Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Sensation and Discomfort

Throughout Lady Audley’s Secret and A Terribly Strange Bed there is a theme of overloading, repetitive description of certain domestic and natural spaces that really help shape the novel and short story as sensation pieces of literature. I argue that without these passages of repetitive, exasperated detail the novels would not be nearly as effective as sensation novels. A sensation novel as we discussed in class is meant to make modern day readers nervous and uncomfortable. In the Victorian era, sensation novels not only were made to thrill and make people nervous, they made people very uncomfortable. Sensation novels pushed the bounds of what was discussed publicly, outside of the domestic, private sphere during the Victorian era. The language used in both pieces of literature helps the authors create this suspenseful, discomforting, nervous energy as you read. To point out one specific passage from A Terribly Strange Bed, on pages 35-36, that begins with “I soon felt not only that I could not go to sleep…”. In this passage, there is a repetition of “Now, I…” that goes on without a sentence break for about 9 lines. The passage depicts Mr. Faulkner being very uncomfortable and not being able to fall asleep while in the bed inside the gambling house. As I read this passage, I began to realize that not only was he uncomfortable, I was beginning to get uncomfortable along with him. This sensation I was getting while reading made me think about the genre of sensation novels themselves. They are quite literally made to make you feel something, which was effectively done in this passage by going in to expansive detail about Mr. Faulkner’s thoughts and feelings. Pushing beyond my own feelings and thinking about my knowledge through class about the Victorian period, the most safe places for people were supposed to be the domestic sphere. A passage like this that takes place within a domestic space, where readers of that time would assume he is safe, brings out how unsafe he really is by creating suspense as to what is going on, why he can’t sleep, and what is to come in his future. The suspense created by the repetitive “Now I…” in the passage I touched on above made readers feel unsteady and unsure of what was to come next (little did they know he was about to be (almost) suffocated by the bed itself). Without the repetition and use of such descriptive language, sensation novels would not have been as effective in pushing the bounds of comfortability and societal norms during the Victorian era. Without this style of writing within the sensation genre that we have now seen in a sensation poem, a sensation novel, and a sensation short story, I believe that the sensation genre itself would not be the same, may not exist, may not be remembered or read, re-done, made into movies, shows, etc. still so frequently today, and/or would not be as effective of a genre as a whole.

3 Comments

  1. Demelza Poldark

    October 9, 2018 at 11:57 pm

    The sensation that arises from the description of Mr. Faulkner’s restlessness draws parallels to Mr. Watson’s sleepless night at the Baskerville mansion. The narration of the characters’ lack of sleep suggests that there is a dangerous event or disturbance that ironically exists within the domestic sphere. For instance, Dr. Watson is “seeking for sleep which would not come” (Doyle 61) while lodging at the Baskerville mansion, and his restlessness represents his sense of danger that lurks upon the moor. This is similar to how Mr. Faulkner’s restlessness precedes his discovery of the murderous nature of his bed. Therefore, the sensation novels and short stories of the Victorian era describe restlessness to hint at impending danger that further arouses sensation.

  2. Within the novel “The Hound of the Baskervilles”, the idea that the most terrifying things could happen within the home is changed, as in the end of chapter nine, Dr. Watson encounters what he believes to be the supernatural outside of the home. This contrasts with most of the stories that we have read, as in the other stories, such as “A Terribly Strange Bed” and “Lady Audley’s Secret” which you’ve mentioned, as well as in “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” in which the murder weapon was kept inside of the home and meant to be used on an unsuspecting victim as they slept for the night. In The Hound of the Baskervilles, much of the plot takes place outside, such as the striking scene where Dr. Watson believes that he has encountered a strange figure perceived as being associated with the supernatural. This scene is unlike the others, and has the effect of a loss of control and provokes a sense of awe in the readers as the event does not take place within the home, but rather in nature which contains an element of the sublime, as the imagery describing nature also has an eerie tone associated with it.

  3. I have also seen the domestic be disrupted in nearly all of the pieces we have read and discussed in class. I found it interesting how in “The Hound of the Baskervilles” there were moments where the domestic is feared, such as when Watson suspects the butler is a suspect for the murders. This novel also disrupts this idea though because the deaths occur outside of the home, and the reader as well as the characters begin to fear the Moor and the areas outside of the home. I agree that many Victorian novels would not be complete or the same without the fear of the domestic, but it seems it may be possible to fear something besides the domestic as well.

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