The Gothic in “A Sicilian Romance”

While reading “A Sicilian Romance,” I thought back to some of my prior research on the gothic. I had noticed, of course, the descriptions that were obviously gothic in “A Sicilian Romance,” but also thought of the roots of the meaning of the word “Goth.” History tells us that the Goths were known as barbarians who destroyed classical Roman civilization and for centuries onward, rendered the civilized world dark and ignorant. In a book called The History of Gothic Fiction, Markman Ellis says that the Goths were a German tribe inhabiting the northern and eastern borders of the Roman Empire, and that they launched an invasion of the empire in 376 AD, after long-standing border disputes. Perhaps because they were repeatedly successful in the invasions, and eventually sacked Rome in 410 AD, their history has come to acquire a sordid aura, characteristic of savagery and cruelty. By the eighteenth century, “Goth” was a blanket term for all German tribes, and the term “gothic” came to be associated with medieval culture, “and thus the culture dominant in the Dark Ages (the period from the seventh to the thirteenth centuries” (Ellis 22). Because of the role of Goths in the disintegration of what is regarded as the greatest civilization the world has known, the word “gothic” came to mean “barbarous” – a connotation that can be found in Shakespeare and Chaucer’s writings, and which survives into the eighteenth century (Ellis 23).


In the eighteenth century, however, the term “gothic” was revised and gothic fiction came to be commonly thought of as representing “one of the defining moments when an old chivalric past was idealized at the expense of a classical present. The Gothic is then a conscious anachronism, presented not as an error of taste or a corrupting influence, but as a positive attribute” (Ellis 23). In other words, something that was thought of as classical, sophisticated and tasteful in the present could be compromised for an honorable and chivalric past without giving rise to criticism and opposition. It could now be said that “the gothic is not a destroyer of the civilized values of classical Rome, but rather is perceived as the source and repository of some of the unique, valuable and essential elements in English culture and politics” (Ellis 24). I looked for ways that this understanding of the gothic could be applied to “A Sicilian Romance.” While there were several instances that could fit this definition, I thought the most interesting one to examine would be the scene in which the Marquis tells Julia that she must marry the Duke de Luovo.  Julia, who has fallen in love with Hippolitus, cannot bear the thought; she entreats her father to reconsider his orders, but he responds with, “Away! Nor tempt my rage with objections thus childish and absurd. What – when wealth, honor and distinction are laid at my feet, shall they be refused because a foolish girl…cries and says she cannot love!” Here, the Marquis is clearly privileging Duke de Luovo’s honor and rank, passed down from an old lineage, over something tasteful offered in the present (that Hippolitus is sophisticated and tasteful in his ways is evidenced even by the way he looks at Julia during the ball; “a timid respect marked the manner of Hippolitus, more flattering to Julia than the most ardent professions”; the gentle way he talks to Ferdinand is also of note). Therefore, the post-eighteenth-century definition of gothic is at play here; however, the scene can also be applied to the other definition of gothic. It would be difficult to argue that the Marquis is barbaric simply because he places financial concerns (he does mention “wealth”) over the ennobling emotion of love, as both love and money have historically been the basis for nuptials. However, the Marquis’s demeanor can be interpreted as barbaric; his dismissal of his daughter’s tears may be seen as cruel; his tendency to want to remain in the “Dark” (pun intended) about her desires, or, you could say, his “tearing down” of these desires, and his coercive nature, shown by his threat to withhold shelter if Julia does not comply – could all be elements of the pre-eighteenth century understanding of the gothic.

It Keeps Rainin’ (Tears From My Eyes)

Although Emmeline: The Orphan of the Castle, appears to be criticizing some gender and marriage norms of the 18th century, we find that the heroine is not spared the traits typified by her sex during the time; she waxes emotional very frequently, and weeps both quietly and passionately for a wide range of reasons many times throughout the novel. Emmeline does resist living her life in ways she deems undesirable; she tells her uncle that a an independent livelihood from honest labor is “infinitely superior to any advantage such a man as Maloney can offer me” (30) and after her uncle accuses her of coquetry, that she declares she will live in the castle neither as the wife of Maloney nor as Emmeline Mowbray a day longer. In these examples, and others, we perceive some mettle in Emmeline. However, if she is to be viewed as a character who resists pressure from others in society, and is therefore a “strong” character, it seems odd that she should be so susceptible to fits of crying. I’ll examine just a few of these instances (from Book I, for the sake of focus) to form a conclusion as to why Charlotte Smith may have chosen to portray Emmeline this way.

The death of Mrs. Carey has an effect on young Emmeline, and at this early point in the story, Smith (or the narrator) insists that Emmeline does not handle the matter in an overly emotional manner. “She possessed this native firmness in a degree very unusual to her age and sex. Instead therefore of giving way to tears and exclamations she considered how she should best perform all she could now do for her deceased friend” (10). Emmeline makes funeral arrangements for Mrs. Carey and deals with her grief with a fair amount of composure. Soon after this, however, we see her unravel in a series of moments during which she is keenly sensitive. The first instance is understandable: Lord Montreville gives Emmeline his condolences upon the death of Mrs. Carey, and Emmeline begins to weep, even having to excuse herself from the room because she “found her emotion very painful” (23). Although Emmeline has tried to come to terms with Mrs. Carey’s death by herself, her sorrow is piqued by the mention of her friend, so it is natural that she should cry. However, she is not given much of a break from emotional convulsions after this. In a meeting with Delamere, during which he takes the opportunity to ardently express his admiration for her, Emmeline “bursts into a passion of tears and besought him, in a tremulous and broken voice, not to be so cruel as to affront her” (28). Delamere attempts to put Emmeline at ease by assuring her that he does not mean to upset her, and simply wishes to devote his life to her, but Emmeline’s “distress arose almost to agony” (28) when Delamere presses on. At this point Emmeline is unaware that Delamere will later become more aggressive, so her reaction to him is a little extreme. Lord Montreville then chastises Emmeline for meeting his son, whereupon “the tears…streamed from her eyes” (30); they begin afresh when Lord Montreville suggests that she accept Maloney’s proposal of marriage at the time he should offer it. Emmeline weeps when she sees the letters her grandmother had written to her mother (36), and again when the women and children in the village bid her goodbye as she leaves (43). She even cries from relief; when Miss Delamere arrives with a favorable message from Lord Montreville, Emmeline is “consoled, yet affected” (67) and consequently moved to tears. Later, Delamere corners her in a room; he cries (we assume from his swollen eyes), she cries, and then she renews her sobbing more loudly when Mrs. Stafford appears.

What can Smith’s purpose be for giving the heroine such a sensitive character against the backdrop of a story emphasizing the overcoming of societal norms? I would offer the explanation that a character who is acutely emotional can be seen as facing greater challenges than one who is completely and consistently strong. Smith appears to be making the point, whether intentionally or otherwise, that one who is prone to tears as much from fear as from indignation, sentimentality, grief, or any other reason requires a kind of fortitude that may unobvious, but nonetheless present, for that character to navigate the pressures of life. What Emmeline lacks in composure, she makes up for with tenaciousness. It is perhaps a good thing for Emmeline to be physically or visibly emotional by crying or growing faint and weak, rather than being weak of will and thus being led to undertake actions she does not wish to take.

The Adhesive Ingredient in Arabella and Charlotte Glanville’s Friendship

To offer some thoughts as to why Miss Glanville endures Arabella’s company despite thinking her ridiculous, in this week’s blog post I will focus on the relationship that emerges between Arabella and Charlotte Glanville in Books II and III.

Miss Glanville’s reaction to Arabella is mentioned right away: she is disappointed to see that her brother had not overstated Arabella’s beauty after all. Arabella does not hesitate to compliment Miss Glanville on her looks, which the narrator notes is “a sort of complaisance mightily in use among the heroines, who knew not what envy or emulation meant” – in other words, because Arabella is secure in her comeliness, and knows she has more of it than Charlotte does, she is magnanimous with her praise. Miss Glanville is doubly taken aback by Arabella’s elegance and gentility, and seemingly eager to latch onto some fault of Arabella’s that would make it easier to think less of her. Arabella gives her this ammunition by revealing the workings of her fanciful, unrealistic mind. At this point, it would seem as though Miss Glanville’s jealousy, coupled with the fact that she does not share Arabella’s views of the world, would prevent her from keeping company with her any further. Instead, Miss Glanville appears to be enjoying watching a train wreck, especially when she hears Arabella say that the Jockey at the Races had probably not entered because of her, nor was he inspired by her presence – as if something like that even needed to be stated! Miss Glanville seems not to appreciate Arabella’s intrusiveness when she asks to hear about her romantic adventures; indeed, they spar with every couple of sentences they utter to one another. Arabella, who is oblivious to how Miss Groves had been offended by her discovering all her secrets, is now experiencing essentially the same situation with Miss Glanville, except that Miss Glanville has the opportunity to keep her matters discreet and can return Arabella’s questions with vague answers such as, “Have you any reason to imagine I would grant any favor to a lover?” (89)

For me, the most amusing part of their exchanges occurs when Miss Glanville says that no other man but her brother would have put so much effort into pleasing Arabella, and Arabella replies that she would not have thought any other man but Miss Glanville’s brother as worthy of “serving her.” With exchanges like this, initially I had been surprised by the two women spending any time with one another at all, but it does appear that the very things that make them different also make them learn from one another. In Book III, I began to see more signs as to why there may have been something to the friendship beyond Miss Glanville just wanting to secretly laugh at Arabella’s absurdity. Although they disagree on their opinions of Thalestris’s compassion and degree of femininity, for instance, Miss Glanville does not stop asking questions: “Pray what became of this Queen of the Amazons? Was she not killed at the Seige of Troy?” Such moments that demonstrate her interest in what Arabella has to say (and Arabella’s eagerness to inform), help to compensate a little for their differences and allow them to maintain their friendship.

Focused Thoughts on Tristram Shandy

The lack of immediate resolutions in TS initially seem to make it the kind of novel that one would, the second time around, start reading from the middle…or whenever the action begins. Tristram (or the narrator) reassures us, however, that he has a master plan, and that we should be patient and trusting. More interestingly, he says that there is good reason to pay attention because there are subtle clues as to what is going on. There can be two effects of his telling us this: (1) we could pay attention to the details because we believe they will contribute to the bigger picture (2) we could give each detail its due attention and try to make meaning of it, even if we don’t believe it leads anywhere in terms of the larger plot. Readers may play along with Point 1, but it seems likely that Point 2 will be the popular option.

In Chapter 19, Tristram talks at length about naming, and how it is often believed that “good or bad names…irresistibly pressed upon our characters and conduct” (47). This seems to be contributing to Point 1: adding to the bigger picture. Since Tristram begins the novel with the contention that his mother’s interruption of his father’s coital motions had determined the very “figure in the world” (5) he became, Tristram’s naming also appears to hold significance. Usually (when it has a meaning), a name given to a child reflects the hopes of the parents for that child. Because Tristram’s name was decided upon through error, and his father detested it, there is the sense of his having turned out for the worse because of this “chance” occurrence, as was the case when his mother had interrupted his father during sex.

Point 2: The act of taking each detail for what it shows, regardless of the rest of the novel, enables us to look closely at some tidbit of knowledge that Sterne wants to impart. In Chapter 18, Tristram mentions his “dear, dear Jenny,” entreating the reader not to form the impression that Jenny is his mistress until she has “better evidence” (45). It would not be impossible, says Tristram, for this Jenny to be his child or his friend. The purpose of this mysterious reference to Jenny, and the subsequent request for suspended judgment implies a kind of training for the reader. In reading about Jenny and agreeing not to categorize her immediately, we are trained to do the same with other similar characters. We continue to entertain our hunches, but keep an open mind about the role the character may fulfill. We are also given Tristram’s opinion that it is possible for men and women to be friends.

Because TS is so replete with unexplained details, or delayed resolutions, it appears that Sterne’s writing will affect more of Point 2 than Point 1. The only way for the reader to not become frustrated while reading is, for the time being, to take each mini-story for what it is in isolation, and to make meaning out of it. In Chapter 22, Tristram declares that “Digressions, incontestably, are the sun-shine – they are the life, the soul of reading,” (64) and in Chapter 25 he says that if it were easy for his reader to guess the circumstances of his characters (Toby, for instance), he should “blush as an author” (69). Book 2, chapter 11 seems to get to the heart of what he holds true: that writing is like talking, and often, talking is not neat and tidy. For the reader with limited time and patience, however, a means of being satisfied with seemingly pointless digressions is to appreciate each piece of knowledge or insight imparted for its individual value.

Gimme One Reason

In Book 4, Chapter 2 of Tom Jones, Tom’s attraction towards Molly is explained. Tom is “backward,” the narrator implies, first because he clings to principles that prevent him from “attempting the possession of her person” and second because even after Molly clearly expresses an interest in Tom, nay, an insistence in getting him to bed her, Tom convinces himself that she has only yielded to either “the violent attacks of his passion” or to “the ungovernable force of her love for him.” When Tom finds out that Molly and Square have been having sex, and Square articulates that he is glad he had not been the first to deflower Molly, as this knowledge allows him to have his way with her, Tom feels apprehensive that he has perhaps set Molly on a course of depravity. The fact that the male characters needed to read the female characters (and indeed, themselves) in specific ways in order to justifiably indulge their pleasures is particularly interesting here. Tom needs to believe that Molly has some inkling of virtuousness about her so as not to feel as though he is having intercourse with a whore of sorts. Then he must paint himself the lustful villain to come to terms with Molly’s capitulation. Or, he must believe that she was in love with him (in which case he would still be a cad for taking advantage of her) to provide a rationale for their succumbing to temptation. When he sees Molly continue to enjoy sexual pleasures with Square, he must again tell himself that it is her experiences with him that have led her to now become promiscuous, whereas he is very well aware, though unwilling to admit, that she was sexually voracious by nature anyway. Square’s method of dealing with his lust is also noteworthy: rather than take pride in being the first, as many would, the knowledge of Molly’s earlier sexual experience absolves Square of any guilt. In laying out the psychological workings of the mind with respect to such base actions, Fielding demonstrates a complex relationship between mind and body, and shows how the intellect makes allowances for physical desires.

D-I-Y Vacation

Of particular interest to me in Robinson Crusoe is the subject of Crusoe’s separation from his family, and what this separation has to do with his personality as well as his circumstances. We see at the beginning of the novel that Crusoe’s emotions are not deeply invested in his family; he has a stubborn hankering for adventures at sea, and is only temporarily dissuaded by his father from pursuing a life outside the “middle station” and “middle fortune” (5,6). Within a few days all intentions of fulfilling his father’s wishes wear off, and he decides to “run quite away from him”. At the time he breaks free, a year later, he consults neither of his parents; what is more noteworthy is that he does not even send them word that he has left. Only when the storm arises does he think of his father, and going back to him; as soon as the storm is over, “I entirely forgot the vows and promises I had made in my distress” (11).  The absoluteness of Crusoe’s expressions struck me as I was reading the novel. Had Crusoe later missed his father, I would have taken his initial declarations to be the sign of immature and unthinking zeal. However, Crusoe remains unmoved by thoughts of his parents later in life; even as he recalls the memories of basket-weaving, he mentions his father very perfunctorily. Any semblance of guilt that Crusoe exhibits about his past life (“Now I looked back upon my past life with such horror, and my sins appeared so dreadful, that my soul sought nothing of God but deliverance from the load of guilt that bore down all my comfort”) is tightly interwoven with his desire to be forgiven by God — the guilt is never a natural by-product of his desertion of his parents. He says, “As for my solitary life, it was nothing; I did not so much as pray to be delivered from it” (96). He is constantly grateful for God’s providence, and it seems that this very providence prevents him from ruing the day he abandoned his father and the comforts of the middle station. Added to Crusoe’s resourcefulness and independence is the fact that his circumstances are just favorable enough (and by that, I mean often enough) that he can hack it alone, and therefore he has no qualms about having left the love and caring of his family behind. At the end of the novel, Crusoe very blandly states that in his absence, all of his family save for two sisters and two nephews had expired. He lightly mentions the fact that he had married, and that his wife had died. His children are not spoken of with much warmth either. This absence of feeling towards family members was most intriguing to me, given that Crusoe shows much more emotion towards Friday. I have deliberately left Friday out of much of this conversation, as my purpose had been to focus on biological family and family through marriage, not the kind of “family” that may emerge as a result of common goals and circumstances. I find that Crusoe’s apathy towards his family makes me appreciate the length of time he spent on the island far less.

The Effects of Serving a Life Sentence in the Friend Zone

My title is a bit misleading/incomplete in that it implies that I will only discuss the effects of Amelia’s behavior on Dobbin’s emotions. Rather, I intend to point out several of Amelia’s faults in general, ones which, whether evident to Dobbin or not, helps readers (okay, me) to let go of the notion that Dobbin ought to forever stay as greatly in awe of Amelia as he ever was in the beginning.

I felt let down the first time I realized (many years ago when I read this novel) that Dobbin’s love for Amelia had cooled – not when he tells her that she wasn’t worth his love, but later, when Thackeray deems it more important to talk of Dobbin’s affection for little Janey and the History of the Punjaub book rather than make any more mention of his undying love for Amelia. Having read the book again at a different age, I now believe that this makes perfect sense. Both Amelia and Dobbin are shown to be people of gentle and moderate temperament, and devoid of malice; Thackeray’s narrator sometimes refers to Amelia as “our heroine” (108, 109, 462) and although this novel is meant to be “without a hero,” there is much agreement amongst scholars and readers that Dobbin comes closest to fitting the bill. It is fitting for the two of them to be together, and perhaps we expect a romantic end to the novel, given that Dobbin is finally getting something for which he has waited eighteen years. Why then, the drop of lemon juice right at the end to curdle the milk?

To answer this, let us start by examining the ways in which Amelia puts us off. First, Amelia is blind to Becky’s manipulations. She lets Becky have the chance to influence many important things in her life, including the feelings of her husband and her brother. She doesn’t catch onto the fact that George was desirous to have an affair with Becky, and she doesn’t do much to prevent Jos from being crazy about Becky either. Dobbin is onto Becky from day one, and years of being made to see Amelia’s stupidity cannot help to strengthen his respect for her.

The only aspect of life in which Amelia is worth anything is in her role as a mother, and even in that, she is very impractical. She dresses up Georgy in fine clothes when they don’t even have enough to eat. Amelia, harshly speaking, fails to some degree in all of her roles: as a wife (because she is boring and clueless), a sister (because she does not do enough to protect her brother), and a mother (because she is unwise with money, and not much of a disciplinarian). She even fails as a friend to Dobbin before becoming his wife, constantly taking advantage of his kindness despite knowing that he is in love with her and therefore being led on. Thackeray’s depiction of Amelia as a “tender little parasite” (724) is right. Throughout the novel, Amelia is always dependent on others, starting from her parents and going all the way through a long line of people to whom she clings for support: George, Mrs. O’Dowd, Dobbin and even her own son. With regard to Dobbin in particular, she is quite selfish and cruel: “She didn’t wish to marry him, but she wished to keep him. She wished to give him nothing, but that he should give her all. It is a bargain not infrequently levied in love” (800).

After eighteen years of this treatment, Dobbin’s disappointment is necessary whether or not that makes the novel less romantic; he cannot be expected to consistently feel the same for a woman who has time and again proven unworthy of his love, and unworthy of any other admiration. Dobbin is heroic, helpful, discreet, discerning and many other things (perhaps his biggest fault is to be in love with an imbecile like Amelia), and therefore his disenchantment with Amelia, not just when he says he will leave, but even after his marriage to her, is quite natural. Amelia is, as Becky says, for too long “a silly, heartless, ungrateful little creature” and that takes too much of a toll to be forgotten just because Dobbin gets his prize in the end. There is something embittering in having to wait too many years for something that continually loses its luster, through faults of its own, during the wait.

By the end of the novel, Dobbin seems to be freed from the shackles of an obsession much the same way that Amelia is freed from her undue attachment to George. What makes Dobbin’s transformation more admirable is the fact that he comes to the realization himself that Amelia isn’t worthy – he does not have to be shown some example of questionable conduct the way George’s infidelity has to be shoved under Amelia’s nose (literally) to get her to see his true colors. In addition to that, Dobbin is superior to Amelia in my eyes in that he articulates his indignation at being treated poorly, whereas Amelia still has nothing bad to say about George after finding out that the latter had planned to elope with Becky.

Hence, I am glad that Dobbin’s love for Amelia cools. I would not want him to treat her badly, and Thackeray does reassure us that Dobbin continues to be kind to her and gratify her wants, but the evaporation of that worship that was there at the beginning needed to happen, and I am rather satisfied that it did.

Hot or Not List: The Vanity of George Osbourne and Joseph Sedley

To examine some of Thackeray’s attitudes towards vanity as evidenced by the descriptions and dialogues used in Vanity Fair, I would like to contrast the characters of Joseph Sedley and George Osbourne.

Joseph is in the unfortunate position of being “superabundant[ly] fat” (20) and “as vain as a girl” (21). Chapter Three begins with an opulent description of him: “A very stout, puffy man in buckskins and Hessian boots, with several immense neckcloths that rose almost to his nose, with a red-striped waistcoat and an apple-green coat with steel buttons almost as large as crown-pieces was reading the paper by the fire…” (16). Joseph’s vanity stems more from a desire to look good than from the confidence of already looking good, and because he is so fond of eating and sleeping, he relies more on accessories than on physical fitness to improve his appearance. The extent of his success is questionable, as substantiated by the distinction made by Thackeray: “He never was well dressed, but he took the hugest pains to adorn his big person, and passed many hours daily in that occupation” (20). The fact that Joseph is shy and awkward in reacting to compliments shows his awareness of the fact that his appearance is not genuinely pleasing. Shortly after Rebecca, in her endeavors to seduce him, loudly whispers to Amelia that Joseph is handsome, the latter pokes at the fire to have something to engage himself with, then pulls the bell-rope and insists that he must hasten away to an appointment. Had he been fully convinced of his looks, he possibly may have not been flustered by such statements or even the presence of his sister. Joseph’s being frightened of any lady beyond measure (20) gives a general idea of his interactions with women, while the line, “Encountering the eye of Miss Sharp, he stopped all of a sudden, as if he had been shot” (17) is particularly effective in conveying the image of Joseph being rendered paralyzed or frozen with nervousness by someone who is a potential love interest. In any case, it is clear that the opposite sex makes Joseph uncomfortable, and it is safe to assume that his vanity is largely the source of his anxiety. Thackeray’s characterization of Joseph may be indicative of the idea that when persons have little to work with in terms of natural beauty or true physical manifestations of society’s ideals, (for example slimness), other efforts to look aesthetically pleasing are at best futile and at worst ridiculous.

George Osbourne is shown to be handsome through his own eyes as well as those of other characters in the novel. Dobbin thinks Amelia “worthy even of the brilliant George Osbourne” (51) and George says of Dobbin, “There’s not a finer fellow in the service, nor a better officer, though he is not an Adonis, certainly,” (47) while catching his own reflection in the mirror and simultaneously seeing Rebecca’s fixed gaze upon him. Amelia is also certainly smitten by his “beautiful black, curling, shining whiskers”; she does not believe that anywhere in the world there was ever “such a face or such a hero” (47). We come to the overall approximation that Thackeray feels it more admissible for George to have high opinions of himself, for he is constantly deluged with some form of admiration or another from people surrounding him, whether direct or indirect. We see a glimpse of George’s fashion sense when he buys a pin for himself, using the money he had borrowed from Dobbin to get a present for Amelia. The selfishness of such an act aside, this very stripped-down example is in direct contrast to Joseph’s tendency to go overboard with adornments. With the simplicity of the pin as an accessory, Thackeray shows that George needs only a minor embellishment to draw out the comeliness that he naturally has.

Sweet Big Fat Lies

Chris R. Vanden Bossche makes the observation that although Rochester rejects the prospect of marriage as kinship alliance with Blanch Ingram, he nevertheless tries to bedeck Jane with jewels and silk dresses to render her a wife befitting his social circle (60). Jane equates this with enslavement (in short). However, Jane overall seems to have an ambivalent attitude towards Rochester’s habit of putting her in certain diminutive roles. He liberally sprinkles his conversations with her with “elf,” “fairy”, “sprite,” and so on; Jane has no problem with this. Mrs. Fairfax notes that Rochester treats Jane as “a sort of pet of his” (263) which is, it may be argued, something she enjoys. Furthermore, let us not ignore the lies (sometimes of omission) he tells and the mind games Rochester plays with Jane – which signals (to this reader, at least…I know there are Edward Fairfax Rochester fangirls out there) either that Rochester believes Jane gullible and very likely to fall for his schemes, or that he does not deem her worthy of honesty and respect. It is almost as though it is Rochester’s mind games, including the very first meeting on the road, and the charade he puts on with the unwitting but nonetheless unworthy-of-sympathy Blanche Ingram – that makes him interesting to Jane (Jane rejects the morally upright and ascetic but somewhat dull St. John Rivers). Jane is perhaps not as accepting of Rochester’s dishonesty when the matter of Bertha is revealed, but there is a certain passivity in how Jane responds to much of Rochester’s behavior which I thought should have been inadmissible. I confess that I laugh out loud every time I read the scene (though it is supposed to be touching and tragic) in which Jane says she must leave Thornfield and Adele, part with Rochester and begin “a new existence among strange faces” and Rochester glosses over that with “Of course, I told you you should. I pass over the madness about parting from me” (300). That’s not cute! That’s overriding Jane’s resolve and her sorrow in having to do what she was about to do. Second-class citizen much?!

Even the fact that Rochester lets Jane think that Grace Poole had been the cause of the fire is something that should be a cause for concern. Since Rochester does not care about damaging the reputation of a long-serving employee to an outsider (if we consider Jane still an outsider at this point – and I’d say she is, just because she is so uninformed about so much of Rochester’s life), how much faith should Jane place in Rochester’s willingness to guard her moral reputation, when she is so often thought of as something so pet-like and undeserving of full dignity? It is not enough for Rochester to think that he can come clean with Jane later, just because she will be his wife and have ample opportunities to catch up with what has really happened. Rochester complains that he had been deceived and seduced into marrying Bertha without knowing of her true nature; it is inexcusable for him to be meting out the same treatment to Jane, who is equally unaware of his dark secrets. What is interesting, however, is that Jane forgives him “at the moment and on the spot” (295) when Rochester is found out – it is some kind of moral and societal consideration that prevents her from living with him, not the cooling of her love that  should, I maintain, come from being lied to. Without even going to the “Jane! Jane! Jane!” scene (which causes Jane to be yanked back to her master), there is already enough to show how enslaved she is. A dismal reading this may be, but it can be said that whatever is apparent of Jane’s resistance to enslavement is diminished by her propensity to be  enslaved in other aspects of her relationship with Rochester.


Words Are All I Have To Take Your Heart Away!

Vicky Simpson’s article on storytelling in Jane Eyre brought up an issue I had not fully thought about while reading the novel previously, though I had made similar observations. Workman is said to have pointed out how Jane is “far less influenced by the Word of Christianity than by the words of passion, of desire, of love” (10). It is Rochester calling out to Jane that draws her back to Thornfield; she rejects St. John Rivers’ proposal to do missionary work in India, and instead decides to be with the man she loves. The distinction being made here is that “Word of Christianity” refers to Christian beliefs and principles, whereas “words of passion, desire and love” refer literally to words spoken by the people Jane knows. Two instances come to mind, the first of which is Jane telling Helen that she would rather endure having her limbs broken, or being tossed by a bull or kicked by a horse than to be shunned or hated; she desperately needed “real affection” from those that she “truly loved” (78). This is followed by Helen urging her to remind herself of ways to find independent and inner peace, and also consider another (non-human) presence that she should strive to win the favor of. “Hush, Jane! You think too much of the love of human beings; you are too impulsive, too vehement; the sovereign hand that created your frame and put life into it, has provided you with other resources than your feeble self, or than creatures feeble as you…God waits only the separation of spirit from flesh to crown us with a full reward” (78). We see Helen trying to redirect Jane’s powerful emotions towards faith in a supreme being rather than towards other mortals who, in Helen’s eyes, are feeble and flawed. However, chances are that Jane is only listening precisely because of her love of Helen, a mere human being – and possibly also because of the utterance of her name, which seems to always have a strong effect. As Workman notes, it is Rochester’s “Jane! Jane! Jane!” (though in a vision) that brings her back to him.

The second instance of Jane’s love of human beings comes through in a few particularly potent lines at the end of Chapter 24: “My future husband was becoming to me my whole world, and more than the world; almost my hope of heaven. He stood between me and every thought of religion, as an eclipse intervenes between man and the broad sun. I could not, in those days, see God for his creature, of whom I had made an idol” (272). Woo! Talk about some heavy stuff right there. While Bronte does not make Rochester as “ugly” in Jane’s eyes as she intends to make in ours (she does have one of Jane’s cousins call him ugly at one point, so that we understand how he is generally perceived physically), it is not Rochester’s looks that attract Jane as much as his words do. He is playful, stern, affectionate, mischievous and teasing by turn, and Jane derives much pleasure from talking to and listening to him. Again, her love for a human being takes center stage, and rather than make her more cognizant of God’s presence, power or bounty, as a passionate love may do for others, it eclipses God and religion altogether (though Rochester is fulfilling the role of an idol here, so it is not as though some kind of god isn’t present). It seems that the Word of Christianity constantly seems to be overshadowed by the qualities of the human beings that Jane loves – qualities she grows to admire sometimes when these individuals exhibit quiet patience or emotion, but most often when they speak their words.

Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. NY: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1996. Print.

A Factual Read(e)

My intention in this post is to talk briefly about Reade’s vision in writing “It Is Never Too Late To Mend.” I came across an enlightening book by Wayne Burns, which gave in its chapters the history of Charles Reade’s decision to write about prison reform. After happening upon what Reade calls “a noble passage” exposing the barbarities in Birmingham Gaol in The Times in 1871, Reade was moved and inspired to create what he considered his most important work. In truth, Reade had begun prison research from 1852 for his play Gold; possibly he continued with renewed vigor after reading the Times article. He conducted prison investigations, discovering torture, infections, apathy towards failing health, madness and death, and a variety of other shocking things. Through the application of the great system, Reade hoped to heighten the sensational realism of his work highlighting the mercilessness of prison administrations. He visited the Oxford Gaol and commented on the droning liturgy being delivered by the parson in the chapel, as though the “great culprits and beginners” (Burns 157) were all attendees of a “country parish church” (Burns 157). In detailing Reade’s research, Burns shows how Reade attempted to stay true to life, adding only minor personal touches to his creation. He brings up an interesting point: Reade believed that the best way to put together a fictional thief was to copy an actual one, but he did not do exactly that; he was “copying the actual thief’s self-portrait, in which the actual thief presents himself, not as an individual man, but as a type of outlaw common to Newgate and Dickensian fiction” (Burns 161). In short (or as I interpret this, anyway), the thief that Reade created was a composite of those he had seen in various prisons rather than a particular individual who had attracted his attention. Burns does not think that the touches Reade added himself are of any consequence “except insofar as he endows Robinson with his own sensitivity to the tortures of the solitary and silent system” (Burns 161). He also mentions that Reade was consulting books as well as people. I found Burns’ observations to be in keeping with Mary Poovey’s assertion that Reade’s journalistic methods of gathering information from newspapers, government documents and eyewitness observations seemed to be his way of establishing “literary value” (Poovey 444) and that he not only intended to blend fact and fiction, but indeed, deemed them inseparable. Poovey says that Reade’s objective had been to goad his readers into action, for that was his purpose for writing the story at all. If I were to personally make a case for Reade’s choices with his writing, I would base it on exactly these notes put forth by Burns and Poovey. If Reade appeared too factual, it was because he felt he had to be in order to excite the emotions of his readership; they had to know that the events in the novel were real horrors experienced by those trapped in a prison system in need of reform.

Burns, Wayne. Charles Reade: A Study in Victorian Authorship. New York: Bookman Associates, 1961. Print.

Panopticon’s on You

Of course, I couldn’t stay away from discussing the Panopticon. The following explanations of its characteristics make it particularly disquieting: “Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power” (Foucault 1) and “The Panopticon is a machine for disassociating the see/being seen dyad: in the peripheric ring, one is totally seen, without ever seeing; in the central tower, one sees everything without ever being seen” (Foucault 2). For me, however, the most interesting characteristic is that it “is a marvelous machine which, whatever use one may wish to put it to, produces homogenous effects of power” (Foucault 2) because it can be used by anyone for any motivation or purpose. I found myself paying special attention to the parts of Chapter 10 in Reade’s novel in which there was some description of how efforts were being made to automate and dehumanize the prisoners. The vizor that obscured all features of the face but the chin and eyes (98), the walk down the corridor that made it so apparent that outwardly Robinson looked like every other inmate (103) and the insistence on cleanliness in cells (101-2) are some examples of the emphasis on conformation. Subtler examples can be found in the way that parts of the prison resemble each other: “With the exception of its halls and corridors, the building is almost entirely divided into an immense number of the small apartments noticed above” (99) and “On reaching the chapel he found, to his dismay, that the chapel was as cellular as any other part of the prison; it was an agglomeration of one hundred sentry-boxes” (103). The efforts to break Robinson specifically, including confining him in darkness, not giving him anything to do, and calling him by a number probably would have been punishment enough; coupled with the prospect of being observed throughout all his tasks heightens the distress [Reade spends some time explaining how it would not have done for Robinson to claim that he had turned the crank on the machine if he hadn’t; “though no mortal oversaw the thief at his task, the eye of science was in that cell and watched every stroke and her inexorable finger marked it down” (110)].

My question for this week seems a little frivolous to me, but one I want to ask anyway: Given that Robinson does exhibit some insolence in the way he speaks to Evans and the under-turnkey (102), as well as the way he speaks up for what he wants when he tells the governor that without some work to do he would go out of his mind (105), how would it have played out for him to use the Panopticon effect for his own social experiment? That is, what if he were to employ some of the same exhibitionism so prevalent in the reality TV of our times, to manipulate his watchers? Reade even says of Robinson that “Solitary, tortured and degraded, he had still found one whom he could annoy a little bit,” (147) and it is this spark, or the presence of spiritedness within him, that I feel would make him suitable for such behavior.

Empowerment Through Female Sexuality in “Dracula”

In “The Occidental Tourist: Dracula and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization,” Stephen D. Arata says that “In the novel’s (and Victorian Britain’s) sexual economy, female sexuality has only one legitimate function, propagation within the bounds of marriage. Once separated from that function, as Lucy’s desire is, female sexuality becomes monstrous” (632). Aided by some scholarly research, I would like to continue this discussion and put forward my own observations about the sexuality of the women in Dracula.

As the novel progresses, it becomes increasingly sexual. Jennifer Wicke observes that “It is not possible to write about Dracula without raising the sexual issue” (Mighall 62). In the introduction to The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction, Jerrold E Hogle state that Dracula is a “male-oriented Gothic work” (Hogle 11) but that a “repressed, archaic, and thus deeply unconscious Feminine is a fundamental level of being to which most Gothic finally refers, often in displacements of it that seem to be old patriarchal structures” (Hogle 11). In Victorian society, a woman was either a pure and innocent virgin – or else she was a wife and mother. If she was neither of these, she was considered a whore and consequently, unworthy of being a part of society. Joseph Valente observes that Mina Harker is not given enough seriousness by the males around her and occupies a “minoritized and yet idealized social margin, that of properly feminine fragility, dependency, non-self-sufficiency, heteronomy in sum…” (Valente 124). Martin Tropp points out that this may have been because Stoker wrote Dracula at the time of William Acton’s book on the functions of reproductive organs, which claimed that women had no sexual urges, and that those who displayed any were low and vulgar. It also declared that love of home, children and domestic duties were the only passions that women felt. Because Dracula sets up a scenario in which the battle between good and evil will be contingent upon female sexuality (both of the main female characters. Mina and Lucy, are preyed upon by the Count, who renders them voluptuous and blood-crazy, a complete opposite of their former chaste and modest selves), Dracula is thought of as a male-oriented gothic as noted by Jerrold E. Hogle. After Lucy becomes a raving vampire, Van Helsing’s men see no other alternative than to destroy her, thereby returning her to a purer and more socially respectable state.

But while this suggests that Stoker, in arranging this order of affairs is advocating the killing of his female characters, it also points out that he acknowledges the poweof female vampires, and has to kill them off so as to oblige his Victorian male readers. After Lucy’s transformation the men watch vigilantly over Mina, fearing that they will lose another epitome of Victorian womanhood to the depraved world of vampires (and hence lose them to freedom. In a note that echoes what I call “male understanding” of the Original Sin, that is that women will lead men to their fall from grace, Dracula mocks Van Helsing’s crew with the words; “Your girls that you all love are mine already, and through them you and others shall yet be mine” (Stoker 323). In other words, the men are afraid both of associating with the socially outcast and with that which will bring about their own ostracization. To avoid this fate, Arthur Holmwood drives a stake deep into Lucy’s heart in order to kill the demoniac identity that she has now assumed. “The language with which Stoker describes this violent act is unmistakably sexual, and the stake is an unambiguous symbol for the penis” (Sparknotes 19). Dracula can only attack willing victims, so it follows that Lucy had wanted to be seduced. The blow comes from Lucy’s fiancé, Arthur Holmwood. “When Holmwood slays the demoniac Lucy, he returns her to the role of a legitimate, monogamous lover, which reinvests his fiancée with her initial Victorian virtue” (Sparknotes 19). While all of this sounds very depressing and suggests that the woman’s free spirit has been stamped out, it reveals once again her hegemony as a vampire, and why the men cannot accept her in that form.

Dracula is layered with other sexual nuances besides the activities of the main characters. The Weird Sisters that Harker meets in the castle are, for example, representatives of the subversion of Victorian ideals because they are sexually aggressive. Harker thinks he has had a nightmare, but this episode can also be called his ultimate dream – indeed a secret fantasy, for the Weird Sisters offer him more sexual gratification in one instance than his fiancée Mina does during the entire course of the novel, and Harker himself calls the experience “both thrilling and repulsive” and one for which he waits in “languorous ecstasy” (Stoker 256). These sexually advanced women are then destroyed because they are empowered by their vampirism – and their ability to seduce men and satisfy their appetites (where hunger for blood symbolically suggests sexual hunger) in a way “normal” Victorian women were not expected to do. Also, the need for multiple victims to satiate a female vampire’s appetite for blood is a given, whereas it would be unthinkable for a respectable Victorian (human) woman to have multiple partners to satiate her sexual appetite. The power of these female vampires again brings the battle between good and evil into their control. This need not be looked upon as though women are responsible for all the troubles of mankind. Rather, one may argue that women are able, with their judgment and actions, to determine what happens to their men.

Arata, Stephen D. “The Occidental Tourist: Dracula and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization.” Victorian Studies. 33.4 (1990): 621-645. Print.

Hogle, Jerrold E., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Print.

Mighall, Robert. Sex, History and the Vampire. Eds. Hughes; William and Smith. Print.

Stoker, Bram. Dracula. London: Walker Books. 2004. Print.

Tropp, Martin. Images of Fear: How Horror Stories Helped Shape Modern Culture (1818-1918). London: McFarland and Company. Inc.,1990. Print.

Valente. Joseph. Dracula’s Crypt: Bram Stoker, Irishness, and the Question of Blood. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2002. Print.

The Other Dracula

In the “Debates” chapter of Victorian Literature and Postcolonial Studies, Patrick Brantlinger points out that “one of the ironies in the history of male identities is how activities that have traditionally been associated with masculinity seem frequently to have both encouraged and hidden homosexuality” (68). He also mentions that “Despite the tragic treatment that most Victorian authors give to interracial romance, there were many interracial unions and mixed-race populations throughout the Empire,” giving the example of Catherine and Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights, whose “love is so powerful that they declare themselves to be each other – metaphorically a vampire, Gothic version of that hybrid figure, the double-goer” (72). With the help of some scholarly research, I would like to examine the character of Dracula as having these contradictory traits and mixed identities, and I will also briefly look at the role of blood in these contradictions.

The reason that Gothic Others or spaces can abject multitudinous cultural and psychological contradictions and thus face us with those paradoxes in disguise, is that the spectral characters, images and settings possess the hidden reality that contradictions of all kinds are not discrete, but that each “lesser term” is contained in its counterpart and that difference emerges from “standing against and relating to independency” (Hogle 11). For example, Dracula can “disgorge blood from his breasts as much as he can penetrate flesh with his phallic teeth,” be attracted by both sexes, be western and eastern simultaneously with his white complexion blended with aquiline features, be aristocratic as well as consort with homeless gypsies (thus threatening class boundaries), be both sophisticated and manifest a “child-brain,” morph into animals as well as various human guises, and “can be nearly all things on the continuum between a very earthy being bound by time, and the unearthly demon surviving across centuries” (Hogle 12). It seems that Dracula is omnipotent – not only can he smoothly cross lines of liminality and be a number of different things, but he can confer some of his powers to those around him. In what is known as the “fellatio/breastfeeding scene,” (Mighall 71) the “danger” posed by Dracula is that he does not merely infect Mina by drinking her blood, but also forces her to drink his, perpetrating a series of reversals: of “a potential wife and mother at Dracula’s breast, of a vampire as a willing victim, of an obscene parody of childhood innocence used to illustrate adult violation. Dracula uses force to make the woman his slave, but also to wean her from passivity to a frightening new power” (Tropp 139).

Blood plays a crucial role in the novel, as it is the life-giving fluid and can alter gender conventions or realities. The Count tells Harker at one point that “blood is too precious a thing in the days of dishonorable peace; and the glories of the great races are as a tale that is told” (Stoker 110). When Dracula recounts his family history, he relates blood to ancestry and the races that he speaks of: which have died out. He predicts “the coming of a war between lineages, between the East and West, the ancient and the modern, and the evil and the good” (Sparknotes 18). This can he compared to foretelling that the lineages will have “bad blood” between them, to use an idiom. Blood is implied in a sense as a thing which causes the rise and fall, indeed continuation of races, and which carries on their legacies – not semen, as one would imagine when thinking of siring children and carrying on one’s name. Later, the depiction of Dracula and his minions feeding conjures up the image of bodily fluids being exchanged Lucy is “drained” almost to the point of losing consciousness when the count “penetrates” her. Dracula’s drinking of blood also extends his physical life, thereby strengthening his virility and potency. Blood is used, therefore, to alter conventions and to allow Dracula to assume many contradictory qualities all at once. Dracula’s multifaceted (though not sparkly like Edward Cullen’s) character is what makes him so fascinating and memorable to readers, then and now.

Brantlinger, Patrick. Victorian Literature and Postcolonial Studies. Edinburgh: Edinburgh   University Press, 2009. Print.

Blanchard, Matt and Morgan, Benjamin eds. Sparknotes: Dracula by Bram Stoker.New York: Spark Publishing, 2002. Print.

Hogle, Jerrold E., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Print.

Mighall, Robert. Sex, History and the Vampire. Eds. Hughes; William and Smith. Print.

Stoker, Bram. Dracula.London: Walker Books. 2004. Print.

Tropp, Martin. Images of Fear: How Horror Stories Helped Shape Modern Culture (1818-1918).London: McFarland and Company. Inc.,1990. Print.

Second Impressions Matter

“Daniel relented towards poor Gwendolen in her splendor, and his memory went back, with some penitence for his momentary hardness, over all the signs and confessions that she too needed a rescue, and one much more difficult than that of the wanderer by the river – a rescue for which he himself felt helpless.” These words struck me as I read the novel, and I was pleased to find them again in Rachel Hollander’s article, “Daniel Deronda and the Ethics of Alterity.” Hollander states, “While Daniel indisputably plays an important role in Gwendolen’s shifting sense of self during and after her marriage to Grandcourt, I would disagree with critics who characterize his relationship to her as purely one-sided, appropriative, and controlling” (83) and I am inclined to agree with Hollander. Daniel’s treatment of Gwendolen may have started off as controlling and one-sided, but Gwendolen is later much more independently inspired by him to try and change the negative aspects of her personality.

In Chapter 59, Sir Hugo says, “You have a passion for people who are pelted, Dan,” (667) and this is seen in Daniel’s need to rescue people or do them favors, often with no regard for whether those people want to be helped. Was it right of Daniel to have meddled, if you want to call it that, in the case of Gwendolen’s necklace? The return of the necklace can be seen as a jab, and of course resulted in humiliation for Gwendolen, placing her in the debt of a stranger, and that too someone around whom she wanted to maintain her pride. The erosion of Gwendolen’s haughty demeanor is interesting to watch; her marriage to Grandcourt, her family’s financial troubles and the realization that having Daniel entirely is not as easy as simply getting his attention, or the affections of others, all seem to contribute to the unraveling of her mean and hard-edged personality. Towards the end of the novel, there is a stronger sense of Daniel’s influence being at the heart of her trying to be a good person, than the life events that have buffeted her around and softened her, but also much evidence to show that Gwendolen wanted to be receptive to Daniel’s good influence. In Chapter 36, for instance, Gwendolen shows remorse in gaining from others’ losses and asks Daniel how she can make up for the terrible things she has done (marrying Grandcourt in spite of Lydia’s request, namely). In Chapter 64, Gwendolen finally apologizes to her mother and says that she realizes that she is being punished for her wickedness. In Chapter 65: Daniel’s “words were like the touch of a miraculous hand to Gwendolen. Mingled emotions streamed through her frame with a strength that seemed the beginning of a new existence” (716) and she tells him that she will remember what he believes about her. There are other reassurances from Gwendolen that she is trying to be a kinder human being, and subsequent encouragement from Daniel. Although Daniel is fixated on the rescuing aspect of the relationship, the presence of tender, caring words and Gwendolen’s own openness to change that make the transformation much less appropriative as critics would suggest. It is ultimately not Daniel’s manipulative behavior that causes Gwendolen to re-examine her life, but her feelings for him, and her desire to win his approval and respect, that provide the driving force for her transformation.

Eliot, George. Daniel Deronda. New York: Oxford University Press. 2009.

Hollander, Rachel. “Daniel Deronda And The Ethics Of Alterity.” Literature Interpretation Theory 16 (2005): 75-99.