The Depiction of Women as Monsters and Love as a Dependency in Cradle of Filth's works

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar), 2016

30 Seiten, Note: 1,3



1. Introduction

2. The symbolism of monstrous women
2.1. The role of women in patriarchal society
2.2. The function of monstrosity in popular culture
2.3. Monstrous women

3. The depiction of women and love in Cradle of Filth’s Nymphetamine Fix
3.1. Close reading and interpretation of the lyrics
3.2. Gender roles
3.3. Analysis of sonic aspects in conjunction with the music video
3.3.1. The meaning potential of the sound and visual symbols
3.3.2. The structure of the video as a mode of dissociation from the lyric persona

4. The depiction of women and love in Cradle of Filth’s Gabrielle
4. 1. Close reading and interpretation of the lyrics
4.2. Gender reading
4.3. Analysis and interpretation of sonic aspects

5. Analysis of the album cover of Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa
5.1. Intermedial references to Lilith
5.2. Analysis of the album cover

6. Conclusion

7. Annex
7.1. Nymphetamine Fix Lyrics
7.2. Gabrielle Lyrics
7.3. Record Sleeve of Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa

8. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Cradle of Filth singer Daniel Lloyd Davey repeatedly referred to the lyrics of his texts as “dark fairy tales” in interviews (cf. Matera). As song-titles such as “Devil Woman”, “Lovesick For Mina“, “Nymphetamine“ or album titles, such as “Cruelty and the Beast” imply, one of the central themes in the band’s lyrics are monstrous women, often possessing supernatural powers, such as witches, nymphs, or vampires. This paper will analyse the way, how women and the topic of love are presented in Cradle of Filth texts and argue that by de-humanzing women and inverting traditional gender roles, women are presented as monstrous creatures to whom men are subordinate. Love is depicted as a dependency that men cannot escape. Furthermore the paper will show in what way the dehumanisation of women operates and critically discuss to what degree this undermines or confirms the patriarchal gender ideology.

According to Eckstein, song lyrics, despite being comparable to poetry, cannot be studied without taking sonic and videographic aspects into account:

Lyrics and poetry are similar; they both employ verbal language, often using characteristic rhetorical and stylistic devices, to tell tales (in the ballad tradition), to propose ideas about life and the world, sometimes to illustrate the limits of language in negotiations between 'subject' and 'world' [...]. Yet they are also different in at least one respect: while the voice in poetry is generally perceived as an internalised one encoded in the medium of writing, the voice of lyrics is by definition external. Lyrics, this is to say, cannot be conceived outside of the context of their vocal (and musical) actualisation - i.e. their performance. (Eckstein: 10)

The primary material of the analysis will be the lyrics of Cradle of Filth’s songs Nymphetamine and Gabrielle in conjunction with the musical realisation of both songs. Furthermore, aspects of the official music video of Nymphetamine are taken into account. There are two versions of Nymphetamine (Nymphetamine and Nymphetamine Fix); only the latter will be considered in this paper, since for this version an official music video is available, which is taken into account.

The different media will be related and contrasted to each other and the meaning potential analysed. In point 5., the album cover of the concept album Darkly, Darkly Venus Aversa, that focuses on the mythological figure Lilith, a female monster which according to singer Davey reoccurs in a large number of Cradle of Filth’s songs and illustration, will be analysed and parallels to the depiction of the monstrous women in the songs outlined.

Ecksteins claim that song lyrics must be approached from interdisciplinary perspectives (10, 11) and “require[…] a different set of analytical tools from that which is conventionally applied to poetry“ (23). Therefore, for the textual analysis, a close reading in conjunction with a gender perspective were chosen as critical approaches, supplemented by interdisciplinary theories about the representation of monsters, monstrous women in particular. Though the core of the analysis is based on literary criticism, concepts of musicology and cultural studies are taken into account and discussed together with the textual analysis.

2. The symbolism of monstrous women

2.1. The role of women in patriarchal society

Within patriarchy, which Tyson defines as “any culture that privileges men by promoting traditional gender roles“, women are defined as being “emotional (irrational), weak, nurturing, and submissive“, while men are presented as “rational, strong, protective, and decisive“ (Tyson 85). The gender roles are structured in binary opposistions “one of which is considered superior to the other“ (ibid. 91). The dominant pole defines the subordinate pole as an object and thus acts out power over the other (cf. Becker 44; Sjoberg / Gentry 7). Faucault describes the nature of power relationships also as a dichotomy of two opposing poles, one being active, the other one passive, whereby violence “acts upon a body or upon things” (Foucault 789). Since both parts are mutually dependent and the dominant pole derives its power from suppressing the ‘other’, the suppressed one must “be thoroughly recognized and maintained to the very end as a person who acts” (ibid. 789). Very often the characteristics ascribed to both poles are regarded as innate which is termed biological essentialism (cf. Tyson 7; Rudman / Glick 7- 8).

Patriarchal opposition consists of imposing certain standards of feminine on all biological women, in order precisely to make believe that the chosen standards for ‘femininity’ are natural. Thus a woman who refuses to conform can be labelled both unfeminine and unnatural (Becker 123).

Women are constructed by men as the Other and subdued to the male gaze (Tyson 92): “the man looks; the woman is looked at“. In this sense, women are objectified to commodities, or stereotyped to either good girls, who conform their patriarchal gender role, or bad girls, who oppose their prescribed role (cf. Tyson 91).

Concerning sexual activity, patriarchal society confines women to a passive role, whereas men are expected to be sexually active (cf. ibid 92). A „proper patriarchal young woman is sexually dormant until ‚awakened‘ by the man who claims her“ (ibid. 89). Within feminist theory, there are various theses about why men suppress female sexuality, such as an evolutionary approach arguing that for procreation it is useful to suppress female sexual desire, so that men can prevent their wives from being impregnated by other men (Baumeister / Twenge 168). Other explanations focus on the power relationship between men and women within patriarchy, whereby women are kept from being “autonomous creatures who make their own decisions and seek their own fulfilment because such activities could potentially undermine male control” (ibid.), or in order to guarantee the upholding of social order (cf. Baumeister / Twenge 168; Cohen 9). These theories can be termed as “male control theories” (cf. Baumeister /Twenge 168). Baumeister / Twenge also discuss a number of “female control theories”, combined with the social exchange theory, that regard sex as a resource, used by women in exchange for other ressources, such as “money, commitment, security, attention, or respect”, and several intersecting theories and other possible influences, such as religion (cf. 170 – 171; 193).

The patriarchal gender ideology, confines both women and also men, since they must not show weakness or emotions: for instance „it is considered unmanly for men to show fear or pain“ (Tyson 87). The only permitted way of expressing emotions, is through anger or violence (cf. ibid 87). A woman acting violently on the other hand is perceived as an unwoman (see 2.3.).

2.2. The function of monstrosity in popular culture

Scott discusses the ambigue etymology of the word monster as a basis for different functions of monsters in literature (1). The latin word monstrum, which the english monster is derived from, can be traced back either to the latin verb monstrare (show, demonstrate) or monitus (admonition) (cf. Isidore 244).

According to Scott, the monster “serves to reflect and critique human existence“ [….] as it “gives a space in which perspectives can be adopted and the permissible and impermissible can be played with” (Scott 1). Cohen postulates that “the monstrous body is a cultural body”, impersonating both the fears and desires of a culture. The monster itself doesn’t bare signification, but “it is always a displacement” (ibid. 4). Rather than an individual being, the monster serves as a mere reflection of the culture producing it, it “can function as an alter ego, as an alluring projection of (an Other) self” (cf. ibid. 17) and possess possibilities of transgressions (cf. ibid. 17, 19).

Furthermore he claims, that monsters cannot be categorised, their “incoherent bodies resist attempt to include them in any systematic structuration” (ibid. 6). Therefore the monster breaks with binary oppositions and the social order (cf. ibid. 6-7). Monsters embody difference and thus “paradoxically threaten[…] to erase [it] in the world of its creators, to demonstrate the potential for the system to differ from its own difference, in other words not to be different at all” (11, 12).

Cohen distinguishes two types of cultural monsters: one that serves as a scapegoat, the so-called political-cultural monster (11), which by “exaggeration of cultural difference” (ibid. 7), for example the representation of Jews in Nazi-Germany, de-personates the members of a particular culture or group and thus legitimates applying violence against them (cf. ibid. 13). The other type of monster is the so-called monster of prohibition (ibid. 13), that “exists to demarcate the bonds that hold together that system of relations we call culture, to call horrid attention to the borders that cannot – must not – be crossed” (ibid. 13). The monster embodies the other, be it “cultural, political, racial, economic or sexual” (ibid. 14) By refusing to adhere to the boundaries set by society, the monster demonstrates the arbitrariness and constructiveness of cultural bonds (cf. ibid.). “The monster’s destructiveness is really a deconstructiveness: it threatens to reveal that difference originates in process rather than in fact (and that “fact” is subject to constant reconstruction and change” (ibid. 14, 15).

2.3. Monstrous women

The difficult project of constructing and maintaining gender identities elicits an array of anxious responses throughout culture, producing another impetus to teratogenesis[1]. The woman who oversteps the boundaries of her gender roles risks becoming a Scylla, Weird Sister, Lilith (“die erste Eva,” “la mère obscure”) […]. “Deviant” sexual identity is similarly susceptible to monsterization. (Cohen: 9)

A woman resisting “patriarchal sexual norms“, a bad girl (Tyson 89), is in literature often punished or excluded by society. Men “sleep with ‚bad girls‘, but they don’t marry them“ (ibid.). If a woman “does not accept her patriarchal gender role, then the only role left her is that of a monster“ (ibid 89). Sjoberg / Gentry argue that a violently acting woman who does not correspond to her expected role is frequently „described […] as less than woman and as less than human“ (10). She is either characterized as a mother, who needs to act violently in order to nurture and care, a monster, who is “pathologically damaged”, and therefore no longer identifiable as a woman or a whore, whose “violent […] sexuality” is described “as both extreme and brutal” (ibid. 12, 13). In othering violent women to mothers, monsters or whores, they are not perceived as woman as such any longer, but “singular mistakes and freak accidents” and therefore “our image of real women as peaceful remains intact” (ibid. 13).

Baroots argues, that demonising women does on the one hand serve as a penalization for “free-acting and free-thinking women” (187 - 188), but at the same time the demonisation allows women to break with social and sexual conventions (ibid). Whereas women are confined to the restraints of society, monsters are able to “transcend gender stereotypes and roles” (ibid. 189), as a “she-devil is not confined to the idealized passive role of womanhood; as an unwoman, she is free to enter and succeed in the world of male powerbrokers” (ibid. 196). Monstrous women, being outside the gender system, can display a “monstrous sexuality” (ibid. 192). For being transgressive, “too sexual [and] perversely erotic” the monster “must be exiled or destroyed” (Cohen 16).

However, the female monster is also an object of desire. “This simultaneous repulsion and attraction at the core of the monster’s composition accounts greatly for its continued cultural popularity […]. We distrust and loathe the monster at the same time we envy its freedom, and perhaps its sublime despair” (ibid. 17).

Brzozowska-Brywczyńska draws a parallel between the concepts of monstrosity and cuteness. She identifies on the on hand the pure-type monster, a distorted representation of women who do not conform to their society’s aesthetic criteria and thus show “where [the monster] lies”. In the same way as the pure-type monster, she argues that the cute, which she defines as having “innocent, sweet looks and behavior, but also […] self-conscious[ness], and even sex-appeal” is predictable (ibid 213, 214). When blending the monstrous and the cute, for example by taking infantile or seemingly innocent features and aesthetics and combining them with monstrous actions, the monster becomes unpredictable, “sweetness becomes a mock and a pitiful or ironic alter-ego of itself” (ibid. 216).

Despite being restricted to the margins of society, female monsters “maintain a connection, an interaction […] with that society. They are its frame of reference” (Barroots 191). In their role as ‘Other’, they create a binary opposition to the humans and are defined in contrast to them (cf. ibid). Russ argues that images of women created in literature, whether presented as good or bad girls are not depicting an individual woman, but rather the social role attributed to them: “they are gorgeous, Cloud-Cuckooland fantasies about what men want, or hate, or fear” and therefore “only exists in relation to the protagonist (who is male)” (Russ: 81). Miess argues that by being constructed stereotypically as an “object of abjection and desire” (2007: 239), woman always remain passive to a certain degree, despite being a ‘sexual predator’. Female monsters remain constructs of males (cf. ibid.): “Monster gelten gemeinhin [...] entweder als männlich oder aber als männliche Angst- und Wunschfantasien, in beiden Fällen stehen sie zuerst für eine männliche Subjektivität” (Miess 2010: 16).

3. The depiction of women and love in Cradle of Filth’s Nymphetamine Fix

Nymphetamine is both the titel of the 6th Cradle of Filth album, published in 2004 by Roadrunner Records, as well as the title of a song published on it. The word Nymphetamine is a blending (cf. Schmid 224 – 225) of the words nymph (in Greek mythology: “minor female spirits who were supposed to inhabit various places in the natural world”, who were beautiful women “liv[ing] a few thousand years and thus were supposed to have certain oracular powers” (Daly / Rengel 102)) or the from nymph derived word Nymphomania, a historically used medical term “used to describe what society perceived as excessive female sexual desire” and amphetamine (Cavendish 577). As Roadrunner Records, the former label of Cradle of Filth, described the title of the album:

[…] sex and drugs combine to describe an unhealthy, beast-like addiction to the classical fairer gender or one female ideal in particular. A dark Goddess figure. If women have a sexual, venusian substance, then this relates to the abuse of that substance in vast and unhealthy amounts. (Roudrunner Records 2011)

3.1. Close reading and interpretation of the lyrics

The title track concerns itself with a love affair so intense, that although soured and dead, it ignites at the slightest sniff of re-invention. The cool thing about this song is that it is really a beast of several parts: a chimera. The main hub of the song is very lovelorn and drowsily melodic and it is these traits combined with shared female and male vocal passages that serve to highlight the plight of this, the title track of the album. However, this is offset against the first and last parts of the song, forming a darkly erotic triptych (Roadrunner Records 2011).

The lyrics are structured as a dialogue between a male and female speaker, who are both explicitly manifest through the personal pronouns I and you, but remain unnamed. The dialogical character of the lyrics is not marked within the text itself and only becomes apparent through the performance, in which male and female voices alternate. Time and place are vaguely defined as being at a “river” (01), inside a “forest” (39) and in “September” (05). The setting is located in nature, which serves as a reflection of their relationship. The first stanza can be interpreted as the termination of a relationship between the speakers, which is dramatized through the imagery, comparing it to the ending of life or the world. The words “Midsummer” (02), “red September” (05) and the “river” (01) might symbolize the rapid passing of time. “I waved” (02) and “to the grave” (04) underline the ending of the relationship. “To the grave” (04) also foreshadows the suicide of the male speaker which is implied in stanza 2. Fire-paved skies (06) can have various connotations: on the one hand it might symbolize an end-time scenery referring to the biblical apocalypse, on the other hand it could be read as a symbol for longing for something that is out of the speakers range, in this case the “nymphetamine girl” (35, 36). The colours red and black used to describe the setting (“red September” (05), “fire” (06), “black swans” (03)) could symbolize the dichotomies lust / passion versus death / despair, which are among the major themes in the text and reoccur later more explicitly.

The male speaker describes his loss as painful: “Untold was the pain” (10). Despite the reference to Greek mythology (“nymph[…]”), a number of Christian symbols are used in order to describe their relationship. For instance, the male speaker has “faith” (15) in her and is crucified by her “dark nails” (15) which can in conjunction with the phrase “I swore to the razor” (13) be interpreted as him being driven to commit suicide, because she left him. His death can be either seen on the literal level or metaphorically, insofar that the speaker decided not to feel anything for her anymore. Her seductive power however is even stronger than death, reviving the speaker against his will. She lies “Bared on [his] tomb” (17) and summons him to come back, reminding him of their past: “And would you ever soon (19) Come above unto me?“ (20). Again this can be read literally or metaphorically. In the latter interpretation, she tries to invoke feelings in him again. She however does not directly show any emotions or sadness about his death. The third stanza encompasses sexual symbolism, being specifically visible in the last line: ”I could always find the right slot for your sacred key” (24); sexual symbols also occur in other stanzas, like in the lines “Fold to my arms, hold their mesmeric sway” (45, 46).

The man is unable to escape her, his love imprisons him “my heart, that bar-less prison” (26) and he is hurt: “six feet deep is my incision” (25). The woman exercises power over the man: She is able to make his colours fade (“discolours all with tunnel vision” (27)) and the sun set (“sunsetter” (28)). In the chorus he repeatedly calls her “nymphetamine girl” (35, 36), as is the title of the song, stressing his “vampiric addiction” (31) to her, through the implicit reference to amphetamine. This implies that rather than the feeling of romantic love, he is dependend on her against his own will. Love is equated with a “condition” (30).


[1] Teratogenesis: study of congenital abnormalities (cf. Bitton 224).

Ende der Leseprobe aus 30 Seiten


The Depiction of Women as Monsters and Love as a Dependency in Cradle of Filth's works
Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg  (Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik)
Hauptseminar British Heavy Metal: Performance and Theatricality
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
759 KB
gender studies, monstrous women, depiction of women, heavy metal, song lyric analysis, popular culture, Cradle of Filth, close reading, gender roles
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Anna Jenatschke (Autor:in), 2016, The Depiction of Women as Monsters and Love as a Dependency in Cradle of Filth's works, München, GRIN Verlag,


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