Class Blog

Obviously It’s Her Fault

Moreau’s “The Apparition” depicts Salome demanding John the Baptist’s head. As the biblical story goes, Herod had imprisoned John the Baptist for claiming that his marriage to Herodias, wife of his late brother, was invalid. However, Herod was unwilling to kill the prophet due to his popularity. However, when his stepdaughter, Salome danced at a feast, Herod promised her whatever she wanted, and Salome demanded the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Moreau’s painting depicts Salome as the ultimate temptress. In the Victorian eye, her assuredness in her power, shown by her stance, and her vanity and evil sexuality, shown through her opulent but revealing clothes secure her image as the clear villain of the story.

Similarly Bertha in The Lifted Veil fills the role of evil seductress. Latimer maintains that she “intoxicated me” seducing him with her “playful tyranny” (29). He blames her for his choice to continually pursue her. Like Salome, Bertha is characterized as vain and shallow through her “White ball-dress, with the green jewels” (34) and her “rich peignoir” (40) and her other efforts to remain fashionable. Despite his knowledge of Bertha’s character, Latimer still marries her and is shocked by her hatred. He is the architect of this failure, in spite of his gift of foresight, and still blames Bertha rather than his own actions.

The villainy of these women is effectively a twisted version of Victorian ideals placed on women. Victorian women were meant to be beautiful, fashionable, and above all—appealing to men. However, they were not supposed to have agency: effectively they were dolls or decoration, if they were beautiful, it was to be observed and enjoyed by others, their fashionable clothes were simply an expectation, not desired by the wearer. Any form of intention to beauty, fashion, or the use of these as tools was inherently bad. To intentionally dress in opulence or fashionable trends was to be shallow. If you were aware of your beauty, you were vain and self-absorbed. If your beauty or sexuality led to a man’s downfall, then you were an evil siren. The idealized attributes of women were never their own possession, and to claim them and use them was to take on the role of temptress.


Depictions of Agency (or lack thereof!)

Yes or No Antique Engraving 1883 Victorian Society


The engraving “Yes or No?” depicts a woman deeply contemplating a decision (presumably a marriage proposal) and writing and rewriting the letter with her response. Her desk is in disarray and there are torn up pieces of paper around her on the floor as she sits at the desk looking troubled. She also has several pages of letters on her desk, messily strewn around. When I first saw this image, I was curious as to what this etching said about a woman’s agency in the Victorian Era. In one sense, she (presumably) has a decision to make whether she wants to marry him or not. However, at the same time, the fact that she is clearly unable to make the decision strips her of that same agency because she can’t make up her mind.

This image reminds me of when Laura went to Sir Percival to tell him that she loved someone else because these depictions of agency in women are different.. While Laura ultimately lacks agency, she tries to give Sir Percival an option in order to control her own destiny. Laura did not have much, if any choice in whether or not she was to marry Sir Percival even though she tried because she was in love with Walter. In the image, the woman does have the power to say yes or no but can’t make up her mind.

Both Laura and the woman in the etching lack agency but for different reasons. Laura doesn’t have power over her own fate but this woman does. However, this woman’s inability to make up her mind strips her of that agency and depicts her as if someone has to make the decision for her (presumably a male). If a woman needs to rely on some one else to make her decisions, she doesn’t have very much agency at all. So, while these two different characters or images of women are slightly different in their agency, they both ultimately lack control over their own lives.

No Ugly Women in Paradise

Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market tells the story of two sisters, Laura and Lizzie. They looked at the goblin market where the little creatures would sell their fruit and cry “come buy our orchard fruits, come buy, come buy” (Rossetti 1). Although both, Laura and Lizzie, are aware that they should not buy the fruit, Laura eventually gives in and exchanges a lock of hair for the goblins’ fruit. She consumes it quickly and when she wakes up she finds that her hair has gone gray and that she feels burnt out (8).

This is interesting to observe because we can find multiple themes: We can find the Victorian focus on hair and Laura using it as a payment method. Furthermore, we can see strong parallels to the story of Adam and Eve. In paradise, Eve was convinced by a snake to eat an apple which resulted in Adam and Eve having to leave paradise. In Goblin Market it was the goblins who convinced the girl to eat the forbidden fruit. They lured Laura in until she finally could not resist anymore. As a consequence, Laura has lost all of her beauty. In this parallelism, Laura equals Eve and the goblins equal the snake. What is interesting, though, is that Laura’s loss of beauty can be seen as her not being in paradise anymore. Vice versa, being beautiful is paradise.

To put it into relation with our Trout Gallery visit: Women who are not beautiful (or old) are usually disregarded. Out of the exhibits that we looked at, only two featured women who are not young, white, and beautiful. And those images were put in a satirical context. The women in those pictures were portrayed as undesirable. They would kiss a goat or treat their own illnesses. To look at it through the lens of Rathbone: If you’re not marriageable as a woman, your life is not worth living and you are an “existence manquées” and unfulfilled existence (157).



To Capture or be Captured

Andromache in Captivity depicts Hector’s wife at the public well in shame to be seen after her husband’s death and her capture. The Neoclassical composition and style creates drama in the scene as well as the drapery displayed on the figures. She is singled out in the middle, with most of the figures looking at her. Additionally even the orthogonal lines direct straight towards her. Andromache is dressed in all black and covered head to toe while the other figures show more skin and appear to be in lighter colored robes. These details draw the viewer’s attention to her and make it impossible for her to hide.

Her role as a captive mirrors the fear Victorians had of foreign invasion on their women. There are many examples of this in our readings. For example in the Woman in White Laura is captured by Fosco, the main foreign character in the novel. Laura is helpless and eventually ends up in the Asylum, shamed and afraid, similarly to how Andromache felt.

Andromache in Captivity therefore conveys the fear and threat that foreigners represented to European men and their women. Therefore there is a shift to colonize and conquer their lands. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland could be a commentary on this. Alice falls down the rabbit hole into a strange land, however, she has no issues making herself comfortable and inserting herself into whatever situation or conversation she wishes.

The push and pull between fear and desire to conquer the foreign lands appears in many different examples whether it be in literature or art. Nevertheless, it exposes the Victorians and how they viewed society and the world around them.

Andromache in Captivity

The World’s Favorite Bed-Time Story is Finally a Bed-Time Story…

content description: discussions and analysis of sexuality and porn, as well as nude screenshots from an erotic film and magazine

The hit 1865 Alice In Wonderland was adapted as early as 1866 into a widely popular musical. Caroll had a direct hand in the piece, going as far to personally design and purchase costumes for the two young girl actors in the play. In letters to the show’s playwright, he stressed the importance of avoiding “any coarseness, or anything suggestive of coarseness.” (1) 

Lewis Caroll would then, no doubt, be very alarmed to learn of the 1976 production, “Alice in Wonderland: An X-Rated Musical Fantasy”.

‘Alice in Wonderland’ plays Park Mall – one of the Mann Theaters, Tucson, AZ (April 29th 1976)
‘Alice in Wonderland’ plays Park Mall – one of the Mann Theaters, Tucson, AZ (April 29th 1976)

The movie was produced by Bill Osco and Jason Williams during the 1960s-80s “golden age” of adult film and entertainment. (2) It had both softcore (explicitly sexual, but without penetration) and hardcore (penetrative) releases. Despite being massively popular and raking in millions, many of the actors and crew saw none of the profits, due to shady dealings of producer Bill Osco. 

Why use a children’s story as the premise? Producer Jason Williams explained, “I thought it would be a good idea to have the polarity, the contrast. Contrast is interesting and gets your attention.” (3) This strategy is not dissimilar from Caroll’s method of using absurdity and humor. 

The 1976 film revolves around an adult Alice, who argues with her boyfriend because she wants to wait until after marriage to have sex. 

Alice in Wonderland: An X-Rated Musical Fantasy, 1976. Screenshot.
Alice in Wonderland: An X-Rated Musical Fantasy, 1976. Screenshot.

She sings the song, “(Guess I Was Just Too Busy) Growing Up”, in which she laments she isn’t able to properly perform adulthood (sexuality) because she repressed her childhood. It isn’t until 1976 Alice enters a dreamworld, free from consequence, that she is able to masturbate and have sex for the first time. In the end of the film, she enthusiastically has sex with her boyfriend after becoming sexually liberated during her Wonderland experiences. This is a continuation of the journey of 1865 Alice, who, after confronting her doubts about the rules of adult life in her dreamworld, achieves adulthood.

The 1976 film follows the original text’s obsession with the relation between size and identity, a powerful metaphor for puberty/sexual maturity. Both Alices grow and shrink, but 1976 Alice becomes nude as a result, marking her transition into owning her sexuality. The 1865 Alice questions her identity because of her “number of changes [in size].” (4) She also remarks on the size of the animals she meets, expressing fear and surprise.

Alice in Wonderland: An X-Rated Musical Fantasy, 1976. Screenshot. 
Alice in Wonderland: An X-Rated Musical Fantasy, 1976. Screenshot.
Alice in Wonderland: An X-Rated Musical Fantasy, 1976. Screenshot. 
Alice in Wonderland: An X-Rated Musical Fantasy, 1976. Screenshot.

The 1976 Alice expresses the same incongruence of identity between body/mind, as her boyfriend remarks, “Your body is grown but your mind is a child.” In typical porn fashion, 1976 Alice expresses fear and surprise when finding out how large the Mad Hatter’s penis is before performing oral sex. In both texts, size, identity, and power are interchangeable.

While the 1976 film is explicitly sexual, it simply builds on the implicit sexual themes of the original. When you put these texts in conversation with each other, they share more than they differ. Caroll may have claimed to want to avoid vulgarity, but his obsession with girlhood and children is nothing if not sexual. This sexualization of girlhood continues with the 1976 film. The Victorian age seems like the exact opposite of the heyday of adult films, but they share similar desires and strategies of speaking about them. 

April 1976 cover of Playboy, photographed by Suze Randall.
April 1976 cover of Playboy, photographed by Suze Randall.

The brief analysis I did here couldn’t remotely come close to a full exploration of these two texts, but I hope to have begun to illuminate the surprising similarities in content, as well as the origins of their creation. Perhaps now we can see the 1865 Alice in Wonderland in a new way. 

  1. Morton N. Cohen (ed.), The Selected Letters of Lewis Carroll, (New York, Pantheon Books, 1982), 163. 
  2. “What Is the Rialto Report?” The Rialto Report, August 29, 2021. 
  3. “‘Alice in Wonderland’ (1976): What really happened?” March 22, 2015.
  4. Lewis Caroll, The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland, (New York, Bantam Dell 1865), 40.

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.

Queerness and Fosco: A Very Strange Man

“He was a big fat, odd sort of elderly man, who kept birds and white mice, and spoke to them as if they were so many Christian children.” (400)

Every good story has a good villain, and The Woman in White is no different. In many ways, Count Fosco embodies the same villainous characteristics we see today, specifically in Disney films. From his physical body to his foreignness to his obsession with animals, Count Fosco is your classic villain, there to terrify the reader and thwart the plans of the good and pure Walter Hartright.

Firstly, Count Fosco is a physically distinct man. This is something every single person who meets him seems to focus on. Much like other villains in stories he is on one extreme of physical size “big fat.” In a room full of, I’m assuming, skinny people, he stands out. Another very important aspect of Count Fosco is that he is not of Britain but Italy. In fact, he is one of two non-British characters in this novel. What’s more is that it is revealed later that Fosco was part of “the Brotherhood,” as a secret society that has branches all over Europe. Immediately in Victorian England, this is cause for suspicion. Fosco. Fosco is no different. He “kept birds and white mice” which definitely adds to the weird vibes the other characters pick up from him. What is weirder still is that he “spoke to them as if they were so many Christian children.” He seems to see them as filling the space for actual children, which he does not have despite being a married man in Victorian England.

So what does this have to do with Fosco as a villain? Such as we see in popular culture, any characters outside the norm are typically evil. What else is outside the norm, especially in Victorian England? Being queer. Fosco’s strange family dynamic in combination with his oddities makes him a prime character for the queer-coded villain trope. He terrifies readers and characters alike, continuing the tradition of queerness being something evil.

(Blog Post 2)

A Man Who Thinks He Knows Everything?—Haven’t Heard That One Before

In George Eliot’s The Lifted Veil, Latimer’s obsession with knowledge seems to transcend the apparent moral of the story into a broader conversation about the role of women in Victorian society.

Supposedly, this story (at least, according to Latimer) has a definitive lesson. He laments how, “[he] thirsted for the unknown: the thirst is gone. O God, let [him] stay with the known, and be weary of it: [He is] content” (Eliot 1). At first glance, this comment seems to preach against curiosity, but the novel takes this idea even further. In fact, Latimer’s specific reference to “the unknown” alludes to two situations. First, the comment harkens to the scientific (and pseudo-scientific) leaps of the Victorian era. This depiction of knowledge also appears later in the text, when Latimer notes how he “had no desire to be this improved man,” who “knew the reason why water ran down-hill” (Eliot 7). The very use of the word “improved” in this context appears sarcastic, as if to make fun of both scientific curiosity and the people who pursue such knowledge. At a time period when society seemed hellbent on unveiling truth, the repeated attention to knowledge and specific types of knowing comes off as suspicious.

It therefore comes as a great irony when Latimer later becomes engrossed in curiosity himself. For, besides alluding to Victorian science, his comment about the “unknown” literally refers to Bertha. She, an English, Victorian, woman becomes the unknown. Latimer explains how (in oh, what loving terms) “[s]he was my [his] oasis of mystery in the deary desert of knowledge” (Eliot 18). Simply because he cannot know her like others, he becomes deeply entrenched trying to learn more and more about her. Latimer describes her as a “mystery,” because Bertha is, for him, something to solve. In this sense, Latimer does not fall in love with a person, but the idea of demystifying the woman of his fantasies. Yet as his use of the possessive “my” indicate that he views Bertha as something to own. Only she can defy his insight, and because of this, he desperately craves to subdue her.

Knowledge, and specifically un-knowledge becomes intertwined with the idea of Victorian women. At this point, it is worth reinforcing Latimer’s role as an unreliable narrator. All his whining and sensitivity both become apart of and cloud the narrative. I mention this to highlight that Bertha, and by extension the Victorian woman, is only unknowable to Latimer. At the risk of removing some of the story’s horror, this reading shows one way in which Eliot subverts Victorian patriarchy through writing. For, The Lifted Veil, may be read as a desperate attempt from a Victorian man, who thinks he knows everything, to understand his wife (and failing miserably).

Our Two Favorite Women. Oh, and a Palace.

Taj Mahal – Agra, engraved by Robert Wallis

This image of the Taj Mahal depicts the palace from across the Yamuna River; it is unclear what year this piece was created. The way that the Taj Mahal sits forebodingly in the background, almost overlooking the men in the front, reminds me of the way a slave owner or master would monitor his slaves. The men seem to be performing duties; for whom and to what end, however, the engraving does not make clear. One seems to be gathering water, the others perhaps resting or preparing to defend themselves. These simple tasks directly contrast with the larger force of the palace in the background. The men seem to be skirting their main duties, and the smaller boats might be on their way from the palace to punish them.

In addition to this feeling of punishment and a power dynamic between the palace in the background and the men in the foreground, the shades of grey in the engraving speak volumes (I would say color but it’s all black and white, so, you know). The palace is stark white against the sky, pale and standing out against the water, clouds, and dark rock formation on the left side of the engraving. In addition, the palace is a palace, meaning it is a symbol of riches and wealth, and as such is a striking, detailed building that is admired by many. In contrast to this, the men in the foreground are dark and more easily blend in with their surroundings. They display signs of their poverty by wearing only rags around their waists, not wearing shoes, and allowing themselves to be unkempt.

This image and its depiction of the relation between classes and races directly relates to Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. Just like the rich, white Taj Mahal and the poor, dark men in the engraving, Collins’ novel has its two main female characters, the rich, white Laura Fairlie and the poor, dark Marian Halcombe. All the characters throughout the novel, including both Laura and Marian themselves, emphasize the class and race (at least in terms of beauty) differences between the women. It is a prominent theme; we, as readers, are hyperaware that Marian will never be as beautiful or as rich as Laura, because nobody can stop talking about it. As observers of this engraving, too, we are aware that the men in the foreground will never be as beautiful or as rich as the palace or the people that live and work within it; for both Marian and these men, it is due to the fact that they are simply not white enough to be accepted by society into this position.


Salammbo, by Gabrial Joseph Marie Augustin Ferrier depicts an exotic scene of a woman with a snake wrapped around her body as a man plays an instrument in the background. The viewer can assume the man is controlling the snake with his music, a common foreign trope, as a way to manipulate and control the woman.

Similarly, Count Fosco likes to manipulate women and control them, whether it be by using force or deceiving them with his gentleness towards his pet mice and other animals. Marian, becomes less trusting of Fosco and his ability to manipulate her and other people. He dictates large parts of the narrative and even intrudes on Marian’s diary. By ambushing her private diary it proves the lengths he will go to control women.

The etching and the novel are both examples of how one can examine the relationship between Great Britain and the world around it. While things like the Crystal Palace were enjoyed and looked at as a spectacle, they also created fear of the foreign invading British land. Count Fosco serves as an example of the stereotypes that were given to foreigners and the atmosphere created around them.

Salammbo, Gabrial Ferrier