The Victorian Era, as we discussed, was a time of emerging developments in scientific knowledge. Involved in this was a growing fascination with the duality of the brain. The left brain, as Victorian Science deemed, was an independent entity bound by logic, whereas the right hemisphere of the brain was an independent emotional organ. Men were seen as having more emphasized left brains while women had more pronounced left brains. Furthermore, institutionally insane individuals were thought to have overwhelmingly powerful right brains. This novel interestingly explores the idea that the brain is, in fact, split into two separate entities and that they take control of each other unbeknownst to the individual.

“The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” presents a fascinating and horrific depiction of Dissociative Identity Disorder, aka split personality disorder. The short novel seems to function as an extension or expansion on the notions of physiognomy and phrenology mentioned in other works we have read. The phenomenon in which one’s brain abruptly flips switches is something that I can not fully comprehend. Though, Robert Louis Stevenson does a nice job of mirroring this mental lapse in written form. In the chapter, “The Carew Murder Case,” the opening paragraph describes the maid’s state of mind before she witnesses the event, describing how she “never had felt more at peace with all men or thought more kindly of the world.” The maid proceeds to describe Carew, recalling how “the moon shone on his face as he spoke, and the girl was pleased to watch it, it seemed to breathe such an innocent and old-world kindness of disposition.” This kind depiction of the setting and characters in the first roughly 60 percent of the paragraph is met viciously with her eyes wandering to the other man in the encounter: Mr. Hyde. The maid describes how Mr. Hyde listens to the man with a sickly impatience before brandishing his cane and “[clubbing] him to the earth…with ape-like fury.” The rapid change in language done by Stevenson comes about so abruptly, yet smoothly. In the blink of an eye, the reader has teleported into a new state of being. We have not yet experienced the transformation of Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde or vice versa in real time; he simply appears as one of his personalities. However, through Stevenson’s writing, we see the horrors of mental illness and the dangerous fall out of balance of the human psyche.

The Lady Left to Rot

The literary concept of repeating the same task over and over is not unique to “The Lady of Shalott.” As we discussed in class, the Lady of Shalott’s weaving closely resembles that of Penelope in the Iliad. It also parallels Scheherazade’s storytelling and Plato’s allegory of the cave. In the Lady of Shalott, the lady’s routine comes to an abrupt halt when she looks out of her window for the first time. She has clearly made up her mind to leave to Camelot, and her spontaneity is rewarded with catastrophe: “She look’d down to Camelot. Out flew the web and floated wide; The mirror crack’d from side to side; “The curse is come upon me,” cried The Lady of Shalott” (Tennyson Part III). The room in which the lady has been rotting now self-destructs in a very theatrical and magical sense. What is this saying about the reality she lived in and the reality she wished to discover? 

In Plato’s cave allegory, the men in the cave are cursed to experience the world through shadows on the wall. When one prisoner escapes the cave, he is instantly met with blindness from the sun, leaving his fellow prisoners with the impression that leaving the cave will lead to harm. In the Lady of Shalott, the lady experiences the world not through shadows but through a mirror. When she yearns to experience her true reality and escape the monotony of her daily weaving, she is met not with blindness but with death. Why is it that curiosity is met with punishment in this text? Why should there not be a happy ending where these individuals reach an improved state of being? In the case of Scheherazade, her tenacity in her storytelling prompts Shahryar to spare her. Her telling of 1,000 intriguing stories leads the monarch to fall in love and marry her despite beheading a long line of women before her. In this text, the protagonist and the reader receive the happy ending that we feel is earned. 

The Lady of Shalott ends on a sad note. The curse is realized and the lady dies, experiencing the world, not through the intermediary of the mirror, only for a brief moment. The answer to the question “why does she die?” is a convoluted one. I would presume that Tennyson is making a commentary on the inherent isolation of the lady working on her weaving; though, more broadly speaking, on devoting one’s life to one task. Perhaps he is suggesting humans should branch out and strive for new experiences despite the risk/reward nature of it all.

Breaching the Barrier

I found it particularly interesting the descriptions of post-mortem Lucy. Bram Stoker makes sure to frequently contrast the purity and the goodness of Lucy before Dracula gets to her with a severe impurity afterwards. Upon the bite, Lucy experiences a rapid decline to the hellish “other” depicted in the diaries of her peers and suitors. Dr. Seward, in chapter sixteen, refers to vampire Lucy as a “thing,” stating that it bore Lucy’s shape; in fact, Seward writes, the thing had “Lucy’s eyes in form and color; but Lucy’s eyes unclean and full of hell-fire, instead of the pure gentle orbs we knew.” Stoker also uses words such as “unholy” and the phrase “callous as the devil” in reference to Lucy’s territoriality over her adolescent victim. I think this is a pertinent section, one of many, strongly exemplifying the precarity, or, perhaps, fear in the eyes of Victorian England. 

As the Longman Anthology discusses, Victorian England was riddled with insecurity in regards to religion. The emergence of science which argued the popular beliefs of creationism, as well as a flurry of new religions and foreign lines of thought brought about a time period full of doubt. Relating this to the epistolary, one of the redeeming qualities of Dracula which helps in luring Jonathan Harker as his victim in the early chapters of the novel is the fact that Dracula speaks English fluently, albeit with a strange intonation. Nonetheless, the breaking of the language barrier acts as the first guise in allowing Dracula to permeate the shield of English society. Then, a subsequent important section is contained in the log of the Demeter. The crew writes in the log on July 16, “…Petrofsky, was missing…All said they expected something of the kind, but would not say more than there was something aboard… feared some trouble ahead.” Once again, the existence of Dracula provokes no more than a cautious uncertainty in the characters of the novel. Dracula has breached England ideologically by speaking their language; now, he breaches physically by traveling on boat to England. Dracula is promptly able to begin wreaking havoc in the lives of our English protagonists, pitted as the devilish foreigner. 

Lamb to the Slaughter

“‘It is not cold that makes me shiver,’ said the woman in a low voice, changing her seat as requested. ‘What then?’ ‘It is fear, Mr. Holmes. It is terror.’ She raised her veil as she spoke, and we could see that she was indeed in a pitiable state of agitation, her face all drawn and grey, with restless, frightened eyes, like those of some hunted animal. Her features and figure were those of a woman of thirty, but her hair was shot with premature grey…” (Doyle 132).


This initial description of Helen Stoner does a nice job of setting up the story. There are many words that fall in line with the monstrosity/madness of the entire text. First are the words “fear” and “terror,” which are attributed to the unusual death of Helen’s sister. The presence of a veil is also quite revealing. Veils are traditionally worn to protect or conceal the face, which feeds into the common theme of secrecy throughout the works we are reading. Helen’s face being described as drawn and grey puts imagery into the mind of the reader that can be likened to a corpse or a ghost. Juxtaposed with the following descriptions of “restless, frightened eyes,” this section makes Helen out to be a lamb to the slaughter. In fact, this passage explicitly denotes Helen as resembling some sort of hunted animal. The animals present in the story provide a nice flavor to the text. We learn that Grimesby Roylott practiced medicine in India and brought back with him a handful of pets, including a cheetah and baboon, and an extremely venomous snake, as we later learn. Perhaps all the animals present amongst the humans is Arthur Conan Doyle’s way of likening humans to animals in the sense that we are both selfishly after personal gain. Roylott, as Sherlock Holmes discovers, wishes to kill his step daughters in an effort to avert the conditions of the prenuptial agreement and save money for himself. Meanwhile, Helen defends herself stubbornly by contacting Holmes and Watson, like a cornered snake would defend itself from a predator. The cherry on top of Doyle’s imagery is the rapidly aging young woman. As readers, we can sympathize with the emotional toll put on Helen by recent events. Every tidbit of illustration leads the reader to understand that Helen is on borrowed time if it weren’t for the heroism of Sherlock Holmes.

Descent to Darkness

“After dispatching this letter, Robert had abandoned all thought of assistance from the man who, in the natural course of things, should have been most interested in George’s fate; but now that he found himself advancing every day some step nearer to the end that lay so darkly before him, his mind reverted to this heartlessly indifferent Mr. Harcourt Talboys” (Braddon Chapter 20 online). 


This passage depicts the internal conflict of Robert Audley. As he continues his search for the missing George Talboys, Robert remains completely alone in his endeavors. Not even George’s father, the one who should theoretically care most about uncovering George’s disappearance, displays an ounce of worry. In the lines directly preceding these ones, the narrator speaks of Harcourt’s letter to Robert, in which he states his disapproval of George’s marriage to Helen and that he had cut ties with George upon his wedding day. Harcourt proceeds to say that his disappearance is likely a scheme to get Harcourt’s money, as George was broke when he settled down with Helen. As readers, we know this not to be the case, that George’s toils to find gold land him with ample wealth. Nonetheless, this says monuments about George’s support system. Referencing the words of the highlighted passage, the characters surrounding Robert in his hunt for George are “heartlessly indifferent.” 

More wording I found particularly interesting was the use of “darkly” as an adverb. This seems like blatant foreshadowing, that George’s fate has been sealed. The line could be easily rewritten to “the end that lay before him…” and make sense, though Braddon chooses to include this important descriptive word. It certainly ties into the rest of the novel, as all of the actions of Lucy Audley happen in the shadows. Perhaps “darkly” carries multiple meanings, referencing not only the book’s emphasis on secrets, but foreshadowing George’s death and Robert’s descent to madness. We already begin to see this narrative of Robert’s madness come to fruition through the threats of Lady Audley and it will be interesting to see how the darkness creeps into the novel exponentially.