Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Author: formanm

Physicality in The Goblin Market

Christina Rossetti creates an immense sense of physicality within her writing. Her descriptions of violent interactions between characters create vivid images in the minds of the readers. The evidence of this physicality can be found in her poem titled Goblin Market. The main character Lizzie encounters these goblin fruit sellers two times in the poem, with the second time significantly more violent and unsettling than the first. It is during this second encounter with the goblins that Christina Rossetti display’s her ability to create violence in her writing.
The dynamic of the interaction between Lizzie and the goblins quickly turns during her second encounter with them. After Lizzie refuses to sit down and feast with them, their conduct changes from that of overly pushy salesmen to outright barbarous monsters. “Their tones waxed loud, their looks were evil. Lashing their tails they trod and hustled her, elbowed and jostled her, clawed with their nails, barking, mewing, hissing, mocking.” After reading this quote, I immediately connected it to all those online videos featuring herds of people body checking each other for appliances, sneakers, and other various material items on sale during Black Friday. The quote continues with “tore at her gown and soiled her stocking, twitched her hair out by the roots, stamped upon her tender feet, held her hands and squeezed their fruits against her mouth to make her eat.” Beyond the obvious rape implications shown here, Rossetti increases the magnitude of the violence against Lizzie by describing what is being done to her hair and to her feet. By displaying acts of violence against the very top of her body and the very bottom, Rossetti is able to establish a complete image of physical violence against Lizzie’s entire being.
In summation, Rossetti’s description of the aforementioned scene creates images in the reader’s minds that are incredibly disturbing. One may picture a rape, or getting lost in a large raucous crowd at a young age. For me it was those videos of unruly citizens fighting over a toaster oven with a 70% markdown at Walmart. Whatever it may be, the physicality presented in this poem is obvious, but the way one interprets it may be different, and that makes Rossetti’s imagery special.

Fear of colonization in Dracula

England’s industrial revolution brought with it expansive colonization in countries like India and Africa, where England sought to conduct extensive trade. England established its colonies along with a network of trade routes, so that products could be shipped to and from England’s shores. With new innovations in nautical technology, such as steamships, England’s 19th century colonization efforts worked in full force. This kind of volume of economic activity also brought with it a significant volume of fears and doubts regarding this new and connected world. Evidence of this fear of colonization is can be found in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
As products flowed through England’s ports, so did people of different nations and of different races. This clearly created much unrest amongst the British population, as elements of other cultures began to mingle traditional British culture. On page 60 in Dracula Johnathan Harker states “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.” Based this quote by Harker, the point can be made that Dracula is viewed as more of an invader than an immigrant. The cultural practices and traditions he may bring to England as an immigrant, disregarding the fact that he is a blood thirsty vampire, posed a threat to traditional English culture in the eyes of many British citizens.
The creation of Dracula as a foreign character with intentions of purchasing property in England played directly into the fears of the Victorian era population, thus making the novel incredibly popular, as it provided exactly what its genre suggested, horror.

Did atmospheric horror derive from Dracula?

In chapter two, I ran into a familiar feeling that I have experienced in movies before, a cold loneliness. This feeling is prevalent in the archetype of psychological horror films called atmospheric horror. In order for a film to fall into this category, it must contain a few important attributes. It must be set in a desolate or closed off location with very limited access or egress, it must have poor weather with limited to no sunlight, and finally it must contain a mysterious antagonist who keeps his or her intentions away from both the protagonist and the viewers/readers. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is the oldest instance of a novel or film I have seen that holds all these attributes, and it is the first atmospheric horror novel I have read.

On pg.33 we are presented with a description of Dracula’s castle by Johnathan Harker. Within this description are the attributes that give Dracula it’s atmospheric horror feeling. The first attribute is the altitude of the castle “fall a thousand feet without touching anything.” This implies very limited access or egress in and out of the castle, so escape would be difficult and probably deadly. The second is the location of the castle in the Carpathian with green tree tops “as far as the eye can reach.” This implies an isolated location, without much nearby civilization to run to for help or seek refuge if escape from the castle was needed. Therefore, if one was somehow able to make it down the walls of the castle alive, they would certainly die of starvation or exposure trekking through the woods. The third and final attribute is the suspicious nature of Johnathan’s host as a result of “doors, doors, doors everywhere, and all locked and bolted.” Keeping all the doors locked creates a sense of mystery to both us the readers and Johnathan as we wonder why Dracula has those doors locked.

All of these elements combined create that cold lonely feeling that one experiences when they encounter an atmospheric horror film. The Shining directed by Stanley Kubrick and Ex Machina directed by Alex Garland are both films that I feel capture atmospheric horror perfectly and share many similar characteristics with Bram Stokers Dracula. However, what sets Dracula apart for me at least, is that you create the creepy and disturbing atmosphere in your own head, which I feel makes it even scarier.

2 Genres in 1 Book

When reading The Hound of the Baskervilles through a gothic literature lens, it becomes very clear that this book shares elements with gothic literature. Based on the video we saw in class, gothic literature contains a variety of different tropes. A couple of these tropes include the uncanny and the supernatural, both of which I found within this novel.
“Dr Mortimer looked strangely at us for an instant, and his voice sank almost to a whisper as he answered: Mr Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!”(p.20). The tone and content of this quote resonate with me like that of a campfire scary story or a Scooby Doo episode. Most campfire scary stories and Scooby Doo episodes revolve around an uncanny element or mystery, exactly like many gothic novels. In this case that uncanny element is the gigantic hound.
“Since the tragedy, Mr Holmes, there have come to my ears several incidents which are hard to reconcile with the settled order of Nature”(p.24). This quote brings to attention the concept of supernatural vs. nature. If something cannot be understood as a part the “settled” or known nature, then it must be of supernatural origin. With that logic in mind, the “gigantic hound” must be supernatural until it is proven natural. Just like the uncanny element or mystery in a Scooby Doo episode appears to be supernatural in almost all aspects, until it is discovered that the “insert random Scooby Doo monster” is just a man in a really good costume.
When reading this novel without looking at it through any particular lens, it is obvious that it is a detective novel. The first mention of Sherlock Holmes essentially places this novel immediately within the detective novel genre. The discovery of gothic tropes only add to the novel’s story, thus making it more compelling and interesting.

Is Lady Audley’s facade finally cracking?

“Faint shadows of green and crimson fell upon my lady’s face from the painted escutcheons in the mullioned window by which she sat; but every trace of natural colour of that face had faded out, leaving it a ghastly ashen grey. Sitting quietly in her chair, her head fallen back upon the amber damask cushions, and her little hands lying powerless in her lap, Lady Audley had fainted away (Braddon 123-124).”

In this quote Lady Audley is responding to the description of circumstantial evidence by Robert Audley. Robert states that some examples of circumstantial evidence include “a scrap of paper;a shred of some torn garment; the button off a coat; a word dropped incautiously from the over-cautious lips of guilt (Braddon 123).” After reading this description from Robert, the baby’s shoe and the little lock of hair found by Phoebe in Lady Audley’s jewelry box immediately come to mind. The objects found inside of Lady may have nothing to do with Georges disappearance, but Lady Audley’s reaction to this description of circumstantial evidence may suggest otherwise.

My experience with victorian era literature is limited as is my knowledge of victorian era social cues, but when someone passes out after being confronted with information, that information must hit that person right where they are emotionally vulnerable or guilty of something. That spot for Lady Audley is most likely her secret and anything connected to that secret. Those little items found in her jewelry box, if they are actually connected to Lady Audley’s secret, may fall fall under the category of circumstantial evidence. This could explain why “every trace of natural colour in Lady Audley’s face faded out, leaving it a ghastly ashen grey” after hearing Robert’s description. I think as Robert gets closer to finding out George’s whereabouts, we may see Lady Audley become more and more anxious, because she may be more connected to George than originally thought.

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