Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

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.

“He sails to-night from Liverpool” (Braddon 95).

“He sails to-night from Liverpool…It isn’t like George Talboys” (Braddon 95).

In this passage, Captain Maldon tries to convince Robert Audley that George had just left for Australia. I think Braddon included it with the intention of the reader to become suspicious of George’s father-in-law and to come to the conclusion that he was lying about George’s disappearance. After all, Robert said that it “isn’t like George Talboys” to embark on a long journey “without even a change of clothes” or “word to…his most intimate friend” (Braddon 95). Captain Maldon seemed “anxious” to soothe “any indignation” Robert might have felt against his claims, suggesting that perhaps George would “write to [him] from Liverpool” (95). Using phrases such as “sick of the world,” “never to return” and “grave” Maldon implied that George might even have been contemplating suicide, perhaps trying to convince Robert to leave the matter alone (Braddon 95). He consistently offered excuses to support his lie, citing his daughter’s death as the reason for George’s strange behavior. Robert asserted that though George was miserable, he was in his right mind. This exchange harkens back to page 48 when Robert noticed Captain Maldon was “in a great hurry to get rid of [his] son-in-law” (Braddon). It seems to me that both Captain Maldon and Lady Audley have something against George, and had reason to want him dead or gone. It was confirmed on page 171 that Captain Maldon was in fact lying. Captain Maldon, a very poor and greedy man, would do anything to keep the tax collectors at bay. I think that Lucy bribed him with little Georgey’s watch to cover up for whatever she did to George.

“I find your lack of faith disturbing.”

Book Passage Pg. 21 “My wish is that we may find no disappointment when we get there” 


I’ve decided to focus in on this passage from the second chapter as George Talboys is talking to a young woman while on his way back from Australia to England. During this passage the young woman who George is talking to begins the passage with the quote that I started this post with. George is very very uncomfortable with this saying because he hopes that nothing bad has happened to his wife even though he left for Australia without telling anyone where he was going to. However, in his mind he was doing something right for his family. The lady who George is talking to reveals that she has been engaged for the past 15 years. She hopes that her fiancé hasn’t changed his feelings for her. However, as the two continue to talk the mood of the characters begin to swap. At the beginning Talboys is very anxious to get back to England to finally make his wife happy. While the young woman began being very worried about her future begins to feel better about her decision to leave her fiancé in order to bring some income in their family before they are married. I think that this is an important moment in the book because, not only is it a foreshadow moment but I think that Mary Elizabeth Braddon purposely wrote this moment to show how easily men are manipulated from believing their own thoughts to being corrupt and paranoid from someone’s other beliefs.  

Extended Close Reading – Lady Audley’s Secret

Book Passage Pg 77 “It was one of those…and tendril.”

The passage I chose is describing the morning after a storm that clearly startled both George Tallboys and Lady Audley. In the passage there are many calm words describing nature around the Audley home. Words such as lovely, sung, yellow, cheerily, proudly, fluttered, joyous, and uplifted show a peaceful environment just after the storm. Yet, the passage has contrasting words as well that relate back to the turmoil the past storm brought on such as sharp tussle, beat down, heavy, cruel, clustering, and shaking. These opposing details are most likely describing the behaviors of both George and Lucy. The morning after the storm their demeaners are completely uplifted and void of any negative effects the storm may have had on them. It is unlikely though that their thoughts about the storm, or any unpleasant event in their lives that intensified the negative emotions, have been forgotten or resolved. The binary seen within nature is important to notice because this can be related to how a calm demeaner from the characters is covering up for darker emotions within them. Additionally, these contrasting cluster of words could mean that darkness will always be paired by lightness in a variety of aspects of the novel such as character behaviors, actions, and nature. Yet, given that darkness being paired with lightness is unstoppable in nature, this could also possibly mean that it is uncontrollable within the characters as well. Thus meaning that a character’s impression on the reader and other characters, even if it is endearing and beautiful, should not be taken seriously. Most likely underneath there are some dark emotions and intentions to some degree.

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Reputation in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

One of the major themes in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde relates to the Victorian anxiety over reputation. This can especially be seen in Dr. Jekyll’s reasoning for experimentation and his need for an escape. The following quote clearly reveals Dr. Jekyll feeling the unspoken need to behave in a certain manner: “Many a man would have even blazoned such irregularities as I was guilty of; but from the high views that I had set before me I regarded and hid them with an almost morbid sense of shame.”(pg 42) This obviously led to him seeking a type of outlet for his inappropriate desires, however he released a lifetime of pent-up frustrations and “…shook the doors of the prisonhouse of my disposition; and, like the captives of Philippi, that which stood within ran forth.” (pg 45)  Similarly, this occurred when Dr. Jekyll stopped allowing Mr. Hyde to take over for two months and “…I began to be tortured with throes and longings, as of Hyde struggling after freedom; and at last, in an hour of moral weakness, I once again compounded and swallowed the transforming draught.” (pg 49) In examining Dr. Jekyll’s propensity to escape into the character of Mr. Hyde the argument can be made that Mr. Hyde is the literal physical manifestation of hidden Victorian identities and desires because of the strict Victorian societal structure that controlled every aspect of a person’s life. Contrarily, Dr. Jekyll represents the ideal public image of a Victorian citizen with a good reputation.

Victorian Opinions on Marriage: “No, Thank You, John,” Versus “Dracula”

“No, Thank You, John,” by Christina Rossetti is a poem that shows the power that women can wield in a romantic relationship; the power to say “no.”  While controversial for the Victorian era, Rossetti’s poem shows the amount of agency that women can achieve.  Even though a man may have institutional power over women, “No Thank You, John,” shows that women can still have power, even in a society as oppressive to women as Victorian England.  This is contrasted by Bram Stoker’s message in Dracula, which suggests through Lucy Westenra, that a proposal for marriage should be either accepted enthusiastically, or turned away with great sympathy and sorrow.

In “No, Thank You, John,” the narrator says, “Why will you tease me day by day. . . With always ‘do’ and ‘pray’. . . “And pray don’t remain single for my sake” (Rossetti, 30-31).  Here, the narrator not only tells her suitor that she will never view him as a romantic partner, but she also subtly mocks him.  One of the reasons why the narrator is annoyed with John is because of his constant conversations about loving her, in which he often uses the word “pray.”  The female narrator uses the word “pray” to mock John’s constant questioning of her.  By using John’s own language when rejecting him, shows that she does not care about societal expectations of how a woman should act when a man asks to marry her.  The connotation the narrator’s mockery of John is not necessarily that she is inconsiderate, but rather that she desires her own agency in matters concerning her own future.  At the end of the poem, she suggests that they should “strike hands as hearty friends,” noting that John should not have ulterior motives (Rossetti, 31).  This poem shows the blunt, yet not wholly inconsiderate rejection of John’s marriage proposal to the narrator.

Conversely, in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, all men who propose to Lucy are put on a figurative pedestal.  The simple fact that they had asked Lucy to marry them and were rejected suggests that Lucy is obligated to feel guilty for not marrying them; it suggests that although Lucy has agency to decide who marries her, she nonetheless has to feel shame over it.  When Lucy turns down Dr. Seward and Quincey Morris, she reflects that, “women, I am afraid, are not always quite as fair as they should be. . . I can’t help crying. . . I feel so miserable” (Stoker, 65).  The connotation of this passage is that Lucy is to blame for everything, when, in reality, the fact that she is in love with Arthur Holmwood, a perfectly nature occurrence is the reason.  This suggests that a woman’s love for a man is secondary to the man’s heartbreak.  Although unfortunate for Quincy and Dr. Seward, it is not Lucy’s fault, as she has every right to marry who she loves the most.  Victorian society assigns blame to the female in this situation unjustly.

Overall, Christina Rossetti’s poem embodies the more controversial, liberal values of Victorian society regarding marriage, while Bram Stoker perpetuates the Victorian era’s more prevalent, and conservative outlook on marriage.

The Lady of Shalott and Desire

The Lady of Shalott is a great poem that when understood in its original context has a deeply impactful meaning. There are many interpretations but I want to get at the core theme of the poem by examining the tragic mistake the Lady of Shalott makes that ultimately leads to her death. Why does the Lady die? She pursues Lancelot down the river and ends up dying on her journey. Why does she does she pursue Lancelot? She says at the end of part two “I am half-sick of shadows”. This line has tremendous meaning. It suggests that she has had unfulfilled desires before Lancelot arrived. It also suggests that she is self aware, not the avatar of a supernatural ideal but rather a real person who is conscious of the decisions she is making. Her tone is also dismissive and maybe filled with a certain amount of frustration as well (understandable given her situation). I think the dismissiveness however is indicative of a certain amount of hubris. She dismisses and expresses some contempt for the “shadows”. What do these shadows represent? They are her understanding of the world because of the curse she has which prevents her from gazing upon the world directly. She calls her image of the world a ”shadow” and that she is “half-sick” of it. However these “shadows” are a necessary condition given the curse that she is beholden to. This is why her statement contains some hubris, she believes she is not beholden to the curse or that her desire is enough to overcome it.

Goblin Market has a similar theme of capitulation to desire. “We must not look at goblin men, We must not buy their fruits: Who knows upon what soil they fed Their hungry thirsty roots?”. There is the precedent set, the temptation and the succumbing to temptation eventually when the protagonist enjoys the goblin mens fruit. There is more explicit sexual imagery in Goblin Market in my opinion. “Clearer than water flow’d that juice; She never tasted such before, How should it cloy with length of use? She suck’d and suck’d and suck’d the more Fruits which that unknown orchard bore; She suck’d until her lips were sore”. In The Lady of Shalott the sexual desire is more innocent but more explicit.

The Lady of Shalott is an archetypal western story. In the western tradition dating all the way back to Euripides and his play the Bacchae it has been understood that freedom is the absence of or triumph over desire and that slavery is the capitulation to desire. Pentheus, the king of Thebes, is corrupted by the god Dionysus who lures him to his death by unleashing his carnal hunger. Pentheus loses control of himself and is consumed by perversion. In the end he is torn apart by his own mother, taking him for a lion in her own blind frenzy, who was also under the spell of Dionysus. The moral of the story and its traditional interpretation is that when you are consumed by desire you are held captive by a hedonism that transcends your being and ultimately leads to your destruction.


Women in “The Lady of Shalott” and ‘Dracula’

While looking at the texts of “The Lady of Shalott and Dracula, I notice a similarity between the depiction of women through a lens of female sexuality. In Dracula, Lucy demonstrates an inability to resist the temptation of an attractive man. Lucy’s beauty and flirtatious personality attracts multiple men. Following three suitors’ proposal, Lucy writes Mina, “why can’t they [Victorian society] let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her, and save all this trouble?” (Stoker 67). Lucy’s promiscuity is in some ways a curse because Dracula views her as an easy target and Lucy is vulnerable to his evil powers and vampirism. Stoker depicts Lucy to regularly demonstrate a lack of control around men.

In “The Lady of Shalott,” the Lady fails to resist the sight of the Knight of Camelot. When the Knight arrives with his gang in Shalott, she disregards the mirror and leaves the confines of her limited tower walls. The Lady believes that if she goes down to Shalott and makes contact with the Knight, he will fall madly in love with her. After “She look’d down to Camelot,” the Lady cries, “The curse is come upon me.” As soon as the Lady leaves her weave, she is cursed to death. This represents the VIctorian idea that women should be confined to the domestic sphere and should not be sexual beings seeking love and lust. Lord Tennyson portrays the Lady as defiant and profane once graced with the Knight’s presence.

Both Lucy and the Lady are temptresses and attempt to tempt men even though it leads to their deaths. Both Stoker and Lady Tennyson depict women to be uncontrollable and obsessive when around men.

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.

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