Oscar Wilde: Man, Portrait, Wax Figure…Modern Photograph?

While I was in the National Art Gallery over Thanksgiving break, I noticed the following photograph of Oscar Wilde (see below):


The process, as described in the caption to the photo below, was the photographer took a picture of the Madame Tussauds wax figure of Oscar Wilde (which in itself was based off of a portrait that he sat for) and used light and scale to create the illusion of photographing Oscar Wilde, creating as realistic a photo as he could.


I thought this was a interesting way to think about art reflecting life, the many layers of visual representation and how they can be manipulated – thoughts Oscar Wilde would have approved of!

Archive Project Close Reading

I looked at the collection of essays Aphrodisiacs and Anti-Aphrodisiacs: Three Essays on the Powers of Reproduction: with Some Account of the judicial “congress” as practised in France during the seventeenth century by John Davenport. As Steven Marcus writes in The Other Victorians: A Study of Sexuality and Pornography in Mid-Nineteenth-Century England, the book Aphrodisiacs and Anti-Aphrodisiacs treats “gossip” as “a form of erudition” (Marcus, 72). Marcus also mentions that while “at the bottom of the title page is printed ‘London” Privately Printed 1869[,]’ the work was in fact printed in 1873” (72).

The book discusses multiple past and present ways of inciting sexual desire in both men and women, but all first-person accounts of anything too scandalous is printed in French, “the disgusting obscenity of which is such we cannot venture upon translating” them (Davenport, 111). The aristocracy being perfectly fluent in French, this “disguising” of the more scandalous material was paper-thin and completely useless.

My section in particular described the appeal of erotic spanking and then includes examples, such as Rosseau’s interest in being spanked by an elder woman. The details are in French, but a rough translation (many thanks to my patient and kind translator!) is:

“For a long time,” he says, “Madame Lambercier stuck to the threat of a new punishment, one that seemed very dreadful. But after the execution of the punishment, I found it less dreadful than the thinking about it beforehand, the waiting for it. The strangest part was that I liked the punishment, better than I liked her imposing the punishment on me. The truth of this affection is there was a battle between my sweet nature and my desire to be punished, because in pain and even in shame I have found a mix of sensuality that have given me more desire than fear of feeling immediately from that same hand. Without a doubt it was true, as I was flirting with a precocious sexual instinct, the same punishment given by my brother did not feel as pleasant.” (111)

Rosseau is describing not only a fetish for being spanked and a predilection for BDSM (both already very outside of the Victorian norm), but also his enjoyment in being submissive to a woman, thereby reversing the expected Victorian gender roles and further subverting the Victorian norm of heterosexual sex being about reproduction rather than pleasure. Based on Eva Sedgwick’s list of elements of sexual identity in her book Tendencies, Rosseau is subverting the gender binaries of “preferred sexual act(s) (supposed to be insertive if you are male or masculine, receptive if you are female or feminine),” “most eroticized sexual organs (supposed to correspond to the procreative abilities of your sex, and to your insertive/receptive organs),” and “enjoyment of power in sexual relations (supposed to be low if you are female or feminine, high if male or masculine)” (Sedgwick, 7). Rosseau leans more toward the feminine side of the binary on all of the above categories, despite being male. Thus, his proclivities subvert the Victorian gender binary – but despite being in French to “disguise” anything too obscene, Rosseau’s description is perfectly understandable to most of the Victorian aristocracy (who were fluent in French) and is on display for the Victorians to enjoy.

The full excerpt can be found at: http://vqa.dickinson.edu/essay/aphrodisiacs-and-anti-aphrodisiacs-three-essays-powers-reproduction-some-account-judicial

Works Cited:

Marcus, Steven. The Other Victorians: A Study of Sexuality and Pornography in Mid-Nineteenth-Century England. New York: Basic Books, 1966. Print.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. “Queer and Now.” Tendencies. Durham: Duke University, 1993. 1-22. Print.

Fairies, Freud, and Prostitution: The Body as a Commodity in “Goblin Market” and Supernatural

At first glance, the poem “Goblin Market” by Christina Rossetti and the Supernatural episode S6E9 “Clap Your Hands If You Believe” (hereafter CYHIYB) tell very different stories. “Goblin Market” describes the tale of a woman tempted by goblins to buy their (sexual) fruit, and her sister’s heroic (and virginal) act of resisting the goblins’ advances while obtaining the fruit juice her sister needs to survive. In CYHIYB, brothers Sam and Dean are trying to solve multiple disappearances in a town that are attributed to UFOs, but the boys discover fairies are responsible after Dean is abducted.

Digging deeper, both Laura and Dean are changed by their experiences: Laura “dwindled, as the fair full moon doth turn/To swift decay” (Rossetti, 8) and Dean returns from his abduction able to see fairies while others can’t (see strongly-PG-13-rated scene below):

[youtube_sc url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vS3mH5d8SNQ”]

Both characters were involved in the selling/trading of bodies. Laura buys fruit for a “clipped…golden lock” (Rossetti, 4) of hair, selling a piece of her body in exchange for the magical fruit, and Dean is taken by the fairies as part of the deal they made with a local shopkeeper, a tithe in exchange for their working for him:

MR. BRENNAN: I asked him just to cure my hands, but he said he would do even better. He would make me more successful than I had ever been. He told me he’d bring a crew of workers, that I could save my business, save my name.
SAM: In exchange for?
BRENNAN: He just wanted a place for them to rest, to take of the fruit and fat of the land. I said yes. I wasn’t thinking.
SAM: And the fruit and the fat was?
BRENNAN: My firstborn. Not just mine. There’s been others. They’re not stopping. They’re not going to stop. (source)

Both stories involve fairies dealing in the trading of bodies, whether seducing the person into willingly participating, like Laura, or unwillingly “taken to service Oberon, the King of the Faery” as Dean is (source). In both cases the trading of bodies is incredibly sexualized – Laura’s very sexual pleasure in eating the fruit (Rosetti, 4) and Dean describing “being pulled to a sort of table,” and Sam interrupts with “Probing table!” This is followed by the already-mentioned theory of Dean being taken to sexually service King Oberon.

The fairies are intertwined with selling sexual pleasure and bodies – in other words, fairies are involved in prostitution. As we’ve seen in the “Prostitution” article we read for class, for a sexually repressed society there were a multitude of prostitutes able to make a living, estimates ranging from 20,000-80,000 within the article. Assumed prostitutes were treated to “lewd suggestions” based on appearance, according to the article. So if these prostitutes were so disgusting, yet often managed to make a tidy sum, where does that leave the terrifying, dangerous, seductive fairies? What makes them so much more dangerous than the others involved in the trading and selling of bodies?

Thinking about it from a Freudian perspective, fairies unashamedly take what they want, seduce who they want and suffer no repercussions: they are able to act on these deep, dark desires that Victorians would have but be unable to act upon; the Victorians could displace their dark desires onto these “other” creatures. Thus, the fairies are terrifying, not only for their actions of kidnapping and seducing, but also for what they represent: shamelessly indulging in one’s dark and sexual fantasies.

Works Cited: Rosetti, Christina. Goblin Market and Other Poems. Dover Thrift Editions. New York: Dover Publications, 1994. Print.

The Siren’s Call: Power Struggles between Genders

When discussing “In an Artist’s Studio” by Christina Rossetti, we made a point of mentioning the fact that while the muse “fills [the] dream[s]” of the artist (14), clearly his obsession and in many if not all of his waking thoughts, the artist too “feeds upon her face” (9). He is always thinking about her, gaining some sort of sustenance from her even as he is in her thrall – the power balance between genders is unsteady, more of a push-pull than one-way street as one might have expected.

The poem complicates the power struggle between genders, in a similar way to the siren in Supernatural episode 4×14, Sex and Violence. The siren appears to four different men as four different women, and to each of them she was “Perfect, and everything that they wanted” (source).

Once she had them in her thrall – similar to how in thrall the artist was – the siren has become their most important person, and asks them to kill the previously most important person in their life. For the first three men, it was their wives; for the fourth man, his sick and dependent mother; for Dean and Sam, it was each other. The promise each time is that once this other person is dead, the siren can “be with you, forever” (source).

By the time the siren has appeared to tempt Dean, however, she has taken the form of a man rather than a woman – see clip of the confrontation below:[youtube_sc url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PUreiz4uJKY”]

The siren is seeking to be loved – the subject of an obsessive, destructive love, that will give them the most power over a man, the power to destroy his entire life. This is a similar effect that the female muse has on the male artist in Christina Rossetti’s poem, but in the former, the man has no control and can only destroy; in the latter, the artist has some control – how to represent the female muse – and can use his obsession to create.

Both femme fatales – the muse and the siren – complicate the power struggle between genders. The poem emphasizes that the struggle is not one way, that both the man and the woman can hold power; the episode reveals that the threat of overwhelming power can come from more that one gender. Rather than men being overwhelmed only by romantic or sexual desire (based on the normative sexuality of the Victorian era (at least on the surface), assuming that threat can only come from women), suddenly a man’s weakness can be more personal, familial rather than erotic; suddenly, the overwhelming power can come from a sexual female or a male relative – men’s weaknesses have doubled, men and women rather than just women. But in today’s world, when gender roles, gender itself and sexuality are so much more fluid, do these worries about gendered power struggles still hold power? Or have they become obsolete, in some ways?

The Victorian Fight for Female Rights

At first glance, Laura Fairlie/Lady Glyde and the victim in the case of “The Abominable Bride” from the BBC Sherlock Christmas special set in Victorian England (Emelia Ricoletti) live out two very different situations.

Emila Ricoletti (source)

Laura has survived, with Anne Catherick dying in her place; Emelia pretends to die in an attempt to (literally) get away with murder.

Sherlock deducing how Emelia faked her suicide (source)
Emelia about to murder her husband (source)

Anne and Laura are the victims of a plot; Emelia is the culprit of a plot. Emelia has one of her friends shoot her in the head after the murder so as to complete her alibi and for her corpse to be positively identified; Anne dies of heart failure and Laura continues to live. Both Anne and Laura have been in asylums; Emelia has never stepped foot in one – although her actions might qualify her for entrance.

All three women are clothed in white – Laura and Anne simply general white clothes, Emelia specifically in a wedding gown (hence the Abominable Bride moniker). All three women are wronged by a man: Laura and Emelia both faced abuse at the hands of their husband, while Anne is hunted down and shut away in an asylum by Glyde. Anne and Emelia were both sick, Anne with a condition of the heart and Emelia with consumption.

One of Emelia’s friends educating Holmes during his deduction (source)

In the end, however, the most important correlation between the two stories is their focus on the rights of women. Emelia’s death opens the gate for other women to avenge their suffering at the hands of men, disguising themselves as her ghost to murder the men doing them wrong. Reading Marian’s perspective emphasizes the lack of rights held by women, and Hartwright’s quest is to reveal the wrongdoings of Glyde and the Count to save Laura and give her closure (His stated goal is to “vindicate [Laura] through all risks and all sacrifices” (Collins, 414)). He will not stand for their abuse of Laura, made possible by their patriarchal power over her and Marian. While it may not seem so at first, I believe that The Woman in White is indeed a feminist novel, arguing for increasing the rights of women, so as to prevent more terrible circumstances, like the ones Laura and Marian are forced to go through. I agree with wardka’s conclusions from their last post, that Wilke Collins is advocating for women’s rights.

(As a small aside, one interesting similarity between “The Abominable Bride” and The Woman in White are the mustachioed ladies: Marian is described as having a mustache, and Molly Hooper appears in male disguise during the special:

“Mr.” Hooper (source))

Infidelity and Insanity: The Ingredients for a Woman in White (According to Supernatural)

From the moment I saw the title of the novel, The Woman in White, I thought that somehow this novel is going to have ghosts. The very first episode of one of my favorite TV shows, Supernatural, deals with a ghost known as a Woman in White.

At one point during the episode, Sam describes what creates a Woman in White:

“It’s a ghost story. Well, it’s more of a phenomenon, really…they’re spirits. They’ve been sighted for hundreds of years, dozens of places…All of these are different women, you understand, but they share the same story…See, when they were alive, their husbands were unfaithful to them. And these women, basically suffering from temporary insanity, murdered their children. Then, once they realized what they had done, they took their own lives. So now their spirits are cursed, walking back roads, waterways. And if they find an unfaithful man, they kill him.” (source)

In Sam’s description of a Woman in White, a lot of themes similar to those we have seen so far in the novel appear: ghostliness, walking/wandering (Anne always being found by Walter walking around in places she shouldn’t be), unfaithfulness (Walter’s suspicion that Glyde has “ruined” Anne and then locked her away), insanity, mistreated women.

In addition, the Woman in White featured in the episode has a similar mood swing as Anne does on page 104. Anne’s “face, at all ordinary times so touching to look at, in its nervous sensitiveness, weakness and uncertainty, became suddenly darkened by an expression of maniacally intense hatred and fear, which communicated a wild, unnatural force to every feature” (Collins, 104). In the beginning of the Supernatural episode, the Woman in White is a beautiful, relatively meek and submissive – if seductive – woman (see clip below, apologies for the bad quality):

[youtube_sc url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NeKHkWrFzLA”]

However, by the end of the episode, the Woman in White becomes extremely aggressive and demonic (see clip below, watch until about the 2:00 mark):

[youtube_sc url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SPY0W5_Fjt0″]

Looking at Sam’s –and Supernatural’s – definition of a Woman in White, Anne being so closely tied to this ghostly idea – called by the same name, sharing many of the same qualities – raises questions about Anne’s secrets, especially why she was sent to the asylum. If, like the episode suggests, Anne’s problems are tied up in infidelity, insanity, children and/or murder/suicide, there are plenty of possibilities: perhaps Glyde committed infidelity – marrying or sleeping with Anne only to cast her away when the time came that he was engaged to Laurie (or at least coming up on the date when he would marry Laurie); if she was married/sleeping with Glyde, perhaps Anne got pregnant and somehow miscarried the child; perhaps she purposefully miscarried/killed any children she had by Glyde and was sent to the asylum for that crime; perhaps – craziest of all – Glyde had a dalliance in his youth with Anne’s mother, Anne is the product of that, and Glyde locked her away to try and hide that dalliance from Laurie, so as not to impede his wedding to a proper heiress? I’ll have to read on and find out!