Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Category: 2017 Blog Post (page 2 of 12)

The Lady of Shalott’s Power to Break Free

The Lady of Shalott by Alfred, Lord Tennyson seems to be about the limitations Victorian woman have, but is really about their power to break free.

The Lady of Shalott appears to resemble the confinement of Victorian women. She is trapped in the tower of Camelot, and is restricted to the outside world. The only thing she has is her duties, “There she weaves by night and day” (Tennyson, 2). She doesn’t even have a real window to see the outside world, only a mirror, “That hangs before her all the year, Shadows of the world appear” (Tennyson, 2). The mirror is ultimately an emblem of the confinement, and limited opportunities of Victorian women, because it was a constant reminder to the Lady of Shalott that she could only see the “shadows,” not the light. The mirror reflected the outside world, which implies that Victorian women needed to be protected or shielded from the real world because it was too dangerous to expose them to. This made me wonder, is the purpose of confining beautiful women and hiding them from the outside world to keep their sense of innocence and purity, or to protect the outside world from their power to unlock and become wild?

However, The Lady of Shalott is really about the power Victorian women have inside of them in order to break free from their duties. The mirror, which served to confine Lady Shalott, is the object that cracked and actually exposed the Lady of Shalott to the so desired outside world where the attractive Sir Lancelot was- “The mirror crack’d from side to side” (Tennyson, 4). When the Lady of Shalott was motivated to leave the castle because “Of bold Sir Lancelot” (Tennyson, 3), an internal power was unlocked inside of her – she had the power to break the curse. If women have an internal power to escape, and break free why is it only unlocked when an attractive man motivates them? Does this mean that men are woman’s true powers? Without the sight of a man the Lady of Shalott would not have been able to escape. It is also because of Sir Lancelot that the Lady of Shalott broke the curse and died.

What I am trying to say here is that The Lady of Shalott is really about a women’s internal power that can only be unlocked by the presence of an attractive man. However, a women’s internal power to escape is only useful in the presence of a man, therefore men determine women’s fates by mere exposure. Men are then considered, when it comes to women’s powers, not worth it because the Lady of Shalott died in response. Ultimately, the purpose of confining women is to protect them from the outside world and to keep their sense of innocence and purity.

The Implicit Message in La Belle Dame

John Keats’ poem La Belle Dame sans Merci: A Ballad describes a pallid knight wandering around a lake. As the knight describes La Belle Dame, he explains to the reader what the poem is implicitly saying; an enchanting woman stole a knight’s heart, but did not stay with him.

The knight describes the beautiful woman that enchants him as, “fully beautiful- a faerie’s child.” This line tells the reader that she may have the mischievous nature of a fairy, and most definitely the alluring beauty of one. Like fairies, sirens enchant men, and there is a possible connection to sirens in this line. In the next lines, the knight describes her long hair, and wild eyes. In the poem, her long, loose hair symbolizes her passionate behavior towards men, and specifically this knight.

In the lines preceding this, the knight sees, “on thy cheek a fading rose / fast withereth too.” He sees this rose on her, and it represents La Belle’s secret and taboo message for the knight. When he says that it withers quickly, the poem foreshadows her intent to leave him after she has had her way with him.

In the fifth stanza, the knight presents handmade gifts to La Belle Dame, who not only accepts the gifts, but returns the sentiment with a look of love. The following line is, “and made sweet moan.” This line indicates sexual interaction between them, and is the moment they become lovers.

For the next four stanzas, the knight sees nothing but La Belle, who tells him, “I love thee true.” Though she tells him she loves him, this is not an indication that she’ll stay faithful to him, or with him at all. She does none, and he awakes on a hillside, alone. Thus, the poem sends the message that this woman, (if not all women), are untrustworthy despite their displays of affection.


Goblin Market: Animal Tropes and Instinct

In Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market”, it can be argued that there is a definitive ranking of the species mentioned in the book– the sisters, Laura and Lizzie, are obviously higher ranked than the savage, sexually driven goblins described in the poem. However, there is a startling resemblance between the two that can be derived from a short paragraph.

When the goblins are introduced, they are described with animalistic qualities. For example, “One had a cat’s face, one whisked a tail, one tramped at a rat’s pace, one crawled like a snail…” (Rossetti, pages 2 and 3) With animalistic qualities come a more sub-human and primeval quality to the description. Rosetti chose these animals wisely; snails and rats are seen as disgusting by humans, and cats are seen as sneaky. When reduced to nothing but an animal, the point that Rossetti tries to make come across more bluntly: the goblins are sneaky, kniving, and have malicious intent. Thus, they are described as these more hideous creatures.

While the animalistic, “subhuman” comparison of the goblins to different animals are expected, the comparison of Laura to an animal is surprising to readers: “Laura stretched her neck like a rush-imbedded swan…” (Rossetti, page 3) At first, it was surprising to me that the passage would compare Laura to an animal. If she is seen as the “original inhabitant” and thus pure creature of her habitat, why is she degraded to an animal? And even though she is described as something so graceful and pure, she is still degraded to nothing more than an animal.

This is because in these few lines, Rossetti is trying to prove that even though goblins are very unequal than humans, they still have the same quality of instinct. In this case, both the goblins and Laura rely on their sexual instincts in order to make decisions. The goblins cry out to Laura hoping to take away her purity, and her curiosity and instinct eventually lead her to comply. Since animals are normally seen as more instinctual than humans (who are seen to rely on thought process and reason), Rossetti can degrade her characters to nothing but animals to get the factual point across.

What I am really trying to say using this passage here is that even though the goblins are seen through a more brutal lens, in reality everyone is an animal no matter their background, and must bend to their instinct at one point.

The Demonization of Looking Different

In Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde, the appearance of Mr.Hyde is a driving force for Utterson’s suspicions. Mr.Hyde is widely disliked, and most times this directly stems from the way he looks.  After his first meeting with Hyde, Utterson describes him as such,

“Mr. Hyde was pale and dwarfish, he gave an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation, he had a displeasing smile, he had borne himself to the lawyer with a sort of murderous mixture of timidity and boldness, and he spoke with a husky, whispering and somewhat broken voice; all these were points against him, but not all of these together could explain the hitherto unknown disgust, loathing, and fear with which Mr. Utterson regarded him. “(Stevenson Ch 1)

The word that stood out to me here was “deformity” because it indicates a difference that is often looked down upon in society. In Victorian times the pseudosciences that were popular often attributed the physical appearance of a person to their mental state and to prove the lesser value of types of people. LIke an amateur Sherlock, Utterson is clued to a “murderous” side to Mr. Hyde by his deformed appearance. Hyde’s villainy is, for the most part, not portrayed through his actions but by his physical traits. The ways he talks, walks,  and looks different from the upper-class people is meant to be an obvious marker to the Victorian era reader that Mr.Hyde has ulterior motives.  The description of Hyde perpetuates a demonization and devaluation of people with deformities as inherently evil. Hyde is met with this attitude in the story of him running into the little girl when he is confronted by an angry mob of sorts.  In this sense, Mr. Hyde is just another example of a victim of Victorian societal prejudices that is written to be the bad guy.


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.

The Goblin Market

Close Reading of Goblin Market:

Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market is an incredibly sexualized poem, even though she openly wrote this for children. The depiction of the change that happens when the goblins find out that Lizzie wants to take the fruits to her sister in hopes of curing her becomes very climactic. The goblins early on in the poem were portrayed as being very happy “chuckling, clapping, crowing,” “hugged her and kissed her, squeezed and caressed her.” For some reason, this changes as they become increasingly evil and violent. In both cases, the goblins comparable to animals, however, the comparisons are vastly different. When Lizzie and Laura first meet them, they are “wagging” and “purring” like other animals, later on when Lizzie encounters them, they lash their tails, bark, and become more vicious. The goblins represent a binary; they embody both innocence and corruption. When the goblins attack Lizzie, the text makes it appear that their intentions are most likely far worse than we were lead to believe though. The goblins “held her hands and squeezed their fruits against her mouth to make her eat.” The fact that they held her down and “squeezed their fruits against her mouth” suggests that this act was performed without any consent and was the use of brutal force. Along with that, the goblins “tore her gown and soiled her stocking” which to suggests that she was violated in some way by the goblins. The author includes this scene to make a statement about the evils of men and how this affects women in the Victorian era.

Is Dr. Jekyll “Hyding” Something?

The opinions of Mr. Hyde, as seen through other characters in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, have not been particularly positive. For example, Mr. Utterson declares “I never saw a man I so disliked, and yet I scarce know why” (Stevenson, 5) and later believes, “the man seems hardly human!” (Stevenson, 10). However, Dr. Jekyll’s views on Mr. Hyde are especially interesting and revealing.

When Mr. Utterson first mentions Mr. Hyde to his friend, “the large handsome face of Dr. Jekyll grew pale to the very lips, and there came a blackness about his eyes” (Stevenson, 13). Someone tends to “grow pale” when he/she becomes scared, stressed or sickened. In many cases, this paleness results from a feeling of anxiety. Therefore, before even responding to Mr. Utterson’s claim, the reader has an indictment of how Dr. Jekyll will reply.

Even with the new “abominable” (Stevenson, 13) information Utterson has uncovered about Mr. Hyde, Dr. Jekyll refuses to speak more on the subject. He tells the lawyer, “This is a matter I thought we had agreed to drop” (Stevenson, 13). Most people tend to love hearing about gossip, especially when the subject isn’t themselves. However, Dr. Jekyll appears to want nothing to do with it and consistently asks to move onto a new topic. This raises the impression that perhaps Dr. Jekyll already knows what Mr. Utterson is about to tell him. Furthermore, what if the doctor’s lack of curiosity is because he’s actually hiding something?

This idea would go along with Dr. Jekyll’s mention of “my position is very strange—a very strange one” (Stevenson, 13). He goes on to tell the lawyer that “It is one of those affairs that cannot be mended by talking” (Stevenson, 13); which has the reader thinking about whether the doctor’s “affair” is one that Mr. Utterson must see for himself in order to believe.

Once again, Dr. Jekyll urges Mr. Utterson that “this is a private matter, and I beg of you let it sleep” (Stevenson, 13), before finally telling him, “I do sincerely take a great, a very great interest in” (Stevenson, 13) Mr. Hyde. Connected to the last point, perhaps people cannot see Mr. Hyde the same way as the doctor does because he is withholding the truth. Dr. Jekyll has seen something in Mr. Hyde that no one else has, an interesting point considering these two characters have yet to be in the same place at the same time in our novel so far.

Physiognomy in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

In the short novel the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, the idea of physiognomy is used to show that Mr. Hyde is not a trustworthy person. Physiognomy is the idea that a person’s outer appearance could reveal something explicit about a person’s character. After Mr. Utterson asks Mr. Hyde to reveal his face the narrator describes Mr. Hyde as, “pale and dwarfish; he gave the impression of deformity without any namable malformation, he had a displeasing smile, he had born himself to the lawyer with a sort of murderous mixture of timidity and boldness… all of these were points against him” (Stevenson 10). The description of Mr. Hyde is very interesting because of how it focuses on his appearance as evidence for him being evil. Mr. Hyde is described as “dwarfish” and possibly having a mild disability. However, the language of the passage causes the reader to wonder if maybe Mr. Hyde is possibly insane. The use of the word “impression” shows that part of what makes Mr. Utterson think Mr. Hyde is deformed comes not only from his appearance but also from his actions. Mr. Hyde’s “displeasing smile” also could be the result of his physical appearance or how he chooses to present himself to the world. The description of Mr. Hyde also reminded me of a woman since he is said to be small, and timid. All of these words reveal that because of how Mr. Hyde looks and carries himself, he is perceived as abnormal.

Jekyll and Hyde as a Victorian Text

I never knew that The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde  was a Victorian era short story, but now that I do, Victorian era themes are quite apparent throughout the story. One theme that is exceedingly present in the first two chapters is that of the supernatural. Although there are no explicit hints at the supernatural throughout the story, Stevenson includes some supernatural elements in order to make the ending less jarring. When Einfield describes his encounter with Mr. Hyde he claims: “He is not easy to describe. There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something downright detestable. I never saw a man I so disliked, and yet I scarce know why. ” (Stevenson, 10). This is an unusual way to feel about someone, and Einfield’s inability to pinpoint what exactly is strange about Hyde hints that there is something not of this world at play. This is also seen when Utterson encounters Hyde: “There is something more, if I could find a name for it. God bless me, the man seems hardly human!” (Stevenson, 19). Utterson even goes as far as to classify Hyde as “hardly human” which hints even more heavily that something sinister may happen. These mentions, though, are subtle, and surrounded by decidedly normal text and happenings, with Utterson leading the reader to believe Hyde’s role is in the mundane blackmail. Including these subtle supernatural elements is an effective way for Stevenson to allow the reader to be surprised by the ending, while still feel like it did not come out of nowhere.

Similarities between La Belle Dame sans Merci: A Ballad to Dracula.

In my post, I am going to be comparing the women in La Belle Dame sans Merci to Dracula. What I found similar about these two characters were first the fact that they have the persuasive ability to make people fall in love with them in an unhealthy way. Another similarity is the effect of their “love” has on the individual after they have been caught in their trance. The lady in La Belle Dame sans Merci, uses are beauty and affection to seduce men. By seducing the men she sees, she takes away his life in order to satisfy her needs. “ And this is why I sojourn here, alone and palely loitering, though the sedge is withered from the lake, and no birds sings” (Keats). An example of this for Dracula would be when he lured Lucy with his affectionate ways. Dracula is the cause of Lucy’s death,  he uses her for satisfaction for himself. Dracula and the lady are similar to how they get what they want, but once the person serves no purpose it results in death. I would what would happen if these two characters met. Would they kill each other with their seductive lust? Or would one gain more than the other?

A difference between Dracula and the lady would be their reputation for the character in the novel and poem. Dracula is portrayed as a powerful and handsome man who is known for his beastly character. While the lady seems innocent and is dancing around with flowers in the field. Men flock to her because of how pure she looks. But overall these two characters still have the same intentions and similar outcomes result for their victims.

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