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)

How to be a Man: Gender and Emotions in Victorian England

“Don’t shrink under it like a woman. Tear it out; trample it under foot like a man!”

The Victorian Era was one of strict gender roles (although, some may argue little has changed). There was a very particular way a man must act and a very particular way a woman must act. No one strayed from it, at risk of being ridiculed. Willkie Collins’ The Woman in White portrays male and female characters, both in physicality and in what they say, in such a way as to emphasize the importance of this. In particular, the interactions between Miss Halcombe and Mr. Hartright show what strict standards both men and women were held to.

Much of Miss Halcombe and Mr. Hartright’s interactions appear to be Miss Holcombe, who is described in a rather masculine manner, telling Hartright to, in no short terms to man up. After Miss Halcombe tells him to leave the house as it is clear Hartright is in love with Miss Fairlie, Hartright is visibly upset. Miss Holcombe immediately comes in with “Don’t shrink under it like a woman. Tear it out; trample it under foot like a man!” (Collins). It, in this case, is emotions of heartbreak and distraught brought on by Miss Holcombe insisting it is for the best that Hartright leaves Limberidge House. In Miss Holcombe’s, and the Victorian audience’s, mind to succumb or “shirk under” emotion is to make one more feminine. To be a man is to crush them, “tear it out; [and] trample it under foot”. This is just one of many times we the reader see Miss Halcombe remind Hartright to be a man. To be repeated so many times goes to show what a strong influence societal expectations and gender roles held on the Victorians. To have Miss Holcombe, a masculine woman, remind Hartright of his role as the actual man minimizes and furthers the reading that Miss Holcombe is not a “real” or “proper woman” and that Hartright is not quite to the standard of a Victorian man.