upon the entrance of Jane Seymour. Seymour’s character was the opposite to that of Anne’s, and appeared to be much more obedient. When sending Seymour a purse of money and a letter in April 1536, she returned it unopened, stating that there “was no treasure in the world that she valued as much as her honour,”[28] and that she would wait for some “advantageous marriage.”[29] This chaste action drew Henry to Jane Seymour further, and in the light of Anne’s miscarriage, and her overall attitude, one could speculate that Henry wanted rid of Anne so that he could marry Seymour. Anne was well aware of this flirtation, and it would have caused more arguments between herself and her husband. Anne once again used her almoner, John Skip to tell the story of Solomon, who lost “true nobility towards the end of his life by sensual and carnal appetites.”[30] This is read by historians, like Borman, as an attempt by Anne to steer Henry away from Seymour, action no doubt that would’ve caused further tension for the couple. With the increased strain placed on their marriage because of this, as well as Anne’s miscarriage four months previously, one can easily see why Henry would be motivated to plot the downfall of his wife. After a painful ulcer that Henry acquired in a jousting accident in early 1536, he became irascible and intolerant towards Anne’s behaviour, further supporting Starkey’s idea that he was the most responsible for her fall due to this reason.

As Henry was the King of England, one could argue that he was the most responsible for the downfall of his wife. Although it is well documented, by historians such as Starkey, that it was Henry’s decision to move against his wife, it was Cromwell who carried this action out and formed a case against her. He was responsible for the case built against Anne, and although Henry commissioned it, the blame must still lie with Cromwell, as it was he who crafted Anne’s demise ensuring that she would not make it out alive. This makes the view of Borman, that Cromwell was the most responsible for the fall of Anne, the most convincing, and it therefore discredits that of Starkey’s. Starkey notes that Henry favoured Cromwell’s plan, as “the great advantage of this method was that it killed Anne.”[31] This insinuated that the events of Anne’s downfall were not defined by Henry, but by Cromwell, making him directly responsible for her death, as it was he who planned her trial in such a way, ensuring that she would die. This can be seen in Cromwell’s choosing of the jurors. This ensured the fall of Anne, with the permission of the King. This shows that Borman’s theories are more convincing than that of Starkey’s. Although Henry’s role is of great importance, as well as the events leading up to May 1536, it is still the role of Cromwell, and the views of Borman that must be noted as the most important, making him the most responsible figure when looking at the fall of Anne, in comparison to Henry.

GW Bernard argues that Anne herself was the most responsible figure for her fall, a view that it somewhat rare. It must be noted that in Anne’s case, ‘responsible’ would mean that she was guilty as charged. If she were guilty of adultery, and plotting the death of the King, then she would be responsible for her own fall, as she gave the law the opportunity to condemn her, through the fault of her own actions. When discussing whether she was the most responsible for her downfall, one must ask whether she was guilty of adultery, as if she were, the law had just cause for judging and sentencing her to death. GW Bernard argues that Anne was guilty of adultery, making her the most responsible figure for her fall. When examining this theory, one must debate whether Anne was guilty of adultery, whether Smeaton’s confession was genuine and examine the words of Anne Boleyn herself.

Bernard states that Anne was the most responsible for her fall as she was adulterous. Rumours of Anne’s alleged adultery came from her lady in waiting, Lady Worcester. In a conversation with another courtier, about her own promiscuous conduct, Worcester argued that the queen was at “much higher fault”[32] and that she entertained men late at night within her chamber. GW Bernard cites this incident in his case against Anne, stating that as a lady in waiting, she “would have been aware of it, indeed might have been complicit”[33] with any adulterous acts. Bernard therefore gives credibility to the source, leading him to believe that this is enough proof of Anne’s infidelities, making her the most responsible for her fall, as she was guilty of adultery. This would make her absolutely responsible for her downfall, as she was judged fairly by the standards of the time. This accusation would have fitted well with the contemporary perception of Anne. Borman notes that the Treason Act of 1534 said that slandering the royal marriage was treason, implying that belief that Anne was promiscuous was common.[34]

Bernard also cites the confession of Mark Smeaton as sufficient evidence for Anne’s guilt and uses it to explain why Anne was the most responsible figure for her fall. Bernard notes that torture was rarely used in Henry’s England, and that Smeaton never withdrew his confession. Bernard therefore argues that we can only assume that this means Smeaton, and therefore Anne, were guilty of adultery. Bernard does not find enough evidence to exonerate Anne, stating that she probably was “guilty of at least some of the adulteries of which she was accused.”[35] Again, if all historians were to agree with Bernard, they would be condemning Anne in declaring that she was guilty with what she was charged with. On the scaffold at his execution, Smeaton conveniently proclaimed that he “deserved the death.”[36] When discussing why Anne may have been promiscuous, Bernard even goes so far to speculate that she did so in numerous attempts to become pregnant.[37] If one were to use this evidence against Anne, one would question why Smeaton never withdrew his confession. Bernard argues that, as torture was rarely used in Henry’s England, Smeaton confessed his guilt without force, meaning that there must be some truth in it, as well as the allegations made against Anne.

Anne’s own conduct was key to the turn of events, especially her conversation with Henry Norris in April 1536, which made her highly responsible for her own downfall. This conversation was used against her in court, and made her appear guilty of adultery and treason. Anne declared to Norris that he looked “for dead men’s shoes, for if aught came to the king but good, you would look to have me.”[38] Anne is telling Norris that if the King should die, he would look to marry her. Anne was now accused of imagining the death of the King. This accusation of treason also made Anne looked increasingly guilty of adultery, with Henry Norris. Although one cannot provide a definitive answer for Anne’s adultery, this conversation is well documented, and proves that Anne’s own conduct did not aid her case. The Treason Act of 1534 had declared that imagining the death of the King was treason,[39] and although Anne wasn’t planning to murder Henry, her allusion to his passing, was enough for the jury to condemn her, making her the most responsible figure for her downfall as stated by Bernard.

When evaluating Bernard, and proving the credibility of Borman’s theories about Cromwell, one must assess whether Anne was guilty of adultery or not. If she were, this would make her responsible for her own downfall, as she would have been treated fairly by the standards of Tudor England. As it would be her own conduct that led to her downfall, she would be the most responsible figure for it. If one can use Borman’s theories to exonerate her, this maintains that Anne herself was not the most responsible for her fall, but that Cromwell was. Borman’s views on Smeaton have already been explored, as she argues that Cromwell tortured him. In doing this he would procure a confession, as one was all that he needed to ensure Anne’s death, as this was the punishment for adultery. He would ensure her death by accusing her of adultery with Smeaton, and by placing her enemies, Suffolk and Norfolk, on the jury. Borman proves Anne was innocent of adultery by citing the evidence. She points out that Smeaton could not “have had sex with Anne at Greenwich on the 13th of May,”[40] as she was in “Richmond on that day.”[41] This, and other incidences like it prove that Anne was not guilty of adultery, and that she was therefore not responsible for her own fall. Borman convincingly notes, “on at least two of the four dates cited for Anne’s adulterous relations with Brereton, she had not been in the location claimed.”[42] This immediately discredits Bernard’s theories, and gives greater credence to Borman’s stronger theories that it was Cromwell who fabricated the trial that led to Anne Boleyn’s death. The lack of evidence supporting the adultery between Anne Boleyn and William Brereton strengthens Borman’s theory that Cromwell invented it, as Brereton was blocking Cromwell’s religious reforms in the north.

Chapuys also reported that, in her last confession, Anne swore on the “damnation of her soul, that she had never been unfaithful to the King.”[43] In a deeply religious age, it is difficult for one to believe that Anne would have lied right before she was about to die, and allegedly meet God. This leads historians, like Borman to believe that Anne was innocent of the charges. In order to discredit Bernard, his use of speculation must be criticised. There is no substantial evidence to suggest that Anne was guilty of adultery, or that her desperation for an heir would have pushed her to commit adultery. Within his theory, Bernard speculates the two, despite the compelling and convincing evidence that has been put forward by Borman, which affirms Anne’s innocence. This makes Bernard’s claims that she may have been guilty, are puzzling because of this, and appear to be founded in only in speculation. This makes Anne Boleyn the least responsible figure for her fall, unlike Thomas Cromwell who crafted, and accelerated, her downfall and subsequent death. This therefore makes the views of Borman highly valuable.

In conclusion, Thomas Cromwell must be seen as the most responsible figure for the downfall of Anne Boleyn. Although it was Henry who allowed the investigation to occur, it was Cromwell who orchestrated and organised the entire investigation, ensuring that the jury, despite the inconsistent evidence, would find her guilty. Borman has convincingly cited Cromwell’s own words to Chapuys to support this idea, and has also picked up finer details like the abnormal arrest of William Brereton, and the dubious circumstances under which Mark Smeaton’s confession was procured. Borman validly explains that Cromwell undertook this challenge due to the ensuing political conflict between himself and Anne, and in accelerating her downfall; one can see that Cromwell was prioritising his own security. Such a skilful investigation can only be attributed to Thomas Cromwell, and because of this the fall of Anne Boleyn can be seen as his greatest “triumph.”[44]

Thanks for reading!


[1] Borman, T. (2015) Thomas Cromwell: The untold story of Henry VIII’s most faithful servant, UK – 1st edn. Hodder and Stoughton (pg. 230)

[2] Ibid. (pg. 217)

[3] Ibid. (pg. 217)

[4] Starkey, D. (2004) Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII, UK – 1st edn. Vintage (pg. 557)

[5] Borman, T. (2015) Thomas Cromwell: The untold story of Henry VIII’s most faithful servant, UK – 1st edn. Hodder and Stoughton (pg. 215)

[6] Ibid (pg. 222)

[7] Ibid (pg. 232)

[8] Lipscomb, S. Betteridge, T. (2013) Henry VIII and the Court: Art, Politics and Performance, UK – 1st edn. Routledge (pg. 289)

[9] Lipscomb, S. (2015), Why did Anne Boleyn have to die?

Available from: http://www.historyextra.com/feature/tudors/why-did-anne-boleyn-have-die

[10] Schofield, S. “Thomas Cromwell and the fall of Anne Boleyn” The History Press

Available from: http://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/articles/thomas-cromwell-and-the-fall-of-anne-boleyn/

[11] Borman, T. (2015) Thomas Cromwell: The untold story of Henry VIII’s most faithful servant, UK – 1st edn. Hodder and Stoughton (pg. 242)

[12] Ibid (pg. 241)

[13] Borman, T. (2015) Thomas Cromwell: The untold story of Henry VIII’s most faithful servant, UK – 1st edn. Hodder and Stoughton (pg. 237)

[14] Starkey, D. (2002) The Reign of Henry VIII: Personalities and Politics, UK – New edn. Vintage (pg. 91)

[15] Ibid (pg. 91)

[16] Ibid (pg. 91)

[17] Ibid (pg. 90)

[18] Ibid (pg. 91)

[19] Ibid (pg. 90)

[20] Ibid (pg. 91)

[21] Borman, T. (2015) Thomas Cromwell: The untold story of Henry VIII’s most faithful servant, UK – 1st edn. Hodder and Stoughton (pg. 213)

[22] M Warnicke, R. (1991) The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn, UK – 1st edn. Cambridge University Press (pg. 246)

[23] Lipscomb, S. (2015), Why did Anne Boleyn have to die?

Available from: http://www.historyextra.com/feature/tudors/why-did-anne-boleyn-have-die

Accessed 20/07/17

[24] ‘Henry and Anne: The Lover’s who changed history’ – Channel 5 – Last accessed – 22/07/17 ep2

[25] Lipscomb, S. (2015), Why did Anne Boleyn have to die?

Available from: http://www.historyextra.com/feature/tudors/why-did-anne-boleyn-have-die 

Accessed 20/07/17

[26] Lipscomb, S. (2015), Why did Anne Boleyn have to die?

Available from: http://www.historyextra.com/feature/tudors/why-did-anne-boleyn-have-die 

Accessed 20/07/17

[27] Lipscomb, S. (2015), Why did Anne Boleyn have to die?

Available from: http://www.historyextra.com/feature/tudors/why-did-anne-boleyn-have-die 

Accessed 20/07/17

[28] Borman, T. (2015) Thomas Cromwell: The untold story of Henry VIII’s most faithful servant, UK – 1st edn. Hodder and Stoughton (pg. 229)

[29] Ibid (pg. 229)

[30] Ibid (pg. 217)

[31] Starkey, D. (2002) The Reign of Henry VIII: Personalities and Politics, UK – New edn. Vintage (pg. 90)

[32] Bernard, G. W.. “‘A Much Higher Fault’: The Countess of Worcester’s Charge Against Anne.” Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions. New Haven [Conn.: Yale University Press, 2010. 154. Print.

[33] Bernard, G. W.. “‘A Much Higher Fault’: The Countess of Worcester’s Charge Against Anne.” Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions. New Haven [Conn.: Yale University Press, 2010. 154. Print.

[34] Bernard, G.W (2011) Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions, UK – 1st edn, Yale University Press (pg. 185)

[35] University of Southampton – Professor G.W. Bernard

Available from: http://www.southampton.ac.uk/history/about/staff/gwb.page

Accessed 20/07/17

[36] Borman, T. (2015) Thomas Cromwell: The untold story of Henry VIII’s most faithful servant, UK – 1st edn. Hodder and Stoughton (pg. 249)

[37] Ibid (pg. 188)

[38] ‘Henry and Anne: The Lover’s who changed history’ – Channel 5 – Last accessed – 21/07/17 ep2

[39] ‘Henry and Anne: The Lover’s who changed history’ – Channel 5 – Last accessed – 21/07/17 ep2

[40] Borman, T. (2015) Thomas Cromwell: The untold story of Henry VIII’s most faithful servant, UK – 1st edn. Hodder and Stoughton (pg. 244)

[41] Ibid (pg. 244)

[42] Ibid (pg. 244)

[43] ‘British History Online’ – ‘Henry VIII: May 1536, 16-20

http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol10/pp371-391

Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 10 – January-June 1536, 908.

[44] Borman, T. (2015) Thomas Cromwell: The untold story of Henry VIII’s most faithful servant, UK – 1st edn. Hodder and Stoughton (pg. 250)

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Thomas Hardy’s use of colour in ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’

Note: This article will probably make more sense if you have read the novel, and contains spoilers!

Some thoughts on Hardy’s use of colour in the aforementioned novel, based on my first reading of it!

Thomas Hardy is one of those writers who really paints a picture. He does so using exuberant imagery, and he pays particular attention to colour. ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ was my first brush with Hardy and my above points are what stuck out to me most in his work. His use of colour is so pronounced in ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ that the reader can pretty much predict the story of the heroine from her first introduction. The common colours associated with the character of Tess are red and white, which tell us a great deal. Here’s the piece of text we are going to work with:

“A young member of the band turned her head at the exclamation. She was a fine and handsome girl – not handsomer than some others, possibly – but her mobile peony mouth and large innocent eyes added eloquence to colour and shape. She wore a red ribbon in her hair, and was the only one of the white company who could boast such a pronounced adornment…”[1]

Tess is introduced in chapter two, as a “fine and handsome girl”[2] in amongst a crowd of other girls wearing white at the May Day dance. It should be noted that her youthful nature and naïveté are highlighted by her “large innocent,”[3] eyes, which act as red flags to the reader, as young, innocent girls are frequently taken advantage of. This fear is heightened further, due to her unique beauty, as beauty equals desirability. What Hardy is saying here, is that we have a beautiful, innocent woman, who is likely to attract the attention of several men, that this is dangerous. Those who have read the novel will know that this is definitely true. Another aspect that makes Tess stand out is a red ribbon running through her hair, deemed as a “pronounced adornment.”[4] Why can’t she have a red sash around her waist instead of a ribbon in her hair? Probably because hair is associated with sex and beauty. Here the use of colour comes into play, as we have the contrast of red and white, which Hardy uses to discuss the central theme in the novel, which we will get onto later.

Hardy’s frequent juxtaposition of the colours of red and white strikingly allude to Freud’s ‘Madonna-Whore complex,’ the idea that a woman has one core persona, either the chaste virgin, or the promiscuous whore. As you probably guessed, white is associated with purity and virginity, and red is associated with lust, sex and promiscuity, follow the footnote for more on that![5]… and this next one for my thoughts on Freud’s concept in Gothic literature![6] It is worth remembering that Freud’s idea developed in the early 1900s, after Hardy’s novel was published, so Hardy did not write ‘Tess’ with the complex in mind, but it can still be applied retrospectively.

The immediate contrast of these colours that collide on Tess’ physical person tell the reader that these two personas will dominate her life, and how she is viewed by those around her.

Let’s break this down further. Imagine a wedding dress with a splash of red paint on it. One would describe it as ‘tainted,’ or ‘stained.’ To me, by adding the splash of red in the form of the ribbon against the white dress, Hardy is telling the reader that Tess’s virginal image, which we get from the colour white, will be tainted by some sort of sexual scandal. I’m getting all of this from the colours, backed up by my own knowledge of Freud’s theory. What will be the result of such a sexual scandal? Hardy also pays attention to the countryside in the novel, emphasising the presence of the colour green. Green is associated with nature, fertility and childbirth… see where this could go? This observation is further validated by Hardy’s specific note that the May Day festivities are occurring, a time of year that celebrates new birth and fertility. Green also throws in a hint of jealousy too, which becomes relevant when Tess has to contend with the men in her life.

The use of these two colours, and these two personas, brings us to the biggest question in the novel – what persona does Tess fall into? Madonna or Whore? It’s up to the reader to decide, but the point of the novel, in my opinion, is to argue that she is not just one set ideal, as Angel discovers, she is not one set woman, but a multifaceted character… that being said Hardy argues for her purity in the subtitle of the novel: ‘a pure woman faithfully presented.’[7] So really Hardy is saying that she is the pure virginal figure… even though she is not a virgin literally as she is raped by Alec… but is metaphorically as she did not consent? See what I mean? This is the central contention in the novel, and I do think this particular question is timeless. The themes within the novel explain why Hardy had trouble publishing ‘Tess’ in the Victorian era as censors frequently got in his way. It also demonstrates how Freud’s idea doesn’t really fit in with the idea of a modern, 21st century woman, explaining our different reaction to the novel. I’ve not yet encountered a person, or source, that places the blame on Tess, but to a Victorian audience, the above debate would have been more heated. Hardy previews Tess’s story, and this central idea through his deft use of the colours of red and white during her first introduction.

So, from her introductory paragraph, I ascertained that the young, innocent Tess will be embroiled in some sort of sexual scandal, that will call into question her purity and chastity. This is signalled by her physical description, and particularly Hardy’s use of colour, which invokes Freud’s infamous ‘Madonna-Whore complex.’ There is also the idea that a child will be on the horizon, based on the presence of the colour green and the time of year, which is frequently associated with fertility. Guess what? My prediction was pretty much spot on. The colours also feature throughout the novel in other forms, such as red in the form of blood, white in the form of milk, and the two colours collide at the end of the novel again when Tess murders Alec. The colours of red and white are always present for significant plot developments within the novel, as the central question that they represent drives the narrative forward.

I guess this post doubles as a close analysis exercise, as all these observations stem from one paragraph, particularly a couple of sentences within said paragraph.

Thanks for reading!


[1] Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D’Urbervilles (London, Penguin Classics, 2003) p. 14.

[2] Ibid., p. 14.

[3] Ibid., p. 14.

[4] Ibid., p. 14.

[5] Madonna-whore complex – Penn State

Available at:

[6] https://khambayswordswordswords.blog/2019/10/11/on-the-madonna-whore-complex-of-women-in-gothic-literature/

[7] Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D’Urbervilles (London, Penguin Classics, 2003) p. 1.

Why is it so difficult to assess the causes of the Wars of the Roses?

My take on one of the longest family feuds to grace the history books…

The Wars of the Roses describes a bloody period of instability within England, that led to numerous battles, the cause of which is said to be difficult to assess. However, when assessing the events, the weakness of Henry VI can be seen as the cause of the Wars, as his inability to control faction within his court led to their outbreak. This can be identified as the root cause of the Wars of the Roses, with the following battles being influenced by dynastic rivalry, which developed out of the faction that Henry could originally not control.

To further understand this, one must examine Henry’s warrior wife Margaret of Anjou. Henry relinquished the English territory of Maine to marry Margaret – which is quite a serious gesture.[1] Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester was aware of this trade, and Margaret knew that this information could diminish her support, as people would rather have kept Maine over Margaret.[2] Humphrey was later arrested and taken to the Tower of London, where he died in 1447.[3] It was believed that Margaret had some some shady work behind the scenes, and was actually involved in the Duke’s arrest and death, as Vickers notes that she was “successful indeed.”[4] Patricia Anne-Lee argues, that, through her involvement in Humphrey’s death, Margaret made an enemy of Richard, Duke of York, which led to faction that Henry could not control.[5] Anne-Lee goes on to note that, although Margaret’s actions made an enemy of York, she was not directly responsible for the Wars. This is plausible, as although Margaret’s actions did lead to the development of court faction, Henry’s inability to control such faction led to its escalation and the outbreak of war. Historians such as the chronicler Fabyan note that Henry’s marriage to Margaret was a significant cause of the conflict within court,[6] as agreed by Tudor historian Polydore Vergil, who noted that Margaret’s unpopularity during her reign led to greater animosity amongst those at court.[7] It should be noted that Margaret had to assume control only due to Henry’s illness and poor governance,[8] emphasising that although Margaret had an important role in the events, it was still the weakness of Henry VI that allowed the conflict between Margaret and York to develop, as he did not quash it.

York himself disliked the Duke of Somerset after he replaced York as the “king’s lieutenant general and governor in France,” as noted by Michael K Jones.[9] Jones cites this as the source of their conflict, which was only intensified by Somerset’s alliance with the forever popular Margaret. The rivalry between Somerset and York is an important aspect of the Wars, and also shows that Henry’s weakness, and inability to control faction, led to the outbreak of war. Although Somerset and York could be blamed for the Wars of the Roses, the weakness of Henry cannot be ignored. If Henry was able to control the warring nobles at court, the Wars of the Roses would not have occurred. The actions of Margaret and the rivalry between Somerset and York set the context for the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses, due to the development of faction, which leads to an examination of Henry himself.

England’s defeat in the Hundred Years War increased tensions in England, and the populations’ view that Henry was a weak king, as identified by David Grummitt.[10] Henry’s weakness, in comparison to his heroic father Henry V, allowed faction to develop as people began to realise that Henry was not fit to rule. Henry’s lack of control can be seen in the Dartford Incident of 1452. York planned to amass an army to facilitate the removal of Somerset and planned to recruit men in Kent.[11] Despite York’s treasonous intent, after the failing of his coup d’état he was forgiven by Henry in 1453.[12] Henry’s constant forgiveness of those around them led them to believe that such insurrection would go unpunished, which would eventually lead to the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses, as people, like York, would continue to rebel. Historian John Guy identifies Henry VI’s illness in 1453 as the direct trigger for the Battle of St Albans, as it allowed York to become Lord Protector in 1454.[13] His subsequent demotion upon Henry’s recovery in 1455, and the reversal of his reforms, caused York to become embittered.[14] Sarah Gristwood identifies a council meeting in 1455 as the direct trigger of the Battle of St Albans, as the Somerset and Yorkist faction quarrelled, leading York to gather forces against the King.[15] If Henry had been more forceful, and had dealt with the rising animosity in a more suitable way, the Battle of St Albans would not have occurred. It was the weakness of Henry, exemplified by his forgiveness of York after the Dartford Incident, that allowed the Wars of the Roses to break out. McFarlane too identifies the weakness of Henry VI as the most significant cause of the Wars of the Roses,[16] as does David Grummitt, who notes that Henry had “neither the inclination nor the ability” to rule effectively.[17] It was Henry’s weakness that led to the Battle of St Albans, and subsequently, the Wars of the Roses, as he was unable to control the developing faction within his court.

York was not reprimanded for the rebellion, again demonstrating the weakness of Henry as he was unable to control faction. The Yorkists aimed to legitimise their rebellion, stating that they acted for the good of the realm.[18] Following Henry’s illness, York was made Lord Protector again for a short time, which ended in 1456.[19] York’s ascension to power appears odd considering his previous insurrection, reinforcing the fact that Henry’s weakness was the main cause of the Wars of the Roses. York’s frustration, and lack of power, which was hampered by Margaret,[20] led to increasing tensions at court, resulting in York rebelling again at the Battle of Blore Heath in 1459. The direct cause of this battle was the actions of York, and his new ally the Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick. And Henry still hired him. If Henry had reprimanded York for his previous rebellion, it is doubtful that York would have rebelled again. Following the battle, York fled to Ireland and Warwick fled to Calais signalling a divide between the houses of York and Lancaster which would not be reconciled. Henry took action to condemn the conspirators, declaring that Warwick and York had committed treason at the Parliament of the Devils a month after Blore Heath.[21] This does demonstrate Henry’s strength, but at too late a point. Perhaps if he had reprimanded them sooner, he could have stopped the development of faction and prevented the Wars of the Roses.

Henry’s weakness is the fundamental cause of the Wars of the Roses, but when examining the development of the Wars, beginning with the Battle of Northampton in 1460, it can be seen that they become focused on dynastic ambition. After York laid his claim to the throne, Parliament formed the Act of Accord, which stated that York and his children would inherit after the death of Henry. This disinherited his son Edward and signals the point at which the Wars became focused on dynastic ambition. John Guy notes this, stating that previously the Wars had been about warring nobles, but now they were about dynastic claim.[22] This incensed Margaret, leading her to rally the Lancastrians and go to war with the Yorkists. The issuing of the Act of Accord marks the change in motivation for going to war as warrior mother Margaret fought to defend her son’s birth right and dynastic claim. She defeated York at the Battle of Wakefield in December 1460. York and his eldest son were killed, which intensified each battle of the Wars, as people were no longer held hostage, they were killed.[23] The motivation for this battle demonstrates the importance of dynastic conflict which developed from faction, because of the weakness of Henry VI. The cause of the Wars of the Roses was his weakness, and later on the Wars were propelled by dynastic ambition and conflict.

This motivated the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross in 1461, leading to a Yorkist victory.[24] Warwick fought with York’s son Edward, who was welcomed in London due to his victory, as people considered it to be a blessing from God.[25] This was to be important in the Second Battle of St Albans in the same year, as although Margaret led the Lancastrians to victory, and reclaimed her husband,[26] she was barred entry to London as it was a Yorkist stronghold.[27] Margaret’s desperation for her son to be king pushed her to go to London, explaining the lengths she went to for her own dynastic ambition. This shows that, following the weakness of Henry VI, the wars were heavily influenced by dynastic conflict. When Margaret was turned away, Warwick placed Edward, Duke of York on the throne, making him King Edward IV. This particular incident demonstrates that the Wars were driven forward by dynastic ambition and conflict, as Margaret’s desire for her son’s birth right pushed her to battle the Yorkists and march to London, and fight at the Battle of Towton, which, unfortunately for the Lancastrians, secured Yorkist rule.[28]

John Guy argues that the Second War, 1469 to 1471, was triggered by the marriage of Edward to Elizabeth Woodville.[29] This angered Warwick, who lost some of his offices to the Woodville’s.[30] Edward’s rejection of Warwick’s proposal to marry his daughter to Edward’s brother George increased the animosity between them.[31] Warwick’s falling favour too demonstrates how dynastic rivalry dominated the Wars of the Roses, following the weakness of Henry VI. Warwick’s growing frustrations, and declining status within court, caused him to actively rebel against the king he crowned, with the aim of placing Henry back on the throne. Still following? Stay with me! Although the Woodville marriage was the direct trigger for this, Warwick’s ambitions demonstrate the role of dynastic claim in defining the Wars of the Roses.

Warwick and George, Duke of Clarence used the unrest in the North to rebel against Edward, leading to the Battles of Edgecote and Losecote Field.[32] Following their defeat at Losecote, Warwick and Clarence fled abroad to ally with Margaret – she’s back in the game![33] Their alliance with their former enemy demonstrates the dynastic ambition of both parties, and its importance in the Wars. Warwick’s landing in Devon, with 60,000 men, prompted Edward’s fleeing of London, leaving the throne empty for the Readeption of Henry VI.[34] Warwick knew that he could rule England through Henry, emphasising his dynastic ambitions and desire for power, which he knew he could harness through Henry VI.

Edward returned for his crown, highlighting dynastic ambition as an important cause for the continuation of the Wars. Edward killed Warwick at the Battle of Barnet in April 1471,[35] and secured his reign by capturing Margaret and killing her son at the Battle of Tewkesbury the following month, thus ending the Lancastrian threat.[36] The Second War was motivated by dynastic ambition, as both the Lancastrians and Yorkists fought to gain power or the crown. This dynastic rivalry developed out of faction that began at the court of Henry VI. His weakness, and inability to control said faction allowed for the outbreak of the Wars, which were later dominated by the dynastic ambition of those involved. Only the Third War left!

The trigger for the Third War, 1485 to 1487, too was influenced by dynastic ambition and occurred due the usurpation of Richard III, as argued by David Grummitt.[37] Upon the sudden death of Edward IV in 1483, faction began to develop due to the youth of his son Edward V.[38] After gathering support and forcing the hand of Parliament, Richard was declared Lord Protector,[39] and later the King as instructed by the Titulus Regius, which disinherited Edward IV’s sons and placed them in the Tower.[40] Richard stole the throne and was driven by his own dynastic ambition for power, demonstrating that at this point, the Wars of the Roses were driven by such aims.

The emergence of Henry Tudor was also due to dynastic claim. As well as receiving aid from his mother, Margaret Beaufort, Henry also received aid from Brittany, as they assembled two flotillas for him in 1483 and 1484.[41] Outrage at Richard’s usurpation, as well as the stories of the Princes in the Tower[42] act as a direct cause for the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, but again, the main cause of Henry’s rebellion was his dynastic ambition and claim to the throne. Following Richard’s death, Henry secured this claim at the Battle of Stoke in 1487, by defeating Lambert Simnel, who was pretending to be the son of George, Duke of Clarence.[43] Guy notes that this battle marked the end of the third war, and the Wars of the Roses as a whole.[44]

In conclusion, one could argue that it is difficult to assess the causes of the Wars due to their length. However, on close interrogation, it was the weakness of Henry VI that allowed for court faction to develop and war to begin. Henry’s illness, and recovery allowed for the alienation of Richard, Duke of York, as power was constantly given to him and then taken away, due to the intervention of mother-of-the-year Margaret. This formed the two distinct groups of York and Lancaster. After the Act of Accord, the overarching theme of each battle was dynastic ambition, as each group sought power and the crown, pushing them to go to war.

Thanks for reading!


[1] K. Vickers, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester: A Biography, (London, 2015), p. 288.

[2] Ibid, p. 288.

[3] Ibid, p. 293.

[4] Ibid, p. 290.

[5] P-A. Lee, ‘Reflections of Power: Margaret of Anjou and the Dark Side of Queenship’, Renaissance Quarterly, 39 (1986), p. 201.

[6] Ibid, p. 202.

[7] Ibid, p. 204.

[8] Ibid, p. 204.

[9] M-K. Jones, ‘Somerset, York and the Wars of the Roses’, The English Historical Review, 104 (1989), p. 209.

[10] D. Grummitt, A Short History of the Wars of the Roses, (London, 2012), p. xiv.

[11] M. Hicks, The Wars of the Roses, (Yale, 2012), p. 102.

[12] Ibid, p. 103.

[13] J. Guy, Tudor England, (Oxford, 2000), p. 2.

[14] Hicks, The Wars of the Roses, p. 107.

[15] S. Gristwood, Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses, (London, 2013), p. 41.

[16] Hicks, The Wars of the Roses, p. 77.

[17] The Faculties, Why were there Wars between Lancastrians & Yorkists? Pt1 Dr. David Grummitt (online video recording), YouTube, 6 January 2015, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vKRLZhL4jw> [accessed 6 December 2018].

[18] Hicks, The Wars of the Roses, p. 113.

[19] Ibid, p. 116.

[20] Ibid, p. 123.

[21] Ibid, p. 145.

[22] Guy, Tudor England, p. 2.

[23] Hicks, The Wars of the Roses, p. 160.

[24] Ibid, p. 160.

[25] Ibid, p. 161.

[26] Ibid, p. 161.

[27] Ibid, p. 161.

[28] Ibid, p. 163.

[29] Guy, Tudor England, p. 2.

[30] Hicks, The Wars of the Roses, p. 188.

[31] Ibid, p. 186.

[32] Britain’s Bloody Crown, Series 1 Episode 2: The Kingmaker Must Die (Channel 5, 14 January 2016).

[33] Hicks, The Wars of the Roses, p. 199.

[34] Ibid, p. 201.

[35] Ibid, p. 203.

[36] Ibid, p. 204.

[37] Grummitt, A Short History of the Wars of the Roses, p. xii.

[38] Hicks, The Wars of the Roses, p. 215.

[39] Ibid, p. 216.

[40] Ibid, p. 222.

[41] Ibid, p. 228.

[42] Hicks, The Wars of the Roses, p. 230.

[43] Ibid, p. 244.

[44] Guy, Tudor England, p. 3.

Power relations in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and ‘Antigone’

Foucault notes that power is ‘interwoven with all social relations,’[1] and such relations occur as a result of ‘divisions and inequalities.’[2] In both ‘Antigone and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ power relations are defined by the inequality that is influenced by gender. The control that Creon has over Antigone, as her King and uncle, and the control that Theseus has over Hippolyta, as her conqueror and superior support the claim that power relations are defined by gender, and the imbalance of power favours the male characters. Although it is the male characters that demonstrate the most power, alternative interpretations could imply that there is room for social mobility.

Creon supports this claim when condemning Antigone. He notes that he can never be ‘inferior to a woman’[3] implying that her defiance is emasculating to him. He rejects her wish to bury Polynices, declaring that she is a ‘traitor.’[4] He cannot agree with her as she is a woman, as this would weaken his power and authority. Although this implies his fear of her, it also emphasises her low status as a woman, as Creon cannot bare to be threatened by her. The imbalance of power within their relationship favours Creon as her uncle and head of state. He is able to hold his political position, and exert familial power over her, because he is male and therefore her superior. This supports the claim that power relations are defined by gender, as Creon exerts power over Antigone which is attributed to him due to his gender. Foley notes that Greek tragedy aimed to distort traditional ideas[5] and Antigone does so through her rebellious nature. A similar relationship can be seen in Shakespeare’s play, as Theseus has power over Hippolyta after defeating her with his ‘sword.’[6] Here, power is imbalanced, as Theseus has stolen Hippolyta’s power from her, by defeating her in battle and making her his queen.[7] Theseus claims to have won her ‘love,’[8] which could merely be forced consent,[9] considering that she has been imprisoned against her will. These relationships demonstrate an imbalance of power, one that favours male characters. This supports the claim that power relations are defined by gender, as male characters possess greater power than female characters.

The relationship of Theseus and Hermia is based on the familial aspect of power relations. Theseus chastises Hermia as she will not marry Demetrius, declaring that, as her father, he should be seen as ‘God’[10] by her. He draws power from his status in her family and the law stating that she could be executed for her refusal of Demetrius.[11] Power lies with Theseus, as Hermia’s male superior. This heavily supports the claim that power relations are influenced by gender, as Hermia is subject to the will of her male superior and is barred from acting independently. The relationship of Haemon and Creon too demonstrates this, as the latter declares that Haemon should be ‘subordinate’[12] to him. Both Theseus and Creon act as the highest form of authority over their children, as they are the dominant male figures in their lives. Although Haemon and Creon are both male, their relationship shows that power relations are affected by familial bonds and obligations, as Haemon is expected to forsake Antigone without delay. Creon’s expectations emphasise the imbalance of power within their relationship, which favours Creon due to his status in the kingdom and in the family. The relationship between Theseus and Hermia exemplifies this as well as the importance of gender when discussing power relations. It is clear that from examining these relationships It can be seen that power relations are affected by familial bonds and gender.

Although power is generally imbalanced throughout the plays, it could be argued that there is room for social mobility. Hermia’s marriage to Lysander demonstrates female power, as at the end of the play Theseus allows them to ‘eternally be knit.’[13] Hermia’s insistence to marry Lysander appears to be successful, perhaps showing hope for womankind, as Hermia defies the power of her father and takes it from him, as he gives into her wish to marry Lysander. Alternatively, the opposite could be argued, as it is Theseus who grants Hermia permission to marry Lysander, implying that he is still in control of her life and who she weds. This would support the claim that power relations are defined by gender, as Theseus ultimately has control over Hermia as her male superior. Hermia’s marriage to Lysander can be interpreted in both ways, much like Antigone’s death. Antigone is seen to draw power from the public, claiming that they would support her if they did not ‘fear’[14] Creon. Antigone draws power from the support that she believes she has and retains it. When Antigone takes her own life, she appears to be in control over it, deliberately taking power from Creon. Antigone refuses to die in the way Creon intended, instead strangling herself in her ‘veils.’[15] It could be argued that the power balance here shifts, as she ensures that she is able to die on her own terms, not Creon’s. This situation is similar to that of Hermia’s, as although Antigone does display some power here, she is also enhancing the power of Creon, who previously declared that her death is ‘all’[16] he craved. This shows that power relations can fluctuate, but it also strengthens the fact that power relations are defined by the inequalities driven by gender further, as although Hermia gets what she desires, she is only granted it by her male superior. Antigone’s death also satisfies the desires of Creon, strengthening his own power as he no longer has an adversary. Both scenarios strengthen the power of the dominant male figures in the play.

When analysing the character of Bottom, and his elevation to the lover of Titania,[17] it could be suggested that there is room for social mobility. When discussing the claim, that men hold the power in relationships, it is also interesting to note that men have power over other men. In this instance, Puck and Oberon appear to have power over Bottom, as they control his transformation[18] and indirectly, his rise. This relationship is unlike others in both plays, as in this relationship there is no significant female, and no familial obligation. Shakespeare may be implying that there is only room for social mobility when other dominant male figures, or even magic, are involved. Interestingly, Bottom does display some power at the end of the play, as he answers back to Theseus when he is watching the mechanicals.[19] This power may be retained from his previous elevation, aided by Oberon and Puck, perhaps displaying how power relations can fluctuate to an extent. Although this idea is plausible, it is still worth noting that the dominant male figures facilitated this change, implying that power still lies with them.

The interactions of the lovers support the claim that power relations are defined by gender in favour of male characters. This can be seen through the characters of Helena and Hermia, who at some point in the play are at the mercy of their male counterparts due to various inequalities. Hermia chases after Lysander following his rejection from her,[20] as Helena does Demetrius.[21] Lysander’s sexual advances toward Hermia too support this idea, as he demonstrates his sexual power over her. Although this may not be specifically to do with gender, it is clear that he holds sexual power over her that scares her, as communicated by her ensuing nightmare, leading her to ask Lysander to ‘pluck this crawling serpent from my breast.’[22] Lysander here shows that he has the ability to frighten Hermia through his sexual advances towards her, displaying a relationship of power that is based on inequality, as Foucault argues.[23] Both women, at different points in the play are berated by their male counterparts, and whether this inequality is due to unequal love or unequal sexual prowess, it supports the claim that power relations are defined by gender, as both women are chastised by their male opposites throughout the play.

It is only through the intervention of Puck that this is altered, and Helena finds herself in a position of power, as both Demetrius and Lysander vie for her hand.[24] She was only granted this power by Puck, demonstrating that power is concentrated in the hands of the male characters, as Oberon and Puck are both able to manipulate all other characters in the play. This further supports the claim that power relations are defined by the inequalities caused by gender divisions, as exemplified by Oberon’s control over Titania. Initially, she has power over Oberon as she refuses to give up the ‘changeling boy’[25] to him. His desperation to acquire the child to be his ‘henchman’[26] pushes him to make a mockery of Titania and take her power of reason from her, causing her to fall for Bottom.[27] Oberon forcefully extorts the ‘boy’[28] from her, displaying the imbalance of power, and vitriol, within their relationship. This supports the claim that power relations are based on the inequalities derived from gender, as Oberon and Puck are able to exert, and take, power from others.

Power relations are seen to affect all people within both plays. Creon loses all of those who are dear to him at the end of ‘Antigone,’ stating that he has been killed ‘again and again.’[29] This is the fallout of the imbalance of power caused by the gender divide. Relationships dominated by power affect all involved in the play, in a macrocosm and microcosm setting. The death of Antigone, at Creon’s order,[30] ironically leads to the destruction of his entire family, which will affect Athens as it marks the death of several members of the royal family. The play affects the immediate characters, as well as their surrounding world. This is more clearly expressed in Titania’s speech, in which she states that her and Oberon are the ‘parents’[31] of the discourse occurring within the magical and natural world. The power struggle between the fairy king and queen disrupts both worlds in the play, emphasising the dramatic effects and consequences of relationships, that display an imbalance of power, in both plays discussed.

Relationships are heavily influenced by the inequality that comes with gender, implying that power relations are defined by gender. Such relations are affected by familial obligations and sexual prowess which lead to an imbalance of power in the favour of the male characters. This imbalance is seen to affect the immediate characters in the play as well as their surroundings, causing chaos for all those involved.

Thanks for reading!


[1] R Deacon, ‘Strategies of Governance Michel Foucault on Power’, Theoria: A Journal of Social and Political Theory, No. 52 (1998), 113-148, 114.

[2] Ibid, 114

[3] Sophocles, Antigone. Translated by Robert Fagles, notes by Bernard Knox (London: Penguin, 2000) 761.

[4] Ibid, 553

[5] Helen P. Foley, Female Acts in Greek Tragedy, New Ed (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2002).

[6] William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, ed. by Peter Holland (London: Oxford World’s Classics, 2008), 1.1:16

[7] Ibid, 1.1:18

[8] Ibid, 1.1:17

[9] Ibid, p. 51

[10] Ibid, 1.1:47

[11] Ibid, 1.1:42-45

[12] Sophocles, Antigone. Translated by Robert Fagles, notes by Bernard Knox (London: Penguin, 2000) 714.

[13] William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, ed. by Peter Holland (London: Oxford World’s Classics, 2008), 4.1:180

[14] Sophocles, Antigone. Translated by Robert Fagles, notes by Bernard Knox (London: Penguin, 2000) 565.

[15] Ibid, 1348

[16] Ibid, 566

[17] William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, ed. by Peter Holland (London: Oxford World’s Classics, 2008), 3.1:136

[18] Ibid, 3.2:17

[19] Ibid, 5.1:182

[20] Ibid, 3.2:261

[21] Ibid, 2.1:202

[22] Ibid, 3.1:152

[23] R Deacon, ‘Strategies of Governance Michel Foucault on Power’, Theoria: A Journal of Social and Political Theory, No. 52 (1998), 113-148, 114.

[24] William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, ed. by Peter Holland (London: Oxford World’s Classics, 2008), 2.2:120

[25] Ibid, 2.1:120

[26] Ibid, 2.1:121

[27] Ibid, 3.1:134

[28] Ibid, 4.1:61

[29] Sophocles, Antigone. Translated by Robert Fagles, notes by Bernard Knox (London: Penguin, 2000) 1416.

[30] Ibid, 921

[31] William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, ed. by Peter Holland (London: Oxford World’s Classics, 2008), 2.1:117

On the affect of absent mothers in ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ and ‘Dolly’

Despite their difference in genre, Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea and Susan Hill’s Dolly both explore how issues in childhood impact later life. The protagonists Antoinette and Leonora respectively are presented as having traumatic relationships with absent mothers. However, the responses of these characters to their experiences differ. Antoinette is made vulnerable by the lack of her mother’s protective influence, whereas Leonora passes on her anger and distress to her unborn child. These relationships, reactions, and responses to childhood trauma can be understood further with the aid of psychoanalytical theory, in particular ideas such as attachment theory, doubling and the uncanny. This essay will therefore examine how the representation of negative childhood experience and its subsequent effects on later life in Wide Sargasso Sea and Dolly correlate with contemporary psychoanalytical theory.

The absence of the mother in both novels correlates with Ruth Bienstock Anolik’s claim that the mother “is in greater peril” within literature.[1] DA Miller provides reasoning for the absence of the mother figure, as she represents stability and order within the narrative. This implies that the removal of the mother allows the plot to develop freely without the restriction of social constraints.[2] The removal of the mother also implies that her children will be unprotected, as she is the “emblem of safety” within the narrative and represents social stability.[3] The removal of the mother figure allows disorder to occur within the narrative, as the narrative and other characters can abuse the characters that she was supposed to protect.

The removal of maternal affection in Wide Sargasso Sea leaves Antoinette unprotected and therefore vulnerable to the threat of others in her childhood. Even before her mother’s death, Antoinette marks the change in her mother’s attitude towards her, noting that she previously compared Annette’s hair to a “soft black cloak over me,” which protected her and kept her “safe.”[4] Antoinette then recounts that this does not occur “any more” and that even before her mother’s physical absence, she was left unprotected from people who betrayed her such as Tia, who stole her dress.[5] Poor girl. Annette here is not physically absent, but her maternal affection for her daughter is. In many ways, this is the same as not having a mother physically present, as in both incidences, there is a lack of maternal affection. This demonstrates the effect of the absent mother in childhood, as Antoinette quickly realises that she has lost her main protection and instantly becomes vulnerable. It is the later death of Annette that impacts Antoinette’s adulthood, in which she is left unprotected from the likes of Rochester. This vulnerability originates in her childhood and is driven by the absence of her mother’s affection, demonstrating its impact.

Leonora’s childhood in Dolly is also negatively affected by the absence of her mother. She exhibits similar distress which manifests itself when she opens the titular doll. Leonora takes out her anger upon the china doll which she has longed for and hurls it at the fireplace causing it to get damaged.[6] Although on the surface she seems like she needs anger management, we have to try and understand her extreme reactions. To understand Leonora, one must understand her childhood relationship with her mother. Through her mother’s absence, Leonora is left unprotected, like Antoinette, and the doll. For, if her mother was present and had she nurtured Leonora, it is likely that Leonora would have nurtured the doll, as she would understand the idea of maternal affection. Her hostile reaction can be understood further through the application of psychoanalysis, as Leonora and the doll can be seen to double one another. Freud explains this by noting that someone many simply “identify” with another, to the point at which they may feel “duplicated, divided and interchanged.”[7] This duplication is visually prevalent in the novel, as Leonora herself has a doll-like quality, as she is described as having a “white” face with “pinched” lips, much like the white china doll.[8]

Hill must have deliberately chosen to portray Leonora this way with reason. From this description, and implication that Leonora resembles a doll, the reader could infer that Leonora herself is treated like a doll by her mother. This idea could be substantiated further, as Leonora’s mother, in her continued absence, sends Leonora pretty dresses with which to dress her up, like one would dress a toy doll. Georgieva notes that, due to the child’s low status in the family, the child becomes the “property of the adult.”[9] Leonora is the property of her mother, and like her mother’s doll, in the same way that the doll is the property of Leonora. Leonora sees herself in the doll and identifies with it, explaining why she reacts in such a violent way, as she has been neglected by her own absent ‘owner.’

This can be understood further using Bowlby’s Attachment Theory. Bowlby explores the idea of avoidant attachment, in which a parent avoids emotional, or physical, contact with their child, as Leonora’s mother does, leading to a relationship that is devoid of emotional attachment.[10] Such neglect is damaging to the child, who adopts this negative trait.[11] Leonora’s violence towards the doll represents her rejection of what she has become in the eyes of her absent mother, a doll. It also represents the lack of maternal affection Leonora has received. Leonora identifies with the doll, physically and psychologically, and rejects this affinity, as she sees that she has become her mother’s object, as the doll is her object. Freud notes that children traditionally enjoy caring for dolls, as they cannot distinguish between the “animate and inanimate.”[12] Leonora’s adverse reaction to the doll demonstrates that she has inherited the trait of avoidant attachment from her own absent mother. This explains the impact of the absent mother within Leonora’s childhood, as she is devoid of compassion which is implied by her reaction to the doll.

Antoinette and Leonora both suffer from a lack of maternal affection in their childhoods, leaving them both vulnerable. Due to her mother’s lack of maternal affection as a child, Antoinette becomes increasingly vulnerable to those around her, emphasising the effects of the absent mother. These effects are too apparent when examining Leonora, who reacts to this absent more violently in her childhood. Leonora’s violent reaction to the doll represents the rejection of what she has become in her mother’s eyes, a doll. The lack of maternal affection imparted to Antoinette and Leonora in their childhoods manifests later in their adult lives, highlighting the importance of understanding the protagonists’ relationships with their absent mothers, in order to understand their adulthood, and for Leonora, parenthood.

In Wide Sargasso Sea, the effect of Antoinette’s absent mother has ramifications on her marriage. The breakdown of said marriage can only be understood through understanding Antoinette’s aforementioned childhood relationship with her mother. When Rochester turns on her, Antoinette becomes increasingly isolated, and descends into madness. Antoinette’s problems stem from a letter written by her estranged brother Daniel Cosway, in which he portrays Annette as a “mad and infamous woman,”[13] and implies that Antoinette too is “crazy.”[14] Rochester believes the letter and begins to call Antoinette “Bertha.” He robs her of her identity, in an attempt to distance her from her mother. Antoinette describes Rochester’s renaming of her as “obeah,” declaring that it is a form of spirit theft, leaving her as a shell of her former self.[15] Without her mother to support her, Antoinette becomes increasingly isolated and vulnerable, a trait that stems from her childhood.  

The problems that occur within the marriage of Antoinette and Rochester can be seen as a consequence of the absence of Annette, as without the support of her mother, Antoinette has no significant female that is her societal equal, who is able to support her. Antoinette’s lack of support causes her to digress, and eventually emulate her mother’s madness in another occurrence of Freud’s doubling. One can draw a parallel between Antoinette’s doubling with her mother, and Leonora’s doubling with the doll here. Despite Rochester’s attempts to disassociate Antoinette from her mother, he instead pushes her to madness, causing her to psychologically resemble her late mother. Christophine understands this, and compares Antoinette to her mother, declaring that like the latter, the community will “tear” the former into “pieces.”[16] In Antoinette’s case, her absent mother represents a loss of security and companionship, as without her, Antoinette suffers the same tragic fate and lapses into madness. This can be traced back to her childhood, showing how her poor relationship with her mother then, and her subsequent absence, has impacted her later life. The manifestation of her madness and vulnerability, can only be understood through the understanding of her childhood isolation, which was prompted by the absence of her mother’s affection.

In ‘Dolly,’ Leonora’s strained relationship with her mother as a child affects her later life, as it does Antoinette, but in relation to the formers impending parenthood. Edward later encounters Leonora as an expectant mother and it becomes clear that, due the absence of her mother and the presence of the doll, Leonora is devoid of maternal affection. In adulthood, Edward detects Leonora’s lack of maternal instinct through her body language, noting that she “sat with one stockinged leg crossed tightly over the other.”[17] It appears that Leonora is trying to halt the birth of the baby inside her, displaying the same lack of maternal affection that her own mother showed to her. Edward first noted Leonora’s lack of affection through her initial reaction to the doll itself, and her unwillingness to care for it, perhaps due to her identification with it and rejection of this. This demonstrates how the absence of her mother in her childhood has affected her view of parenthood, as she displays anti-maternal body language, implying her lack of maternal affection. Edward pities the unborn child, feeling “sorry for any offspring” Leonora births.[18] The manifestation of Leonora’s anti maternal instincts can be understood further when looking back at Bowlby’s ideas on Attachment Theory. Leonora displays the trait of avoidant attachment towards her child, which she has fully adopted from her own mother. Her mother’s lack of emotional attachment has affected Leonora’s own attitude towards parenthood, as Leonora shows her unborn child the same lack of maternal affection, as Bowlby’s theory suggested. The lasting impact of the absence of Leonora’s mother is instrumental to understanding Leonora’s own lack of maternal attachment toward her unborn child, demonstrating the importance of understanding her childhood, in order to understand her adulthood.

Leonora’s unsettling identification with the doll, previously explored through Freud’s doubling, is revived upon its unburial. In relation to her own impending motherhood, the image of the doll can be seen as uncanny. Freud describes the uncanny as something unsettling associated with death and dead bodies, an idea that is prevalent in the latter half of the novel.[19] As previously mentioned, Freud pays particular attention to dolls in his description of the uncanny, stating that children love them because they do not distinguish the “animate and the inanimate,” demonstrated in their treatment of them as real life children.[20] The uncanniness of the unburial of the doll has a profound effect on Leonora, which further aids the manifestation of her anti maternal attitudes which originally stemmed from her absent mother, as explained with the aid of Attachment Theory. In short, dolls are scary.

Edward recalls that he “pushed the blade into the earth” and scraped the soil away until it “loosened.” The uncovering of the doll resembles that of a caesarean birth, which can be seen as uncanny, as it is like a real birth but is essentially not. Claire Kahane notes that this image disrupts the idea of “bodily integrity,”[21] and this greatly distresses Leonora… and we can’t blame her. Leonora is distressed as the cutting of the cardboard box is analogous to the violent cutting open of the womb, which destabilises her as it reinforces the mortality of the body.  This could imply that she is fearful of the damage that giving birth could inflict on her body, explaining her desire to halt the birth, as demonstrated by the crossing of her legs. Leonora’s fear of labour is more apparent than any maternal affection for her unborn child. This lack of maternal affection was first exhibited during her first encounter with the doll itself. Leonora’s anti maternal affection towards her own child is exacerbated by the presence of the doll, as it represented the manifestation of her own anger as a child, in relation to her absent mother. This demonstrates the cruciality of understanding Leonora’s relationship with her mother, aided through the deployment of psychoanalytical theory, as it is the root of all her anti maternal feeling. By understanding Leonora’s relationship with her mother as a child, one can understand her behaviour as an adult, in reference to her anti maternal instincts directed at her unborn child.

When attempting to understand the characters of Antoinette and Leonora, it is crucial to understand their childhood relationships with their mothers. This understanding is enhanced and aided by the application of several psychoanalytic theories. Their childhood experiences, influenced by their absent mothers, are crucial to understanding their behaviour in their adult life. Antoinette’s isolated and vulnerable state as an adult stems from the absence of maternal affection and protectiveness in her childhood, which eventually results in her digression into madness, like her mother. Leonora too is affected by her mother’s absence and the presence of the doll. The reader can draw similarities between Leonora and the doll using Freud’s theory of doubling. Leonora is her mother’s doll, and the distance between Leonora and her mother leads Leonora to be distant from her unborn child. Edward highlights her anti maternal body language demonstrating this distance, which is only exacerbated by the uncanny rebirth of the doll from their childhood. It is only through the understanding of Leonora’s and Antoinette’s childhood relationships with their absent mothers, aided with the deployment of psychoanalysis, that the characters can be truly understood in adulthood and parenthood.

Thanks for reading!


[1] Ruth Bienstock Anolik, ‘The Missing Mother: The Meanings of Maternal Absence in the Gothic Mode’, Modern Language Studies’, Vol. 33, No. ½, (2003), p. 24.

[2] Ibid., p. 27.

[3] Ibid., p. 27.

[4] Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea (London, Penguin Modern Classics, 2000) p. 8.

[5] Ibid., p. 10.

[6] Susan Hill, Dolly (London, Profile Books Limited, 2013) p. 81.

[7] Sigmund Freud, The Uncanny (London, Penguin Modern Classics, 2003) p. 142.

[8] Ibid., p. 27.

[9] Margarita Georgieva, The Gothic Child (London, AIAA, 2013) p. 186.

[10] Cindy Hazan and Phillip R. Shaver, ‘Deeper into Attachment Theory’, Psychological Inquiry Vol. 5, No. 1 (1994), p. 70.

[11] Ibid., p. 70.

[12] Sigmund Freud, The Uncanny (London, Penguin Modern Classics, 2003) p. 141.

[13]  Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea (London, Penguin Modern Classics, 2000) p. 82.

[14] Ibid., p. 62.

[15] Ibid., p. 94.

[16] Ibid., p. 102.

[17] Susan Hill, Dolly (London, Profile Books Limited, 2013) p. 102.

[18] Ibid., p. 102.

[19] Sigmund Freud, The Uncanny (London, Penguin Modern Classics, 2003) p. 148.

[20] Ibid., p. 141.

[21] Claire Kahane, ‘The Gothic Mirror’, in The (M)other Tongue: Essays in Feminist Psychoanalytic Interpretation, ed. by Shirley Nelson Garner, Claire Kahane and Madelon Sprengnether (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1985), p. 345.

From school to university…

“We’re family now”

Oddly, the person who said this to me had only been in my life for thirteen days. Those thirteen days were the most exciting, overwhelming and surreal days of my life, as they were my first thirteen days at university.

One day I was living at home, the next I’d been carted off up to the University of Birmingham and left on my own to somehow get my degree. It did occur to me on the first day that I had no idea what I would be learning about, or where I was supposed to learn about these things.

43 days later some things have changed. My room is nicely decorated, with my strict teal colour scheme, I know where campus is, I know my course for this semester, and I suppose I do have my own little family in my flatmates. By the way, a semester is a term. There is a whole load of new university lingo you will have to get to grips with. Whilst having breakfast with my flatmates, who upon first meeting were strangers, I realised that all the work that I had put in at sixth form had paid off and got me to university.

So how did I get there? I can remember sitting my A Levels, and sitting down to write my personal statement. Did I think it was a long, hard process? Yes. Do I regret it? No.

I would say choosing a university and degree is simple. Do what you love, where you love. I looked at other universities, but I always had my favourite. I appreciated that the University was based in the heart of a vibrant and diverse city, and one that wasn’t so far from home. The varied course also was attractive to me, as well as the campus itself. Think realistically too. If the requirements are too high, have a good back up, and rise to the challenge. You do have plenty of time to decide. It’s important to stress that you are going to university for you. Trust your own gut. Go to open days, ask questions, and you will find that you will get ‘that feeling.’ Now, I thought this was a load of mumbo jumbo, but when I came to look at my first choice, I got ‘that feeling.’ I knew that it was for me, and I knew that I wanted to study there.

At school I had always enjoyed English and History, so I decided to take them both on at university. My Joint Honours degree allows me to study two different subjects simultaneously, offering an even greater variety of topics to cover. Once all this had been decided, all there was left to do was sit my exams. I did well enough to secure my place at Birmingham, and about a month after results day I was off.

You will experience a mix of emotions during your first week, as you get to know your course, your surroundings and people. What you should remember, is that all first years feel exactly the same as you do. They will all be wondering how to get to campus, how to do laundry and where the best nights out are – all three of these things certainly crossed my mind! What you must do, is throw yourself into each of these questions, and enjoy the fact that university is new and exciting, and that you have to discover the answers to these questions. Some are easier than others, trust me, laundry is not that complicated. For a long time, exciting is all university will be, as I realised. I was excited to see the library, the city and I was certainly excited to see that my local canteen served pizzas every evening from five! I snacked on one before writing this article.

The great thing about university is that you get to focus on the subjects you love, and that you will encounter people who love those subjects too. You will find these people on your course, or in various clubs and societies. This does make things easier, as immediately there is common ground, so don’t worry about making friends. Remember, all new things take time, and although it may take you a few weeks to find people that you gel with, you will.

That’s not to say that you won’t have ups and downs. You might feel stressed or homesick. When you do, it’s important to remember that there will be lots of support networks in place for you, from older student mentors to official university counsellors. As well as this, you will have your flatmates, who will become like a mini family. I was quite lucky with the people I was thrown in with, as they are pleasant and more importantly, clean! While you enjoy the fact that university is exciting, you should also make room for the fact that you may feel a bit down sometimes, and that this is ok. It happens to everybody. I certainly had a slight sinking feeling when I glanced at the English and History reading list.

In terms of lectures and seminars, go in prepared. Do the work set. The last thing you want is to be writing an essay ten minutes before the deadline hits. It’s stressful and very avoidable.See, I know that I have an essay due for my History module in January. My plan? Do all the reading and planning by the Christmas holidays, then comfortably write it, and finish it, several weeks before the deadline. Not a bad idea, right? Also, try not to fall asleep in lectures, or someone will tap you on the shoulder on a night out and tell you how funny it was to watch you drift off while the lecturer was talking… not that that has happened to me…

In seminars, which are smaller discussion groups, be chatty and friendly, and you will find that people will want to talk to you. Be confident, and be assured that everyone is feeling nervous and overwhelmed. Your confidence will bring out confidence in others, which makes for a less awkward, and less silent, first meeting. If people say they are not nervous, I would bet my degree that they are lying! Walking into a lecture theatre of 300 students for the first time is a moment that I will not forget.

There will also be plenty of events tailored to give you more information about the university, and usually, this information comes with lots of free stuff. My advice? Take as much as you can get – you can never have too many pens, or campus maps! It’s likely that second or third year students will be helping out at these events, so ask them questions, as they will probably provide you with some great shortcuts, tips and hacks for university life… and they will know where the best nights out are… not that that is massively important… for my degree, reading is the most important thing!

Leading on from that, there is something for everyone during freshers week, and at university in general, whether you like going out or not. I myself do enjoy a night out, and did go out during freshers week, but one evening the university put on an outdoor cinema screening with free popcorn and candyfloss. As you can probably guess, when I heard the word ‘free’ I was there. It makes a change, and gave me a chance to recover from Freshers Flu. Trust me, it is no myth. You will get it several times, stock up on paracetamol and be prepared. I thought it was a myth, and here I am typing this up whilst sneezing like there’s no tomorrow… and its week six! Be it going out or staying in, you will find people with the same interests as you, you just need to talk to people and find them! Chances are, they will be looking for you too!

So, there you have it. I hope you will be able to pick up some tips for your first month at university from my random musings. Remember, I was you, not that long ago. I think I have found my own group, and have found my own little uni family.  Just remember, if I can do it, you can do it.

Thanks for reading!

On the Madonna-Whore complex of women in Gothic Literature…

Feminist criticism formed the idea of the ‘feminine Gothic,’ a term that examines the portrayal of female characters within the Gothic genre.[1] Critics focused on the tendency of male writers to keep female characters within the constraints of social stereotypes, leaving them victims of the traditional misogynistic and patriarchal culture.[2] Within this stereotype is the Madonna-Whore complex. The dichotomy explores two conflicting images of the female, the desire to be found sexually attractive, but also the desire to be viewed as chaste and virginal. Freud notes that men desire their partners to be sexually degraded, but struggle to desire a ‘Madonna like’ figure, offering two distinct ways of expressing female sexual identity within Gothic literature.[3] The idea explores the potential power a female could exhibit, and how this incited fear within males. The theme of virginity runs through the texts, showing how important the ‘Madonna’ aspect of the complex was in many different historical eras. The complex is identifiable in Milton’s blank verse poem ‘Paradise Lost,’[4] which gives voice to the Biblical characters of Genesis. Eve is both virginal and dangerously attractive to Adam. Although not intended to be a Gothic tale, aspects of the Gothic feminine are identifiable in Milton’s work. In Angela Carter’s more contemporary work, ‘The Bloody Chamber,’[5] female sexuality empowers women, although it results in the loss of their ‘Madonna like’ qualities. The women in Walpole’s ‘The Castle of Otranto,’[6] too suffer within male dominated societies, and the oppression of male sexuality, although the Madonna-Whore complex is less prevalent. ‘Macbeth’[7] and ‘Wuthering Heights,’[8] also exhibit typical qualities of the feminine Gothic, and both female protagonists represent the fear and fantasy of their male dominated societies. Both Lady Macbeth and Catherine Earnshaw use their male counterparts for their own gain, break social conventions like the women at Otranto, enter into madness and suppress their own desires, as they are confined by their situation and gender. Although the references to the Madonna-Whore complex may not be as explicit in these two texts, the traits above are heavily associated with the Gothic feminine and allow for greater exploration of the genre.

Eve, in ‘Paradise Lost’ and the Bible, is a controversial figure, as she is commonly blamed for bringing sin into the world. Within book nine of ‘Paradise Lost,’ Eve is seen as a pure female, but also a corrupted individual after Satan tempts her. Eve explores, and embodies, the Madonna-Whore disunion. Before her temptation in book nine, Eve is subservient to Adam and noted for her captivating beauty. She herself is captivated by it in a reflection, like the Greek mythological figure Narcissus, who stared into a river at his reflection and fell in love with himself.[9]  Vanity at its finest. Satan’s gaze upon Eve prompts the removal of “his own evil”[10] emphasizing Eve’s intense power, which is drawn from her beauty and presence, rendering him “stupidly good.”[11] It can be inferred that this beauty is enhanced by her chastity and innocence, making her appear as a Madonna figure. As Eve is currently sinless, this enhances her status as pure. Before her temptation, Milton notes that the wife is where “danger and dishonor lurks,”[12] seemingly passing blame to Eve before she has sinned, because of her gender. Eve, not the intervention of Satan, is blamed for her sin because she is already corrupted by her gender, which is the source of her betrayal. The insinuation of Eve’s impurity foreshadows her eating of the forbidden fruit.

After Eve and Adam eat the fruit, they engage in sex, the difference being that this sex is driven by carnal lust and desire, which Milton attributes to Eve. She really can’t catch a break. It is here that Eve’s sexuality is implied to be dangerous toward Adam. Eve tempts Adam “wantonly,”[13] and although both are driven by lust, there is greater emphasis and negativity placed on her participation of the act. The word implies the unprovoked nature of their sex, and the promiscuity and immorality of Eve, which appears fitting as she has just eaten from the tree. It is her betrayal of God that causes Eve to digress from a chaste figure to a dangerously promiscuous woman who is able to manipulate men using her sexuality, and her “contagious fire.”[14] This implies that she has infected Adam with her sin, and demonstrates the intense lust and passion they feel. Although Adam too incited Eve to have sex with him, it is Eve who has lost her purity, and ‘Madonna like’ qualities. Now that their sexual activity is not innocent, and is in fact driven by lust, Eve embodies both ideas contained within the Madonna-Whore complex in ‘Paradise Lost.’ Honestly, justice for Eve!

When looking at Carter’s collection of stories, ‘The Bloody Chamber,’ critic Susan Chaplin notes that “the female sexuality is simultaneously vulnerable and dangerous.”[15] This statement succinctly encapsulates the ideas put forward by Freud, and demonstrates that within Carter’s work, female characters are virginal, but also that their sexuality, and discovery of it, is dangerous. Carter’s work emerged in an age of second wave feminism “in the 1970’s, in which women disagreed over the direction and desired outcomes of the feminist movement.”[16] Within Carter’s stories, gender stereotypes are also not fixed for some of the female protagonists. In several of her short stories, such as ‘The Erl King’ and ‘The Bloody Chamber,’ it is the women who overcome patriarchal oppression and become their own saviours, sometimes using their sexuality to do so. This attacks their virginal qualities, as now women are not the innocent or victimized figures, but those who are in control, disrupting traditional gender stereotypes.

Despite the female protagonist’s naivety and virginity in ‘The Erl King,’ she is sexually attractive to the goblin holding her captive. Her chastity allows her to be seen as a Madonna like figure, but the action she takes to protect herself quickly transforms her, as she embraces her sexuality. By luring the goblin to bed, she is able to “wind” his hair into ropes, and “strangle him with them.”[17] In this story, female sexuality is a force that should be feared, and is used, ultimately, to murder the goblin. Echoing Chaplin’s words, the sexuality of the young female makes her appear vulnerable,[18] but by the end of the story she is the dangerous figure, fighting against her captor by using her sexuality, and using the control that it grants her.

Female sexuality is similarly dangerous in ‘The Lady of the House of Love.’ This particular tale should be noted as it contorts gender roles, as it is made explicitly clear, that the female is the predator, and that the timid virgin is male. The “beautiful queen of the vampires”[19] is initially depicted as sitting in an “antique bridal gown,”[20] the whiteness of it implying her purity and chastity. It is also implied that she has great power, and this, as well as her beauty, may be what attracts young males to her. Although brief, in these lines the protagonist embodies the Madonna aspect of the complex, as she is presented as a pure, chaste bride. This change in gender roles is even more significant considering this story is authored by a female, who wished to challenge gender roles and attitudes to female sexuality. Although Carter claimed that the ‘femininity’ depicted in her stories was created “by means outside my control,”[21] changing gender roles are clearly tackled with the contemplation as to whether a bird could “sing only the song it knows or can it learn a new song?”[22] The vampire in the novella contemplates her own societal restraints and proceeds to break them. The fact that she describes men as “meat”[23] implies that it is the males who are being objectified in this scenario, not the women. This gender reconfiguration implies that that there is hope for womankind. The vampire is able to break these societal norms by utilizing her sexuality, and using it to entrap men, making her sexuality dangerous, but also empowered. The protagonist clearly embodies male fear and trepidation towards the growing powers of female sexuality.

The protagonist in ‘The Bloody Chamber’ is the narrator of the tale, granting her a degree of power. Although she has this power, the protagonist is overcome by the Marquis, and is corrupted by the discovery of her sexuality, causing her to embody fully the Madonna-Whore complex. The narrator notes that she “ceased to be a child”[24] in marrying the Marquis, implying that marriage, and losing one’s virginity was a rite of passage for the female. In discovering her sexuality, the narrator ponders her own “potentiality for corruption,”[25] and although before she was innocent and virginal, her sexual awakening has led to her own corruption. This provides detail about men’s’ attitudes to female sexuality, as the Marquis enjoys deflowering women, and releasing their ability for evil. One could argue that the shared corruption of women is transmitted through sex, and is the fault of Eve. Her “formal disrobing”[26] is compared to a “ritual from the brothel,”[27] again, looking at the male attitude to sexuality, as they are attracted to promiscuous and sexually experienced women. Through this ritual she is defiled and discovers her own capacity for evil, citing the moment in which she transforms from Madonna to whore. It is noted that her loss of “naivety gave some pleasure”[28] to the Marquis, implying that although she is childlike and virginal, she still indulges in her sexual desires. The gift of the ruby necklace marks the narrator for death, as it foreshadows her beheading and acts as a mark of “sexual ownership.”[29] I’m sure you will never look at jewellery in the same way again. This sexual ownership is further explored through the use of mirrors, in which “her image as a sexual object is given back to her”[30] by the Marquis, who has the power to control and show her what she is. The protagonist in the story embodies the Madonna-Whore complex, as her sexual awakening, initiated by the Marquis allows her to indulge in sexual pleasure and corruption. She is owned by the Marquis, implying that the men, who awaken female sexuality, in this instance, control it.

The introduction of the protagonists’ mother alters gender stereotypes, as she is portrayed as a fearsome figure that overpowers patriarchal oppression. She defies convention as she is “wild”[31] like a lioness, her hair being compared to a “white mane.”[32] She draws power from her husband, using his “gun”[33] in order to protect her daughter from her husband showing that women have the ability to adopt masculine traits. She is not constrained by her gender, unlike her daughter, whose gender is defined by her innocence and loss of virginity. This is some serious Gothic girl power.

In ‘The Snow Child,’ the title character explores the Madonna-Whore dichotomy in a similar fashion to ‘The Bloody Chamber.’ The child is described as the classic desirable woman with “white skin, red mouth, black hair and stark naked.”[34] She already appears innocent and pure due to her white skin. She is also naked like a newborn, adding to her virginal appearance. Although she appears in this way, she is “the child of desire,”[35] and embodies the carnal lust of the Count. She embodies the ideas of Madonna and whore, as although her sexuality is not greatly explored, she is attractive because she appears innocent but also because she is not. The Count wishes to defile her, much like the Marquis in ‘The Bloody Chamber.’ The Count explores his sexual fantasies by having sex with her dead corpse,[36] further emphasizing that her Madonna-Whore image was conjured purely for the desire of the Count, and that she is overcome by his own sexual desires. Both women are controlled by men, and are used to entertain their sexual fantasies.

 ‘In the Company of Wolves’ explores similar themes to ‘The Lady of the House of Love,’ as the sexuality of the young female protagonist empowers her and allows her to escape the wolf unscathed. The girls’ youth implies that she is innocent and chaste, providing one half of Freud’s complex, and the resolution of the story provides the other. The child escapes the wolf by seducing it, stripping off her clothes and throwing them onto the fire.[37] “She is afraid of nothing,”[38] and her sexuality is what allows her to escape. In contrast to ‘The Snow Child’ and ‘The Bloody Chamber,’ female sexuality is empowering, much like in ‘The Lady of the House of Love,’ and is what protects women from those who would harm them. The Madonna aspects of the story are noticeable, with the innocence and youth of the girl, and although she uses her sexuality to her advantage, one may hesitate to class her as the archetypal whore, as she uses her sexuality as a tool to seduce the wolf and escape. This offers a different interpretation of the complex, and a more positive attitude to the exploration of female sexuality, rather than the girls’ condemnation as a sexually promiscuous figure.

Horace Walpole’s ‘The Castle of Otranto,’ is widely regarded as the first gothic novel with ideas such as, political power struggles, the supernatural and its setting in a haunted castle, becoming common staples within the gothic genre. The theme of inheritance runs through ‘The Castle of Otranto,’ much like ‘Macbeth,’ as Manfred’s pursuing of Isabella focuses on sexual desire, but also the desire for a male heir after the murder of his son Conrad. It is this plot strand that makes the women of the story, Isabella, Matilda and Hippolita, important, as they have, and have had, the means to bear children.

All women within the story display aspects of the ‘Madonna’ character, and do not engage with the latter idea of the ‘Madonna-whore’ complex. Within the opening lines of the novel, Matilda is described as a “most beautiful virgin.”[39]  As this is the first detail provided about the character, this implies the economic importance and value of the virginity of the female, citing it as the most important feature of her character. A state of chastity appeared to be of great worth and also enhanced the desirability of the female. Isabella too comes into this category, as her “soul is pure as virtue itself.”[40] Manfred is aware that his “fate depends on having sons,”[41] and proceeds to have sex with Isabella on the “night”[42] of his own sons death. Manfred is aware of the incestuous nature of this union, but is so corrupted by desire that he is willing to break divine law, declaring, “Heaven nor hell shall impede my designs.”[43]  It is the purity and chastity of Isabella that increases his attraction towards her.

Isabella flees in terror, and who can blame her, but finds herself incarcerated by the patriarchal society of the novel, which is a common theme within the gothic genre. Manfred’s determination to marry the reluctant Isabella displays the power that men had over women within a patriarchal structure as “absolute,”[44] and women as “chattels to be controlled and exploited.”[45]  Female dependency on male figures within the family is emphasised by Bianca, Matilda’s servant. Although she is a member of the lower class, and displays ignorance in comparison to Matilda, she provides a frank insight into gender politics, as she affirms, “a bad husband is better than no husband at all.”[46]  Hippolita shares this view, and despite Manfred’s attempts to divorce her, is loyal to her husband, acknowledging that women are bound to the will of men and cannot “make election for ourselves.”[47] This is demonstrated previously by Manfred’s staunch refusal to give Isabella the “consent”[48] to return home to her father, displaying the control of women by men in the novel, and by extension the whole genre. It is easy to see the novel as the original gothic tale, as control of women by men is a recurring theme in many gothic works, copied from Walpole’s model.

Shakespeare is noted to have had a “major influence upon early Gothic fiction,”[49] particularly his tragedies. Although his works were never intended to be Gothic, many critics have identified Gothic tropes in his plays, such as ‘Macbeth.’ In this respect Lady Macbeth is viewed as a proto Gothic figure. Although the Madonna-Whore complex is not a prevalent idea within Macbeth, one can see glimpses of love between the two protagonists, and Macbeth’s keenness to protect his wife. It was Lady Macbeth’s plan to kill Duncan, but when deciding to murder Banquo, Macbeth protects his “dearest chuck,”[50] which is a term of endearment. After her murderous intent, one wonders why Mrs Macbeth would need any protecting, but perhaps after his emasculation by his own wife, Macbeth’s protection of her is an attempt to restore his own masculinity. Although this may not paint Lady Macbeth as a Madonna figure, it emphasises her status as a female, and the male need to dominate and protect their female counterparts. Macbeth wishes to protect her from his violent intent, alluding to the fact that, traditionally women were not involved in such unlawful acts.

In ‘Macbeth, ‘Wuthering Heights’ and ‘The Castle of Otranto’ the Madonna-Whore dichotomy is not a huge theme. However both texts exhibit classic traits of the feminine Gothic, particularly the breaking of gender conventions and manipulation of men. Lady Macbeth longs for Macbeth to return so that she can “pour my spirits in thine ear, and chastise with the valor of my tongue.”[51] Although Lady Macbeth devises the plan to kill Duncan, she needs Macbeth to carry out the deed, conforming to gender conventions as mentioned above. In the play, and Gothic genre, women use men to complete their own goals, presenting them as the more powerful of the two sexes. Although Macbeth must undertake the physical activity of killing Duncan, the intelligence and cunning of Lady Macbeth displays her power and influence over her husband.

Catherine from Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights,’ too has influence over the male figures around her, beginning with Heathcliff. Even as a child, Nelly recounts that he “would do her bidding in anything.”[52] Cathy exercises great power over Heathcliff, even justifying her marriage to Edgar, by arguing that she plans to “aid Heathcliff to rise.”[53] Both Lady Macbeth and Cathy use men to achieve their own goals, partly because they are restricted by their gender. Both female characters exhibit the Gothic trope of using men for their own ends, which is closely linked to the Gothic females’ ability to break gender rules and social convention.

Despite the initial impressions of ‘The Castle of Otranto,’ that the males will dominate all female characters, there are several incidences in which Matilda and Isabella gain independence, facilitating a switch in conventional gender roles. This is another recurring theme of the genre, particularly in Carter’s ‘The Bloody Chamber.’ Matilda appears as the heroic knight when freeing Theodore from the “black tower,”[54] displaying him as the victim, who was traditionally female. This temporary switch in gender roles allows the reader to see the power that Matilda wields, as the daughter of Manfred. However, this exchange is short lived, with Matilda’s gifting of a “complete suit”[55] of armour to Theodore. In freeing him she gives him back his masculinity, allowing traditional gender roles to be restored. This does not demonstrate the death of femininity, exemplified in Lady Macbeth and Cathy, but shows how the female sex is able to adopt male characteristics.

Isabella too shows glimmers of independence, which are longer lasting than that of Matilda’s due to her untimely death. In this event, Isabella “took it upon herself”[56] to care for Matilda. This independence foreshadows Isabella’s future role as Princess of Otranto, and provides hope for gender equality. This is explored further in the last line of the novel, in which, after bonding over the loss of Matilda, Isabella and Theodore marry.  Their relationship is not a romantic one, as romantic relationships within the novel have been incestuous and corrupting, but one of companionship, insinuating that Isabella will rule Otranto as Theodore’s equal, and not his subservient wife.

Again, this contrasts the unfortunate fate of Matilda, who fulfils the role of the victim within the novel. Her accidental murder by her father fulfils the prophecy hinted at throughout the novel that Manfred’s children will die, as he is not the legitimate heir to Otranto.  Matilda is the unfortunate victim of her father’s usurpation of Otranto, placing Matilda back into the story as the archetypal female victim of patriarchal power. Manfred’s failure to realise that his own daughter stood before him demonstrates his moral blindness, and his objectification of women. Rest in peace Matilda. ‘The Castle of Otranto’ is recognisable as the first novel of the gothic genre as the themes within this text are identifiable in all other texts studied within this essay. Control of women by a patriarchal society, sexual desire and victimisation of women are traditional themes within the Gothic genre, as well as the independence of women, which is seeded throughout the novel. This allows the novel to be compared to Carter’s ‘The Bloody Chamber,’ as women within these stories are empowered, arguably for longer than those within Otranto. This provides a difference between the two texts, particularly in the case of Matilda, who despite her display of independence and heroism when freeing Theodore, she is denied the chance to continue to develop by her own father, unlike the women in Carter’s stories, who remain empowered.

Even Eve, before sinning, notes that herself and Adam will “best fulfill”[57] their work set by God if they separate. Here Eve, despite being the supposedly weaker sex takes charge and defies gender conventions. Milton notes that women are supposed to “studie household good,” communicating his own views about gender roles. Milton’s first marriage in 1642 to Mary Powell was short lived, perhaps due to his reformist views and her royalist ones, which caused contention during the first civil war. Milton wrote a petition in favour of divorce after Mary’s departure, perhaps explaining why Milton is highly critical of Eve’s gender.[58]

When breaking gender convention no character does so as brutally as Lady Macbeth as she wishes to destroy her femininity, which is another classic trait of the feminine gothic. She calls upon the gods to “unsex”[59] her, and fill her breasts with “gall.”[60] Lady Macbeth wishes for the destruction of her femininity, as this will allow her to transform into a strong murderess. Such a change appears monstrous, as she manipulates traditional gender roles in wishing to become less feminine, so that she can carry out murder. Lady Macbeth also rejects female maternal instincts, by stating that she would happily “dashed the brains out”[61] of a baby with no remorse. Her wish to fill her breasts with poison also goes against traditional gender roles laid down by society. Her rejection of her own gender and femininity is what gives her the power that she craves, although she ultimately needs Macbeth to actively fulfill her desires.

Catherine Earnshaw too contorts gender roles, and in her youth was described as a “hatless little savage.”[62] What a little terror. Both Heathcliff and Cathy, in their youth are wild, unrestrained characters, and it is this shared trait that intensifies their connection and love. This makes Cathy’s breaking of gender roles essential to the story. Cathy and Heathcliff seek to achieve their desires “without their usual filters of convention and compromise,”[63] as John S Whitley notes. Cathy does not consider gender expectations throughout her childhood, and does not fulfil her desires in the conventional way, until she admits that she is prepared to marry Edgar, as he is “handsome and pleasant to be with.”[64] It is this pacifying of Cathy by the Linton’s that affects the love of Cathy and Heathcliff, as she shape shifts in order to please her new husband… and to inherit a fortune. Can we blame her?

This ability to morph too is a classic trait of the Gothic female. By noting that her love for Edgar is like the “foliage in the woods,”[65] Cathy openly admits that she has no strong feelings for him, implying a dramatic change in her character and behaviour when she goes forward with the wedding. The masquerade of her newfound propriety with Edgar hides the truth of her wild, free nature. This creates the distinct personalities of Catherine Earnshaw and Catherine Linton. It is a trope of the Gothic female to shape shift dramatically in order to hide their true nature, and Cathy does so to conform to societal and gender expectations.

For both Cathy and Lady Macbeth, another dramatic shift in character comes in the form of their madness. Chaplin notes that madness becomes an “explicit theme”[66] in Gothic fiction from the 19th century onwards, and this is noted in ‘Wuthering Heights.’ Cathy’s madness is significant as it takes place during her pregnancy, linking to the Freudian idea that the “female productive biology” is what destabilized their bodies. Heathcliff returns after several years, which causes Cathy to fall into a fit of hysteria, ending in her death.[67] Edgar claims that it is Heathcliff’s presence, comparing him to “poison.”[68] Her hysteria stems from her desperation to be with Heathcliff, and the difficulty of her current situation, as she claims that she “will”[69] not rest until she is with Heathcliff. In Freud’s mind, perhaps Cathy’s madness stems from her pregnancy. In her madness, Cathy’s eyes are described to be “flashing,” and the “muscles” in her neck and arms stand out “preternaturally.”[70] Her hair also flies over her shoulders.[71] In ‘The Snow Child’ hair, eyes and the neck represented the beauty and sexuality of women, but Cathy’s transformation instead represents the contortion of her beauty and femininity, a recurring theme in the Gothic feminine. The term “preternaturally” tells the reader that her current state is beyond natural, and abnormal, making this madness also a form of shape shifting, as Cathy has totally transformed. Sounds scary. Perhaps she is reverting back to her previous ego, Catherine Earnshaw, as her wildness is portrayed in her madness, as she tears her “pillow with her teeth.”[72] This animalistic and violent image implies that her madness is unleashing her true nature, and allowing her to be fully free.

The iconic madness of Lady Macbeth does not allow this kind of freedom, but certainly allows for the emergence of truth, as it explores her guilt complex. Within Gothic literature, “the ‘hysteric’ female”[73] is a “dangerous other in need of control and, if necessary, elimination.”[74] In Lady Macbeth’s case, the truthful nature of her madness makes her a dangerous figure in the play if she were to confess the crimes she helped commit. She asks if “these hands ne’er be clean?”[75] This explains the constant torment she experiences due to her past actions, and the guilt that she feels for them. Lady Macbeth’s madness releases her and allows her true nature to appear, if we are to believe that she truly feels guilty. This madness also leads to her own death, as she “took off her life”[76] emphasising the intensity and dramatic affect of her madness. The madness of both characters could be an insinuation of the weakness of women, as they are not able to cope with guilt, or their natural bodily functions. Such ideas tell us about the status of women, and the perceptions of female madness, which was dubbed as ‘hysteria,’ implying a lack of control over their own behaviour. Although both forms of madness serve the story well, and make for dramatic reading, it provides another example as to how women in Gothic literature are overlooked, and do not possess the mental strength of their male counterparts.

Women in Gothic literature appear to be struggling to break free of patriarchal oppression, and in the context of the Madonna-Whore complex, succeed in this by using their sexuality as a dangerous tool against men, as seen in ‘Paradise Lost’ and ‘The Bloody Chamber.’ Their sexuality, and innocence, can also make them slaves to oppressive male figures, who see their own desires in them, and wish to defile them. The most recently published work studied, ‘The Bloody Chamber, too explores these ideas, but in several stories notes that sexuality can empower females, and attack the patriarchal society in which they are trapped. Within ‘Paradise Lost,’ Eve morphs from Madonna to whore through the eating of the fruit from the tree of good and evil, her transformation implied by the lustful sex that she shares with Adam afterward. Throughout ‘The Bloody Chamber,’ a man, wishing to defile the innocence of a young woman, like in the title story and ‘The Snow Child’, triggers the exploration of female sexuality. In these incidences, the men exert power over their female counterparts, and the discovery of their sexuality leads to greater corruption. In these tales, unlike others, female sexuality is also used to empower women, and allows them to dominate men as seen in ‘The Erl King’ and ‘The Lady of the House of Love.’ This provides hope for women in Gothic literature that they will not need to conform to two distinct ideas when exploring their sexuality, and that their discovery of their sexuality can empower them. Every text studied provides details about females breaking free of the patriarchal society they inhabit. Lady Macbeth and Cathy appear to destroy femininity, which is a prevalent idea within Gothic literature, as female characters often break gender conventions, creating monstrous personas. Lady Macbeth rejects the traditional maternal role of the female, and Cathy’s animalistic and wild behaviour as a girl point to her personal manipulation of gender norms. Although in the case of Matilda, they may not survive it, manipulation of gender norms is a recurring theme throughout the genre, and seems more prevalent than the outdated and distinct Madonna-Whore complex. Viewing these works from a 21st century perspective allows for greater assessment of the Freudian complex, as women are no longer expected to conform to these distinct ideas, which can be seen in Carter’s contemporary depiction of the power of female sexuality within her stories.

Thanks for reading!


[1] Chaplin, S (2011) York Notes Companions Gothic Literature – 1st edn. Longman (pg. 206)

[2] Chaplin, S. York Notes Companions Gothic Literature – 1st edn. Longman (pg. 206)

[3] Madonna-whore complex – Penn State

Available at:

http://sites.psu.edu/aspsy/2015/10/03/madonna-whore-complex/

[4] Milton, J (1667) Paradise Lost, UK – 1st edn. Penguin Classics

[5] Carter, A (1995) The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, UK – New edn. Vintage Classics

[6] Walpole, H (1764) The Castle of Otranto, UK – 3 edition. OUP Oxford

[7] Shakespeare, W (1623) Macbeth, UK – 1st edn. Wordsworth Classics

[8] Bronte, E (1847) Wuthering Heights, UK – Reprint edn. Wordsworth Classics

[9] Milton, J (1667) Paradise Lost, UK – 1st edn. Penguin Classics (pg. 85)

[10] Milton, J. Paradise Lost, UK – 1st edn. Penguin Classics (pg. 197)

[11] Milton, J. Paradise Lost, UK – 1st edn. Penguin Classics (pg. 197)

[12] Milton, J. Paradise Lost, UK – 1st edn. Penguin Classics (pg. 192)

[13] Milton, J (1667) Paradise Lost, UK – 1st edn. Penguin Classics (pg. 211)

[14] Milton, J. Paradise Lost, UK – 1st edn. Penguin Classics (pg. 212)

[15] Chaplin, S (2011) York Notes Companions Gothic Literature – 1st edn. Longman (pg. 228)

[16] Middleton, C. 2016. ‘The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter,’ (English Review), November 2016, pg 20-21

[17] Carter, A (1995) The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, UK – New edn. Vintage Classics (pg. 104)

[18] Chaplin, S (2011) York Notes Companions Gothic Literature – 1st edn. Longman (pg. 228)

[19] Carter, A. The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, UK – New edn. Vintage Classics (pg. 107)

[20] Carter, A. The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, UK – New edn. Vintage Classics (pg. 107)

[21] Available at:

http://www.grin.com/en/e-book/270986/the-representation-of-women-in-angela-carter-s-the-magic-toyshop

[22] Carter, A (1995) The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, UK – New edn. Vintage Classics (pg. 119)

[23] Carter, A. The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, UK – New edn. Vintage Classics (pg. 110)

[24] Carter, A. The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, UK – New edn. Vintage Classics (pg.1)

[25] Carter, A. The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, UK – New edn. Vintage Classics (pg. 6)

[26] Carter, A. The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, UK – New edn. Vintage Classics (pg. 11)

[27] Carter, A. The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, UK – New edn. Vintage Classics (pg. 11)

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[58] A Biography of John Milton, 1608 – 1674

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