A prominent theme in many of the texts that we have read this semester is the Victorian fear of the foreign: whether it’s foreign people or animals. Often, this manifests itself in making whatever is foreign something that is dangerous and can harm the protagonists of the plot. This fear of the foreign is seen in Christina Rossetti’s poem “Goblin Market”. This poem revolves around two sisters who are trying to resist the temptation that comes from these little goblin men and the fruit that they sell. One of the many reasons that the sisters try to not give in and buy the fruit is that they say that they don’t know where the soil that grows the fruit has been, they fear this unknown. Early in the poem Laura tells Lizzie “We must not look at goblin men, We must not buy their fruits; Who knows upon what soil they fed Their hungry thirsty roots?” (Rossetti). In these lines, the fear of foreign and the unknown that comes with foreign things can be seen. While the goblins inhabit the orchard, they are creatures that are not from the area, making them foreign to others. The fear of the foreign is evident when the sisters are wary about the growing conditions of the fruit. If the fruit was being sold by some non-foreign person, I bet that the sisters would not have fears about what the fruit was grown in, but since these goblins are foreign creatures, they have doubts.
The fear of the foreign and foreign places can also be seen in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Dracula travels from Transylvania to England and unleashes chaos onto the unsuspecting British people. Not only does Dracula have physical characteristics that differ from other “non-foreign” characters, Dracula acts as a symbol of the “threat” that foreign influence may have on British people and society. When Harker is staying at Dracula’s castle in Transylvania, Dracula tells Harker, “We are in Transylvania; and Transylvania is not England. Our ways are not your ways, and there shall be to you many strange things” (Stoker, 28). Dracula openly admits that his ways are foreign to Harker, and while Harker is unaware of it at that time, Dracula’s different ways are more sinister than Harker could imagine. When in England, Dracula’s foreign ways causes chaos and death. This causes fear within those who experience the horrors that Dracula brings and reinforces the idea that foreigners will only harm British society. At a time when the idea of the foreign caused great fear within Victorian England, the fear and anxiety that was felt manifested itself in works of literature.
9 thoughts on “Fear of the Foreign”
It is interesting to see this fear of foreigners throughout different works of literature during this era. I really enjoy reading about the connection you have made among the goblins in Rossetti’s poem and the image of Dracula being the foreigner and a threat to the common folks in England at the time. The sisters’ wary attitude about the conditions and origins of the fruit once again highlights the fear of contemporary England that makes them hesitant to everything from an outsider, regardless of how charming they are with the fresh and flavorful products. Throughout the vivid depiction of the fruits, especially the berries, images of red lips of the female vampires in Dracula comes to my mind. There is something so intriguing about these fruits that calls to the sisters during those summer days, much like how Jonathan was seduced by the three female vampires. In addition, it was also mentioned by Bram Stoker throughout the story of the charming and seductive nature of vampires. It is interesting to see how the two works of literature connect from the detail that Dracula insists on being taught how to act like a real English man. Maybe he was also aware of the hesitance the sisters have for foreigners that would prevent him from achieving his target.
Just as the goblins and Dracula have captured Victorian fears of the foreign, so too has Stevenson’s character of Mr. Hyde. In identifying Mr. Hyde as “pale and dwarfish” and as having an “impression of deformity,” Mr. Utterson equates Mr. Hyde to the foreign, or at least to something unfamiliar (Stevenson 10). Mr. Hyde is even depicted as “seem[ing] hardly human,” equating his character to the “inhuman” characters from other texts (10). However, Stevenson takes the comparison between Mr. Hyde’s character and the foreign further by associating Mr. Utterson’s reactions not only with “fear” but with “disgust” (10).
I really like your observation about the fear of the foreign. It is true that many of the novel and poems that we analyzed throughout the semester had some elements based on your idea. However, I believe that the fear of the foreign is mostly connected with the fear of uncertainty and the unknown. For instance, in Goblin Market, the two sisters are indeed afraid of the foreign goblins but are mostly afraid of the uncertainty of the actions that these creatures might take. Also, in regard with Dracula, when he is introducing Transylvania to Jonathan, Jonathan is of course afraid of the fact that he is located in a foreign land but most importantly that he is located in a very creepy and scary castle, being afraid of the unknown problems that he might face in the future.
I have found this theme very interesting and it has seem to be common throughout many of the things we read. Whether it be foreign people such as Dracula, foreign animals like the snake from The Speckled Band or just foreign locations that appear to make people go “mad”. What I believe stands out the most is that when talking about foreign things in these pieces the authors completely strip away the humanity and make these foreign ideas monstrous or dangerous. For example, in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde they describe Mr. Hyde as appearing “dwarfish” (10) which is an appearance that is foreign to those who live there. Due to his foreign appearance his humanity is then ripped away from him and he is described in an animalistic and monstrous way. I find this so notable because today there is almost a fascination with foreign ideas, however, back then it was so feared by many that they completely reconfigured what it meant to be foreign and that it resulted in madness or the destruction of one’s own humanity.
In the context of the coming conflict for England, this fear of the foreign is extremely important to the time period. We saw it come up again in our readings in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde where the fear of those that are different is so extreme that it is disgust. It is a distaste that furthers this notion in England that it is okay and even expected to dislike what is not like you. This is pretty twisted side of Victorian Era literature.
The concept of fear of the foreign has been prevalent in most of the texts we’ve read this semester, including Jekyll and Hyde. The description of the goblin men in Goblin Market is very similar to that of Mr. Hyde. Every time someone encounters Hyde, they mention his short stature, his gnarled hands, his evil-looking face. They even describe him as “hardly human”(Stevenson 10) and as a “creature”(Stevenson 39). This physicality parallels that of the goblin men that have some human qualities but are definitely something else, something foreign. Hyde’s foreignness is enunciated by the way that he fits in – or rather doesn’t fit in – to proper English society. When he arrives on Lanyon’s doorstep to pick up the potion, Lanyon observes that “his clothes, that is to say, although they were of rich and sober fabric, were enormously too large for him in every measurement” (Stevenson 39). Hyde’s inability to fit into society because of his physical attributes parallels the struggles of Dracula, whose appearance marks him as distinctly other.
I have also recognized the continuing theme of ‘fear of the foreign’ throughout many of the texts we have read this semester, whether it was Dr. Roylott in the speckled band, the hound in The Hound of the Baskervilles, or Dracula. Now we see it in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with the description of Mr. Hyde, but, what’s interesting about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is that they’re the same person, so in this current text, we get to also see that fear of the domestic, and the idea that something can be evil and foreign inside of us.
I also think it is really interesting the amount of fear Victorians had regarding other cultures. Dracula is a prime example of this fear, while it can also be seen in many of our other victorian texts, including Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. While another student pointed out, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are the same person, however there is an immense fear regarding Mr. Hyde due to the unknown. People did not get who Mr. Hyde was and he did tend to act out in odd ways.
I really enjoyed reading your analysis on the fear of the foreign because not only have we seen it in Goblin Market, Dracula, Jekyll and Hyde, A Terribly Strange Bed, and several other works, but that is something a lot of people can relate to. We have all been with as group of people where you feel different or left out, and that is a foreign, somewhat scary feeling. As the sisters didn’t trust the goblins and the soil from Rosetti’s poem, it is hard to blame them. There is so much that we lack access to knowledge about, and those foreign or ambiguous things can very generally cause confusion, disease, or anything else because you just don’t know!
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