Fan Behavior: Why India Appears so Often in Victorian Literature

Something I found intriguing while reading The Moonstone is how similar it was to other detective works.  Especially Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Speckled Band,” a classic Sherlock Holmes story.  One main similarity I noticed was that both somehow involved India. 

In “The Speckled Band,” the stepfather of the story has a “violence of temper” that is apparently “hereditary,” although his stepdaughter believes it has “been intensified by by his long residence in the tropics,” those tropics being India (Doyle, 2).  He also has “a passion…for Indian animals,” (Doyle 3).  In The Moonstone, the prologue introduces the moonstone itself by stating “one of the wildest of these stories related to a Yellow Diamond–a famous gem in the native annals of India,” which establishes the involvement of India right off the bat (Collins, 11).  

It is interesting that a foreign country is so present in British literature, even for one under British rule.  In addition, both mentions of India have some negative connotation.  In “The Speckled Band,” India has worsened the temper of the stepfather, and the end of the story reveals it is one of his Indian animals (a snake) that has acted as the murder weapon.  In The Moonstone, the stone said to cause bad luck originates from India and is the cause of most of the suffering in the novel.  Victorians clearly have a hostile and racist outlook on foreign countries, especially India, as seen by the portrayals of the country and what comes from it that become detrimental to the supposed stability and prosperity in Britain.  At the same time, Victorians are fascinated by different cultures, and as their technology advances, so does their knowledge of nations outside of Britain, as well as their curiosity.  So for all the racism and negative attention directed towards India in the detective story, Victorian authors and audiences cannot help but be entertained by their central inclusion in the plot.

How Money Makes Us Blind

While reading Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, I was intrigued by how quickly Pip changes once he realizes he is inheriting a fortune and going to London.  In particular, I focused on the whole of page 147, which includes the notable passage “No more low wet grounds, no more dykes and sluices, no more of these grazing cattle…farewell, monotonous acquaintances of my childhood, henceforth I was for London and greatness,” as well as Pip calling churchgoers minding their own business “poor creatures,” promising to “do something for them one of these days” with his newfound wealth.  Almost immediately after Pip is aware he is going to become a “gentleman,” he separates himself from the people around him, who, until that point, are exactly the same as him (class wise, education wise, etc).  Although he promises to share his good fortune with them in some way, after reading to the end of the novel, it is apparent he does not remember this promise.  

I was reminded of my first blog post pertaining to Mary Barton, specifically the scene in which servants working for a high class household do not feed their lower class guest, Wilson, because they forget hunger is an issue for some people.  Like Pip and the churchgoers (or other people around him of the same class), the servants of the Carson family are closer in class to Wilson than the Carsons.  Both the servants and Wilson are working class, however, there is a clear degree of separation between them due to the servants’ access to wealth, just like how Pip’s access to wealth separates him from his peers.  Although Pip initially feels pity for those attending church, he soon forgets his vision of future generosity and the problems these lower class people face, just as the Carson servants forget that hunger may be a problem for poorer people like Wilson.  In the world of Mary Barton, Pip is like one of the Carson servants, forgetting the struggles of the people he was once a part of because he no longer suffers from a lack of money.  In both Mary Barton and Great Expectations, this ignorance is clearly negative.  In the former, the revolutionary change that poorer characters are trying to enact cannot happen under it, and in the latter, Pip becomes a distinctly less compassionate person because of it, hurting the feelings of his friends and family in the process.  Both novels push the idea that money can make someone blind to the obstacles others have to overcome, and it does not matter how considerate someone is, wealth can and will make them ignorant.


In Alexandra Lewis’ “Memory Possessed: Trauma and Pathologies of Remembrance in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights,” she discusses how during the time of the novel’s publication, mental trauma was only just beginning to be understood and linked to outward symptoms.  For example, on pages 411-412, Lewis points out that other characters label Catherine’s destructive behaviors, like starvation and inducing sickness, as “manipulative” and intentionally self-induced when they are clearly “processes of the mind at work far beneath…Cathy’s conscious control.”  Everything that Catherine has been through has affected her psyche to the point that it has become a physical illness.  Brontë is experimenting with the idea that past trauma can actually affect one’s psyche and manifest in physical illness, when at the time, “trauma” was more associated with bodily wounds.  Lewis highlights how Brontë reveals the way in which past events can affect the brain.  

Considering Lewis’ lens of how mental trauma manifests, I believe Catherine’s ghost is also a manifestation of trauma.  Specifically, how she appears to Heathcliff.  Rather than Catherine’s ghost solely being a supernatural element in the novel, it is also possible that all of the traumatic events of Heathcliff’s past have taken such a toll on his brain that he is giving his trauma a form: that of Catherine.  Where Catherine’s trauma causes her brain to escape her control and makes her ill, Heathcliff’s trauma causes his brain to escape his control and makes Catherine’s ghost.  On page 289, Heathcliff states “I was wild after she died, and eternally, from dawn to dawn, praying her to return to me–her spirit…”  Heathcliff’s psyche latches onto his desperation to be with Catherine and he begins to actually see and feel her everywhere before his death.  The trauma of losing her is dictating what he sees and feels, replicating an image of Catherine.  Heathcliff experienced discriminatory trauma growing up, which already began to affect his brain, making him inclined to act the way he was perceived (as evil).  Then he experienced the traumatic loss of his love.  These facts combined with the fact that he is desperate to see her again, particularly her “spirit,” causes his affected, distraught brain to conjure her image forth.  To someone who has not undergone trauma, like Lockwood or random neighbors, Catherine’s ghost is just a dream, or a rumor.  To Heathcliff, who has been repeatedly traumatized, Catherine’s ghost is a reality.  She is his trauma manifested.  Similar to how Catherine’s illness is evidence that trauma has affected her psyche yet is not taken as such by others, Catherine’s ghost is evidence that trauma has affected Heathcliff’s psyche, and yet is not treated as such.  To readers, and likely to Lewis as well, seeing Catherine’s ghost is one of the first signs that Heathcliff’s mental state is deteriorating.  To other characters, his involvement with her spirit and corpse is further proof of his evilness and creepiness.  Brontë is experimenting with the extent to which trauma can affect the psyche throughout Wuthering Heights, which is in alignment with the discoveries of mental trauma in the Victorian era illustrated by Lewis.

Lewis, Alexandra. “Memory Possessed: Trauma and Pathologies of Remembrance in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.” Pp. 411-412.

The Perfect Victorian Man

I am interested in what the ideal male marriage partner is according to Victorians.  On page 57, Heathcliff tells Nelly “I wish I had light hair and fair skin, and was dressed, and behaved as well, and had a chance of being as rich as he will be!” in reference to Edgar Linton.  Readers know from earlier in the book that Heathcliff has darker skin and hair, and is too poor to dress well.  As Catherine shows interest in Edgar, Heathcliff becomes jealous.  Rather than character, Heathcliff thinks Edgar’s advantages over him that attract Catherine are appearance and wealth.  His beliefs are even supported on page 78 when Catherine admits to Nelly that her reason for wanting to marry Edgar is that “he is handsome…And he will be rich,” and Catherine desires to be “the greatest woman of the neighborhood.”  These separate disclosures to Nelly indicate that the standards for a Victorian male partner are that he must be handsome and rich.  However, Victorian standards of being handsome include having “fair” skin and “light” hair, hinting that their visions of beauty are inherently racist and biased toward a Eurocentric beauty standard.  This conclusion is evidenced by Victorian era pseudosciences like physiognomy, which claimed that one’s outer appearance indicated one’s inner character, and provided excuses to be racist and colorist, deeming those with darker skin “unworthy” and even “uncivilized.”  Because Heathcliff has darker skin than Edgar, he is a less desirable marriage partner for Catherine.  In addition to racism, Victorians also perpetuate classism.  Heathcliff is poor, has unrefined behaviors, and dresses shabbily.  In contrast, Edgar is richer and posher.  This difference once again makes Edgar a more desirable husband.  This instance of classism is clearly not a rare occurrence unique to Catherine because In Mary Barton, Mary almost marries Henry Carson for the same reason.  Mary and Catherine are justified in wanting to escape a lower class lifestyle, but the people they truly connect with, Jem and Heathcliff, are cruelly cast aside because they seemingly cannot provide the ladies with a lavish future.  Emily Brontë and Elizabeth Gaskell both emphasize that a rich lifestyle is widely yearned for among  Victorian people, and that marrying into wealth is a quick way to ensure obtaining one.  However, both authors also stress that marrying a man for his money ends poorly compared to marrying for love.  Mary is happier with Jem, and Catherine is unable to forget Heathcliff.  To Victorians, their strict rules and standards often take precedence over true desires, two of those standards being the racist and classist ones that determine whether a man is worth marrying.  Brontë and Gaskell highlight the consequences of conforming to Victorian expectations and marrying for status over love, as well as reveal that the ideal Victorian male marriage partner can still leave their wife unsatisfied and unhappy. 

How can change be initiated?

The passage I chose is from the scene where Mr. Wilson visits the Carson household to seek aid for the Davenports.  While sitting in the kitchen as food is prepared around him, “Wilson began to yearn for food to break his fast, which had lasted since dinner the day before.  If the servants had known this, they would have willingly given him meat and bread in abundance; but they were like the rest of us, and, not feeling hunger themselves, forgot it was possible another might.  So Wilson’s craving turned to sickness…” (Gaskell, 67).  This excerpt, as well as the repeated use of diction related to desire such as “yearn,” “hunger,” and “craving,” illuminates how the lower class’ income is so poor that it leads to sparsity of basic necessities.  The absence of substantial meals is so severe that the hunger it results in for poorer people is a “sickness.”  Wilson’s silence and the servants’ ignorance means it is also an unacknowledged problem.  The rich and those who have submitted to them, like the servants in the Carson household, have such easy access to food that they do not even think of hunger, much less that someone may suffer from it.  Gaskell hints that so long as the poor remain silent and respectful and the rich remain uneducated and ignorant, nothing will change and the lower class will remain destitute.  The only way to bring about a better life for people in poverty is to either speak up and make the situation heard, work directly in servitude to the rich as the Carson servants have, or remind the rich what it’s like to be hungry.  The reason Wilson remains hungry is also the reason why Mary Barton and Harry Carson are a doomed relationship from the start.  Mary’s community is struggling, and her and her father’s meals are scant.  Harry is thriving, eating enough food to forget about hunger along with his family and the servants in his household.  Mary doesn’t dare mention her problems to Harry, and so Harry remains ignorant, and they are stuck at the same impasse as Wilson in the Carson kitchen.  On the other hand, John Barton has no qualms making the poverty of the working class known to the rich.  However, he travels down a darker path in which he would be satisfied dragging the rich down to his level, reminding them how hunger can result in “sickness.”  In this way, he is also doomed, forgetting his original purpose to obtain rights in favor of a determination for vengeance that is eating away at him.  The real Chartists outside of the novel, by persisting in their goal to change the law and obtain rights for the working class through more peaceful methods, are more successful in initiating change than Wilson, Mary, or John.  Reform Acts were passed after their dissolution in the late 1800s.  They were neither silent nor malevolent, and so were more successful in their goals for change.  Based on Gaskell’s depictions of lower class characters interacting with higher classes, she would be approving of the Chartists efforts and triumphs.