Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Author: criticalcarey

Desire for Love

In Christina Rossetti’s poem “No, Thank you, John”, the speaker, who is most likely a woman, has a tremendous amount of agency for a woman in Victorian society.  When the speaker says, “I have no heart? Perhaps I have not;/ But then you’re mad to take offence/ That I don’t give you what I have not got,” she is getting angry with John because he is asking something of her that she cannot give.  He is saying that she has no heart, but then is also getting angry because she won’t give her heart to him.  This is extremely important to the poem because this idea of love in marriage is stressed over and over at the beginning of the first two stanzas.  The speaker wants to be in love when she marries and that is a very unorthodox idea in this society because women often married for economic stability instead of love.  Rossetti, in this poem, may be giving power back to women by demonstrating that women have the power to say no and can marry whoever they want.  We see other examples of women going against societal norms of marriage in Lady Audley’s Secret when Lucy decided to change her identity and remarry despite the fact that her first husband was still alive.  This showed that a woman could have two husbands.  The difference between these two texts mentioned is that the speaker in “No, Thank You, John” is not punished for her agency, while Lucy in Lady Audley’s Secret is later taken to an insane asylum as punishment.  This poem could potentially prove that women can have agency and choose their own lifestyle, whether to marry or not, without being punished for stepping outside of societal bounds.  We can also see a contrast in many works, such as Rebecca, where the women are mainly seen as wives who perform more traditional roles, such as maintaining the household, and initially choose to marry wealthy men for economic security, instead of seeking out their own desires for love.

Seductive Savages

There seems to be conflicting emotions about the status of foreign people in Victorian culture and this is extremely evident in Dracula.  In “The Occidental Tourist: Dracula and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization”, Stephen Arata claims that the “savage”, “primitive” foreign people are “dangerous, but also deeply attractive” (624).  This is definitely evident in the scenes with Dracula.  He has the potential to kill his victims, making him extremely dangerous, but during most of his “feeding” scenes the characters seem to be in very intimate positions.  Dracula always seems to be towering over his victims or clutching them, such as in the scene with Mina when Dr. Seward describes her as “kneeling”, while Dracula “gripped her by the back of the neck” and “held both Mrs. Harker’s hands” (300).  There is also intimacy in the location of his attacks, the neck, as well as the chest, where he made Mina drink from him. This seductive quality to the monsters in the story is also demonstrated in the scenes with Jonathan and the three women at Castle Dracula.  There is something frightening yet enticing to Jonathan about them because he uses words like “shivering” “supersensitive” “ecstasy” and “touching” when describing their interaction (45-6).  These scenes and the article about Dracula help explain the conflicting emotions of many Victorians.  It seems as though they fear the influence or invasion of foreigners, but these people are described in such a way that makes them also seem appealing to the reader.  The decision to describe foreign people this way could also be a tool that Stoker is using to try to persuade Victorians to be open to the idea of foreigners in England, since he himself is from Ireland.

Doubt in Dracula

Stoker’s use of the different mysteries in Dracula draws attention to the doubt and uncertainty that troubled the minds of many Victorians.  Throughout the last couple chapters, Lucy’s condition seems to be getting worse and worse and the trained medical professionals don’t seem to be able to do anything about it.  In his letter to Arthur on page 121 and 122, Dr. Seward expresses the uncertainty he feels by saying, “I am in doubt and so have…. written to my old friend.”  This could be interpreted as the idea that people might not be able to trust the seemingly most reliable people in their lives, such as their doctors.  There is also self-doubt that plays out in the novel in Dr. Seward’s diary.  He uses phrases like “strange and sudden change” on page 110 and “… but what it is I do not yet know” on page 77 to demonstrate his confusion about the proceedings of the madman at his asylum.  It appears as though Dr. Seward at times is quite confused about the patient and how to help him, questioning his own medical talent.  Many characters are flooded with self-doubt and confusion, which could potentially persuade readers to believe that stronger powers (like the supernatural or in potentially religion in Victorian culture) are really in control and ordinary people can do little about it.  There is also evidence of this on page 171 when Dr. Van Helsing says, “She is dying.  It will not be long now…”.  The men have worked tirelessly to try and cure Lucy, but ultimately it is out of their control and she is going to die no matter what.

Losing Control in Victorian Literature

In A Terribly Strange Bed by Wilkie Collins, I noticed the passages on pages 32-35 when Mr. Faulkner describes his experience with drinking.  He uses words like “drinking liquid fire”, “flame”, “mad state of exhilaration”, “violent singing”, and “my body trembled”.  These are all really dramatic, intense words to describe his current state.  All of these descriptions help further tie into the first couple paragraphs on page 32 when most of the dialogue ends in exclamation points.   These small details demonstrate the crazy haze of events that are happening and will continue to happen to the narrator throughout the rest of the story, especially in regard to the bed.  The narrator says, “No excess in wine had ever had this effect on me before in my life”.  This shows that Mr. Faulkner has never lost control like this before.  The overarching idea that struck me after reading this passage was that Victorians must be obsessed with the idea of losing control.  The narrator in this story quickly loses control of himself after he drinks, and Lady Audley loses control of herself once her secrets are revealed at the end of Lady Audley’s Secret.  This leads me to believe that the people in this time must be concerned with how easy it is to lose control of oneself.  Collins associates this behavior with violence and chaos, by saying things like the words listed above.  This might be a kind of warning, reminding people that although losing control of oneself may seem enticing and alluring like a flame or fire, it is also dangerous and harmful to your life, and potentially your fortune.

Page 57 Countryside Extended Close Reading

I have chosen to analyze the first paragraph on page 57, which discusses in detail the mystery of the countryside.  The passage uses words like “peace”, “quiet”, “sweet rustic calm”, “tender”, and “yearning” to describe the meadow, and the countryside in general.  This gives the readers a sense of comfort, but it is also harshly juxtaposed by the violence that is associated with the country.  Words such as “agonies”, “poisons”, “violent deaths”, and “crime” are also used to describe the meadow and the murders that have occurred there.  The passage describes a farmer killing his wife who “loved and trusted him” in the meadow.  This leads me to believe that someone has or will decide to murder another character who loves or trusts them in the novel, potentially in the secretive landscape that surrounds Audley Court.  One word that stood out to me in the passage I chose was half-mournful.  It was used to describe the way we look upon the meadow.  The use of half-mournful shows that the murders and violence are not far from the minds of the people who look upon the peaceful meadow.  However, in spite of all the violence that has occurred, we choose to ignore it and focus on the peaceful, sweet serenity we find in the meadow.  I think that this relates to the work as a whole because the characters in this novel look innocent and lovely on the surface, like the meadow, but they hold darker secrets within them.  Also like the use of “in spite of all” in the passage, the characters are known for having secrets, but most people are choosing to overlook them and keep idealized views of them, especially Lady Audley.

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