Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Life (or Death) Lessons

After reading this week’s selections, I find it depressing to be a woman in this time period, subject to this genre of literature. In The Castle of Otranto, the women are mistreated: Hippolita is unloved and betrayed by her husband, Isabel is almost raped and Matilda is stabbed by her father. In these poems, the women suffer horrible fates as well: two are carried off to the grave, one becomes a maniac, and another (in female horse form) is left “scarce a stump” (l. 218). It seems, however, that the women are blamed for their actions—or at least that their sinful actions cause their unhappy fates. In Southey’s poem, “Mary”, Mary is too masculine, too brave for a woman—she goes outdoors by herself at night. This must have been scandalous in the 18th century. In Lewis’ “Alonzo the Brave, and Fair Imogene”, Imogene breaks her vow to always be faithful to Alonzo, whether or not he is alive or dead. She is seduced by the suitor’s “treasure, his presents, his spacious domain / … He caught her affections so light and so vain…” (ll. 27-30). For her infidelity and greed, Imogene is punished. In Bürger’s “Lenora”, Lenora despairs the loss of her William, curses her life, wishes for death and “Against the Providence of God / She hurlde her impious strains” (ll. 87-88). She blasphemes God’s name and falls into the sin of hopelessness. Thus, she gets her wish and is carried to the grave to die. These poems seem to serve like lessons to women—be faithful and virtuous or else you will become a maniac or dead.

1 comment:

  1. I think that the manic/death end result for women still applies even to those who remain faithful and virtuous. Part of this is rooted in the classical ties of the Gothic genre -- women definitely did not have much agency in the classics from which these authors are drawing. Also, what happens to the women can be seen as the result of the actions of the men, in a way. The women are almost always reacting rather than acting first, and it seems to be their fate is tied into the actions of the men around them more so than their own.