Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Author: Marie

Christina Rossetti’s “A Triad” and Changes in Sexuality

The idea of sexuality experiences an immense amount of change in the Victorian Era and Christina Rossetti does a great job exploring many of the opinions during this time in her poem, “A Triad”.  Upon my first reading of this piece, I noticed that there are three types of women:   one unmarried whore, one young, love struck married girl, and one married woman who is sad and lonely in her relationship.  I think these three women are great portrayals of the many different types of women and relationships of this century and although the poem is short, Rossetti does a great job in depicting the criticism each woman faced.

The first woman is described as “one with lips / Crimson, with cheeks and bosom in a glow” (Rossetti 1).  The Crimson lips brings us back to color red as a symbol of impurity alluding to the one type of woman during this time period who others judge as a whore because she is not tied down to a man.  The second woman “Bloomed like a tinted hyacinth at a show” (Rossetti 5).  This woman is the type of woman whom all Victorian women were supposed to aspire to be.  She is young and in love with a man who basically uses her as a showpiece.  The third woman is “blue with famine after love” (Rossetti 6) who perhaps started her relationship as the young love struck woman but overtime found herself lonely and heartbroken.  These three women depict the complexities of marriage which is new to this time period.

I think the main message that a reader can take away from this poem is that no matter what path a woman chose; their life always ended in a sort of misery.  Rossetti unites these three woman in that they are all battling to find happiness yet as each woman chooses their path, there will always be criticism from others.  They may stay forever on “the threshold” (Rossetti 14) of life and never be able to cross it to find true happiness but I think these three women helped all women in years to come to challenge the norm and cross the threshold to find the independence they were searching for.

A Woman’s Saving Grace

While femininity is an underlying theme in most novels of this time period, Bram Stoker, in his novel Dracula, takes this theme one step further and delves into how women can only be saved by a man.  Granted, Lucy is nearly killed by Dracula however, most of this novel focuses on the men in Lucy’s life attempting to save her from near death.  When Lucy is losing a great amount of blood each night and becoming closer and closer to dying, the only thing to save her is a man’s blood.  “A brave man’s blood is the best thing on this earth when a woman is in trouble” (Stoker, 160).  This quote by Van Helsing is an excellent example of how men during this time period thought of women in trouble.  Men are the heroes always swooping in to save the day.  In this novel, no women are there to save Lucy.  Perhaps one of the nurses could have used their blood to conduct the transfusions however, it ultimately ends up being one of the men to always aid in this process.

Ultimately, it ends up being Arthur who turns Lucy back into a human.  “Arthur took the stake and the hammer, and when once his mind was set on action his hands never trembled nor even quivered” (Stoker, 230).  Arthur, without hesitation, drives the stake into Lucy’s heart declaring him her saving grace.  Lucy could not save herself, no woman could save her, but a man was the only person who could save her life.  This passage is also a great example of a man taking possession of a woman.  Throughout the novel, Lucy had received blood from many different men symbolizing her many relationships.  Arthur, however, declares her his own by physically taking her heart for himself in this somewhat sexual resurrection of Lucy’s life.

Masculinity and femininity are a quite common theme among novels of this time period, yet Stoker takes Dracula a step further offering insight on how women not only need men in their life but they quite literally need men to save their life.

Sacred Spaces

“I hereby commend you, and I counsel you by way of caution to forbear from crossing the moor in those dark hours when the powers of evil are exalted.”  (Doyle, 16)

 

So far in my reading of The Hound of the Baskervilles, I have come across the Gothic trope of the uncanny.  From the very beginning of the novel, Doyle made the reader aware of some supernatural powers lurking in the plot which has already caught my attention.  When viewed through this Gothic lens, I already see many parallel’s in the text between The Hound of the Baskervilles and Lady Audley’s Secret.  However, one that really stood out to me is how both novels introduced early on a sort of sacred space that is mentioned to make the reader uneasy.  At the very end of the manuscript read by Dr. Mortimer in chapter two, it is mentioned that no member of the Baskerville family shall cross the moor after dark.  This poses many questions to the reader.  What lies beyond the moor?  What shall happen if one crosses the moor gate?  I think this introduction to such a space is a foreshadowing moment that maybe some of the answers are found there.  It leaves the reader with many questions but also seems to set the scene for this underlying supernatural theme the author plans to delve into further in the novel.

This parallels Lady Audley’s Secret because in the very first chapter of the novel, the narrator speaks of a lime-tree walk, “an avenue so shaded from the sun and sky, so screened from observation by the thick shelter of the over-arching trees, that it seemed a chosen place fro secret meetings or for stolen interviews; a place in which a conspiracy might have been planned or a lover’s vow registered with equal safety; and yet it was scarcely twenty paces from the house” (Braddon, 9).  Both the moor from The Hound of the Baskervilles and the lime-tree walk introduce the reader to this mysterious place not far from the main setting of each novel and as we find out later in Lady Audley’s Secret, the walk is where the reader finds the answers to the main mystery.  Which makes one wonder, what will Holmes and Watson find lying beyond the gates of the moor?

Lucy Loves No One

“She laughed aloud at his question. ‘I do not love any one in the world,’ she answered.”  (Braddon 17)

 

In this quote, from chapter one of Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret, Lucy Graham is replying in quite a peculiar way to Sir Michael’s question as to whom else she loves.  There are two parts that I find most intriguing in this quote.  The first is Lucy’s laugh that comes prior her reply.  When I imagine Lucy laughing, I hear it as more of a sarcastic laugh, as if she can hardly believe Sir Michael had even asked her such a question.  From the lines following this quote, it seems as though he hears this tone in the laugh as well.  The author could be using this as a helpful hint to the reader that Lucy is hiding something.  It is especially strange because one would typically not laugh about loving no one.  Michael is pleased by her answer, yet I believe this is where he first notices that there is something strange about the girl he admires.

The second part of this quote which caught my attention is in Lucy’s response where she claims to “not love any one in the world”.  I thought it was interesting how the author decided to use the spelling “any one” rather than “anyone”.  This tells me that Lucy is referring to any one person instead of just any person which could mean that Lucy has a specific person in mind who she had once loved but does no longer. I also believe there is some meaning behind her addition of “in the world”.  This small phrase places more emphasis on her response and makes me wonder if maybe Lucy is referring to not the actual world but a new world she is now living in.

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