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)

[28] Carter, A. The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, UK – New edn. Vintage Classics (pg. 16)

[29] Chaplin, S (2011) York Notes Companions Gothic Literature – 1st edn. Longman (pg. 229)

[30] Chaplin, S. York Notes Companions Gothic Literature – 1st edn. Longman (pg. 229)

[31] Carter, A (1995) The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, UK – New edn. Vintage Classics (pg. 40)

[32] Carter, A. The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, UK – New edn. Vintage Classics (pg. 40)

[33] Carter, A. The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, UK – New edn. Vintage Classics (pg. 41)

[34] Chaplin, S (2011) York Notes Companions Gothic Literature – 1st edn. Longman (pg. 105)

[35] Carter, A (1995) The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, UK – New edn. Vintage Classics (pg. 105)

[36] Carter, A. The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, UK – New edn. Vintage Classics (pg. 106)

[37] Carter, A. The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, UK – New edn. Vintage Classics (pg. 138)

[38] Carter, A. The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, UK – New edn. Vintage Classics (pg. 133)

[39] Walpole, H (1764) The Castle of Otranto, UK – 3 edition. OUP Oxford (pg. 17)

[40] Walpole, H. The Castle of Otranto, UK – 3 edition. OUP Oxford (pg. 39)

[41] Walpole, H. The Castle of Otranto, UK – 3 edition. OUP Oxford (pg. 24)

[42] Walpole, H. The Castle of Otranto, UK – 3 edition. OUP Oxford (pg. 24)

[43] Walpole, H. The Castle of Otranto, UK – 3 edition. OUP Oxford (pg. 25)

[44] Chaplin, S (2011) York Notes Companions Gothic Literature – 1st edn. Longman (pg. 53)

[45] Chaplin, S. York Notes Companions Gothic Literature – 1st edn. Longman (pg. 48)

[46] Walpole, H (1764) The Castle of Otranto, UK – 3 edition. OUP Oxford (pg. 38)

[47] Walpole, H. The Castle of Otranto, UK – 3 edition. OUP Oxford (pg. 84)

[48] Walpole, H. The Castle of Otranto, UK – 3 edition. OUP Oxford (pg. 45)

[49] Chaplin, S (2011) York Notes Companions Gothic Literature – 1st edn. Longman (pg. 207)

[50] Shakespeare, W (2007) The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, UK – 1st edn. Wordsworth editions (pg. 870)

[51] Shakespeare, W. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, UK – 1st edn. Wordsworth editions (pg. 862)

[52] Bronte, E (1847) Wuthering Heights, UK – Reprint edn. Wordsworth Classics (pg. 29)

[53] Bronte, E. Wuthering Heights, UK – Reprint edn. Wordsworth Classics (pg. 58)

[54] Walpole, H (1764) The Castle of Otranto, UK – 3 edition. OUP Oxford (pg. 66)

[55] Walpole, H. The Castle of Otranto, UK – 3 edition. OUP Oxford (pg. 68)

[56] Walpole, H. The Castle of Otranto, UK – 3 edition. OUP Oxford (pg. 101)

[57] Milton, J (1667) Paradise Lost, UK – 1st edn. Penguin Classics (pg. 191)

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

Available at

http://darknessvisible.christs.cam.ac.uk/miltons_life.html

[59] Shakespeare, W (2007) The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, UK – 1st edn. Wordsworth editions (pg. 862)

[60] Shakespeare, W. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, UK – 1st edn. Wordsworth editions (pg. 862)

[61] Shakespeare, W. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, UK – 1st edn. Wordsworth editions (pg. 863)

[62] Bronte, E (1847) Wuthering Heights, UK – Reprint edn. Wordsworth Classics (pg. 36)

[63] Bronte, E. Wuthering Heights, UK – Reprint edn. Wordsworth Classics (pg. xiv)

[64] Bronte, E. Wuthering Heights, UK – Reprint edn. Wordsworth Classics (pg. 55)

[65] Bronte, E. Wuthering Heights, UK – Reprint edn. Wordsworth Classics (pg. 59)

[66]Chaplin, S (2011) York Notes Companions Gothic Literature – 1st edn. Longman (pg. 218)

[67] Bronte, E (1847) Wuthering Heights, UK – Reprint edn. Wordsworth Classics (pg. 119)

[68] Bronte, E. Wuthering Heights, UK – Reprint edn. Wordsworth Classics (pg. 83)

[69] Bronte, E. Wuthering Heights, UK – Reprint edn. Wordsworth Classics (pg. 92)

[70] Bronte, E. Wuthering Heights, UK – Reprint edn. Wordsworth Classics (pg. 86)

[71] Bronte, E. Wuthering Heights, UK – Reprint edn. Wordsworth Classics (pg. 86)

[72] Bronte, E. Wuthering Heights, UK – Reprint edn. Wordsworth Classics (pg. 88)

[73] Chaplin, S (2011) York Notes Companions Gothic Literature – 1st edn. Longman (pg. 218)

[74] Chaplin, S. York Notes Companions Gothic Literature – 1st edn. Longman (pg. 218)

[75] Shakespeare, W (2007) The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, UK – 1st edn. Wordsworth editions (pg. 880)

[76] Shakespeare, W. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, UK – 1st edn. Wordsworth editions (pg. 884)

Published by harpalkhambay

I'm a third year English Literature and History student, and wanted a space to explore topics within those fields that interest me.

3 thoughts on “On the Madonna-Whore Complex of Women in Gothic Literature

  1. This was so interesting!! I love The Bloody Chamber and I think your other examples were really well picked! Please say you’re doing this for your dissertation because you wrote this so well

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: