Who Fears the Foreign Woman?

“The Greek Captive” is a fascinating image as it does not depict the usual Victorian subjects in the typical ways. As we’ve seen previously, these images usually show a beautiful white woman with flowing locks, with a sickly hue about her skin. Normally she is alone, left to look beautiful and near-death for the enjoyment of the male audience. However, we do not see that here. We see a beautiful Greek woman whose skin appears slightly darker than your average Victorian woman. Her hair is covered, she’s dressed in light colors, and she looks alive. Hidden in her waistband is a knife. She is also not alone in this image, there is a Turkish/not white man lurking behind her. He is almost hidden in the shadows, with his dark hair/beard and dark clothes. But there is just enough light to see his hand creeping towards his sword, ready to attack at any moment.

What stands out to me is the contrast between this woman and our other Victorian women and the imagery of weapons. Yes, the evil foreigner has a sword ready to threaten the innocent captive. But the woman has one too, and I think I can say with some degree of certainty that we haven’t seen many (if any) good British Victorian women with weapons before.

We’ve talked in class about the Victorian fear of the foreign and this image furthers that argument. Foreign men, as we know, are almost always the villain or at least have a suspicious past (cough, cough Pesca and the Brotherhood) and this man is no different. In fact, between his beard, clothes, and curing shoes, he almost looks like the Disney version of Jafar. But we’ve met very few foreign women. We’ve seen British women in foreign settings, but this is our first non-British/white woman subject. I think she too fits the theme of fear of the foreign. First and foremost, her hair is covered. As we’ve seen in other pieces, a woman’s hair is a flowing symbol of her sexuality and emphasizes her beauty as she can show nothing else. Here, her hair is covered. Instead, we can see her sexuality through her clothing. Her neckline is lower, allowing us to see her shoulders and her chest. This makes her more intriguing to your average, horny Victorian man. Next, the weapon. Despite being a “damsel in distress” our Greek captive is carrying a knife. She does not appear to fear the man behind her, which leads me to believe she would not be timid in using that knife. The Greek captive is sexual, beautiful, and foreign but also deadly.

Overall, this image takes your standard Victorian fear of the exotic and pushes it a little further to include women. The foreign is a beautiful and wonderful inspiration for art and stories, but can and will kill you if given the chance.

One thought on “Who Fears the Foreign Woman?”

  1. Hey, I really enjoyed your blog post and I find your connection of foreign as fearful, with women themselves, interesting. As someone who also wrote about “The Greek Captive”, I noted the fact that the women is aware of the situation she is in, as she is holding a weapon of some sort and ready to flee. What I did not consider however, was the fact that she did not appear similar to the ‘tuberculosis-chic’ British women. Furthermore, as you have explained in great detail, she also sets herself aside from the ideal Victorian woman based off not only her appearance but her ‘foreign’ identity.

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