A Nameless Love

John Addington Symonds wrote extensively on homosexuality without explicitly naming it in many of his works. He knew his support for the Greek love between a man and boy would not be accepted in Victorian society and that he had to be careful in how he discussed homosexuality. In “A Problem in Modern Ethics, Being an Inquiry into the Phenomenon of Sexual Inversion, Addressed Especially to Medical Psychologists and Jurists”, which came out three years after his death, he discusses homosexuality in oblique terms (307). He says of homosexuality that “no one dares to speak of it; or if they do, they bate their breath…” for fear of ostracization (308). Symonds had same sex desires himself and feared for the possibility of being labelled a pariah.

In his poem, “A Lieder Kreis IV”, the narrator expresses the same fears as Symonds himself because the narrator is Symonds. The poem personifies Love as a youthful boy sitting by Symonds’ bed, singing to him in his sleep. A lied is an art song (lieder is the plural) in the Romantic German genre of setting poems to music (Wikipedia). In titling his poem after the German genre of setting poetry to music, Symonds is making explicit the intensity of the song that Love is singing to him at night. Love is close to the narrator, sitting at his pillow side while serenading him. While it is common to sit by one’s bedside, like when one is sick and needs nursing, for example, sitting at one’s pillow is decidedly more intimate. Love sits close to the narrator’s head and “murmur[s] a song in [his] ears”, as though revealing a secret (250). This implies that the narrator is already acquainted with a love he cannot have, which is why Love is crying and the narrator wakes up praying.

Symonds’ academic focus was on Greek culture, and his description of Love as a melancholy youth was influenced by Grecian ideals of masculinity such as Adonis and Narcissus (image below from mythologian.net). As Symonds describes Love, it becomes clear that Love is unrequited because he is sad; “his sweet eyes were streaming with sorrow/ his tresses were tangled and torn” (250). He is crying and in pain, but still puts the well-being of Symonds/The narrator before him. Love is unconditional and pure, which is why it is so painful that the narrator cannot be with his love. Not only is Love sad, but he is also afraid, “on his fair brows the fear of to-morrow/was fixed like the tooth of the thorn” because he knows he can only spend the night and has to leave before tomorrow dawns (251). This secretive love cannot exist in the light of day.

At the end of the poem, Symonds/The narrator awakes, and “wring[s] vain hands in a passion of prayer” (251). While the dream brought bliss to Symonds/The narrator, he knows that it can only remain a dream because to act on his desires would lead to his exclusion in society. What is left up to interpretation is whether the narrator is praying to fall back to sleep to see Love, or if he wishes he could love freely in his waking days, or if he is just now realizing that he will be unable to be with the one that he loves (251). Symonds is clearly upset in his actual life that sexual inverts cannot be with the ones they love and states that he believes that sexual inverts are in “all other respects will be no worse or better than the normal members of the home” (309). He wishes he could be with the one he loves freely and publicly.

The Picture of Jean Ralphio Saperstein

Dorian Gray is narcissistic, spoiled, and petulant. He frequently is described as infantile, especially as the years pass and he does not age. From his first appearance in the novel he is described as a “lad”, possessing a “wilful, petulant manner” when he complains about sitting for Basil (16). His youth and beauty are inextricably linked, unfortunately along with his juvenile behavior. A modern fictional character who also embodies these characteristics is Jean Ralphio Saperstein from the tv show Parks and Recreation. Jean Ralphio is the trust fund baby of Pawnee’s local businessman/obstetrician Dr. Saperstein who indulges Jean Ralphio and his twin sister Mona Lisa with requests for cash but acknowledges their multitude of personality flaws. Jean Ralphio is seen to consistently fail at business and resorts to schemes such as being hit by a car (see video at 6:16-6:42) for the insurance money. He is vain about his appearance and flirts with virtually every female character in the show, as well as several male characters, hinting at a bisexual identity.

Even though beauty is seen as more important in both Dorian and Jean Ralphio, their personality flaws are not overlooked by the other characters of their fictional universe. Dorian Gray is first described by Basil Hallward to Lord Henry Wotton as “this young Adonis….a Narcissus…[his] real beauty, ends where an intellectual expression begins” (6). Dorian is compared to the classic Greek ideals of beauty but Basil is quick to acknowledge that Dorian is neither wise nor mature. Basil sees this as a minor fault of Dorians, as his beauty is often to make him Basil’s muse but Henry sees this fault as an opportunity to mold Dorian in his own image, much like a god. Henry admits that he doesn’t mind when his friends are not at his intellectual level like his enemies, he likes his friends for their appearance and “choose[s them] for their good looks” (11). He values beauty above intelligence in his friendships because he gains more from the careful manipulation of someone immature like Dorian over the intellectual conversation of someone wiser like Basil.

 Jean Ralphio is not molded after any influence in his life, but greatly resembles Tom Haverford and vice versa. Both young men are obsessed with fashion, women, and power. The difference between them lies in the willingness to put in actual work for their dreams (video at 8:15-9:18). As the series progresses, we see Tom Haverford progress in his governmental and personal business careers, despite several setbacks. Jean Ralphio always has his family money to fall back on, and so his ambition wanes as his professional failures mount. The gif below is from when his twin sister announces she is pregnant, and he realizes the amount of responsibility involved in helping to raise a child. His lack of serious ambition eventually breaks most of the ties he has with his closest friend Tom, much like Dorian’s new found appreciation for the luxuries found in the yellow book and lack of aging drives away many of his former lovers and friends. Both men rely too much on their looks and wealth to avoid serious work and taking responsibility for their actions, which alienates them from their friends and reveals their vain and indolent personalities.

Below are some key sections of this video which are most easily compared to Dorian Gray, but the entire video is worth the watch.

5:55-6:15 Discussing subtle shades of black for a mourning armband.

6:16-6:42 “I got run over by a Lexus” – gaining money through insurance fraud.

8:15-9:18- Conducting his own business is too much work- life of a wealthy socialite.
Note: I own the Vintage Classics edition, and so my page numbers differ from the assigned edition.

The Blood is the Life, The Blood is… Seman?

The binary systems which govern Bram Stoker’s Dracula are broken by the titular monster who does not fit into either myth or reality, living or dead, man or woman. While many of the characters refer to Dracula as an “It” or as a “monster”, still just as many use he/him pronouns for Dracula despite hesitating to identify Dracula as a man (Stoker 95). He does not fit the strict gender binary but is more identifiably male than female and is described as appearing masculine with the exception of his “full lips” when he has recently drunk blood (Stoker 301). His appearance arguably becomes more feminine with the consumption of his only food is blood, which can stand as a metaphor for milk. Craft agrees and claims that Stoker inverts gender roles further in Dracula by “inverting a favorite Victorian maternal function” when Lucy feeds on small children- a mother eating a child instead of feeding a child and Dracula using blood as a substitute for mother’s milk just he forces Mina to drink his blood as a substitute for semen ( 453; 458). All of these inversions of the binary systems in England are due to the foreign and evil activities of Dracula.

Once the perspective of the story switches to Mina Harker and Lucy Westenra, the clear separation of the gender binary and its importance in England becomes clear. In the article “Gender and Inversion in Dracula”, the author claims that Stoker’s novel holds “a fixed conception of femininity” (Craft 450). The two female characters depict narrow stereotypes of femininity; the coquettish Lucy, flirting with her three suitors, and the devoted Mina, anxiously awaiting news of her husband. The correspondence between Mina and Lucy in chapter five contains pleasantries and the rumors that “a tall, handsome, curly-haired man???” is about to propose to Lucy, which are portrayed as innocent and foolish letters in opposition to Dr. Stewards phonographic medical journal (Stoker 63). Mina expresses her desire to practice her shorthand so that she may be of more use to her husband, despite her work as an assistant school teacher (Stoker 62).

            She is consumed by the work she does for men, at first simply for her husband, and then for the whole Crew of Light.  Mina is “interpreted solely by males” as she is viewed as a tool for success in dispatching Dracula (Craft 451). Her ability to read Dracula’s mind and thereby divulge his whereabouts is crucial to their quest but also allows him access to control her (Stoker 347). When Dracula turns Lucy into a vampire, she has no qualms about her new identity; “[flinging] to the ground, callous as a devil, the child” moments before using her “voluptuous grace” on her former fiancé (Stoker 226). Thus while both Lucy and Mina are transformed by Dracula, Mina is saved by her intelligence and in her pure dedication to the Crew of Light. At the end of novel, Van Helsing says to the Harkers son Quincey, “he will understand how some men so loved her, that they did dare much for her sake” (Stoker 402). The story of the Harkers bravery, but especially Mina, will be passed down to the embodiment of the Crew of Light, their son, the perfect evidence of their non-vampiric, cisgender, heterosexual union.

Craft, Christopher. “Gender and Inversion in Dracula

Stoker, Bram. Dracula


The Fantasy of Wealth

Daydreaming is an activity that many of us complete while procrastinating our homework, while on the phone with customer service, even sometimes in the classroom. While mostly harmless, there are those who believe in the danger that fantasizing reveals one’s unhappiness, according to psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. When these unfulfilled fantasies hold too much sway over the happiness of the individual, psychoanalytic treatment may be sought (Freud 146).  Freud states in his article Writers and Day-Dreaming that children move from playing with real objects to daydreaming otherwise known as fantasizing. Adults do this as well, he claims, but hide their fantasies for fear of ridicule. Feeling unique in creating fantasies is more akin to feeling like a pariah for one’s thoughts, so individuals are reticent to share their deepest desires (144). In the Sherlock Holmes story, The Red-headed League, the victim of the crime, Jabez Wilson, is also guilty himself of a fantasy. He is guilty of fantasizing and believing that he is someone special.

Jabez Wilson is a struggling pawnbroker whose most distinctive feature is his “fiery red hair” but is otherwise ordinary (Doyle 20). He has received news of a vacancy in the Red-headed League, which promises a salary of £4 a week for menial labor (Doyle 22). From the initial observations made by Sherlock, including that Mr. Wilson is a Freemason and has done hard labor on a ship, class and ethnic undertones to this story become clear (Doyle 22). Freemasons were usually individuals who aspired to achieve social mobility, while Mr. Wilson’s past careers point to a poor background, one from which he has not escaped as he can barely afford one assistant. Therefore, the vacancy notice for the Red-headed League appeals greatly to him despite its ludicrousness. The fact that it is a league for those with red hair is another hint to the ethnic backgrounds of the men who desire to be a part of the league. The implication is not only that they are Irish, but also that they are greedy and lazy because they are Irish and desire to be paid for menial labor in lieu of hard labor.

These men share this desire, Freud would argue, because they feel unsatisfied with life (146). They fantasize about an easier life because they are not satisfied with the one they currently have. Whether this is due to laziness or a genuine feeling of stigmatization due to their ethnic heritage is never made clear in the story as Conan Doyle prefers subtle implications over outright statements on race, class, and religion. Regardless, Mr. Wilson and the other applicants to the Red-headed League have “ambitious wishes… to elevate [their] personality” through fantasizing of a better life for themselves (Freud 147). I would argue that this offer was likely appealing to many Londoners, despite ethnic heritage and current socioeconomic status.

Many of the Sherlock Holmes stories feature a victim of a crime who was either tricked into a situation due to a desire for more money, like in The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb, or a villain whose sole motive is financial, like in The Adventure of the Speckled Band. Obviously, money and wealth were ever-present desires at the fin de siècle and everyone, regardless of class level, wanted to be richer. This desire, or fantasy, was communal and not limited to one individual or one group, which suggests that almost everyone in Victorian society desired more out of life. The scientific advancements and sociopolitical changes in society shown Victorians the larger realm of possibilities that the future brought.  Furthermore, even the rich (or formerly rich) desired more wealth and some turned to crime, like John Clay, the duke’s grandson and villain in The Red-headed League. Thus the desire for wealth is seen among both the poor and wealthy and the fantasy of being wealthier is not unique to the individual, in spite of the belief that one’s fantasies are unique (Freud 145).


Biologists on The Island

I would argue that the overarching theme of The Island of Dr. Moreau is the line that separates human and animal and how tenuous that line truly is. Edward Prendick, our naïve and skeptical protagonist, is reticent to believe Dr. Moreau’s scientific experiments are real at first due to his conviction that man and beast are separate. He first believes that the Beast Folk are men that Moreau has “infected with some bestial taint” because they appear to be disfigured men to him (Wells 49). He can tell that they have some animalistic hint to their physiology but believes Moreau has infected them in his experiments. The language of infection and disease is featured prominently in the novel even though no one is ever infected with a biological pathogen or virus; the only illness we see depicted in Prendick’s PTSD once he returns to England. As he first explores Moreau’s island, he uses his biology background to explain what he believes is an infection used by Moreau to enslave the men that act as his servants. He knows that Moreau conducts experiments on animals and that his vivisections are what forced his exile from London, but he has yet to connect the experiments on animals to the experiments turning animals into men (Wells 23). He knows that Moreau’s initial experiments in London involved the flaying and mutilating of dogs but not of their intended purpose. At several intervals in the novel, Prendick seems close to uncovering the truth by putting the pieces together, yet he needs Moreau’s explanation in order to understand the true nature of the Beast Folk.

Once Moreau begins his explanation of his creations, we see Prendick grappling with his own conceptions of race, humanity, and scientific advancements. He can never truly admit to himself that Moreau’s creations are men but refers to them as “humanized animals- triumphs of vivisection” (Wells 52). This language reflects the language Moreau uses yet is in an aside by Prendick. Prendick knows of Moreau’s past experiments with vivisection on animals but would never consider them a triumph because he finds them obscene and horrific. As a man of biology, Prendick understands the surgeries that Moreau compares to his vivisections but not the reasoning. Moreau’s plan to create men out of animals horrifies him as both a scientist and a racist. As Timothy Christensen notes in his article, Race in The Island of Dr. Moreau, both Moreau and Prendick use a racial slur to refer to the Beast Folk (583). Christensen’s explanation for the racial slurs used by the real humans of the island is that Moreau and Prendick “place a specific beast person within a schema of evolutionary development that is taken as a ‘given’…[in] scientific knowledge” (583). Prendick and Moreau have racist perceived notions about race and humanity which manifest themselves in how they talk about the Beast Folk. Prendick spends a great deal of time pondering on what the Beast Folk are exactly and questions Montgomery, “what race are they?” (25). His desire to know is linked with his beliefs of racial superiority. Prendick equates the more animalistic of the Beast Folk with more racialized prejudices, such as the belief that because they are mere animals they are only capable of a “dull ferocity” with their “limited mental scope” (Wells 28, 60). Prendick views the Beast Folk as only slightly evolved animals, that any man could outrun and hunt. Prendick believes that they do not possess the intelligence to fight against their creator, Dr. Moreau, in a rebellion of reverse colonialism. Prendick is wrong about many things.