The presentation of female identity is essential to Gothic literature. Presenting women in a particular light can often have a profound effect upon a text, completely altering a reader’s interpretation. In the narrative poetry of John Keats, Angela Carter’s ‘The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories’ and Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’, women are presented as objects of desire, maternal figures, supernatural beings and are often defined by their biological roles. But it is the transition between these typecasts that is particularly interesting. By allowing female characters to break free of stereotypical constraints the writer is able to create obscurity and suspense within a plot.
There are two main female roles within Gothic literature; the ‘predator’ and the ‘victim’. The first is dangerous yet powerfully attractive; she helps portray the pain/pleasure paradox that has come to be synonymous with Gothic literature. The latter is fragile and vulnerable, she gives the heroes something to rescue, and is often the prize for their brave endeavours.
Occasionally, however, Gothic writers seem to blur the lines between these stereotypical characters in order to add depth, uncertainty and suspense. This is particularly clear in Angela Carter’s ‘The Snow Child’ in which we would expect the jealous Countess to be the predator and the child to be the victim. The view presented to us of the Snow Child and the Countess, however, lies within the reader’s interpretation of the story. It depends on where our sympathies lie as to whether we see the Countess as the victim as her husband replaces her with a ‘newer model’, or we see the girl as the victim, created as both an object of the Count’s lust and the Countess’s hatred.