Review: The Iliac Crest

Firstly, we would like to thank Feminist Press for sending this fantastic new text to us; it went straight to the top of our summer reading list!

Cristina Rivera Garza’s text The Iliac Crest, which will be released in October 2017, is a novella that fits into the Gothic genre, and explorations of women within the Gothic trope, perfectly. As Feminist Press describes it, the text is a ‘gothic exploration of sex, sickness and transgression whose characters subvert our expectations of gender binary’.

The text, translated from its original Spanish, explores the gender norms we normally associate within the Gothic genre and wider society by making the gender identity of the narrator key to the narrative throughout. The reader is never really sure whether the anonymous narrator is male or female until the very end, and it is still questionable at the close of the novella. As with much of the plot of The Iliac Crest, nothing is clear cut and is designed to unsettle the reader as they become immersed in this mysterious text.

When reading The Iliac Crest, both Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘Christabel’ and Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, with its atmospheric setting that leads the reader on a dark and twisted journey through this world. Insanity is a key theme in the text, as it centres around a doctor in a mental health facility and their descent into madness due to their paranoia that their secret will be revealed.

Anonymity is key to the text’s ambiguity, as only character is identified by a name: Amparo Dávila. The narrator chooses identities for the other characters, such as their former lover (The Betrayed) and the True One. The anonymity of the characters adds to their intrigue; it is clear that these pseudonyms have been chosen intentionally to identify their involvement in the doctor’s life without risking revealing their real name to the reader. Indeed, even Amparo Dávila’s identity is unclear, as two women identify as her, with one of them admitting that she is in actual fact dead.

In summary, The Iliac Crest is a fascinating text that intrigues the reader from start to finish. No secret held within its pages is ever fully resolved, leaving the reader wanting more. We look forward to seeing it hit the shelves along with many more novels from Cristina Rivera Garza.


Women and the Gothic Tradition

Welcome to our blog which will discuss representations of women in Gothic Literature. Over the course of our blogs, we hope to explain the different types of women that have appeared in the Gothic tradition through the ages.

In keeping with a chronology, Charlotte’s blogs will firstly explore traditional Gothic texts and how female characters have been represented as subordinate to a male patriarch, by being portrayed as ready to marry and bear children, or, by being highly sexualised. Her first blog will look at the first Gothic heroines; Isabella and Matilda, in Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764) and will explore the role of patriarchy in early Gothic fiction by analysing the role of women as virgins awaiting a life of matrimony and motherhood. By the same token, the blog will also explore how Walpole’s heroines have influenced later works in the Gothic tradition. Her second blog will move away from the matrimonial female role in Gothic literature, and will explore the sexualisation and treatment of vampiric women in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘Christabel’ (1816) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897). In doing so the blog will analyse the ideologies this sexuality presents.

Megan’s blogs will explore modern texts that fall into the Gothic canon, as well as films that follow the Gothic tropes. Her first blog will look at the use of women as foils in the Gothic tradition. By focusing on Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Guillermo del Toro’s 2015 film Crimson Peak, she will analyse the role of doubling and opposites in order to explore what it means to be a good woman in the society of the time. Her second blog will look at the importance of absent women in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind. By understanding the plot of these novels in relation to the female characters, who have died prior to the events relayed in the text, the reader is able to understand the power these women hold over others, and continue to exist after their mortal life has ended.

We hope you enjoy our blogs! Please feel free to like and comment.


Otranto and the First Gothic Heroines

   In Gothic literature, Jerrold E. Hogle argues ‘women are the figures most fearfully trapped between contradictory pressures and impulses’ (Hogle, p.9). In other words, women are constricted to the stereotype of being wives and mothers or by being overly sexualised. For the purpose of this blog, the focus will lie on the representation of woman pressured into matrimony. Feminist critics have long confronted the cultural problem of gender distinctions in Gothic literature, relating to constructions of male power and gender boundaries for women (Hogle, p.9). In this blog, I will discuss how women conform to gender difference, in which they appear to be ‘passive, non-practical, subordinate and emotional’ (Bennett and Royle, p.179), in Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764), which is regarded as the first Gothic novel (Hogle, p.21). Thus, his characters, Isabella and Matilda, can be regarded as the first Gothic heroines.



Image: Theodore and Matilda (1894) Unknown Artist

When The Castle of Otranto was originally published, it addressed in the preface that the narrative was from an uncovered medieval manuscript (Hindle, p.xxxi). The novel tells the story of Manfred, the prince of Otranto, who, after a series of supernatural events and the sudden death of his son Conrad, is left without an heir. Manfred is then determined to marry his son’s bride Isabella, in his attempts to continue his family line: ‘You have lost your bridegroom […] I have lost the hopes of my race!’ (Walpole, p.23). The majority of literary attention has focused on the character of Isabella, whilst Manfred’s daughter Matilda has been rejected. Isabella is the main character subjected to Manfred’s patriarchal tyranny, however, Matilda is confined to another side of Walpole’s subordinated and patriarchal world, as she is expected to be a devoted daughter to her father. Matilda and Isabella are first introduced in the opening pages of the novel. Princess Matilda is described as the ‘most beautiful virgin’ (Walpole, p.17), while the lady Isabella is introduced as having ‘already been delivered by her guardians into the hands of Manfred’ (Walpole, p.17). In other words, Isabella has been handed over from one patriarchal figure to another, thus, enforcing women’s position within the social hierarchy. Both Matilda and Isabella are defined by their lack of sexuality and their inferior place within patriarchal society. Furthermore, both women are objects to be valued or cast aside by the men in their lives. Isabella’s virginity is of value to Manfred because she could provide him ‘numerous offspring’ (Walpole, p.24). Meanwhile, after the death of her brother, Matilda loses all credibility in her father’s eyes, as she is deemed worthless. Manfred states: ‘Begone, I do not want a daughter’, before ‘flinging back abruptly [and he] clapped the door against the terrified Matilda’ (Walpole, p.22).


Donna Heiland argues that ‘early gothic novels make absolutely clear the [authors] concern with exploring, defining and ultimately defending patriarchy’ (Heiland, p.8). She further suggests that Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto celebrates a male creative power ‘that demands the suppression – and sometimes the outright sacrifice – of women’ (Heiland, p.11). The novel explores women’s suppression through patriarchal society and the significance placed on the survival of a male bloodline. In the novel, Isabella is the one who can affect the line of succession as she will be the one to give birth to future heirs (Heiland, p.12). The current ruler Manfred has the power to control the lives of his daughter Matilda and his soon-to-be daughter-in-law Isabella. However, it is ironic that it is the occurrence of supernatural events that lead to Manfred’s power being threatened and ultimately abolished with the arrival of the peasant, Theodore. Isabella’s rejection of Manfred’s proposal leads to a violent outburst, where Isabella is left running for her life through the castle’s underground passageways: ‘Every murmur struck her with terror; – yet more she dreaded to hear the wrathful voice of Manfred urging his domestics to pursue her’ (Walpole, p.26). In The Castle of Otranto, Isabella is the first Gothic heroine to find herself caught in ‘a labyrinth of darkness’ while pursued by a patriarch who wishes to control her future (Hogle, p.9). This male pursuit of a female heroine is believed to have influenced the works of the formative gothic novelist Anne Radcliffe. Whilst in Walpole’s work, Isabella is a helpless victim to Manfred’s tyranny and Theodore must save her, in Radcliffe’s work she created a gothic heroine who turns her journey in the ‘labyrinth’ into a means of acquiring her own property and power in the ‘male-dominated world full of terrors for every female’ (Hogle, p.10).

Isabella The Castle of OtrantoImage: Isabella and Theodore in the castle’s underground passageways (1797), © The British Museum. Museum Number: 1953,0214.47

The sacrifice of women can be seen in the character of Matilda, who is killed at the end of the novel as a result of Manfred’s patriarchal rage. Matilda, is originally represented as a woman devoted to her father and her religion. Although, once she meets Theodore they both fall in love and her heart is set on becoming his bride:

‘Theodore flung himself at her feet, and seizing her lily hand, which with struggles she suffered him to kiss, he vowed on the earliest opportunity to get himself knighted, and fervently entreated her permission to swear himself eternally her knight.’ (Walpole, p.68)

In this passage, Matilda is drawn into Theodore’s desires and she is somewhat empowered by his desire to be given the title of knight in order to gain her permission for their union. Here, Matilda is given a higher authority to Theodore in her role as princess and his current role as peasant. Furthermore, Matilda is given the opportunity to fall in love and to choose whom she is to marry. Against the reader’s expectations, Theodore falls in love with the innocent and religious heroine, rather than the beauty Isabella. However, it is the love story between Theodore and Matilda which enforces the idea of sacrifice in Matilda’s death: ‘Theodore supporting her head with his arm, and hanging over her in agony of despairing love, still endeavoured to inspire her with hopes of life’ (Walpole, p.100). Manfred, believing the young woman in the chapel to be Isabella, stabs his daughter and leaves her fatally wounded. Manfred attacking Matilda leads him to meeting his own demise, but at the cost of Matilda dying before she can begin a life with Theodore. Matilda’s sacrifice can be seen in her final words: ‘Isabella – Theodore – for my sake – oh!’ (Walpole, p.102), in which Matilda wishes for Theodore to marry Isabella, because it is with her passing that Theodore can take his role as the rightful ruler of Otranto: ‘Conrad is gone! Matilda is no more! In Theodore we view the true prince of Otranto’ (Walpole, p.103).

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Image: Theodore pledging his love to Matilda. The Vyne Estate © National Trust Collections / Kathryn Allen-Kincross, Object: 719492


Nick Groom in his introduction to The Castle of Otranto states ‘women are hunted and pursued, as well as being courted, entangled in intrigue, and in receipt of declarations of chivalric love and devotion’ (Groom, p.35). As previously discussed, Matilda falls in love with Theodore, and his love is reciprocated, however, she is tragically stabbed before they can have their happy ending. The tragic death of a heroine, when she finds love with the enemy of the patriarch, can also be seen in William Godwin’s Caleb Williams (1794) with the death of Emily Melvile. Though Godwin’s novel is set in the world of the late eighteenth century, Godwin’s heroine too experiences the restrictions of the patriarchal world explored in Walpole’s Medieval Italy. In Volume One of Godwin’s novel, the narrative focuses on the feud between Caleb William’s future employer, Ferdinando Falkland and Barnabas Tyrrel. Tyrrel is Emily’s guardian when she falls in love with Falkland after he saves her life, and so, disgusted by Emily’s feelings for his enemy: ‘Are you not in love with Fawkland? The man is a legion of devils to me!’ (Godwin, p.64), Tyrrel has Emily arrested for owing debts and she dies in prison from sickness. The poor treatment of Emily on behalf of her patriarch Tyrell, and thus the consequences of her death, present women’s ongoing subordination within a male dominated society and the Gothic tradition. Furthermore, Isabella and Matilda, throughout the novel, find themselves in compromising situations which are enforced upon them when they reject patriarchal authority (Groom, p.xxxv). This is a common theme within the Gothic tradition, however, as seen in the third blog, female characters in later Gothic novels and feature film gain a sense of empowerment.


Overall, ‘patriarchy involves upholding the supposed priority of the male’ (Bennett and Royle, p.182), which poses a negative message about the position of women. At the expense of Manfred losing his power, the patriarchal society regains balance as the rightful heir, Theodore, succeeds to the throne. Isabella as a heroine escapes Manfred’s tyrannical regime, but continues to conform to the dictations of a patriarchal society as she eventually marries Theodore and remains his subordinate. Thus, the dominant gender stereotypes within Western culture are present within Walpole’s writing, as it is articulated that men are ‘strong, active, rational’ in the heroic character of Theodore, while women are ‘weak, passive and irrational’, as Matilda is tragically killed and Isabella is expected to wait for Theodore’s affections after the loss of his lover. (Bennett and Royle, p.182).



Bennett. Andrew & Royle. Nicholas, The Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory, Fourth Edition, London: Routledge, 2014

Godwin. William, Caleb Williams, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009

Groom. Nick, ‘Introduction’ in Walpole. H, The Castle of Otranto, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014

Hindle. Maurice, ‘Introduction’ in Stoker. Bram, Dracula, London: Penguin Classics, 2003

Hogle. Jerrold. E (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002

Walpole. Horace, The Castle of Otranto, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014

Vampiric Women

Vampires have been an influential figure in English literature since Lord Byron made the mythical demon famous in his poem The Giaour (1813) in which the hero is cursed to feast on the blood of his family. Furthermore, it was in John Polidor’s The Vampyre (1818) that the aristocratic vampire was created in the author’s mockery of Lord Byron. It is the characteristics of Polidori’s vampire that society still associates with the monster today as his vampire is rich, seductive and holds a power dominance over women: ‘Aubrey’s sister had glutted the thirst of a VAMPYRE!’ (Polidori, p. 23). For this reason, vampires are traditionally associated with male characters, however, what this blog will explore is the representation of vampiric women and how their experiences have been interpreted as transgressive due to their sexual appetites and their low status in the social hierarchy.


In English vampire literature, there is a theory that the character of Geraldine in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem ‘Christabel’ (1816) is an early depiction of a female vampire due to Coleridge’s reference to vampiric figures and vampire folklore (Morrison et al, p.xi):

The lady sank, belike through pain,

And Christabel with might and main

Lifted her up, a weary weight

Over the threshold of the gate: (Coleridge, ll.129-132)

Geraldine, having been found in the forest by Christabel, is crippled with pain as she reaches the boundary of the castle.  Christabel is required to carry Geraldine across the threshold of the castle walls suggesting vampiric qualities in the mysterious women, as vampires share an association with the Devil, and they must be invited in (Grossberg, p.145). In regard to liminal theory of thresholds, Christabel allows for Geraldine to ‘pass through the space between’, and thus, enables Geraldine’s demonic, supernatural powers into her home (Hennelly Jr, p.205).


Jerrold E. Hogle’s theory that women in Gothic literature are trapped between contradictory pressures and impulses (Hogle, p.9) can be seen in the intimate scene between Christabel and Geraldine in lines 286-291 of the poem. It has have been argued by Grossberg that Christabel and Geraldine share a lesbian sexual encounter, in which the two young women sharing a bed leads to a manipulation of gender roles, as the virgin Christabel breaks tradition and gives in to her sexual desires. This manipulation of gender roles can be identified in Christabel’s reaction to Geraldine’s palms being pressed upon her breasts: ‘And both blue eyes more bright than clear,/Each about to have a tear’ (Coleridge, ll.290-291). These lines can be interpreted as Geraldine having caused Christabel’s tears through making her orgasm, thus, Geraldine takes on the masculine role as the dominant ‘male’ lover. Furthermore, Victoria Amador has described the encounter between the two women as a lesbian eroticism that was ‘codified as violent and transgressive’ (Amador, p.9), due to Christabel experiencing hallucinations after the intimate experience. It is through Christabel’s sexual encounter with Geraldine that Christabel’s sins begin to be imposed and her lack of sexual purity is arguably a reasoning for Christabel’s father’s sudden lack of affection towards her.


Image: Christabel watching Geraldine dress after their sexual encounter


This transgression of female characters, due to their sexuality, has become a popular theme in English vampire literature and can also be seen in Bram Stroker’s Dracula (1897). In the novel Stoker makes reference to female vampires: the three brides of Dracula, and the immoral hold they can have upon men. Maurice Hindle, in his introduction to Dracula states that the terror that haunt’s Stoker’s work is ‘a male fear of, yet desire for, sex’: (Hindle, p.xxi). Thus, the ‘primal scene’, where Jonathan Harker is approached and seduced by ‘sexually hungry vampire women’ is iconic to the novel, and despite Stoker’s multiple revisions, the scene’s ‘soft pornographic content’ remained similar throughout his drafts (Hindle, p.xxxiv):

‘There was a delicate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive, and as she arched her neck she actually licked her lips like an animal, till I could see in the moonlight the moisture shining on the scarlet lips and on the red tongue as it lapped the white sharp teeth.’ (Stoker, p.45)

Jonathan, who is narrating this scene via his journal, describes Dracula’s bride as having ‘licked her lips like an animal’ suggesting primal and unnatural qualities too her, as she displays her desires for the flesh. The animalistic nature of the bride’s actions also provides her with inferior qualities not just as a monster, but also because of her sexual appetites, thus suggesting she is not a respectable woman. The inferiority of vampiric women can also be seen by Jonathan describing the experience as ‘thrilling and repulsive’. The female vampire may be able to fulfil Jonathan’s sexual desires, ‘I closed my eyes in languorous ecstasy and waited – waited with a beating heart’ (Stoker, p.45), however, to try and fulfil her own is not acceptable. This is supported by Victoria Amador, who has described the representation of Dracula’s brides as being ‘an almost deliberately indefinable mutuality of sexual evil and degradation’ (Amador, p.9) as they are associated with the Victorian ideology of a fallen woman.


Dracula: Bram Stoker's Dracula

Image: Keanu Reaves’ Jonathan Harker being seduced by Dracula’s brides in Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). © Columbia Pictures


Due to the epistolary style in which the novel is written, all representations of Dracula’s brides are expressed from a male perspective and in favour of the male gaze. Thus, the vampire woman are as much victims to patriarchy as other female characters. Before the brides can claim Jonathan, Dracula appears and presents his hold over the women: ‘How dare you cast your eyes on him when I have forbidden it?’ (Stoker, p.46). The women cower in fear from their patriarch and submit to his will as they move their attentions from Jonathan and accept his gift of a crying baby for them to feast upon.


The dichotomy of the sexless and sensual woman can be seen in the comparison between the previously explored representation of Dracula’s brides and the representation of Mina Murray, Jonathan’s fiancée and later wife. A clear misogyny is made towards Dracula’s brides as Jonathan refers to them as ‘awful women’ whilst Dr Van Helsing speaks fondly of Mina: ‘She has a man’s brain – a brain that a man should have were he much gifted – and a woman’s heart’ (Stoker, p.250). Mina is described as having the intelligence of a man, appealing to patriarchal values of male dominance above women, whilst also possessing a woman’s heart, presenting her with the feminine weaknesses of love, compassion and needing to be saved by men. Mina is the only woman whose diary is present within the novel, thus, suggesting she is the model image of a Victorian women in the technologically evolving end of the nineteenth century. Therefore, the concept of vampire women being lesser than the traditional woman is further enforced as the traditional woman aids and works alongside patriarchy rather than being subjected to it. Conversely, Dracula’s brides can be viewed as threatening male power via their exploitation of the male character’s repressed sexual desires.


Furthermore, ‘patriarchy involves upholding the supposed priority of the male’ which poses a negative message about the position of women (Bennett and Royle, p.182). Elaine Showalter suggests there is a clear representation of male gender anxieties and the mutilation of women’s bodies in the treatment of Lucy’s body, once she becomes a vampire, and is killed by her fiancé Arthur (Showalter, p.181):

Arthur placed the point over the heart, and as I looked I could see it’s dint in the white flesh. Then he struck with all his might. […] The Thing in the coffin withered; and a hideous, blood-curdling screech came from the open red lips. (Stoker, p.230)

Showalter refers to Arthur having killed Lucy with his ‘impressive phallic instrument’, and that the attack on Lucy was all male oriented, presenting an ideology that women can be mutilated and attacked by male forces, if they are deemed to be ‘evil’ (Showalter, p.181). Furthermore, having become a vampire, Lucy is dehumanised by being referred to as ‘The Thing’. The men find no qualms in praising Arthur’s ‘heroic’ act, as Lucy, like Dracula’s bride’s, falls to the very bottom of the social hierarchy.


Image: Lucy’s death depicted in in Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). © Columbia Pictures


Overall, the presence of the female vampire, in the Gothic tradition, has allowed for the exploration of gender, sexuality, race and class, within the vampire myth (Amador, p.8). It is evident in both ‘Christabel’ and Dracula that vampiric women are associated with evil and sexual qualities, which undermines their social status within society’s hierarchy.  Both representations of female vampires possess a homosexual sexuality which is viewed as transgressive. In Dracula, male characters dominate over female vampires and are allowed to exploit their bodies as they desire. Conversely in ‘Christabel’, Geraldine is not dominated by a male force, however, her sexual encounter with Christabel leads to Christabel’s father’s rejection of his daughter. Thus, vampiric women are represented as sexually immoral and evil creatures that are not worthy of respect – traits also associated with Lucille in Crimson Peak (2013) which will be discussed in the following blog.



Amador. Victoria, ‘Dark Desires: Vampires, Lesbians and Women of Colour’, Gothic Studies, Vol 15 (2013)

Bennett. Andrew & Royle. Nicholas, The Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory, Fourth Edition, London: Routledge, 2014

Coleridge. Samuel Taylor, ‘Christabel’ (1816) in Halmi. Nicholas, Magnuson. P and Modiano. R (eds), Coleridge’s Poetry and Prose, London: W. W. Norton & Company, inc, 2003

Grossberg. Benjamin Scott, ‘Making Christabel: Sexual Transgression and implications in Coleridge’s ‘Christabel’’, Journal of Homosexuality, Vol 41 (2001)

Hennelly Jr. Mark. M, ‘“As Well As Fill Up The Space Between”: A Liminal Reading of ‘Christabel’’, Studies in Homosexuality, Vol 38 (1999)

Hindle. Maurice, ‘Introduction’ in Stoker. Bram, Dracula, London: Penguin Classics, 2003

Hogle. Jerrold. E (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002

Morrison. Robert and Baldick. Chris, ‘Intoduction’ in Polidori. John, The Vamprye and Other Tales of the Macabre, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997

Polidori. John, The Vamprye and Other Tales of the Macabre, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997

Showalter. Elaine, Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin-de-Siècle, London: Virago Press, 1992

Stoker. Bram, Dracula, London: Penguin Classics, 2003

Cover Image:  Lucy (Dracula 1992) ©2015-2017 dvodihalica

The Gothic Romance and Women as Foils

Marie Mulvey Roberts states that from the eighteenth century Gothic writing was viewed in gendered terms (Mulvey Roberts, p. 53), and the Gothic Romance novel proved to become a popular subgenre of Gothic literature during the reign of Queen Victoria. Gothic Romance has been used historically as a way for women to explore and enjoy transgressive behaviour vicariously, through the exploits of the women explored in these novels (Perez Cuervo, Online). According to AH Yildirim, Jane Eyre continues to be one of ‘the most remarkable voices against the traditional Victorian gender ideology’ (Yildirim, p. 48) through its exploration of the ‘Madwoman in the Attic’, Bertha Mason. However, women appear to have been predominantly used in Gothic literature in order to display the attributes expected of a woman by directly contrasting the virtuous heroine with the mentally unstable former paramour of the male love interest. Jane’s ‘quiet autonomy’ (Palmer, p. 201) is what attracts her employer, Mr Rochester, as she is the complete opposite to his passionate, uninhibited, wild first wife.

The blog will focus on the role of women in the Gothic tradition by exploring the use of alter egos and foils in both Jane Eyre and Crimson Peak. It will investigate how leading feminine characters are represented in relation to each other while discussing the connections between the two sources in order to explain decisions made by Guillermo del Toro for his work on Crimson Peak.

The Gothic Romance

One of the important things to note is awareness of the Gothic Romance genre in Crimson Peak, as it references both Mary Shelley and Jane Austen’s work; two of the more prominent female Gothic writers in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It is clear that del Toro has intentionally chosen to mention these writers in the story as he wants to make it clear that his film is aware of both the history of the Gothic tradition and the film’s own place in the Gothic canon.

The fact that del Toro has chosen to concentrate on women Gothic writers in the conversation between Edith and Mrs McMichael is deliberate, as he has been quoted saying that Gothic Romance has long been ‘brilliantly written by women and then rendered into films by male directors who reduce the potency of the female characters’ (Dockterman, p. 98). This self-awareness when writing and producing adaptations that fall into the Gothic genre displayed by del Toro makes it clear to his targeted audience that the women are the key protagonists in his film. Even his casting choices are planned, as shown by his decision to cast Mia Wasikowska in the leading role of Edith Cushing. This high-profile role immediately draws comparisons to Wasikowska’s earlier work as the female lead in Cary Fukunaga’s adaptation of Jane Eyre (2011) and the audience can immediately see the similarities between the characters of Edith and Jane through Wasikowska’s mesmerising performances, as both female protagonists fall in love with a stereotypical Byronic hero hiding a dark past with many secrets and both overcome adversity.

 Mia Wasikowska as Edith Cushing and Jane Eyre.

The Evil in the Shadows

The dark adversary to the female heroine tends to undertake their evil deeds in the shadows, just out of eyesight and earshot of the leading character. In Jane Eyre, Bertha Mason is given almost animalistic qualities when she attempts to murder her estranged spouse. Bronte uses monstrous imagery to create suspense and anticipation by asking ‘Who is there?’ before explaining that ‘something gurgled and moaned’ (Bronte, pp. 126-7). The fact that the identity of the perpetrator is left ambiguous titillates the reader, causing excitement and apprehension regarding whom could be responsible for these misfortunes, as well as allowing Bronte to foreshadow the climax of the novel. The fact that Jane is the variable between the fire earlier in the novel and the fire that finally destroys Thornfield suggests to the reader that only Jane can eradicate the devastation that Bertha has caused. It could be argued that Bronte is using fire as a form of purification; perhaps Bertha and Thornfield need to be destroyed before Jane and Mr Rochester can finally be together.

The use of obscured identities to hide the wrongdoings of the female antagonist is also utilised in Crimson Peak. It is assumed by the majority of the audience that Thomas Sharpe is the murderer of Edith’s father, due to the dress and stature of the dark figure looming over Mr Cushing prior to his demise. The surprise of realising that Lucille is the true killer of Mr Cushing provides a shock for the audience as well as allowing del Toro to reveal Lucille’s true, malevolent nature. It is interesting that the antagonist in both Jane Eyre and Crimson Peak is female, as it makes the audience question their own deep-held gender stereotypes. However, both sources do not completely diverge from the expectations of women who kill; Lucille’s preferred choice of murder weapon appears to be through poisoning which was a popular choice among female serial killers during the Victorian era (Armfield, 2014).

Jane Eyre 2.jpgOne interpretation of Bertha Mason, the ‘Madwoman in the Attic’.

It is interesting that del Toro chooses to explore the theme of incest in Crimson Peak, as this is a taboo subject even for Gothic. While the revelation of the Sharpe siblings’ close relationship is designed to be shocking it is not depicted as being grotesque. Indeed, Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain’s performance as these unusual siblings makes the audience almost feel sympathetic towards their twisted relationship, as it appears that they were forced into their incestuous relationship in order to experience love.

Crimson Peak 2.jpg

Jessica Chastain as Lucille Sharpe, just as she is about to meet her demise.

Physical Representations: Costume Choices in Adaptations

The use of costume to physically represent the nature of the leading women is important in Gothic adaptations and films. The dark and blood-coloured clothing of Chastain’s Lucille is designed to contrast the light, almost virginal colours of Wasikowska’s Edith; even their hair colours are designed to clash, with Wasikowska’s blonde heroine appearing angelic while Chastain’s villain’s hair is deliberately dark to connote images of evil. The costume choices in Crimson Peak are calculated as they draw parallels to previous adaptations of Gothic and Horror texts. For example, Edith’s cape for the ball scene connotes images of Dracula, while the sunglasses and dark clothing worn by the Sharpes in the park denote the similar costumes worn by Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter in the musical adaption of Sweeney Todd (2007).

This can equally be seen in Jane Eyre, as Edward Fairfax Rochester directly compares his fiancée and estranged wife during a fit of rage. He asks his companions to ‘compare these clear eyes with the red balls yonder – this face with that mask – this form with that bulk’ (Bronte, p. 251). The fact that he uses animalistic imagery to describe Bertha conveys her rapid transgression from her role as a wife to a woman whom is no longer deemed human. By evaluating the two women together, Mr Rochester is attempting to gain sympathy from the wedding guests, who represent society, regarding his attempt to commit bigamy. The reader automatically begins to compare the two women and their character, and thus the use of foils by Bronte is successful. It is ironic that in previous pages Jane notes that if Mrs Rochester ‘did not exist: she would not be born till to-morrow, some time after eight o’clock A.M.’ (Bronte, pp. 234-5) as it becomes apparent that Mrs Rochester has, in fact, existed for some time and is the complete opposite of the future Mrs Rochester.

An alternative viewpoint suggested is the importance of British Imperialism and racial otherness in how Bertha Mason is portrayed. It is argued that Bronte’s use of animal imagery to ‘overstate Bertha’s racial and cultural differences’ is evident in the description of her (Oztop Haner, p. 173); the fact that she is portrayed as more beastly than human suggests that, because she has cultural and ethnic differences from the pure, English Jane, she is deemed subhuman and not worthy of Mr Rochester’s affections. Furthermore, Bertha’s racial ‘otherness’ is associated with sexuality and irrationality (Oztop Haner, p. 173), as it appears that her sexuality is what drives her desires and insanity. These qualities can also be seen in Lucille’s character as while she is portrayed as a typical English aristocrat, her sexuality and incest is what drives her bloodlust, much like the vampire harem found in Dracula, as discussed in Charlotte’s blog.

Crimson Peak 4.jpg

A still from Crimson Peak, where Lucille discusses the death of butterflies with Edith.

Women, Love and Power

In both Jane Eyre and Crimson Peak women are portrayed as fundamental to the plot and as powerful beings once they have become financially independent. However, both Bertha and Lucille have allowed their dominance to surpass that of their significant others, which has allowed them to become consumed with hatred and evil, thus rendering them insane. Contrary to this, both Edith and Jane nurture their internal strength over time to ensure that this does not completely devour them, thus making them transgress from being feminine by nature. Indeed, too much female power is often perceived to remove any form of femininity from a character.

Jane, like Edith, does show some degree of authority occasionally, often through outbursts. Jane’s iconic words: ‘do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless?’ (Bronte, p. 216) emphasises her individuality and her comfort in who she is; however, while she has a similar degree of power to Bertha, the fact that she is able to control and limit her authority in order to survive means that she is the foil of Bertha’s brash and uncontrollable character. Indeed, it has been argued that Bronte emphasised Jane’s individuality while suppressing Bertha’s voice in order to show that authority needs to be managed; indeed, Bertha’s uncontrollable dominance means that she is reduced to a ‘voiceless character whose life and existence are determined and controlled by others’ (Oztop Haner, p. 173).

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Lucille as her true form becomes clear.

To conclude, female foils are portrayed in both Jane Eyre and Crimson Peak in order to explore the positive characteristics of womanhood. It is clear that the antagonist is designed to highlight the goodness held in the female heroine, in addition to providing adversity for the female lead to overcome. The women in both examples emphasise their importance, although the variation in how they control their power differentiates them as either the protagonist or antagonist of the story.


Bronte, Charlotte, Jane Eyre, New York: Norton, 2000.

Burton, Tim, Sweeney Todd, DreamWorks Pictures, 2007.

del Toro, Guillermo, Crimson Peak, Universal Pictures, 2015.

Dockterman, E., 2015. ‘Guillermo Del Toro Arms the Damsel with a Knife in Crimson Peak’, Time, Vol. 186, (2015), pp. 98-99.

Ellis, Markman, The History of Gothic Fiction, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000.

Fukunaga, Cary, Jane Eyre, Universal Pictures, 2011.

Kendrick, Robert, ‘Edward Rochester and the Margins of Masculinity in Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea’, Papers on Language and Literature, Vol. 30, (1994), p. 235.

Mulvey Roberts, Marie, The Handbook to Gothic Literature, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1998.

Owsley, Lauren, ‘Charlotte Bronte’s Circumvention of Patriarchy: Gender, Labour and Financial Agency in Jane Eyre’, Bronte Studies, Vol. 38, (2013), pp. 54-65.

Oztop Haner, Sezgi, ‘The Absent Voice: Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea’, Journal of International Social Research, Vol. 9, (2016), pp. 173-181.

Palmer, Beth, Victorian Literature, London: York Press, 2010.

Yildirim, Askin Haluk, ‘The Woman Question and the Victorian Literature on Gender’, Ekev Academic Review, 16, (2012), pp. 45-54.

Armfield, Julia, ‘Arsenic, Cyanide and Strychnine – The Golden Age of Victorian Poisoners’, British Library, at: (Accessed 17th April 2017).

Cwickman, ‘11 New Hi-Res Jane Eyre Photos’, Filmofilia, at: (Accessed 17th April 2017).

Perez Cuervo, Maria 2016. ‘The Return of Gothic Romance’, MJP Cuervo, at: (Accessed 7th April 2017).

Zoltan, Vanessa, ‘Bertha Mason is Sacred’, Harvard Divinity School, at: (Accessed 17th April 2017).

‘Wear a Movie: Edith Cushing vs. Lucille Sharpe’, You Should be Ingrid Bergman, at: (Accessed 17th April 2017).

Absent Women

One of the key elements of a Gothic text is the use of characters who are discussed without being physically present. This blog will examine the role that absent women have played in controlling the plots of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. These texts have been chosen to demonstrate that the climaxes of the plots in these novels reveal how former lovers of a main character met their demise, and thus how these female characters have inextricably damaged the personality of these broken men.

Retrospect and Secrets

In the opening lines of Rebecca, the new Mrs de Winter notes that she believes ‘men and women emerge finer and stronger after suffering, and that to advance in this or any world we must endure ordeal by fire’ (du Maurier, p. 5). While this foreshadows the tale recalled in the text regarding the troubles faced by the de Winters, it draws the reader into the plot and the absent force Rebecca de Winter has on her former home, even after death. This can also be seen in Shadow of the Wind, as from the beginning of the novel Daniel is asked to keep secrets that he does not appear to fully understand the consequences of. The fact that he asks if ‘not even Mummy’ (Ruiz Zafon, p. 1) can know about the Cemetery of Forgotten Books highlights his innocence and youth, which contrasts the keeping of such an important secret, as well as stresses the fact that his mother is physically absent due to her death some years previously. Indeed, it has been noted by Daniel Olson that many of the families portrayed in The Shadow of the Wind have ‘either a dead or an ineffectual mother, and the hero’s journey of maturation is also a recovery of the mother figure’ (Olson, p. 533). The fact that even Penelope, the enigma in the mystery that Daniel tries to solve over the course of the novel, is a mother to a child that is a product of her incestuous relationship with Julian Carax suggests that absent mothers are fundamental to the Gothic genre, as they are unable to guide their children as they would have in life.

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A still from the 1940 Alfred Hitchcock adaptation of Rebecca. Mrs de Winter is portrayed by Joan Fontaine, while the evil Mrs Danvers is depicted by Judith Anderson.

Messages from Beyond the Grave

The absent Rebecca, who is the namesake of du Maurier’s novel, is introduced through gossip relating to her suspicious death. Mrs Van Hopper notes that her death was ‘an appalling tragedy’ that garnered a lot of media attention (du Maurier, p. 36). The fact that she states that her widower, Maxim, ‘never talks about it’ before discussing that ‘she was drowned you know, in the bay near Manderley…’ (du Maurier, p. 36) suggests that Mr de Winter is heartbroken by the loss of his wife, which immediately makes the new Mrs de Winter become paranoid with the belief that she will never fill the void left by his first wife. The climax reveals that Maxim does not speak of Rebecca’s death because he played a part in it, which provides a sense of relief for the new Mrs de Winter.

This is similar to the revelation of the relationship between Julian and Penelope by Sophie; she repeatedly states that ‘she knows’ (Ruiz Zafon, p. 392), which helps to build the suspense as the reader joins Daniel in trying to piece together the information subtly mentioned over the previous pages, before confirming that Julian and Penelope were, in fact, brother and sister as well as lovers. As seen in Crimson Peak in the previous blog, incest is an incredibly taboo topic that is discussed in only a handful of Gothic texts. However, it soon becomes clear that Julian and Penelope were not aware of their sibling status when they originally consummated their relationship. Nonetheless, the announcement is still shocking for both the reader and Daniel. It has been argued by Daniel Olson that the relationship Julian once had with Penelope bears a close resemblance to Daniel and Bea’s bond as both couples have a connection that is overshadowed by the ‘tyranny of a father’ (Olson, p. 535). This doubling is important in explaining why the truth of Penelope and Julian’s association must be uncovered by Daniel before he can be truly happy with Bea, as it is imperative that he does not allow Bea to face the same fate as Penelope.

The new Mrs de Winter becomes increasingly obsessed with the legacy of Rebecca, as she feels haunted by the first Mrs de Winter’s presence. She describes this feeling, stating that:

‘I was following a phantom in my mind, whose shadowy form had taken shape at last. Her features were blurred, her colouring indistinct, the setting of her eyes and the texture of her hair was still uncertain, still to be revealed’ (du Maurier, p. 47).

The fact that the new Mrs de Winter feels as if Rebecca is constantly present despite being deceased suggests that Rebecca’s spirit remains manifested in the house, and until her apparition is removed from Manderley the newlyweds cannot truly be happy. The fact that Rebecca’s features are intentionally left ambiguous by du Maurier is important, as it allows the reader to identify their own version of Rebecca using their imagination. In adaptations of the novel, this has generally been followed by the director in order to add to the suspense and uncertainty surrounding Rebecca.

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As shown in adaptations, the new Mrs de Winter feels clumsy and claustrophobic in her new home: she is nothing more than a tourist who does not belong in this ancient, aristocratic abode.

Indeed, it appears that the new Mrs de Winter feels as if she is nothing more than a visitor to Manderley rather than its new mistress. She notes that the study dedicated to the lady of the house does not contain anything personal and she feels claustrophobic ‘sitting in Rebecca’s chair’ and ‘leaning against Rebecca’s cushion’ (du Maurier, p. 87).  Compared to the apparently-perfect Rebecca, Mrs de Winter appears inexperienced and clumsy; after her first interaction with Maxim, she notes that ‘I wished he were less remote; and I anything but the creature that I was in my shabby coat and skirt, my broad-brimmed school-girl hat’ (du Maurier, p. 35). This implies her anxieties are caused by her own insecurities about Rebecca, thus emphasising the importance of absent women in the Gothic genre. According to Gina Wisker, the imagery and characteristics displayed by the young Mrs de Winter are ‘vampiric’ as she ‘feeds off Rebecca’s memory’ (Wisker, p. 91). This is an interesting argument, as it reinforces the view that Mrs de Winter has become obsessed with her predecessor.

Manderley is a crucial element of the plot as it harbours the ghost of Rebecca as well as the malevolent Mrs Danvers, a former ally and maidservant of Rebecca, who has a vendetta against the new Mrs de Winter. According to Maria Perez Cuervo, Gothic manors, no matter how aesthetically pleasing they may seem to their new inhabitants, are ‘never safe havens’; on the contrary, they are prisons designed to ‘oppress their inhabitants until they lose their sanity and commit atrocities’ (Perez Cuervo, Online). The mysterious settings of the novels are key to the plots as they harbour the secrets of the former inhabitants and provide clues to the reader to foreshadow the climaxes of the novels.

Mrs Danvers herself is an equally important character, as she attempts to preserve the legacy of Rebecca de Winter while simultaneously portraying the role of the antagonist for the new Mrs de Winter. The exact details of Mrs Danvers’ relationship with Rebecca are left intentionally ambiguous, although it is quite apparent that Mrs Danvers had a ‘necrophilic, grotesque and sexually ambiguous’ (Morden, p. 24) association with her now-deceased employer. Her fixation on Rebecca, much like the manic accomplices housed in earlier Gothic novels, is cumulated by her decision to persuade the new Mrs de Winter to dress the same as Rebecca had to a costume ball. It appears Mrs Danvers is utilising her mania to emphasise that the new Mrs de Winter is not worthy of the title as she will never be able to replace the seemingly perfect Rebecca.

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A still from the 1997 adaptation of Rebecca. This version emphasises the youth and inexperience of Emilia Fox’s Mrs de Winter by contrasting her clothing with that of the ghost of Rebecca.

The Impact of their Absence and Aftermath

The relief portrayed by the voice of Mrs de Winter when retrospectively writing about her ordeal is apparent in her statement that ‘the devil does not ride us any more’ (du Maurier, p. 5). It appears that, by the end of the novel the de Winters are finally at peace with what has occurred and Rebecca’s ‘damned shadow’ (du Maurier, p. 297) can no longer keep the de Winters from one another. According to Auba Llompart Pons, Rebecca embodies the qualities of ‘the other’ for Maxim, as ‘she was promiscuous, rebellious, adulterous and possibly lesbian or bisexual’ (Llompart Pons, p. 73). This emphasises why she is key to the plot of the novel: her differences are what results in her demise as well as what torments her replacement.

An alternative view is that gothic narratives ‘deal with the dangers women suffer under the patriarchal control of their husbands’ (Llompart Pons, p. 69). It has also been argued that, in summary, Rebecca is a story that follows a ‘man’s struggle to preserve patriarchal order at all costs, even if this means committing murder’ (Llompart Pons, p. 81) rather than a novel focusing on the paranoia and anxiety felt by a woman who is overshadowed by her own preconceived image of the ‘perfect’ spouse that her precursor is viewed as being. This viewpoint continues to highlight the importance of the absent female figure in the novel while simultaneously exploring deep-rooted issues surrounding patriarchal concerns regarding cosmopolitan women.

This can also be seen in The Shadow of the Wind, as Daniel is also haunted by ghostly, absent female figures. He states that:

‘In my dreams the hooded figure of Death rode over Barcelona, a ghostly apparition that hovered above the towers and roofs, trailing black ropes that held hundreds of small white coffins. The coffins left behind them their trail of black flowers, on whose petals, written in blood, was the name Nuria Montfort’ – (Ruiz Zafon, p. 361).

The fact that he is being haunted by Death prior to his discovery of Penelope and Julian’s relationship foreshadows the realisation that Penelope died as a result of her actions with Julian as well as emphasising the darkness that has enveloped Daniel’s life as a result of the many secrets he is forced to keep. It has been argued by Daniel Olson that the ‘sins of the males’ are dramatized in the novel by the sexual exploitation and domination of the women discussed. Olson further contends that ‘a woman who indulges in a sexual relationship outside of marriage must face rejection, isolation, violence or any combination of these’ (Olson, p. 533), as displayed by the destruction of Penelope. It appears that both of the novels explore the demise of absent women in order to round the plot, while at the same time exploring the sexual exploitation of women and the double standards of the sexes.

To conclude, absent women are vital to the plot of many Gothic novels as they add mystery, terror and suspense to the novel. Despite no longer being alive, they are important in revealing the secrets of the past as well as providing high levels of suspense for the reader. It is interesting that women are generally chosen for this task by their authors; perhaps the variety of different roles held by women in society enable a number of areas and subplots to be explored.


du Maurier, Daphne, Rebecca, London: Virago, 2003.

Hitchcock, Alfred, Rebecca, Selznick International Pictures, 1940.

Llompart Pons, Auba, ‘Patriarchal Hauntings: Re-Reading Villainy and Gender in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca’, Atlantis, Vol. 35, (2013), pp. 69-83.

Morden, Barbara, ‘The Gothick Experience’, English Review, Vol. 26, (2015), pp. 22- 25.

O’Brien, Jim, Rebecca, ITV/PBS, 1997.

Olson, Daniel, 21st Century Gothic, Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2011.

Ruiz Zafon, Carlos, The Shadow of the Wind, London: Orion, 2005.

Wisker, Gina, ‘Dangerous Borders: Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca: Shaking the Foundations of the Romance of Privilege, Partying and Place’, Journal of Gender Studies, Vol. 12, (2003), pp. 83-97.

Perez Cuervo, Maria 2016. ‘The Return of Gothic Romance’, MJP Cuervo, at: (Accessed 7th April 2017).