Coleridge criticised the Gothic portrayal of women in terms of either “shameless harlotry” or “trembling innocence”. .
Discuss the view that in Gothic writing women are treated stereotypically.
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In Lewis” “The Monk” there are an abundance of females showing both female “shameless harlotry” and “trembling innocence”. “The Monk” itself houses examples of stereotypes in principal. Antonia is a gothic heroine consumed with trembling innocence, weak, “never unveils in public”, pure and chaste and without hope in the world, mirrored well by Ellena in “The Italian”. It is narrow minded to class these femme fetales as “virgins in distress” but this is what critics such as J Hogle have referred to them as. As so frequently portrayed in literature women are portrayed as the root of all evil shown through Ambrosio’s comparison of Matilda, an adversary of Satan himself and Eve, the biblical character who threw all men’s chances away by condemning us to constant sin. We see cruel women in both these novels, the prioress in “The Monk” torn apart for her sins and the Marchesa in “The Italian”, jealous of her own son, Vivaldi and in league with the villain of the piece, Schedoni. Elvira and the Baroness Lindenburg are both rapturously attractive, sexual older women in “The Monk” shown again through the oversexed Marchesa in “The Italian” having “wandering eyes denting into the very soul of Schedoni”. In the case of Lewis” Leonella we are presented with a primarily grotesque and comically repulsive character “with scrawny red hair” however, it is her and her alone that is able to make a valid assumption of Ambrosio’s character, “I do not like this same Ambrosio in the slightest”. .
The very words “Gothic heroine” immediately conjure up a wealth of images for the modern reader, a young, attractive woman (virginity is required) running in terror through an old, dark, crumbling mansion in the middle of the wilderness, away from either a psychotic man as found in Walpole’s “The Castle of Otranto” or a supernatural demon as found in Leroux’s, “The Phantom of The Opera”.