The Role of Women in Gothic Novels - 'The Castle of Otranto' by Horace Walpole, 'The Italian' by Ann Radcliffe, 'Melmoth the Wanderer' by Charles Robert Maturin

Term Paper, 2005

20 Pages, Grade: 2.0


1. Table of Contents

2. Introduction

3. What is “Gothic”?

4. Three authors – three novels
a) Horace Walpole
b) Ann Radcliffe
c) Charles Robert Maturin

5. The Role of Women in the Gothic Novel
5.1 Women in “The Castle of Otranto”
5.2 Women in “The Italian”
5.3 Women in “Melmoth the Wanderer”

6. Conclusion

7. Bibliographical references

2. Introduction

There are more than 50 years between “The Castle of Otranto” and “Melmoth the Wanderer”. “The Castle of Otranto” was published 1764, “The Italian” 1797 and “Melmoth the Wanderer” 1820. It might be interesting that “The Castle of Otranto” was published in year of birth of Ann Radcliffe and “The Italian” has been published in the year Horace Walpole died. An incident of course, but an interesting one.

“The Castle of Otranto” is set in the time between 1095 and 1243, “The Italian” is set in the 18th century and “Melmoth the Wanderer” covers an period of time from the late 17th century to the early 19th century.

In the following work will find out especially about the women in the three mentioned novels. In which way are they presented, is there a stereotype of a gothic heroine and are there changes throughout the time referring to the date of publishing and writing?

The first point will be a short definition of the term “Gothic” according to literature.

The second point will be an introduction of the three authors. For a better understanding of their work and the possible differences a look at their biography is absolutely necessary for me. In order of publishing I will introduce Horace Walpole (“The Castle of Otranto”), Ann Radcliffe (“The Italian”) and Charles Robert Maturin (“Melmoth the Wanderer”). Additional to some biographical dates I will give some information about their work and their style of writing.

After introducing the authors I will concentrate on the novels and how women are described and presented. Which role do they play in the three novels? Is there something special about each woman in the texts? Here I will concentrate on some characteristics which are typical for gothic novels and not so much on the social conventions or expectations women are faced with at the appropriate times.

The last point of my work will be a little conclusion.

Because of the wide range of this theme I don’t claim to the completeness of my research.

3. What is „Gothic“?

Today, Gothic has come to mean quite a number of things. Originally, Gothic refers to the Goths, a Germanic tribe, which fought numerous battles against the Roman Empire.

But it could mean a certain kind of art – be it in the form of novels, paintings or architecture. Referring to architecture Gothic describes buildings from the Middle Ages.

The Gothic styled buildings are considered to be barbaric and not as classical as buildings at this time should be. The connection to the Gothic Novel is fairly simple. Mostly all of these novels take place in a kind of gothic styled architecture: in castles, mansions and, of course, abbeys.

The Gothic Novel emerged in the 18th century (Miles, p.1). It has its initial phase from 1750 to 1820. A period witnessing significant developments in the formation of the modern self. The Gothic Novel therefore represents at its beginnings a form of Romantic literature. But the terms “gothic” and “romance” do not lead themselves to consistent application. In its earliest version, Horace Walpole’s “The Castle of Otranto” (1764), gothic was synonymous with supernatural horror; but, almost immediately, in the works of Ann Radcliffe and other authors of her time, the gothic took a more sentimental and romantic character (Mussell, p.XVI).

All gothic stories arouse fear and suspense in their readers, they had a great influence on fiction since the time of 1750, and they were of much importance in the evolution of the later known ghost and horror stories. Most of these stories are tales of mystery and horror with certain, recurring elements like something supernatural, wild and desolate landscapes, dark forests, ruined abbeys, feudal halls, medieval castles and secret passages (Dictionary of Literary Terms and Theory, p. 355f). These elements are still typical for horror stories or movies published today. But it is not just the obvious terror and horror that chill the spine and curdle the blood of the audience, more and more it is the imagination and the inner thoughts of the protagonists.

4. Three authors - three novels

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

In 1749 he bought an old villa called “Strawberry Hill” and began to remodel it in the gothic manner. It was the passion of his life beside writing. Eight years later, 1757, he installed a private printing press at Strawberry Hill and published his books there until 1789. It is said that it was the special atmosphere at Strawberry Hill and a horrible nightmare had led to the writing of “The Castle of Otranto”. In the introduction/preface to the first edition Walpole explained his nightmare to the reader:

“I waked one morning in the beginning of last June from a dream, of which I could recover was, that I had thought myself in an ancient castle (a very natural dream for a head filled like mine with Gothic story) and that on the uppermost banister of a great staircase I saw a gigantic hand in armour. In the evening I sat down and began to write, without knowing in the least what I intended to say or relate. The work grew on my hands, and I grew fond of it – add that I was very glad to think of anything rather than politics – in short I was engrossed in my tale, which I completed in less than two months, that one evening from the time I had drunk my tea, about six o’clock, till half an hour after one in the morning, when my hand and fingers were so weary, that I could not hold the pen to finish the sentence, but left Matilda and Isabella talking, in the middle of the paragraph.” (Walpole, p. VII)

With writing and publishing “The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story” he introduced and named the new genre in 1764. Since then, the crumbling castle and frightened Isabella fleeing through a long subterranean passage has almost become the trade mark of following horror stories or even movies. “The Castle of Otranto” remains his favourite work among his other works like “Catalogue of Royal and Noble Authors of England” (1758), “Mysterious Mother” (1768) or “Anecdotes of Painting in England” ( four volumes, 1762-71). Walpole’s new and modern kind of gothic fiction has great influence of following generations of writers, e.g. Matthew Lewis “The Monk” (1796), Ann Radcliffe “The Mysteries of Udolpho”, “The Italian” (1764) and Mary Shelley “Frankenstein”.


Excerpt out of 20 pages


The Role of Women in Gothic Novels - 'The Castle of Otranto' by Horace Walpole, 'The Italian' by Ann Radcliffe, 'Melmoth the Wanderer' by Charles Robert Maturin
University of Osnabrück
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Role, Women, Gothic, Novels, Castle, Otranto, Horace, Walpole, Italian, Radcliffe, Melmoth, Wanderer, Charles, Robert, Maturin
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Magistra Artium Antje Kahle (Author), 2005, The Role of Women in Gothic Novels - 'The Castle of Otranto' by Horace Walpole, 'The Italian' by Ann Radcliffe, 'Melmoth the Wanderer' by Charles Robert Maturin, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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