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Gothic Tropes in NBC’s Hannibal: Abigail Hobbs, The Not-So-Innocent Heroine

SPOILER ALERT: Before you read this, please be advised that there may be spoilers for Hannibal. If you are just starting the series and don’t want to know what’s going to happen, then stop here. If you’ve already watched it or if you love spoilers like I do, then go ahead and read.

Abigail Hobbs Hannibal
Abigail Hobbs: innocent or not-so-innocent heroine? Image from NBC’s Hannibal. Image via

I’ll admit that I didn’t jump on the NBC Hannibal bandwagon right away, mostly because I was too wrapped up in the end of season one of CBS’s Elementary to really pay attention to it. It looked like a very good series, and I knew a lot of people who were sucked in from the very beginning and had nothing but good things to say about it. So I finally broke down and watched it, and I, too, was completely bowled over by how brilliantly the showrunners used all aspects of media, from the visuals to the actors to the actual story itself, to create a compelling series. But what I adored most about it was the incorporation of many tropes and elements from Gothic literature into the story. My little English lit-loving heart skipped a few beats, and I had to reach for my smelling salts to regain my equilibrium.

One of the most noticeable elements of Gothic literature is the innocent heroine, particularly with the portrayal of young Abigail Hobbs. Robert Harris defines two aspects of the innocent heroine trope:

Women in distress. As an appeal to the pathos and sympathy of the reader, the female characters often face events that leave them fainting, terrified, screaming, and/or sobbing. A lonely, pensive, and oppressed heroine is often the central figure of the novel, so her sufferings are even more pronounced and the focus of attention. The women suffer all the more because they are often abandoned, left alone (either on purpose or by accident), and have no protector at times.

Women threatened by a powerful, impulsive, tyrannical male. One or more male characters has the power, as king, lord of the manor, father, or guardian, to demand that one or more of the female characters do something intolerable. The woman may be commanded to marry someone she does not love (it may even be the powerful male himself), or commit a crime.

Abigail Hobbs’s character fits both aspects of the innocent heroine. Abigail is left alone to deal with the effects of the actions of the adults around her: her father, a serial killer, killed her mother and attempted to kill her when it became apparent that he was going to be discovered, only to be shot to death by Will Graham before mortally injuring her. She is portrayed as a sympathetic character, yet it’s clear that there’s more to her than what appears on the surface. The deaths of her parents and the notoriety of her father’s crimes don’t make her situation any better, as it’s suspected that she may have been an accessory, and this further isolates her, making her the “lonely, pensive, and oppressed heroine.” She is haunted by her guilt, her shame, and her remorse regarding what she did and what her father did. Abigail does have protectors, particularly in the personages of Will Graham, who feels a sense of obligation toward her after what he has done though he is not necessarily stable enough to look out for her, and Dr. Alana Bloom, who sees Abigail much as the viewers see her. Her relationship with Dr. Hannibal Lecter, though he starts out as a protector, is much more sinister after their pact of silence concerning the death of Nicholas Boyle. Abigail doesn’t necessarily discover this until it’s too late, but the viewers already know about what kind of person Hannibal is, and they have no choice but to watch things play out.

This leads to the second aspect of the innocent heroine, the “[woman] threatened by a powerful, impulsive, tyrannical male,” personified first not by Hannibal Lecter, but by Abigail’s father, Garrett Jacob Hobbs. Abigail, either out of an urge to play the role of a dutiful daughter seeking her father’s approval or out of her father’s coercion, assisted in the procurement of victims and, perhaps, in other aspects of the crimes themselves. After her father’s death, it is Hannibal Lecter who fulfills this role as it is he who assists with the concealment of Nicholas Boyle, whom Abigail kills in self-defense. His vow of silence and the doctor-patient dynamic between Abigail and himself only serve to give him more power over her; it gives Abigail a false sense of security, which ultimately proves to be her undoing – or is it?

In the coming weeks, I’ll be examining more tropes of Gothic literature and how they manifest in season one of Hannibal. Nothing like some good analysis to make the wait for the second season seem longer than it is, right?

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