If it Looks Like a Duck, Swims Like a Duck, and Quacks Like a Duck, Then it’s Probably Just Some Guy

In her poem, “Goblin Market,” Christina Rossetti describes the titular goblins as various types of animals. In the context of the poem, it is clear that these goblins are not actually animals like rats, cats, and wombats, but are indeed small, human like creatures that simply have the traits of those animals. Rossetti, for example, describes these goblins with phrases like “one tramped at a rat’s pace; once crawled like a snail”(3). The use of simile and metaphor in these descriptions leads the reader to believe that these goblins are not indeed rats and snails, but are instead goblins that have physical and behavioral characteristics that are similar to such animals.

It is important to make the distinction between the goblins as animals and the goblins as animal-like because this small clarification wholly alters the reader’s understanding and interpretation of the poem. When Dante Gabriel Rossetti decided to portray the goblins as nothing more than actual animals, he turned the poem into a children’s story. In this portrayal, the goblins are simply strange creatures, and the story turns into a sort of Grimm-esque tale of stranger danger and the risks of going out alone at night.

When the goblins are interpreted as men with animal features, however, the story’s meaning changes. In this version, the goblin men are representative of actual, human men– such as those in Christina Rossetti’s life, especially those that have excluded her from the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Rossetti’s meaning here is clear: men are animals whose treatment of women lacks any sort of human respect or dignity. This animalistic nature allows men to get along with one another harmoniously, but they choose to treat women as wholly different because they do not possess these animal features and, therefore, do not belong.

Whether or not Dante Gabriel Rossetti purposely obscured this gender critique is unimportant. If he consciously decided to mask his sister’s meaning by turning the goblins into animals and advertising the poem as a children’s tale, then Christina Rossetti’s observations about men and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood likely had some merit if they struck so close to home for her brother. If Dante Gabriel Rossetti genuinely misinterpreted his sister’s story and did not realize the metaphor of the goblin men, then Christina Rossetti’s point still has merit since it is then clear that men of the time did not view the world (and “Goblin Market”) in the same way as women.

Quincey’s Last Yeehaw

Jonathan Harker’s note at the end of Dracula encapsulates British Victorian anxieties regarding “good” versus “bad” immigrants. In his note, Jonathan muses over the aftermath of the demise of Dracula– the representation of the “bad” immigrant that Victorians feared. Jonathan uses most of his short note to focus heavily on the death of Quincey, a foreigner from America, and ends his writing with the thoughts of Van Helsing, a Dutch doctor (Stoker 402). Both Quincey and Van Helsing represent the idea of the “good” immigrant in Victorian England.

At no point in the novel were Quincey and Van Helsing considered to be bad immigrants or foreigners, but they are clearly portrayed as odd and out of place throughout the story. The other characters tend to note Quincey and Van Helsing’s strange accents and behaviors, such as Quincey’s stereotypical American enthusiasm for guns and overly Texan turns of phrase. So, while Quincey and Van Helsing were both accepted by the English characters in the novel, it was still made obvious that they did not truly belong amongst the British.

In Jonathans note, it is clear that the “unbelonging” of Quincey and Van Helsing has shifted after Count Dracula’s death. In giving up his life to defeat Dracula and save Mina, Quincey has cemented himself as someone who can truly belong in England. By sacrificing himself, Quincey demonstrated that he was dedicated to Jonathan, Mina, and the rest of the Englishmen in Dracula and, therefore, showed that he was truly loyal to England. Although Van Helsing did not give up his life to defeat his vampire foe, he put his life on the line multiple times throughout the story, and his knowledge and expertise were some of the main reasons why their mission was a success. Because of his continuous demonstrations of loyalty to the English characters around him (especially Mina), Van Helsing solidified himself as a “good” immigrant by showing that he would not betray England or its people.

The dichotomy between “good” and “bad” immigrants is so strongly depicted in Jonathan’s note because it shows the triumph felt by the “little band of men” upon their final defeat of the “bad” immigrant that plagued them (Stoker 402). The naming of Mina and Jonathan’s son after Quincey, too, shows how Quincey has almost been reincarnated as a “true” Englishman by sacrificing his life for Mina. Now, the spirit of the “good” immigrants (Quincey and Van Helsing) can live on within a “true” British person.

How Many Times Do We Have to Teach You This Lesson, Old Man?

A significant thematic undertone of Dracula is that of Victorian anxieties over how science would impact the future of humanity and society. In Chapter VI, Mina has a few encounters with Mr. Swales, a very old man who entertains her with his wild stories and strange opinions on the local community of Whitby and the state of society. This incredibly old man stands in stark contrast to Count Dracula, who himself seems to be aging backwards thanks to his vampiric powers and his increased consumption of blood. The “Sir Oracle” of Whitby, in contrast, shares his opinion “on the subject of legends” and believes that such stories are “‘only fit to set bairns an’ dizzy women a-belderin'” (Stoker, 73). Such an old and supposedly out of touch man can be seen to represent the outdated and incorrect beliefs of a bygone era.

Mr. Swales outright states that myths and legends (such as those of vampires) are silly stories that only the most foolish individuals would believe. He is, of course, wrong, as vampires are real in the context of the story, and the old man himself is later killed by the frightful sight of such a creature (Stoker, 97). The killing of Mr. Swales by the sight of Dracula can be seen to represent the death of an old age and the arrival of a new one. Because Dracula’s mere appearance was enough to end the old man’s life, this event cleverly represents Victorian fears over the coming of a new era whose arrival is hinted at through scientific breakthroughs and social changes. The Victorians did not know what this new age would look like, and that nearly frightened them to death.

Holmes and Watson: Besties for the Resties

“… It’s an ugly business, Watson, an ugly, dangerous business, and the more I see of it the less I like it. Yes, my dear fellow, you may laugh but I give you my word that I shall be very glad to have you back safe and sound in Baker Street once more” (Doyle, 53). 

Here, at the end of chapter 5 of The Hound of the Baskervilles, we get a new glimpse into Sherlock Holmes’ personality. Where he usually appears to be analytical and emotionally detached, Holmes is now genuinely frightened by what he has experienced. Not only that, but Holmes actually wants Watson’s company because he is so disturbed by the developments in the Baskerville case that have come to pass. Before, Holmes had made it clear that he really mainly enjoys having Watson around because his “stupidity” encourages Holmes to more quickly deduce the truth in any of his cases. However, after uncovering the fact that someone is trailing Holmes and those involved in the Baskerville case, as well as impersonating Holmes himself, it becomes clear that Holmes is frightened, and he wants the company of Watson to make him feel safer. While initially appearing out of character for Holmes, this situation reveals something interesting about his relationship between himself and Watson.

This interaction demonstrates that Watson serves as more than a mundane, average-joe sidekick for Sherlock Holmes. In his fright, Holmes somewhat indirectly reveals that he views Watson as a friend and true companion. Although he usually behaves condescendingly towards Watson, Holmes genuinely needs him around for the simple reason that Watson is a good friend to him. This, to me, seems adjacent to the idea of the homosocial relationship and the erotic triangle that we saw between Robert, George, and Clara in Lady Audley’s Secret. While there is no woman in The Hound of the Baskervilles yet to complete the erotic triangle, Holmes and Watson’s work relationship and dysfunctional friendship is best understood through the lens of Victorian male homosocial desire.

Evil is Like Onions (and Ogres): It Has Layers

“A sudden change came over Lady Audley’s face; the pretty roseate flush faded out from her cheeks, and left them waxen white, and angry flashes lightened in her blue eyes” (Braddon 123).

Here, there is slight repetition that draws attention to the drastic change that causes Lady Audley to go from lovely to shocked and angry. Our attention is meant to be drawn to this change because it demonstrates that Lady Audley has become the opposite of her usual self. She goes from having a “pretty roseate flush” to being “waxen white” with “angry flashes” in her eyes. This can signal that Lady Audley is either behaving unlike herself, or that she has indeed revealed her true colors that she has been hiding all along behind a demure countenance. 

Lady Audley’s sudden change from beautiful to somewhat insidious inverts our traditional or stereotypical understanding of what it means to be “monstrous.” Essentially, Lady Audley is becoming (or, more likely, has been all along) something of a monster because her wickedness resides within her core as opposed to being right on the surface. This inversion of our typical ideas surrounding “monstrosity” adds to the sensational aspects of this novel because it shows that evil can live in even the most beautiful and charming aspects of our daily or domestic lives. The fact that this evil is not revealed all at once, but rather by slowly peeling away layers of Lady Audley’s lovely facade creates added suspense and serves to make the novel all the more titillating.