Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Author: Demelza Poldark

Unrequited Love in Christina Rossetti’s “A Triad” and “A Pause of Thought”

In Victorian England, a woman’s desire to marry for love was discouraged and shunned as a part of the society’s standards and expectations for women. It was more important for a woman to properly present herself in the marriage “market” than to choose her husband by means of love or passion. In Christina Rossetti’s “A Pause of Thought,” the speaker of the poem yearns for “which is not, nor can be” in a society that restricts women to the role of being a suitable wife (Rossetti 32). She longs for the person she loves, but she feels hopeless the longer she waits for her love to be returned. In the last verse, the speaker claims that she is “foolish” for her feelings of longing, as she is “unfit / for healthy joy and salutary pain” simply due to the fact that she is a woman (Rossetti 33). She claims that the “chase (is) useless,” suggesting that a woman’s pursuit after love is hopeless and cannot be fulfilled within the Victorian Society’s restrictions on women. Rossetti’s “A Triad” has a similar message, as it describes three women who are fooled or disappointed after falling in love or feeling no love at all: “One shamed herself in love; one temperately / Grew gross in soulless love, a sluggish wife; / One famished died for loved” (Rossetti 18). Rossetti suggests that, for a Victorian woman, love only leads to disappointment. Furthermore, this implies that it is hopeless, and even foolish, for a woman to fall in love in Victorian society, as her longings and desires are constrained, and only men are granted to choose someone to marry and love.

Anti-Semitism in Bram Stoker’s Dracula:

Dracula represents the anti-semitic beliefs that existed in Victorian England during the 1890s, for Dracula, along with other characters in the novel, embody the Jewish stereotypes that were emphasized at the time. In 1897, the British feared “reverse colonization,” a potential decline in England’s race, morals, and spirituality. They were specifically threatened by the people from the “east,” which is represented by the inhabitants of Transylvania (Arata 623). However, Dracula represents, more specifically, Victorian England’s fear of the Jews, for “his peculiar physique, his parasitical desires, his aversion to the cross and to all the trappings of Christianity, his blood-sucking attacks, and his avaricious relation to money, resembled stereotypical anti-Semitic nineteenth-century representations of the Jew” (Halberstam 333). Furthermore, there are other instances that suggest Dracula’s representation of the Jewish stereotypes. For example, while Jonathan Harker goes to Whitby to find out that Dracula has shipped fifty boxes “of common earth” to London, he asks one of the carrier’s men about the cargo. The man remarks, “… There was dust that thick in the place you might have slep’ on it without ‘urtin’ of yer bones; an’ the place was that neglected that yer might ‘ave smelled ole Jerusalem in it” (Stoker 243). According to the carrier’s man, the house smelled of Jerusalem, implying that the old, repulsive smell is associated with Jewishness. The foul odor represents the Jews’ disapproved presence in England, as the smells “marked them out as different and indeed repugnant objects of pollution” (Halberstam 341).

There are also stereotypical Jewish references near the end of the novel when Jonathan, Dr. Van Helsing, and Dr. Seward attempt to track down Dracula’s one remaining box. Jonathan finds out that the box was received, upon request, by a Jewish man named Immanuel Hildesheim. Jonathan reports:“We found Hildesheim in his office, a Hebrew of rather the Adelphi Theatre type, with a nose like a sheep, and a fez. His arguments were pointed with specie… and with a little bargaining he told us what he knew” (Stoker 371). There are many anti-semitic implications in this passage. It is noteworthy that it is specifically a Jew who helps Dracula retrieve the box, as it implies that a Jew would act as an ally for Dracula and his evil plans. Furthermore, Hildesheim exhibits Jewish stereotypes: his nose “like a sheep” and his particular interest in money were common anti-semitic beliefs. This further suggests that Jews were viewed as a threat to the Victorian English society, as the Jewish stereotypes are present throughout the novel.

 

https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/3828327.pdf

 

Dracula in the Age of Doubt

Bram Stoker wrote Dracula in an Age of Doubt, in which industrialization challenged the religious beliefs and traditions of society. In the novel, there are many references to the Catholic faith, such as the instances of people crossing themselves (Stoker 10), the use of the crucifix, and the representation of the antichrist. Catholic symbolism represents an attempt to reconnect with faith in a society that has seen rapid industrial growth and, in turn, less emphasis on the relationship with the church.

The crucifix is a holy symbol that appears throughout the beginning of the novel, as it serves as a means of comfort and protection for Jonathan Harker during his stay at Dracula’s castle. For example, when Dracula notices the blood on Jonathan’s chin, his eyes “blazed with a sort of demonic fury, and he suddenly made a grab at (his) throat” (Stoker 33). The “demonic fury” represents the attributes of satan, the evil in the world that many Victorians feared if they lost touch with their religion. Furthermore, Jonathan states, “I drew away, and his hand touched the string of beads which held the crucifix. It made an instant change in him, for the fury passed so quickly that I could hardly believe that it was ever there” (Stoker 33). The crucifix is what protects Jonathan while he faces Dracula. This represents the significance of embracing the Catholic faith, for the crucifix is a representation of the religion, itself, and it is this symbol that protects Jonathan from Dracula, the antichrist in the novel. Therefore, this further implies that religion has great power and, possibly, necessity in a society that is losing touch with its religious background. The crucifix acts as a shield against Dracula in the same way that religion is meant to protect its worshippers from evil. In fact, Jonathan begins to realize the power of the crucifix, for he states, “Bless that good, good woman who hung the crucifix round my neck! For it is a comfort and a strength to me whenever I touch it” (Stoker 35). Jonathan, a protestant with less religious values, does not begin to appreciate the crucifix until he is exposed to Dracula’s evil. This suggests that faith should be embraced once again in the Victorian society, or otherwise the evil, represented through Dracula, could potentially harm a country that has lost connection with its religious background.Dra

 

Despair in The Midst of Opulence:

“I should be preaching a very stale sermon, and harping upon a very familiar moral, if I were to seize this opportunity of declaiming against art and beauty, because my lady was more wretched in this elegant apartment than many a half-starved sempstress in her dreary garret… and all the treasures that had been collected for her could have given her no pleasure but one, the pleasure of flinging them into a heap beneath her feet, and trampling upon them and destroying them in her cruel despair” (Braddon 292-293).

In this passage, while surrounded by her bounty of luxurious possessions, Lady Audley sulks over her hopeless situation following the discovery of her crimes. The “Benvunuto Cellini carvings and the Sevres porcelain” are only a few of her many exotic treasures that, as the narrator explains, suddenly do not “give her happiness.” Ironically, she is more miserable in her “elegant apartment” than “many a half-starved sempstress in her dreary garret.” Lucy’s distress in the company of her opulent room represents a distortion of the Victorian values and desires to have worldly treasures at their fingertips. During the Victorian era, English imperialism was on the rise, and the ownership of ornate foreign items became a new obsession. However, Braddon illustrates the possession of exotic riches in a negative light: “all the treasures that had been collected for her could have given her no pleasure but one, the pleasure of flinging them into a heap beneath her feet, and trampling upon them and destroying them in her cruel despair.” The mere suggestion of ruin and disposal of such valuable riches would possibly shock the Victorian reader, for Lucy’s displeasure represents a rejection of the esteemed upper-class life of grandeur. Furthermore, the narrator uses a sarcastic tone while describing Lady Audley’s elaborate belongings. For instance, the narrator describes “wealth and luxury” as “such plasters” and a “circle of careless pleasure-seeking creatures,” which alludes to the superficiality of a seemingly desirable social status. Furthermore, this demonstrates Braddon’s criticism on the materialistic values of the Victorian Society, as she suggests that happiness does not necessarily come from the enviable and lavish life of wealth and luxury.

 

False Appearances

“Foul deeds have been done under the most hospitable roofs, terrible crimes have been committed amid the fairest scenes… I believe that we may look into the smiling face of a murderer, and admire its tranquil beauty” (Braddon, 143-144).                                                                                                        

            This passage comes from an exchange between Robert Audley and Lady Audley during an  unexpected visit she makes to the inn. Robert demonstrates his role as the detective, suspecting that his dear friend, George Talboys, has been murdered, possibly in an unexpected place: the domestic home. Robert emphasizes the ironic situation of a horrid event occurring in a seemingly safe place. He explains that “foul deeds” and “terrible crimes” have taken place “under the most hospitable roofs” and  “amid the fairest scenes.” The contrast between the harmful acts and peaceful environments implies the greater theme of false appearances throughout the novel. Furthermore, Robert detects false appearances in people, specifically murderers. He states, “I believe that we may look into the smiling face of a murderer, and admire its tranquil beauty.” He reveals his beliefs that a calm and appealing exterior, in this case a “smiling face,” may belie an ugly and dangerous truth, which potentially foreshadows that one or more of the characters in the novel will be discovered to possess a shameful secret or mad behavior. The barrister acknowledges that “we” are oblivious to the dark secrets and crimes that are occurring, suggesting that the characters are being deceived by a harmless appearing “atmosphere,” a house, or another character in the novel. However, because the conversation is between Robert and Lady Audley, the barrister may be hinting that Lucy, herself, is the one who’s innocent appearance is concealing a dreadful secret.

 

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