The real head of the family … low-voiced, incisive and subtle, smiles are rare…ruined beauty … contemptuous and original and with fierce family loyalty … even in disposition, muted, witty, sometimes deadly … given to low-keyed rhapsodies about her garden of deadly nightshade, henbane and dwarf’s hair ..
Morticia Addams is the quintessential matriarch of macabre. A human embodiment of the Gothic, Morticia leads the haunting Addam’s family mansion, a home and museum, which is inhabited by petrifying creatures and artwork, alive and dead. She casts freedom and curiousity to her two kooky children, who dabble with sharp objects, experiment with poisons and raise their array of wild and ferocious pets.
With glowing paper doll skin, complimented by deep ruby lips, dark raven locks, dead straight, and pointed ghostly features, Morticia is instantly recognisable in any artistic depiction and a popular choice for Halloween attire.
Morticia Addams has had many incarnations; she began as a nameless figure in the original New Yorker cartoons (1938) and gained her “spooky and mysterious” name in response to the 1964 series starring Carolyn Jones. Among various adaptations, animated and live action, the iconic “Morticias” are Carolyn Jones and Anjelica Huston, and both play the character differently yet somehow, perfectly.
Morticia Addams is aloof yet welcoming, she is delicate in frame yet strong in persona, she lives yet she haunts. These qualities are strong in both actresses’ performances. Huston is more frightening and, arguably, more true to the original cartoon while Jones is more level headed, rational and silently deadly.
Although the Addams Family cartoon were initially created as a satirical inversion of the American dream, Morticia Addams is also an inverted blend of the 19th century perception of beauty and the expectation of the 20th century woman. The cultural contrast between these two centuries is sharp which allowed the aristocratic Addams Family to stand out and clash with modern society which in turn, demonstrates a new spin on the Gothic element of clashing and transitioning time periods.
The Make Up
Morticia’s iconic complexion holds onto the 19th century obsession with beauty and death. In one sense, the white of the skin, the black of the hair and red of the lip relate to Humourism: the balance of “perfect” health and beauty in all periods of life, including the decline to death. Morticia silently emulates American developments in make-up and fashion, opting for traditional and natural make-up and recipes of myth. On one occasion her daughter Wednesday states she uses baking powder on her face – possibly to illuminate and treat her pale skin to avoid blemishes.
Morticia’s interest in “deadly nightshade” a toxic plant containing belladonna, suggests a nod to historic desire and ways to achieve beauty as the plant was used to dilute the eyes to appear more attractive. A major theme within the Addams Family was the lustrous relationship and dynamic of Morticia and Gomez, with Morticia being able to catch Gomez’s attention by speaking French, the language of love and beauty.
The Hobble Skirt
Since the cartoon’s incarnation in 1938, Morticia has always worn a slim fitted black hobble dress. Hobble skirts were a short lived trend, originating in the early 1900s and disappearing by the time of the Great War. Hobble skirts restricted the movement and speed of a woman, an aspect which is exaggerated by Carolyn Jones’ Morticia within the original TV series. While the style of dress was seen as restrictive and in a sense, suppressive, Morticia inverts this stereotype as well rivalling the modern day speed of living. She is never rushed, she handles situations with calmness and freedom, everyone waits for her.
The Green witch
Morticia Addams is claimed to have witchy origins. Her ancestry leads back to the Salem, her daughter Wednesday is obsessed with her great aunt who was burned at the stake in 1706 and her mother is almost always seen cooking with a cauldron…
All adaptations of the Addams Family carry supernatural themes but are rarely discussed onscreen. A prominent witchy theme is Morticia’s love and excellence in gardening; she adores dead heading roses (she keeps the thorny stems) and cares dearly for her medicinal plants. In the first few minutes of the 1968 series Morticia enquires about her hemlock and boasts about her wonderful poisonous oak.