Child-like Fantasy or Poetic Writing?

At the turn of the century, a time when emotions are high and panics are often, many people used different outlets to express their true feelings and make claims about the changing times and shifting attitudes. Writing transformed into a vehicle to not only transfer thoughts and feelings to its readers, but also as a way to uncover the developing themes of the Fin De Siècle – like personal freedom to express sexuality.

John Addington Symonds utilizes this technique through his poems to express sexual desire that has not yet been wholly publicly acknowledged. Symonds, in his poem “From Friend to Friend”, rhythmically addresses a friend in which he shares a very close, almost intimate relationship with – making us wonder if Symonds was subtly revealing a romantic lover with a particular friend.

Symonds writes “Dear Friend, I know not if such aching nights / Of sweet strange comradeship as we have spent” (Lines 1-2), revealing the relationship between the writer and the reader, as well as their shared – and potentially romantic – camaraderie.

Symonds goes on further in the octave of his sonnet, stating “of heart with heart on hope sublime intent / Or if the tide of turbulent appetites” (Lines 7-8), suggesting two hearts sharing the same feelings of a raging and unstable romance that is forming, despite the times where love like this is very secretive and not yet fully accepted.

During the Fin De Siècle, many main themes of the previous century were facing upfront confrontation by many components of society, challenging the “persistent residues of the past “ (Ledger, Luckhurst xvii). Among those themes was “questions of contemporary identity […] sexually identity, or conceptions of subjectivity itself” (Ledger, Luckhurst xvii). In the midst of the introduction of the New Women and the feminist movement came the “image of sexual freedom” (xvii) that allowed many people, much like Symonds, to express their personal sexual preferences more openly, yet still in a subtle manner as the idea slowly integrates itself into society.

However, because the idea of sexuality that was beyond the bounds of traditional, heterosexual, monogamous love was very new and fairly challenged by critics of the past century, Symonds, and other writers like him, created these fantasies that embody the feelings of the writer in a hidden format, revealing their sexual desires in a less straightforward manner.

Freud talks about this idea of “fantasy” (Freud 145) in his piece “Writers and Daydreaming”, where he concludes that “phantasies […] are [his] most intimate possessions” (145) where adults can express their true emotions in ways much similar to the way children create make-believe games in order to promote and act upon their own desires.

Symonds expresses his own fantasy through his poetic writing, bringing to light his desire to openly express his sexual craving in society. He states in the sestet that “neither chance or change nor time nor aught / That makes the future of our lives less fair” (Lines 11-12), placing emphasis on the fact that despite the way this particular sexuality is looked at currently, he will still seek to honestly express this lust for the friend which he is addressing.

Symonds fantasizes about a world in which he can express outwardly his sexual preferences without criticism, much like what Freud points in his analysis of day-dreaming and fantasy creation. Symonds returns to his childish roots to create a similar fantasy that allows him the freedom to fully portray his sexuality.

Dorian Gray: A Man of Two Faces

Dorian Gray is presented in the beginning of the novel as “a young man of extraordinary personal beauty” (Wilde 5) with a “charming personality” (Wilde 11) to match. Wilde even goes so far as to compare his figure to the “Greek Gods”. Basil Hallward, the artist who painted the portrait of this majestic figure, captured the pure physical and emotional beauty of Dorian Gray.

This recognition of beauty does not last long, as Dorian learns from Lord Henry that his beauty is fleeting and that he only “has a few years in which to live really, perfectly, and fully […] when your youth goes, your beauty will go with it” (Wilde 24). Dorian becomes extremely hostile of this fact, going so far as to curse the portrait – causing it to reflect his transformation from youth to old age, and from beauty to inelegance.

Meanwhile, Dorian is in the midst of falling in love with a young female actor, Sibyl Vane, while watching her extravagant performances where she illustrates the characters of Desdemona, Juliet, and the likes. Although he is internal worried about becoming less beautiful and youthful, he lets himself love this young lady freely.

A short few chapters later, and this portrayal of Dorian Gray is sharply contrasted with a new character with much less consideration for the emotion’s of others, and with less physical elegance and youthfulness than what was described throughout the first few chapters.

Dorian not only renounces his love of Sibyl and breaks their engagement after seeing her fail to perform to her full ability, but Dorian also becomes a disgraced member of the London society. Basil returns to talk to Dorian years later and makes him aware of the “most dreadful things being said against you [Dorian] in London” (Wilde 143) in response to Dorian’s disregard for appropriate social relationships.

Dorian undergoes what seems to be a complete transformation – or maybe it is that he himself embodies two separate types of people within himself. This phenomenon is discussed as a major theme of the Fin De Siècle when the modern psychiatric diagnosis of “multiple personality disorder” or “double consciousness” (Ledger and Luckhurst xix) was first coined during the turn of the century.

Dorian presents all of the symptoms of this Freudian term, such as “hysteria and alternating personalities” (Ledger and Luckhurst xix), throughout the novel as his character develops. He becomes hysteric over Lord Henry’s evaluation of Dorian’s fleeting beauty, and even more so as he visibly witnesses his portrait change as time goes on with age, stress and fatigue. He also presents two conflicting personalities to two main characters in the novel, Sibyl and Basil, as he goes from extreme devotion and care towards them in the beginning of the novel, to animosity and distrust of the two characters in the later chapters.

The portrait that was created of him in the past seems to represent his true self as he changes with age, while Dorian puts on a façade of togetherness and youth that falsely represents his true self. This disparity eats away at his character, which is what causes him to become such a dishonor in London, despite his “pure, bright, innocent face, and his marvelous untroubled youth” (Wilde 143).

Dorian figuratively and literally presents two distinctly different “faces”; one that is reflected in the changing portrait that he cursed shortly after its creation, and one that is conveyed to people in society.

Dracula: A Symbol of Capitalist Fear

Count Dracula is presented in Dracula as a foreboding, aristocratic character whose main goal is to feed off of the human characters, such as Lucy and Mina, and gain an unquenchable desire for strength – both over the characters as they become dependent on him, and strength from the blood he takes from them. Franco Moretti talks to this point, describing Dracula as “a metaphor for capital” (433) who “sets out on the irreversible road of concentration and monopoly” (433). Dracula’s character represents a motif for capitalism, and the struggle to maintain authority over other capitalist societies.

This battle was a distinct feature of the Fin De Siècle, which was the mark of the “collision between the old and the new” (Luckhurst x) and the consequent panic that resulted from this new, unknown turn of the century and all of the changes that came with it.

Luckhurst goes on in talking about the Fin De Siècle, stating, “it was an age of very real decline, in which Britain’s primacy as global economic power was rivaled by Germany and America” (x). For the first time in many years, Britain was losing it’s power to other hegemonic forces, and was fearing the possibility of another country taking over its monopolizing power.

Moretti discusses these growing fears in Britain through his analysis of Dracula, specifically in the character of Morris. Moretti discusses Morris’s association with vampires, and the significance of this connection, stating, “Morris is connected with vampires – because America will end up subjugating Britain in reality and Britain is […] afraid of it” (436). The character of Morris is not only a direct challenge of Britain’s economic power, but also represents “a contrast by product of Western civilization, just as America is a rib of Britain and American capitalism a consequence of British capitalism” (436).

Just as Luckhurst referred to in his article, Britain is currently very concerned with their position in the economic world, and how their old monopolistic control is starting to crumble at the turn of the century. This explains why Stoker decides to kill off Morris, the American character, in hopes of stifling this increasing fear of American power over Britain. Moretti describes this choice, stating, “for the good of Britain, Morris must be sacrificed […] at the moment Morris dies, the threat disappears” (436).

Moretti points out the importance of Morris as a character, and the need for him to be killed off in the end due to his threat to Britain’s power in the world. Luckhurst exemplifies this need for reassurance during the dramatic period, known as the Fin De Siècle, when Britain’s authority is being threatened and the British society is experiencing much unrest.

The Introduction of Witty Women

After reading Conan Doyle’s A Scandal in Bohemia, what immediately stood out to me was the brave and conning figure of Irene Adler, an American opera singer who had a previous liaison with the Grand Duke of Cassel-Felstein and who still obtains letters and a distinct photograph of herself with the Duke during their short-lived relationship.

The Grand Duke is seeking to repossess this photograph before his engagement to a Scandinavian princess, for fear of her and her family catching wind of his previous romance with Adler, and consequentially ending the engagement. However, Adler poses as a true “New Woman” in the story who does not budge at a man’s call and leads an independent lifestyle that is not dictated by men, or her relationship with a man.

Irene Adler’s character embodies the idea of the “New Woman” presented in Ledger and Luckhurst’s “Fin De Siècle”, portraying the newfound independence of women in society, in opposition to the previously male-dominated world. Ledger and Luckhurst uncover this contemporary idea that came about during the turn of the century, stating, “the New Woman in the 1890s have emerged as a vital adjunct to concurrent suffrage campaigns […] marking an image of sexual freedom and assertions of female independence” (xvii). Adler exemplifies a New Woman in the opening of the 20th century, with not only a successful job that provides her own income, but enough independence to engage in trickery and deceit with a professional detective and an heir to a throne.

In A Scandal in Bohemia, Holmes describes Adler as a woman who “lives quietly, sings at concerts […] seldom goes out at other times” (Doyle, 10), detailing her profession and the busy nature of it. We find out later in the novel that she is not just a pretty face with a good voice and a successful profession. She leaves a note that tricks Sherlock, stating in the note “I followed you to the door, and so made sure that I was really an object of interest […] to Sherlock Holmes” (Doyle, 18). Irene Adler was witty enough to trick a professional detective at his own game, revealing how unafraid she is of men, failing to give into the old, submissive traits that were natural for women to possess prior to the Fin De Siècle.

Ledger and Luckhurst describe the New Woman movement as the “origins of modern feminism” (xvii) that catapulted women into the forefront of the Fin De Siècle. Doyle’s creation of Adler’s character plays into this newfound freedom, especially in a satirical way as she tricks, threatens and plays with the mind of the same men who seemed to control society in previous years.

Irene Adler takes control of her life in light of this historic social movement, creating a living for herself that is not dependent on marriage – essentially, a man to care for her – and instead carries a life full of prosperity and sexual freedom. Doyle documents this freedom of sexuality when describing her brief love affair with the Grand Duke, and then her disappearance from his life.

In the past, women were bound to one man, through the traditional concept of marriage, and relied on them for economic and social purposes. When Doyle writes this story, during the height of the changing times of the new century, women experience a significant amount of freedom in directing their lives as they please, without the hindrance of a man to hold women back.


The Paradox of Laws to Control Animals

Throughout the novel, we see Dr. Moreau, through the eyes of Prendick, unsuccessfully attempt to apply a sense of law over the animals that reside on the island. Essentially, Dr. Moreau is trying to use a manmade construction of law and power on animals that are natural to the environment and, expectedly so, act in an animalistic way.

To do so, Dr. Moreau forces the “Beast Folk” (60) to memorize the laws of the land, referring to Dr. Moreau as “He” and “Him” (43), in a way that makes us assume that the animals think of Moreau as their own God.

Attached to these laws are punishments that are inflicted upon any of the beasts that fail to follow the laws. Prendick sees these punishments in action on page 21, stating, “See!  I did a little thing, a wrong thing once.  I jabbered, jabbered, stopped talking.  None could understand.  I am burnt, branded in the hand.  He is great, he is good!” As we see through Prendick’s eyes, Moreau performs experiments on the Ape, a “Beast Folk”, that act out against the governing laws set in motion by Moreau in an attempt to make them more human through vivisection. Moreau is constantly trying to “humanize” the animals and make his dictatorship over the beasts stronger and more effective.

As Henderson and Sharpe document in “The Longman Anthology of British Literature”, these types of governing powers were not all that unfamiliar to the Victorian Era. Queen Victoria herself declared the overarching mission of all empires to be “to protect the poor natives and advance civilization” (Henderson and Sharpe, 1063). Viewing Moreau as the empire of the island he inhabits, he sees his work with experimentation of vivisection to be advancing civilization by revealing new knowledge about animals, in relation to humans, and making large strides during a crucial time for scientific advancements in the Victorian Era. “As befits a scientific age, most authors exhibited a willingness to experiment” (Henderson and Sharpe, 1068), much like what Moreau was doing secretly on the island. He is very much advancing society that Queen Victoria denotes as the most important part of an empire.

Moreau was not only helping to uncover more information about reactions in the body, but he was also applying a sense of power of the animals by constantly reminding them that although they may be learning humanistic actions and partaking in a human-like society, they will be set straight again if they deviate from these laws by receiving pain and punishment administered by Moreau himself, through the form of vivisection under the guise of experimentation.

However, although the idea of government and a general set of rules are very humanistic, the response to pain that anyone would naturally portray if they were sentenced to punishment is strictly animalistic. Moreau is in a continuous, lose-lose battle of trying to make these animals human, and then having the animals respond to pain and revert back to their natural, animalistic self.

As we see Moreau try to apply governing authority over the animals on the island through experimentation that was new and widely followed during this era, we also see the animals natural responses to the attempted taming of the natural, animalistic traits.