Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Author: SASK

Christina Rossetti’s relatable Heartbreak

Christina Rossetti’s poem “A Pause of Thought” explores the hope of the narrator that an unrequited love might return one day. Assuming the narrator is a woman, she takes us on an emotional journey of love and heartache. In the first stanza, she is expressing the heartbreak one has when the love they give to another person is not reciprocated. In the second line she says, “And hope deferred made my heart sick…” which is an example of personification (32). The narrator gives the heart, an inanimate object, a human characteristic and places it with the word ‘sick’ to emphasize the pain and discomfort she is going through. Next, in the second stanza she describes that her faith has not died, and she has hope that one day her love will come back. The narrator says in the eighth line how she “watched and waited,” and the repetition in the words allows the reader to relate to the repetitive action of longing for a love one to return (32). Following, in the third stanza the narrator is starting to give up on love, she states in lines ten and eleven, “My expectation wearies and shall cease; I will resign it now and be at peace” (32). No matter male or female, the pain of loving someone and waiting for them to love you back becomes exhausting. In the fourth stanza, the narrator fantasizes about what it would like to be married and be loved by the person she loves, but is beginning to come to understand the reality of the situation. There comes a point where enough is enough, and although one might want to hold on, the truth will eventually be seen. Lastly, in the fifth and final stanza the narrator has come to the realization that it is not healthy to be in the position she is in. She should not have to wait for a man to confess his love her for, and instead she should move on and find the love she truly deserves from someone else.

I think this poem is easily relatable to any individual who has been broken up with by someone they were still in love with or someone who is in love with someone but knows the other feelings are not reciprocated. It is a tough journey, and ones’ emotions are usually all over the place. This poem of Christina Rossetti’s is speaking to a wide audience, even though at the time it was written it was probably meant to be relatable to only women, since women were longing to be loved and get married.

Rossetti, Christina. “A Pause of Thought.” Goblin Market and Other Poems. Ed. Candace   Ward. New York: Dover Publications, Inc, 2004. Print.

“No, Thank You, John” : Women Power

The Victorian period experienced many cases of authors and artists thinking about and expressing women’s roles in society differently. One fear pertained to marriage and sexuality. During this time young girls were expected to be looking for a husband, but to make sure they were never suggestive of having a sexual appetite. Women desired marriage because it allowed them to become mothers, not because they could pursue their sexual desires. Once married women were inferior to men, women had no say or choice over their life. In most cases men held all the resources and women were dependent on them. The ideal was that women would be under the control of, and in the service of, a man. However, Christina Rossetti’s poem “No, Thank You, John” is a piece of literature that challenges the relationship and power between men and women of the Victorian era.

The poem shows a conflicting love relationship between a male and female. The male is interested in pursuing their friendship further, however, the speaker does not reciprocate those feelings. Throughout the poem, the speaker repeatedly informs the suitor that she does not love him and refuses to be more than friends with him.

You know I never loved you, John;
No fault of mine made me your toast:
Why will you haunt me with a face as wan
As shows an hour-old ghost? (5-8)
[…]
Let bygones be bygones:
Don’t call me false, who owed not to be true:
I’d rather answer “No” to fifty Johns
Than answer “Yes” to you. (17-20)
[…]
In open treat. Rise above
Quibbles and shuffling off and on:
Here’s friendship for you if you like; but love, –
No, thank you, John. (29-32)

Rossetti gives the female speaker power. The speaker can use her voice to get what she wants. It enables her the power to achieve agency, equality, and self-sufficiency. She no longer must be weak and inferior to men, she has the control. This poem goes against the norms of the Victorian era and challenges the ideal of women’s rights and gender relations.

 

Rossetti, Christina. “No, Thank You, John.” Goblin Market and Other Poems. Ed. Candace Ward. New York: Dover Publications, Inc, 2004. Print.

The Use of Blood

Bram Stoker’s Dracula uses blood in different ways. One function being, the feeding of blood by Dracula to represent sexual desire and the exchange of bodily fluids associated with sexual intercourse. In Victorian England at the time of this novel, women’s sexual behavior was dictated by society’s strict expectations. She was either a virgin, the model of purity and innocence, or she was a wife whose job was to bear children.

Lucy was a pure and innocent woman, but Dracula changed that. Dr. Seward describes in his diary how “the sweetness was turned to adamantine, heartless cruelty, and the purity to voluptuous wantonness” (225). He goes on to say, “…on Lucy’s face we could see that the lips were crimson with fresh blood, and that the stream had trickled over her chin and stained the purity of her lawn death-robe” (225). Lucy is now like Dracula, desiring blood, therefore desiring sex. A death-robe was usually white, which is playing on the idea of purity and the image of marriage. In Victorian England, women almost always wore a white dress on their wedding day since white is a color used to indicate purity. However, once a woman is married she loses her virginity and innocence. That is exactly what Stoker is trying to touch upon. Lucy is not yet officially married, but the blood stains on her white dress infer that she has lost her virginity and her purity is gone. Dracula has penetrated Lucy, taken blood from her and changed her into a blood thirsty vampire/sex desiring woman. This behavior coming from a women was not socially acceptable, so the men want to kill her in order to return her to a purer state, the only state in which women can be respected.

 

Stoker, Bram. Dracula. London: Penguin Group, 2003. Print.

The Binds of Classism

With the arrival of Dr. Mortimer at Detective Sherlock Holmes office as the first scene in The Hound of the Baskervilles, the questions of natural versus supernatural come into action. Dr. Mortimer tells Holmes and his friend/colleague, Dr. Watson, of Sir Charles Baskerville’s death and the mysterious, supernatural hound that is believed to haunt the Baskerville lineage and their estate. Watson and Holmes are informed that the next of kin of is to arrive to Baskerville Hall very soon, but Dr. Mortimer fears it is unsafe for him to do so. Unsure of what to do, he asks for the help of Holmes and Watson to which they agree to take the case.

From what Holmes has been told by Dr. Mortimer, he is not as quick to speculate that Sir Charles Baskerville died at the hands of a supernatural hound. Evident from the beginning of this novel, there is a connection between classism and the question of natural/supernatural. Holmes questions Dr. Mortimer, “and you, a trained man of science, believe it to be supernatural?” (Conan Doyle 24). Holmes thinks that men of a higher class, have had a better education, especially a man like Dr. Mortimer, therefore they must not believe in the supernatural. Their intellect is rooted in logic and what they have learned is the truth. Holmes states “if Dr. Mortimer’s surmise should be correct, and we are dealing with forces outside the ordinary laws of Nature, there is an end of our investigation. But we are bound to exhaust all other hypotheses before falling back upon this one” (Conan Doyle 29). For him to do his job properly he must consider all other options and examine all other pieces of the story to explain the death of Sir Charles Baskerville was not done by something supernatural.

Further into the novel, Watson moves into Baskerville Hall with Sir Henry. He decides to take a walk around the moor, where Sir Charles had died, and ran into one of the neighbors, Stapleton. Watson and he have a conversation pertaining to Sir Charles death and the mysterious hound. Stapleton adds, “it is extraordinary how credulous the peasants are about here! Any number of them are ready to swear that they have seen such a creature upon the moor” (Conan Doyle 65). What he states parallels Holmes’ idea that belief in the supernatural only belong to common folk and intellectuals are to dismiss the curse. This leaves the reader in a mystery, opening them up to the Gothic tradition of storytelling and who has the power to believe in it.

Conan Doyle, Arthur. The Hound of the Baskervilles. Penguin Group, 2003.

Lucy’s Secret Object

“She had never taken her left hand from the black ribbon at her throat. She drew it from her bosom as she spoke, and looked at the object attached to it” (Braddon 17)

Before arriving at this passage in Lady Audley’s Secret, Sir Audley had just proposed to Lucy Graham. After a moment of consideration Lucy accepted the proposal which excited Sir Audley, but also made him worrisome about her reasoning for accepting the proposal. They part ways and Lucy enters the privacy of her own room. This passage then follows, and the reader gets a glimpse into why Lucy may have been hesitant when responding to Sir Audley’s proposal.

Reading this passage, it appears that Lucy is having trouble letting go of something since she had “never” took her hand off the ribbon with the object. Also, she kept the object attached at her “bosom” which has an indication that this object is very near-and-dear to her heart and she wants to keep it close. The object is “attached” to the ribbon, and the ribbon, is attached to her so essentially this object is something she is attached or connected to.

The rhyming between “throat” and “spoke” may lead the reader to think more about what is happening in the lines indicated above. Drawing from those words, and the context around them, the object could be tied around her throat to influence her to think before she speaks.

The reader is meant to know that Lucy is clearly hiding the object from the people around her. But why? What is she hiding? The mystery of it all makes the reader eager to find out. 

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