I’d like to consider Gothic fictions’ virtuous women: the heroines of sensibility. Born from the eighteenth-century discourse of sensibility (the study of the correlation between emotional stimuli and physical responsiveness), these fictional heroines are fair-haired and virtuous, whose goodness illuminates the “forces of darkness”; they are hostages to villains, often in the guise of malevolent father figures; they rely on protection from ‘paternal’ figures, namely brothers and suitors; and their susceptibility to a dangerous world often leaves them physically incapable of movement or resistance. These heroines are doubly trapped—in castles or dungeons, and in their own bodies. The woman of sensibility featured in hundreds of Gothic novels in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. She is reprised in Dracula as Lucy Westenra (before she becomes a lustful vamp); and is revised as Mina Harker. Like the traditional Gothic heroine, Mina is praised for her beauty, sensitivity, compassion (she even pities Dracula); she is surrounded by men who try to protect her from evil; she is saved in the end. However, Mina differs from these traditional heroines: she has what Van Helsing calls a “man’s brain .
. . and woman’s heart” (Dracula 234)—she combines the traditional feminine attributes of emotional responsiveness with masculine logic. She is, within cultural limits imposed on women, active: she subverts, to an extent, ideas about female capability by hiding her typing—the work which leads the men to Dracula—within her embroidery workbasket, concealing her ‘real’ work within the bounds of conventional ‘women’s work.’ Moreover, Stoker emphasizes her importance to the group by showing how, when the men try to ‘protect’ her by leaving her ignorant of their plans, she is attacked by Dracula: they can only follow his movements when Mina is included in the hunt. Like Frankenstein’s Elizabeth, most vulnerable when least informed, Mina’s real status as the key to the men’s success is contingent on her knowledge. Women of sensibility, both Shelley and Stoker tell us, are most useful when most informed: a somewhat radical position in nineteenth-century culture.
Women's role in society has changes much throughout history all over the world. In Korea, during the Koryo Period, it had not been uncommon for an upper class man to have several wives. Talented women were to be concubines, or kisaeng, who could make intelligent conversation, recite and even compose poetry, sing, dance and even play musical instruments. On the other hand, main wives had been there ...
Buffy would seem to be light years away from the more typical Gothic heroine. However, there are aspects of Buffy which, on closer inspection, don’t seem so different to her hysterical foremother. These similarities seem to congeal around Buffy’s twin status as adolescent and Slayer, and cast shadows over Whedon’s claims that, after watching “a lot of horror movies that starred pretty blonde girls who walk into alleys and get killed” he decided to write a movie “where [she] could walk through an alley and take care of herself.” But on what terms does Buffy take care of herself—that is, just how independent is she? Physically, she easily outclasses the typical heroine of sensibility. But to what degree can this new heroine function without the aid of her traditional standby, the paternal protector?
To gauge the power of this new, Buffy heroine, let’s consider the episode in which both the typical and the new heroine appear—“Halloween” (2006).
In this episode, the Scooby Gang hire cursed Halloween costumes; when worn, costume becomes character. Xander becomes a soldier; Willow becomes a ghost; and Buffy, dressing to impress Angel in an eighteenth-century ball gown, becomes a heroine of sensibility. Since we see Buffy in the guise of contemporary and traditional heroine, we can see clearly the differences—and the surprising similarities—between these two female types.
The Gothic, a genre born in the eighteenth century and most popular in the shadows of the French Revolution, has proven a highly adaptable vehicle for expressing the anxieties and concerns of generations. Dracula’s reflection of Victorian sensibilities, and Buffy’s engagement with twentieth-century culture, share more than just Gothic conventions. While we might expect the concerns of Victorian England and twentieth-century USA to be radically different cultures, my reading of Dracula and Buffy has highlighted a surprising number of similarities. Both texts recognize the limits of choices and freedoms placed on women; both express an ambivalence towards modern technologies; both seem to, at one and the same time, fear yet sympathize with the foreign and the monstrous, seeing their angst as deeply human, and their persecution as one of the more violent aspects of human nature. In the light of comparisons, Stoker seems to prefigure of Whedon’s promotion of a strong but limited heroine, mistrust of dehumanizing technology and compassion for the ‘Other’ in a way that makes Dracula seem less a Victorian, than a modern, text: In turn, Buffy, a show which on one level promotes female independence and modernity, can now be read as taking a more conservative view of technology and women’s freedoms than might be expected from our own, contemporary culture. The Gothic, it seems, remains infinitely adaptable as a genre for reflecting, or revealing, the questions and anxieties confronted by each generation.
In response to the question “is gothic literature purely escapist? ” considering Austen’s Northanger Abbey and Walpole’s novel The Castle of Ontranto, which is recognized as pretty much establishing the genre, the answer is yes. Castle of Ontranto Brief Plot summary The plot of Castle begins full tilt as Conrad, son of Manfred of house Otranto, is crushed by a giant helmet on his wedding day, also ...