Archival Project: In Memoriam H.R.F.

The text that I chose to submit for the archival project was a poem written by Samuel Butler in 1895 entitled “In Memoriam H.R.F.”, an emotional piece that discusses Butler’s feelings after the departure of his close friend and possible lover, a Swiss student named Hans Rudolf Faesch.

The poem opens by describing the condition of Hans as he departs “into the night”: Hans is sick since he has “a racking cough” and weak lungs.  Butler wishes for Heaven to guide and guard him well.  Butler then discusses about “three lights” and how now there are only two remaining; this is a reference to himself, Hans, and Henry Festing Jones, another close friend whom Butler lived with.  Since Hans, one of the three lights, is leaving Butler and Jones, there are now only two lights left, which saddens the two friends left behind but they have confidence in Hans since his light was “clearer and stronger than ours.”

The poem continues to praise Hans in the following stanza.  There is a line that states that Hans enjoyed his time with Butler and Jones: “We gave you the best we had, such as it was, It pleased you well, for you smiled and nodded your head.”  This line interested me since I saw it as a subtle innuendo to a passionate emotional and possibly homoerotic relationship that existed between the three men.  Either way, the stanza implies that Hans was in good company during his stay in England.

The next stanza recounts how when the three companions began crying on the eve of Hans’ departure, Hans called themselves “a little weak.”  Butler then asks what is wrong with men displaying their emotions so openly.  He continues on by stating, “Therefore let tears flow on, for so long as we live No such second sorrow shall ever draw nigh us, Till one of us two leaves the other alone And goes out, out, out into the night…”  This was another line that intrigued me because I interpreted this as not only a sad farewell but also as a emotional lamentation over the fact that Hans cannot remain with Butler as a possible lover.  Butler adds on to this sorrow by broadening the audience to other people with similar hidden homoerotic desires: “Yet for the great bitterness of this grief…May pass into the hearts of like true comrades hereafter, In whom we may weep anew and comfort them, As they too pass out, out into the night…”

In the last stanza, Butler’s feelings over Hans’ departure are now even more prominent when he states, “…he whom we loved is gone, The like of whom we never again shall see.  The wind is heavy with snow and the sea is rough.”  Such lines are quite passionate since they display how special Hans was to Butler and Jones and how distraught they are over his farewell.

After reading the poem and the notes Henry Festing Jones published in the book, “Samuel Butler, Author of Erewhon (1835-1902): A Memoir, Volume 2”, I am convinced that this text is appropriate for the Victorian Queer Archive.  This is because I believe that Samuel Butler’s closeted homosexual desires are evident once one studies certain stanzas of the poem as well as the notes added by Jones.  Jones calls it a “Calamus poem” in reference to Walt Whitman’s own homoerotic poetry.  It should also be noted that Butler had the poem removed from the public due to the ongoing Oscar Wilde trials; Butler feared that the trails, with its heightened awareness of homoeroticism in the literary world, would expose his closeted sexuality (

Link to my Victorian Queer Archive post:







Orientals and Goblin Men


During our recent visit to the Trout Gallery, the image that intrigued me the most was the one entitled Salammbo.  In this image, a pale naked woman is lying across a bed while being entangled by a giant snake.  Off to the side, a fully clothed, swarthy looking man conceals himself in the shadows, starting at her ominously while playing his musical instrument.  The setting appears to be in an foreign land due to the black snake, the apparel of the swarthy man, and the pictures on the wall that resemble ancient Assyrian engravings.  While examining this image, two things come to mind: an obvious sexual tone and exotic themes.

The sexual tone is pretty evident due to the nudity of the woman, the snake (a phallic symbol) being wrapped around her, and her suggestive body language; she does not appear to be attempting to fight off the snake since her right arm is thrown over head and because of her closed eyes and pleasurable facial expression.  In terms of exoticism, there are certain aspects of the setting that make the image exotic such as the snake, the swarthy man, and the wall engravings.  Both the giant black snake and the Assyrian images are certainly not from England, or from the West in general.  The clothing and dark skin of the man seem to indicate that he is also non-European.  I also interpreted the setting of the image to be an intentional implication of orientalism since all the foreign objects are displayed in a bizarre and sexual way that implies that it is a stereotypical critique of the East.  A Westerner would probably view the image and think, “This setting is obviously foreign!  Who else but the orientals would lie with wild beasts in a strange room while others look on?”

The sexual and exotic themes of Salammbo reminded me of Laura and Lizzie’s encounter with the goblin men in Christina Rossetti’s poem Goblin Market.  When Laura buys fruit from the goblins, the language seems overtly sexual.  Her consumption of the fruit is described as thus: she “sucked their fruit globes fair or red…she sucked and sucked and sucked the more, fruits which that unknown orchard bore, she sucked until her lips were sore” (Rossetti 4).  The instance in which the goblins swarm and try to force feed Lizzie can also be interpreted as being sexual because the scene eerily mirrors a gang bang/orgy since she “would not open lip from lip lets they should cram a mouthful in: but laughed…to feel the drip of juice that syrupped all her face…and streaked her neck” (Rossetti 12).

Meanwhile, the goblin men are described as possibly being foreign since Laura asks the question, “Who knows upon what soil they fed their hungry thirsty roots?” (Rossetti 2), hinting that the goblins are from other lands or “soils.”  Either way, the goblins men are clearly not human and are strange, which is similar to the exotic themes of Salammbo.  By being foreign like the figures of Salammbo, the goblins are portrayed in a dangerous, bizarre, and “sexual” manner.  The woman in Salammbo lies with a snake, a dangerous animal, and the goblin men, who are vicious and animal-like, have a “sexual” encounter with Laura and Lizzie.  The goblins are therefore outsiders who cannot be trusted by the sisters, much like how Westerners of the Victorian Era deemed foreigners such as Asians as “orientals”, strange violent folk from the edges of the world.     


Close Reading of the Fair Dreamer


The image that I chose is entitled the Fair Dreamer.  The main subject of the image is a beautiful (fair) woman who appears to be asleep or is waking up as she is sprawled against the trunk of a willow tree.  The setting is on the banks of a lake.  There is also a parasol in one corner of the image and a rowboat in the other.  What intrigues me the most about this image is the posture of the woman.  She is stretching but in a way that looks exposing or inviting.  Her arms are stretched above her with one lying across her forehead, her legs aren’t crossed, and her eyes are closed, possibly hinting that the body language of the woman could be interpreted as one of relaxation, fragility, or sexual desire.  Her parasol, a tool that is used to shade/protect one’s self, also appears to have been tossed aside, which can imply that she is willingly giving off a sign of acceptance.

All of this reminded me of the readings that we covered in class that were about the female as a sexualized object.  Elizabeth Lee’s article on the Victorian Web, the Femme Fatale as Object, discusses the fascination with the female body that many male artists of the Victorian Era felt.  According to Jan Marsh, the femme fatale, a seductive and dangerous woman, became idealized to the point where they were “rendered decorative, depersonalized; they [became] passive figures rather than characters in a story or drama… women [were] reduced to an aesthetic arrangement of sexual parts, for male fantasies” (Lee 1).  In short, male artists feared the “sexual destructiveness” of the femme fatale and thus began to view their female human models as perfect, sexually attractive objects with a lack of a real identity.

I think that Elizabeth Lee’s article can be connected to the Fair Dreamer because the women of this image is similar to a female model that a male artist from the Victorian Era would desire.  As mentioned before, the body language of the woman is one of passiveness and sexuality.  Though she is fully clothed, she is still beautiful with an inviting posture and a tranquil/gentle expression on her face.  She is also asleep in nature, which further romanticizes the image and shows that she can be an example of a “femme fatale, whose dangerous sexual powers artists felt the need to reign in somehow to make her more palatable to Victorian audiences” (Lee 1).  By making her asleep, the artist has successfully quelled her “threatening” side.

Literally Sensational: Expression of Body Parts in “The Woman in White”

The Woman in White is often credited as being the first novel of the sensation genre to be published.  The sensation genre is defined (on the back cover of our edition of The Woman in White) as a “Victorian genre that combine[s] Gothic horror with psychological realism”, which can evoke intense physical and emotional responses from readers.  This is why sensational novels tend to focus on stories that involve matters like murder, secrecy, and scandal, making The Woman in White a prime example of the genre.

The tone in the novel is thus unsurprisingly suspenseful with topics such as the mystery of Anne Catherick, the terrifying power of Count Fosco, and the Secret of Sir Percival Glyde being prominent drives for the plot.  After reading the conversation between Walter and Professor Pesca, a big reveal scene of Professor Pesca’s secret, I noticed a reoccurring speech pattern of Professor Pesca.  I found it curious how Pesca kept using body parts to express himself.  For instance, he uses the phrases “you have shaken me from head to toe”, “on your heart and soul”, and “put my life into your hands” (pg. 573) within the span of a few paragraphs.

After reading this section of the novel, I realized that scenes that involved cases of suspense or other powerful emotions, such as grief and fear, have generally been depicted in a descriptive style that uses the expression of physical body parts rather than a frank statement of the character’s feelings.  For example, Pesca could have stated “The information that I am about to reveal is extremely dangerous so I am trusting you completely, Walter” instead of saying “My next words, as true as the good God is above us, will put my life into your hands” (pg. 573).  Another example is from the First Epoch when Marian tells Walter about Laura’s engagement to Sir Percival.  Walter’s reaction is described as thus: “The last word went like a bullet to my heart.  My arm lost all sensation of the hand that grasped it” (pg. 72).  This is an impressive way of expressing Walter’s shock especially when compared to my plainer version: “Marian’s words left me speechless.  The news had made me numb to all my surroundings.”  The similes and metaphors of Wilkie Collins are preferable (of course) since they emphasize the gravity of a character’s thoughts and words.

I believe that using such language is definitely the writing style of Wilkie Collins.  By doing so, it is possible for readers to truly feel the pressure of a scene or be able to make a connection with a character, hence fulfilling the purpose of the sensation genre.


Wilkie Collins: Sexist or Feminist?

When I first started reading The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, I began to formulate a question in my mind on the true views of the author.  I was curious on whether Wilkie Collins would portray the women of his novel in a stereotypical Victorian way: men being superior to women in numerous rights and aspects of life.

At first, I was convinced that Wilkie Collins’ views were similar to William Rathbone Greg’s opinions on women, which were rather degrading.  In his essay entitled “Why Are Women Redundant?”, Greg described single working women of England as people who were “wasting life and soul, gathering the scientist subsistence, and surrounded by the most overpowering and insidious temptations” (158).  Meanwhile, in one passage in The Woman in White, Collins has one of the female characters, Miss Marian Halcombe, state, “Women can’t draw – their minds are too flighty, and their eyes are too inattentive” (37).  Also, Collins’ other female characters such as Anne Catherick and Laura Fairlie are shown as emotionally unstable.  Both Greg and Collins seem to portray women in their writings as fragile, careless, and incapable of performing certain tasks of life.  After reading such words, I came to believe that both writers were sexist towards women.

However, after delving deeper into the story of The Woman in White, I noticed that the personalities of women, especially that of Miss Marian Halcombe, did not represent female characters as the dim, meek people I had expected Collins to portray them as.  Rather, Marian and her half sister, Laura, are shown as strong characters protesting against the cruel regime of men in Victorian society.  This is most evident during the weeks leading up to Laura’s dreaded wedding ceremony with Sir Percival Glyde.  Marian, fed up with the selfish decision makings of their uncle, Mr. Fairlie, and Sir Percival, exclaims, “No man under heaven deserves these sacrifices from us women.  Men!  They are the enemies of our innocence and our peace – they drag us away from our parents’ love and our sisters’ friendship – they take us body and soul to themselves, and fasten our helps lives to theirs as they chain up a dog to his kennel” (181).  Such words are powerful and bold because they blatantly explain the unequal statues that women suffered during the Victorian Era.

After reading the outcry of Marian, I changed my opinion on Collins, now viewing him as a potential advocate on women’s rights.  However, it is still debatable on what Collins’ true intensions were due to other passages (such as the one mentioned before about women being incapable of drawing) that do not exactly portray women as equals to men.