Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Author: heyday

The theme of desire and frustration in Rossetti’s “A Pause of Thought”

The first impression I got after reading the Rossetti’s poem “A Pause of Thought” is that it is quite related to or even seems to embody the idea of ‘five stages of grief’ which was invented by Kubler-Ross. In conjunction with this first impression, I understood that the poem is not only dealing with the theme of love but also could be seen to covering more broad range, encompassing the theme of desire, aspiration and frustration people get to experience in their life. Especially, the ‘mechanical’ terms such as “the object”, “chase” aids to form the neutral tone of the poem.

On the other hand, the repeated pattern of longing and frustration plays an important role over the poem. I think there exists double-sidedness in the mind of the narrator in that she-supposedly, because of the voice/tone of the narration-shows intense desire while not putting those desires into action. Given the restricted gender norms and roles of the Victorian era, it seems quite progressive that a woman makes her own choice-from about whom to love to what to achieve-no matter what emotional burden she has to bear, although it does not lead to certain actions in the case. Although it almost always ends with the frustration, one should have expectations in order to be frustrated by something. Also, in the process, there are specific transitional words that marks the alternating state of mind. The repetition of “but” or “yet” in first, third, fourth stanza and the use of “again” in the last stanza shows the hesitancy of the narrator despite of her realization of hopelessness. Although she seems to give up on hope of achieving one’s goal(or love) as the process goes on, the poem finally ends with “again”, implying that despite all the unstable emotions love and expectation gives us, the whole process of love and desire will repeat itself again and again, regressing back to the first moment of the poem.

The role of the record in “Dracula”

In “Dracula”, many characters contribute themselves to documenting every incident by using different means of record and keep emphasizing the importance of record in the midst of such a mystery. In relation to the pervasive power that doubt exercises over various characters, the act of recording serves its role to support and prove the rationality of characters. Especially, the documents help Jonathan and Mina to dispose their self-doubt and worries. Before organizing a group to defeat Dracula, what suffers Jonathan the most is his self-doubt about his experience in Transylvania and the fear of being regarded as a madman. So he decides not to share his experience even to the his spouse and seal his diary into secrecy. However, by keeping himself away from the diary, he just left his problem uncured and thus cross again with the predicament. Finally, it is that Jonathan determines to openly discuss the issue and share his record when the problem of Jonathan see possibilities of solution. Among various phrases of emphasis on the significance of recording, the statement of Dr. Van Helsing, a figure who keeps saving other characters from the doubt and irrationalities, can be used as a evidence to support the role of record throughout the text. In conversation with Dr. Seward, Van Helsing notes that “knowledge is stronger than memory, and we should not trust the weaker. (…) Take then good note of it. Nothing is too small. I counsel you, put down in record even your doubts and surmises. Hereafter it may be of interest to you to see how true you guess. We learn from failure, not from success!” (Stoker 130). In the line, the word ‘knowledge’ in comparison to ‘memory’ bears multiple layers of meaning. Firstly, it indicates that by the act of writing, their experiences can come into a form of knowledge, which can earn credibility from both they themselves and the readers. Secondly, it implies that the reconstruction of memory into knowledge can be related to the dramatization of the incidents and thus arouse certain sentiments or atmosphere from their experiences of incidents as raw materials. Finally, it can be understood that the record itself can and should be the object of analysis and study to construct the effective tactics to fight off the Dracula. On the other hand, the composition of novel, comprised of various excerpts from each character’s record, ensures the credibility of the incidents and the narrator through its obsession with facts while not devastating the horror, monstrous, fantasy elements of the plot.

The tension between form and matter

‘Why do you hesitate?’
‘There is a realm in which the most acute and most experienced of detectives is helpless.’
‘You mean that the thing is supernatural?’
‘I did not positively say so.’
‘No, but you evidently think it.’
‘Since the tragedy, Mr Holmes, there have come to my ears several incidents which are hard to reconcile with the settled order of Nature.’ (Doyle 24)

I found this paragraph interesting because it seems to suggest one of the significant issues of the novel-the tension between form and matter. At first sight, it feels strange to discover the most supernatural kind of narrative-myth that is passed down along certain lineage-from the most reasonable kind of narrative, detective novel. However, it can provide the readers with interesting hypothesis that even in the time of rationality, certain superstitions were still needed to calm people’s anxiety about fast changing society and its instability. No matter how social/economic progress has positive impact on the crowd, as long as progress itself is a form of change, instability is inevitable in the process. So there existed some temporal gap between people’s spiritual life and the real life.

I also contend that the text may bear some other implications depending on one component that finally beats the other. Although the two contrasting components leads readers to go along the plot of same mystery, for the story to come to its end only one component survive to culminate the novel. As detective novel is a product benefiting from the modernity itself, I would make a guess that the novel will finally end in supporting science and reasoning, the values that Sherlock Holmes symbolizes through his whole character.

The complex relation between the lady and Phoebe

Treated as a companion by her mistress, in the receipt of the most liberal wages, and with perquisites such as perhaps no lady’s-maid ever had before, it was strange that Phoebe Marks should wish to leave her situation; but it was not the less a fact that she was anxious to exchange all the advantages of Audley Court for the very unpromising prospect which awaited her as the wife of her cousin Luke. (Braddon, 110)

This passage implies the complex relationship between Lady Audley and Pheobe and each of their common/individual interest. And this relationship between them leads us to these questions; What made Lucy so anxious and burdened in her position as an assistant/accomplice to her lady that she wants to give up her benefits of being a maid of wealthy, generous lady as Mrs. Audley? What is Phoebe’s weakness that is seized upon Luke that made her go into an unwanted marriage? What does the ‘unpromising’ prospect of the marriage life with Luke indicate?

Firstly, the existence of huge burden that Phoebe has to bear is evidenced by her explicit and implied practices of running the lady’s errands regarding the secret quest the lady is going through. In the earlier chapter, Phoebe had been to London to run errand that should remain confidential to others except my lady and it seems that she must have been participating in additional works for the quest of lady. And Lady Audley’s referring to a tragic narrative of a beautiful woman who committed crime exposes the fear not only Phoebe but also lady herself even has to bear. It raises questions about what lies in their common fear of being revealed who they are or what they did.

Secondly, regarding the weakness of Phoebe that makes her go through the unwanted marriage, we can guess that it may not matter only to herself but also to the lady. In the later chapter of the book, there is a scene in which Phoebe is reprimanded for her sharing of lady’s secret with Luke. It may explain the fear that Phoebe and lady have in common, which makes up the motivation for cooperation out of necessity.

Finally, I want to explore the possible connotations that the word ‘unpromising’ implies. Given the conservative and women-oppressing environments of the Victorian age, it is very likely that the unpromising aspect/future of Phoebe’s marriage life does not simply mean dissatisfaction, but rather a more critical risk to her life, even to the degree of life-threatening. And it is also possible that Lady Audley herself may have gone through the predicament of unwanted, unsatisfactory, oppressive or threatening marriage before she got married to the ‘sweet’ gentleman like Mr.Audley.

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