Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Losing Control in Victorian Literature

In A Terribly Strange Bed by Wilkie Collins, I noticed the passages on pages 32-35 when Mr. Faulkner describes his experience with drinking.  He uses words like “drinking liquid fire”, “flame”, “mad state of exhilaration”, “violent singing”, and “my body trembled”.  These are all really dramatic, intense words to describe his current state.  All of these descriptions help further tie into the first couple paragraphs on page 32 when most of the dialogue ends in exclamation points.   These small details demonstrate the crazy haze of events that are happening and will continue to happen to the narrator throughout the rest of the story, especially in regard to the bed.  The narrator says, “No excess in wine had ever had this effect on me before in my life”.  This shows that Mr. Faulkner has never lost control like this before.  The overarching idea that struck me after reading this passage was that Victorians must be obsessed with the idea of losing control.  The narrator in this story quickly loses control of himself after he drinks, and Lady Audley loses control of herself once her secrets are revealed at the end of Lady Audley’s Secret.  This leads me to believe that the people in this time must be concerned with how easy it is to lose control of oneself.  Collins associates this behavior with violence and chaos, by saying things like the words listed above.  This might be a kind of warning, reminding people that although losing control of oneself may seem enticing and alluring like a flame or fire, it is also dangerous and harmful to your life, and potentially your fortune.

2 Comments

  1. I think that you’re absolutely right about the existence of a Victorian fear of losing control. We see that not only in their literature, but in the social restrictions, strict classism, and imperialistic tendencies of the time. Even their scientific progress, which should’ve comforted them in their control of the previously uncontrollable natural worlds, becomes a point of fear for them, always in the context of a loss of control. If science– in the case of this short story, mechanical invention– falls into the hands of the uncontrollable (murderers, thieves, and funny as it may sound, the French) then it becomes a fantastic weapon. The loss of control, every time that we’ve seen it in Victorian literature, has corresponded to, ultimately, terror or crime.

  2. John H. Watson, M.D.

    October 10, 2018 at 6:27 pm

    This must be especially true for the aristocratic class. To keep their power and the general sense of awe that surrounds them, they must maintain propriety and be hyper-controlling. For an aristocratic Victorian, losing control could be to the detriment of their status in society. It could open them up to the judgements of other members of their class, making them less influential in society, and it reveal to the lower classes that they are not as powerful as they make themselves out to be.

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