During the centuries, a female image remains one of the central themes in different kinds of art including literature. Trying to unravel the secret of a woman’s nature, artists of all times and nations presented their perception of a woman enduing their characters with the features inherent to particular epochs. Thus, each literary period has its specific female image reflecting the beliefs regarding a female nature, the role of women in society, especially in relation to men.
Romantic Era created the unique image of gothic heroine having the most controversial nature and causing heated debates among literary critics who argued about her weakness or fatality. Thereby, some scholars claim that “the co-existence of innocence and evil is the primary point to consider” when analyzing the nature of the female character in the Gothic literature (Alam 299). Romantic writers, Matthew Gregory Lewis and Samuel Taylor Coleridge use different literary tools to portray a gothic heroine in his works, particularly the novel The Monk and poem Christabel.
How it works
Regarding the literary form, two artworks are different as Lewis’ novel has a prosaic form, while Coleridge created a piece of poetry. Furthermore, both authors used the form of narration to convey the ideas of their works. However, the poem Christabel is focused on revealing the story of women directly placing the interaction between the innocent maiden and mysterious lady into the center of the poem’s plot. Conversely, The Monk tells the story of a man placing female characters beyond the epicenter of events. Despite these differences, both authors address to the theme of a female nature employing similar literary tools inherent to the gothic style but doing it in their individual manner. Lewis and Coleridge professionally created the bright imagery enhancing it with the symbolic and metaphorical language. They used various gothic key elements including mystery, power of religion, supernatural phenomena, omens (visions, dreams), clergy characters, and maiden in distress, gothic setting, and extreme emotions (Alam).
Thus, both works are imbued with the mystery which is one of the most prominent features of gothic literature. This literary tool provides a unique atmosphere of the poem and novel presenting the dual nature of the gothic heroine. The authors used the element to maintain harmony between natural and supernatural space which are closely intertwined. The mysterious elements are used to transmit the complex phenomena that could not be seen but only felt as Geraldine’s evil nature, for example.
Coleridge’s character of Geraldine is an embodiment of mystery that is impossible to define. She has an attractive appearance which is not related to anything evil: “damsel bright, drest in a silken robe of white” (Coleridge 464, 59). Thus, the author created the atmosphere of danger around her adding the gothic details such as gray clouds, wind blowing or dog’s moaning, and even the sudden ghost of Christabel’s mother. Hence, the author demonstrates her true supernatural evil disposition. Depicting this dangerous woman along with innocent Christabel, Coleridge seemed to convey the message that both divinity and evil have the same appearance and may be impossible to distinguish. Presenting these features through the separate characters does not contribute to female duality. Furthermore, Coleridge depicted Christabel’s weakness regarding the evil influence of Geraldine and transmitted the deceptive nature from one woman to the other. Christabel does not change the appearance. Instead, she continues realizing her innocent nature but cannot resist the new evil power she has gained: “the maid devoid of guile and sin, …all her features were resigned …and passively did imitate the look of dull and treacherous hate” (Coleridge 476, 699, 603, 605, 606). To enhance the dual nature of the female image, Coleridge employed bright metaphorical language involving Bible symbols of a dove which refers to purity and a snake implying temptation. The author demonstrated the unity of opposite types of nature due to magical plexus between two symbolic creatures: “bright green snake coiled around its (dove) wings and neck” (Coleridge 474, 549-550).
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Conversely, Lewis’ mystery does not involve mysterious characters or any kind imagery. However, he presented supernatural forces from the religious perspective. Thus, in the novel, the majority of events take place in a church or near it. In addition, there is the female image of the Holy Virgin among the other characters of clergy. Moreover, the duality of a woman character presented by the writer seems mainly inactive or weak. Lewis put a considerable emphasis on the protagonist’s feelings caused by interacting with a female character. Chapter II presents the mysterious contrast regarding the monk’s considerations when he is looking at the picture of Virgin. The protagonist surprisingly applies the secular features to the Holy Lady to whom they cannot be applied. Admiring Virgin’s “graceful turn of head”, “blush of the cheeks”, “the whiteness of the hand”, the protagonist develops his adoration of the divinity to the level of secular temptation. He starts thinking about “twining round his fingers the golden ringlets, and press with his lips the treasures of that snowy bosom” (Coleridge 604-605). The author enhanced this contrast by Ambrosio’s thought “mortal was never formed as perfect as the picture” (Coleridge 604). Thus, a reader may notice the juxtaposition of natural and supernatural as it was developed in the Coleridge’s poem. Another Lewis’ female character, Antonia, also demonstrates female duality in an original way. She is depicted as the helpless victim who is “absolutely in his (monk) power.” However, she has the power over the weak monk who is obsessed with her beauty (Coleridge 605).
Both authors used the one of the major gothic mysterious elements – the omen or the prophetic dreams. However, they operated it differently. Coleridge addressed to the dream for revealing his perception of the female duality which was carefully decoded at the end of the poem. Furthermore, Coleridge presented the duality due to the Bible’s symbols of the dove and snake which appeared in “the strange dream” of Bard Bracy (Coleridge 474, 527). Lewis involved dreaming as the sign of supernatural protective force. Thereby, Antonia appears in her mother’s “frightful dream” and asks for help at the moment when the monk has invaded in her room (Coleridge 605). Considering the role of religion in both literary works, the dream can be interpreted as God’s protection that is the strongest force in the Universe. At that time, people had a strong belief that without God’s protection they are small creatures having no power to fight with evil.
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High emotional tone, which is one of the gothic literary devices, creates a special atmosphere in both works. The emotional impression is permanently supported not only with the appropriate events but with the manner of characters’ speech. Thus, both authors used the numerous expressive exclamations such as “Oh!”, “Gracious God!” (in The Monk) and “O mother dear!”, “Ah woe is me!”, “And lo!” (in Coleridge’s Christabel). To enhance the emotional impression, both authors involved the symbols of day and night and used the elements of nature and architecture. Thus, gothic architecture occupies special place in the literature suggesting special atmosphere. Regarding the common feature of gothic literature, the events take place at home of the characters – castles, large manors or cells. In both works, the reader can notice the symbol of gates or doors associated with the threshold. The native settings evoke God’s protection, and evil can violate it only if there is a gap. The scene with Geraldine entering the Christabel castle is the brightest confirmation of that: “the lady sank, belike through pain” after passing “the threshold of the gate … rose again …as she were not in pain” (Coleridge 465-466, 129, 132-134). In the case of female duality, it is the symbol of transition from one nature to the other.
To conclude, Lewis and Coleridge’s female characters simultaneously seem to be weak and fatal and dangerous. However, one can find the author’s perception of the gothic heroine as a complex one which could be seen only due to deep analysis of the literary devices and key elements of the gothic style. Thus, both authors addressed to the charming or threating mystery to create the special atmosphere, enhance emotional impression, and demonstrate their hidden symbols. While Coleridge depicted supernatural creatures and bright imagery, Lewis devoted more attention to religious aspects. Both authors employed metaphorical language, used the gothic settings and elements of nature which helped them in creating a unique dual image of the gothic heroine.