Our Deepest Desires and Our Greatest Fears: One and the Same?

In an incredible coincidence, my roommate asked me to read through Christina Rosetti’s “Goblin Market” with her (in essence, help her analyze it), right after I finished reading John Addington Symonds’ “Love in Dreams.” Immediately I was struck by the similar themes the two shared.

Laura “dreamed of melons, as a traveller sees/False waves in a desert drouth/With shade of leaf-crowned trees,/And burns the thirstier in the sandful breeze” (Rosetti, 8). In a similar fashion, the narrator of Symonds’ poem dreams “A dream so dear, so deep,/All dreams above,/That I still pray to sleep” (lines 13-15).

Both characters dream of temptation, what is forbidden: Laura, the goblins’ fairy fruit; Symonds’ narrator, “the soul of youth” (12) – a young man for him to love. Both poems describe the characters only able to access their desires in their dreams: Laura is rendered unable to hear the goblins and thus unable to attain their fruit in her waking hours; Symonds’ narrator is repressing his desire for young men in his waking hours due to societal pressure and intolerance of homosexuality.

Both poems have a couplet rhyme scheme, creating a soothing, nursery-rhyme-like rhythm. “Goblin Market” is intended as a nursery rhyme, according to Rosetti, and “Love in Dreams” seems to be soothing the reader to sleep as the narrator does.

The rhyme scheme of couplets and the theme of temptation that intersect in these poems interact elsewhere as well: medieval-era plays. The couplet rhyme scheme is attributed to devils within these plays, used as they speak to tempt and torment humanity on stage. Indeed, in Ben Jonson’s The Devil is an Ass, the modern devil mocks Iniquity, the medieval demon, for outdated ideas of vice fit for the year 500 (that is, the medieval age) rather than the current year 1616 (I.i.84-86). The 1616 audience would have recognized Iniquity’s medieval speech patterns from other popular medieval plays, such as Mankind. Both poems definitely include major temptations to the characters: goblins tempting Laura in “Goblin Market” and Love tempting the narrator in Symonds’ “Love in Dreams.”

The idea of temptation in dreams is also attributed to Lucifer in the medieval York Plays, tying the two themes together as the two poems do. The idea of humanity as vulnerable while unconscious is embedded deep in our DNA, primal instincts that shape our fears.

Freud would argue that our dreams contain not only fears but also desires – desires so secret and deep that we dare not face them during the day, only accessing them when they slip from the subconscious mind into our dreams. In both Christina Rosetti’s “Goblin Market” and John Addington Symonds’ “Love in Dreams,” both characters Laura and the narrator face deep desires as the subject of both of their dreams. But the real question is whether or not we should we fear these deepest desires appearing in our dreams, and the power they hold over us.

Rosetti, Christina. Goblin Market and Other Poems. Dover Thrift Editions. New York: Dover Publications, 1994. Print.

Ben Jonson. “The Devil is an Ass.” London, 1616. Web. http://www.hollowaypages.com/jonson1692devil.htm

Sibyl Vane: What’s In a Name?

A name contains a wealth of meaning, especially in this case. Sibyl Vane is a relatively minor character in Dorian Gray – or seems to be at first. She is Dorian’s first love, a wonderful actress he insists on marrying despite their large status gap. However, his rejection of her after her lackluster performance as Juliet ends up beginning his descent into sin – her suicide after his rejection is the first sin to mar the painting that reflects his soul. With that in mind, the name given to this actress – Sibyl Vane – suddenly reveals the importance of her role.

According to the OED, the word Sibyl means: 1. one or other certain women of antiquity who were reputed to possess powers of prophecy and divination; 2. A prophetess; a fortune-teller, a witch (OED).

As an actress, Sibyl is described as “divine beyond all living things. When she acts you will forget everything” (79). This description sounds like Sibyl casting a spell over the audience with her ability to act – aligning with the “witch” aspect of her name.

She “move[s] like a creature from a finer world” (81), fitting for a prophetess chosen by the gods (usually Apollo, the god of foresight) to see the future; thus, someone connected to deities and not fully of this earth.

Ironically, as someone who is supposed to see more clearly than the rest of the world, Sibyl explains “It was only in the theatre that I lived. I thought that it was all true. I was Rosalind for one night, and Portia the other…The painted scenes were my world” (84). However, Dorian’s love “taught her what reality is [and she] saw through the hollowness, the sham, the silliness of the empty pageant” (84). In continuing the irony, the role she finally acted falsely was Juliet – and by the end of the night, Sibyl commits suicide after the death of her love (that is, the rejection from Dorian) just as Juliet does. Sibyl’s last role foretold the manner of her death – that is, a prophecy. Fitting for a Sibyl.

Sibyl’s last name, Vane, is also important. A vane is: 1a. A plate of metal, usually of an ornamental form, fixed at an elevation upon a vertical spindle, so as to turn readily with the wind and show the direction from which this is blowing; a weather-cock; 1b. (fig): An unstable or constantly changing person or thing (OED) (the bold is my addition, for emphasis).

On a literal level, Sibyl Vane is an actress, constantly changing her identity; night to night she is different Shakespearean female leads – “Rosalind for one night, and Portia the other” (84)).

On a metaphorical level, Dorian’s treatment of Miss Vane is overly cruel, marking the beginning of the downward spiral (or slippery slope, whichever metaphor you prefer) of his demise. His callous treatment leads to her suicide, staining his soul irredeemably and indicating the beginning of the end. Miss Vane is the metaphorical wind vane revealing the direction the wind of Dorian Gray’s fate is blowing.

Names have power. Sibyl Vane’s name gave her the power to suggest the course of people’s fates – both her own and that of Dorian Gray.

Sherlock the Vampire…or the Vampire Hunter?

Looking at Sherlock Holmes through the lens of Dracula, he shares quite a few characteristics with the immortal blood-drinker.

At the very beginning of the first Sherlock Holmes story, his deductions are compared to supernatural powers: “You would certainly have been burned, had you lived a few centuries ago,” Watson declares (Doyle, 2). Immediately Sherlock is associated with the supernatural, his powers of deduction considered magical and witchlike. Dracula too is associated with the supernatural from the very beginning of the book (when he controls the wolves).

Doyle also makes a point of pointing out Sherlock’s more childish habits, such as when he “chuckled and wriggled on his chair, as was his habit when in high spirits” (22). This description is reminiscent of a few-month-old child wriggling on a high chair, or an excitable toddler who can’t sit still. In the BBC Sherlock TV show, you often see Sherlock throwing temper tantrums (such as this one or this one). Dracula is often compared to a child as well, with Dr. Van Helsing commenting “in some faculties of mind he has been, and is, an only child” (Stoker, 322) and often referring to Dracula’s “child-brain.”

Watson describes his time spent with Sherlock as one that “utterly submerged my mind” (Doyle, 91). His time as Sherlock’s companion consumed him, consumed his time and his thoughts almost completely – for all that he is married and should have a life outside of his adventures with Sherlock, his stories of Sherlock almost completely eclipse that part of his life and minimize any mention of his married life. In a similar fashion, Dracula can control the mind and actions of Mina when she is under his thrall; Dracula is described as a “controlling force subduing or restraining her, or inciting her to action” (Stoker, 350).

Despite the hopeless ending of “The Final Problem,” confirming Sherlock’s death, the release of the story “The Empty House” revived the detective, in a way granting him immortality. Even after his “death,” Sherlock Holmes never died in the minds and hearts of his fans – the publication of “The Empty House” simply made it official. The idea of Sherlock Holmes has never died, with countless reincarnations from print to movies to TV shows, from the 1800’s to the future. Dracula is an immortal being, as long as he continues to drink blood and avoids stakes to the heart, decapitation and sunlight. And he too, enjoys the immortality of multiple reincarnations across time and media.

Eating is not usually a priority for Sherlock, with work taking precedence: “We shall have time for a mouthful of dinner before we go” (Doyle, 95). This lack of eating is even more obvious in the BBC Sherlock (like when John and Sherlock are on their not-date and Sherlock puts aside the menu). Jonathan Harker notes that Dracula has a similar habit of not eating: “It is strange that as yet I have not seen the Count eat or drink” (Stoker, 33). Of course, the Count doesn’t eat or drink because he survives on blood; Sherlock doesn’t eat because “digestion slows [him] down.”

Watson describes Holmes as springing “like a tiger” (Doyle, 102), similarly to how Van Helsing describes Dracula: “‘But will not the Count take his rebuff wisely? Since he has been driven from England, will he not avoid it, as a tiger does the village from which he has been hunted?’… ‘This that we hunt from our village is a tiger, too, a man-eater, and he [will] never cease to prowl’ (Stoker, 341).

Sherlock himself, however, refers to himself as a tiger hunter and the criminal he is chasing as a tiger (Doyle, 103). In this comparison, Sherlock is the Van Helsing character who uses his knowledge and abilities to defend the status quo, rather than disrupt it like the criminals he reveals and punishes.

Despite his vampiric qualities, overall Sherlock Holmes’ motives align more with Van Helsing – they are both the bringers of justice, the knowledgeable outsiders who reinstate the status quo. The only reason British society admires and accepts these outsiders is that rather than defy the status quo, as vampires and criminals do, these outsiders focus on how to use their knowledge to defeat these disruptive influences and maintain the status quo – they are useful, and thus, they are accepted and revered.

Irene Adler: Eternally Sexy, Powerful and Dangerous

Across three different versions of Sherlock, Irene remains sexual, wielding power over others and a danger to society.

The Irene in the original Conan Doyle story A Scandal in Bohemia is an American, “born in New Jersey,” and an opera singer “retired from operatic stage” (Doyle, 7). As mentioned in class, Adler is a Jewish last name. Immediately Irene is set up as other: female, a foreigner, Jewish and, because actresses and singers were often prostitutes on the side, associated with sexual favors in a time of very strict sexual morals.

Her crime is keeping proof of her dalliance with the King of Bohemia (a picture, letters) when he is about to be married and cannot afford any hint of scandal. Sherlock is asked to retrieve these materials, and uses sympathy to gain access to her house and a fake fire to trick Irene into revealing where the materials are hidden – but in doing so, alerts Irene that he is interested in taking the materials. She disguises herself in “male costume” (incredibly scandalous at the time) and follows Holmes back, to assure herself that her suspicions are correct (18). When they are confirmed, she and her new husband flee and leave Holmes a letter explaining the situation. Holmes has been outwitted, and by a foreign woman no less.

Holmes’ defeat rose from the fact that Irene was able to let her thoughts overcome her feelings – she let logic overrule her emotions, and as such was able to outthink the logical Holmes. This is the opposite of the later Irene incarnations, who instead let their hearts rule their heads.

In the BBC Sherlock episode A Scandal in Belgravia, Irene Adler is not American, but a dominatrix who has involved herself with a female relative of the Queen’s and taken incriminating photographs. However, unlike the original Irene who was manipulated by Holmes into letting him inside the house, this Irene is warned of his coming (presumably by Moriarty) and plans herself for his appearance. We are given a peek at her preparations: a closet full of costumes, and she decides to wear her “battle suit” – revealed to be wearing nothing at all. Both of the outfits Irene wears are considered scandalous.

On the other hand, completely contrarily to the Bohemia Irene whose male costume minimizes her femininity, the Belgravia Irene’s “battle suit” maximizes her femininity. In Bohemia, Irene is attempting to assess the situation subtly, and thus wants to avoid detection; in Belgravia, Irene seems to be trying to overwhelm Sherlock and render him unable to concentrate – which does work: he is unable to deduce anything about her.

However, Irene’s downfall lies in the fact that during the course of her interactions with Sherlock, he falls in love with him. She makes the password for her phone – which she cannot allow to fall into anyone else’s hands – one easily deduced once Sherlock discovers her feelings (I AM SHERLOCKED). When Sherlock makes this discovery, he berates her: “This [phone] is your heart, and you should never let it rule your head.” Irene is defeated due to her feelings for Sherlock, her emotions clouding her judgment and allowing his logic to triumph.

In Elementary’s Season 1 finale The Woman/Heroine, in flashbacks Sherlock meets the love of his life, Irene Adler, and discovers her corpse. However, it is also revealed real-time that Irene Adler is actually a persona crafted by Jaime Moriarty in order to judge Sherlock’s worth as an adversary; when she finds him lacking, “Irene” is murdered and Jaime continues with her crime spree. But in spending so much time with Sherlock, Jaime creates her Achilles heel: her love toward Sherlock. Joan Watson is able to deduce these feelings, and use them against Jaime, manipulating her into admitting her crimes and thus defeating herself.

In both Belgravia and The Woman/Heroine, Irene is a predatory, sexual being armed with more knowledge than Sherlock and uses it to manipulate him, yet in the end she is ruled by her emotions – specifically, her emotions for him – and thus is defeated.

In the Victorian era, Irene defeats Sherlock; yet in both modern incarnations, Irene is defeated by her own emotions and a logical mind (Sherlock’s in Belgravia, Watson’s in The Woman/Heroine). There is a pattern of the importance of logic ruling emotions and a sexual and powerful Irene in all three versions. From Victorian England all the way to modern day, logic is prized as superior to emotion and sexualized, powerful women remain dangerous to society no matter the era.

Monogamy vs Polyandry: How Sexual Practices Affect the Power Balance between Genders

When I read in the Longman Anthology introduction, the line “The medical establishment backed the conventional view that women were physically and intellectually inferior, a ‘weaker sex’ that would buckle under the weight of strong passion, serious thought, or vigorous exercise” (1061) was incredibly interesting. It occurred to me that one of the few mentions of female Beast People in The Island of Doctor Moreau was the fact that the “pioneers” of the ignoring “decency” – that is, ignoring the need for clothes – were “all females” (96-97). So the females are clearly portrayed as the weaker sex, quicker to succumb to the pressure of animalistic desires and all the “indecency” that entails.

But what if Wells was using one of his brief mentions of females to make some social commentary? The Longman Anthology also mentions that marriage was a complete loss of identity for a woman: “A woman lost the few civil rights she had as she became ‘one body’ with her husband” (1062). Monogamy allows males to have more control over the females, to – in a way – absorb them and become one unit in the eyes of the law. This idea, of two humans coming together to create one being, can be traced back to Plato’s Symposium – although his ideas had more to do with love than unions for profit or improved social standing.

Monogamy is a way to increase control over the female’s children, (supposedly) assuring the male that the female’s children are his (should the female stay faithful) and ensuring that his genetics will continue on. However, monogamy is not the only way of life – polygamy is Mormon practice, and sexual unions of animals are all over the map from polygamy to polyandry (polyandry being the practice of one female mating with multiple males so that all of the males help raise the child/children in the hopes that they are protecting their genes from extinction). In this dynamic specifically, females hold all the power – whereas in monogamous relationships, they hold almost none.

The female Beast-People in The Island of Doctor Moreau attempt to form monogamous bonds as per the Law – although Wells makes sure to point out that since the female Beast-People were “less numerous… [they were] liable to much furtive persecution” (62). While some animals are monogamous, most are not – and trying to force monogamy on them only decreases the power of the females even further, as they are taught that monogamy is the Law and yet, they are still accosted by multiple males who are stronger than they are, bringing them a fear of punishment from breaking the Law.

However, the female Beast-People are the first to ignore the need for decency as the Law starts to decay (96-97). By ignoring clothing, the female Beast-People are better able to advertise their availability for sexual union – many female animals have a sort of display to indicate that they are ovulating. Biological Anthropology: The Natural History of Humankind (3rd edition) explains that “around the time of ovulation, the rump of a female primate may change color, produce a fluid-filled swelling, or emit odors, any of which will signal males in the vicinity that she is ready to mate” (204). Advertising her availability allows the female to attract males, giving her the choice of who she would like to mate with, rather than the male having all the power in the decision of who to mate with – that is, marry – as often happens in human society.

Wells shows, with his few mentions of female Beast-People in The Island of Doctor Moreau, that monogamy allows human males to strip females of their independence – but that some of this independence can be regained in a more free sexual society, one that was beginning to bloom in the time after Queen Victoria’s death.