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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