Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Author: ZonaldClumpf

The Lady of Shalott and Desire

The Lady of Shalott is a great poem that when understood in its original context has a deeply impactful meaning. There are many interpretations but I want to get at the core theme of the poem by examining the tragic mistake the Lady of Shalott makes that ultimately leads to her death. Why does the Lady die? She pursues Lancelot down the river and ends up dying on her journey. Why does she does she pursue Lancelot? She says at the end of part two “I am half-sick of shadows”. This line has tremendous meaning. It suggests that she has had unfulfilled desires before Lancelot arrived. It also suggests that she is self aware, not the avatar of a supernatural ideal but rather a real person who is conscious of the decisions she is making. Her tone is also dismissive and maybe filled with a certain amount of frustration as well (understandable given her situation). I think the dismissiveness however is indicative of a certain amount of hubris. She dismisses and expresses some contempt for the “shadows”. What do these shadows represent? They are her understanding of the world because of the curse she has which prevents her from gazing upon the world directly. She calls her image of the world a ”shadow” and that she is “half-sick” of it. However these “shadows” are a necessary condition given the curse that she is beholden to. This is why her statement contains some hubris, she believes she is not beholden to the curse or that her desire is enough to overcome it.

Goblin Market has a similar theme of capitulation to desire. “We must not look at goblin men, We must not buy their fruits: Who knows upon what soil they fed Their hungry thirsty roots?”. There is the precedent set, the temptation and the succumbing to temptation eventually when the protagonist enjoys the goblin mens fruit. There is more explicit sexual imagery in Goblin Market in my opinion. “Clearer than water flow’d that juice; She never tasted such before, How should it cloy with length of use? She suck’d and suck’d and suck’d the more Fruits which that unknown orchard bore; She suck’d until her lips were sore”. In The Lady of Shalott the sexual desire is more innocent but more explicit.

The Lady of Shalott is an archetypal western story. In the western tradition dating all the way back to Euripides and his play the Bacchae it has been understood that freedom is the absence of or triumph over desire and that slavery is the capitulation to desire. Pentheus, the king of Thebes, is corrupted by the god Dionysus who lures him to his death by unleashing his carnal hunger. Pentheus loses control of himself and is consumed by perversion. In the end he is torn apart by his own mother, taking him for a lion in her own blind frenzy, who was also under the spell of Dionysus. The moral of the story and its traditional interpretation is that when you are consumed by desire you are held captive by a hedonism that transcends your being and ultimately leads to your destruction.


Muh Othered Bodies

What are the Authors of Dracula and Goblin Market getting at with their writing? Well, we can ignore the very valid meta-narrative that exists in the subtext and cultural context of the work. We could instead obsess over a postmodern interpretation, lacking real understanding and become extremely neurotic. I’d like to give a deconstruction  of this apprehension and misunderstanding regarding the legitimate concerns of Victorians who by the way are human beings, not the evil monsters it seems we are so fond of making them out to be. Ironic so many are so quick to “other” Victorians over “othered bodies”.

Why is it that there is anxiety surrounding “reverse colonization” or more accurately the colonization of one’s country? Well on a material level the more people you include in your country the fewer resources are distributed to its individual citizens. The world is a zero-sum game, there are not infinite resources. So when “foreign bodies” are introduced there are more competitors for the limited resources you possess within your country. We can connect this to Dracula’s desire to move to England: he is looking for a greater pool of resources to pull from. “This was the being I was helping to transfer to London, where, perhaps, for centuries to come he might, amongst its teeming millions, satiate his lust for blood, and create a new and ever-widening circle of semi-demons to batten on the helpless. The very thought drove me mad.” (4.62). Then there is the question of sovereignty. When you accept foreigners into your society they become a part of it but not fully. They have different desires and needs and will compete with you for political power. So not only do you have to compete with your own countrymen but you also have to compete with foreigners, or maybe just people of a different ethnic or racial group. Sovereignty and political power are seldom achieved in countries where different racial and ethnic groups must compete. We can connect this to Dracula extending his power when he arrives in England, controlling people who he has corrupted. Then there is the question of purity. In every culture that existed up until the 19th century the idea of purity featured prominently. It is held as an ideal and virtue that is in many ways the embodiment of beauty and the transcendent. When you introduce foreigners into your society you destroy the purity your ancestors have bestowed upon you, a carefully guarded gift that they fought for. So you move farther from the ideal while simultaneously shame the sacrifices made for you. That is why the “goblin men” are stigmatized, because they are a disruption in the society that has been carefully constructed fro these young women.

Why might they fixate on the “monstrous bodies” of foreigners? The focus on bodies might be because of the real physical differences that exist between people. Those real differences have real consequences in the real world. Bodies are not just avatars that are interchangeable. They represent a continuation of the mother and father. They are representative of a greater people that they belong to as bodies. So the fixation on bodies may have to do what they represent. The bodies are also sublime and horrific, interesting for a writer to write about.

Equality and Dracula as the Tragic Elite

We live in an age defined by an ultra-egalitarian zeitgeist so overpowering that it has extinguished the fire or spirit which once illuminated the halls of history with understanding and meaning.

Egalitarianism, the ideology and moral ideal of equality, is the defining characteristic of what we call ‘modernity’. On a physical and metaphysical level it is the destruction of value. It is a source of apathy and is essentially nihilistic because of its destruction of value. Something has value when is different or unique. A world of difference and inequality has meaning and purpose. A world of equality, in an esoteric sense, is a world without meaning. It is a world where no one is stronger, smarter, quicker, wittier,  more beautiful or noble than anyone else. To even assert that anyone is or could be greater than anyone else is the greatest sacrilege, punished with excommunication and shaming. This is probably why marxian socialists and marxian socialist countries with aggressively egalitarian policies have recorded historically the highest rates of suicide in the world. This also might explain why life was so cheap under the soviet system, and also why in a secular state where metaphysics have been abolished and the world is seen purely in physical terms (capitalism/socialism/communism) the number one preoccupation is money. But while money can provide you with means it cannot provide you with meaning.

And this highlights the terrible contradiction in egalitarian ideology because its general appeal is not to those who are in the middle – and certainly not those with any confidence in themselves – but to those that are either significantly above or significantly below. Those who are below embrace the language of equality because they stand to gain social status and wealth. Equality policies are like winning the lottery. And those who are above preach equality because they stand to gain legitimacy and a sense of well being. Advocacy of equality makes them appear ‘Enlightened’ (woke) and ‘educated’ (informed) which makes them morally superior to those who reject advocacy of equality… all of which gives them power in the social structure as constructed today. And this highlights what lies beneath all the empty platitudes and ostensible noble intentions: Egalitarianism is about Power. This is why it creates a climate of corruption because on the one hand the language of egalitarianism is used in a cynical fashion by individuals pursuing personal or political advantage while on the other (and because of these individuals) the sincerity of self-proclaimed egalitarians becomes highly suspect. What is more showing however is that among those who have been designated as beneficiaries of egalitarian ethics it is increasingly understood now more than ever that these ethics are not sincere. This is because those who are beneficiaries ultimately comprise a class of parasites who knowingly go along with these ethics as a strategy of not only survival but deception.

And when you look around at the material world in which we live it is undeniable that inequality is not only in abundance but an inevitability. Equality of opportunity is a lie (it is important to note here that the assumption of equality of opportunity precedes equality of outcome which is therefore also a lie). It doesn’t exist and never will. How tall are you? Are you and all of your peers the same height? What is the height of your reach? You may never be able to reach higher than six feet. Why is this? Well, we are at least eighty percent genetic or hereditarian. We exist as organisms in biological substructures just like all other organisms and we are beholden to the laws of nature (unless you are a kook who believes in creationism instead of the Theory of Evolution). In this way we are biologically pre-determined. So equality of opportunity will not ever exist and is therefore a dishonest ideal to pursue because it will never be realized, and you shouldn’t believe anyone telling you equality of opportunity is real or achievable.

You might be asking yourself: Why is it important to explain the greatest falsehood and betrayal of our time? This ideology of Egalitarianism has infected everything including your psyche and moral sensibilities. You have oriented your entire life and understanding of the world around a great lie. It’s not your fault you have fallen for this lie. I don’t believe that someone who has had the truth withheld from them is in any way at fault. You are a victim of historical circumstance. You have not yet been presented with an alternative to this illusion that has been constructed around you. That is where Count Dracula comes in. Continue reading, if not for the extrication of you moral consciousness by understanding anti-egalitarianism, at least for an accurate understanding of who Dracula is.

So, who is Dracula? We know that he’s a vampire and he’s suppose to be very spooky. But more important to his identity and character is his appearance in the novel as an elite or patrician, and an unapologetic and proud one at that (a characteristic that has curiously been entirely erased from or demonized in popular culture). Dracula isn’t an elite in the meritocratic sense either – constructed to be the only acceptable type of elite by moderate egalitarians – rather he is a nobleman. “Ah, young sir, the Szekelys – and the Dracula as their heart’s blood, Their brains, and their swords – can boast a record that mushroom growths like the Hapsburgs and the Romanoffs can never reach.” (Page 37). As a member of the nobility – unlike the rootless, cosmopolitan elites of today – he has a connection to the land and a connection to the people who have served him and who he has protected. There is a sense of pride in who he is, integrally tied to common people. There is also a desire for greatness, glory and status not only for himself but for his people because as a nobleman his success is largely dependent on theirs -again unlike the bankers and financiers of today who benefit from misfortune as much as success.

This is really only a superficial characteristic of the aristocracy based in the material world that is rather common and understandable. What is truly revealing is the sentiment he follows this passage up with. “The warlike days are over. Blood is too precious a thing in these days of dishonourable peace; and the glories of the great races are as a tale that is told.” (Page 37). The aristocracy and the the aristocratic soul has always been organized around ideals found in majesty, glory, strength, beauty and honor (romanticism) through organized violence. Organized violence is seen as the highest and most pure expression of the soul because of its truth value. When someone achieves their goals by way of organized violence they have done so honestly and fairly by way of competition. The yearning desire for the greatness that comes from organized violence/truth is essentially aristocratic during this time period when the aristocracy, traditionally the military class. He is the classically conflicted aristocratic figure. The aristocracy had reached its zenith and had steadily declined because of increasing egalitarian sentiments during the 19th century. Changing military technologies had rendered skill at arms, the years of martial training aristocratic men had engaged in, useless in the face of the bolt action rifle, artillery, and tanks.

Dracula as a vampire also possess’ supernatural strength and power. So he is not only an elite in the social sense but also possess’ the mythical strength and endurance of a figure typically worshiped in a pagan hero cult. He is in a physical sense superior to those around him. Of course this superiority comes at the cost of being a vampire and all of the negative side effects that go along with vampirism. Dracula in this way is a tragic figure. He possess’ the high qualities of a hero but at the expense of insatiable desire that reduces him to a thrall.

Similarities Between Phoebe and Lucy

“Phoebe Marks, you have told this man!” The girl fell on her knees at my lady’s feet. “Oh, forgive me, forgive me!” she cried. “He forced it from me, or I would never, never have told!” (Page 113).


By chapter fourteen there is quite a bit of evidence to suggest that Lucy Audley may be Helen and that this secret is looming over her new life. In chapter fourteen we learn about a number of characters who might have knowledge of this secret. Because Alicia wants nothing to do with Lucy, Lucy ends up spending time with Phoebe. Phoebe has a fiancee named Luke. She has acquired him a job as a servant.


When Lucy meets him she doesn’t think much of him. Lucy is upset that she will be losing Phoebe as a maid to someone she feels is rather rude and boorish. Phoebe explains that she doesn’t love him. She first says she is still engaged to him because she fears him explaining that when he was a child he was violent and even threatened his mother with a knife. Lucy suggests that Phoebe not marry Luke, that doing so what be a terrible idea and that she wants to keep her as her maid. However Phoebe insists that she must marry him and that “It will be my ruin, and the ruin of others, if I break my word”(Page 112). So Lucy accepts that Phoebe must marry Luke and suggests that there must be some great secret at the bottom of this. All great liars suspect everyone of lying which again supports the possibility she is Helen and she is hiding her identity. Phoebe then admits that there is a great secret she has which she is hiding and turns away.


Lucy asks what Luke might want to do professionally. Phoebe tells her he wants to open a public-house(pub). So Lucy invites him to her home to help him in this project. He comes and listens to Lady Audley’s “liberal” promise of fifty pounds so that he might start this business of his. Instead of being thankful however he is rather rude and asks for double the amount offered. When Lucy refuses he says “Oh yes, you will though” with “quiet insolence, that had a hidden meaning”. This is when it is revealed that Luke knows about Lucy’s secret and that Phoebe was forced to tell him.


After some close reading we know a little more about the situation. Lucy has confided in Phoebe whatever secret she is keeping. Also Phoebe has revealed this secret to Luke. Whatever the secret is it gives Luke leverage to extort Lucy for more money than she offered, even given her social status. This suggests that her secret is pretty serious, especially considering her explosively angry reaction when she finds out Phoebe has revealed her secret. We have also found out that Phoebe has a secret of her own which she is hiding. Luke may also be holding this secret over her so Phoebe and Lucy have a similar relationship with him. She may also be ruined by the revealing of her secret, similar to Lucy. Neither of them love their significant other, though we know why Phoebe will marry Luke. It has not been made entirely clear yet why Lucy married Sir Michael though. Why are there so many similarities?

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