Lurking in the Background, Ready to Attack!

“The Greek Captive” by Ilman & Sons is a mezzotint that depicts two people: A woman sitting in the foreground, dressed in white, and a man standing in the background, dressed in black. He looks at her controllingly with his hand close to his dagger, ready to draw it if she makes a move. The woman’s facial expressions do not seem scared or sad but rather indifferent. Moreover, she has a very pretty face and a slim silhouette, whereas the man hides most of his bodily features behind clothes and his face behind a long, dark beard. Nevertheless, his facial expression suggests that he his furious and not pleasant to be around.

What stands out here is the choice of colors. The innocent girl, the victim, is dressed in white, whereas the evil person is dressed in black. In relation to “The Woman in White”, we could parallel the people in the picture with Laura/Anne and Fosco.

Laura and Anne are both characterized as fragile young women and one of them only wears white (like the woman in the picture). Marian describes Laura as “sweet-tempered and charming” and claims that “she is an angel” (61). Unlike Marian herself, Laura and Anne are both portrayed as inferior to men. This becomes evident when Marian describes “female” characteristics such as being “inattentive” and “inaccurate” (60-61). Like in the picture, they are below male characters. The male character in the picture, like Fosco in the novel, is always around even if nobody pays attention to him. He is lurking in the corner and ready to take action when nobody looks. In the novel, Fosco did a similar thing: He would reside in the house and wait for the right moment to take Laura captive, to send her to an asylum. That the picture has the word “captive” in its title, is also a detail that fits “The Woman in White” very well.

Another aspect that is important in regards to the man in the background, is the danger that is associated with foreign people during the Victorian era. The man has a beard and clothes that are not western-looking and he is clearly supposed to be the evil person in the picture. Fosco is also foreign, which becomes especially evident in his accent, and it turns out that he also was the sinister person plotting something evil. Consequently, both, “The Greek Captive” and “The Woman in White” clearly show the fear of the foreign in the Victorian Era.

4 thoughts on “Lurking in the Background, Ready to Attack!”

  1. Your note about the lack of expression on the face of the woman in the etching is really interesting. I noticed a similar lack of life and expression in many of the women depicted in the Victorian art we’ve looked at. Additionally, Laura, as you pointed out has a similar lack of vitality and agency. I think that a continual theme across the art we’ve seen and in “Woman in White” is an idea that while the women are centered, they are centered as ideas, not as people. Meanwhile the dynamic characters and figures, men, are the moving parts that impose their own ideas and actions on these women.

  2. I think this etching is particularly interesting because even though it is clear that the man in the background is overpowering, or, at least ready to over power the girl, the girl has a dagger in her belt. Already, this girl is more feisty that Laura or Anne, which is interesting when we remember that this girl in the painting is also a foreigner. Even though the men are dangerous, this girl is not unarmed and totally defenseless against this man. Could she realistically do much with a small dagger against him, probably not, however, the indication of danger also coming from the Greek girl also shows how all foreigners were portrayed as “dangerous.” Perhaps there she is less dangerous than the man in the background (who is obviously Middle Eastern), but she too can be dangerous even as a woman.

  3. The trope of a foreigner as a villain is intriguing as it is all about the threat. I think in this way women and foreigners were both threats to British men, for sometimes they could not control them. Therefore in this image both the foreigner and the woman are a threat to the viewer, however, gender allows the viewer to believe the man is more powerful than the woman, and more open in his dominance. Whereas the woman hides her dagger from the man and can only be seen by the viewer if one looks closely.

  4. This blog post was extremely fascinating! I too, wrote about this piece of artwork from the Trout Gallery, yet never noticed her facial expression but only hers. It is quite interesting to see how the two faces together create a story, and ultimately, represent a sense of characterization. While the man seems to be giving an evil grin, the woman, as you have noted, seems to be ‘indifferent’. Could this be because she has a weapon at her disposal? Could it be because she is ‘different’ from the vast majority of British women (who are insipid and complicit)?

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