Females Depicted in Gothic Fiction

A Comparison between Charlotte Brontë’s "Jane Eyre" and Stephen King’s "Christine"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2018

16 Pages, Grade: 10,0




1. Introduction

2. Women in Gothic Fiction

3. Jane Eyre
3.1 Women in the Victorian Era
3.2 Text Analysis – Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre

4. Christine
4.1 Women in the U.S. during the 1980’s
4.2 Text Analysis – Stephen King’s Christine

5. Conclusion

6. List of References

1. Introduction

“’She would never argue or complain.’, Arnie thought. ‘She would never demand. You could enter her anytime and… rest in her warmth. She would never deny… She loved him.”

King 1983: 181

The “she” Stephen King describes in his novel “Christine” may sound like a devoted woman that is deeply in love and one could assume he writes about the love-story of Arnie and Christine. Indeed, he does so but Christine is not a woman, she is a car. A ’58 Plymouth to be precise, and she is not an affectionate lover, she is a demonic vehicle that seduces and possesses its owner, alienating him from everyone else in his life so that she has no one as competition. Being assigned to the subgenre Gothic Fiction the novel depicts a marvelous feminized car as female protagonist. Keeping this classification in mind, one must question the statement in the article “Sex Role Characterization of Women in ‘Modern’ Gothic” which says that women in Modern Gothic Fiction are portrayed less stereotypical than in other genres, by means they succeed in the role of the heroine instead of being rescued and show less evil or prosy character traits (Ruggiero, Weston 1977: 294). To debate whether this quote is applicable or not, one must consider the depiction of women in Gothic Fiction in general and further include that it is a rather disregarded subgenre. As a matter of fact, there is a lack of analyses of the genre, still one can already spot a development concerning female characters in the novels, and to delineate this evolution I will conduct a thorough text analysis on Stephen King’s “Christine” and Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre”. Being both tremendously famous and having firmly rooted their works in every bookshop’s shelves, one could tend to oversee the connection between both authors. In fact, it may seem questionable to analyze the depiction of women in two novels, both classified as completely different genres from different time spans – “Jane Eyre” as the so-called “Bildungsroman” (Gymnich 2007: 34) in England 1847 in contrast to “Christine” published in the U.S. 1983. Yet there are communalities concerning their writing elements that both utilize. They have overlaps with the Gothic genre, using Gothic Fiction elements in their novels and in consequence, offer a great opportunity to become objects of investigations for this term paper.

Initially, I will give a brief overview on the subject matter of females being depicted in Gothic fiction. Then “Jane Eyre” will be put into context by shortly elaborating the women’s role in the Victorian Age to consider the historical and socio-economic aspects of the novel. Afterwards, I will conduct the text analysis and in the second main part I will work with the same structure on “Christine”. In the end, I intend to prove in the conclusion that it is clear as bell how the two authors’ depiction of women differ although they both write Gothic novels.

2. Women in Gothic Fiction

Although there are several elements that constantly reappear in Gothic Fiction such as claustrophobic locations, atmospheric weather and supernaturality, it is said to be a revolving writing section, permanently developing and refining itself (cf. McEvoy 2007: 7). Not only the genre evolved all along but also the portrayed women underwent a change of depiction. In the late eighteenth century females used to be suppressed, domestic damsels in distress (cf. Warwick 2007: 30). On the other hand, according to Alison Milbank, heroines in Gothic Fiction unfailingly succeed in overcoming the patriarchal or institutional structures that try to control them (cf. Milbank 2007: 155), but still at the beginning of the twentieth century it seemed as if Gothic literature was about to extinct since “it became fashionable to reject Gothic along with other nineteenth-century baggage” (Spooner 2007: 39). Particularly the pattern of old mansions and weak women appeared deprecated and old-fashioned (cf. Spooner 2007: 39). Ruggiero and Weston describe Gothic Fiction plots as preservative stories in which the female protagonist is a young girl or women, usually between 19 and 30 years, that is intelligent yet of lower class (cf. Ruggiero, Weston 1977: 281). Additionally, she antagonizes the evil and due to her high moral standards, she gets a happy end with the mysterious higher born master that she had fallen in love with even though she is not of great beauty (cf. ibid).

Since the subgenre regained attention during the same time the second wave feminism took place, it occurred that Gothic heroines were utilized to defy patriarchal structures (cf. Milbank 2007: 155). As a matter of fact, Ruggiero and Weston claim that Gothic novels were especially popular due to the rise of sexual consciousness, thus the challenging of gender roles and rising feminism (cf. Ruggiero, Weston 1977: 279). Besides being highly class conscious, heroines in Gothic Fiction used to break out from the standardized depictions and appeared to be rewarded for doing so and eventually working as positive role models since Ruggiero and Weston “suggest that what women readers may internalize from these novels is the idea that one may pursue personal and career goals in addition to being married and raising a family” (Ruggiero, Weston 1977: 297). On the other hand, minor female characters were depicted in a far more negative way since they appeared to be less tolerant and manipulative, resulting from being tremendously materialistic and seeking marriage and going to any lengths for it if necessary (cf. Ruggiero, Weston 1977: 296). Indeed, during the twentieth century in numerous cases the standardized Gothic heroine was replaced by the so called “femme fatale” and by women that lose their innocence (cf. Spooner 2007: 40).

Eventually it should be emphasized that authors of Gothic Fiction succeeded in reviving the depiction of women by not only developing the standardized portrayal of the maiden in distress, but also creating numerous possibilities of female characters. Although the stereotypical Gothic heroine that is trapped under claustrophobic circumstances is still present, it may happen that she turns out to be a feminist independent character, saving herself and overcoming the evil forces. On the other hand, there are also loads of negative depictions such as the femme fatales, being manipulative and nasty, thus depicting the counterparts of the classic Gothic heroine. To sum it up one could say that Gothic Fiction offers a wide range of female depictions, substantiated by the fact that women may as well be domestic governesses that need to be rescued, modern and self-reliant characters, disgraced young women or even the embodiment of evil.

3. Jane Eyre

3.1 Women in the Victorian Era

During the reign of Queen Victoria between 1837 and 1901 especially females were restricted by rigid social norms, that were accepted and presupposed by society. I will focus on women of the middle- and upper class since the protagonist in the analyzed novel is also a middle-class governess. Firstly, women were not supposed to be well-educated, thus it was considered non-natural for them to have intellectual aspirations (cf. Ambrose 2016: 27). As Monsieur Paul in Villette claims: “A woman of intellect is a luckless accident, a thing for which there was neither place nor use in creation, wanted neither as wife or worker” (Brontë 1853: 16). Women were expected to be of low intelligence, uneducated and solely occupied with activities that fit into the restricted gender role of the caring mother and wife, unified in the ideal conception of the “angel in the house” (cf. Gymnich 2007: 14). The domestic sphere and marriage were considered safe (cf. Warwick 2007: 30) and therefore females were not supposed to work but to marry. The only professions that were regarded suitable for them were governesses and teachers (cf. Gymnich 2007: 14). The restrictive behavior patterns did not only forbid women to take part in the public sphere, but they also had to be submissive, withdrawn, convenient to the stereotyped gender role and were considered either daughters, wives or mothers, thus always linked and subordinated to a man (cf. Nowak 2010: 293). In consequence, being unwed or independent was regarded unconventional and irreproducible (cf. 2010: 292). In terms of sexuality, passion or impulsivity was unfeminine, disowned and even in some cases used as prove for mental illnesses (cf. Kestner 2011), since Victorian scientists accused women of being more likely to become mad (cf. Gymnich 2007: 73). In general, females were not expected to have sexual desires and if so, they were accused of being morally depraved (cf. ibid.).

3.2 Text Analysis – Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre

Firstly, to conduct the following text analysis correctly and in detail, one should draw attention to the fact that “Jane Eyre” was published in 1847 during the Victorian Period in the United Kingdom under the pseudonym Ellis Bell. Furthermore, this term paper will solely focus on some chosen aspects mainly referring to the protagonist Jane.

Jane is introduced as an orphaned girl that is constantly suppressed and disowned by her remaining family members but does not allow them to break her will, refusing to fit into the presupposed behavior pattern for example by refusing to call her cousin “master” (cf. Gymnich 2007: 77). Brontë describes Jane as passionate and uncontrolled, resulting in her aunt repeatedly calling her “madwoman” or “beast” (cf. 2007: 70) and eventually locking her up as punishment (cf. 2007: 21). Her aunt Mrs. Reed depicts the classic evil stepmother, loves her son over the top, is full of hatred without reason and later exposed as liar, remorseless of her mean-spirited behavior against Jane even on her deathbed (cf. 2007: 75).

After having finished school Jane remains there until Brontë once again emphasizes her protagonist’s extraordinariness by depicting her as an independent woman that intends not only to work for her living but also to widen her horizon while doing so (cf. Ambrose 2016: 29). Furthermore, Brontë illustrates a highly inappropriate relationship since according to the Victorian class system, Jane as a governess is forbidden to have romantic interests for her housemaster (cf. Gymnich 2007: 45) and even though she is described as an average governess, her master Rochester treats her special from the first meeting on (cf. 2007: 23). Throughout the novel it is obvious that Jane does not fit into the gender role of the Victorian Age since she is tremendously passionate and straight-forward concerning her emotions (cf. Gymnich 2007: 24) and by doing so rebels against both the gender role of women and the class distinction (cf. 2007: 51). Not only does she save her master twice (cf. 2007: 50), she is also the one in control as it is her decision to return and marry Rochester (cf. 2007: 52). Brontë’s protagonist criticizes the class difference by falling in love with her housemaster and being highly class-conscious and treating her servants friendly, and eventually overcomes the class gap due to her inheritance (cf. Brontë 2007: 90).


Excerpt out of 16 pages


Females Depicted in Gothic Fiction
A Comparison between Charlotte Brontë’s "Jane Eyre" and Stephen King’s "Christine"
Justus-Liebig-University Giessen
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
females, king’s, stephen, eyre, jane, brontë’s, charlotte, comparison, fiction, gothic, depicted, christine
Quote paper
Talia Baskaya (Author), 2018, Females Depicted in Gothic Fiction, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/513413


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