(No class on 10 January 2006 - public holiday)
Seminar 1: Intro to the Gothic (17 January)
Seminar 2: Frankenstein (24 January)
(No class on 31 January 2006 - public holiday)
Seminar 3: Frankenstein (7 February)
Seminar 4: Jekyll and Hyde (14 February)
Seminar 5: Jekyll and Hyde/"Olalla"/"Bottle Imp" (21 February - during the break, but making up for public holidays)
Individual/small group consultations (to make sure everyone's on the
right track) - during semester break, 22 and 23 February.
Sign-up sheet for consultation slots will be made available during class.
Seminar 6: Dracula (28 February)
Seminar 7: Dracula/"Mark of the Beast"/ (7 March)
Seminar 8: Hound of the Baskervilles (14 March)
Seminar 9: Hound of the Baskervilles (21 March)
Seminar 10: Uncle Silas (28 March)
Seminar 11: Uncle Silas/"Carmilla"/She (4 April)
Seminar 12: She/Conclusion (11 April)
Current Lecture Material: Lecture One
EN 4223 LECTURE ONE – INTRODUCTION TO THE GOTHIC
1. Literary-Historical Approach:
Gothic is a literary movement of the late 18th to late 19th Centuries (bracketed by Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto  on one hand, and Dracula  on the other). Usually a sub-division, between (in Walter Scott’s terms) “old gothic” (up to 1820, when Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer was published, and largely reviled; or roughly coinciding with English romanticism and just after), and “new gothic” (after 1820, or after Victoria’s ascension in 1837).
In this view, gothic novel seen as an aesthetic development, associated with the novel of “sensibility” (not “sense”): heightened emotional sensitivity, characters
exhibiting the same (melancholic, depressive, highly-strung, bordering on madness), preoccupation (by characters and novels) with themes of mystery, supernatural
forces/realms, ghosts of the past, family secrets. Old gothic novels part of a larger literary sensibility of romantic sensibility (Wordsworth’s nature poems, Thompson’s The Seasons), supernatural power (Coleridge’s supernatural poems, Matthew Lewis’ The Monk), the melancholic protagonist (Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther), female writing (Ann Radcliffe, Jane Austen, novels featuring young naïve female protagonists at peril in a wide and unknown world).
But also corresponding to other artistic trends: “Gothic revival” in architecture (favouring elaborate, fanciful, even grotesque and dreamlike ornamentation – gargoyles, spires, towers and minarets, piercings, follies – e.g. Walpole’s own Strawberry Park). Poetics of the “sublime” (favouring the grand, limitless, looming, dark; as opposed to the contained, neat and unthreatening “beautiful”) made famous by Edmund Burke’s writings. In visual arts, the move from the careful portraiture of the Sir Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough and Royal Academy style, to the looming landscapes of J. M. W. Turner, George Robson, Richard Wilson etc.
Some of the more common features of Old Gothic novels:
- heightened sensibility (pathos, terror, sublime, bordering on madness),
- intrusion of the supernatural and uncanny into the everyday,
- mystery and the unknown,
- a kind of narrative structure/style marked by multiple and/or embedded narratives, the ineffable, the imprecise, conflicting narrative “zones,” etc
- romance time and space: journey into exotic land, often taking place in vague, exoticised past. Highly symbolic journeys with overdetermined suggestions of inner journey, politics of domesticity vs expansion, encounters with others, etc.
- effects a destabilisation of received assumptions about societal structures and institutions, knowledge, self, etc.
To a certain extent this carried on into Victorian “New Gothic” – but
with much less bizarre ornamentation for its own sake, much less overt
embellishment/supernaturalism etc. Victorian writers with “gothic”
tendencies (the Brontes, Wilkie Collins, Sheridan Le Fanu, Dickens) more
concerned with gothic subversion of Victorian “high culture” (i.e. the
realist novel, social discourses of order and progress).
We might say that gothic writing gains greatest impetus as the dark other of “mainstream narratives” (which it both interrogates, and defines by opposition) – gothic
Coleridge versus laureate Wordsworth; popular/low-brow Collins/Dickens vs high realist George Eliot.
That opposition begins to collapse in fin de siecle (= end of the century, but specifically the general gloom and pessimism of the end of the 19th C), when gothic
seems to emerge as a kind of mainstream: doomsayer of the end of colonialism and modernity.
Problems of literary/aesthetic approach:
a. Still a need to historicise (old, new and fin de siecle gothic – and what happens in modernism?). How did this new aesthetic trend come about? When exactly did it start, and when did it finish, if it is finished? Aesthetic/literary features are fairly well-pronounced in most extreme form (most old gothic), but less clear in other texts (e.g. Charlotte Bronte: gothic or realist?)
b. Thus, problems of definition: if gothic per se began in 1765, what do we say about an earlier melancholic tradition (e.g. Young’s Night Thoughts; Milton’s “Il Penseroso”), and a very much longer tradition of sublime aesthetics (from at least as early as Aristotle’s Poetics, Longinus’ essay “On the Sublime”) and horrifying/sublime art (Sophoclean tragedy; supernatural in Odyssey and other Greek poetry; Shakespearean family dramas, heightened sensitivity to natural disorders in Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Lear etc.
2. Historical/Sociological Approach
Allows us to theorise the rise and decline of gothic, its merging into modernism’s mainstream, and the different phases of gothic (old, new, and fin de siecle/colonial). We can still see gothic as phase in literary history, narrative mode, but one that has certain socio-historical catalysts which help explain its characteristics and themes.
a. Nationalism and the rise of empire: Rise of gothic coincides with 7 Years' War (1756-1763), American war of independence (1772-1777), French revolution (1789) and war with France (1793-1815 with interruptions). Its height coincides with English colonialism. Need to define a uniquely English cultural heritage, to an extent separate from common European classical heritage. Hence, anti-French sentiment in gothic novels (Ann Radcliffe, but also Charlotte Bronte and others). But also an increasing awareness of national space/culture, of an “English” identity which was becoming increasingly stable and could be (needed to be?) challenged.
- increasing interest in travel and other countries: not just because of improving communications and “civilization” (stability, hotels, financial services) in other
countries, but also a sense of wanting to compare England’s growing power and stability with other countries; both a cultural imperialism, as well as an implicit challenge to England’s notions of superiority. Gothic writing records spectrum of “national” attitudes, from the kind of “picaresque” survey of other countries (and implicit comparisons with England), to the explicitly gloomy picture of English dis-ease in fin de siecle/colonial gothic.
b. Industrial revolution, science, urbanisation
After Waterloo (1815), inventions like steam-powered machines put to industrial use. First half of 19th C a process of profound socio-economic change: rise of factories, change from agricultural/paternalistic to industrial/free market societies (the 1851 census recorded for the first time that England had a larger urban than rural population). Machinery and factories were image of horror (smoke, brutal power, dehumanization) in industrial novels, painting, gothic literature. Rapid change in social conditions led to social horrors of poverty, desperation, debt, brutality. The new urban working class – disaffected, uncontrollable at the same time as squalid and desperate. Not just factories, but the power of science to transform human life – a new myth of science, as monstrously powerful.
Rise of large cities: not just appalling conditions, rise of crime (and thus rise of policing and its problems too – detective novel), but also ideologies of the essential separation of classes, urban anonymity, the cloak of busy-ness (and business) which hide evil, the essentially hypocritical/exploitative nature of the upper classes.
c. “Financial revolution” – according to P. G. Dickson (The
Financial Revolution in England), begins at start of 18th C; but certainly
accelerates in gothic period of late 18th and early 19th C. Age of
Adam Smith, theories of laissez faire – a new society based on invisible
hands which are supposed to regulate all things, but with secret and explicit
fears of the loss of an older and more benevolent agrarian order, and that
the free market will also bring new problems and disorders.
Class conflicts, indifference, separation, exploitation of people in free market. Increasingly abstract forms of wealth (credit creation, less dependent upon gold, abstract ownership in stocks, etc) again made human relationships feel more abstract, less concrete. The “spectral” nature of modern finances (Marx – see Chris Baldick) echoed in air of spectral mystery in much of gothic literature.
Also much more opportunity for cheating, destroying lives – rise of detective novel, but also fears of surveillance (and guilt), corruption in police and authority. Narratives of “great expectations,” tragedy of rise/fall in fortunes, cheating and consequences, wills and legacies, etc. (Chris Baldick, In Frankenstein’s Shadow chpt 6)
d. Change in The Family:
Sociological changes (urbanization, industrial labour, rapidly changing social values etc) meant a change from “patriarchy” (whether at societal level or familial) to individualism, freedom/laissez faire. Absent father because of work conditions, drunkenness, migrant labour, jail (Dickens and the “Newgate Novel”) etc. In middle classes, the rise of the “double life” and Victorian gender hypocrisy.
Gender divide: age of increasing pressure on gender ideas to change (rise of educated and literate women, from Wollstonecraft’s Vindications of the Rights of Women (1792) to intellectual women writers like George Eliot to 1882 Married Women’s Property Act. This comes in conflict with Victorian gender inequality and hypocrisy.
Growing gender tensions lead to questioning of gender and sexuality: Coral Ann Howells sees crux of gothic writing as "dread of sex." "Authority" is another way to describe it, including textual authority women as writers, narrators, speakers. Sexuality also raises the issue of another alternative/minority group, homosexual writers - gothic writing dominated by women and gay writers (William Beckford, Radcliffe, Charlotte and Emily Bronte, Horace Walpole, Oscar Wilde).
e. Upheaval and changing tastes in writing: correspondence between upheaval, social change (including increase in popular readership) and rise of sensationalist, popular modes like gothic? Marquis de Sade said in context of French revolution: "there was nobody left who had not experienced more misfortune in 4 or 5 years than could be depicted in a century by literature's most famous novelists: it was necessary to call upon hell for aid in order to arouse interest..."
Similar point made by Wordsworth in 1800 “Preface to Lyrical Ballads”:
one consequence of "great national events which are daily taking place,"
and "the encreasing
accumulation of men in cities," is to "blunt the discriminating powers of the mind" and debase literary tastes. Gothic images of apocalypse, decline and fall of civilisation, gloomy introspection into doomed society, all displaced symbols of troubled history, as well as catering to popular tastes?
Brings up the notion of gothic as "subversive" and "destabilising" (Rosemary Jackson) - danger to simplify this into a blanket statement. Jackson herself says both that the gothic was intended to challenge bourgeois culture, but also that it served to reinforce it.
3. Psychological/archetypal/genre approaches:
Gothic as a species of “romance” – a tradition from medieval ballads, troubadour songs, to Shakespeare’s romance’s etc. Characterised by certain recogniseable types: senex irratus (angry/blocking old man), jeune fille (young virginal girl), travel/journey motifs, the descent into “hell” and return, the slaying of the “dragon,” the replacement of the old generation by young, marriage and the new society.
So gothic writing might be seen as an updating of the old romance tradition, adapted to the context of industrialization/modernization. Deeply symbolic significance of characters, types and tropes – ties gothic writing to older psychological processes, social rituals (cleansing, regeneration, spring, marriage/hymenal, confronting and exorcising fears/demons, projection and introjection, Freudian struggle, sexual coming-of-age, taboo-catharsis, etc).
Notion of the "Archetypes": From Northrop Frye, Joseph Campbell, C. G. Jung and Jungian scholars: "archetypes" are a "relatively restricted and simple group of formulas that can be studied in primitive culture" and manifest themselves repeated, in various "displaced" forms, in literatures. (Frye, Fables of Identity, p. 12)
So, tempting to see chief gothic tropes (the double, incest, sexual awakening, bestial degeneration, the monstrous other etc) as symbols with deep socio-psychological significance, hence their frightening recurrence.
Note that Gothic doesn't fit romance archetype easily, especially in the last part, the return - gothic aims at destabilising, not reinforcing: However, there are certain
recurring figures which might lead us to talk about a very rough "archetype" of the gothic - it comes close to the romance archetype, but departs from the pattern in the latter part. Fundamental destabilization as the governing ideology, and thus the narrative pattern, of gothic?
4. Some characteristics of gothic narratives: Fundamentally,
a dialogical/unstable/mysterious narrative form reflecting a changing/unstable/abstracting
socio-historical milieu. Baldick, Marx and others have pointed to the close relationship between narrative form and social ideology, narrative form and reading public. Bakhtin’s theory offers an account of such dialogical, heteroglossic narratives as a typical feature of the novel’s novelty of form, its challenge to older social and literary authority.
i. Improbable plots - mysterious letters/informants, magical
happenings, great coincidences.
ii. Far-off locations - often involving far-off locations, cultures/nations considered exotic, very different, barbaric (often Catholic countries like France, Belgium,
Italy; or "Moslem" countries - note Frankenstein, and Beckford's Vathek).
iii. Repressive Institutions - perceived as horrid, irrational, arbitrary and draconian. Catholic inquisition, monasteries and monks, the family (usually with a
tyrannical father, abetted by patriarchal and chauvinistic laws), monarchic or aristocratic power, etc.
iv. Magic, the supernatural, ghosts, demons, satanic pacts
v. Secret histories, shame, guilt - often revolves around dark family secret, the guilt/evil of ancestors; very often has an element of taboo (often sexual) - a rape (e.g. Hound of baskservilles), incest, illegitimacy (Wilkie Collins's woman in white), etc
vi. Character types: the tyrannical father (the "senex iratus" or angry old man), the beautiful virgin (the "jeune fille," or young innocent girl), the anti-hero (a.k.a. the
"Byronic hero") etc
vii. Breaking of taboos, hubris - dark defiance of societal/metaphysical laws/gods, a guilt or dark desire which drives the anti-hero on to his desparate acts. Frankenstein, Jekyll.
viii. Narrative of breaks, discontinuities, conflicts. Note the prevalence of fragments, incomplete narratives (often because of the interruption of death, chaos, loss),
lack of knowledges and feeble narrators (Christabel), etc.
Current Lecture Material: Seminar 2 (Frankenstein)
EN4223 Seminar 2 - Frankenstein
1. Mary Shelley b. 1797, d. 1851. Only daughter of William Godwin (author of Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, 1793) and Mary Wollstonecraft (author of Vindication of the Rights of Women, 1792). Intellectual family with strong radical associations, in an age of revolution and reactionism.
Eloped with Percy Shelley (who was married with children at the time).
P. Shelley, like Coleridge, socially marginal cos of marital and financial
situation. A radical
and social critic, unhappy with what he saw as the injustice and repression of England in his day (eg the Peterloo massacre of 1819 - see Shelley's "England in 1819"). A
freedom fighter who, with Byron, travelled to observe and join in revolutionary wars in Greece, Italy, etc.
MS thus came to embody new attitudes (about women, society, values) which were in advance of her day, which stood out significantly from established values. But the question is: how far did she succeed in challenging those established values? How far did the form of the gothic novel allow for a subversion of values?
2. Romantic gothic: romantic period (usually taken from
1789 French Revolution, or 1798 publication of Wordsworth’s and Coleridge’s
Lyrical Ballads, to 1837 ascension of Victoria) characterized by revolution,
social upheaval, challenges to authority. French revolution also
put English church, kingship, landed nobles, class structure, under pressure.
“Authority” in political sense also carried literary implications: who
is allowed to write, what is the attitude of the reader to writer, who
should be privileged (taught) to read.
Frankenstein can be read at the thematic level as a proto-romantic story of the conflict between authority and rebellion (and the consequences of that conflict); but also at the formal level as an enquiry into literary form, the stability of meanings, authorial control, and their problems.
3. Form of the novel. Pre-Victorian novel not as homogeneous/stable
in formal/thematic features (crudely speaking: linear narrative, omniscient
narrator, marriage and domesticity, social status), although Austen did
much to popularize a set of domestic-novel conventions. Early (18th
C) novel much more fluid and experimental: from the formal playfulness
of Sterne’s Tristam Shandy, to the exotic location of Defoe’s R Crusoe,
to the immorality and marginality of Defoe’s Moll Flanders and John Cleland’s
Fanny Hill, to the uncertain (and uncertain-making) epistolary form of
Richardson’s Pamela. Frankenstein a kind of “monstrous” mix (Chris
Baldick) of these and other literary forms and elements. Some of
the main features include the thematic:
i. Promethean theme: romantic use of it, themes of social justice, interrogation of society, science/knowledge
ii. Religious overtones: Paradise Lost, morality, the challenging of orthodoxy
iii. Journey motif: gothic/romance trope, symbolism, psychology, ending
iv. Doubling: gothic uses, self-other psychology
v. The Monster: social and psychological symbolism, projection/abjection
vi. The family: incest, psychopathology, gender roles
And the formal:
i. Monstrously heterogeneous form overall: thematic/formal cobbling/patchwork, and its effect on meaning/reading
ii. Bracketted narrative as gothic device
iii. Epistolary form and the dislocation of society/values/meaning
iv. Ending of the novel and the impossibility of closure
i. the Promethean theme (see subtitle of novel): popular
romantic theme of the just rebel against unjust/arbitrary authority.
P. B. Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound, e.g. Behind Prometheus figure
is the romantic revision of Milton’s Satan (note MS’s title page quotes
from Milton’s PL; and Walton’s letters are posted for “Archangel”): Blake
says in Marriage of Heaven and Hell that Milton was “of the devil’s party”
in his sympathetic treatment of Satan’s heroic if doomed rebellion.
Frankenstein can be read as a kind of Promethean story – but who, exactly,
is the Promethean figure, F for defying arbitrary social/scientific mores,
or monster in its struggle against the unjust father/creator?
Another reading of Promethean theme is less moralistic, more gothic/psychological: Promethean as “overreacher” – one who is defined by the need to take on too big a cause, who is thus doomed always to strive idealistically, always to be dissatisfied. As a gothic motif, the Promethean overreacher might suggest the condition of man trapped in a confining social structure, whose perpetual striving is both doomed as well as a constant challenge of the social limits which he feels obliged to overreach.
Frankenstein as Prometheus: love for knowledge, figure of transcending social taboos and limits in order to arrive at greater knowledge/good:
“It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn;…” (chp 2)
“…what glory would attend the discovery if I could banish disease from the human frame and render man invulnerable to any but a violent death?” (chp 2)
But if F is Promethean, he also undercuts this with warnings against transgressions:
“Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow” (chp 4)
Monster is also arguably a Promethean figure: a seeker-after-knowledge (learning language, human society – “This [communication] was indeed a godlike science, and I ardently desired to become acquainted with it” (chp 12). With less claims for altruistic scientific pursuit than F, monster is a figure of the everyman (working class, racial minorities, laymen) who wants to know more and better his condition, but is kept down by unreasonable jealous authorities.
Walton: to complicate matters, Walton is also arguably a Prometheus figure. Just after he encounters F, W communicates his ambitions to him:
“One man’s life or death were but a small price to pay for the acquirement of the knowledge which I sought, for the dominion I should acquire and transmit over the elemental foes of our race. As I spoke a dark gloom spread over my listener’s countenance….” (Letter 4)
Geography as forbidden knowledge (cp not only explorers like Columbus, but cartographers, astronomers, etc).
Prometheus figure evokes several things in an “overdetermined” way (discussion of “overdetermination” to come): a) desire (limitless, human, understandable); b) cautionary tale (beware transgressing limits, accept limits); c) catharsis (P’s transgression and punishment a surrogate/scapegoat for reader, who enjoys symbolic transgression while still able to affirm the otherwise-contradictory impulse of chastisement.
ii. Religious themes: Prometheus is in many ways the classical
analogue of the Satan figure (not in Biblical discourse or religious orthodoxy,
but definitely in the Miltonic/romantic conception). Miltonic Satan
an overreacher, driven by a “vaulting ambition” (Macbeth) which is both
dangerous and understandable, flawed/human/attractive/cathartic.
F’s link with Satan is reinforced by occult echoes: he reads shadowy alchemists like Agrippa, Albertus Magnus and others anathema to the Church; “the raising of ghosts or devils was a promise liberally accorded by my favourite authors, the fulfillment of which I most eagerly sought…” (chp 2). Gothic trope of selling one’s soul for dark secrets: Dr Faustus, the Monk, Zofloya etc.
Also, F’s rebellious spirit – against father, teachers, scientific community (Satan characterized by rebellion – “Sathanas” = “adversary”)
The asexual reproduction of the monster an echo of PL book II, the asexual creation of Sin from the head of Satan (symbolizing his state of pride).
More specifically, he is Satanic in usurping Divine place: in creation power – “It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn…” (chp 2). In becoming the god of a new race: “A new species would bless me as its creator and source” (chp 4). Apart from the religious overtones of his language, he also explicitly compares himself to Satan: “All my speculations and hopes are as nothing, and like the archangel who aspired to omnipotence, I am chained in an eternal hell” (chp 24).
Monster reinforces F’s divine role: “Remember that I am thy creature; I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel…” (chp 10). In the same breath, claims Satanic role for itself. Also echoes PL: near the end of the novel, he says that after his sufferings, “Evil thenceforth became my good,” an echo of PL IV: 110, “Evil be thou my good.” Monster is Satan-like in his lonely suffering, in being cast out of the state of “grace” (= companionship, with F and other humans).
W as Satan: like F and monster, an anxiety-ridden, lonely overreacher, compelled against reason to isolate himself and bring on his own suffering. Writes from a hellish place called “archangel.”
iii. Journey motif: literal journey of exploration by Walton
(cp. Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” which is quoted several
times, eg in letter 2’s reference to “land of mist and snow,” and in chapter
5 when Victor describes his premonitions “Like one, that on a lonesome
road”). But also romantic journeys a common theme: Wordsworth’s Prelude
and Excursion; many of PBS’s and Byron’s poetry. Journey was symbol
for romantic theme of growth, struggle, development – so could also be
applied to F’s physical journeys (Geneva to Ingolstadt to Ireland to Alps
etc), or Monster’s.
Gothic journeys, like romances, often begin with a breaking out of constraints (often symbolized by “blocking” figures – father-figures, constraints on desire, old customs). There is an “agon” or struggle/suffering (a kind of descent into the “hell” of lonely striving, self-examination). In romance, this is often followed by “anagnorisis” or coming-to-awareness, and finally a return (often symbolized by marriage, young love fulfilled, the death of the blocking figures). Note gothic’s conspicuous frustration of the latter elements: perhaps no self-awareness, no clear-cut blocking figures, and thus no clear-cut moral triumph.
Indeed, is there real growth in any of the characters? Do any of them become a “sadder and wiser man,” as at the end of “Ancient Mariner”? If not, then is the journey motif mere exoticism – reflecting the romance of travel in old gothic (e.g. Radcliffe and others)? Or an objective correlative to the general mood of encountering the unknown, brave new worlds, etc.? (Gothic geography/geopolitics)
iv. Doubling: F and monster obvious case of doubling, where
an individual is mirrored by and reflected in another. Gothic unease
created by the fact that the mirroring emerges behind superficially opposite
entities – the horror of realized similarity (and thus condemnation, loathing)
behind conscious opposition.
Gothic doubling in German supernatural tales (the “doppelgänger” or “double-goer,” made popular especially by E.T.A. Hoffman, 1776-1822) a supernatural symbolism of problems of identity, guilt, social relations (self and other), gender and sexuality, desire, etc.
Doubling as literary/artistic/”supernatural” manifestation has lots of possible socio-psychological explanations: at individual level, a splitting off of “undesirable” aspects of personality, multiple personality disorder caused by trauma in identity-formation stages in childhood, sexual conflict (e.g. arising from unreconciled homosexual identities or sexual abuse), problems with parental love and acceptance, inability to control desires disapproved by society/family. At social level, similar split between parts, or parts and whole: unreconciled desires and appearances; conflicts between individuals and societal “parents” (often called “patriarchy”), projection of undesirable status onto social parts (minorities, lower classes, women, gays etc). Not surprising, therefore, that the double becomes a huge trope in gothic as a genre of the modern industrial age, although there are double themes in other literatures and periods too (folklore and myth, e.g. Abel and Cain, Thor and Loki, the “evil twin”; revenge tragedies etc)
F and monster are obviously tied in many ways: creator to created (responsibility, purpose, loyalties, if not affection and kinship), similarity (both men, both loners, both with trouble relating to others and opposite sex, both wanderers, both tormented sensitive souls), actions and consequences (both in the tragic pattern of wanting to do good but inevitably hurting people; a split between nature/sensibility and actions/consequences which might be a version of the tragic “hamartia” or error of judgement/tragic flaw).
Monster tends to emphasize kinship and connection, while F spurns these:
“Yet you, my creator, detest and spurn me, thy creature, to whom thou art bound by ties only dissoluble by the annihilation of one of us. You purpose to kill me. How dare you sport thus with life? Do your duty towards me, and I will do mine towards you and the rest of mankind” (chp 10)
Monster’s language makes his actions the direct consequences of F’s: analogy and causality (as you do, so shall it be done to others – including others you love, e.g. Elizabeth, Justine, William, Clerval).
F’s unstable split: on the one hand, he tries to present monster as his opposite, unconnected and differentiated:
“’Devil,” I exclaimed, ‘do you dare approach me? And do not you fear the fierce vengeance of my arm wreaked on your miserable head? Begone, vile insect! Or rather, stay, that I may trample you to dust! And, oh! That I could, with the extinction of your miserable existence, restore those victims whom you have so diabolically murdered” (chp 10)
Yet on the other hand, he also acknowledges his responsibility for the monster’s actions, e.g. during the trial of Justine: “I, not in deed, but in effect, was the true murderer” (chp 9)
F’s strange vacillation or duality of attitude resembles his initial response to the monster he creates: driven by thoughts of being a creator, of benefiting mankind and saving them from disease and death, the moment he creates the monster he is tormented by “breathless horror and disgust” at its presence (chp 5). A kind of unreasoning, motiveless reversal in attitude which suggests a deeper psychological process – some sort of self-hatred, the projection of unresolved conflicts onto the scapegoat of the monster, the inability to cope with his guilt (personal as well as scientific/causal)? Another wavering in his advice to Walton: at first cautionary (letter 4 and chp 4), later on spurring/scolding the mutinuous sailors – “Are you, then, so easily turned from your design? Did you not call this a glorious expedition?” (chp 24)
Walton-F doubling: not just in character, ambitions, but also in anxious vacillation: W too is driven almost mad by ambition, but this alternates with rueful discouragement.
Monster’s actions also show the paradox of love-hate, violence-tenderness: from his first concern for the child to the violence of his murder of William, Clerval and Elizabeth; from his wrathful pursuit of F to his eulogy at the end, calling him “the select specimen of all that is worthy of love and admiration among men” (chp 24).
Madness: inevitable that such strong and contradictory impulses should invite invocations of madness (which are themselves inconsistent): thus F in chp 4 saying “Remember, I am not recording the vision of a madman,” vs. in letter 4, saying to W “Do you share my Madness?” Uncertainty about whether one is mad is a condition of secrecy, guilt, concealment on the part of individuals and society: F, on hearing that Justine has confessed to the murder, says “And was I really as mad as the whole world would believe me to be if I disclosed the object of my suspicions?” (chp 8)
v. The monster: is the central symbol and character tying
in the other individuals, themes, and world of the novel. Monster
is double to main characters like F and W, but monster is also mirror/double
to others in society: Justine is so thoroughly tormented by the confessor
that “I almost began to think that I was the monster that he said I was”
(chp 8) – monstrosity of social persecution, faceless authority etc.
Society as monster: from the prejudiced blindness of Felix and the woodcutter,
to the coldness of society’s patriarchal figures (F senior, Safie’s father,
the priest, judges etc), other lost and lonely souls (F, W).
“Monster” from L. “monstrare” (to show), hence derivations like “demonstrate” – in this sense, monster can be said to display or reveal the hidden monstrosity in society itself. Also, monsters do not arise spontaneously, but are created: their ugliness, in that sense, is a metonymy of the social ugliness that creates it (just as poverty, crime and racial ghettoes are doubles and metonymies of urban greed, excess and capitalist cruelty).
The form of the monster: his patchwork figure may already suggest the impossibility of reconciling the “body politic” in the wake of the French revolution. His great size, strength and endurance, plus F’s fears that he and his mate would reproduce an endless race of monsters (chp 20), all echo contemporary myths and anxieties of the working class: that they would rise up in a monstrous and unreasonably violent mob (Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France), that they reproduce senselessly and endlessly (Thomas Malthus’ Essay on Population).
vi. Family: whole novel turns around suggested, broken and
absent (but never whole and cohesive) families. Walton writes to
his sister the “dear, excellent Margaret,” while in self-exile in the frozen
wastes. Brief mention of his childhood in letter 2 refers to reading
the travel books of his “Uncle Thomas,” suggesting that W was either orphaned
or neglected by parents (he writes to his sister rather than parents).
His ambition, in Freudian terms, a “lack,” an incompleteness and perpetual
(because displaced) desire to gain acceptance of (and/or supplant) the
father that was never there?
Similar background in F: despite F’s assurance of his happy family life, the suggestions are otherwise: a father who
“…passed his younger days perpetually occupied by the affairs of his country; a variety of circumstances had prevented his marrying early, nor was it until the decline of life that he became a husband the father of a family” (chp 1)
Generational/affective gap reinforced by clashes of wills and values: F senior’s contemptuous dismissal of his son’s reading interests as “sad trash” (chp 2). Also Clerval, whose father also discourages his studies.
Note that F himself replicates his own father’s rejection (of his symbolic son, the monster) – Wordsworth (“Ode: Intimations of Immortality”) said that “the child is father to the man,” a Freudian idea of the father-son dialectic that helps explain the many lost, divided characters in this novel.
Women: if men are distant, rejecting and authoritative, women are typically submissive and subject to male will. Women all seem to double each other in their role as passive victims. Caroline, Elizabeth and Justine all have similar backgrounds as hapless women rescued by men. Caroline and Elizabeth seem interchangeable, with all kinds of incestuous echoes: Caroline on her deathbed says “Elizabeth, my love, you must supply my place to my younger children” (chp 3). So F ends up seeing her as first “sister,” then “cousin,” then “more than sister,” (chp 3), and finally would-be bride. In F’s dream in chp 5, he sees Elizabeth, kisses her, and she changes into the corpse of his dead mother. Woman-mutilation: monster on Elizabeth, but also F on the female monster, and society’s fathers on Justine.
Current Lecture Material: Seminar 3
EN4223 Seminar 3 – Frankenstein
1. Formal features – Towards a Gothic Poetics
Chris Baldick says that the “monstrous” patchwork of the novel’s narrative form reinforces the thematics of the monster – i.e. that gothic challenging of patriarchy, science, bourgeois society/family, identity etc centred in the figure of the monster.
Important to realize that gothic novel might use certain formal features (mediated narrative, gaps, contradictions, mystery etc) deliberately so as to foster unease; but also that (in a Marxist or materialist perspective, as Terry Eagleton points out) the form of the novel itself bear the “impress” (imprint, shape, mark) of its culture. (Simplifying somewhat, we might say that an age of socio-political unrest and new abstract capitalist relationships manifests itself, among other ways, in the restless and unsettled/unsettling form of the gothic novel).
Bakhtinian approach: Bakhtin saw the novel (as compared to older elite forms like the epic) as an innovative, rebellious, counter-cultural document – its form, if anything, was to be fluid and formless, to reflect the new (essentially bourgeois, although that’s not Bakhtin’s terminology) social identity. In this sense, the gothic is the quintessential novel – less concerned with a fixed form than the social realist novel.
Sublime poetics: a long tradition, from Aristotelian ideas on “pity and terror” and their cathartic effect, to Longinus’ essay “On the Sublime” to Burke’s essay on Sublime and Beautiful onwards. Difficult to pin down the precise constitution and role of sublime poetics, but the main point is an excess, a will-to-excess in form and theme, including a transgressive (of existing conventions) dimension, with the belief that the true/unconscious nature will emerge out of that uncontainable excess. (sublime: sub + limen [threshold, doorway]).
Hence also the “ineffable,” that which cannot be spoken, which exceeds the capacity of (conscious, rational, social) language. Gothic gaps, silences, incomplete statements, a poetics of the ineffable?
2. Form and meaning in Frankenstein
a. Heterogeneous form: elements of the romance (journey to exotic land, including Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner which it quotes), epistolary form (W’s letters to home), romantic confession/bildungsroman (in F’s story, but also Monster’s; Rousseau’s Emile, etc), Faustian pact, religious cautionary tale (and echoes of Milton, ostensibly meant to “justify the ways of God to man” but meaning escapes this intention), picaresque critique of social manners, etc.
Part of the novel’s refusal to cohere (where do its sympathies lie – with F? monster? Is it cautionary, or transgressive? Etc) consists simply in this overdetermination of sources, forms and meanings.
“Overdetermination”: a term based in Freudian theories of the unconscious, and the ways in which unconscious meaning struggle to emerge in dreams, jokes, unguarded remarks etc (chiefly from Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams, and then in the work of his commentators and followers). It doesn’t mean “deterministic,” but (somewhat the opposite) that the symbolic, deep, associative and transgressive unconscious meanings can only be manifested inadequately in the semi-aware medium of dream language, and even less adequately in the denotative language of consciousness. So language-symbols have to carry more than one unconscious meaning/association – i.e. they are “overdetermined” by a plurality of rich meanings.
Offers a theory of gothic poetics as well – whether intended by authors or not, the highly symbolic, dream-(or nightmare-)like, cryptic and suggestive nature of gothic narrative invokes a plurality of possible interpretations and associations, including the kinds of sexually-charged, libidinal and transgressive meanings posited by Freudian theory. (Note M Shelley’s own account of novel’s genesis, in a dream – cp. Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,” Blake’s visionary poetry, etc).
If gothic is pure vision/dream, the challenge would be to account for its apparent social relevance/engagement – need to offer a theory of gothic narrative which can account for its dream-like overdetermination within an account of its social determination.
b. Bracketted narrative – prototypical gothic device, often taking the form of a “found” manuscript with hazy origins (e.g. “preface” to Castle of Otranto”), or a tale told by someone who heard it from someone…etc, or tale within a tale (with possibilities of almost infinite regress) or similar devices. Shrouds the kernel tale in mystery, unverifiability – a way of freeing the “willing suspension of disbelief” (Coleridge).
Frankenstein uses several of these techniques: as a series of letters from “nowhere,” they are the ultimate “found” (or not found?) manuscript (more below). There is also bracketting, but partial/imperfect: note asymmetry between the opening of the novel (4 letters from W to sister), which form a kind of introduction to his encounter with F; but novel ends without any closing commentary from W, as if what has transpired is beyond his means of encapsulating. Also, stories within stories: W tells F’s story, who in turn tells the story of others (Elizabeth, Justine etc), including that of the monster, but monster’s story also recounts the story of others (including the De Laceys).
Effect of not being sure where one voice/story ends and another begins – reinforces the doubling effect at the level of characterization. Also fits into a larger challenge to notions of the stability of identity and character – if identity/character are at least in part socially determined, and society itself is unreliable and unstable, then we cannot be any more sure of identity in life than in art.
c. Epistolary form: the novel’s version of this (moving from “St. Petersburg” in 1st letter to “Archangel” in 2nd to undisclosed location in 3rd and 4th; with no proper dates – specific days but no specified year) heightens the already unstable nature of the epistolary form. Epistolary/journal narratives in 18th C novels (Moll Flanders, Pamela etc) raise problems of the nature, identity, voice, value system and reliability of the writer – conspicuously NOT the reassuringly “omniscient” or at least controlling/mediating author in Austen, nor the learned essayist in Johnson, Addison and Steele etc, the epistolarian was an unknown quantity from the beginning usually to the end, whose narrative had to be adjusted for the possibility of aberration, madness, eccentricity, lack of proper “education,” immorality, etc. Also, the problem of the reader to whom the letters are addressed, and the possibility that the writer (whatever his/her problems in the first place) may in addition have slanted things in order to present them to a particular reader, to make up for reader deficiencies, to flatter a type of reader, etc.
The exotic and dislocated letters of Frankenstein have the added problem of being well outside any sphere of “civilized” European society – so, not just intra-societal problems, but the problem of potential miscommunication across the gulf of the unknown back to society. Is W mad or at least disoriented by his loneliness and removal from civilization? What is his relationship with his sister (particularly in light of F’s own relationship with his “more than sister” Elizabeth)? Will his letters even arrive – a problem less pronounced in the domestic epistolary novel.
“Elasticity” of this epistolary form – the bulk of the novel, from F’s commencement of narrative to the open-ended ending – actually supposed to be the 4th letter. We are supposed to imagine a letter with 24 chapters, somehow with the personal voice, brevity, intimacy of a more typical letter.
Do any of the letters reach Margaret? Why is there no reply interspersed (which would reinforce the sense of their appearing in a published novel – i.e. that all the letters had reach their respective recipients safely, and have in posterity been brought together in the reassuringly edited form of a novel)? If the first 3 letters can be assumed to have reached, how about the fourth letter? If it reaches, then why is there no closing note from W – no afterword?
With all these problems, the space of the letter is a kind of no-man’s land, a “virtual” positioning somewhere between arctic and England.
It is thus an appropriate form with which to destabilize and challenge concepts of the “nation,” “society” and its values – in a way, Shelley’s novel takes one step further the dislocating form and function of 18th C narratives like the picaresque (Swift, Defoe) and the “letters from abroad” (Coleridge, Robert Southey). The very fact that W’s strange narrative comes out of a far-away place so different from England, makes it inherently contrastive and implicitly critical of English society and values – social cruelty and class relations, family and gender, patriarchy/law/religion, etc.
d. Ending of the novel – sense of ending important to the domestic novel, offering a kind of closure, a moral, a meeting of individual and society, persuasive rapprochement between author and reader. No novel brings all these things together with perfect harmony, but by the time the Victorian domestic novel reached its height in the middle of the 19th C onwards, this was one of the expectations. One (Marxist-inspired) reading of the social realist novel is that it takes up social problems, only to enact a kind of (cathartic, ritualistic, therapeutic) exorcism of these problems, by offering a kind of emotional resolution – so, e.g., Dickens’ industrial novels are perfectly aware of the evils and sufferings of industrialization, but (as in the ending of Hard Times) persuade readers that there is hope, that things can slowly change, and so we must “bear and forbear”.
One of the ways the gothic novel disturbs, is thus in its refusal to offer reassuring closures. At the end of Frankenstein, a number of questions which the novel raises are nowhere close to being answered even in a palliative kind of way. One of the main questions is where we are to place our sympathies: if both F and monster are sentimental creatures, and raise the readers’ awareness of the need for human emotional ties, on whom should the readers’ sympathies rest? (In contrast, much of the literature of sensibility has a single protagonist or lyrical self who is the logical site of emotional attachment). How do we deal with the monster’s child-like nature juxtaposed with its incredible (disproportionate?) savagery? Which is the real F – the gentle, rather lost, philanthropic individual who even on his deathbed feels guilt that his creature may threaten mankind; or the arrogant, thoughtless, Promethean figure who does not ever seem to learn his lesson?
Even the fate of the monster is left open at the end of the novel – although he declares that “soon…I shall die,” his invulnerability in the course of the novel leaves that in doubt. W offers no postlude or concluding remarks, almost as if language fails in the face of these ineffable themes. It is by no means certain that he makes it back to England.
3. Freud, Family Psychodrama, and the Gothic
By now it should be clear that Freudian theories of the individual and society correspond so closely to gothic themes and narratives (or vice versa) that they constitute a persistently persuasive lens through which to read the gothic. Several caveats: Freudian theory is of course applicable to social realism and other discourses as well; it certainly shouldn’t be the only way we read the gothic; and indeed we have to be careful about the way in which gothic and Freudian family psychodramas reinforce (and exaggerate?) each other, biasing us towards a certain “psychopathological” reading of modern society which ignores other elements/readings (among other things, Freudian theory has been accused of practically ignoring the condition of women as subjects, of having little or no positivistic basis [i.e. is heavily reliant on interpretation and possibly subjective], and of course overemphasizing sex and pathology). Having said that, Freudian theory and the gothic together seem to offer narratological and thematic emphases on certain aspects of industrial-capitalist society. So, not so much that Freudian theory is the best or most plausible way to read the gothic; but rather, that putting the gothic and Freudian narratives together offers an interesting overlay or schema of the kinds of socio-cultural disruptions in the “long revolution” of 18th and 19th C Western Europe.
Thus Frankenstein, in general, might usefully be read as a gothic family psychodrama which reveals the underlying crises in the bourgeois family in an age of rapid social change. (While social realism tends to confine itself to the exploration of bourgeois family crises in socially-acceptable terms like marriage problems and social standing, the gothic is much more willing to explore them in nightmarish, transgressive, extreme, melodramatic terms). The novel’s abiding concern with authority, control, patriarchy, absence, the problem of relationships/love, could all be read as displaced and symbolic representations of the family torn apart by widely different ambitions, values, individual anxieties, etc. Sharp contrast between the public/political ambitions of men like F senior and junior, and the retiring/affective pleas of Caroline and Elizabeth. Clash between “modern” children (Safie) and culturally conservative fathers (Turk). The other side of romantic sentimentalism (introspective, emotional, given to extremes) is modern/capitalist individualism, in which the needs/desires/ambitions of the individual outweigh any familial or social need.
Some key Freudian themes and their relevance/comparison to the gothic:
a. Unconscious, repression, anxiety, symbolism, sexual psychopathology, schizophrenia
Freud’s view of the modern individual – deeply troubled, filled with a variety of relational and identity problems that could not be expressed in conscious and rational ways (the “ego”), but resided deep in an unconscious level (the “id”) – created a type of character that accorded very well with gothic protagonists. What in gothic characters is manifested as a deeply conflicted self and wavering behaviour, melancholia and morbidity, hypersensitivity, unusual attachment to someone, especially a (female) family member, etc, could in Freudian terms be read as dramatizations of the conflict between unconscious desires and the increasingly strict and repressive nature of social consciousness. (Freud’s book Civilisation and its Discontents is a critical analysis of modernity as creating anxieties because of its high ideals, expectations and standards which it increasingly imposes on individuals).
Hence the prominence of nightmares, incestuous dreams and suggestions, obsessions (especially with images of death, defeat, destruction) in gothic literature, find a quick explanation in Freudian accounts of how deep libidinal drives and instincts (pleasure, gratification, fulfillment, security) get thwarted by modern societal structures, cannot express themselves in socially-acceptable ways, and can only emerge in the symbols of psychopathology or deep anxiety. Gothic symbols are very Freudian – dreamlike, condensed, terse, cryptic, overdetermined (Freud in Interpretation of Dreams argued that dream symbols are overdetermined – highly suggestive, engaging with different meanings at different levels – because the unconscious, pre-linguistic drives are struggling to manifest themselves at the level of signs/symbols. So there is “condensation” and “displacement” taking place: compression of meanings into a short/terse symbol with multiple meanings, and the shifting of taboo meanings onto a “safer” symbol which nevertheless is psychically connected to the taboo meanings.
We might thus think of the monster as overdetermined, even in potentially contradictory ways: romantic sensitivity, Promethean individualism, son, father (in power and strength), love and hate, desire (even the possibility of a homoerotic reading: Eve Sedgwick, Coherence of Gothic Conventions, says that the primal scene of “2 men chasing one another across a landscape” could be “murderous or amorous”); it could be a displacement of a number of social concerns (science, the working class, the stillborn family).
b. Oedipus, incest, family: Freud’s notion of the essentially Oedipal man accords with the basic gothic scenes with male protagonists who are sexless, monosexual in social habits with suggestion of homosexual attachments (F and Clerval, F and monster, F and Walton), have improper desires (F’s dream about Elizabeth and his mother) that suggest incest, are possibly repressed in their emotional attachments and thus manifest these in displaced ways (so F’s scientific ambitions, and his waverings, are because he isn’t so much interested in science, as working out deep unconscious desires to be loved and accepted), fear of sexuality (F’s postponement of marriage and consummation). Ties in with the sociology of family crisis in modernity.
c. Hiding, secrecy, unreliability: Freud’s point about the inaccessible nature of the unconscious (except to the gifted/sensitive analyst) also resembles fundamental gothic pattern: unreliable narrators and narratives, secrecy, doubleness and wavering/swings, hidden identities, mystery, hypocrisy etc.
Current Lecture Material: Seminar 4 (Jekyll and Hyde)
EN 4223 Seminar 4 - Jekyll and Hyde
b. 1850 in Edinburgh, d. 1894. Troubled career (studied engineering, gave that up, studied law, gave that up for a full-time literary career). Could do so in part because of financial support from father, with whom he had a very troubled, love-hate relationship. (Formed a society, in his youth, with his friends, the constitution of which began with "disregard everything our parents taught us"; fought with father on issue of agnosticism).
Like many gothic authors, a marginal, restless figure: self-exile, travelled widely, lived most of his life in U.S., France, and finally Samoa. A social "outcast," he had a relationship with a married American woman with children (Fanny Osbourne), an affair which contributed to her divorce from her husband. Like Shelley/Byron, a rebellious figure who got involved in “causes” (in S’s case, Samoan politics and civil war).
Father-son problematic runs throughout S's writing: not just in the Jekyll-Hyde relationship ("Jekyll had more than a father's interest; Hyde had more than a son's
indifference," p. 68), but also in David Balfour (the young hero of Kidnapped and Catriona) and his relationship with various father-figures, in young Weir and his father the judge (in Weir of Hermiston), etc.
2. Fin de siecle, urban gothic
JH pub. 1886, one of a rash of famous gothic tales which appeared near the end of the Victorian era: Oscar Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897), Hound of Baskervilles (1901), and others.
Fin de siecle = "end of century," but specifically end (last decade or so) of 19th C, which was seen as a kind of "end time" - a period of pessimism and gloom, loss of faith, unease (esp. at civilisation, history, progress, etc). A sort of reaction against the rapid urbanisation, capital infrastructure, imperialism and social change of the high Victorian period (1850s - 1870s) - an articulation of the discontents, the adverse consequences, of these forces.
Gothic role in the fin de siecle: accordingly different from romantic and Victorian gothic. Romantic gothic articulates the textual and political problematics in an age of revolution and turmoil; (overdetermined) symbols of power/class conflicts, appropriate to an age torn between aristocracy and rebellion. Victorian gothic obviously closer to fin de siecle gothic - expresses the problematics within the social sphere of a well-ordered, propserous society (marriage problems, the private and public selves, are the dominant symbols).
Fin de siecle gothic char. by a sense of the "darkness within," internal decay or decline, hidden and unreachable/unknowable and thus sublime; the sense of the public, not in order and prosperity, but "hypocrisy" (Wilde's favorite theme, but also Jekyll [despite his denial], Hyde's servant with an "evil face, smoothed by hypocrisy," 27, even Utterson, etc).
Also, gothic anxieties change as the socio-economic face of society changes: if romanticism's main anxieties were power, rebellion, spirituality, fin de siecle society very different. Its gothic anxieties were:
a. Property (as portable, alienable; not permanent, landed)
b. Ambivalence of Science and technology (not as alchemical, naturalistic and metaphysical, but as a scientific thinking rationalism, deduction, but also a blind ideology, reduction, error. Frankenstein toyed with “playing God” and interfering with nature; Jekyll merely seeks to contravene social strictures)
c. Psychological compartmentalisation, split personalities - not the public, external horror and consequence of one's error (F's monster, which confronts F as an other, outside him but also akin), but the inward, unknowable, horror (Hyde, who is never seen at the same time as J, and whom J cannot, in one sense, confront as an external other)
d. Atavism, devolution into barbarism, animal nature (Darwin's Origin of Species pub. 1859, and over the next few decades came to affect many areas of social thought/life)
e. Gothic (specifically - not general mankind, not aristocracy) middle-class society: the horrors of social definition and stratification, professionalism, values.
f. Senex iratus within - not the aristocratic patriarch who spawns rebellion, but the
invisible and internalised moral code against which the overreacher rebels. Problematics of the "Ego Ideal"
g. Race and Empire - postcolonial gothic, empire/geopolitics and their problems, clashes between pre-modern and modern cultures/technologies, racial anxieties.
h. Gender and sexuality - in addition to the older gothic anxieties about the problematic role/sexuality of women, fin de siecle gothic shows increading anxieties about homosexuality, asexuality/dysfunction, the implosion of heterosexual marriage and the family.
Urban gothic: very fin de siecle, in its sense of the horror inside (not the exotic space of the arctic or east, but the detritus or cess pools within our city, wherein is located the other - hence importance of neighbourhoods, housing, architecture, in JH); middle-class experience (family or lack thereof; professionalism and its problems; social circles, definition, policing and othering). Slums, enclaves, red-light districts, gentrification and degentrification, constant change, police and surveillance, anonymity, mobs/crowds.
Narrative and language: an increasing self-reflexivity, language/consciousness/narrative turning increasingly inward onto its own processes, as a kind of reflection of a world seen as unknowable, chaotic, unrepresentable. Frankenstein’s bracketed narratives vs JH’s multiple/dehierarchised narratives a good contrast. Following Baldick’s point about the collaboration between gothic themes and narrative structures, we might think about JH as a fundamentally “split” narrative in a way that F was not: the disembodied quality of the “case” and “statement,” the dubious status of various documents (cp. also Dracula).
3. "Victorian" Jekyll and Hyde
Novel can be seen as being both a product of its Victorian society (i.e. taking on many of the well-known Victorian social tropes and anxieties), as well as a subversion of those social concerns - not only with fin de siecle gloominess/inwardness (is gloominess a subversion of Victorian social concerns, or merely a kind of utopian/idealistic complaint and a desire for social redemption?), but also via its questioning of narrative/knowledge/perspective.
a. Science, progressivism and taxonomy - the idea of "Order" .
The ideology of science - science as a socio-political and moral system;
JH invokes some of the anxieties about science grown into an entire system
of belief, thought, and behaviour.
J's project as taxonomy, dissection, definition: if man is "truly two," then science seeks to separate those "two" as distinct species/classes. Intolerance of grey areas, unexplored, unexploited phenomena. (Cp. Bourgeoise will-to-segregate, e.g. districts and classes?) Also a kind of hubris, since it cannot acknowledge non-scientific dimensions such as the "natural" or religious/metaphysical phenomenon - figure of the rampaging seientist meddling in nature? (cp. Frankenstein)
Anti-Biblical (the first of several Biblical allusions in JH): Ephesians 2: 14-15
"For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;
Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;"
Title of novel: Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde sounds like a
detective story, but also the work of the "natural detective" (like Darwin)
who reports on nature's curiosities. (19th C detective in some ways also
a natural detective - see role of medicine, overlapping with anthropology,
phrenology, etc In HB)
Lanyon as another figure of scientific mind: smugly narrow-minded, it dismisses what it cannot explain in rational scientific terms ("a case of cerebral disease," 55), it is destroyed accordingly.
Important to note that science as ideology is not confined to scientists as such, but is a feature of bourgeoise social ideology: in social taxonomies (e.g. class, gender, moral separations); language as an attempt to be precise and scientific ("case" is a desire shared by law, social analysis, science; novel and narrators repeatedly refer to "incidents," "cases," "statements"); architecture and urban planning (neighbourhoods, construction, as attempts to segregate, but also to impose human vision over nature).
b. "Impurity" as gothic subversion of science. JH raises problematics
of scientific/social ideology in a variety of ways:
- symbol of the "impure" salt: not merely a chemical accident, it insists on the existence of the ill-defined, unknowable, grey area. A direct refutation of J's taxonomic/dissecting impulse, the "impure" salt is not fully one thing or another.
- H as "impure" entity: figure of the social other (coarse, unattractive, rough), he is also inextricably bound to upper MC society (he speaks to Lanyon and others "civilly enough," has entrez to J and polite society); masculine in his lusts and savagery, he also weeps like a woman (admittedly, out of fear); bold and cruel, he is also cowardly (figure of man's own duality'?); the man-beast
- Impurity of language: the various "statements" of cases are deconstructed in various ways.
The novel begins with an omniscient-like narrator ("Mr Utterson the lawyer"...etc), an unnamed first-person who gives insight into other characters. But these expectations are violated in several ways: the "omniscient" narrator is discontinuous, making "his" dominance clear at certain times (usually at beginnings of certain chapters) and at other times fading into obscurity; "he" gives insight only into Utterson hardly into anyone else (he thus effectively shares the thoughts and perspectives of Utterson, thus suggesting bias rather than objectivity); he lacks knowledge of other episodes/characters (no prescience/hint of Hyde's true identity, the transformation, the architectural links, etc, which the reader has to "follow through" before discovering; final revelation, such as it is, comes (as it were) from Utterson reading J's statement, without benefit of the "omniscient" narrator (i.e. "omniscient narrator," and indeed Utterson, are both missing at the close of the novel).
Poetics of the ineffable - that which is most crucial is often ineffable, inarticulable, in this narrative. E.g. Lanyon's statement - the crucial explanations/descriptions (the course of the transformation - "there came, I thought, a change - he seemed to swell - " 59 - the explanation, his commentary/analysis) are all missing. The ironic "Henry Jekyll's Full Statement of the Case" is neither "Henry Jekyll's" (since one of the big issues is the nature of self and identity - "He, I say ? I cannot say, I" 73); nor is it a "full statement" (what are missing seem to be remorse, repentance, explanation of the scientific nature of the act); nor is it a "case" (which, e.g. Watson's, implies closure, post factum explanation, bringing to light and public reading/record: what will Utterson do with this statement?)
The "impurity of knowledge/consciousness: difficult to know who speaks/thinks at various times. H's mad rages are recounted with J-like dispassionate description (well, because it is J who writes, nominally); but H also performs J-like feats (he issues orders to Poole for scientific chemicals, anticipates the return of the rational J, eg. at Lanyon's house, fears arrest and exposure/scandal). And, of course, J (after the experiment) is not the purely respectable and "good" man he hopes to create, either - he lies (to Utterson and others, re: H), speaks as a split identity ("I have really a very great interest in poor Hyde,"..."...in that young man" 23), hides ("hydes")-from Utterson and others.
4. "Ever since Darwin" Origin of Species (1859) a hugely controversial
publication. H in some ways a post-Darwinian figure of the regressive human
- makes animal noises ("hisses" in suprise and fear), ape-like, called
a "trogdylite" (prehistoric cave?dweller). This mirrors similar regression
in society - in Enfield and the Edinburgh apothecary, in women ("harpies"),
in those who hide (Utterson, J, Enfield?), in suggestions of bestial appetites
(Utterson's gin, Enfield, J). But pseudo-scientific regression also mixed
in with religious terms/discourses - Paul's notion of divided self (Romans
7: 15), "My devil had been long caged, he came out roaring" 69, "Satan's
signature," H as "child of Hell" 73, the story of prodigal son, etc
Overdetermination of symbols points to regression and evil as constructed, nominal categories problem of social will and desire, rather than absolute fact.
5. The figure of Hyde
a. Smallness (contrast large size of monster in Frankenstein): Different representation of the social other. Romantic anxiety (revolutionary age) of WC mob figures their monstrous size, reproductive prolixity. In contrast, Victorian anxiety of social other is the degenerate: physically inelegant, ugly, degraded in habits ("deformity and decay," 63), coarse because of labour and lack of cultivation ("lean, corded, knuckly...dusky pallor...shaded with a swart growth of hair," 67).
The socially-desired self, in contrast, is physically elegant, large/tall, without any sign of outdoor, manual existence ("large, firm, white and comely").
Smallness suggests debilitation - old notion of sexual expenditure a "little death" (Donne), bad living/habit, bad upbringing, but also suggesting "petty" social stature. In contrast, Victorian ideal upbringing was "muscular Christianity" (Thomas Arnold, Thomas Hughes) - large, vigorous body, large/expansive courage, spirit, generosity, kindness, etc.
Also Darwinian - notion of evolution is physical and mental (homo erectus)
b. Name - "hide" as hidden, repressed, unconscious, secret shame/guilt.
"hide" as animal hide - regressive, savage, devolved (hence various animal
associations). Also "hideous," deformed, ugly.
But "hyde" paradoxically also recalls "Hyde park" - famous social space of the gentry, in the very heart of London. The public face, social man, not merely the ugly hidden degenerate.
c. Doubling as kinship - H (in the eyes of Utt. and others) as the social
other who is inextricably bound to respectable society - the horror of
the social parasite, "bad company" (cp. Selden in HB; Sir Terence in Maria
Edgeworth’s The Absentee; other figures in Vanity Fair, etc). Reveals as
much about Utt's extreme prejudices as it does about actual social distinctions.
Irony: H is not the other as "bad company," but the "badness" within Utt's
own friend, J - the secret vice of respectable Victorian society.
Thus H catalyzes all the textual hints of secret vices: Utt's self-scrutiny for fear of some "old iniquity," the "many ill things he had done" (20/21); his love of gin (shameful degraded drink - cp. James Crawley in Thackeray's Vanity Fair, who is suddenly ashamed when his aunt offers to pay his bill at a public house, not because of the high expense, but because of "the quantity of gin," which "told fatally against poor James' s character" (Penguin ed., p. 409). Also Madam Rouggiere stealing gin in Uncle Silas (p. 29).
But also Enfield, the "well-known man about town," whose activities (in roughly the same gothic time and space as H's) may also suggest the same vices as H. Even Sir Danvers?
d. Doubling as mimicry - H the "ape" also apes social manners, thus suggesting the transferability and fragility of respectability. Speaks to Lanyon "civilly enough" (57), mirrors J's own air of respectability (fears exposure and scandal, thus can be blackmailed, e.g. by Enfield), has trappings of respectability (the painting which J "gives" him, clothes, money). One horror is that this air of respectability can also exist in one who is so clearly other (in physical appearance and habits), which suggests the unreliability of the important social signs of class. Another horror is conversely that signs of respectability therefore do not guarantee the reality of respectability (J, Utt, Enf etc). The true "impurity" of each person's social nature frustrates Victorian society's attempt at "pure" social distinctions.
EN 4223 Seminar 5 – Jekyll and Hyde, “Bottle Imp,” “Olalla”
1. Architecture and Urban Landscape - Urban Gothic
Urban gothic not just about class and morality, but about some of the fundamental aspects of urban experience/conditions, which are shown to be threatening and gothic.
a. Property and propriety
The 2 terms closely inter-related: if behaviour is not reliable sign of respectability, thensociety depends on another sign, property. But property in a late capitalist age is alienable and moveable, thus also unreliable. The chief feature of MC society - social mobility and possibility of upgrading - is alsoits greatest anxiety (instability, change).
Thus, signs of de-gentrification: e.g. description of J's door/street (p. 19 - "Round the corner..."). "Decay" of neighbourhood is often subtle, within the professional MC ranks, rather than obvious and vicious. Also, decay of neighbourhood is inextricably bound to the problems of professionalism - its "impure" gradations within itself, ratherthan obvious resistance to forces outside its ranks.
b. Districts, enclaves, continuity
The J/H nexus in a sense figures an urban problem - the real continuity of districts, despite the city's attempts to segregate, suppress, isolate.
Gothic narrative figures this by suggesting the repressed (sexual, disreputable, hypocritical/deceptive) within the respectable neighbourhood: e.g. the street Utt and
Enf walk down (p. 8 - "It chanced on one of these rambles..."). Narrative also uses common imagery to link such neighbourhoods with the ghetto and red-light district (i.e. Soho - p. 27, "It was by this time about nine..").
Parallelism between cityscape and central theme suggests that city has an unconscious, and similar mechanisms of denial, repression, similar problems of definition and returnof repressed, that human society and individuals do. i.e. City is both the site of gothichuman condition (cause/influence), as well as the symbol and parallel (sign).
2. Gender and the fin de siecle gothic
a. Some points in common with gender in older gothic - women confined to domestic sphere, servitude, passivity, excluded from the dominant male public space. Thus none of the male professional gentlemen in this novel are married, no women in respectable social circle, only as domestics (maid, H's housekeeper). Reductio ad absurdum of Victorian "separation of spheres" ideology: in romantic and Victorian gothic, women figure as aristocratic/genteel, but patriarchally repressed, figures (Safie, Elizabeth, Christabel, etc); gothic by virtue of i) their helplessness, heightening the fact of arbitrary male power, and ii) their sexuality threatening to emerge and voice its own will/desire (Coleridge’s Geraldine in “Christabel” and "woman wailing for her demon lover" in “Kubla Khan”). They could act, and threaten to act, forcing patriarchal society to act (and overreact) to contain them, thus subverting that authority by revealing its extreme nature and repressive power.
In fin de siecle gothic, women tend to be excluded from action, unable
to act (figure of
the maid - locked away from the public sphere, unable to speak or act, faints), excluded from domestic authority (unmarried), excluded even from narrative action (maid's perspective described by the male voice of the quasi-omniscient narrator, or by the journalistic voice which seems to intercede here). In most occasions when the woman enters or even looks out onto the public sphere, there is gothic trouble and crisis: girl who runs out on street, the harpies, the maid, the servant who opens the door, etc.
Ironic, given the fact that women's participation in social activism, and struggle for women's rights, actually increased dramatically after 1850s: e.g. Founding of the "Female Bible Mission" in 1857 by Ellen H. W. Ranyard; also, the public debate spurred by the 1857 Married Women's Property Bill.
Fin de siecle gothic thus reflects, not the reality of increased social role of women, but the anxiety and desire of the male gothic consciousness in the novel, which segregates and banishes women by an act of narrative and imagination.
b. Women as "harpies": Figures of women as aggressive, evil, monstrous: women in crowd surrounding H ("I never saw a circle of such hateful faces," 10 - ambiguity of "hateful," as vs. "hatefilled"); housekeeper with her "odious joy" when she thinks H is in trouble (28). Again, these are seen through male eyes: Enfield and Utterson respectively (or quasi-omni narrator, through them). Women as ugly monsters the flip side of women as powerless - imaginary servile creatures, who are otherwise (i.e. when they enter public) ugly and monstrous.
c. Sex and the Public Woman: One other, sketchy image of women: Soho at 9 am, "many ragged children huddled in the doorways, and many women of many different nationalities passing, out, key in hand, to have a morning glass" (27). Woman as slattern, kept woman, whose sexuality can only be expressed and acknowledged by relegating her to a separate "nightmare" district. Aligning them with racial other overlaps/overdetermines fears: sexuality with miscegenation with urban decay etc.
3. Ego-ideal as patriarchy, senex iratus
a. J has no hubris: he misunderstands man's moral and spiritual duality, but does not explicitly rebel against a father-figure/law. (In contrast, Fstein is full of rebel figures fighting against actual paternal decrees: F against Alphonse F, monster against F, F against professors, F against God).
If romantic gothic char. by physical law/force of the father (aristocratic lord), fin de siecle society (much more civilised) char. by internalised, explicit, invisible restrictions - codes, conventions, social expectations. Leads to complex mechanisms of internal self-policing, repression, shame, guilt.
Freud's Super-ego or ego ideal: where "...one man has set up an ideal in himself by which he measures his actual ego" ("On Narcissism"); it is where one attempts to retain one's picture of one's childhood perfection (i.e. a "Narcissistic" impulse) in the face of the criticisms and scoldings encountered in adult life, by projecting an ideal self which harmonises perfectly with social values; which, in fact, is identical with soeial values.
This heightens the split between libidinal drives and social ideal, since the super-ego cannot acknowledge the existence and demand of these drives. Leads to compartmentalisation and deep schisms in self. Also leads to unaccountable shame and guilt.
May explain why J can offer no good reason for his project: "And indeed the worst of my fault was a certain impatient gaiety of disposition, such as has made the happiness of many, but such as I found it hard to reconcile with my imperious desire to carry my head high, and wear a more than commonly grave countenance before the public." (60) (Whose "imperiousness" is it ? society's, over J, or J's? But if J's, over what is it imperious? Why "more than commonly grave"? - Implies 2 stages, the "commonly grave," and an exceeding of this, but an excess of "normalcy")
"Many a man would have even blazoned such irregularities as I was guilty of; but from the high views that I had set before me, I regarded and hid them with an almost morbid sense of shame" (60).
J even in his "full statement" cannot come to a moral resolution, a confession of sin and full self-realisation, because of this split is in his pre?eonsciousness: torn between defiance ("blazoned") and shame, acknowledgement of "guilt" and (paradoxical) argument for its normalcy ("many a man...")
b. Thus the "strange case" of vice in this novel - never acknowledged, explicitly stated (contrast Dorian Gray, Sherlock Holmes novels, where they are at least stated dispassionately). Not known what "pleasures" H revels in, so we have to surmise. Narrative re-enacts J's own lack of self-consciousness, by a "trick" in which the quasi-omni narrator is also unable to state the real status of women, of sex/marriage and vice, instead suggesting deviance by metaphor and metonymy.
Fin de siecle, urban gothic, in turning "inward," plays out familiar
gothic struggles as elements within internal landscape: in place of priests/church,
knowledge, marriage/gender, male-female, we have guilt, shame, the quest for or pretense of self-knowledge and its lack/failure, bachelorhood and vice. (So, e.g.,
gothic quest for science [scientia = knowledge] is also internalised, as a struggle between civilised knowledge/control of self, vs. gothic lack of knowledge).
II. "The Bottle Imp"
A "Financial Gothic"? Concern, not only with the curse of materialism (the old
supernatural trope of the magic lamp, be careful what you wish for, the corrupting influence of power and money, etc), but also with (what might be called) the geopolitics of modern desire: the incessant drive to acquire more, the inherent emptiness of this project, the geographical restlessness associated with it, the politics of race/gender/culture. (Keawe's infernal career begins with the shock of the cultural contact between Pacific Island and U.S. culture, on the streets of San Francisco, a "fine town, with a fine harbour, and rich people uncountable"; his uncritical eagerness to accept the bottle and its conditions arises out of naive awe at the "wonderful" things it has brought the American man).
Supernatural agency (bottle imp) is a figure (self-reflexively) for
a number of things:
a. money and modern finances: circulating, treacherous, ultimately unsatisfying
b. the culture of modernity, commodity desire, change (note role of houses/property), cultural contact and contagion.
c. language - plurality of languages/culture, their role in cultural change, the construction of moral codes (especially "hell" and damnation)
Gothic encounter between Scottish commandante and Spanish family is a racial/cultural/national encounter as well. The family fortunes, the residencia, the family
members, the body itself, all become figures for the nation itself ("at that time...in so much disorder", p. 64), and for the race and class of declining nobility in a new world order (allusion to Napoleonic war - the "good cause," p. 62 - and to earlier conquest/mixing in the "moorish character" of the residencia [p. 67], perhaps in
Felipe's singing "wandering at will...repeating the same note at little intervals" [p. 67]). All this is of course problematized by the commandante's narrative and perspective, which is caught between attraction and repulsion, desire and hatred. In narrative archetype/pattern, a gothic version of the "star-crossed lovers" whose desire has to cross genetic/racial/socio-cultural differences - but also the fin de siecle colonial discourse of the white soldier threatened by desire, the native woman (Kipling's soldiers, Conrad's Kurtz in Heart of Darkness). (cp. also the enthralled narrator/bard and the demonic woman/succubus in Coleridge's "Kubla Khan," "Christabel" etc?)
Degeneration: as in JH, related to changing fortunes, the motility of modern finances (cp. money in "Imp") - Olalla's mother "the last representative of a princely stock, degenerate both in parts and fortune" (p. 64); "the family blood had been impoverished, perhaps by long inbreeding" (76). Gothic trope of inbreeding/incest here also the suggestion of racial/social withdrawal and implosion. Possible to see other tropes of degeneration ("blood," Felipe's bestial condition), as gothic/fanciful symbolization of this underlying socio-economic distress.
Bestiality: seen in descriptions of Felipe's "contracted pupils" (p.
68), "slothful" nature (p. 70), "doglike, adoring fidelity," "vermin"-like
cruelty (p. 72), "inconstant as a hare" (p. 76); the senora as "catamount,"
her "bestial cries" (p. 94).
Also associated with mental retardation/infantilism: in the Senora's "blankly stupid" expression (p. 74), Felipe's being "but a child in intellect...stunted in development" (p. 66).
Commandante's racial/cultural repulsion: in his attitude to Felipe ("he
was of a dusky hue, and inclined to hairiness; two characteristics that
I disliked" [p. 66]; "with
a grossness of content that somehow offended me" [p. 68]; "the common carnal stock of that race...had fallen to baser uses, wearing country clothes, sitting on the shaft and holding the reins of a mule cart, to bring home a lodger" [p. 69]).
Yet a deeply ambivalent attitude (stemming precisely from the racial/cultural difference - orientalism, exoticism), seen in description of painting (that "offended and attracted me," p.75): "while I knew that to love such a woman were to sign and seal one's own sentence of degeneration, I still knew that, if she were alive, I should love her" (p. 69). Olalla is figured as "saint," but also as animal ("active as a deer...her young life, strung like a wild animal's", p. 86). "I hated, I adored, I pitied, I revered her with ecstasy" (p. 92).
Architecture/space: as in JH, space is a symbol of (among other things)
desire and the body: inherent in the general trope of invasion/empire,
pseudo-anthropological "knowledge." But also specifically in commandante's
desire to penetrate into the mystery (which is Olalla, and also into the
House as anthropomorphical symbol/synecdoche for Senora/Olalla - the Spanish noblewoman and her genetic promise/curse: "in the house of what a great and what a handsome race I was then wandering" (p. 81); the first exploration/description of the house, "naked of windows," "could not be carried without artillery," "slender pillars," "discoloured," "veiled" (p. 73). So the "pillared recess" ("prettily blazing" - cp. image of fire in side-street in JH, like salesgirls' "florid charms") to which he finally wins and sees the senora, a mons veneris of sorts? And Olalla's secret chamber is penetrated like a symbolic violation: "The thought that I had thus secretly pushed my way into the confidence of a girl so strangely situated...oppressed me like guilt" (p. 82/83). Olalla described as "the child of an afflicted house" (p. 86)
(Cp. Dracula's, but also the Victorian men in that novel, invasion into the bedchambers and secret writings of women?)
"body/soul" debate (p. 97) - like JH, a figure for modernist torment
- individual desire vs. social conditioning/culture.
Current Lecture Material: Seminar 6 (Dracula)
EN 4223 Seminar 6 Handout – Dracula
Bram Stoker b. 1847 in Dublin, to an upper middle-class Anglo-Irish
family (father was a civil servant, and Bram went to a private school before
studying at Trinity College, Dublin, the training ground for Ireland’s
leaders and administrators). Follows his father’s footsteps into
the steady life of the civil service (was a clerk in Dublin castle), but
soon rejects this for a life at the fringes of the theatrical-literary
circles. Agent to the famous actor Henry Irving, dabbler in dramas
and theatre reviews, editor of a literary magazine, and writer of gothic
romances, mostly unsuccessful (e.g. Lair of the White Worm and Jewel of
the Seven Stars), one successful beyond any imagining.
Dracula pub. 1897 – like Frankenstein (and many other gothic narratives), a novel whose genesis and narrative form uncannily doubles the content/subject. Frankenstein grew out of a story-telling contest (intertextual mixing/cannibalization), involved a vivid nightmare, and probably reproduced elements of the sexual/progenitive/moral/social anxieties of its unconventional-lived author. Dracula’s kernel was a nightmare that Stoker had (young man, alluring aggressive woman, older man who claims ownership – the episode that became the scene with the female vampires in the castle), dripped and interfused in textual elements that Stoker read or saw on the stage (3 witches in Macbeth; “Carmilla”; William Wilkinson’s Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia ), and reflected the author’s unconventional peripatetic lifestyle, piecemeal composition method, and probably sexual anxieties too.
1. Dracula’s narrative cross-breeding/mixture:
i. “Vampire” stories: Byron’s The Giaour, Polidori’s The Vampyre, Rymer’s Varney the Vampyre, Le Fanu’s Carmilla (maybe also Coleridge’s Christabel and Keats’ Lamia) – enigmatic, powerful, timeless, charismatic stranger who both threatens/violates as well as seduces/attracts.
ii. Gothic travel romance – like Ann Radcliffe’s accounts of journeys (especially by virginal girls) into “dark” countries/cultures, which stir up darkness within as well (also cp. Dacre, Charlotte Bronte, Walter Scott). A “dark anthropology” mixed up in this, as in point iii below.
iii. Victorian adventure/boys’ story – imperial fantasies of hunting, soldiering, travel, rescue and fortune-hunting (Baden-Powell, Conan Doyle, Kipling, Rider Haggard, Stevenson, Conrad; Dicken’s Oliver Twist an earlier version).
iv. Detective story: domestic scandal, sexual perversion, the “scientific” uncovering/unraveling of a mystery; (sub-text of the “scientific detective story” – S may have been influenced by his mother’s letter detailing Cholera epidemic in Sligo, Ireland)
v. Diary/epistolary form: 18th C precedents, the “new form” of the novel (spontaneous, formless), but also revealing, frank, shocking. Frankenstein uses epistolary form to suggest miscommunication, “floating” fragments. Victorian update (e.g. in Collins’ Woman in White) often used the trope of the “editor” who “objectively” pulled fragments together, but in the process also presented without comment “shocking” elements too.
vi. Biblical (OT) accounts of manifest destiny, a particular race exterminating an “unclean” competitor and claiming the sponsorship of a transcendent deity.
vii. Other smaller textual elements: Dracula as Faust (devilish pact); Dracula as Wandering Jew (eternal, but cursed); Dracula as satan (misery loves company, army of darkness); patriarchal/Oedipal struggles (Dracula as father-progenitor, but also as controller of desire; but uncannily mirrored by Van Helsing?); folk tales and superstitions; many Biblical allusions/quotations (mostly by Van Helsing); Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter? (Mina’s scar-let mark on her forehead, the result of a lapse in the marital bedchamber); Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner and the ghost ship
2. Figure of Dracula
a. Like many Gothic monsters, a figure for social anxieties:
i. Devolution and bestiality; power corrupts, serves desires, and brings isolation;
ii. Moral/intellectual/emotional stuntedness (his “child-brain that lie in his tomb for centuries,” as Van H says on p. 361 and elsewhere) a figure of the old civilization that inbreeds and stagnates (and thus the fate awaiting England);
iii. Blood as racial/genetic/cultural legacy (valorized as a social guarantee/corrective, but also feared as something impossible to police; inherently mixing, adapting)
iv. Racial other – civilized but old and decaying; European but mixed with slavic and other elements (“…it was the ground fought over for centuries by the Wallachian, the Saxon, and the Turk. Why, there is hardly a foot of soil in all this region that has not been enriched by the blood of men, patriots or invaders” p. 28)
v. Incessant competition/struggle; Darwinian jungle, predation;
vi. Colonial consequences/empire strikes back: reverse colonization, undesirability of immigration;
vii. Financial gothic: money as sordid/foreign/motile, but also empowering, and dominant over real property (the houses D buys in Whitby and London); note anti-Semitic nature of this trope: D, with his gold-hoarding, money-grubbing ways (firstly in the guise of the coachman, but later in the fight in Piccadilly (he is cut and “a bundle of bank-notes and a stream of gold fell out”…”grasping a handful of the money from the floor” p. 326) resembles the description of the shipping agent Hildesheim in Galatz, "a Hebrew of rather the Adelphi Theatre type," whose "arguments were pointed with specie" (p. 371).
viii. The (social/domestic/sexual/racial) intruder: whose intrusion into a space hitherto considered private and sacrosanct, cannot be thwarted because of trickery (e.g getting Renfield to issue invitation to the house) and magic (mist, bat);
ix. Disease, madness: not just contagious infection (via blood – Van H tells Mina “he have infect you” p. 340), but also social disease spread via mimesis/moral corruption (Renfield’s mimicry of D’s zoophagism; mimicry of habits like writing/journaling, as on p. 119 when Lucy writes “I must imitate Mina, and keep writing things down,” or p. 108 when Mina writes “I call him Arthur from her habit” – D as shape-changer, rejuvenator, student of languages and cultures, is the ultimate symbol of both imitation and contagion), and the “madness” of monomania/obsession (blood – cp. Senora in “Olalla”) but also the madness of civilized man’s overreaction/paranoia (Van H and the Anglo-Am men are like paranoiac fanatics who cannot tell the world what they fear – prepared to kill D in plain sight even though “suspicion of murder” and “a rope” should be the consequence (p. 356).
x. Sexuality/desire: blood evokes passions, but also semen. Dracula’s effect is to make English women more “voluptuous” and beautiful – the sublime (in Burke’s sense) effect, of breaking out of repressive Victorian masculine ideas of contained beauty. Ambiguity of Mina’s phrase “I feel freer than I have been of late” (p. 360) – is D the imposition of sexual control (rape), or the liberation of Victorian repression and the creation of feminine sexuality as such?
b. Mirroring/doubling: although D ostensibly functions as
“channeling” of ethnic/cultural anxieties onto a scapegoat foreigner, ultimately
his traits mirror Victorian masculinity back onto itself (hence title of
Nina Auerbach’s book, Our Vampires, Ourselves – double effect of channeling,
simultaneously casts out and foregrounds social anxieties). Harker
actually expresses his willingness to become vampire in the name of love
(Mina “shall not go into that uknown and terrible land alone” p. 317).
White men ultimately take on characteristics of the things they fear/hate
i. Blood – transfusion, even to the extent of threatening life/health of donor, justified by “love”/chivalry – but engenders secrecy/jealousy/competition (“If our young lover should turn up unexpected…no word to him” p. 139). The clinical ruthlessness of the doctor; the chivalric standards of the Victorian male; the mad zeal of the lover; all gloss the taking of blood as pleasure, honour, duty. But Lucy is symbolically and effectively as much a vampire as D is, even before she actually becomes undead: she sucks up the blood of the men in her life, as she had earlier sucked out their vitality with her flirtatious, wanton ways (Seward: “Cannot eat, cannot rest…Since my rebuff of yesterday I have a sort of empty feeling” p. 68).
ii. Mixing/miscegenation – Lucy mixes the blood of 4 men in her veins (Van H’s crude joke, “this so sweet maid is a polyandrist” p. 187), while the same 4 men plus Mina’s husband risk their lives to save Mina’s (and avenge Lucy’s), and Mina’s child has the names of all his symbolic fathers. At least Dutch and American blood mixed into the English stock – but also D’s blood in Mina (and into her son?). Mixing of blood, as “prevention” of racial pollution, results in/justifies its own racial mixing.
iii. Sexuality/desire: irony is that D is not so much the corruptor of innocence (as the Victorian men believe), but the mirror of a threatening desire already in men/women. Lucy’s pre-vampiric activities already wanton and predatory: her desire for all her suitors (“why can’t they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her…?” “so I leant over and kissed [Quincey],” p. 67; “I sympathise with poor Desdemona when she had such a dangerous stream poured in her ear, even by a black man” p. 66); Mina’s sharing of Lucy’s intimacies via her letters (i.e. sharing her men – “I call him Arthur from her habit,” p. 108). Mina’s intimacy with Quincey and Arthur: “for when Lord Godalming found himself alone with me he sat down on the sofa and gave way utterly and openly. I sat down beside him and took his hand. I hope he didn’t think it forward of me…” p. 244. “Will you let me be your friend, and will you come to me for comfort if you need it?...impulsively I bent over and kissed him” (p. 246). Symbolically, Lucy’s death and the trauma it causes, becomes the occasion for Mina to assume a Lucy-like position, as the woman at the centre of a circle of male attention/need.
Victorian men as endemically unfaithful – the “love” that Quincey and Seward still profess for Lucy, even after she is betrothed to Arthur; the “love” that then moves all the men to act for Mina (“her whom, each in his own way, we loved” p. 317) – chivalric love as thinly-disguised or displaced eros? Killing D is a displacement of white male desire away from improper female form, onto a “cause” (for the woman) which is quasi-sexual in nature. Harker’s desire awakened by the 3 female vamps: “I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips. It is not good to note this down, lest some day it should meet Mina’s eyes and cause her pain; but it is the truth” p. 45.
Latent bloodlust, misogyny, instinct for rape/mutilation – the killing of undead Lucy (note that on p. 220, Van H talks of “cut[ing] off the head of dead Miss Lucy” first, or at least as much as he does of staking her heart; but on p. 230, it is the phallic stake which is foregrounded).
iv. Violence, invasion – if D is figure of the unwanted foreign encroacher, Seward/Arthur/Quincey are his Anglo-Am equivalent – their numerous but vaguely-recounted “adventures” together (“in all our hunting parties and adventures in different parts of the world” p. 325; “prairies…Marquesas…Titicaca” p. 69), all involving action, hunting, violence, travel. D’s imperialisms (past and present) justifiable as survival or self-defence; Anglo-Am men’s version is gratuitous, adventure. Figuring of Anglo-Am global dominance – in the calm touristic “journey to Transylvania” taken by the Harkers “seven years” after D’s death (p. 402); in Quincey’s symbolizing of an America that “will be a power in the world indeed” (p. 185). Harker’s kukri – appropriating the violent tools of the native, but also a suggestion of going native (where does he get the kukri from, and learn to use it?)
Even D’s bestial images are echoed (albeit faintly) by Victorian men: Harker’s brute strength (“with a strength which seemed incredible, raised the great box, and flung it over the wheel to the ground” p. 400) recalls the box’s only other sole mover, D. D turns the bestial image on them, comparing their faces to “sheep in a butcher’s” (p. 326). Harker in the castle compares himself to “a rat…in a trap” p. 34. Van H stands between undead Lucy and Arthur “like a lion at bay” p. 172).
The ambivalent image of the “great game” – e.g. Van H saying “The first gain is ours! Check to the King!” (p. 159; also p. 270) – cp. Holmes. Game terminology defuses tensions in the situation, but also de-moralizes both sides (as merely “play”).
v. Illegality, disguise, deception: if D’s project is to hide within and prey on the “teeming millions” of London, the Victorian men do the same: fooling the locksmith and policeman in opening D’s house in Piccadilly (p. 312, 318); deceiving the housing agent to get information (p. 284); etc.
vi. Money/power/corruption: Victorian men and women gradually reveal their overt materialism: Mina “How can women help loving men when they are so earnest, and so true, and so brave! And, too, it made me think of the wonderful power of money!” (p. 378). Mina/Harker’s petit bourgeoise materialism/ambition: “and now, married to Jonathan, Jonathan a solicitor, a partner, rich, master of his business, Mr Hawkins dead and buried…” p.182/3. “Solicitor’s clerk! Mina would not like that.” p. 22.
Reading Dracula is in many ways about reading how the Victorian
mind reads Dracula – the projection of their sexual, social, financial,
geopolitical, ethnic and genetic fears on him, their ultimate reflection/doubling
of those same traits. The journey/adventure/quest motif thus becomes
a ritual exorcism, with the reader as quasi-anthropological observer (cp.
Harker’s own naïve anthropology) to this Victorian ritual of scapegoating,
violent purgation, and reconstructed “order.”
Current Lecture Material: Seminar 7 (Dracula/"Mark of the Beast")
EN 4223 – Seminar 11 Material (Dracula, “Mark of the Beast”)
1. Dracula and the Family
Dracula might be read as a psycho-sexual drama of the family in crisis – i.e. he symbolizes the dysfunctional forces hovering at the fringe of the family (modern society, social mobility and ambition, the “New Woman” and changing social identities, challenges to masculinity, competition, multiracialism etc).
a. Parents and children: figure of the enfeebled/dying parent – Arthur’s father, Lucy’s mother. Figure of the enfeebled English monarchy/state? (Victoria was in her 80s when the novel was written, and died 4 years later). Surrogate fathers: Hawkins, who treats Harker as his son and heir; Van H, who steps in to guide and protect Mina, but also to regulate and control the young men (manages the battle against D, but also regulates and controls other matters that symbolize young love/sexuality: steps between undead Lucy and Arthur, the blood transfusions, etc). Has the biblical patriarchal name of Abraham (like Stoker himself).
D catalyzes Oedipal conflict and sexual turmoil: a father figure (because of his age, title, wealth, authority over Harker and others, and his ability to “procreate” others), he steps into the marital chamber and steals the young man’s bride (Lucy, Mina), preventing coitus/gratification. But he also suggests the homosexual scenario of patronage/possession of a young man by an older one (“this man belongs to me,” p. 46; Harker in D’s castle is literally a kept man, a plaything for D’s pleasure).
b. If JH shows sterility/autumn of the family (because of class/professional demands, superego construction), D is a pseudo-romance of rescue and restoration of the family – obstructing/evil fathers are exorcised by the young men with the aid of enabling fathers (Hawkins, Van H, Godalming Snr), thereby restoring the nation’s/family’s vitality, bloodline, sexual order. Underlying that Oedipal quest is a tacit quest to banish the ghost of homosexuality as well.
Problem is that D is only the scapegoat/abjected symbol of society’s own unease: young men’s violence towards the “evil” father is just a projection of their anger/resentment at their own/other fathers? (Harker gets the life/position he wants only because of Hawkins’ patronage; Arthur’s power only comes with father’s death. Van H, Harker, Seward, Quincy and Arthur are all continuously competitors for female “comfort” and attention. Male satisfaction only seems to come at the expense of competition with and elimination of another man). And if the quest is a confirmation of masculinity in some sense (adventure, killing the threatening androgynous figure), it is a problematization of masculinity in other ways (closet-queer dynamics of the “little band of men” p. 402, including the masculinized Mina with her “man’s brain” p. 250; what happens to Van H’s, Arthur’s and Seward’s sexuality? The double penetration of D by Harker and Quincy, like gay bashing?).
2. Misogyny, Narrative Hypocrisy/doubleness, Victorian “Separation
of the Spheres”
a. The novel might be read as a kind of sexual code (much in the same way that Dorian Gray, and parts of JH, are read as codes of the hidden homosexual life) – both a hiding of that which it was not proper to speak/write, as well as an incessant hinting at that hidden meaning (i.e. female desire/appetites; but also related issues of waning/troubled masculinity, adultery/miscegenation, homosexuality).
i. Thus, at one level, a misogynistic/chauvinistic narrative, reflecting/reinforcing the familiar Victorian doctrine of the “separation of the spheres” in which men were seen as occupying the active/public/strong role and space, while women were seen exclusively as decorative/private/domestic. Van H: “We are men, and are able to bear; but you must be our star and our hope, and we shall act all the more free that you are not in the danger, such as we are” p. 258. (see e.g. John Ruskin’s 1865 Sesame and Lilies).
Thus Harker’s “wicked, burning desire” with the female vampires (p. 45) is tacitly accepted (Mina’s response when she reads his journal is that it “upset me so,” but she doesn’t ever articulate her mistrust of his fidelity/conduct, instead she says “How he must have suffered,” p. 191), whereas Mina sees herself (and is seen) as “unclean” even though she did not necessarily desire or welcome D’s violation. Note that it is the public revelation of her violation that stirs up such a strong reaction in Mina, Harker and the others, not the inherent/supernatural/sanguine fact of her violation (D says “it is not the first time, or the second…” p. 306). Also, the public confirmation of her status as “unclean” is made, not by D, but by Van H who places the Host on her forehead and thus scars (brands) her.
Masculine immorality (desire, implicit or explicit deceit, bribery, housebreaking, assault) justified as part of the narrative of male active policing of Victorian domesticity and the feminine, as an “adventure” which is the proper sphere of men.
ii. Underlying and undercutting this simpler Victorian chauvinism, is another (gothic/dialogical) narrative level which (like homosexual camp or code) is a kind of covert and playful revelation of sexual alterity/transgression:
- Lucy and Mina as women of “appetites” (p. 99 – ostensibly refers to food, but suggestive, in context of novel as a whole); Lucy’s polyandric thoughts, her cryptic “sympathize[ing]” with Desdemona who had “such a dangerous stream poured in her ear, even by a black man”, p. 66(miscegeny?); Mina mimicking/inheriting the polyandric role of Lucy after the latter’s death.
Lucy’s “here is some dual life that is not as the common” p. 214: ostensibly refers to her dual aspect (innocent vs voluptuous, because of her unusual circumstance of being bitten while she was in a trance), but also a suggestion of the duplicity of the Victorian family (Jekyll-Hyde, Godfrey Ablewhite in Moonstone, who lives a hypocritical double-life as social reformer and philanderer who goes in disguise to a secret villa with a mistress, or Dorian Gray who debauches in disguise, are all male versions of “dual life”).
Fantasy of the Victorian wife as sexually-active, “voluptuous,” even adulterous – a fantasy which could only be articulated in public in the strange dialogical narratives and supernatural symbolism of the gothic (i.e. an unholy desire created by the vampire).
iii. Fantasy of male sexual dysfunction: Running against the overt narrative of Victorian male triumph over the external sexual threat, is a covert narrative anxiety of Victorian male inadequacy to meet requirements: in socio-historical terms, because of capitalist competition, the “new woman,” conflicting social ideals of masculinity etc.
e.g. Arthur “even his stalwart manhood seemed to have shrunk somewhat under the strain of his much-tried emotions” after he encounters the voluptuous undead Lucy (p. 179). Woman as unmanning – after his rebuff by Lucy, Seward’s identity wanes because his masculinity is challenged: “cannot eat, cannot rest…a sort of empty feeling” p. 68). Turns to autoeroticism? “It is coming – coming – coming! So I took the hint, and came too. I was too excited to sleep…” p. 113. (Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, 7th Ed., lists the sexual meaning of “come” as current in the 19th C). Staking (mutilating voluptuous women), wielding big kukris and bowies, D-bashing (penetrating/mutilating the androgynous/gay/adulterous figure) can then be read as campy masculine overcompensation, displacement of inadequacy.
iv. Androgyny: shared by D (who penetrates, mesmerizes, conquers, appropriates women in his ultra-masculine aspect; but also breast-feeds blood, is penetrated/mutilated, chased in his feminine aspect) and Mina (“She has man’s brain…and woman’s heart” p. 250). Might be linked to Lucy’s dual aspect (sweet/angelic vs voluptuous/polyandristic) – failure of sexual compartments/containment. For that matter, Harker as passive/servile clerk, helpless plaything to D, homosexual overtones; vs. Harker as hunter, solicitor, fighter).
Gothic androgyny is the shocked acknowledgement that society’s gender distinctions are narrow and implausible – androgyny thus part of (and calls attention to) a larger sense of the failure of society’s compartmentalizations and definitions
3. Narrative, Time, Order
a. Narrative as camp/hypocrisy exaggerates social definitions (good vs evil, Occidental/Oriental, masculine/feminine) while simultaneously undercutting them with pseudo-coded opposite meanings (masculine impotence, homosexuality, androgyny etc)
b. Gothic narratives notoriously patchy/piecemeal, and Dracula’s no exception. Heterogeneous fragments intended to provide “simple fact” (Preface) without embellishment and authorial intrusion – but of course may have quite different effects, of unresolved ambiguity/confusion, incoherence, doubleness, lack of clarity.
Some disturbing narrative elements that are reported without comment: Mina’s ambiguous reference to “my husband…is coming” (p. 395), and her “shriek” as Harker kills D (p. 400); all the possible sexual codes in p. 2 above; the “look of peace” that Mina imagines she sees on D’s face (p. 401); the “grave and troubled” look that Van H and Seward exchange when Mina says she is now “freer than I have been of late” (p. 360), and many other egs.
c. Imbalance: objectivity cannot be attained through authorial withdrawal alone, but requires a balance of voices/positions. Narrative unbalanced because the Harkers and Seward dominate the perspective; others are underrepresented, some (Quicy, D) have almost no voice, and no direct/inside narrative.
d. Despite technology/writing, messages are miscommunicated or go astray: e.g. the warning telegram Van H sends to Seward on 17 September, “sent to Carfax, Sussex, as no country given; delivered late by twenty-two hours” p. 152); or letter from Mina to Lucy 17 September, “Unopened by her” p. 165. Again, foregrounds the invisible/nameless editor, as not only the one who opens the unopened, but also the one who decides what to collect/include (including unopened letters), while stopping other elements from entering (D’s books? Other legal instructions/communications? Other newspaper cuttings? Voices of the social/ethnic others?)
Nameless editor (who creeps invisibly into private correspondences, opens the unopened letters, decides which “needless matter” to “eliminate” (preface), is both a figure for Victorian autocracy (suppressing, ordering, gatekeeping, validating), but also of vampiric power (invisible, intimate, ambiguous/cryptic).
4. “Mark of the Beast”
Rudyard Kipling b. 1865 in Bombay, educated largely in England, but worked for a long time as journalist in India (covering a lot of military/colonial action). Ambivalent position: on the one hand, romanticizing the “great game” of English imperialism/espionage against colonial competitors like Russia (and against the rebellious/incompetent native too), but on the other hand also an awareness of the follies, errors, blindness of the colonizers. Like Stevenson and Conan-Doyle, a writer of children’s/adventure books, and also fairy tales. Interests in jungle/animals – as natural setting in India, but also as metaphor for fin de siecle concerns with race, evolution, competition, survival, empire etc.
Supernatural elements crop up fairly frequently in K’s stories, and are used to create unease/ambivalence about the colonial project.
a. Supernatural as “empire striking back”: an area where Indian life is superior/stronger than the etiolated religion of Victorian England; “gods and devils of Asia” dominant at least in Asia. Fleete, as representative of the English, is hasty/dismissive (note name) and superior, and gets a come-uppance from the native curse which (in various possible interpretations) reduces him to the beast he really is beneath the veneer of civilization; brings madness which confounds his weak rationality; represents the power of “India” over the white man, etc.
b. Note some basic similarities (but also differences) with Dracula: mysterious Easterner (Leper) with inexplicable powers, including sexually-ambiguous role (hugging Fleete, head on breast, being tortured), and images of bestiality/devolution. Easterner catalyzes breakdown/threat in Western society, forcing a closing of ranks and a crusade to apprehend/punish him and remove the curse he brings. Both stories are gothic romances of contact with the mysterious East and the ultimate triumph of the West; both also express unease about the rot already within the West, which is not resolved at the end of the pseudo-romance. K seems more alert to, clearly foregrounds, this Western unease (in depicting Fleete as a drunken idiot, Strickland’s and narrator’s distaste at what they do to the leper, the wry and self-deprecating narrator etc); whereas S seems less conscious, or more campy, or both, about the unease his story expresses.
c. Madness: encounter with the East such a profound challenge to Western assumptions, that the threat of madness always emerges: narrator and Strickland at one point mumbling at cross purposes “He can’t take away the life!”…”It may be a cat. It must be a cat” (p. 314). Strickland says he is fit for “permanent quarters in a lunatic asylum” p. 316. Strickland goes into “an amazing fit of hysterics” at the end.
d. Note persistence of imperial logic, duplicity of narrative: if Fleete is reduced to bestial nature, it is the silver man who thus reduces him – bestiality projected upon the native (Hanuman, “mewing of an otter”). Torture is uncivilized, but justified by the excesses of the native (who threatens Fleete’s very life) – a symbolic expression of the colonial ideology that colonial barbarism is necessitated/provoked by the natives? Narrative complicity: not only gaps/silences (“This part is not to be printed” p. 316; “we never told him what we had done” p. 317)) which diminish even as they acknowledge European barbarism; but also an irresolute ending which, if anything, places the burden of meaning onto an enigmatic, irrational, sub- (or supra-)human East.
Seminar 8 Material - Hound of the Baskervilles
Arthur Conan Doyle: b. Edinburgh 1859, trained as a doctor, but gave up practice after stories became popular in the 1890s; Holmes supposedly inspired by one of his professors (Dr Joseph Bell of Edinburgh University) and the scientific method of inquiry he used. First published stories in 1887 (Study in Scarlet), writing while keeping a modest medical practice. Hound pub. 1901 (but set in 1889).
A great adventurer, sportsman and traveller, he served (as doctor) in the Boer war, and got involved in famous legal cases defending people who had been wrongly imprisoned. Was also a preacher and missionary, and occasionally played detective when called to do so by adoring fans. His mother’s pride in the family, which apparently could be traced back 5 centuries, instilled in him a fascination with chivalry, honour, valour etc (see John Hodgson, Sherlock Holmes: The Major Stories, p. 5). Hence proliferation of historical romances involving hero striving to behave with honour and courage (H as in some ways an anachronism – Victorian nostalgic version of chivalric knight).
Deduction: from latin "ducere" (= "leading” from one thing to another). Suggestion of logical connection, but also safe, reliable, secure transmission. Deduction thus a fiction of security which addresses several late Victorian anxieties.
Deduction, like the figure of the (late-Victorian, quasi-scientific, heroic) detective, can be seen as attempts to displace deeper/older human concerns (guilt, problems of the self, affective/familial/sexual dysfunctions, civilization and its discontents) onto public, hard-and-fast distinctions: the binaries of “criminal” vs. “law-abiding citizen,” “right” vs. “wrong.”
The problem is that even as detective fiction dramatizes the hope for such a clear-cut distinction, its very topic involves a scrutiny of modernity’s fundamental processes, which ultimately leads to a more unsettling, gothic insight: the arbitrariness and problematic nature of social distinctions like “right” and “wrong,” the return of a deep-seated, almost universal human nature (dark, deceptive, individualistic, treacherous).
It might be said that if the ostensible hero of the Holmes stories is Holmes, the underlying protagonist is modern capitalist society itself, as inherently breeding greed, crime and deception.
1. Holmes/detective as symbol of urban, capitalist age:
a. Detective fiction and fascination with crime/law arises in latter part of 19th C – only with the 1829 Metropolitan Police Act, did a formal, uniformed, organized municipal police force become established (by Robert Peel – hence their early nickname, “Peelers”). Before that, law was enforced locally, sporadically, in disorganized fashion, by “thief takers” and local constables.
H is fantasy of Victorian control, order, taxonomy: the almost supernatural ability to sort out “good” from “bad” in a complex, confusing age.
b. Holmes uncanny figure in this novel in many respects: doubling with Stapleton
(scientific method, intellectual prowess, name "Sherlock Holmes" in London, assuming
Stapleton's image of butterfly hunter - "a pin, a cork, and a card, and we add him to
the Baker Street collection").
But also wilful identification - Stapleton a "foeman worthy of our steel" (image of
duel, fencing as upper?class, social pastime).
Strength, will, intellect suggesting the super villain: in "Speckled Band," H's strength
mirrors the villain' s; often comments on his potential effectiveness as a villain
Disguise, deception, "coldness" - H's effectiveness often depends upon qualities of the
other - esp. in betraying W (note his "bitterness"), secrecy, disguise and deception.
But these are also the qualities of Stapleton and other criminals.
His "poisonous" habits also suggests the inner depths which are hidden by a thin
veneer of civilisation. (In “The Missing Three-Quarter,” mention of W weaning H from “that drug mania” of cocaine; also mention of opium; and “the fiend was not dead, but sleeping” Return of Sherlock Holmes p. 248)
c. Holmes, as figure of progressive Victorian society, also figures its dangerous deceptiveness, the difficulty of making sure judgements, the inevitability of disguises and social mimicry.
Civilised society, governed by complex codes, relies on mimicry and group
conformity/imitation. (Sir Henry: "You see, if I am to be squire down there I must
dress the part, and it may be that I have got a little careless in my ways out West" chpt
4). But mimicry also raises questions of the loss of the authentic self, the imperative
for repression and concealment, hypocrisy)
2. Holmes as "superman" (Nietzsche's "ubermensch" = literally
"overman") - beyond societal good and evil, with no frame of reference
for behaviour except self-reference; he creates a new order through his
"will-to-power" ("will-zum-macht"). The overman himself becomes the touchstone
for a weak, hollow society: he embodies society's ideal features so well,
especially its professed strengths, that he brings them to the limit or
extreme point, the edge. Friedrich Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil pub.
1886, same year as Jekyll and
“Every superior human being will instinctively aspire after a secret citadel where he is set free from the crowd, the many, the majority, where, as its exception, he may forget the rule ‘man’ – except in the one case in which, as a man of knowledge in the great and exceptional sense, he will be impelled by an even stronger instinct to make straight for this rule” (B. Good/Evil p. 39).
Hence also the isolationist, unconventional, liminal, excessive nature of the Nietzschean superman.
Cp. Conrad's Kurtz in Heart of Darkness: "...a being to whom I could not appeal in the name of anything high or low. I had...to invoke him - himself - his own exalted and incredible degradation. There was nothing either above or below him, and I knew it. He had kicked himself loose of the earth....he had kicked the very earth to pieces." (Penguin, 107) Other figures - in Kipling, Rider Hagard, H.G. Wells' Dr Moreau; but also Yeats and Ezra Pound, the Nazi party.
Holmes is above society because he is above the law, since he is the law - the incompetence of most of the other lawmen in these stories (esp. Lestrade in HB; Watson), the incompetence of the law itself (Frankland uses it as petty revenge, hobby). Also, he is the most scientific and rational figure in a world threatened with irrationality and chaos. The transcendent quality of superman emphasised by his contrast to a society in disarray/decay - breakdown of marriage and the stable family structure (Selden, Stapleton and Beryl, Laura Lyons, the Baskervilles), the market (Sir Charles' fortune, the hound), greed, urban crowding and anonymity, fragmented community.
H has no ties with society, barely even with W. His behaviour is characterised by what seems like caprice and unaccountability in the eyes of society deceiving W and others, his "poisonous" habits, disguise and secrecy, spying and surveillance, cruelty/violence. (H figures all the traits which have come up for criticism in the fascist state - secret police, disinformation, etc)
Another way to put it is to say that for the superman, obsessed with his own vision of order and utterly self-reliant, the ends justifies the means. (One of the more shocking episodes - death of Selden)
From narrative/novel's point of view, superman is the end of "character" as such - end of sympathy, of doubt/uncertainty, of internal conflict, hamartia, etc.
3. Detective as Scientist; “Scientific” society.
a. Deduction as "scientific use of the imagination," "speculation" – the unconscious “other” of the reliable/rational aspect of deduction, as H and other people keep suggesting, is something vague and uncertain (hunch, instinct, blind speculation).
b. Science and "atavism" - the anthropological idea that civilised society (paradoxically) does not get rid of its opposite (the uncivilised, the barbaric), but rather relies and continues to depend on it - an opposition which defines the civilised self, but also a problematic distinction which is undermined by suggestions of scapegoating, doubling, irony, dual identity, appearances/disguise.
c. The Criminal as Throwback; the Throwback as Overdetermined Symbol
HB links criminality with devolution ? the criminal is by definition an aberation, not just a social violator but a freak of nature, out of step with social progress. Thus Selden: "terrible animal face," like a "crafty and savage animal who has heard the steps of the hunters" (Second Report) Thus Stapleton: "an interesting instance of a throwback" (Fixing the Nets) resembling Hugo B in appearance, rapacious greed and violence (murders, steals, ravishes women). Thus also the Hound, which seems to be a throwback to the legend of 1742.
Victorian society' s deep anxiety about atavism, devolution, regression, hinted at elsewhere: Mortimer's publications include "Some Freaks of Atavism" and "Do we Progress?". Watson, looking at the Devonshire Moors, is "conscious everywhere of the homes and the work of the prehistoric people," in this "most God-forsaken corner of the world" rather than nature, beauty etc (chpt 8)
An abiding ACD concern ? see e.g. The Lost World, with its "God-forsaken" plateau, dinosaurs, savage men. Also a fin de siecle concern: many of H. Rider Haggard' s novels (King Solomon 's Mines; Alan Quartermain; She) involve discovery of lost tribe, char. by superstition, savagery.
d. "Throwback" as societal/narratorial construct: fin de siecle anxiety about the freakish throwback is often articulated by a biased, flawed narrator (Watson, H, Mortimer, all men of science). HB ironicises these comments, in various ways: W's view of Selden: subverted by Mrs Barrymore's narrative, which humanises the "animal" and ties him to strong social bonds. Selden in fact is shown as truly helpless, too civilised to survive on the Moors without human aid, and finally flees the Hound in terror. The irony of W saying Selden is a "public danger...You only want to get a glimpse of his face to see that. Look at Mr. Stapleton's house, for example, with no one but himself to defend it. There's no safety for anyone until he is under lock and key." (chp 10). The ambiguity of last "he" - Stapleton by far the more dangerous criminal, but his face doesn't show it. Superficiality and flaws of social judgement. - irony of prehistoric huts: it is Holmes, the most scientific and progressive of chars. in the novel, who is ultimately assoc. with the huts - the "spirit of that terrible place," he fits in perfectly - irony of Hound: not infernal, but societal product; society (London; Hound comes from dealer in Fulham Road, London, Ross and Mangles, cross-bred) responsible for Hound's savagery, not nature's "freak"
e. Overdetermination of Throwback
Stapleton vs. Selden - both are atavistic figures, and yet both are seen as opposites by society. Stapleton - scientist, recognised by British Museum, respectable man accepted by proper society; Selden the throwback as outcast, freak. But also Holmes, Hound, aristocracy (the blood line of the Baskervilles); the superstitious fears of Sir Charles, Watson, Lestrade (when they see the Hound)
Indicates unreliability/instability of society's, and narrative's, construction of the throwback - like Hyde, cannot be identified, pinned down, with any reliability. The failure of society's/science's taxonomy, in this most crucial category.
f. Since throwback assoc. with criminality, the shift in focus from throwback as entity to society's arbitrary creation of that category, also holds true of criminality. Fin de siecle problem of criminality is that it refuses to sit comfortably as a category of social otherness, but keeps recurring as a problem of the social self - Selden's story is an upper working class story ("dragged our name in the dirt," "gave him his own way in everything," "broke my mother's heart", Mrs Barrymore a housekeeper in aristocratic manor), the origin of evil in society ("met wicked companions"). Stapleton's story is the story of unaccountable evil within the upper classes: he is legitimate heir (only further down the line), same bloodline/class.
4. Do we regress? Social progress = social decay
a. Urban gothic? Not as obvious as in JH. Devonshire moors not an urban space assoc. with the prehistoric, sublime, undeveloped, supernatural and threatening. The antithesis of civilisation: Sir Henry "It's enough to scare any man. I'll have a row of electric lamps up here inside of six months, and you won't know it again, with a thousand candle-power Swan and Edison right here in front of the hall door" (chpt 6). Moor assoc. with the supernatural hound, with 1742, with prehistoric man, the atavistic Selden, etc. But important to note that it is civilised men who make these associations: Sir Henry, and esp. Watson. Civilisation's narrative construction of the moors can be read ironically: as civilisation's attempt to emphasise the atavistic quality of the moors, so as to favourably contrast London, and civilisation.
Many ironies: the man living in the prehistoric huts is society's superman, Holmes; Selden, described as an animal, cannot survive there Stapleton, the really dangerous criminal (responsible for Selden's death), is accepted into proper society
The sublime qualities of the moor (hound, crime, treachery and evil) are all London phenomena: London more dangerous than Devonshire: W says of the mystery man in the huts, "He might slip away from us in the crowd of Regent Street, but it would puzzle him to do so upon the lonely moor" (chp 11). Stapleton eludes Holmes in London, but cannot do so in Devonshire. Selden, the "Notting Hill Murderer," and the "wicked companions" who corrupt him
Urban gothic - the natural space (of the moors) and objective description/narration recedes, replaced by urban/social anxieties and complaints. What stands out is not the natural space of the moors, but the social space and its problems - social power and its inheritance/transmission, corrupting social influences, mimicry (the inevitability and possibility of disguise and deception), the breakdown of the middle class family (not working?class family problems of drunkenness, poverty, but mc problems of alienated relations, social acceptance and social influence).
b. Social relations and doubling Apart from obvious doubles (H and Stapleton, Selden and Stapleton, etc), social relations in this novel are also doubled - each seemingly positive, civilised social quality has its dark and threatening double. Thus communal feeling (acceptance, affirmation, mimicry of manners) is doubled by bad influence (initiation into vice, corruption, peer pressure). On the one hand, the ready acceptance of Sir Henry and Stapleton into proper society; on the other hand, the corrupting social influence of Stapleton on Laura (in the name of "charity,") and Selden's friends on Selden ("companionship"). The importance and inevitability of socialisation, but also its threatening unreliability (because it is based on conformity to supefficial signs) and moral neutrality.
Family Ties - on the one hand, connote shared values/history/origins (Sir Charles and Sir Henry - inheritance of social goals and values together with title and wealth); but on the other hand, also connote shared/transmitted problems (moral, structural, psychological) - e.g. Laura's willfulness a copy of, or reaction to, Frankland's? Beryl's unwilling complicity in husband's affairs partly due to society's assumption of wife's subservience? But even Sir Henry - "His dark brows knitted and his face flushed to a dusky red as he spoke. It was evident that the fiery temper of the Baskervilles was not extinct in this their last representative," chp 4).
c. The market - capitalist progress, civilization, wealth; but also gothic anonymity, randomness, uncertainty.
HB reflects anxieties of the instability and unpredictability of wealth: "He might…obtain the fortune without ever coming to England at all," chp 15; Sir Charles' fortune made in the speculative and morally-dubious field of S. African gold mines.
Or market as, at best, morally-neutral, with no guarantees: hence the need for Sir Henry to declare "House, land, and dollars must go together" (chp 5). But can also serve evil purposes, if in wrong hands (Hugo; Rodger).
Seminar 9 Material - Hound of the Baskervilles
1. Proper society and property
a. Aristocracy – entirely appropriate and unsurprising that the ruined castle/manor house is one of the central scenes/symbols of the gothic (seen in Dracula, Hound, “Olalla,” Zofloya; possible in Frankenstein and JH too, although their protagonists are more like rich republican and upper MC heir, than landed aristocracy per se). Gothic, as narrative of an age of rapid socio-economic change, is concerned both with the rise of new money (seen as irresponsible, protean, anonymous, seductive) as well as the decline of old money (seen as inbred, outdated, tyrannical, mad). First glimpse of B. Hall an image of inbred/outdated aristocracy? “a cuplike depression…stunted oaks and firs…twisted and bent by the fury of years of storm”; “a maze of fantastic tracery…a ruin of black granite and bared ribs of rafters” (chpt 6)
HB depicts the last gasp of landed gentry in an age of capitalism: a crumbling manor which can only be saved by speculative, dubious wealth (Sir Charles’ S. Africa gold – cp. that other influx of foreign gold, Dracula’s), and only by changing it beyond recognition (Sir Henry’s “electric lamps…and you won’t know it again” chpt 6); a small, inward-looking group of country gentry (Baskerville, Frankland whose “affairs” are also “considerably involved” [chpt 10], Stapleton, Mortimer) isolated by the desolation of the moors.
b. Countryside - complex symbol: on the one hand, an ironic contrast to the city, feared by citydwellers like Watson; but it turns out that the city (and modern society) is more to be feared, as the source of familial/social decay (the story of Selden, peer influence, urban anonymity and crime, Stapleton’s elusiveness, the hound).
On the other hand, country is the symbol/site of its own national unease: the outdated and dangerous privilege of the landed class, unresponsive and cut off from the currents of contemporary society. (Hence, symbolism of prehistoric remains, feudal tyranny [Sir Hugo], aristocratic “incest” [Rodger Baskerville and his “sister,” the competition between Rodger and Sir Henry for the same girl, Rodger’s “close intimacy” with Laura Lyons while he uses her as sexual bait for his uncle Sir Charles], the implosion of the family [Frankland and daughter, the Baskervilles, bachelorhood and the dying out of the line], the eccentricity of the gentry (Frankland’s pointless lawsuits, Stapleton’s butterfly collecting and S/M tactics], all suggest inbreeding and decay).
Part of the imperial ideology is the question of how the domestic space/society is going to unite and adapt to challenges of imperialism and competition; the atavism, unreliable eccentricities and decay of the gentry is both an anxiety about a national weakness in an epoch of competition, as well as an implicit utopianism (E. Said), a desire for a new chivalry embodied by H himself (and of the type of Doyle, Baden-Powell, Lord John in Lost World, etc).
2. Crime and Punishment: Gothic as anti-“Detective” (or
a. Ideology of detective narratives and criminology: the science of crime, seen in the novel in the quasi-scientific project of deduction, the “science” of cranial types and relationship to crime, etc. Detective narrative, in one sense, is a fantasy of social order, and of the possibility of regulating that order.
In this sense, the criminal is a composite, scapegoat figure, bearing the burden of capitalist society’s anxieties about property, socio-economic change, and the unequal distribution of wealth. The narrative pattern - crime, detection, struggle between detective and criminal, triumph of the detective, ritual punishment of criminal – intended to exorcise not only overt crime, but all other related anxieties, in order to allow capitalist society to perpetuate itself.
Thus part of the narrative pattern is the investment of aberrant qualities in the criminal: an overloading of vicious traits, to justify his punishment and removal. Selden’s reputation as the “Notting Hill Murderer,” “fiendish man…wild beast,” a “heart full of malignancy” (chpt 6), helps justify his narrative end, with his “terrible scream,” “mangled body,” “crushed skull” (chpt 12). Stapleton’s end – no clean death and burial, but to lie forever in the “obscene depths” of the “slimy” and “miasmatic” mire – is justified by depicting him not only as a cunning and cruel kin-killer, but also a panderer and a “brute” who lowers himself to the ultimate bestiality of beating a woman.
b. The gothic detective story, as opposed to the detective story-as-ideology (criminology), has a double aspect, with a deeper narrative level undermining the overt narrative of criminal scapegoating.
i. Doubling of criminal and detective (discussed last seminar) reflects underlying awareness that both are produced by, and agents within, the same capitalist structure;
ii. Sub-narratives that work against main detective narrative:
- humanization of the bestial criminal (in Mrs Barrymore’s transformation of Selden into a curly-headed boy, the invocation of social influence);
- narratives of need, lack, dependency, call attention to social condition of unequal distribution, social shaming of poverty (not just in the main story of Henry vs. Rodger, the accident of inheritance, which may or may not mitigate Rodger’s horrible crimes; but also in the luck (“wheel” image) of Sir Charles’ dubious fortunes; the shame of Laura Lyon’s poverty and dependence on father, Sir Charles and Stapleton; the Barrymores’ fragile position as servants whose family secret is “forced from them” with the threat of dismissal and “disgrace” (i.e. blackballing, so perpetual unemployment – and then a life of crime? Chpt 9); or even the London sub-economy of bribes and secret tips (the cabby John Clayton, the various boys, sometimes called the “Baker Street irregulars,” whose sole purpose seems to be to wait to earn money by irregular and sometimes dangerous jobs).
iii. The disappearance of the body: on the one hand, simply a device to enhance mystery (and suggest the merest possibility of a resurrection, in the tradition of H’s own resurrection in Return of SH). But on the other hand, could also be a postmodern device (note that Umberto Eco’s postmodern detective novel, The Name of the Rose, also has a villain who disappears, in a fire) to suggest a number of things:
- epistemological failure (detection may expose crime, but is not reliable in apprehending all things);
- the problematic figure of the criminal (elusive, not only because he is adept at disguise and deception, but also because in a way there is not so much a single criminal figure, as there is an endemic social condition of crime – i.e. the criminal symbolizes everyone’s complicity in social problems. Stapleton is related to the Baskervilles, mirrors H’s skills/actions, is a “throwback” like Selden, a scientist like H/Mortimer/Watson – being “all things to all men” (St. Paul), he is like a social composite.
- the decorporealised body is like capitalism itself (or possibly the social unconscious, which surfaces at crisis/cathexis points, put is submerged in the unconscious again when rationality returns to seek to grasp it). Insubstantial body is like modern wealth itself, with its appearance of substantiality, but which can disappear unexpectedly (speculation, lawsuits, taxation, legacy/entailment, cheating).
Gothic interweaving of several sub-narratives makes for a more complex, divided detective story, which ultimately disables the ideological detective narrative and its exorcising of the scapegoat. But this also reflects, and stems from, late 19th C society’s own fundamental unease about wealth and its distribution: e.g. Dicken’s Oliver Twist (or other Dickens novels) and its depiction of orphanhood, abandonment, social disregard. Gothic simply refuses to come up with the easier narrative closures that other forms of narrative choose.
3. Supernatural – what happens to the supernatural/sublime
in an age of deduction and reason? Hound turns out to be a human/materialistic
ploy, using phosphorous coating on a huge (probably guard) dog. Contrast
the “suspension of disbelief” (Coleridge) required to accept F’s monster,
Jekyll’s formula, the bottle imp, demonic Zofloya, etc. Gothic supernaturalism
changes in the face of intense pressure from rationalist society on the
eve of modernism.
We might say, however, that supernatural is displaced from its overt symbol (hound, legend), onto other, unexpected areas (from hound to its maker, the enigmatic and sociopathological horror of the murderer; the quasi-supernatural nature, desire/motivation/methods of the detective; social horror of murder, especially kin-killing, the mystery of human development/motivation, etc).
Hound signals the approaching 'end' of the gothic? In this novel, a sense (not of fundamental subversion of dominant social values/narratives, but) of a frank, hard perspective tinged with unease - resembles modernist vision? (No longer a sense of the gothic/chaotic lower world as an aberration or accident - Jekyll's formula, Frankenstein's 'failed' project, but the "norm/prevailing order as gothic"). The strange hybrid of gothic horror and detective quest for order, gothic anxieties and recognition (?) of social disease.
Therefore, Hound a transition, marking the point where gothic sub-literature begins to become dominant modernist culture? i.e. the end of the "strict" definition of the gothic ("subversion" of some dominant sense of stability/reality), but of course a continuation of "looser" definition (gothic tropes and concerns. terror, uncanny, sublime, supernatural).
If JH's characteristic tropes are the "cancer" within, the repressed self, the blurring of distinctions and evanescence of boundaries; HB's (to some degree similar) are the paradoxes of the "representative/typical 'other,"' the " mimicking aristocrat," the “advanced/scientific throwback," the "atavistic detective," etc. I.e. social types who are recognizable, move openly in society, yet surreally gothic at the same time (whereas Hyde has to conceal himself from society’s/readers’ eyes).
Again, this condition of the “open secret,” “visible rot,” is best seen in H the super-detective: Both JH and Hound raise the dominant fin de siecle theme of the "superman," simultaneously a representative of society and also 'beyond' society's good and evil. Holmes especially (but also Stapleton) is the "successful professional as gothic" - not a freak, not a corrupt version or accident, but gothic precisely where he is representative and successful. (And thus a figure for much later capitalist figures of paradoxical unease: the powerful leader of society who is also/simultaneously the embodiment of its greatest structural evils? The crooked cop; the rogue stockbroker; the Machiavellian president).
Seminar 10 Material - Uncle Silas
EN 4223 Seminar 10 – Uncle Silas
Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu (1814-1873) descended from Huguenot immigrants who married into an Anglo-Irish family. The son of an Anglican clergyman, Le Fanu worked as a journalist and always showed an interest in writing. Early pieces sentimentalized the condition of Ireland under English control, until in 1848 he was inadvertently involved at the fringes of an insurrection movement of left-leaning members of the “Protestant Ascendancy” (i.e. the land-owning, Protestant, ostensibly Tory and England-sympathetic upper classes). Later sought to compensate for this by gaining an orthodox Tory nomination for parliament, but unsuccessful. Turned to magazine publishing and writing for a living. Uncle Silas published 1864.
The “Anglo-Irish” condition which applied to so many writers (including gothic ones like Stoker, Wilde, and in a much earlier period Maria Edgeworth etc): very much a liminal position, of claiming some of the rights of the patriarchal centre (England), and thus of being alienated from the local environment (racially Celtic, linguistically Irish Gaelic, religiously Catholic, economically landowning, culturally…etc); but on the other hand not quite fitting into the patriarchal centre either, by reasons of distance, political differences (varieties of loyalism to some form of autonomy, Toryism to radicalism, etc).
Manifested itself in mise-en-scene which was both recogniseably gothic and yet also recogniseably Anglo-Irish: the decaying estate (Bartram Haugh), abstract droits de seigneur without accompanying real power/wealth, ostracism from one’s “peers,” aristocratic degeneration, the figure of the “bumpkin”/”hoyden” peer (especially in the succeeding generations – so, Dudley and Millie as egs), the perceived threat from the petty bourgeois class (Byerly? But also Madame?).
Wife increasingly afflicted with neurotic symptoms, some of which (dreams/visions of dead relatives etc) seems to have fed into his gothic fiction. Also raises the gothic trope of uneasy marital relations, the feeling of being trapped in/by marriage etc.
1. US: Gothic and Victorian Realism
Le F, like Dickens and Collins, at the “fringes” of Victorian realism: on the one hand unabashedly “popular” writers who use sensational elements (crime, suspense, scandal, supernatural, sexual impropriety, and narrative elements of caricature, delayed disclosure, the grotesque, etc.); but on the other hand, with much less overtly gothic elements than many of the other texts in the early and fin de siecle gothic (no real supernatural elements or creatures, only mysteries that are mistaken for the supernatural), and with many themes that overlap with those of Victorian realism (marriage woes, child and development, wealth and class, financial woes, moral codes etc).
Writers like Le F thus show us the way in which many of the so-called “realist” Victorian concerns were susceptible to gothic interrogation – we might see this novel (like many of Collins’s and Dickens’s crime/mystery novels) as showing us the inherently gothic nature of Victorian bourgeois society, the really fluid and uncertain basis of the Victorian social order.
Thus useful for its juxtaposition of the tropes which are often polarized into “gothic” and “social realist” sides, but actually might be seen as doubles of each other – the same issue viewed with different narrative lenses: so, “ghosts”/hauntings with social marginality/disreputability; the androgynous figure (Madame) with the jeune fille (Maud); the grandly aloof aristocratic manor (Knowl) and the decaying estate (Bartram-Haugh); marriage-as-fortune (Maud and Ilbury) and marriage-as-ruin (Silas and wife, Dudley and wife, etc); religion as moral guide (Byerly? Maud?) and religion as hypocricy/show (Silas, Dr Clay); gambling as a metaphor for marriage/fortune/primogeniture; “good” and “bad sheep” (Austin and Silas) as doubles of each other, not opposites; etc.
2. Victorian US
US, like many of the mid-Victorian novels, concerned with fundamental social issue of marriage (a short-form for a whole series of social issues including gender relations, the role and status of women, women and property, the family and domestic relations, sexuality and desire, the ethics of marital relations, even children and property, primogeniture etc). The late 1850s a period of significant changes affecting women (in various ways): before about 1850 it was virtually impossible for women to acquire higher education; the founding of Bedford College in 1849 by social reformer Elizabeth Jesser Reid was a milestone. In 1869 Sophia Jex Blake gain admission to medical classes at Edinburgh University. In 1871, first women students’ residence in Cambridge; in 1873, first girls’ public day school. 1879 – Royal Holloway College (for women until 1965) founded. Even secondary education predominantly for boys, with girls educated at home or else in a largely social rather than educational curriculum; in 1850 the North London Collegiate School opened, the first school providing girls with an educational curriculum.
Wives were considered to be completely under the control of their husbands, and the wife’s property (except anything – usually estates – that might be “entailed” for a male heir down the family line) belonged to her husband. In 1857 the “Matrimonial Causes Act” establishes divorces court for the first time; but while men could divorce wives for adultery, women could not. Not until the 1882 Married Women’s Property Act that wives had separate ownership of property of all kinds.
Many late 18th and 19th C novels (from Austen to the Brontes, Woman in White to Middlemarch) not surprisingly focused on marriage as the climactic moment in a woman’s life; on the uncertainties of the single/pre-marital woman’s lot; on the fate of a woman in an unhappy marriage, and the domestic conditions of such a situation. The typology/narratology of such a novel might be: young girl (usually middle-class, with a certain degree of wealth/expectations) lacking any other social opportunities and formation starts forming socially-conditioned ideas of marriage, and makes a bad match (or is unable to form the right match); she then endures a kind of “hell” (abused and exploited by tyrannical husband, or by society and the “harpies” who torment unmarried women); is tempted to some drastic measure (unfaithfulness, disobedience, even symbolic violence/betrayal of husband, or suicide, depression/madness) which would compromise individual and social moral codes; but is finally rescued (usually by a match with the “right” man). In the process, the novel is able to indulge readerly sentimentalizing about the condition and sufferings of women, the social question of gender relations, while nevertheless preserving some kind of acceptable moral ending (which involves some degree of perpetuation of status quo). In terms of character types, the girl is usually idealistic/firm-minded (Dorothea in Middlemarch, Lucy Snowe in Villette), she encounters several oppressive, angry and hypocritical men (except for her father, who is often effete, indulgent, absent), and is hounded by a variety of negative women models (harpies who bully her out of jealousy, hussies who represent the evils of willful sexuality, nun-like figures who represent the stultifying consequences of repressing all desire). The final “mr right” is often a sensitive and safe choice (conservative in appearance and values, somewhat “colourless” when compared to some of the other men, even somewhat feminised in terms of social power, but unthreatening and unexploitative).
3. Gothic Domesticity
The Victorian typology already shows the gothic possibilities inherent in social realism (but which realist novels downplay and refuse to highlight). By changing the mise en scene, certain aspects of the character typology (and chiefly, by reducing the complexity of “realist” characterization to the more simplifying caricature-style), sense of place/geography, ending etc, the Victorian novel of domesticity/marriage is transformed into its evil twin of the gothic adventure undertaken by the innocent young girl:
a. Maud Ruthyn: caricature of the middle class girl to a girl of immense wealth, disproportionate to her abilities to defend/control. Also, reduction of elements of will, ability, forcefulness (partly by making her a minor - “a little more than seventeen,” 1), to make her seem all the more at the mercy of every external force/influence/event. She becomes nothing more than a prize, the passive and acquiescent possessor of a fortune; in effect, she IS the fortune (so that when Oakley and Dudley are “prize-fighting” over her, it’s more true than Oakley thinks). Woman-as-fortune becomes alienable and transferable (to whomever can lay claim to her in the eyes of the law – by real or sham marriage, or even by a male relative quietly killing her off). Cp. also Madame, who (Monica speculates) seeks to steal Austin’s will for profit: “Why, you would have given her ever so much money to get it back again” (p. 114). US brings together the Victorian stereotype of women’s fickleness (“varium et mutabile semper,” Middlemarch) with the increasingly alienable nature of property (again, since this is landed property, largely through Victorian prejudices which made the husband lord over the wife’s property).
b. Austin Ruthyn: gothic combination of power (wealth) and
helplessness (illness, early demise), tyranny (over Maud) and weakness
(in the pride of the family name, his blind insistence on redeeming Silas
even at the cost of Maud’s life). Austin, although a relatively small
character in terms of the novel’s coverage, is of course significant in
terms of patriarchal authority and the legal/social power that sets the
novel’s events in motion – might be seen as a version, in minor key, of
the gothic figure of the split self: Maud calls him an “oddity” (1), “clever”
and with “ambition,” yet strangely failing where “inferior” men succeed,
alternating between a very public persona (parliament, county life) and
withdrawal. (And, like other gothic tyrannical fathers, he marries
late, and his wife dies young).
Relationship between Austin and Maud is firstly characterized by a kind of autocratic authority: e.g. start of chpt 2, when he “looked at [Maud] steadfastly for some time, as was his wont, before speaking” (i.e. fixing her with his gaze, putting her in the passive and motionless position); and her response is “In cases of this kind I merely set down my book or work, as it might be, and adjusted myself to listen without speaking” (7). Habitual silencing and passivity thus create her as a perpetual watcher but usually unable to speak (to father, Silas, Madame, working class characters), especially with authority and to change the circumstances around her (the 2 most decisive moments in her life, getting Madame fired from Knowl and running out of the murder scene at Bartram Haugh, involve her typical activity of hiding and watching; even Austin doesn’t credit her accusations against Madame, until he checks the papers in his drawer – “he looked at me this time in silence, with a puzzled air; but he did unlock the desk, and lifted the papers curiously and suspiciously” (p. 95).
Secondly, Maud (whose name ironically means “strength in war” or “strong in battle”) is made the sacrificial lamb for the family (i.e. the father’s – as paterfamilias) pride. Echoes of Christ-like obedience and submissiveness, to right a wrong that was no fault of hers.
Thirdly, Austin’s authority affects Maud’s sexuality: not only in the autocratic manner which largely created her submissive and bland persona, but also in imposing his own habits of isolation on Maud, and then sending her to be interred with Silas and Dudley – in effect, he submits her to the sexual indignities of men insulting her (Dudley at Church Scarsdale, Oakley), men propositioning her with marriage (Dudley, and his proxy Silas) – in a gothic sense, then, Austin is initially and indirectly the source of sexual threat to his own daughter (symbolic incest, already figured in his isolated existence with her). By the same token, he is the initial cause of her near-murder.
Thus Austin is a gothic caricature of the Victorian patriarch, whose socially-endorsed authority turns into a nightmarish tyranny that has ramifications of incest, entombment, silencing, murder. A mock-god who unknowingly sends his innocent daughter to (nearly) die for the sins of his brother’s family, and for the family pride.
c. Silas: the Victorian stereotype of the dashing irresponsible younger son (reinforced by laws of primogeniture which ensured that the eldest son held the entire estate and title), given gothic treatment. Victorian realist fiction tended to relegate sons of nobility who made bad marriages to the margins of the text (i.e. they function as a kind of warning, reaffirming the Victorian social code, but remain undeveloped as individuals); US instead shows us the monstrous developments/consequences in the life of one such person.
i. Silas as personification of social evils: i.e. like Hyde,
a figure inextricably bound to aristocratic society with all its problems.
His wild younger behaviour, Monica admits, is “a kind of thing not at all
so uncommon as you fancy” (p. 147), and some of it is actually doubled
in other characters (Dudley most obviously is a carbon copy of him; but
also Madame’s ethically-dubious actions on the fringe of proper society
is a kind of female counterpart to Silas’s lifelong manoueverings; Oakley’s
gold-digging pursuit of Maud is not much different from Silas’s/Dudley’s;
even Monica is an aristocratic figure with traits of unconventionality
[bluntness, masculine boldness in confronting Silas], who like Silas is
dependent upon the fragile titles to estates (“you forget that Austin placed
you under promise, when he gave you the use of this house and place, never
to disturb my title to Elverston,” p. 239)
Silas is thus the embodiment of the worst aspects of aristocratic society: its uselessness for any public/professional purpose (except politics, which is treacherous, even for Austin); its reliance on a form of wealth and lifestyle which concentrates enormous resources in the hands of the few (the eldest son, a 17-year-old girl) while making others in the family (Monica, Silas and their families) dependent on his good will; the essential hypocrisy which tolerates high-spirited behaviour in young aristocratic men, provided they don’t get “caught” in a bad marriage; its inbred, closeted world which relies so much on the company and endorsement of one’s peers, and which can ruin one with gossip and ostracism. If Silas shows the consequences of such a society taken to unlikely extremes (even then, murder is the absolute last option for him; and his other devices, of deceit, manipulation, compromising trusts etc, don’t seem that far off from the rest of his society), he is nevertheless in many ways its representative (thus the fact that the novel is named after him is revealing?)
ii. Silas and Austin: like Jekyll and Hyde, these are on
the one hand opposites, on the other hand deeply intertwined and doubled.
The differences between Austin’s social position and Silas’ shame, might
be read as a commentary on the difference that property makes (cp. Hound
of the Baskervilles, the difference between a Henry Baskerville and a Stapleton?).
On the other hand, they are brothers, and also share certain traits: aristocratic
pride in the family name, the willingness to do whatever it takes (even
to bend rules of ethics and morality) to preserve or redeem that name,
they both “sacrifice” Maud, they are both hopelessly indulgent of and blind
to the faults of the young men in their family, they are both “religious”
(at least in form), both withdrawn and contemptuous of society/other people,
both thrive on mystery and keeping their plans to themselves, both are
autocratic and repressive (especially towards their daughters).
The Silas-Austin doubling shows the extreme poles to which aristocratic behaviour can incline; despite the contrary social perception of the two, their doubling and similarities again acts as an interrogation of society (aristocratic class, identity, influence).
iii. Silas, silence and androgyny: while Austin is explicitly
masculinised (associated with wealth, social influence, the public sphere
of politics before he withdraws from it, is “of a proud and defiant spirit,”
is habitually in the act of speaking/commanding and silencing others like
his daughter), Silas is to a certain extent feminised: his seeming weakness,
being confined to his room/sofa (private/domestic sphere of womanhood),
his addiction to opium (which recalls Madame’s addiction to alcohol), his
sensitivity to others’ opinions about him, his cloistered existence (which
recalls Maud’s). Although the novel is named for him, he is silent
for the first half of it, referred to and talked about, but unable to appear/speak
Silas is thus one of the disturbing gothic androgynous figures (cp. Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, etc?) that, by frustrating easy (gender) categorization, also call into question other social distinctions and categories. Silence makes him difficult to read (is he “more sinned against than sinning”? or just a weak villain? What makes a monster like Silas – especially given his aristocratic origins?), which also questions reading, meaning-making in a society like this, which so easily assigns meanings and labels to people (“bumpkin,” “hoyden,” “villain,” “lord,” male and female, etc).
d. Female figures: US, like other Victorian gothic texts,
complicates the Victorian ideal of the silent and compliant woman.
Maud fits that ideal, but in such an exaggerated way that a caricature
is suggested; also, the fact that she is Austin’s heir – that this helpless
and withdrawn young girl should command the same wealth and power that
makes Austin so formidable and important to the action of the novel – is
disturbing, particularly since this means that the power is just waiting
to be appropriated by whoever marries her (and her choice of men is far
from being either wide or well-governed – e.g. her interest in Oakley).
Millie’s relationship with Maud’s is, like the Austin-Silas relationship, another reminder of the horrors of social conditioning. Millie is something of a monstrous figure – comes across as an entirely different species to Maud and Monica, Maud commenting on the “outlandishness of her talk” and “indescribable grotesqueness in the fashion of her garments” (186), and Monica not even understanding her without Maud’s “translation”: “In the name of wonder, what does my cousin mean?” (238). Millie evokes echoes of gypsies and barmaids: in her “saucy and imperious” beauty and “odd swaggering walk,” (185), her close scrutiny of Maud’s clothes and jewelry, her wild and unchecked behaviour.
Declasse (lower-class) girls like Beauty, Sarah Matilda, even the gipsy girl, are a constant threat of what Maud could descend to if left unchecked. Thus the fragility of class – that that which is considered by society to be the repository of power, privilege and correct behaviour, should be so dependent on external circumstances, so susceptible to external influence.
And just as the déclassé girls are the threat of what possibly awaits Millie, so is Millie the threat of what possibly awaits Maud (if she marries wrongly, or continues in the influence of Silas and his household).
Even Monica, who is in many ways the heroine of the piece (she embodies the admirable and necessarily bold qualities which Maud generally lacks) is a controversial figure: masculinised in that she is a widow and thus not under any male authority, and takes on the male role of speaking out/confronting (both Silas and Austin), arguing/debating etc. She also is something of a matchmaker figure, which although generally benevolent (she warns Maud about Oakley’s gold-digging motives) is nevertheless a version of what Silas does to Maud. (It is largely due to Monica that Maud is introduced to both Oakley and Ilbury in the first place; and it seems quite accidental that Maud finally marries what appears to be the better man, and not the worse one).
Behind this (threatened) loss of class and the figure of the monstrously wild woman is the aristocratic fear/blame of woman as the despoiler of blood – the barmaid-wife and her lowering influence and hereditary legacy on her aristocratic husband’s children. (Monica’s assessment of Maud when they meet – “yes – certainly – something of her poor mother – not a bit like you, Austin,” p. 39, is both a reassurance of Maud’s beauty and feminine dissimilarity to her father, as well as a shadowy threat of the woman’s potential to weaken the aristocratic line. Like in Frankenstein, there is a fear of procreation and of the woman’s role in it, as somehow threatening or monstrous.
Women, because of their social powerlessness, their potential to make even landed property become so tenuous and alienable, their lack of any real social function except procreation and domestic influence, but also their total dependence (on men, other women, social codes, gossip, etc), are revealed to be truly gothic creatures – mysterious, variable, threatening, even as they seem so compliant and weak.
e. The foreign/foreigner: all the more significant that
“foreign” elements enter so conspicuously in this rather enclosed rural
aristocratic society. Seen in the Swedenborgian religion; perhaps
in the figure of Bryerly (he is closely associated with the strange foreign
religion of Swedenborgianism, Dr Clay calls him an “odd-looking person”
p. 132, Monica says “I don’t think he’s Scotch, but he is very cautious,”
and Maud in her naivete has an even more fanciful view of him: “If Doctor
Bryerly had been an evil spirit, evoked by a secret incantation, there
could not have been more complete darkness as to the immediate process
of his approach” p. 114). Madame is French, and France also gets
evoked in other ways (Millie is sent there,
Silas’ ruse involves tricking Maud that she’ll be sent there, Silas speaks French quite fluently but so does Monica, who also receives a letter from a friend in France who’s spotted Madame, etc). The gypsies also add an exotic tone, unsettling not only ideas of English class distinctions, but also suggesting dishonesty/treachery, preying in superstitious fears, racial otherness, etc. Silas’s own appearance is compared to a “finely painted Dutch portrait,” with a “sprinkling of French flowers” in his speeches, with long white hair and dressed in black velvet, addiction to the opium associated in the minds of the Victorians with the Chinese (p. 189, 191). Early in Silas’s disgrace, the government “offered him something in the colonies” (p. 57) to get rid of him.
Dudley has a “corresponding vulgarity pervading his dress, his demeanour, and his very walk” (p. 252), and his murder weapon resembles a tomahawk used by the American natives (possibly by way of the French/London criminal gangs).
Charke, the murdered man, “looked like a Jew…He had a horrid brown coat with a velvet cape, curling black hair over his collar…and he was puffing a cigar straight up into the air” (p. 152).
Several possible readings of this concatenation of foreigners/foreignness:
i. reflects English (especially upper-class) prejudices about foreignness as corrupting and degrading: thus Silas’s French flowers, Madame, the gypsies etc are all confirmations of foreign taint of English uprightness. Thus, an opposition between a certain pure-minded, noble, independent-spirited English landed aristocracy, and the morally-dubious scheming associated with foreigners.
ii. Problem with that reading is that there are also good aspects of foreignness, or foreign traits embodied by the positive characters: e.g. the contrast between the foreign-like Dr Bryerly and the thoroughly English (but effectively useless and deluded) Rector (who thinks so highly of Silas). Also, the greatest villains are not the foreigners (the gypsies turn out to be a red herring, and Madame is more pathetic joke and ultimately a victim than threatening villain), but some of the English themselves (Silas, Dudley, Pegtop, even Oakley).
Thus we might speak of foreignness, more as a sense of the perceived threat of the larger “outside” (in an age of modernization and global contact) that is posed to the old and narrow world of the English aristocracy. I.e. a society in a process of awkward transition, coming to terms with the loss of its ancient privileges and superiorities, having to deal with a rapidly changing world, but often ill-equipped to do so. Thus the problems with foreignness come more from bad decisions and desperation (e.g. Silas’s need to associate with people like Charke, Madame) than with foreignness per se. In this sense, social change within England (the threat posed by the breaking down of class boundaries, the association of aristocratic youths with lower-class gamblers and sportsmen, intermarriage, the increasing role of MC expertise in the form of Bryerly and Silas’s lawyer, etc) is as much a factor as foreign intrusions – all signs of a world in change/transition, and a core English aristocratic class that is ill-equipped to deal with it.
Thus foreignness, initially a red herring to suggest the evils of the “outside” threatening the purity of the English aristocratic class, in a typical gothic inversion turns out to be a mirror to the aristocracy’s own inbred, outdated and increasingly impotent identity/position.
Seminar 11 Material - Uncles Silas, "Carmilla"
EN 4223 Seminar 11 – Uncle Silas, “Carmilla”
1. Religion in US:
a. Religion and society: Difficult to ignore religion in this novel, from the mention of Dr Bryerly and Swedenborgianism early in the novel, Austin’s melancholy reflections on death and passage, Silas’s ostentatious Christianity, the social position of clergymen (the “little pink curate” Rev. Biddlepen [p. 262], Dr Clay the Rector, Rev William Fairfield his curate), references to diabolical figures (Pegtop is called “Zamiel,” the demonic huntsman from folklore; and Madame is often described as in a “Walpurgis” dance, referring to the folklore of Walpurgis night (eve of 1 May) when witches gather to worship the devil). Also, the many narrative allusions to the Bible or related elements: to Hagar in Genesis 21 (p. 14), Oakley’s carnal/sinful nature cp. 1 John 5: 16 (p. 41), Elijah being fed by the ravens in 1 Kings 17 (p. 106), Jacob’s ladder in Genesis 28 (p. 124), many others.
US, as possibly the most social realist of the novels on this course, shows us most clearly the “Christian” face of Victorian society – the ways in which knowledge of the Bible might be expected in everyday conversation, the presence of church/churchmen to be expected in everyday life. Yet this, like Anglo-Irish privilege, turns out to be a decaying life, more show than substance:
i. Orthodoxy and heterodoxy: Mid-Victorian period the period of enclesiastical controversies, with factions and debates within even the main established church. Alluded to in the scene with the Curate: “The Rev. William Fairfield, while fighting against the Dissenters with his right hand, was, with his left, hotly engaged with the Tractarians” (p. 106/7). Tractarians: the “Oxford Movement” of conservative Anglican priests (the most famous probably John Henry Newman, who later became a Catholic Cardinal) started in 1833.
Fissure in Established Church, with “enemies” waiting in the wings (dissenters, Catholics, “enthusiasts” and “cults”), resembles the splits within the conservative Anglo-Irish “house,” which had internal conflicts between radicals and conservatives, even as it was threatened by the larger problem of Irish republicanism and popular movements outside it.
ii. Thus, the sense of a crisis of identity: US might at this level be read as a novel about the lack of security of labels/positions like “Christian” or even “priest,” “churchman” etc. Hence the irony of Fairfield’s comment about Silas, that “in all essentials he is Church” (p. 106); or Dr Clay’s comment that Silas is “a true Christian gentleman,” and “a most happy, happy choice” (p. 136). In the end, the so-called cultist Bryerly is a better and more trustworthy man than the aristocratic and “Church” Silas. Breakdown and lack of security and know-ability in religious-social terms, as in so many other aspects of society. If “gentleman” is put under pressure in an age of socio-economic change, then “Christian” (which is so closely associated with class, as one of the key signs of propriety and acceptability) also comes under pressure.
b. Religious symbolism: underlying the social concern with
the state of religion, there is also a level of religious symbolism written
into the novel. Concerned with fundamental existential questions:
life, death, goodness, evil, salvation, condemnation, temptation, sin,
happiness, despair. Although these are predictably written within
a basically Christian perspective, in a sense these deeper questions undercut
the kind of surface/superficial Christianity of Victorian social manners.
i. Brevity of life: the early death of Maud’s mother, the shadow of death hanging over Austin from the start of the novel, Silas’s sickly and enervated appearance (which foreshadows his death at the end of the novel), even Madame’s false/hypochondriac illnesses, not to mention murders (Charke and Madame), injuries (Oakley, Beauty), all act as a kind of memento mori, which might be seen in Biblical terms (1 Peter 1: 24a: “For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass”), but also in more broadly humanist terms, e.g. ending of Oedipus Rex (“none can be called happy until he brings his happiness down to the grave with him). The “vanity of human wishes” (Johnson): Austin’s posthumous plans to restore family name, his trust in his brother, Silas’s desperation to restore fortunes and establish his son/name. A bleak, even morbid novel?
ii. Morality tale? Along the lines of medieval morality plays, with good angel vs bad angel? Goethe’s Faust, Marlowe’s Dr Faustus, later versions of this. Maud is the good angel battling Silas’s worse self (the evil within) for his soul. Victory of good passivity/honesty over evil schemes/activity. This helps explain Maud’s 2-dimensional character, as she can then be read as the embodiment of certain virtues, rather than as a complex realist character. (Problem with this reading is that, as passive as Maud is, she is not simply likeable/good, but also has foibles like vanity, bad judgement etc).
Advantage of reading some morality-tale elements in the novel, is that it helps us read other characters, who are caricatured embodiments of vices and virtues, their function to instruct reader rather than have real-like life. (The characters also echo/double characteristics in Silas himself, or rather embody the struggle within him, although it is the vicious characters who predominate). Madame is drunkenness/addiction/appetite, but to a certain extent also deceitfulness; Milly is impetuousness, or folly; Monica is gossip/the tongue; Dudley is anger, etc.
iii. Sacrifice and atonement: the father sending his only daughter (why not son? What difference does this make to the novel? Is it more gothic?) to a sinful place, to redeem that place through her agon/struggle. The ending is ironic, in that Biblical context: Maud doesn’t die (although she is intended to – but her death would condemn Silas, not redeem him), but Silas does instead (as well as Madame; and also a kind of death for Dudley). But she does redeem Milly (and, to lesser extents, Rev Biddlepen, Beauty and Brice, Monica who is rid of Silas’s torments).
Or is Silas the sacrificial figure? Despite his obvious flaws (killing Charke, planning to have Maud killed, addictions, selfish hedonism), there is a broader sense in which he is sacrificed to larger forces outside his control. (The fact that he is the eponymous character, so that he somehow seems central and more important than his actual physical appearance in the novel, and that Maud’s first image of him is the portrait as a “pretty little boy, with rich golden hair” [p. 54], perhaps reinforces his strange Christ-like quality). In a sense, his early fall is due to social forces: primogeniture which ensures that he has nothing, and has to be dependent on Austin’s patronage: “You know how very rich your father is; but Silas was the younger brother, and had little more than a thousand a year” (p. 56). His problems accelerate out of debt and desperation, partly because Austin “never forgave him for his marriage” (p. 56) until ironically the Charke episode – which might not have come about if Austin had had a more supportive relationship with Silas – pricks Austin to reconcile with Silas. The “black sheep” of the family – facing ostracization, comparative poverty, shame – as the price that the noble family pays to preserve its “good name”? Silas then replicates much of that ideology with his own children: as Maud says, “sometimes it seemed to me that he was ready to lay down his soul for them” (p. 256), which in effect he does, albeit misguidedly, by sacrificing himself (in his plot to murder Maud) so that his own family’s fortunes would improve.
2. Narrative, knowledge, society (in relation to social
The bildungsroman and the (pseudo-) child narrator: common in Victorian literature, where the figure of the child’s growth becomes a way of interrogating, although often also validating, Victorian society’s values. The child initially suffers (from patriarchal oppression, bad social values, abuse permitted by society etc), before finally coming to terms with a revised version of those values (eg in Great Expectations, Jane Eyre), so that both the individual and others in society become “sadder and wiser” and signal the hope for a redemption of society.
US shows signs of the same pattern: child narrator heightens mystery and danger because it lacks the full knowledge of an omniscient narrator. E.g. the second paragraph of the novel: “A girl, of a little more than seventeen…I was that girl” (p. 1). Same effect as the opening of Great Expectations, the narrative sweep coming back to the narrator herself, only it is not clear that the narrator is speaking of herself, until a little later. Maud’s narrative insists on denying the knowledge of hindsight, even though there are signs in a few places that the narrative is written from hindsight: e.g. p. 245, “with a signature, very adoring – very like Byron, I then fancied, and now, I must confess, rather vapid.” Or p. 283, the last 2 paragraphs starting from “I did not know her history. I have never learnt it since.” So there is a deliberate denial of hindsight, so that the narrative seems to come from the young Maud even as things are happening to her – her ignorance about Austin’s “visitor” and his “journey,” as much as Silas’s plot against her, are in some sense deliberate concealments. This heightens her initial impression as a victim of society: of her father’s (and then Silas’) autocratic power over her, of the lack of authority/privilege of women in general (Milly, Beauty, even Monica all helpless to save her), general social condition of misjudgment and ignorance (Austin’s and Clay’s misjudgment of Silas, etc).
Maud’s rescue and marriage may thus suggest the “happy ever after” condition which promises hope for Victorian society, as the aberrant ones like Silas and Dudley are weeded out, the good people like Monica and Ilbury come to the fore, and society may have learnt its lesson. But (like the equally unsettling Vilette) the ending does not comfortably fit into this “happy ever after” pattern. Maud’s “sorrows” (loss of children) add a note of disquiet to the ending, continuing the novel’s general sense of a world in decline – the Anglo-Irish quality of the novel. Maud’s turn to Swedenborgianism is at least an implicit criticism of mainstream society and its reliance on the Established Church. Her final spiritual idealism – “this world is a parable…the phantoms of spiritual things immortal shown in material shape” – suggests a withdrawal from the real world, an inability to come to terms with it, rather than its redemption.
Maud’s final position more a retreat than victory: a picture of a girl still lonely (except for her child; her husband is only mentioned off-stage), still sorrowing and mourning for things out of her control, longing for a spiritual and eternal consolation to the sorrows of this life. If she is more content now, it is largely because she is defined as the wife of a good man: “I am Lady Ilbury…” (p. 424), which is another version of the passivity of Maud as a young girl. In a sense, she replicates the conditions of her childhood, the loneliness and isolation of her father and uncle. If the novel can be read as an account of social haunting – the voices, presences, sorrows and regrets which society has the power to impose on individuals, and which bring a loneliness and helplessness which never really go away – then Maud at the end is still haunted by nameless sorrows and constraints, which suggest (in atmosphere more than concrete details) the continuing social condition.
3. Landscape – as in all gothic literature, landscape seems
to assume heightened significance and symbolism.
a. Chiefly the isolated/crumbling/rambling manor house: Bartram-Haugh is typical gothic mansion, gothic in its architectural spirit of a “highly decorated style…rich and florid in carving” (p. 182) even if not strictly built in era of gothic revival. Like the manor house in “Olalla,” or even Jekyll’s slowly-degentrifying house, it is a symbol of former greatness in decline – the basic gothic gloom which suggests a world passing into darkness.
B-H’s gothic gloom caused not only by poverty (hence the boarding up of most of the house, which prevents exploration and knowledge, and allows Silas to spring the surprise on Maud of bringing her back to B-H unawares; hence also the selling of the wood by which Silas profits); but also by the sense of the weight of family history:
“…a pair of tall fluted piers, of white stone, all grass-grown and ivy-bound, with great cornices, surmounted with shields and supporters, the Ruthyn bearings washed by the rains of Derbyshire for many a generation of Ruthyns, almost smooth by this time, and looking bleached and phantasmal, like sentinels…” (p. 182)
This weight can be said (without being too fanciful) to be both a haunting (spiritual/psychical) and a literal weight: in spiritual terms, it is the great family pride that makes it impossible for some individuals to live up to it; if it even interferes with the paterfamilias’ life (at the beginning of the novel, Austin’s lineage is described as “being of a proud and defiant spirit, and thinking themselves higher in station and purer of blood than two thirds of the nobilility into whose ranks, it was said, they had been invited to enter,” p. 1). This is largely behind Austin’s (and thus Maud’s) isolation, as almost any public endeavour (politics, colonial office, county life) will appear a painful descent. It is also the force behind Austin’s quarrel with Silas on the latter’s marriage to a Welsh barmaid, which also leads to Silas’s tragic life and Maud’s suffering.
In physical-economic terms, family wealth and nobility act as a burden in very practical ways: the portraits which always focus one’s attention on obscure dead people rather than the living; the constant need for a fortune to upkeep the manor house in appropriate condition; the weight of wealth/breeding and the distancing effect this has on one’s dealings with other people; the sheer size and lonely feel of the house (Maud and Austin hardly ever see each other, her care is entrusted to servants including Madame, who can count on oppressing Maud without her father being likely to see it; also Madame’s nocturnal spying, even Austin’s death before the household can come to his aid); the “rootedness” and involvement of the family in a particular place (i.e. the manor becomes a kind of prison, preventing one from uprooting and finding freedom elsewhere).
b. Inside-Outside: This is a novel overwhelmingly set in the “inside” of the estate, not always (although for a large part) in the manor house itself, but always in the (symbolic, spiritual, socio-economic) shadow of the manor house: i.e. with a constant reminder of the status, power, responsibilities and anxieties of the manor house. Maud’s isolation is reinforced because she can hardly ever leave, and her companions are by and large also in the shadow of the manor house (this makes it believable that her mad uncle could trap and plan to kill her, without her being able to escape or get word out). There is very little travel, symbolized by the fake journey Madame takes Maud on near the end, which comes full circle back to B-H – this is even with the tragedy of disgrace and bankruptcy hanging over the family. Otherwise, Maud makes one journey from Knowle to B-H, and one brief excursion to Elverston, both of which places are part of the Ruthyn family territory. There are also 1 or 2 episodes where the “outside” threatens to invade the estate grounds: in the encounters with Dudley and his gang at Knowl, the encounters with Beauty and Pegtop, Tom Brice, Oakley at B-H.
“Outside,” despite being seen so briefly and rarely, is depicted as strange, threatening, partly because it is seen from Maud’s young and cloistered eyes. But partly this also suggests a deliberately cloistered, isolationist view, emphasizing class, racial and social anxieties. Forays “outside” always result in close encounters of the strange kind: with witchy Frenchwomen (first glimpsed outside the window at Knowl), louts and hooligans (at Church Scarsdale), Gypsies (on the journey to B-H), demon-like woodsmen (on the grounds of B-H), gaming pugilists, etc. When individuals wander far enough from their class domain, they come to tragedy – eg. Silas’s marriage to the Welsh barmaid. Further afield – France, Australia – is the domain of even stranger things, the collecting ground of derelicts, refugees from justice, etc.
The exaggerated conservatism in this novel seen (among other things) in the landscape. On the one hand, it serves to emphasise the unreasoning prejudices of the Ruthyns, their sense of superiority and of being beset by a threatening and crass world; also the isolation and xenophobia of Maud. In case we’re tempted merely to detach ourselves from and criticize this prejudice, however, the novel also unsettles the reader’s position by allowing no practical alternative view of the “outside” – apart from Milly, Monica, Ilbury and Beauty, all of whom by the end of the novel can hardly be said to be outsiders anymore, there are no reasonably attractive or even sound characters. Unable merely to criticize and dismiss class prejudice in the novel, the reader is unconsciously drawn into the “Anglo-Irish” atmosphere of paranoia, seclusion, wariness, and the conviction of a world outside that is declining into a kind of “darkness.”
4. “Carmilla” – serialized (4 installments) 1871-1872
Obvious similarities with the “Anglo-Irish” setting of US: young girl Laura (“at the date of my story, only nineteen”) who narrates, in partial/deliberate “ignorance” of full events, isolated setting, mother died much earlier, racial separation (English father, Swiss and French gouvernantes, all living in the Austrio-Hungarian borderland), lonely existence only inadequately made up for by servants. Carmilla’s preying on her own family is like Silas preying on his niece Maud: figure for aristocratic inbreeding, the implosion of aristocratic economy (land, heavily burdened with rituals etc, primo geniture) in an age of increasing financial power.
Some similarities with romantic gothic poetry: the strange enigmatic beautiful lady visitor in Coleridge’s “Christabel,” who comes in without a history, entrances her hosts, and has suggestions of a lesbian relationship with the young lady companion (“blushing softly, gazing in my face with languid and burning eyes, and breathing so fast that her dress rose and fell with the tumultuous respiration. It was like the ardour of a lover…”; Carmilla tells narrator “I have been in love with no one, and never shall…unless it should be with you”). The enigmatic “warning of the dead mother.” Also, the similarly beautiful, enchanting and sensuous female creature in Keat’s “Lamia.”
Also some suggestions that this was part of Stoker’s inspiration in Dracula (both writers were Anglo-Irish, too, of course): the discourse on madness and the close relationship between vampirism and madness; the strange young-old, innocent-experienced nature of the vampire, the setting (East of Europe, borders of civilization, liminal state). The association of vampire with sexuality, especially illegitimate sexual desire (precociousness, lesbianism). The vampire as image of bestial devolution (Carmilla as cat, Dracula as dog). The purchasing of a gypsy charm (this time by Carmilla, and from a hunchback mountebank rather than a gypsy per se). The aristocratic vampire who has contempt for its lower-class prey, who sees the lower orders as in some sense her natural prey/victims (i.e. vampire as figure of embattled aristocrat, the last of a lost order, who in Stoker’s fin de siecle novel also takes on some qualities of the new ubermensch).
Note differences between Carmilla and Dracula, which (despite Anglo-Irish similarities) speak of the different social anxieties, in different eras, in which they function. Dracula is a story of overwhelmingly nationalist and racist anxieties in an age of late/intense imperial rivalry. Carmilla is less interested in national/racial anxieties, although they emerge slightly; its main concern, more like US, is the burden of history/family/aristocracy – the Karnstein curse which hangs over even hybrid Laura and her English father. The “haunting” quality of aristocratic family/memory. As in other stories which use this, like Hound, US, and Olalla, haunting aristocratic memory/past is a gothic interrogation of modernity, by suggesting the irrational burden (of aristocracy, class, power, memory, genetics) which is in conflict with modernity, but which modernity cannot fully explain.
Seminar 12 Material - She, Conclusion
EN4223 Seminar 12: She, Conclusion
1. H. Rider Haggard (1856-1925) trained as a lawyer, spent a number of years in Africa, before returning to England and writing novels as he tried to get his legal practice going. Became an immensely popular writer with his third novel King Solomon’s Mines (1885). She, his fifth novel, published 1887.
Genre of popular action/adventure novel, meant to appeal to the public’s taste for travel (in an age of expanding empire, and consciousness about expansion), adventure/bravery/trials (Doyle’s Major Gerard stories, The Lost World etc; Chesterton’s Major Brown adventure stories; Stevenson’s adventure stories like New Arabian Nights etc), the commercialization of the exotic (fantastic accounts of other countries/landscapes/people, disguised as new “knowledge”).
At one level, exotic adventure stories reinforced colonialism by glorifying violence and aggression as adventure and manliness, desire (for gain/territory/women) as exoticism, expansion as exploration, etc. On the other hand, consciously or unconsciously the exotic adventure story also plays out many anxieties about colonialism and nationalism, making those narratives vulnerable in the process.
So colonial gothic might be described as the gothic romance of desire: the doubleness of desire (gratification on the one hand, impossibility of fulfillment and fear/repulsion on the other hand) in the very process of narrating it. Thus at individual level, the white man’s doubled desire (attraction to foreign woman/territory vs fear/horror at the same time); while at the national level, society’s doubled desire (the need for colonial expansion, with the costs/fear of empire as well).
2. Ayesha: like Dracula, or Olalla, the exotic other as
doubled in aspect. A figure/projection of European desire/sexuality,
these symbols also paradoxically embody elements of fear and repulsion.
Thus on the one hand, Ayesha represents legitimation of desire: not simply a brown woman who tempts with guilty gratuitous miscegenation, she is an “other” who is more learned, more powerful, more faithful, and thus in a sense more moral, than the European man. Her exaggerated intellectual power (learning, mind-‘blasting’ powers) a validation of the new woman, as being not merely a vessel for male sexual gratification, but possessing her own will/power/desire. The elaborate story of eternal life and reincarnation is a romance/fantasy of timeless true love, but Ayesha’s untiring faithfulness also validates sexual desire (as having some metaphysical foundation/level). The “ideal woman” – queenly (flattering reference to Queen Victoria), learned, metaphysical, these “deeper” qualities validate the physical lust and titillation she represents/embodies.
On the other hand, this seemingly flattering portrait of a new, ideal woman is undercut by other overdetermined elements: Ayesha is mythologically akin to other alluring magical women who enslave men: Eve, Circe (in The Odyssey), Keat’s Lamia etc. Fantasy of male subjection is also an absolution of male responsibility: ie. transgression takes place (miscegenation, lustful indulgence, disobedience of moral codes) because the man “cannot help himself” in the face of the sorceress’s inexplicable power. (This can be read, in colonial allegorical terms, as a justification of male desire as somehow inevitable).
Also possible to read her allegorically: obvious religious suggestiveness (divine, angelic; Old World god, jealous and quick to punish, demanding worship); but also a kind of philosophical symbolism: “truth” itself; the female principle of regeneration/permanence; nature.
In religious terms, She is like Dracula, suggesting a kind of new spiritualism that slots into a society that has lost the conviction of Christianity. Borrowing elements of Christianity, the novel also incorporates elements of a humanistic philosophy, pantheism: the notion of some earthly, natural force (located deep in the earth, not issuing from a heavenly deity) which perfects human abilities (so that Ayesha not only lives indefinitely, but is enhanced mentally, and perhaps also morally, as well). Apart from Ayesha, there is clearly a desire/fantasy associated with this possibility of human perfection in other characters: Leo and Holly are also tempted, and the Amahagger worship Ayesha. A much more attractive depiction of human perfectibility than in some other fictional works (Swift’s immortals in Gulliver’s Travels; Dr Faustus; even Dracula and Lucy). At this level, novel can be read as an attempt to revive interest/belief in spirituality – as an attempt to create a “popular” form of belief.
But novel also offers the alternative kind of reading, that new/alternative forms of spirituality are misguided and doomed. Ayesha, despite attractiveness in various aspects, is also deeply flawed: almost childish in her vanity, jealousy and pettiness (cp. Dracula’s man-child brain – the notion that eternal life somehow weakens rather than strengthens, perhaps because it removes the essential human trait of struggle/competition/change?).
Gender: although making the immortal figure a woman enhances the elements of attractiveness/desire, while also suggesting the allegorical qualities of the generative principle, mother earth, life itself etc; the fact that Ayesha is still made subject to man is part of the traditionally chauvinistic picture. Woman as needy, dependent, domestic (Ayesha is literally bound to the cave for eternity, until the man comes home to liberate her). Ayesha’s beauty, so central to the novel’s theme and plot, is punished and reversed (in a figure of native/other devolution familiar from Dracula, “Mark of the Beast” etc – the flip side of animal-like, natural power/vitality, is bestial ugliness and diminution.
Ayesha’s weaknesses allow another possible reading: the “sin” and error of playing god (compare Frankenstein), in trying to elevate oneself to god-likeness; the figure of Eve, Dr Faustus, the serpent (Ayesha wears a serpent belt). All such attempts to arrogate oneself to the position of god will ultimately be punished by a larger spiritual force, unseen and unknown but not therefore impotent. In this reading, there are echoes of the Christian (especially Old Testament) God: especially the “awful cloud or pillar of fire” (chp 25), which echoes the way God leads the children of Israel out of Egypt as a “pillar of cloud….and pillar of fire” (Exodus 13: 21). Ayesha dies after she dips into the holy fire twice, which fits into Old Testament warnings against taken the awesome and holy power of God lightly; it may even echo God’s punishment of the children of Israel after the second time that God brings forth water out of the rock: “And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them” (Numbers 20: 12). Ayesha embodies the same principle, of greed, mistrust, self-sufficiency, self-interest, and thus not respecting the power that anoints her. Leo and Holly likewise do not get to inhabit the land, like the children of Israel.
Ayesha also invokes
In this way, the novel might be read as Christian allegory: a story of judgement and punishment, for impurity and impiety; an Eden-like story of temptation, a failure of morality/character (Ayesha for pride and weakness, Leo and Holly for disloyalty and lust), and the punishment which comes as a result of human failings.
This punishment is also a national judgement: just as the nation of Israel was initially disbarred from entering the land promised to them, so likewise the novel is at least an implicit judgement of all the empires/nations over the years: Kor, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and implicitly England too.
‘Their Messiah came,’ I answered with reverence; ‘but He came poor and lowly, and they would have none of Him….but yet His words and His works live on, for He was the Son of God, and now of a truth He doth rule half the world, but not with an Empire of the World’ (chp XIII)
This Christian possibility is not, however, followed up/confirmed in the novel’s conclusion, which focuses instead on reincarnation, love, and the existential mystery of the individual within the perspective of the past and the future. (i.e. Christian moral is one possible reading, but lacks any conviction or hold on any of the characters in the novel, and by extension on the reader as well).
Novel thus functions, not as a moral or cautionary tale, but as an agnostic romance: the adventure which comes from breaking out of existing/conventional life (the world of English society, Cambridge, scholarly knowledge), but without the security of any new knowledge or values. Gothic romance, in which the figure of Ayesha represents the fascination with new beliefs, transgressive desires/wants, but without any coherence into a belief-system or morality.
3. History, Geography and Empire: encoded within the adventure/travel
story is an implicit allegory of empire, in which ideological meaning is
emboeid in the the space-time (what, following Foucault and Bakhtin, we
could call the “chronotope”) of the novel.
a. Time: fascination with antiquity, passage of time, fantasy of eternality; a colonial anxiety, which on the one hand sees the ruins of past empires as a confirmation that the triumphal moment of the present empire (i.e. England) has arrived. But, of course, implicit in that triumph is the fear of its own imminent demise. This only semi-conscious realization is never fully acknowledged or resolved, and played out in constant, contrary oppositions of permanence and transcience: eternal Ayesha, finite and petty Ayesha; Leo as Kallikrates, Leo as merely Leo; Holly as antiquarian scholar, Holly as fleshly man bedazzled by Ayesha’s beauty.
b. Geography: on the one hand, a typical Haggard topology: caves, mountains, secret recesses, a land within a land (the ancient capital of Kor deep within the Amahagger domain, itself cut off from the rest of Africa by the impassable swamps). Colonial topology, of penetrating deep into the heart of some mystery, myth of discovery (where Ayesha and her secret of eternal life can also be an allegory of wisdom, the “secret of life”). However, this concentric landscape turns out to be ironic: the white men come out of this quest with nothing, indeed losing a great deal (Job, health, their certainties/sanity), the great secret turns out to be something beyond human understanding (even beyond Ayesha’s).
The colonial, concentric landscape thus turns out to be something of a red herring, beside the more significant landscape which is the infinite series: the longer journey from Egypt to Greece to Arabia to England, the possibility of repetition (either through reincarnation, or the retracing of one’s steps by one’s descendents).
Within this unending, restless trail, even the comparative landscape (England vs Africa) becomes insignificant. On the one hand, the journey confirms European prejudices about vicious cannibalistic natives men, promiscuous native women and treacherous landscapes; but on the other hand, the superiority of the white men to the Amahagger becomes meaningless within the longer story of the rise and fall of civilizations, the ultimately futile quest for the hidden meaning and truth of human existence.
4. Colonial gothic: doubling, not perhaps in the more familiar gothic pattern (Jekyll and Hyde, creator and creature/monster), but in the doubleness of European national consciousness itself: the constant duality between the impulses of desire (for gain, fame, authority) and repulsion (of the other race/place, woman); duality between imperial pride (England’s moment has come) versus imperial anxiety (its fall is figured in the fall of other empires); between moral certainty (of Christian kingdom/truth, European skepticism) and supernatural/spiritual newness/transgression.
5. Revision of key Gothic terms/tropes (a suggestive, but
not at all an exhaustive, list):
a. Cultural expression of subversion – of professed social values, dominant narrative forms/genres, etc. The (coded/coy) articulation of repressed/taboo/unconscious concerns.
b. Determined narrative openness/dialogicity: a mode of writing relying on constant heterogeneity of textual types/voices, contrary and contradictory reports, multiple viewpoints of the same event, etc. Foregrounds uncertainty and subjectivity in an age of rapid social change (and also democratization/Fascism), but also foregrounds unreliability of language in an age of mass readership/literacy.
c. Mimicry, doubling – at all levels, from hero-villain, to male-female, individual-society, narratives, etc. Reflects anxiety about the impossibility of hard distinctions in a condition of rapid change and blurring boundaries; but also the reality of mimesis, hypocrisy in social codes, in an age of increasing emphasis on a “public sphere” (Habermas).
d. Changing attitudes/conceptions of space: from exotic romantic space (which both departs from, and interrogates, the “safe” domestic space), to imperial space (which challenges simple distinctions such as centre/margin, colonizer/colonized), to the ultimate site of gothic unease and uncertainty: the modern, complex city.
e. Changing attitudes to and anxieties about sexuality: from the problems of heterosexual relations (including marriage and the family), to increasing sexual desire in women (changing social position of women), to increasing acknowledgement of the prevalence of sexual “perversions” like homosexuality, promiscuity, etc.
f. Heterogeneity, hybridity, mixing, Othering: most obviously at level of race (because of empire and its consequences), but also extended to other aspects of modernizing urban society – class mixing/dilution, the mixing of discourses/spheres (high literature and mass writing, private letters and public texts, domestic and public scenes), the foregrounding/popularization of strange “new” professions (the actress, the scientist, the detective).
g. Fascination with the past – the “repressed”/unconscious of a society obsessed with progress/growth. Emerges in a variety of ways: anxieties about atavism, regression, moral/spiritual stasis or stagnation, bestial behaviour and devolution, the rot/decay within (in corners, niches, dark alleys, secret rooms, parts of the manor/castle, slum areas) the city/empire.
h. Narrative, polyphony, uncertainty: one consistent strand, despite variations in narrative styles and structure over the development of the gothic in the 19th C, is the use of narrative to undermine notions of social unity/coherence/linearity/order. Gothic narrative remains essentially polyphonic, a rough mix of different (heterogeneous – point f above) discourses/texts, to foreground subjectivity, imagination, emotion, lack of consensus in modern society, and thus uncertainty.
i. Madness: no longer aberrant/sublime (Frankenstein), but endemic/typical (H, monomania), structural (caused by society’s pace, confusion, expectations – Freud’s point about “Civilisation and its discontents”). Gothic narratives, by stressing the insistent pluralities of imaginative/emotional perspectives, recall the madness lurking just below the veneer of civilized order.
The questions in this section are not all designed as assignment questions, to be answered within 4-6 pages etc, although some are. This is a looser and more inclusive list of questions, reflections, topics and issues, which is intended to give students a broader range of test-questions to expand their thinking and further reading for this course and related courses. It also doesn't include past exam questions, since these are available in the library.
1. "The Gothic tale is not so much an escape from reality, as a clarification of reality that seeks to return to a better, more orderly world." Discuss with reference to any 2 of the following: Coleridge, Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde.
2. An archetypal-style reading of the gothic tale would tend to see it as an exploration of complex notions of "the self." How feasible is this view? What notions of "the self" might the gothic tale fruitfully explore? Discuss with reference to 2 or more fo the following: Coleridge, Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, Hound of Baskervilles.
3. Write an essay on the gothic's questioning of sex and gender in any 2 of the following: Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, Hound of Baskervilles.
4. "Its aim is to foreground the very act of narrative itself, to question language in the name of destabilising our sense of "the real."" How might this statement be applicable to the gothic tale? Argue with reference to any 2 works studies on this course.
5. Write an essay on the gothic's questioning of sex and gender.
6. "The descent into the gothic 'hellish space' is a descent into the self, for the purposes of self-discovery, regeneration and re-birth." Discuss
7. "Reading the gothic tale is inevitably also to read the society of the time; this sociological dimension is inseparable from the aims and structure of the gothic." Discuss.
8. "Reading the gothic is NOT equivalent to reading the society of the time; what is involved are complex processes of symbolic overdetermination and displacement." Discuss - what might some of these textual processes of overdetermination and displacement be? Discuss with examples from the texts studied.
9. "Gothic narratives serve little purpose except to shock and confuse our sense of reality." Discuss with reference to 2 or more of the following: Coleridge, Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, Hound of Baskervilles.
10. "Its aim is to foreground the very act of narrative itself, to question language in the name of destabilising our sense of 'the real'". How might this statement be applicable to the gothic tale?
11. "The descent into the gothic 'hellish space' is a descent into the self, for the purposes of self-(re)discovery, and possibly regeneration and rebirth". Discuss.
12. "Reading the gothic tale is inevitably also to read the society of the time; this sociological dimension is inseparable fromt he aims and structures of the gothic." Discuss.
13. Write an essay on the narrative and thematic functions of "the double" and "doubling" in any 2 gothic texts you have studied.
14. "Gothic sexuality is not perversion, but subversion" - discuss, paying particular attention to the relationship between narrative and sexuality.
15. "The monster is society itself" - how does the gothic tale return the spectacle of monstrosity back onto society, and on which aspects in particular?
16. Compare and contrast the depictions and uses of "science"
in Frankenstein and JH.
Here are readings of all sorts that might be linked (in various ways, depending on your needs and purposes) to this course and to a project on "The Gothic" in general. In the process of going through these work, one might have to challenge and re-define continually the whole notion of gothic, but that's inherent to this field of study.
A. Gothic Novels
Late 18th and early 19th Century: Try novels by the following (famous novels which might be referred to on the course, but not necessarily examined, are mentioned in bold):
Ann Radcliffe (The Mysteries of Udolpho; The Italian; Romance of the Forrest); Clara Reeves; Charles Maturin (Melmoth the Wanderer); Horace Walpole (The Castle of Otranto); M. G. Lewis (The Monk); William Beckford (Vathek)
Towards the end of the romantic period, there also arose a kind of reaction against the gothic, and a sub-genre of mock (or satirical) gothic novels: see, for example, Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, and Thomas Love Peacock Nightmare Castle.
Poetry of the late 18th and early 19th C: the more "gothic", less "lyric" and "epic" writers would include William Blake (see any of the "visionary" poems, including "Visions of the Daughters of Albion," and his famously "dialectical" poems like "Marriage of Heaven and Hell." Note the gothic/sublime forms of Blake's poetry, as well as his drawings), Coleridge of course, Byron (he made the gothic, Satanic anti-hero uniquely his in this period: see the central figures in poems like "The Corsair," "Manfred," "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage"). Some of Shelley's less overtly revolutionary and political poems might be considered gothic, in parts - look at "Alastor" or "Prometheus Unbound," and make up your own minds on this. Also a bit iffy would be Southey in poems like "Roderick"
Poetry of the Victorian period: If Tennyson is to Wordsworth in their respective ages (Tennyson the public voice, poet laureate like Wordsworth), then perhaps the gothic corollary to Coleridge was Robert Browning - the emigre, who constantly viewed English society from the perspective of the outsider, the sojourner. His dramatic monologues, like Coleridge's Monodies and Odes, reflect a self on the point of madness, fragmentation - see, e.g. "Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister," "The Confessional," etc.
Despite the dominance of the Realist/Social novel, quite a lot of semi-gothic novels - with romance and supernatural elements, a certain subversive form/structure as well as thematics, questioning social institutions, etc.
Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights; Charlotte Bronte's Villette
The whole Anglo-Irish "gang": Joseph Sheridan le Fanu (practically all his works, including collection of short stories In a Glass Darkly), Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde (especially Picture of Dorian Gray)
Wilkie Collins' detective novels, with their dark vision of the (esp.) London seamy underworld, and the constant threat to Victorian ideals of order this poses (Woman in White; Moonstone, etc).
H. Rider Haggard (colonial adventure stories, but replete with supernatural encounters, and an implicit revision of the colonial project: see She, King Solomon's Mines, Allan Quartermain)
The famous ghost story writer M. R. James (Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, etc)
Henry James's Turn of the Screw
Stevenson wrote supernatural and uncanny tales like "Thrawn Janet," "The Bottle Imp," "The Body Snatchers," etc
TALKING POINT: SOME QUESTIONS FROM STUDENTS,
1. From Shirley Chua, 5/8/99
Dear Dr Goh,
Just a question of curiosity. In ur lectures for the past 3 weeks, u
mentioned abt Condensation & Overdetermination, bringing us to Freud's
subject of the unconscious. I think Freud's theory of the unconscious
concerns the system of rhetoric & the idea of overdetermination connects to
the interpretation of tropes in rhetoric. In view of all these, I was
wondering abt the role of rhetoric in gothic cos' many of us would not
question abt rhetoric in modernism. But does rhetoric has a place in gothic?
Ur views would be v. much appreciated. :)
Thanks for taking time.
Good question - gothic is, of course, a stylistically complex and rich mode of writing. But I'm not sure what you mean by "rhetoric," and WHOSE rhetorically system, too, do you have in mind?
Burke obviously borrowed from classical rhetoricians in talking about the "sublime" (Longinus, in particular, but a whole bunch of people in-between too, from Phillip Sydney to Adam Smith and David Hume). But something shifts, a little: whereas Longinus et al tended to emphasise sublime excellences in expression, the lofty and elevated style, etc, Burke (while also interested in that) emphasised the fragmented, the unstated, the large and threatening, etc. IN a sense, he updated the gothic from older notions of (the speaker's/writer's) virtue and character, to the properties of the text's thrilling or frightening features, and the effects on the reader/viewer.
This updating clearly points in the same direction (albeit in a much earlier period and articulation) as Freud's ideas of the unconscious mind's insertion (through techniques like condensation and displacement, metaphoricity, symbols, puns and jokes) of repressed content onto manifest (explicit, written etc) texts. Longinus wouldn't have had much scope for the unconscious, would he? He was too concerned with the kind of classical oratorical debate by great men/leaders, or the lofty sentiment of HOmer etc. Freud was interested, not in composed and assured rhetoric, but in the breakdown of that kind of rhetoric, and the creation of a much more schizoid, internally conflicted discourse, with all kinds of gaps and fragments where the tension between society and self, consciousness and the unconscious, could be staged.
Hope this helps - not the end of the story, there's much more to consider
on this topic, but perhaps the start of more thinking on this.
PAST LECTURE MATERIAL
Here's the stuff from previous/other "avatars" of the module - on authors, ideas, texts which are not on the present version of the course,
but which might be useful or interesting for further reading/projects etc.
Introductory Lectures (1 and 2)
EN 3202 LECTURE ONE – INTRODUCTION TO THE GOTHIC
1. “Specific” definition in literary history:
“Gothic” refers to a particular type of novel which arises in the latter part of the 18th Century – Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1765) is usually taken as the starting point – and which flourished in European literature at least until1820 (pub. of Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer). Characterised by many striking features, but perhaps most noticeably by
- heightened sensibility (pathos, terror, sublime, bordering on madness),
- intrusion of the supernatural and uncanny into the everyday,
- mystery and the unknown,
- a kind of narrative structure/style marked by multiple and/or embedded narratives, the ineffable, the imprecise, conflicting narrative “zones,” etc
- romance time and space: journey into exotic land, often taking place in vague, exoticised past.
- effects a destabilisation of received assumptions about societal structures and institutions, knowledge, self, etc.
2. Broad definition: Gothic a highly-persistent cultural phenomenon, and continues into Victorian and modern psychological novel, coloniality and post-coloniality, rock culture, internet groups, cults, fashion, film, etc.
3. The historical context of the rise of the Gothic:
i. Nationalism ? The 7 Years' War (1756?1763), American war of independence, Napoleonic war with France. Need to define a uniquely English cultural heritage, to an extent separate from common European classical heritage. Hence, anti?French sentiment in gothic novels (Ann Radcliffe, but also Charlotte Bronte). But imperialism at odds with notions of cultural commerce with other nations, humanitarian sentiment. One of the most heavily?contested sub?areas was slavery and the West Indian trade. But also travel: on the one hand, imposing claims of the self onto new uncharted space, but also on the other hand having the established self threatened and destabilised by contact with the new. (Ancient Mariner, Frankenstein, Villette)
ii. Industrial revolution, science, urbanisation, capitalism and
the market ? imperial age was also an age of profound economic change.
After Waterloo (1815), inventions (steam?powered wool?processing machines)
put to industrial use. Problems of overcrowding, crime, extreme social
mobility, poverty. One strand of gothic literature is urban literature
? stories of mystery, crime, deception, fostered by the anonymity and indifference
of urban experience (Jekyll and Hyde, Sherlock Holmes).
But this also manifested itself in a kind of class debate: between "laissez?faire"
apologists of several sorts, who defended landed gentry/manufacturers, and
"sentimental" appeals on behalf of working class. Gothic locates itself at the point of
unease at which the classes touch, re?defining boundaries and classifications. But it is
also an unease about the very nature of the middle?class: protean, huge, unwieldy, only ill?defined by the loosest of common ideology.
iia. Under this we can include gothic questioning of gender: part of
rapid social change was the pressure put upon the middle?class family,
the role/status of women, their property rights, their sexuality. Coral
Ann Howells sees crux of gothic writing as "dread of sex." "Authority"
is another way to describe it, including textual authority women as writers,
narrators, speakers. Sexuality also raises the issue of another alternative/minority
group, homosexual writers ? gothic writing dominated by women and gay writers
(William Beckford, Radcliffe, Charlotte and Emily Bronte, Horace Walpole,
iii. Political upheaval ? turbulent historical period, especially with French revolution (1789). Violence, rapid change, the sense of a "derailment" of historical progress. Marquis de Sade: "there was nobody left who had not experienced more misfortune in 4 or 5 years than could be depicted in a century by literature's most famous novelists: it was necessary to call upon hell for aid in order to arouse interest..."
Similar point made by Wordsworth in 1800 Preface to Lyrical Ballads: one consequence of "great national events which are daily taking place," and "the encreasing accumulation of men in cities," is to "blunt the discriminating powers of the mind" and debase literary tastes. Gothic images of apocalypse, decline and fall of civilisation, gloomy introspection into doomed society, all displaced symbols of troubled history? (Kubla Khan; Wilkie Collins’s Woman in White, Hound of Baskervilles)
iv. Aesthetic dialogue: "sublime" propagated by Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757) – established a terminology for appreciating the large, awe?inspiring, uncontrollable. However, his 1790 Reflections on the Revolution in France a retraction of some of that sublime approbation. Shows the dialectics of sublime aesthetics in romantic period: useful in overthrowing older aesthetic and cultural notions, in appealing to human feelings for political ends; but also double?edged, threatening to install chaos and disorder.
Brings up the notion of gothic as "subversive" and "destabilising" (Rosemary Jackson) ? danger to simplify this into a blanket statement. Jackson herself says both that the gothic was intended to challenge bourgeois culture, but also that it served to reinforce it.
Gothic as cultural force (a textual manifestation of socio?political tensions), not cultural agenda/movement.
4. The term “gothic” – confusing and with different connotations. Originally referred to the barbaric German tribes which plagued Rome (around 5th and 6th C.) – like “vandal.” Meant “rude” and “uncivilised.” Term began to be used positively towards end of 18th C, where it began to be associated with European cultural roots, an English nationalist culture (originating in Northern peoples, as distinct from continental roots in Greek and Roman classicism). Writers also began praising the supposed “gothic” freedom and elaborateness of medieval art, especially in architecture (see Walter Pater’s essay “The Nature of Gothic”). Around the end of 18th C onwards, “gothic” began to mean “creative,” “unrestrained,” “authentic.”
5. Approaches to the gothic:
Should not be taken individually and discretely, but in a total and wholistic critical approach – this breakdown is to help you see the different theoretical/methodological strands which contribute to gothic studies. See webpage's “Approaches” for more/other ideas..
i. Formalistic/generic: gothic as a variety of romance, charted as a journey (spaces, vectors, symbolic displacement), in terms of character types (senex iratus, the helper, the jeune fille), etc. Northrop Frye and Carl Jung probably the main influences.
ii. Narrativistic: influenced heavily by Bakhtin, and focusses on the deliberate narrative instabilities of gothic texts. I.e. Gothic as destabilisation of mainstream narrative modes (realist novel, epic and lyric poems) and the societies they sustain. Thus, focus on “heteroglossia,” “dialogic,” novelistic “zones.”
iii. Psychoanalytic: Gothic as articulation of (artist’s and society’s) hidden, unconscious desires – thus the breaking of societal taboos. Focusses on gothic’s symbolic breach of proprieties, especially (following Freud) those dealing with sexuality: incest, promiscuity, homosexuality. Gothic as “driven” – expressing basic human drives which cannot be contained by societal forms.
iv. Sociological/Materialist: Gothic understood as a social function, expressing anxieties about real social processes of power, change, gender, etc. Emphasises issues of class, race, gender, property, law, crime, the middle class, professionalism, urbanism, colonialism, etc.
6. Some characteristics of gothic narratives:
i. Improbable plots - mysterious letters/informants, magical
happenings, great coincidences.
ii. Far-off locations - often involving far-off locations, cultures/nations considered exotic, very different, barbaric (often Catholic countries like France, Belgium, Italy; or "Moslem" countries - note Frankenstein, and Beckford's Vathek).
iii. Repressive Institutions - perceived as horrid, irrational, arbitrary and draconian. Catholic inquisition, monasteries and monks, the family (usually with a tyrannical father, abetted by patriarchal and chauvinistic laws), monarchic or aristocratic power, etc.
iv. Magic, the supernatural, ghosts, demons, satanic pacts
v. Secret histories, shame, guilt - often revolves around dark family secret, the guilt/evil of ancestors; very often has an element of taboo (often sexual) - a rape (e.g. Hound of baskservilles), incest, illegitimacy (Wilkie Collins's woman in white), etc
vi. Character types: the tyrannical father (Frye calls him the "senex iratus" or angry old man), the beautiful virgin (the "jeune fille," or young innocent girl), the anti-hero (a.k.a. the "Byronic hero") etc
vii. Breaking of taboos, hubris - dark defiance of societal/metaphysical laws/gods, a guilt or dark desire which drives the anti-hero on to his desparate acts. Frankenstein, Jekyll.
viii. Narrative of breaks, discontinuities, conflicts. Note the prevalence of fragments, incomplete narratives (often because of the interruption of death, chaos, loss), lack of knowledges and feeble narrators (Christabel), etc.
Notion of the "Archetypes"
From Northrop Frye, Joseph Campbell, C. G. Jung and Jungian scholars: "archetypes"
are a "relatively restricted and simple group of formulas that can be studied in primitive
culture" and manifest themselves repeated, in various "displaced" forms, in literatures.
(Frye, Fables of Identity, p. 12)
The "romance" archetype: tragedy char. by "pathos or catastrophe," irony
absence of heroism and rule of chaos, comedy by birth of a new society and hope,
romance by "agon or conflict" and "adventure." Involves a quest and descent into a
"lower world" (hellish space, of danger, the exotic, temptation, corruption), rescue of
a precious object, reward, and some sort of return to order, but now changed by the
Gothic doesn't fit romance archetype easily, especially in the last
part, the return - gothic aims at
destabilising, not reinforcing: However, there are certain recurring figures which might lead us to talk about a very rough "archetype" of the gothic - it comes close to the romance archetype, but departs from the pattern in the latter part.
In addition to features discussed above, consider the following
as char. gothic tropes:
The "agon" (a quest, trial, suffering, ostensibly towards [self]discovery
The lamia, medusa, male mater, Eve, wicked stepmother - the threatening female within the family/society
The doppelganger/twinning effect - the uncanny effect of a self who mirrors, but also alters, suggesting the ultimate unknowability of identity, character, unconscious, etc.
Gothic Coleridge and Romanticism
Born 1772, died 1834. An initially radical career (1795 Bristol lectures,
with Southey, preached abolition of slavery, expressed sentiments of communalism,
criticism of property and the rich, etc), but tends to be overlooked by
critics as a youthful mistake in an overall conservative, "Tory" career.
Yet many of his early sentiments and ideas continue in his writings (albeit
in modified form), as does his position of social marginality and social
criticism: addicted to opium (began as therapy for illness), struggled
with poverty and neglect, unhappily married and infatuated with another
woman, a German idealist philosopher in an age of English materialist critics.
Coleridge often taught/seen as an establishment figure, together with Wordsworth and Southey one of the "first generation" of romantic poets, founders of a new "authentic"poetic style which later became "canonized" (both Southey and Wordsworth werePoet Laureates).
However, Romanticism not merely an aesthetic movement, nor a unified and "organic" whole. Nor is C's career linear and continuous. The establishment C founded upon some key later publications: On the Constitution of the Church and State (1829), and the 2 Lay Sermons (1816 and 1817).
1. Gothic as "problematic" writing ? formally subversive of genre rules
and expectations, fragmented, ambiguous; this subversion of form then becoming
the site of a possible subversion of socio?political codes as well.
Russian formalist scholar Mikhail Bakhtin (especially in The Dialogic Imagination; and Problems of Dostoevsky 's Art) sees the novel in general as a "new" form, without set generic patterns/rules; thus it is opposed to the "high" art of the epic, and poetry, which reflect the tastes and values of the ruling caste, and thus reinforce prevailing power systems in society. Novel, in contrast to the high seriousness and "completeness" of high art, is incomplete, mocking, satirical, heteroglossic, carnivalesque, dialogic.
Adapting and modifying Bakhtin: even within the novel, there are degrees of "high" and dialogic art (Bakhtin himself tends to rely on certain key examples of carnivalesque authors: Rabelais, Socratic dialogues, Fielding, Sterne, Dostoevsky). Gothic tales can be seen as the more dialogic and subversive pole within many genres/forms. In a sense, gothic tale defined by (and in opposition to) dominant cultural forms. Thus, for Coleridge's supernatural tales, there is the "high" Wordsworthian Iyric/epic form. For the "new gothic" Victorian novel (Collins, Brontes, Le Fanu) there is "high" Victorian realism (George Elliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, Benjamin Disraeli).
2. "Sensibility" and Chatterton: "Sensibility" refers to a late?18th
C (although had earlier roots) literary tradition. Char. by emotional intensity,
even over?wrought, irrational emotionalism; often depicting a speaker in
intense dejection, mourning ? an "eulogaic moment" (real or symbolic death).
Death is excuse to attack the condition of society. Sorrow expressed in
(as it were) manic?depressive swings, instability of self, madness. Early
models were Milton's "II Penseroso," Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther.
Sensibility or sentimentality grew as challenge to 18th?C rationalism ("Age of Reason") and social order. Also a challenge to materialist philosophers like Locke and David Hartley, who believed that mind was a "tabula rasa" which simply and mechanically recorded impressions and sense?data. Sensibility asserted an uncontrollably impassioned, wilful, creative, emotional self.
LECTURES 3 AND 4 - COLERIDGE CONT'D
EN 3202 ? Gothic Lecture 3/4 - Coleridge
Dr Robbie Goh
1. "Monody" - Not a common term/form in Romantic lit. From Greek tragedy ("monoidos" = "singing alone") - bewailing, hair-tearing, madness-resembling moment (think, e.g. Oedipus after the anagnorisis). What is at stake is the very boundaries, foundation, definition of the self. Related to "ode" - but contrast Keatsian) or Shelleyan ("To West Wind," "Grecian Urn," "Autumn" eg) to note the relative stability and continuity of the speaker.
Wordsworth's lyric persona:
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky;
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety. (1802)
"Chatterton" - bleak, morbid imagery; death of indiv. also a challenge
of social stability; instability and quick/abrupt transitions in emotional
mood (e.g. between ll 23 and 24; 39 and 40; 79 and 80) - like manic depression?
Gothic form and content - sublime and ineffable (l.43-46; l. 77)
(Burke, Philosophical Enquiry...Sublime and Beautiful, p. 160: "The truth is, all verbal description, merely as naked description, though never so exact, conveys so poor and insufficient an idea of the thing described, that it could scarcely have the smallest effect, if the speaker did not call in to his aid those modes of speech that mark a strong and lively feeling in himself. Then, by the contagion of our passions, we catch a fire already kindled in another...."
2. AM: Archetypal pattern of quest, exotic space/hell, anagnorisis, return, moral rejuvenation? (Maud Bodkin - "rebirth archetype, drought of libido, storm within, "extraversion" and "introversion" of libido). But note problems with the resolution.
a. Temporal disorientation and distancing; use of ahistorical
b. Narrative: "embedded narrative," "ordinary" narrator, narrative of the sublime/ ineffable ? gaps and hesitations
c. Condensed, overdetermined symbolism
d. Textual allusion/fragmentation ? Ballad; Epic journey; romantic nature?poem; social criticism; medieval "found" manuscript;
3. AM as moral/religious lecture: pseudo?piety at odds with religious heresy, communalism, gender erasure. J. L. Lowes' point, that the moral law in this poem "will not hold water"; consequence and cause" are "ridiculously incommensurable"
1. Christabel and Narrative "Zones"
a. Medieval romance, but frustration of archetypal pattern (love as recovery of self/world)
b. Narrator ? domestic (familiar/intimate), bardic (omniscient/omnipresent), ordinary (gaps, lack of knowledge), moralising (resolution, moral values)
c. Supernatural not for its own sake, but sexual = textual = socio?political instability. Geraldine the figure, not only of pre? (or extra?) judeo?Christian spirituality, but also of the female as "fluidity" ("maiden," "aristocratic daughter," "harlot/ seductress," lesbian, mother, sister)
d. "Aristocracy" as a contested zone (suggesting propriety, honour, power, masculinity, family control/authority, land, the "norm", but also their problematics)
2. Geraldine: woman as gothic/monstrous (from Burke, Reflections - "harpies"), but what is monstrous is their undefinable quality - social transgression. G goes from jeune fille to sexual predator to lesbian to (heterosexual) stepmother (male mater)
G introduces/foregrounds unknown/outside - ("sublime" from latin "sublimare" = "lift up," but also "sub + limen = below threshold)
Poem is "world historical" (from Lukacs, Historical Novel)? - gothic time used to write anxiety of change from feudal/genteel/aristocratic/authoritarian to modern/bourgeois/liberal?
* * * * * * * * * *
Chatterton: contrast the coherent Iyric self of Wordsworth's poem. There are similarities: emotional, private, highlights speaker's inner state. But Wordsworth's self is ebullient, confident, logical. Linear progression/projection of self; moralising, pedantic agenda (seen in many other poems, esp. "Expostulation and Reply," "Tables Turned," much of Prelude); self?quotation. (In contrast, C's phrases tend to have a deconstructed, fragmented pattern of quotation?dispersal: AM alludes to older voyage tales, is quoted in Frankenstein and elsewhere).
4. AM a. Temporal disorientation and distancing; use of ahistorical past b. Narrative: "embedded narrative," "ordinary" narrator, narrative of the sublime/ ineffable ? gaps and hesitations c. Condensed, overdetermined symbolism d. Textual allusion/fragmentation ? Ballad; Epic journey; romantic nature?poem; social criticism; medieval "found" manuscript;
5. AM as mral/religious lecture: pseudo?piety at odds with religious heresy, communalism, gender erasure.
1. How useful would Bakhtinian ideas of the power dynarnics of literary forms be to gothic studies? What are the limitations of such a theory/approach? (Hint: gothic forrnlessness, overdetermination ? easy to extrapolate a political content? This is debatable: on the one hand, formlessness may be argued to be inherently political, refusing form; on the other hand, it could be seen as an indirection and obliqueness which leaves the subversion at a purely textual, aesthetic level).
2. To what extent would a notion of "high" art in any given literary/cultural period necessarily be a generalisation and abstraction? Think of your own sense of romantic or Victorian texts ? would we need to have several "high" arts, not necessarily agreeing with each other? What would this do to the notion of gothic as "alternative" or "subversive" tale?
3. To what extent can the literary power dynamics between different
forms be surnmed up as a debate about the "self' (i.e. coherent/rational
vs incoherent/ fragmented)?
1. Gothic/sublime poetics ? "Ordinary" narrator, "embedded" narratives, clash of "zones"/voices/perspectives ? Narrative of the ineffable or unutterable; gaps and hesitations; also associated with "sensibility"/passion (i.e. sublime gap is the space in which impassioned self can locate itself)
(Burke, Philosophical Enquiry...Sublime and Beautiful, p. 160: "The truth is, all verbal description, merely as naked description, though never so exact, conveys so poor and insufficient an idea of the thing described, that it could scarcely have the smallest effect, if the speaker did not call in to his aid those modes of speech that mark a strong and lively feeling in himself. Then, by the contagion of our passions, we catch a fire already kindled in another...."
Symbolic method, overdetermination
Intertextuality, heterogenous codes, heteroglossia
Pantheistic/philosophical "one life" (cp Coleridge's "Aeolian Harp")
Moral cautionary tale (cp. Coleridge's "Essay on Slave Trade" and other social
1. Christabel and Narrative "Zones" a. Medieval romance, but frustration of archetypal pattern (love as recovery of self/world) b. Narrator ? domestic (familiar/intimate), bardic (omniscient/omnipresent), ordinary (gaps, lack of knowledge), moralising (resolution, moral values) c. Supernatural not for its own sake, but sexual = textual = socio?political instability. Geraldine the figure, not only of pre? (or extra?) judeo?Christian spirituality, but also of the female as "fluidity" ("maiden," "aristocratic daughter," "harlot/ seductress," lesbian, mother, sister) d. "Aristocracy" as a contested zone (suggesting propriety, honour, power, masculinity, family control/authority, land, the "norm", but also their problematics)
Brief summary on Coleridge:
1. C essentially uses gothic strategies to symbolise deep anxieties of and challenges to his society. The gothic in C has to be contextualised in relation to the "authority" and coherence of the romantic lyric and romantic self (best e.g. Wordsworth), as well as to the "authority" in contemporary political situation ? slave trade, commerce and property, continued war with France, social and gender inequality.
2. Would be mistake to see C as radical or revolutionary; there's a distinction between the "gothic destabilisation" in his supernatural poems, and the more guarded social criticism of his prose essays. (Also big difference between gothic challenges, and outright radical attacks on English monarchy, laws and aristocracy e.g. by Thomas Spence, Thomas Paine). "Gothic destabilisation" is less obvious, more disturbing because uncontrollable.
3. One consequence ? whether intentional on C's part or not is the creation of an unstable, neurotic self. In some poems it sounds more depersonalised and deliberate ? e.g. Christabel, where the "troubador" cannot be C? Elsewhere the seemingly opiumaddled, dreamy, confused, failed and incoherent self seems closer to C's personal career and life.
But the effect is a proto?modernist vision of alienation (both from society, and from self), confusion and madness. Cp. Browning?
Gothic vs Radical Political Discourse: Romantic Period full of explicit political discourses, including very radical ones. To see something of the Gothic's nature and function (as a symbolically suggestive, overdetermined discourse), we might want to contrast, e.g., Coleridge's poems, with the political fervour and directness of P. B. Shelley (Mary's husband):
P. B. Shelley
"England in 1819"
An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying king, -
Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow
Through public scorn, mud from a muddy spring, -
Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know,
But leechlike to their fainting country cling,
Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow, -
A people starved and stabbed in the untilled field, -
An army, which liberticide and prey
Makes as a two-edged sword to all who wield, -
Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay;
Religion Christless, Godless, a book sealed;
A Senate, Time's worst statute unrepealed, -
Are graves, from which a glorious Phantom may
Burst, to illumine our tempestuous day.
EN 3202 Some Concluding Thoughts/Questions
1. Gothic and history ? although we can make a broad and inclusive definition of the gothic (sublime, threatening etc) which could include pre?modern, classical texts like Homer, Bible etc; there is also a strong historical determination of a more specific definition of gothic (mid 18th C to end of 19th C) ? shows gothic' s link to what E. J. Hobsbawm calls the "long history" of industrialisation, urbanism, imperialism and social change.
Gothic is in one sense a cultural anxiety which is a sub?set of bourgeoise consciousness ? the middle?class mind turning inward to look at the negative, frightening aspects which double its own progress and change.
2. What happens next? Modernism and post?modernism Also capitalist ("late capitalist"? cp. Fredric Jameson). But modernism is the gothic become mainstream images of the rot within, the superman, the problematics of civilisation and its achievements, are the dominant themes. Loss of the role of gothic as marginal, subversive mode of writing. All the more true of contemporary writing (Stephen King eg) ? gothic imagination mass?commodified, consumerist, popular. Also, the fragmented narratives (MTV)
Gothic has to change and adapt, to speak to newer social anxieties (as the older ones become cliches): electronic identities (William Gibson), globalisation and nationhood, new sub?cultures like "acid" (Irvine Welsh).
3. Gothic as a mode of writing Attention to tropes/themes, archetypes and plots is important, but the gothic is most complex as a mode of writing ? one which raises the problematics of the social construction of meaning. In this sense, somewhat different from other fragmented, self?conscious narratives, which seem to focus on the linguistic/epistemological aspects (esp. nouveau roman). The gothic as a mode of writing is also interested in linguistic/epistemological aspects, but chiefly inasmuch as they highlight the problems of the self in structures of power i.e. constructing (female, gay/androgynous, middle class, ethnic, arriviste, established/autocratic etc) self in society.
Gothic writing always gives the sense of a self which cannot be pinned down/ ascertained/located ? different even from other fragmented narratives, which sometimes speak from a philosophical assurance (surveying all this other confusion.). The point is not the truth of fragmentation (in a kind of visionary declaration), but the impossibility/problematics of various kinds of social "truths".
4. Theory of gothic narrative: the dialogics of narrative times, spaces, perspectives and values/assumptions. Various dialogics are possible, and emphasised by different genres/modes ? comedy, mockery and satire, contradictions, uncertainties, etc. Gothic tends to focus on the "location" of the narrative, placing it in an arnorphous, unstable, undefinable place.
t Oflen there is a pseudo?editor, a norllinal narrator who should
confer unity to the
narrative fragments ? the unnamed editor of the preamble in WH, Walton in Fstein, the
pseudo?omniscient narrator in JH, Watson in HB. But if there is a name to which to
attach the narrative perspective, then the values may be in abeyance (Walton cannot
comment on the morality of the tale he re?tells; cp. narrator in Christabel). Or else the
time of the narration is in question (does Watson write during the case, or after? What
is the time of the last 2 chapters of JH ? just after the events in "The Last Night," in
which case we wonder what Utterson will do next; or a long time after, in which case
implying that Utterson has never acted on the revelation, keeping J's secret for him.)
Space of narrative ? e.g. Fstein, where the epistolary form raises questions about where
the narrative should be read: at Margaret's English village, or as Walton writes on the
sea? Implications for the reader's position ? whether from the safe values of "civilised"
England, reading it as an exotic/fantastical romance; or from Walton's immediate
perspective, as a tragedy. The result is that the reading perspective must occupy a
kind of shifting, undefined space "in?between" England and Arctic.
• 4. Macro?dialogics: Gothic narrative defined in opposition to "mainstream" narrative
Problematic, in the sense that it is difficult to identify a "mainstream" narrative. There
are some dominant genres/forms in some periods, however: realist
epic, etc. Must recognise that each is itself heterogenous, variable.
Easier to discuss gothic macro?dialogics in terms of different
constructions of self?
So?called "mainstream" forms can be plural; the point is that they assume/construct a
coherent notion of self ("character"). This "character" will interact with society in
certain understandable, predictable ways.
Gothic narrative not interested in character, in the sense of
a coherent set of motives,
desires, historical information. Gothic figures are often enigmatic, contradictory,
shallowly?detailed, pre?social. This is in keeping with a narrative which pluralises and
destabilises notions of the self.
EN 3202 LECTURE 6/7 - Frankenstein
1. Mary Shelley b. 1979, d. 1851 daughter of William Godwin (author of Enquiry Concesning Political Justice, 1793) and Mary Wollstonecraft (author of Vindication of the Rights of Women, 1792).
Eloped with Percy Shelley (who was married with children at the time). P. Shelley, like Coleridge, socially marginal cos of marital and financial situation. A radical and social critic, unhappy with what he saw as the injustice and repression of England in his day (Peterloo massacre of 1819 ? see Shelley's "England in 1819"). A freedom fighter who, with Byron, travelled to observe and join in revolutionary wars in Greece, Italy, etc.
2. Epistolary form
Pre?Victorian social realist novel was less set in its conventions. Frankenstein exploits the textual uncertainties of the epistolary form (used in a much more domestic setting by Samuel Richardson in Pamela: Or, Virtue Rewarded).
Walton's letters for England: highly suggestive (overdetermined?) narrative setting, invoking overtones of Napoleonic wars of nations (lst letter from St. Petersburgh), Mariner?like epic journey of discovery ("sight of a part of a world never before visited," first letter ? cp. "We were the first that ever burst" etc), but also autobiography/personal history (story of "Uncle Thomas's library"), the "talking cure" of psychoanalysis, cautionary tales intended for English society (C's "Fears in Solitude," "Monody" etc, P Shelley's "England in 1819," Byron's "Childe Harolde's Pilgrimage").
The letter as equivocal/equidistant form ? is its "centre" (as such) in the sender or recipient? Originating zone, or destination?
3. Features of sublime poetics
a. "Ordinary" or "everyday" auditor ? not narrator (since Walton shares something of the sublime, something of Frankenstein's status as "overreacher"), but the "Mrs Saville, England". She rep. world of order and safety Walton constantly addresses her anxieties about his project ("my first task is to assure my dear sister of my welfare...," letter 1; "Be assured that for my own sake, as well as your, I will not rashly encounter danger." letter 3"). This auditor marks the gap between everyday world (England) and gothic world (arctic circle/Europe)
b. Embedded narratives ? the careful prologue to the Frankenstein story, the induction of the reader into the gothic space, is abruptly concluded (without epilogue or commentary by Walton) at the end. Not even clear if monster survives or not, or if Walton returns or continues, or the moral lesson ? thus the embedded narratives heightens the distancing of the story from the everyday, its irretrievable and uncorroborable aspect.
c. Competing narrators not only reporting or embedding, but also noticeable disagreement and contradiction (contrast AM, where different narrators more or less agree, or all fail to elucidate, but do not repeatedly clash). Several such scenes include: i. Letter 4 ? clash between W's Promethean enthusiasm ("One man's life or death were but a small price to pay for the acquirement of the knowledge...") and F's cautionary bitterness ("Unhappy man...Hear me; let me reveal my tale, and you will dash the cup from your lips") ii. Chapter 10 (encounter between monster and Frankenstein): they talk at crosspurposes, F using moral, spiritual and other terms to emphasise distance ("Devil," "vile insect," "diabolically"), the monster speaking terms of kinship and humanity ("my creator," "mankind," "ties only dissoluble") iii. Start of chapter l l, the abrupt switch from (hitherto) F's biography (of family, community, privilege) to monster' s biography of tabula rasa, noble savagery, isolation, persecution. d. Contradictions/inconsistencies within a single speaker's narrative (cp. Lucy Snowe?): e.g. F in chapter 4, "Remember, I am not recording the vision of a madman," vs. in letter 4, to W, "Do you share my Madness?" Chapter 4, "A new species would bless me as its creator and source," vs. the rejection of ties with the monster in chapter 10 ("insect," "devil") Attempts to preach "peace" and humility to Walton, then preaches daring and enterprise to the mutineers
4. (Apparent) Gothic archetypes
a. Senex iratus or blocking figures: fathers, priests, judges, Frankenstein himself
b. Story of the "modern prometheus," "rebel," "overreacher" ? breaking out of permitted bounds, in an attempt to achieve/attain something exception. Variation on the romance questor ? goes to a "lower world," not to discover/recover self (e.g. Mariner), but to repudiate law/convention/decree. (At end of AM, mariner reinforces, mutatis mutandis, the social order; at the end of FStein, both monster and F leavesocial order in tattcrs, as hopelessly flawed).
c. Virginal girl(s) constrained and conscribed by the patriachal law/order ? similar
biographies/fates of Caroline Beaufort, Elizabeth Lavenza, Justine Moritz, Safie
various figures of the young girl victimised/marginalised by patriarchal law, fathers, the
3. The Monster and the Monstrous text
a. Monster ? gothic, overdetermined symbol, which creates sublime affect by
transgressing boundaries, blurring distinctions and definitions. Monster is the uncanny
or "other," but one which removes any concrete grounds on which to base that
otherness, thus foregrounding the arbitrariness of the act of definition.
i. As androgynous (William Veeder) ? masculine strength, rebellious energy; and
feminine sentimentality, sociability, domesticity
ii. Definition of the hurnan ? insensible, ugly, deathly, cruel; but also generous, loyal,
noble?minded. (Allusion to social distinctions? Monster as WC mob, but also as
Rousseau's "noble savage")
Monster also suggests science (progressive, new, promising), but also science?as?threat
(rending, disappointing, morally dubious)
iii. Creation, paternity: monster as "Adam," as "the fallen angel," as double of
Frankenstein (esp. his guilt ? "I, not in deed, but in effect, was the true murderer," chp
9), as mirror to society's guilt (Justine: "he threatened and menaced, until I almost
began to think that I was the mosnter that he said I was," chpt. 8)
b. Monstrous text (Chris Baldick) ? narrative's seamed, fragmented,
amorphous nature resembles the monster's physical form. Monster as symbol for, and
thematic device which enacts, the textual problematics and tensions of the narrative.
i. The woman as writer, written, voice, voiced/voiceless ? MS, Margaret Saville,
Safie, Justine, etc.
ii. Romantic textual conflict: textual authority in author (Wordsworthian), in critic
(Coleridgean), in the market/mob
iii. "grand narratives" and competing narratives ? bible, Paradise Lost, AM, Rousseau,
Blake, Goethe's Sorrows of Werther, Neoplatonism, P.B. Shelley's "Prometheus
iv. Different candidates for the same roles: Prometheus is F, W; Prometheus as Satan,
and as P. Shelley; F as Satan, and as God; monster as Satan, but also Milton's Sin.
Lecture 8/9 - Frankenstein II
1. "Reflections" on Doubling
a. Doubling as "mirror phase" ? the double as uncanny introspection, self?realisation, confrontation with self. (In Freudian theory, mirror phase marked the child's problematic encounter with the boundaries of self, the realisation of its otherness from the mother). Mirror phase is also a confrontation with the constructed nature of the self ? e.g. when monster gazes into pool in chapter 12: "I had admired the perfect forms of my cottagers...but how was I terrified when I viewed myself in a transparent pool! At first I started back, unable to believed that it was indeed I who was reflected in the mirror..." cp. F at end of chapter 4: "Sometimes I grew alarmed at the wreck I perceived that I had become; the energy of my purpose alone sustained me."
Self located in the "other" (purpose, motive, perspective) ? for monster,
he is to social norms of beauty; for F, the split between "I" and "my purpose," the
alienation of self from ambition/public self. For Walton, the confrontation of ambition and weakness, male drive and female caution.
In psychoanalytic theory, again, this social construction (as an alienating,
force, simultaneously from "outside" and yet also "within") is assoc. with patriarchy
and the "law of the father" (aka "Superego" or "ego ideal" ? notions we will encounter
again in JH). All 3 Promethean figures have profound love?hate relationship with
fathers: they are depicted as struggling against (but strangely also influenced by)
paternal decree: Alphonse F's rubbishing of F's studies, but also F's affection for and
mimicry of him (public figures, married "too late," reproduction of paternal decree);
F's banishment of monster results in curious symbiotic colocation; W's ambitions
fueled by father's absence, but also father?figure's influence ? "Uncle Thomas's
library,'' "my education was neglected, but I was passionately fond of reading"; "my
familiarity with them increased that regret which I had felt, as a child, on learning that
my father' s dying injunction had forbidden my uncle to allow me to embark in a
seafaring life," letter 1.
b. Doubling as "kinship" Alienation' s double is gothic kinship ? the
realisation of unexpected, repudiated, horrifying relationships between
self and apparent other . These can be
? social (middle class horror of kinship with the social "other" of the working class or disrespectable ? monster as WC symbol ? the "monstrous" image of Burke's description of French revolutionaries, the brute, insensitive physical strength, the reproductive forces of female monster [cp. Thomas Malthus's Essay on the Principle of Population, 1798]),
? religious (shared values/rituals between C of E and Catholic, or Christian/Jew, Christian/Muslim, orthodoxy and heterodoxy/heresy ? e.g. the shared patriarchal tyranny of French govt. on the Turk, and Turk on Safie/Felix),
gender and sexuality (the realisation of androgyny or sexual "deviance"; monster's masculine power, strength, Promethean spirit [he wants to exceed boundaries, passing from monster to human, creature to "master"] vs his sentimental weeping, passive learning, domestic duties, assoc. with women like Agatha, Safie, Elizabeth),
? moral/ideological (kinship between apparently opposite forces/powers ? e.g. monster's violence and treachery akin to mankind's/F's)
? racial/cultural (especially in the colonial gothic ? Kipling, Conrad, Rider Haggard kinship between white and native, imperialism and savagery)
These are main strands of gothic doubling, but not only ones. Also, not mutually exclusive, of course: monster symbolises both kinship and mirroring.
2. Prometheus, Satan, the Overreacher Fstein, like other (esp. romantic) gothic texts, symbolises the problematics of power its arbitrariness, confusion/overdetermination also its textual problematics, that every act of/claim for power is a textual act, with the problems of textuality (source, purity, borrowing, interpretative problematics, gender claims) involved in such an act.
Seen in use of borrowed texts: the "found" manuscript, epistolary form,
sentimental novel, medieval romance (typical of romantics ? cp. Godwin's
St Leon: A Tale of the
17th Century), 18th C philosophical psychology (Locke's "tabula rasa," Rousseau's
"nobel savage" and social criticism), AM, P. B. Shelley's "Prometheus Unbound,"
Paradise Lost, Genesis, etc.
This overdetermination most obvious in the Prometheus figure ? righteous rebel against tyranny? But (in the novel) also a cautionary tale against trangression, hubris and changing boundaries. Also assoc. with the Satan figure, as rebel against godhead. But Milton's Satan (in romantic interpretation ? starting with Blake's view that M was "a true poet, and of the devil's party without knowing it", Marriage of Heaven and Hell) also a re?writing of Biblical story ? romantic, if doomed, anti?hero against arbitrary authority, cp. Byronic heroes like Manfred and Corsair.
Thus when monster says, "I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel", he calls attention to this textual problematic (the interpretation, valuation and cultural determination of reading) which is also a political problematic ? the uses and abuses of moral and religious law, patriarchal authority and edict in the romantic period.
Other references to PL: titlepage "Did I request thee, Maker, from my
clay/To mould me man"etc). Creation of monster asexually, in solo act,
cp. creation of Sin from head of Satan in PL bk II and later repudiation
of Sin by Satan (but then F, not the monster, becomes Satan).
1. How does Frankenstein foreground problems of textuality, and how does this
relate to Gothic "affects"?
2. How does Frankenstein provoke the reader to re?consider the
textual and social problematics? Is there a particularly "gothic" theory of such a
relationship between text and power?
3. How do the textual problematics of the romantic gothic create different gothic structures and affects from the "new" Victorian gothic? In what ways are they similar?
4. . Is the use (and abuse) of textual precedents also a kind
of "historicising" (in that it works with older cultural and literary constructions)?
What is the effect of such a historicising? Does it relate to the more
general gothic use of "history" (as vague, distant, exotic past)?
(Jekyll and Hyde and the Detective Novel)
Lecture 7: Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
1. Stevenson and Questions of Order
Robert Louis Stevenson b. Edinburgh 1850, d. 1894. (JH pub. 1886). Desultory career (studied engineering, then law, then became a full-time writer). Problematic relationship with his father, with whom he fought on a number of issues. (Formed a society, in his youth, with his friends, the constitution of which began with “disregard everything our parents taught us”). RLS a figure of exile, doubt, questioning; a strange compound of cynical mistrust and zealous idealism. He had a relationship with a married American woman, Fanny Osbourne, which contributed to her divorce from her husband. RLS also got involved in the Samoan civil war.
Many of his works (he writes historical romances, supernatural tales, adventure stories) thus deal with order and its transgression, and often feature an almost-autobiographical figure who is caught on the very border of legality/illegality – e.g. the young man David Balfour in Kidnapped and Catriona, whose incidental friendships and loves get him mixed up with the Jacobite cause.
This problematic legality/illegality is often reinforced by the thematics of the father-son struggle, where the father-figure often symbolizes an order and law which can be repressive and arbitrary; while the son often symbolizes a youthful exuberance which can sometimes be reckless and careless. JH is a novel about youthful exuberance which becomes threatening (in Hyde), arising out of a whole atmosphere of paternal, heavy, proper order (in Jekyll and the whole circle of middle-aged professionals who dominate the novel: Utterson, Lanyon, Carew etc). J and H as father-son: “Jekyll had more than a father’s interest; Hyde had more than a son’s indifference,” p. 68).
RLS’s fascination with the problem of various kinds of order (social, legal, economic, moral), has obvious overlaps with the concerns of the detective novel. His work is not interested in a simplistic celebration of the progress and order of modern society (that is often embodied in the detective and the scientist); rather, he is concerned with the impossibility of order, the inherent disorder in (apparent) civilization and progress.
2. JH and the Gothic/Detective Novel
Some departures from Detective conventions, and clear affinities to the gothic novel:
- there is no true detective figure as such, although Utterson as a lawyer is a representative of the law, and uses some detective methods (surveillance, interrogation);
- it is not clear if there is a primary crime (since between Jekyll and Hyde, there can be no transgression in property terms – or can there?), although there are horrendous incidental crimes (like the killing of Carew, and the trampling of the little girl);
- there is no clear resolution, no scientific unraveling of the means and method of the crime, no apprehension of the criminal, and only a problematic posthumous confession.
The gothic elements emerge clearly in
- the monstrous nature of Hyde (hideous in appearance; inexplicable in origins, motives and temperament);
- the only semi-scientific nature of the transformation (Jekyll can’t repeat it, and can’t state the formula due to the “impure” salt);
- supernatural elements (the “evil” in Hyde and others; suggestions of a metaphysical struggle);
- the dark transgressive elements (violence, cruelty, lusts, suggestions of deviance).
We might say that JH represents the confluence of several literary and cultural strands: the detective, the gothic, the psychological novel, fin de siecle pessimism, the modern urban novel, and others.
3. Disguise and the Detective
“A horror of the vile disguise that concealed her; a yearning to burst its trammels and hide her shameful painted face on Norah’s bosom, took possession of her, body and soul” (No Name, p. 221)
Disguise unites both modern criminal and detective; morally ambivalent, since it might serve either evil or good, crime or its prevention/detection. But who decides and regulates to what purposes it is put?
Disguise is itself a figure of modern urban existence – it represents the possibilities of misrepresentation and concealment afforded by modern communications (the modern post, the telegraph, the train, the newspaper/advertising), finance (cheques, credit, and their fraudulent use), the anonymity of city crowds, etc.
We might say that disguise – the representation of one thing/person as ‘other’ than it/he actually is – is the central trope of JH. JH brings detective disguise to its gothic conclusion: the transformation initially resembles the detective trope of disguise for criminal purposes – cp. Godfrey in Moonstone, Roxdal in “Cheating the Gallows.”
Seems at first that J uses disguise in order to indulge in illicit pleasure: “I concealed my pleasures,” “I laid aside restraint and plunged in shame” (p. 60). The neighbourhood of H’s house also suggests illicit pleasure: “a dingy street, a gin palace, a low French eating house…many ragged children huddled in the doorways, and many women of many different nationalities passing out, key in hand, to have a morning glass” (p. 27). Its location in Soho also connotes vices like gambling, prostitution, opium etc.
But JH is almost a gothic parody of those detective stories of double lives. There is a conspicuous emptiness and meaninglessness to J’s transformation – no mistress or second wife (indeed, no first wife or fiancé to cheat on), no clear indications of what H’s vices are (the house is generally “empty,” except for some signs of “luxury and good taste” such as would be associated with J, p. 28).
There are no legal, financial, or other concrete motives for J’s elaborate disguise; the only motives we are given are deeply personal, almost idiosyncratic ones:
“And indeed the worst of my fault was a certain impatient gaiety of disposition, such as has made the happiness of many, but such as I found it hard to reconcile with my imperious desire to carry my head high, and wear a more than commonly grave countenance before the public” (p. 60).
Unlike many other detective stories, JH presents disguise as deeply complex, without evident/simple motives; the work of a madman (JH has become a byword for schizophrenia)? Inexplicable, uncanny, thus unable to detect or trace.
Lecture 8 Handout – Jekyll and Hyde
Part I – Crime, the City, and Society
1. Concealment: One peculiarity of novel is its obsession
with concealment, almost in lieu of crime.
a. Concealment precedes crime: JH inverts detective narratives: begins, not with a crime, but with concealment. First glimpse of Hyde begins with a door – “no windows,” “blind forehead” of wall, with “neither bell nor knocker” (p. 8). Suspicion of Hyde is aroused when he goes in, and comes out with “another man’s cheque.” Enfield mentions “Black Mail,” and Utterson pulls out Jekyll’s will to re-examine it. In Utterson’s dreams, Hyde “had no face by which he might know it” (p. 16)
Suspicious city – the ‘suspect’ necessarily emerges before the crime is solved, in fact can exist before a crime is commited. (“suspect” – latin ‘sub’ + ‘specere,’ to look at that which is below or hidden). Suspicion thus linked not only to concealment, but to marginalization, oppression, the construction and perception of difference.
b. Concealment begets concealment: Utterson “began to haunt the door” (p. 17); interviews with Lanyon conceal real quarrel (“wrong in mind,” “too fanciful” p. 15; “ask [Jekyll] himself” p. 36; the deferred, testatory statement p. 37).
c. But concealment also precedes (Hyde’s) concealment: description of Utt. at beginning of novel (“scanty…in discourse,” “backward in sentiment,” “something…which never found its way into his talk.”
“Cain’s heresy” (Genesis 4: 1-9) – not just a model of “tolerance,” but of secret guilt.
Utt. attributes Jekyll’s behaviour to blackmail – “pede claudo” (p. 20), “claudo” = “limp” or “wavering,” but also “to close” or “shut”. “pede” = “foot,” but also “base”
d. Concealment linked to other tropes like disguise (obviously Jekyll/Hyde, but also Utt’s behaviour? “drank gin when he was alone, to mortify a taste for vintages”; Enfield, Carew, and other “men about town”?), bias/prejudice (Lanyon’s attitude to Jekyll, and professional jealousy? Perceptions of Hyde and other ‘low’ characters?), hypocrisy, etc
2. Narrative structure: fosters and reinforces climate of
unease and suspicion.
a. Pseudo-omniscient narrator: suggests intimacy with characters, but fails/refuses to reveal hidden knowledge (Jekyll’s secret; Utt’s true nature; secrets of the city, like the nature of Hyde’s housekeeper, the “women of many different nationalities passing out” near Hyde’s house p. 27, etc). Unnamed, author-surrogate narrator as unreliable narrator, not in more common form of 3rd person or named character (Lucy Snowe, Mr Lockwood). So, the irony of titles like “Henry Jekyll’s Full Statement of the Case” – or for that matter, the scientific and objective status of “cases.”
Begs questions of other unreliable narratives/narrators: Jekyll in final chapter (how far is he from remorse, moral awareness? Is this a self-justification of sorts, and if so, how does it slant his narrative of events? Questions of agency, identity, will?
“My devil had been long caged, he came out roaring”, p. 69;
“He, I say – I cannot say, I. That child of Hell had nothing human” p. 73
“With Jekyll, it [hatred of Hyde] was a thing of vital instinct. He had now seen..” p. 74
But also Utt.’s ready knowledge of the “pede claudo” of his friends and clients – what cannot/will not he narrate about Jekyll, Enfield, Lanyon etc?
Also the maid in the Carew murder: the excessive sentimentalism of her “streaming tears,” “at peace with all men,” – but she is “living alone in a house,” and is up and looking out in the “small hours” (25).
b. Fragmentation and multiplication: a narrative told in fits and starts, composed of re-told narratives (Enfield to Utt., by pseudo-omn. Narrator), letters (Lanyon’s and Jekyll’s), newspaper-like accounts, eyewitness depositions (Carew Murder). Fragmentary nature exacerbated by “found” allusions – doggerel/folk bits (“Dr Fell,” p. 19), biblical (“Babylonian finger on the wall,” p.67), father-son struggle in Weir of Hermiston and elsewhere.
c. Temporal dislocations and disorientations: a general vagueness about dates and durations. E.g. Utt. and Enfield’s walk (“on one of these rambles”); Enfield’s encounter with Hyde (“about 3 o’clock of a black winter morning”); Utt’s encounter with Hyde (“a fine dry night”), Carew’s murder (“October 18—“). Specific time-refs (e.g. “that evening”, p. 14; or “a fortnight later” p. 22) only a mock specificity, since they relate to unspecified dates and durations.
Dislocation of sequence: if sequentiality is crucial to causality and thus to logic and science, the narrative is anti-scientific, and more like ‘found events.’ The crucial event of the transformation is revealed last; Hyde, who is the product from Jekyll, is introduced first in the narrative.
The effect is a narrative disorientation (like street mazes, fogs), which not only enables crime by enhancing mystery; but also questions the possibility of knowledge and order altogether.
3. Crime and the City: modern city is the condition of concealment,
a. City as pretentious, hypocritical – anthropomorphic?
“The inhabitants were all doing well, it seemed, and all emulously hoping to do better still, and laying out the surplus of their gains in coquetry; so that the shop fronts stood along that thoroughfare with an air of invitation, like rows of smiling saleswomen. Even on Sunday, when it veiled its more florid charms and lay comparatively empty of passage, the street shone out in contrast to its dingy neighbourhood, like a fire in a forest; and with its freshly painted shutters, well-polished brasses and general cleanliness and gaiety of note, instantly caught and pleased the eye of the passenger” (p. 8)
b. Split city – urban ‘order’ as unconscious, doubled, abjected
Relationship between proper/recognized parts of the city, and improper/disdained parts, analogous to Ego and Id, Soul/Body? The split and mutual denial: e.g. Hyde’s door (Enfield says “there is no other door” p. 11) vs Jekyll’s door (“round the corner…a square of ancient, handsome houses” p. 19).
c. Gender of the city – place of men in the narrative is respectable, rooted, professional positions. Women are displaced from respectable sites, and found in disrespectable or dubious ones.
Part II – The Figure of Hyde
1. If JH disperses (image of fog? Street light?) and doubles tropes of concealment, disguise and crime from a central ‘villain’ outward to the city and society; then Hyde becomes, not villain or protagonist (contrast Magdalen? Godfrey?) but a figure – both of narrative and society; of conscious scapegoating and unconscious projection/desire; individual and collective. Figuring, with its double-edged creative processes and multiple significations, is thus the antithesis of linear rationality.
Society (Utt. as representative) seeks to impose clear role on Hyde – “bad company,” the Victorian debauched rake – but figuration frustrates this clear categorization.
a. Name – “Hyde” suggests animal hide, hideous – images of bestiality and (Darwinian?) regression. Is called a “trogdylite”, and “hisses” in surprise and fear.
But also “hide” as concealment, hypocrisy – including that of society as a whole.
b. Appearance – the monstrous as social judgement. Hyde is small, “lean, corded, knuckly…dusky pallor…shaded with a swart growth of hair” p. 63. Suggests wc appearance, the (socially) ugly as criminal. Jekyll is tall, fair, with no marks of labour (“large, firm, white and comely” hand).
c. Hyde as figure of the city: “Hyde” is the name of the fashionable park at the centre of London. If he figures decay and regression, this is also the trope of the city: not just Soho, but Jekyll’s neighbourhood (“for the most part decayed from their high estate and let in flats and chambers to all sorts and conditions of men: map-engravers, architects, shady lawyers and the agents of obscure enterprises” p. 19).
d. Hyde as kinship, community – just as the skin covers and extends to the whole body. Literally Jekyll’s self. But occupies the same time and space as Carew, Enfield, the maid, and ironically Utterson too. Apes the same social manners as the professional mc (speaks to Lanyon “civilly enough” p. 57), mirrors/shares Jekyll’s social respectability (fears exposure, can be blackmailed by Enfield). The gin-palaces of his Soho house recall Utterson, who drinks gin “when alone”. Kinship also problematised by the Enfield-Utt. relationship, and the Lanyon-Jekyll professional one. Hyde thus more kin than kin, more intimately mc than the mc.
e. Hyde and property – the ‘crime,’ if there is one, revolves around property: blackmail; Jekyll’s will and the fear of its transferring his property to Hyde; the house with two faces, fears of property value and ‘values’. Hyde figures, not property but the problems of modern property – the desire for property to be linked to morality/values, the easy transferability of property, the basis of the mc on money, money as the means for vice.
f. Hyde and the crowd: he is a figure for the already-monstrous crowd, e.g. the episode of the little girl (the Edinburgh doctor’s “desire to kill him,” the “hateful faces,” women “wild as harpies” p. 10) – mirror his own bestial violence. Bestiality as urban condition – class hatred, greed, impatience.
Hyde-as-figure is the self-created image of modern society – a projection of its hatred and prejudices, but also an unconscious reflection of its true monstrous desires. Figuring also recalls narration, which then becomes, not rationality and truth, but the means of concealment, (self)deception, plurality/doubling.
2. Fathers and patriarchy:
“Jekyll had more than a father’s interest; Hyde had more than a son’s indifference” p. 68. An allegory and exaggeration of father-son conflict? But also Ego-Id, regulation and desire.
Multiple patriarchal figures: Jekyll, but also “stern” Utterson, “aged” Carew, the policeman, etc. Arguably the main characters, who create society, and thus also its other (Hyde etc). Patriarchs, as regulators, are detective-like figures, but paradoxically also authors of ‘crime’.
Society as supreme father: Freud defines the “Super-Ego” as the condition in which “…one man has set up an ideal in himself by which he measure his actual ego” (“On Narcissism”) – explains Jekyll’s “imperious desire” for propriety, for a “more than commonly grave countenance”?
3. Science, order and the detective
Science and the detective never occupy same position in this novel – no deductive science, no logic of signs and clues. Instead, they are mediated by attempts at ordering – the city, social classes, narrative “cases” – but the mediations already explode the assumption of identity between civilization and scientific progress.
a. “Cases” and “statements” – take the place of detective/police work, but with all kinds of gaps and lapses.
b. Utt. as detective – in protection of mc interests and kinship, so already biased and unobjective? Also, Utt. as criminal detective: “he was conscious of some touch of that terror of the law and the law’s officers, which may at times assail the most honest” p. 27. His inward fear of some “old iniquity,” the “many ill things he had done” p. 20. His desire to keep Hyde away by blackmailing him.
c. Science – not detecting but criminal, in the shape of the chemical transformation which enables vice and disguise. But science itself undercut, in the “impure” salt which frustrates repetition/control/ordering. A caricature of science? Jekyll wants to prove that “man is not truly one, but truly two” p. 61, a dissection of sorts. But the result escapes the intention, and reveals a greater intertwining than ever. (The unintended reversion to Hyde in Jekyll’s sleep; novel ends with “I bring the life of that unhappy Henry Jekyll to an end,” but it is Hyde whose body is found, pp. 76, 49).
Slippage between science and law/detective in this novel foregrounds the “impurity” of order instead – the mixing of categories (social, moral), the commingling of order and desire, and the impurity of language escaping linear order.
4. Detective novel and the ineffable: JH shows one aspect of detective narratives which crop up repeatedly, despite dominant narrative elements of consumerist and rational linearity. I.e. the ineffable – at the heart of man, soul, morality, causality, judgement. Scientist Lanyon is reduced to incoherent gaps (“there came, I thought, a change – he seemed to swell,” and “’O God!’ I screamed, and ‘O God!’ again and again,” “…I cannot bring my mind to set on paper” p. 59). In moral terms, the lack of a repentance; in legal terms, the absence of a confession and crime (is Jekyll the criminal, or Hyde). Ineffable narrative as recognition of late 19th C lack of clarity, the intertwining of seeming opposites.
5. Christian/biblical allusions: tongue as fire and narrative (im)propriety (James 3: 6); body/soul tension (Paul, metaphys. poets etc). Hyde is constantly ref. to in Satanic/Hellish terms (“pure evil,” p. 64; “This familiar,” p. 65; “my devil…came out roaring” p. 69). Christianity as a kind of ghostly echo, banished from modernity and the detective, but back to haunt their imperfections. An ‘other,’ marginalized from Victorian society but haunting it still. Or one narrative among many? – reader’s response, active choice. (Contrast No Name – “vengeance is mine, says the Lord”? Moral ending comes with surrender of improper desires).
Conclusion: JH as detective novel turned inward, in fin de siecle mistrust
and self-loathing. Detective forms as caricatures, allusions that
go nowhere, narrative patterns that don’t follow through. “Impure”
genre, impure narrative, as caricature of social order. Contrast
to the narrative desire for resolution, affirmation of social order, still
in Dickens and Collins.
Lecture 11 Handout – Sherlock Holmes (The Return of Sherlock Holmes)
1. Arthur Conan Doyle and the cult of the ‘real’ author:
Doyle b. Edinburgh 1859, d. 1930. First Holmes story (Study in Scarlet) pub. in 1887. Trained as a doctor, but gave up practice after stories became popular in 1890s. Return of SH pub. in 1905, after H is ‘killed off’ in Memoirs of SH.
Holmes stories essentially Victorian adventure tales, often set in romantic past or exotic locales – thus his The White Company, a story of a 14th C mercenary band; or The Lost World, a S. American expedition story. Reflects a late Victorian world-view: the world as the adventure-playground of the English gentleman, in which to win personal glory and to bring honour to the nation.
D also lived the life himself – a keen sportman, traveler and adventurer. His mother’s pride in the family, which apparently could be traced back 5 centuries, instilled in him notions of chivalry, honour, valour etc (Hodgson, 6). Served as a doctor in the Anglo-Boer war. Was a preacher and missionary. Occasionally played detective, when called to do so by adoring fans. Also got involved in famous legal cases, defending individuals he believed to be falsely accused.
Professional popular author as cult figure: blurring of personal life and fiction (Holmes based on Dr Joseph Bell, a teacher at Edinburgh; D as Holmesian detective; Watson the doctor-writer a figure for Holmes), the author as larger-than-life adventurer, the fictional figure/adventure as loosely based on real-life experiences. (Contrast Dickens and Collins, popular writers who captured the pulse of public readership, without creating a charismatic figure or the illusion of real-life possibilities).
2. Holmes/Doyle and late Victorian society
Holmes has qualities of the early Victorian detective e.g. Cuff and Blathers/Duff (serving the interests of the upper MC, dependent and independent at the same time), but also some qualities of the fin de siecle individual (hidden depths within, ‘beyond’ social conventions). Continuity of bourgeois ideology – historical particulars/contexts change, but essential problems persist. (Likewise, D as professional writer shares narrative traits with Dickens and Collins, but also marks a new phase of the cult writer, symbolizing England’s social aspirations and values).
H stories reflect social anxieties; but H also created as a figure to ritually exorcise those anxieties, even as he raises them.
a. H and Darwin’s garden: the H stories reflect a Darwinian
world-view – fundamental image of man as ruthless, locked in desperate
struggle for survival. Recurring D theme – Lost World’s evolutionary
blip (dinosaurs, ape-men and their resemblance to Vict. Scientists).
i. Imagery of man as wild animal: Col Moran “like a tiger” (p. 23), Jonas Oldacre a “ferret-like man” (p. 36) or a “malignant and cunning ape” (p. 42), Patrick Cairns (Black Peter’s killer) with a “fierce, bulldog face” and a “bellow like an enraged bull” (p. 156, 157), Milverton “quick as a rat” (p. 167), the Italian murderer Beppo “as swift and active as an ape” (p. 196) and snapping at Watson’s hand “like a hungry wolf” (p. 197), Captain Croker “active as a squirrel” (p. 285) etc.
Crime is the domain in the shadow of law/civilization, where facades give way to deep desire/appetites. Also the domain of hunting, where civilized man pits skill/courage against animal (Col Moran; harpooner).
“…something of the thrill which the hunter feels when he lies beside the water-pool and waits for the coming of the thirsty beast of prey….Was it a fierce tiger of crime,…or would it prove to be some skulking jackal…?” (“Black Peter,” p. 149/150)
ii. Hunting, war, and the Victorian paradox of civilization
But hunter also becomes animal in the jungle – H the “master huntsman” is also himself “like a tiger,” (p. 17, 22, again p. 197), playing with the criminal “like a cat with a mouse” (p. 291). Vict. imperial/colonial anxiety, the threat of loss of character in descending to the jungle, the “great game” of nec. deception and cunning in outwitting colonial competitors like Russia, Holland. (Seen in other late Vict. texts like Kipling’s Kim and short stories, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness).
iii. Atavism and the past-as-fate: H stories also confirmed Vict.
view of the duality of ‘progress.’ Paradoxically, late Vict. progress
(empire, national glory, socio-econ. progress) implies the distant/romanticized
past (racial/national consolidation, leading to chivalry and honour; mistakes
enabling later successes).
Questioning of progress: seen in a character in Hound of Baskervilles (pub. 1901), Dr Mortimer, whose publications include “Some Freaks of Atavism” and “Do we Progress?” Atavism – Latin “atavus” (“great-grandfather’s grandfather”) – the connected and determining past.
“I have a theory that the individual represents in his development the whole procession of his ancestors, and that such a sudden turn to good or evil stands for some strong influence which came into the line of his pedigree. The person becomes, as it were, the epitome of the history of his own family” (“Empty House” p. 27).
Constant references to blood, breeding, past, as ‘explanations’ of either noble or criminal behaviour. Not a scientific explanation (since, like the Monks-Oliver problem, or Stapleton-Henry in Hound, or Mount-James-Staunton in “Missing 3/4”, does not explain moral split within same family).
iv. City as wonder, city as threat: city is atavism writ
large, and H stories celebrate the wonders of the city (varieties of peoples,
cases, knowledge; technologies of speed/knowl., esp. telegraph, train,
newspapers). But (as in JH) also site of crime and concealment, disease
and poverty (the various deserted houses in “Empty House,” “6 Napoleons”
etc which foster crime; the theme of the ‘connected house,’ which becomes
criminal by virtue of its innocent-strategic placement, e.g. in “Red Headed
League”; the crowded anonymity which makes spying possible).
H the consummate master of city (“H’s knowledge of the byways of London was extraordinary,” p. 17); but also the duplicity this engenders (he is at a loss to operate in the open landscape of the country – “It does not lend itself to concealment. All this country that I passed over tonight is as flat and clean as the palm of your hand…” “Missing ¾, p. 264).
H figure of reassurance for this Vict. anxiety/gloom about bad blood, atavism, and progression-as-regression – by theorizing this he calls attention to it, but then symbolizes the possibility of ultimately uncovering human regression. He symbolizes useful knowledge of the city, which counters evil exploitation. He expiates civilisation’s savagery on behalf of all decent citizens (who can then remain blissfully innocent, e.g. Overton in “Missing ¾”).
b. H as “amateur”/”professional” – on one hand, H the consummate
professional. More competent and successful than ordinary policemen
like Lestrade and Hopkins. Deeper knowledge of criminals, marked
by his ability to practice disguise and deception where police cannot.
H as utterly devoted to his job: Stephen Knight observes that his qualities
(selfishness, ruthlessness, bachelor’s misogynism) all conduce to the undistracted
rationalism nec. for his job. In “Priory School,” H seems to relish
payment for a job well done (“’I am a poor man,’ said he, as he patted
[the cheque] affectionately” p. 138).
But H also called “the famous amateur” (“Black Peter,” p. 141), and described in artistic/sensitive terms rather than coldly professional ones.
“H…like all great artists, lived for his art’s sake…I have seldom known him claim any large reward for his inestimable services. So unworldly was he – or so capricious…” (“Black Peter” p. 139).
“A flush of colour sprang to H’s pale cheeks, and he bowed to us like the master dramatist who receives the homage of his audience.” (“6 Napoleons p. 200)
“The work is its own reward” (“Norwood Builder,” p. 52)
Duality of paid/unpaid, sensitive amateur/cold professional, inhuman/compassionate:
on one hand, a Vict. social anxiety about the commodification of everything.
Wealth/pay determine or influence marriages (incl. blackmailed relationships),
friendships, family relations. Murder (for money) as the ultimate
commodification of the human. Also unethical “businesses” like blackmail:
“every man has his business,” Milverton p. 176.
H is hybrid form, to address both sides of the Vict. dilemma – fantasy of the ruthless professional who is also sensitive/compassionate, tempering justice with mercy. But hybrid may just be glaring contradiction: the merciful detective (“Blue Carbuncle,” “Priory School,” “Milverton,” etc) raises issues of the reliability and objectivity of the detective.
Hybrid form poses problems of friendship with W too – the seemingly affectionate friend contradicted by the ruthless manipulator (Hound, “Empty House,” “Solitary Cyclist” etc).
c. H and the Mistrust of the Police
H is simultaneously the ultimate policeman – almost unfailing, machine-like, more successful – as well as a check on the police, which reveals Vict./mod. mistrust (police powers as nec., but an all-pervading institution of surveillance/detention/invasion which infects all soc. relations).
Clashes with institution of police – not merely different methods, freedom from constraints (although this is significant in “Milverton”); but calls attention to the ethics, function and accountability of policing.
H’s function ostensibly same as police’s, i.e. “justice”: “I am not in an official position, and there is no reason, so long as the ends of justice are served, why I should disclose all that I know” (Priory School, p. 137).
But H’s awareness of his departure and diff. from police, calls attention to the problems of ethics, motivation, and accountability: why is H nec., to temper justice with mercy – is this because of the impersonal bureaucratic failings of the police? e.g the aristocratic woman’s murder of Milverton, “…it was no affair of ours…justice had overtaken a villain” p. 177; or giving someone a second chance, e.g. the student who joins the Rhodesian police in “3 Students”, p. 221; or acquitting all for love and gallantry in “Abbey Grange” (W as “vox populi, vox dei” p. 295).
The idealism of H – justice governed by invisible/intangible (also ineffable) notions like vengeance, gallantry, love, self-knowledge? Or social prejudices disguised as idealism – innkeeper Hayes will hang in Priory School, but Duke’s bastard son allowed to choose emigration; lovers treated leniently, when they kill “brutish” bullies like Sir Eustace in Abbey Grange; women treated leniently, e.g. the killer in “Milverton” and the thieving wife in “2nd Stain”.
d. Justice and social prejudices: H stories in some ways
a reinforcement of social prejudices, in an age of social mobility and
uncertainty. Not merely money, or titles, but an indefinable ‘breeding’
consisting of social stability, continuity, temperance – high MC values
(repeated ref. to as “gentlemanly” qualities).
Almost NeoPlatonic notion of appearances speaking of guilt/innocence – myth of the super detective, but also reinforcement of the association between breeding and value:
“…flaxen-haired and handsome in a washed-out, negative fashion…his dress and bearing, that of a gentleman” (McFarlane in “Norwood Builder”, p. 33)
“a tall, ruddy, clean-shaven gentleman, whose clear eyes and florid cheeks…” (Hilton Cubitt in “Dancing Men” p. 57)
To do D/H credit, mere money/aristocracy not enough: e.g.
“…a nose which was grotesquely curved and long. His complexion was of a dead pallor…” (Duke in “Priory School” p. 112)
“…a queer little old man jerking and twitching in the doorway…a very rustic parson or of an undertaker’s mute” (Mount-James in “Missing ¾, p. 255).
Social sensibility in H stories cp. the upper MC in JH? Instinctual, undefinable, ineffable class instinct. In H’s case, more ‘overt’ justification in behaviour/character, less mysterious – but no less a bias for that, and as much of a challenge to the objectivity of the law.
Browne, Ray. “Ritual One” in Rituals and Ceremonies in Popular Culture, ed. Ray B. Browne.
Doyle, A. C. From The Great Boer War. Http://www.pinetreeweb.com/conan-doyle-mafeking.htm
Hodgson, John A. “Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes” in Sherlock Holmes: The Major Stories with Contemporary Critical Essays, ed. John A. Hodgson.
Knight, Stephen. “The Case of the Great Detective” in Sherlock Holmes: The Major Stories ed. John Hodgson.
Lecture 12 Handout – Sherlock Holmes
Although H in many ways a figure created in response to late Victorian anxieties – a construction of the figure of gallant savagery, humane professionalism, paid independence, and who dispenses a higher justice – these hybrid meanings do not easily cohere. H can be read as essentially gothic figure, fundamentally split, doubled.
1. Detective and Villain – circulation, professionalism, and the “great game.”
H, as super-detective, reveals the problems at the margins of detective’s role. H is where detective and villain paradoxically blur into each other, by logic of capitalist and imperial society, and by psycho-logic. H often calls attention to his own ‘criminal’ propensities – “…I have always had an idea that I would have made a highly efficient criminal…” (“Milverton” p. 170).
a. Capitalism and the villain: the detective-villain polarity makes us miss a third party, the mc businessman-as-criminal. Can in turn be traced to social structures of capitalist society: capitalism is leading-by-accumulation, but also vulnerability of concentration, e.g. in capital punishment (latin “caput” = head). To “go ahead,” but also to “lose one’s head.”
i. Challenges to Victorian capitalism: Late Victorian capitalism not a secure institution, but challenged by alternative economics. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s 1840 What is Property? – property as “theft.” Social-reformist ideas emerge in mainstream thinkers like J. S. Mill (chapter “Of Property” in Principles of Pol. Economy, 1848, expressed some sympathy/agreement with socialist economic thought). Thomas Carlyle’s influential social analysis (e.g. Past and Present, 1843) criticized class. economic notions like “supply and demand” and “laissez faire.” Many social realist writers – Elizabeth Gaskell, Dickens’ industrial novels e.g. Hard Times, Benjamin Disraeli’s Sybil and other “condition of England” novels – also sympathetic to hardships of the working class.
ii. D vs. earlier Victorians/social realism:
Earlier Vict. writers like Collins and Dickens tended to address sentiment – hard-heartedness of employers (and MC readers), welfare administrators, cruelty of social prejudices, etc. But they tended to retain economic-moral hierarchies and types: MC are law-abiding, if cruel and insensitive, while criminals are underprivileged (and poverty ‘makes’ criminals).
D interested in the ambivalence and potential darkness of the institution of property/wealth. Hound of Baskervilles: can be read as anxiety, not just of murder and wrongful inheritance, but the impact of wealth on society – Sir Charles’ interest in “schemes of reconstruction and improvement,” his “openly expressed desire that the whole countryside should, within his lifetime, profit by his good fortune.”
iii. Milverton most obvious eg. of the (wealthy) “businessman” as crook. But also Oldacre in “Norwood Builder,” both a swindler and murderer; Peter Carey in “Black Peter,” retired successful captain who is also a thief and murderer. Awareness that wealth often comes from ill-gotten means – wealthy man as “villain waiting to be discovered.”
iv. Less clear e.g.s of capitalist anxiety include: capitalist as ‘secondary villain’ (not H’s opponent, but minor criminal responsible for catalyzing more serious crimes) – e.g. Neligan senior in “Black Peter,” who runs away with securities and tempts with murder and blackmail. E.g. Ralph Smith in “Solitary Cyclist” – irresponsible wealth (no will, no warning or accountability – “took no notice of us when he was alive,” p. 86), and S. Africa associated with speculation, robbery, violence (Ralph’s association with Woodley, “the greatest bully and brute in S. Africa,” p. 101). Likewise Mount-James, the “crabbed old nobleman” (p. 269) in “Missing 3/4” – catalyzes disappearance and tragedy with his refusal to take “responsibility” for Staunton, his miserly protection of his money.
v. Another category of ‘wealthy facilitators’ – not strictly criminals (in intent or deed), but whose wealth or high position are used to conceal or abet crimes: e.g. Duke of Holdernesse in “Priory School,” who lets kidnapper James Wilder flee to Australia; or possibly Lady Brackenstall in “Abbey Grange” (Hopkins: “…the lady…has given so clear an account of the affair that there is not much left for us to do,” p. 273).
vi. Proliferation of variety/range of wealth villains depicts underlying code of crime as bred by capitalist society, and not nec. the peculiar evil of an individual. Stories marginalize many of these figures (except the primary villains), who either escape justice or play a ‘minor’ role in the storytelling/detection process.
Stories thus reinforce, if not exoneration, then inevitability (and thus tacit acceptance) of capital-as-crime.
b. Economy of circulation: detective-villain relationship resembles that between producer-consumer, seller-buyer. Holmesian detection almost an allegory of consumer relations and commodity culture, in which detective and villain are not opposites, but 2 types of consumers:
Commodification of the human: both detective and villain rely on treating persons as things – as information, access, utility. Villains treat women as wealth (“Solitary Cyclist”) or trophy (“Abbey Grange”); Milverton treats all of society as a big market (advertising to sellers of information, buyers, highest bidder):
“He allows it to be known that he is prepared to pay very highi sums for letters which compromise people of wealth or position. He receives these wares not only from treacherous valets or maids….Everything which is in the market goes to M, and there are hundreds in this great city who turn white at his name” (p. 163).
Also Eduardo Lucas in “2nd Stain,” another merchant who reduces husband-wife to secretive traders and commodities.
But H likewise commodifies people, as information, access – e.g. Milverton’s maid Agatha; Patrick Cairns in “Black Peter,” whom H lures (as he does several others in other stories) with an advertisement, treating him as abstract labour; and of course Watson, who is labour/security/errand boy as much or more than friend (esp. in “Empty House”).
Above all, H treats clients like commodities to bring him either gain, or pleasure, or both: e.g. his response to McFarlane’s plight in “Norwood Builder”: “’Arrest you!’ said H. ‘This is really most grati – most interesting’” p. 32.
Reading a person means reading the means of using the person – information to solve case, assist person, pinpoint location/class/finances etc; or to blackmail, cheat, deceive, prey on weaknesses. Detection and criminal activity (many, tho’ not all – not spontaneous crimes of passion) both aspects of an ‘information age,’ where money can be made from the timing, withholding, control, supply of various kinds of information.
But commodification turns back on H – his inhuman, coldly/mechanically professional nature is sign of the man become his business. The ‘branding’ of H: his obsession with his “reputation” (e.g. “Missing 3/4” p. 260, his discussion with Armstrong), and the way his name is recognized (“You have heard of me, I see” – “Solitary Cyclist,” p. 100).
c. Gaming and the ‘shadow-dance’: images of detection as adventure, game, abound – not just the Darwinian hunting images, but more boyish images recalling Baden-Powell, Kim, the late Victorian age/myth of ‘innocent adventurers’ in S. Africa, China elsewhere (Cecil Rhodes, “Chinese” Gordon). Gaming a fantasy-device, to distance uglier realities of action (violence, injustice, death), a myth of ‘pure’ action – “’Come, Watson, come...the game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come!’” (“Abbey Grange,” p. 271).
Myth is exposed in a number of ways, but chiefly because game requires opponent – to see villain as opponent rather than criminal-opposite, sets up relationship of similarity and inter-dependence. H craves opponent for sake of game/activity – sometimes even when there is no crime at stake (e.g. Dr Armstrong in “Missing ¾” – “more calculated to fill the gap left by the illustrious Moriarty,” p. 262). Or Wilder in “Priory School” – “A Criminal who was capable of such a thought is a man whom I should be proud to do business with” (p. 120).
In Freudian terms, H (and soc?) projects his own desires (adventure, excitement, hunt/lust) onto adversary – detection as ‘shadow dance,’ where partner is really (projection of) self.
2. H and madness, H as superman – reading “6 Napoleons”
H may be ‘mad’ the way Dorian (or Jekyll/Hyde) is mad – a madness which is not peculiar, but symbolizes something of the age/society.
a. Victorian pathology – if H himself becomes a text, reading it shows well-known signs of pathology. Drug addiction – in “Missing ¾,” W says “For years I had gradually weaned him from that drug mania…” but “the fiend was not dead, but sleeping” (p. 248). Drug is cocaine – but other than that, opium use is also mentioned, and the “poisonous atmosphere” of “strong coarse tobacco” that he often produces (Hound of Baskervilles chpt. 3 – cp. the figure of Prof. Coram in “Pince-Nez” p. 236 – “air…fetid with stale tobacco smoke”). Cp. Utterson, Dorian – substance abuse as social/sexual lack, suggestive of other dark habits.
H’s bachelor status and job as independent detective allow him an institutional unaccountability – he disappears for hours and days (and in 1 case, several years) without telling even W (and has strangely detached, competitive relationship with Mycroft). He blazons the multiple-compartmentalized life that Jekyll and Dorian are ashamed of: in “Black Peter,” “several rough-looking men” come to Baker St. to ask for H (“Captain Basil”), and W says:
“…H was working somewhere under one of the numerous disguises and names with which he concealed his own formidable identity. He had at least 5 small refuges in diff. parts of London in which he was able to change his personality. He said nothing of his business to me, and it was not my habit to force a confidence” (p. 140).
Echoes of Hyde’s Soho house, separate doorway; the intolerable burden of social being (“concealed his own formidable identity”) – detective, like the doctor, scientist, capitalist and aristocrat?
Boredom – H most susceptible to drugs when bored (“Missing ¾) – cp. boredom in DG? (Nunakawa’s article, “Importance of Being Bored”: boredom or “amor fati” the dark other of business and social identity, including consumer identity. H slightly different – boredom as sickness which shows emptiness of self, and suggests that professional work is desperate filling of emptiness. Patho-logic links work (paradoxically) with opium, disguising, competition etc.
W cp. Utterson? Tolerance (“Cain’s heresy,” “I let my brother go to the devil in his own way,” JH p. 7) a characteristic of late Vict. society, where secrecy is a premium, and knowledge can lead to power and commodification. The ‘see no evil’ social code of the MC Vict. gentleman, all the more true of the Vict. gentleman-detective – yet makes these scientists, detectives and narrators (who don’t ‘see’) highly suspect in epist. and moral terms.
H (and W) as blatant signs of Vict. pathology – not secretive as in JH and DG, because displaced onto professional dedication and the special calling of the detective (life and death, adventure, rescuing others) – yet this does not justify pathology, but only transfers gothic unease to the professional/detective calling. Is police/detective a social refuge for otherwise dangerous men? A sublimation of social violence? Thus also a permitting of ‘vices’ like disguise, risk, etc.
b. “Monomania”, obsession and accomplishment: “6 Napoleons,”
like many H stories, seems to be a self-reflexive story, with hidden meanings
which foster a gothic reading of H and his society.
i. Discussion on “monomania”: interestingly, H refuses to talk about it, and changes subject to the “method” of the criminal – i.e. his own monomania (crime, deductive method, the pursuit of mystery and criminal) steps in to prevent a discussion on monomania (which touches too close to home/Holmes?)
ii. After recovering the right bust, H “struck Napoleon a sharp blow on the top of the head” p. 200. Doubles the criminal Beppo, but also mirrors ‘Napoleon complex’ – world-conqueror, self-made emperor, superman. H’s fascination/identification with Nap. – “We have not yet met our Waterloo, Watson…” (“Abbey Grange” p. 285). To strike down Nap. rep. an unconscious desire to supplant and replace him.
But Nap. also projected onto other – H calls Moriarty the “Napoleon of crime” (“Final Problem” in Memoirs of SH).
Nap. complex in H manifested as going beyond constraints and limits, to be singular and without parallel. Thus, a quasi-Oedipal battle with society which constrains him – his smug superiority and undermining of Lestrade, Hopkins and other police figures (not only to serve a ‘higher justice,’ but also unconsciously to contradict the law and demonstrate his untouchable superiority – tells Lestrade in “Norwood Builder” “you must not grudge me a little pomp and ceremony now” p. 50/51; and justifies his release of criminals by berating the incompetence of the police in “Blue Carbuncle” and “Abbey Grange”
Calling the villain “Nap.” thus elevates villain to status of super-villain – out of ordinary, superior to other villains, but also superior to (ordinary) police – the aggrandizement of the villain, to aggrandize the detective self who finally captures him.
But also shows gothic pathologies: an identification with the villain (both share anti-social tendencies, have little in common with ‘ordinary’ society/laws/police), an unconscious projection of (‘super’) qualities indiscriminately onto both the villain and the self.
H’s career: instead of being read as the triumph of science and method, can be read as a perpetual monomania, an obsession of pride, individualism which must perpetually record its triumphs over other men. Would also account for his whipping-boy treatment of W, whom he must belittle in order to confirm his own superiority.
Finally, the last/correct Napoleon bust is in “Reading” (p. 202) – is this a narrative trick or clue? The “pearl” (of literary/cultural wisdom) lies buried in the right “reading”? H can find the right bust/pearl, but he misses all the self-reflexive clues (Nap. complex/references, striking the bust, “Reading” etc), which shows that detective role supplants self-consciousness?
3. H and Nietzsche’s superman – beyond good and evil.
“Ubermensch” – literally “overman,” transcending the norm. N used it as a figure for the bankruptcy of mod. society, the failure of hypocritical social conventions. “Power” (“macht” – “Will zum macht”) as good a yardstick for “the good” as anything. (Conversely, weakness the measure of “evil”). Perverted as a fascist doctrine, that ‘might makes right’ – but N intended it as a satire of society’s hollowness, and the falsifying “will to truth” of the powerful. Instead of brute power, the right philosopher goes beyond good and evil by an alternative philosophy, a remorseless exploration of the “perhaps.”
But there is a dark ambivalence in N which seems to articulate late 19th C soc’s sense that salvation must come from the repudiation of the mass/norm.
“Every superior human being will instinctively aspire after a secret citadel where he is set free from the crowd, the many, the majority, where, as its exception, he may forget the rule ‘man’ – except in the one case in which, as a man of knowledge in the great and exceptional sense, he will be impelled by an even stronger instinct to make straight for this rule” (B.Good/Evil, p. 39).
Ambivalence of the isolationist superman a mod. gothic trope – H (like Jekyll/Hyde, D) a privileged individual (superhuman talents, a “wizard, a sorcerer” if not a demi-god – “Second Stain” p. 323) whose career and being are more attractive/appealing to the reader than the materialistic dullness of the ordinary masses (Lestrade, Hopkins, Mrs Vane, Basil etc); but who in a sense are a distillation and concentration of the same problems of mod. society (H as product of and figure for mod. capitalism, imperialism, urban surveillance/aloofness/treachery, competition, commodification etc).
Irony of the mod. gothic detective/hero: leader in the quest for knowledge, but finds not secure ‘Truth’ but a circularity in which his own failings are the truth of mod. condition. Cp. Kurtz in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness:
“…a being to whom I could not appeal in the name of anything high or low. I had…to invoke him – himself – his own exalted and incredible degradation. There was nothing either above or below him…He had kicked himself loose of the earth…” (Penguin ed., p. 107).
Lecture 13 Handout – Narrating Holmes; Detective and Modernity
1. Watson and the ‘Everyman.’
If H is superman, W’s role in these stories is to be ‘Everyman’ – our representative, constructed to seem normal, sane, average in competence and skills. Balances H, reassures readers, mediates between readers and H, forms a social ‘quorum.’
a. W as composite figure: to complement the composite, hybrid H – Doctor, man of science/knowledge, historian/archivist on the one hand; but sentimental fool, bungler, intellectually-limited person on the other.
Latter view more common/obvious: W often seen as foil to show H’s brilliance – e.g. in “Blue Carbuncle” where he “can see nothing” from the hat which H reads so well; ditto in Hound of Baskervilles, with Mortimer’s walking stick. W is ordinary when H needs to be distinguished, extraordinary.
But W important in humanizing H, and is excessive or in surplus when H is deficient. The voice of decency and caution in “Milverton” – “surely you have gone too far?” p. 168. (what is “too far,” and why does W go along in the end? W does not voice an absolute and inviolable standard, but engages H in moral ‘reasoning,’ so that the conclusion – “sporting duel,” “self-respect and reputation,” to help a “lady” p. 169 – seem more solid. In persuading W, H persuades the reader-by-proxy). W gives rare occasion for H’s shows of affection: e.g. in “Empty House” – “his sympathy was shown in his manner rather than his words” p. 17. W also gives special insight into the rare emotional side of H, eg. in “6 Napoleons”: “it seemed to me that he was more nearly moved by the softer human emotions than I had ever seen him” p. 203.
W’s presence thus shows H’s ‘due process’ – that the ends have been weighed against the cost of the means.
b. ‘Quorum’ effect – W enables ‘consensus’ (with H) on difficult moral/judicial issues. The mock-comic version of this is the ending of “Abbey Grange” – W’s presence prevents H from having to be police, judge, jury all in one. W’s “understanding” of H’s often queer decisions/actions – burglary and concealing a murderer in “Milverton,” money and the spectre of bribery in “Priory School,” discretionary justice in many stories – implies a concensus, a new moral norm for the reader to accede to.
Partly created by W’s emotional participation and moral language: e.g. in “Milverton”:
“I thrilled now with a keener zest than I had ever enjoyed when we were the defenders of the law instead of its defiers. The high object of our mission, the consciousness that it was unselfish and chivalrous, the villainous character of our opponent, all added to the sporting interest of the adventure.” (p. 173).
2. W as narrator: reading the H stories
Part of W’s reassuring nature is his role as narrator and revealer – as opposed to H’s association with secrecy, inaccessibility, mystery. Yet W’s narratives inevitably caught up in the problems of public knowledge and mass readership – the errors, biases, gaps etc that characterize mod. information and mod. society.
a. W and gaps: the ‘resolution’ of mysteries is qualified by gaps in information, the impossibility of truly accurate reconstruction (either by detective/scientist, or narrator).
Most obvious e.g. is end of “Norwood Builder,” when the mystery of the blood/ashes in the woodpile cannot be solved: H thus tells W, “you can make rabbits serve your turn” p. 55. Not merely a trivial, secondary detail: points to the problem of W’s (and detective) narratives, the ultimate gap between detective and villain, detective and victim (esp. blackmail victims), detective vs police, detective/police vs. public, even H vs W. Gaps define the professional stature of detective – paid to solve what others, incl. police, cannot do, and independent status (from police), discretionary justice etc are only possible because of the gap of superiority of H.
But gaps in status, for detective, are based on gaps in knowledge and ability to acquire it. H as withholder of knowledge – to police/Hopkins (“Blue Carbuncle,” “6 Napoleons,” “Abbey Grange” etc), but also to husbands, victims etc (Mr Baker in “Blue Carbuncle”; Premier and Secretary in “Second Stain”.
E.g. “Priory School”: H “had had one of those violent strains of the ankle which leave a man helpless” p. 124. Necessary gap between H and Hayes, turns into a gap between H/W and readers. (This foregrounds the chron. gap between time of event, and time of narration – at start of “Empty House,” W says that it is “nearly ten years” after the events of 1894 that he writes. Most of the cases take place 1894-1901, and are written later, referring to “notebooks” (p. 84). The collected volume Return of SH pub. 1905). If this is merely a narr. device for suspense, then there is a gap between such instances of lack of narr. clarity/insight, and moments of ‘special’ insight e.g. in “Milverton” – “I understood the whole argument of that firm, restraining grip – that it was no affair of ours; that justice had overtaken a villain…” p. 177.
Also, the specialist’s ‘focus’ – H’s intensity, stamina, focus etc dedicated to the single-minded defeat of a villain. ‘Secondary’ actors are less important, especially after the apprehension of villain: “…the crisis once over, the actors have passed for ever out of our busy lives” (“Solitary Cyclist” p. 104).
Gaps also a reflection of Vict. social hierarchy – W’s (and H’s) tendency to preserve the privacy of sufficiently “illustrious” personages: “I should be guilty of an indiscretion if I were even to hint at the identity of some of the illustrious clients who crossed our humble threshold in Baker Street” (“Black Peter” p. 139). Or respect for Vict. institutions, e.g. the University: W’s vagueness in “3 Students,” referring to “one of our great University towns,” and how “injudicious and offensive” it would be to “exactly identify the college” p. 204.
W’s gaps a reflection of the peculiar status of the detective, but also a confirmation of the social prejudices and anxieties of the Vict. world in which the detective is created/functions.
b. Narrative “vagueness” and popular fiction: more disturbing than noticeable gaps in the narrative, are accounts where there is a declaration of “vagueness” (to protect Vict. personages/institutions), but impossible for readers to determine what has been changed or left out.
e.g. “Second Stain”: a “carefully guarded account of the incident,” one that is “vague in certain details” p. 296. W then proceeds seemingly to declare all details, including potentially sensitive ones like “Lord Bellinger, twice Premier of Britain,” “Trelawney Hope, Secretary for European affairs,” Hope’s wife, Eduardo Lucas/Henri Fournaye-Mme. Fournaye, etc.
Paradox of the ‘revealed secret’ marks W as fiction-spinner for “public” tastes – fills in gaps whose persistence may make the story unapalatable. Ties in with his declared work of selection and prioritization: at beginning of “Solitary Cyclist,” W declares need to “select [which of H’s numerous cases] to lay before the public” p. 84. Chooses those showing the “ingenuity and dramatic quality of the solution” rather than the “brutality of the crime.” I.e. H’s skill and pleasure associated therewith (W mentions “a few unavoidable failures,” but none of these make their way into this volume).
c. Gothic narratives: not merely that there are gaps and gap-filling fictions; but the contrast between the detective’s epistemological project, and W’s narrative acts of concealment, selection, pleasure-creation, etc.
Gothic narrative qualities may be inherent in detective and his society: the nec. gaps of capitalism (detective as capitalist of knowledge/skills, a-‘head’ of the rest; society’s push for excellence/distinction, but also the separation this entails – we favour the “specialist,” thus fostering his independent secrecy from the rest; information as wealth and power). Thus W’s narrative gaps and secrets only reflect the shape of mod. capitalist society and its detectives.
Also the dysfunctional nature of society: W’s gaps (and detective’s secret work) necessitated by dark secrets in supposedly respectable families and institutions: the Duke’s bastard son, the Secretary’s errant wife, spousal abuse/strained marriages in nobility, etc.
3. Holmesian world, Victorian world: narratives attempt to ‘involve’ readers – both in terms of process/time (presenting the mystery, then the clues, giving reader some chance to solve mystery), but also in terms of world/space – the creation of an atmosphere of London (fogs, smells, lighting etc), but more significantly, the use of icons. Create a ‘palpability’ to the stories, a sense of ‘real’ crime/clues/time/world. (Vict. equivalent to “virtual reality” and “interactive gaming”?).
But this creation of the ‘palpable’ and ‘real’ has other implications/ramifications: the creation of (implied) boundaries, orientations, borders. Not coincidentally, this ties in with Vict. imperial mindset, issues of race, nation, etc.
a. Racial types: like other fin de siecle (and esp. gothic) texts, recognition of the increasing multi-racial presence in London: e.g. “women of many nationalities” in JH; Malays, opium (and many exotic commodities) in DG; the invading easterner Dracula.
In Return of SH, there are Americans (“Dancing Men”), Italians and Germans (“6 Napoleons”), Australians (“Abbey Grange”), French (“Second Stain”), Russians (“Pince Nez”), Indians (“3 Students”), expatriates in S. Africa (“Solitary Cyclist”, “3 Students”), and “a certain foreign potentate” (“Second Stain”). (Even an “Andaman Islander” using an exotic poison in Sign of Four).
Earlier Vict. texts registered the growing Vict. empire already – China in No Name; India in Moonstone, etc – but still as exotic, far-off (largely unseen, discontiguous) places. Proliferation of racial types in H stories presents multiracial presence/contact as fait accompli of empire and globalization; a naturalization of racial difference.
Seemingly a liberal, tolerant attitude: other races not nearly as dangerous as the gothic within – the truly evil people are often Brits, like Col. Moran, Jonas Oldacre, Peter Carey, Milverton, Sir Eustace. (Main exception prob. Beppo in “6 Napoleons”). But as an imperial ideology, these texts naturalize the subordinate, degraded place of foreigners – e.g. the “tenement houses [which] swelter and reek with the outcasts of Europe” (“6 Napoleons,” p. 191). By W’s logic of presenting only the cases of “ingenuity,” not “brutal” crimes, the suggestion is that foreign crimes are excluded from W’s selection, as not being ingenious enough. (Beppo’s crime may be included because H feels that Beppo’s search for the missing pearl is “conducted…with considerable ingenuity and perseverance” p. 201. But even then, the case seems more interesting for the accidental peculiarity of the smashed Napoleons, than for the criminal’s intelligence: H also says how B got the pearl “is of no consequence to us”). So, a hierarchy of crimes, in which the famous specialist only chooses “white crimes” as being intellectually stimulating – if the detective has a curious intimacy with the villain, then there seems to be an implicit racism in H’s detective pursuits. Cp. Henry’s remark in DG that “crime belongs exclusively to the lower orders,” whereas what the upper classes do is “procuring extraordinary sensations” p. 175
Within the ranks of non-English criminals, there seems to be a racial/political hierarchy, in which the white world aligned with (or at least neutral to) English interests are often morally superior, while darker-skinned or more ‘sinister’ peoples are morally reprehensible. Americans and Australians come out the best (Abe Slaney and Captain Croker kill, but in self-defense and out of love/chivalry). Russians and Italians are sly, treacherous and evil. The French are incompetent and distracted by adultery/jealousy. Indians seem “sly,” and if innocent then are inconsequential.
b. Class – in some ways, these subtle/suggestive racialised relations supplant the more overt class issues/tensions in JH, DG and other late Vict. novels. While there are obvious Vict. social prejudices in the H stories, there are some attempts to depict lower orders more sympathetically, to envision their incorporation (to a certain extent) into a world of honest English citizenship. “Missing 3/4” symbolically depicts a marriage between individuals from upper and lower orders, and depicts the poor girl as better than the rich miserly uncle. Sympathy for individuals who have suffered reversal of fortune, and yet try to steer clear of crime/dishonesty: Mr Baker in “Blue Carbuncle,” and Gilchrist in “3 students” whose father was “ruined.”
H certainly a figure of social mobility – gets information from common people in pubs, in post offices, etc. His disguises include lower-class ones like sailors, beggars, etc. Social mobility is of course a capitalist idea – the dignity of honest striving, the possibility of (re)building fortunes, etc. But class and race go together, and this relatively inclusive class picture (contrasted to DG), is part of an imagined nationalism which binds all honest English citizens (regardless of class) together in the face of threats from other races/nations; as well as from the threat within, from the dark greed and selfishness within English society.
c. Gothic society – the complicated social/racial/moral codes in the H stories reverse simpler stereotypes (English always better than other races; criminals always from lower classes), in order to create an imperial world (where the other races flock to the imperial capital, London; where England and Englishness are the central self, around which revolve more-or-less marginal racial-political others). But this is also a gothic world, in which racial/national/social diversity is bewildering, preventing detection of truth, and necessitating a super detective. (E.g. “Second Stain,” where race/nationality are red herrings which delay solving the crime: is the “foreign potentate” involved in the loss of the letter? Is the Frenchman Eduardo Lucas? The perceived bureaucratic obstruction of the French police? In this case, the culprit is much closer to the national/racial/domestic home).
d. Gender – to a certain extent, mirrors this complicated racial/national scenario. Women are hardly ever criminals in these stories – but this (following W’s selection criteria) only marks their lower degree of “ingenuity,” daring, courage. When they do commit crimes, it is due to desperation/passion (the unnamed noblewoman in “Milverton”), ignorance (Hope’s wife in “Second Stain”), or as unknowing accomplices/catalysts (Elsie in “Dancing Men”).
In this sense, they are aligned with some of the other races – lacking white European boldness, planning, intellect; char. by dark passions, impulsiveness.
But they are gothic in that they are both the ‘other’ (excluded from male adventurous courage, reason/intellect) as well as ‘self’/Heimlich (domestic, cherished/worshipped by the man). Their perceived weakness is projected as other to, and threatening English masculine enterprise/ambition; yet their weakness is also fostered and nurtured by controlling and stubborn men. E.g. Hilton Cubitt, who meets and marries an unknown woman over a single month, and in the process inherits and fosters a dark secret, hidden past, jealousy etc. All the blackmailed women who cannot “take [their] husbands into [their] confidence,” as H advises Lady Hilda in “Second Stain,” are thus the implicit indictment of their husbands’ manners, ambitious, domestic relations (or lack thereof).
The worrying thing is that H (and to a lesser extent W) also replicates this gender imbalance – like the MC professionals in JH, his dedication to the job supplants sexuality and the other sex. Sexuality gets displaced (unconsciously, to H?) in a kind of obsessive chivalry-on-the-job, e.g. when he turns a blind eye to Milverton’s murderer, or acquits Captain Croker.
4. Conclusion: The Gothic Detective and the Modern World
a. Increasing turn ‘inward’ in these narratives: psychology as gothic. A “hermeneutics of suspicion” (Mark Poster’s phrase about Marxism), in which no-one is entirely free from readerly doubts, not even H.
b. Angela Carter’s comment: “we live in gothic times” – not just a sub-genre or marginal writing, but a perception of our entire world. Overload of information/media, thus every bit of information a potential clue.
c. Combines with commodification and professionalism to turn individuals into texts/cases – to be read, used for professional ambitions, etc.
d. Gothic narrative: moves quite far away from sensationalism and overt supernatural of 18th C texts. Detective narratives install a “gothic of the everyday” – of daily institutions/practices like money, business, marriage. Mod. gothic reading is reading against increasingly normalizing forces – like the racial/imperial/moral/heroic normalization of W’s narrative.
Lecture 9 Handout – Dorian Gray
Part I – Wilde, Nietzsche, Anglo-Irishness, Transgression
Oscar Wilde b. 1854 in Dublin, d. Paris 1900. Known for a number of successful, witty and rather risqué social comedies (Lady Windermere’s Fan, 1892; An Ideal Husband 1895; The Importance of Being Earnest, 1895). Perhaps best known for homosexuality trial, and his conviction and imprisonment from 1895-1897. The trial did much to publicise (‘out’) the term “homosexual” and debates about moral/sexual conformity and ‘transgression.’
His defense of homosexuality and its related lifestyle/values during the trial, and the social satires of DG and the plays, collectively gave W a reputation as an outspoken critic of late Victorian social hypocrisy, and a proto-modernist champion of desire, freedom, and the centrality/precedence of art.
DG a complex, suggestive short novel, which can be read in a number
of ways (social satire, aesthetic document, modern interpretation of classical
myth, crime/underworld novel, gothic tale).
Necessary to work through the tenacious but problematic readings of novel, before arriving at the more complex textual clashes at the heart of the gothic/detective DG.
i.e. reading (this novel) is the penetration of multiple layers, in an attempt to pierce to the heart of the ‘mystery’ (of society, meaning, human nature, textuality/art)
1. The ‘wild’ Wilde
Tempting reading, based on the exaggerated myth of Wilde as Dionysian rebel – but ultimately closes as many textual doors as it opens. Nevertheless, suggested by many of the surface themes in DG.
a. Aesthete: Wilde often seen as champion of an “art for art’s sake” aestheticism (at Oxford he founded a society based on Pater). But Murray observes (p. ix of intro. To Oxford edition of DG) that Pater tried hard to combat the myth of “heedless hedonism” that he never intended in The Renaissance and other writings. (Art’s intensity of sensation was taken as a hedonistic principle – art thus replaced morality and social conscience).
Comment in Preface, p. xxiii (“There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book”) seems to set art apart from moral/social function. Basil and Lord Henry in DG in different ways seem to be champions of pleasure and art: Basil’s whole life revolves around his art, with his “sudden disappearance,” his love of “secrecy” and “pleasure” (p. 1, 3). Henry constantly preaches acting on desire, whatever the cost (an effete echo of Blake’s MHH? – eg. “He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence” (5th “Proverb of Hell). Also p. 128 – “Each of us has Heaven and Hell in him, Basil”
Novel as manifesto for pure art, in an age of social crisis and emptiness? But aestheticism or hedonism bring no fulfillment to Dorian, Basil or even Henry. They are no better than the age, they seem rather its representatives. Also, DG’s social consciousness (re: marriage, greed, crime etc) strangely out of sorts with an aesthetic manifesto.
b. Homosexual/desiring: Wilde, like Blake and the Marquis de Sade, as champion of sexual expression/identity, including the socially-transgressive sexualities of homosexuality, adultery, prostitution. One reading (by Gary Schmidgall) is that Wilde was strongly critical of closeted gays like Pater – so DG might be seen as a stronger aesthetic/hedonistic document, an ‘outing’ of the implications of desire (linking desire with larger issues like art, morality, selfishness, crime, truth, hypocrisy etc).
So DG as a novel which supplants Victorian patriarchal values (heterosexuality, marriage, propriety, stability, order) with a list of homosexual codes (as Eve Sedgwick argues - opium smoking, tense same-sex relationships, disappearances, evasiveness, erotic art – cp. JH?).
Again, some problems with this reading: as in JH, homosexuality requires a degree of over-reading/overdetermination. Hedonism could be codes for homosexuality, but also a critique of upper-class property and manners, or even an ironic rendering of a moral message (transience of pleasure), or just plain pleasure. Homosexuality, as Wilde calls it in his trial, is “the love that dare not speak its name” – hence codes, allusions, symbols. Difficult to read DG simply as a homosexual subversion of Victorian patriarchy, because of coding and overdetermination. Also, again, the futility of D’s life.
c. Anglo-Irish: Wilde one of a no. of Anglo-Irish writers
who favour gothic/supernatural – incl. Maria Edgeworth, Sheridan Le Fanu,
Bram Stoker and others. Anglo-Irish as a ‘fringe’ position – power,
but at the periphery of empire. (Parnell became leader of Irish Parliamentary
Party in 1880, and advocated Irish home rule – a separate power).
Curtis Marez thus sees DG as an attempt “to transform the in-between status
of the Anglo-Irish colonial mc into a position of strength.” i.e.
by shifting boundaries of otherness – moral, sexual, racial, aesthetic
– so as to subvert the centrality of Victorian imperial assumptions.
i.e. DG as colonial gothic – use of tropes which undermine colonial society. The instability of identity – D as himself, D as portrait – as a splitting which undermines the singleness of colonial identity. But also (as Marez points out) a range of non-Western positions: from the “chattering” Malays and the woman’s smile like a “Malay crease” (p. 153, 155), to the Chinese puzzle-box and “Algerian pastilles” (p. 150), the “Persian saddlebags” in Basil’s studio (p. 1), etc. Also, the myth of non-Western art as non-realist, aesthetically ‘higher’ – Lord Henry’s view of landscape as a “Japanese effect” (p. 1), the “foreign” pianists that Lady Henry “worships” (p. 37), “Tanagra figurine” (p. 62), antiques from different nations/empires (“Louis Quartoze clock” p. 36, the names “Dorian” and “Sibyl” etc).
Spatial, social (aristocracy and actors/sailors/prostitutes) and cultural differences as a textual enactment of splitting, which divides the singleness of imperial ideology.
Problem is that colonial/imperial ideology is already an accommodation of differences – are these social/cultural differences an overthrowing of English hegemony, or subservient to it? Ditto Anglo-Irishness – attempt to replace English hegemony, not with cultural/national freedom and difference, but an alternative hegemony (the split of “anglo” and “irish” not resolved).
DG as “wild” novel is thus one aspect of its multi-valanced, over-coded
nature – tempting to read it as merely subversive, but also problematic.
Reader-as-detective thus tasked with determining and negotiating positions.
Part II – DG as gothic narrative
1. Mythic quality – seems like a re-writing of Greek tragic encounters/metamorphoses. (D describes Sibyl’s death as having “all the terrible beauty of a Greek tragedy, a tragedy in which I took a great part, but by which I have not been wounded”, p. 82)
“Dorian” (from Doris in ancient Greece – connoting “simple,” “solemn,” even “rustic” (O.E.D.) “Sibyl” – oracular, mysterious, prophetic. (Even “Basil” is from Gk. “basilikos” = royal, but also church, and basilisk). So encounter between D and Sibyl that between simple rustic boy and oracular, divine woman? Irony.
Actually echoes tragic romantic encounter between deity and mortal woman – e.g. Zeus and Semele, who became pregnant with Dionysus. Zeus snatched Dionysus out of Semele’s womb when he destroyed her with lightning. (D = Zeus, descending from high society to dazzle S, but also destroying her? Thus a modern morality tale of the dangers of social mixing? But D could also be a Dionysian figure – irrationality, madness, excess)
D could also be Narcissus (refers to himself so, kisses portrait, p. 86) – so in love with his own appearance than he failed to return the love of the nymph Echo (= Sibyl?); but punished for his love of staring at his own reflection in streams.
Greek mythic elements heighten sense of the tragic, unequal, exploitative quality of (heterosexual) love? But this is one narrative pattern among many in DG – especially the D-Sibyl part, which in some ways is merely an aside, a story-within-story.
2. Pagan vs. Christian/moral: Tempting to see the contrary
class. symbolism as caused by the a-moral nature of Gk. Myth (and thus
reinforcing the “wild Wilde” – i.e. Gk. Myth as writing a story about a-moral
desire, casual cruelty). Except that D is not a god, and the Gk.
reading in a mod. Victorian context doesn’t sit comfortably. There
does seem to be a moral/cautionary element in this modern re-telling –
dangers of meddling, mixing, transgressing, hubris.
Moral reading reinforced by Christian narrative elements – the fall, temptation, pride, moral struggle. First scene in Basil’s garden is Edenic – Henry as serpent, tempting D (“the only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it”, p. 15), D coming into ‘knowledge’ (of “his own beauty” p. 20).
D as Satan – figure of beauty and pride, which is his downfall, and cause of his renunciation of contentment/order in Heaven. (Basil says of the portrait, “It has the eyes of a devil,” p. 128). So p. 128 – “Each of us has Heaven and Hell in him, Basil” – could be read as echo of Milton’s Satan (“The mind is its own place, and in it self/Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n,” PL I: 254-55) – but not hopeful and triumphant as in Satan’s case, but ironic/desparate, as he shows portrait to Basil. The scene betw. Basil and D also echoes medieval morality plays, good and bad angels arguing over the soul and its salvation – also recounted in Marlowe’s Dr Faustus. D makes a Faustian pact, selling his soul and future for the sake of a vague benefit, and then regretting it later on.
But morality seems an accidental quality in DG, which lacks crucial Christian notions of repentance, confession, humility etc (cp. Jekyll’s final statement?). Basil as ‘good angel’ – his ‘repentance’ still an aesthetic judgement (the “disgust and loathing” at the painting, p. 127); the selfishness of his confrontation with D (“deny them…can’t you see what I’m going through?” p. 126). D’s career as ‘cautionary tale’ – but he tries to destroy painting, not through remorse/guilt, but because he sees it as “conscience” (p. 183).
Partial morality, or moral surfaces – to invoke shades of moral conflict and transgression, but without the overarching Christian narratives of redemption, salvation.
3. Perception and madness: gothic multiplication of narratives
and meanings thus tied to the aesthetic issue of perception – the individual’s
momentary, powerful response to artistic text (e.g. Henry’s sense of the
“flame-like” beauty of flowers, p. 1; or D’s image of Sibyl “like dark
leaves round a pale rose,” his feelings for her in a “moment” like “one
perfect point of rose-coloured joy” p. 62).
Individualized “moments” of perception are opposed to centralized, authoritarian texts and their interpretation – i.e. a poetics of multiplicity, dissent, freedom of response. (Thus, the link between aestheticism and sexual dissidence?). “Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital” (Preface, p. xxiv).
But this liberation of “moments” of perception also enables contrary responses in a single reader, at different moments – e.g. D’s radically-changed perception of Sibyl; Henry consoles him by saying “She is beautiful. What more can you want?”, but D’s perceptions are paramount: “Last night she was a great artist. This evening she is merely a common-place, mediocre actress” p. 69.
Multiple moments of perception thus not only the poetics of a bored cynical aesthetic class; also a gothic poetics (dialogical clashes of irreconcilable narratives; the impossibility of homogeneous order; meaning escaping authority).
Also an element of (gothic) madness – schizophrenia, paranoia, manic-depression (and others – Freud speaks of Narcissus complex) characterized by instability of moods and thus also perceptions. D is aesthete-as-madman – swayed by moods and moments which he has given free rein.
“Was it all true? Had the portrait really changed? Or had it been simply his own imagination…” p. 77
D exhibits paranoid elements, especially in his suspicion and perception of his servants: “there was something sly about him”, although he has “a placid mask of servility” (p. 96, 98).
The portrait or mirror with life of its own (D imagines it tells him to kill B) is classic schizo. (Cp. the mother in Psycho). Symptom – separation of guilt/responsibility into a separate persona.
Extreme mood swings – from gay and reckless, to desperate and tormented.
D himself says that if he were to tell the true story (of B, the painting), “the world would simply say that he was mad” p. 182.
DG a novel of gothic decay of the self, into split and irreconcilable elements. Wilde makes perception a sign of madness – gothic and subversive because it is also aligned with art, newness, freedom.
4. “poisoned by a book” – gothic textuality
DG thus self-reflexive, to an extent – a narrative about narratives, a ‘mirroring’ (mise en abyme) of modern poetics, politics and society (atomistic, fragmentary, liberating but also decaying/destabilized).
The gothic multiplication of contrary narratives and meanings is echoed by the trope of the poisoned book – “DG had been poisoned by a book” p. 120. Gothic trope of supernatural narratives, black spells. But also modern trope of meaning and reading decontextualised from intellect, social responsibility, religion, morality. Also a figure for the charisma, adulation which are valued so highly in aristocratic society (cp. media/fashion today?)
Texts referred to in Lectures (not required reading, but may be useful/of
Marez, Curtis. “The Other Addict: Reflections on Colonialism and OW’s Opium Smoke Screen,” ELH 64 (1997).
Nunakawa, Jeff. “The Importance of Being Bored: The Dividends of Ennui in…DG” Studies in the Novel 28 (1996).
Schmidgall, Gary. The Stranger Wilde: Interpreting Wilde (1994).
Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Epistemology of the Closet (1990)
Lecture 10 Handout – Dorian Gray
Part I – DG as Detective/Crime Novel
1. Revenger’s Tragedy, psychical flows, social relations-as-crime.
a. DG is detective/crime novel as revenge tragedy – at its core, a failed relationship leading to suicide, the brother’s desire for revenge, but botched by a series of mishaps.
(compare/contrast No Name? Mag. is protagonist-as-revenger, also marred by mishaps, e.g. Lecount showing up while she is away, finding/misconstruing the poison).
b. Plot and sub-plot:
Death of Sibyl paralleled by another crime story, D’s murder of Basil, which evokes father-son struggle (control, nagging, authority), latent homosexual aggression/denial, the irrational act of passion/heat of moment crime, etc.
Two seemingly separate and unconnected episodes – one lower-class, suicide/murder, sentimental/affectionate, revenging, heterosexual; the other upper-class, mono- or homosexual, kinless, unrevenging, murder. Only link seems to be as episodes in D’s career, demonstrating his progressively deeper and more active involvement in crime (as his moral nature and/or sanity disintegrates).
But D is not the only logic linking these episodes; not casual/accidental, but mirroring relationships which show an endemic condition of society itself. Triangular relationships: Henry-D-Basil, Sibyl-D-Jim, Mrs Vane-Sibyl-Jim (and Lady Henry-Henry-D? Lord Kelso-Margaret Devereux-husband? Mrs Vane-Jim-Father?).
c. Murder as lack (shades of Oedipus/incest/castration) – in a sense, D abandons S because she lacks his ideal qualities (“You have disappointed me” p. 72, S as “bad art”). Jim seeks to kill D because of the separation from sister – he feels a “fierce, murderous hatred” of D even before he sees him or S dies, simply because he “had come between them”, p. 57. Jim’s lack in turn stems from lack/hatred stemming from class/patriarchy – the child’s perception of the mother’s lack, hatred for the father’s absence-presence – “My father was a scoundrel then!” p. 58. Mrs Vane, on her part, succumbed to him because of her lack: “Sibyl has a mother…I had none” p. 58.
Channeling of lack into murder also seen in the Henry-D-Basil relationship. Obvious jealousy/competition between Henry and Basil for D seen from the beginning. Basil can be seen as the desperate spurned lover, whose pleadings provoke D. But again the psychical influence of past – D’s sudden violence may be seen as transference of hatred for grandfather (= killer of desire), onto another moralizing/annoying old man – he “had hateful memories” of his grandfather, yet places the painting in nursery closed since Kelso’s death (infantile regression, re-instating grandfather), and covers it with a Venetian coverlet bought by the grandfather, p. 97.
So novel shifts ‘crime’ away from solitary transgression of law, to the crime inherent in social relations or the lack thereof – failure of social relations as underlying cause.
Gay detective/crime narrative – castration/denial by society as crime fait accompli, subsequent acts as manifestations of this. Crime is the expression of individual sensations that rebels against the castrating rule of law.
2. Lack and Consumption
“’What do they say of us?’
‘That Tartuffe has emigrated to England and opened a shop’” p. 160
a. DG as novel about consumption: the many details of exotic
goods; characters seek to gratify appetites (opium, drink, prostitution/adultery).
Henry’s injunction to “Live!” = to consume in order to get pleasure, “sensations”
Consumption rampant means that not only goods/things, but also people, get consumed/objectified – Sibyl (“When is she Sibyl Vane? Never”, p. 44; “the joy of a caged bird was in her voice” p. 49). When D kills Basil, he goes from being “Hallward” to “the man” p. 130, and then “a body” for a “scientific experiment” p. 139. And of course D himself is objectified into a painting/icon. (Just as Wilde objectified into “that dandy,” the “homosexual”).
Depersonalisation also marked by pseudonyms – “the Jew,” “Prince Charming,” “Juliet-Imogen-Rosalind etc,” “the man with whom my wife ran away” p. 174, Henry as “Prince Paradox” p. 159, etc.
Even art is depersonalized: Basil, “An artist should create beautiful things, but should put nothing of his own life into them” p. 9.
Thus the link between consumption and crime? Desire which crosses boundary between “persons” and “things” (mod. gothic transgression/liminality).
The “new hedonism” can be seen as aspect of modernity? i.e. ideology of late capitalism, which inflates desire for consumption in order to stimulate demand. (Thus D’s longevity turns to acquiring things – jewels, embroideries, other “treasures” pp. 109-115.
b. Consumption and decay
Other side of mod. consumption is decay and obsolescence. The trope of (fear of) aging can be read as allegory of consumption. Narcissism is the clinical manifestation of consumption-gone-mad. D reps. society’s anxiety and desire – “You are the type of what the age is searching for, and what it is afraid it has found” p. 178.
3. Charm, influence as magic
“…to influence a person is to giver him one’s own soul” (Lord Henry; p. 14).
Gothic/detective mystery of the human – after crime is solved, what
remains is mystery of how humanity can be bent to such a purpose (Mag.
vs. Norah; Monks vs. Oliver etc).
DG offers the trope of charm/influence – an almost magical force which bends and shapes individuals. Implicit in the Edenic allusions. Also reading and social tastes: Henry, talking to D, remembers “a book that he had read when he was sixteen” p. 16; the book Henry gives D which “poisons” him; the many scenes of charming and witty exchanges (dinner parties, hunting parties, etc).
Other social institutions characterized by charm/influence: artistic “reputation”; the “charm of marriage” which “makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties” p. 3; thus also adultery; collecting/consumption; acquaintances and social circles (Alan Campbell, Adrian Singleton)
Charm is modern trope of civilized egalitarian society, and susceptibility of mod. man to pervasive multiple influences. But also gothic trope of the mesmerizing other, who exerts almost magical power over one (Dracula) – more gothic in DG for being diffuse, ubiquitous.
1. Madness and the psychological novel
Fin de siecle gothic (monstrosity/decay/darkness within, indiv. as symbol for society/city) closely connected to the psychological novel – some egs already in latter part of 19th C (Bronte novels; in Europe, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, etc), although often considered a modernist phenomenon.
Fin de siecle gothic is where we are brought “into” the mind of the madman – done subtly in social realism, but with more shocking violence/monstrosity in gothic. Thus in JH, Jekyll’s “full statement” is meant to shock, by its revelation of madness-in-reason. Likewise DG is the picture of a privileged man’s descent into madness. (Ellis; Hitchcock; Rice). After this point, difficult to draw the line between ‘madness’ and ‘sanity’.
But to be able to enter madman’s mind, is also to be able to leave one’s own mind/persona – madness and acting, hypocrisy; madness and ecstasy (= latin “ex” + Gk “histemi,” to be outside of one’s place). Jekyll’s “He, I say – I cannot say I” cp. D’s “Poor Basil! what a horrid way for a man to die!” p. 135). D’s “curious disguises,” which must be kept hidden in a secret panel p. 131.
Supernatural trope as the symbol of madness – textual ambivalence allows supernatural trope to be read as the product of madness. Impossible to prove that the painting really confers supernatural powers (Basil, the only ‘witness,’ is swayed by artistic nature).
Social madness – the insinuation of madness into social relationships (hints of this in JH, the secret guilt of the UC, violence of the mob). The madman (D) is thus only the most visible sign of madness/violence in all – Basil’s disappearances, Henry’s implied debaucheries, Kelso’s cruelty, Jim’s violence, Sibyl’s suicide.
2. Displaying madness/deviance – the glass closet
Different ways of displaying gothic madness – Frankenstein’s solitary, romantic madness, madness-as-other (also Fagin? Mag? Hyde is the madman-as-other who turns out to be kin to the upper-MC self).
DG plays a complex game in which madness (like deviance, immorality, vice) is displayed as simultaneously self/social and other/isolated.
Eve Sedgwick refers to the “glass closet” – not ‘out,’ maintaining boundaries of a separate area, yet also on display. An “open secret,” yet deniable and displaced. (Sedgwick’s e.g. is Basil, who displays yet denies his homosexual love for D by framing it in ‘other’ terms, e.g. anachronistic art – “I had drawn you…on the prow of Adrian’s barge” – “I grew jealous of everyone to whom you spoke” pp. 93, 94).
Same with D’s secret vices – obvious that he uses disguises, goes to low places, smokes opium, prostitutes, in company of other young men. But if this is all of the ‘secret,’ why is the narrative so coy about declaring it? Why the scandal and gossip, when so many others (incl. Henry and his wife, Basil) also do ‘secretive’ things? Why is Campbell susceptible to blackmail, and then commits suicide?
Narrative thus compels us ‘further’ and ‘deeper,’ without itself declaring what that awful secret is. On one hand, this replicates the feel of social hypocrisy – i.e. narrative pretends that it cannot directly say (having already insinuated), because it is governed by society’s own hypocrisy. On the other hand, this coyness stimulates reader’s own imaginative production of monstrous vice.
“Glass closet” epistemology – uncertainty in a modern age, and/or the coyness of homosexual display. “Glass closet” narrative – gothic ambiguity which tricks the reader, compelling overreading and/or misreading.
3. Wilde, Nietzsche and a postmodern problem
Wilde often compared with Nietzsche, as critics of late 19th C hypocrisy. Nietzsche’s writings in the 1870s and 1880s (until he went insane in 1889) pointed to the falsifying nature of society’s prejudices (which it calls “truths”). N’s phrase, the “incarnate tartuffery of morals” (Beyond Good and Evil, p. 37), cp. DG p. 160.
As with other ‘wild Wilde’ readings, a mistake to read W as a Nietzschean superman who opposes and exposes social falsehoods. N more useful for a complex modern positioning of self – avoiding outright antithesis (since the antithesis stems from and implies the corrupt thesis). A “philosopher of the dangerous ‘perhaps’” (B. Good and Evil p. 16) – the task of exploring ‘the Good’ from outside the conventional antitheses of ‘good’ and ‘evil.’
N thus offers a positioning relevant to fin de siecle gothic – JH and DG are narratives concerned with problems of morality, but expressed without a moral position. Narrative structure in JH removes eponymous J from position of protagonist. In DG, D is not an alternative to Victorian hypocrisy and repressiveness (which are not really evident), but a perpetual restlessness, a “wild longing” p. 180. Restlessness challenges the (consumerist/decadent) state of things, not by being better/different, but by foregrounding its problems through excess.
D kills himself even though he is “safe” and got what he wanted, because what he wants now he can’t get – “his rose-white boyhood”, p. 180. Death is the end of desire – but if D reps. society’s desire, then desire kills desire.
Postmodern question – how does one escape the social/ideological position of modernity in order to criticize it, when one’s tools (language, art, history) are of mod. society?
4. Conclusion - Who wants to buy a picture? (Or, “’skew
me, are you a model?”)
Title (contrast “Dorian Gray’s Picture/Portrait”) calls attention to “picturing” and possessing. “Picture of”: belonging to D; possessing him; resembling him; identical to him; created by him; his image; his true condition; his depiction of society; etc)
Novel’s ambiguities, intertextual allusions, coyness, and diffusion of guilt – who/what is being depicted? Perhaps not the picture (accusatory, judgmental), but the issues of framing the picture – problems of language, values, epistemology, perspective, that are involved in selecting and discussing something.
In a sense, a “picture of D” is only possible if his society ‘frames’ D (or Wilde) – isolates him, as sacrifice. But this is the work of the frame, not the picture.
Reader-as-detective – instead of a simple conclusion about the criminal and his crime, we are led deeper and deeper into issues of framing (and how D is framed). The reader (in making a reading) cannot help but frame D – but the true detective observes the textual/social process of framing itself.
NOTIONS OF GOTHICITY
Gothic as Social Function
The "gothic" is a cultural concept, and takes the form of specific expressions (in literature and art, public discourses, popular culture etc) which respond to specific socio-political contexts.
In general, though, it seems to have an abiding
function, which allows for a broad definition of the gothic:
The gothic is a textual form which arises in conditions of capitalist and middle-class society (so, from latter 18th-Century Europe to the present), and whose textual characteristics enable it to play a profoundly ambivalent role in that society. It is on the one hand a critique of social conditions: thus, the romantic gothic, with its sentimentality, feudalism, symbolic suggestiveness and vagueness, note of spiritual or moral pedantry, and other aspects, can be read at one level as a critique of the Enlightenment rationalism, the doctrines of materialism and empiricism, the perceived dehumanisation caused by rapid social change (urbanisation, changes to class, property, gender, family, etc).The key is the "profoundly ambivalent role in...society," the function simultaneously of challenging particular aspects of capitalist society, but also (in that very act of textual challenge) of channelling discontent, displacing anxiety, and thus of sustaining social structures.
Just by itself, such a reading would be a little simplifying, however - as if the gothic were simply a knee-jerk, direct reaction to socio-political change. Its complex narrative features allow it at the same time, and somewhat contradictorily, to both challenge and sustain the status quo. As Rosemary Jackson (Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion) observes, gothic literature could also reinforce bourgeois society of its time, by forming a channel of expression for pseudo-radical sentiments, which however come in too vague and displaced a form to constitute a serious and direct political challenge.
If the gothic plays a similar, general social function, then it would be possible (and perhaps remunerative) to study particular kinds of gothicity, divided along major historical periods in the course of Western modernisation. Thus:
a. Early ("Old") gothic - the rise of the gothic novel in the latter part of 18th C, from Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1765) onwards. Period of political and economic change in England: the change in parliamentary and political structure from an older system of monarchical and aristocratic privilege based on landed property, to a "Whig" government whose power base was commerce. The rise of modern financial institutions such as joint stock companies, private investors, bonds and other forms of public credit. England's consolidation of overseas colonies and trade domains, after the Seven Years War (also known as the French and Indian War), 1756-63.
b. "New" gothic - from
the time of Walter Scott's reviews of Frankenstein and Radcliffe
in Blackwood's magazine (1818), in which he speaks of a "new," "psychological"
gothic. Scott disparaged the older gothic texts, which in
his view use the supernatural "for the purpose of pampering the imagination
with wonders." Instead of this, he advocates a more appropriate use
of the supernatural, i.e.
"to open new trains and channels of thought, by placing men in supposed situations of an extraordinary and preternatural character, and then describing the mode of feeling and conduct which they are most likely to adopt" (Cited in Sage, Casebook, p. 54/55).So the "New" gothic is potentially a huge and vaguely-defined cultural and political period, but it is marked by a significant literary movement from more sensationalistic and outrageous supernaturalistic plots, to a more psychological use of the supernatural, and exploration of "inner man."
c. "Fin de Siecle" (end of century - specifically, end of 19th C) gothic - the last two or three decades of the nineteenth century. The period is characterised by a deep sense of unease about society, a conviction of moral decay, the "end" (hence "fin," French for "end," with a sense of collapse or finality) of things as we know them, the rot or disease within society, a sense of hypocrisy concealing deep distresses. There was also a growing sense of the high cost of imperialism, the instability of Britain's colonies (either because of the difficulty of the enterprise, or the threat of rebellion by the natives, or the moral cost, etc).
d. Modernist gothic - coincides with the "high modernist" literary movement, roughly 1901 (convenient date marked by publication of Freud's Interpretation of Dreams, and death of Queen Victoria thus ending the Victorian period) to 1914 (WW I), although of course could also include slightly later work. Marked by sense of darkness, despair, deceit - society, civilisation, language all seen as collusive and deceptive. Some works by Joseph Conrad, Aldous Huxley, Henry James, H. G. Wells, T. S. Eliot, as well as some of the more surreal War Poetry, show gothic elements. Modernist period also poses a rather unique problem for gothic studies, since here the characteristic gothic elements become, not an alternative or subversive literary form, but the mainstream, "high cultural" form.
e. Postmodern gothic
- contemporary and near-contemporary art, particularly that which marries
gothic tropes with postmodern or "nouveau roman" narrative devices such
as multiple, embedded, even contradictory narratives; a "playful" foregrounding
of the narrative's own fictionality or fabulation; the "mise en abyme"
structure. Again, as with modernist gothic, there is a very close
relationship between "high" and "gothic" culture in this period, rather
than the adversarial relationship between the gothic and the mainstream
literary form in pre-modernist periods. Many works by Umberto Eco,
Italo Calvino, Vladimir Nabokov, Kurt Vonnegut, Anthony Burgess, Angela
Carter and other writers either directly connected with the nouveau roman
or else influenced by it, contain gothic elements. There are also
strongly gothic elements in the so-called "magic realist" tradition associated
with Latin American writers like Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
It is also possible to organise gothic texts according to certain strong thematic, organising or originary elements, such as:
a. "Female gothic" - sometimes used in discussion of early- to romantic-period female writers such as Ann Radcliffe, Maria Edgeworth, and Mary Shelley, and to the pseudo- (or quasi-)romantic Victorians like the Bronte sisters. The argument is that female writers, relatively few in that period, were united by an underlying position in society and a uniquely gendered perspective which separated them even from the male gothic writers.
b. "Colonial gothic" - sometimes used to group together gothic tales which are set in exotic colonial lands, and deal at least implicitly with issues concerning colonial power. Thus, for example, the novels of H. Rider Haggard, but also stories, particular novels, or parts of novels written by Wilkie Collins, Conrad, Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, and others.
c. "Cybergothic" - in
late (contemporary) science fiction, there is a movement which seems to
marry gothic elements (especially doubleness, split selves, the duality
of science as maker/science as destroyer) to computer-based ideas of virtuality,
re-creation and power. Thus, for example, the novels of William Gibson,
Iain Banks and Linda Nagata, but also films like Freejack, The
Matrix, Johnny Mnemonic.
Obviously the above are just possible ways of
categorising and discussing gothic works - other ways could be proposed,
which would cut across different categories and involve different works.
GOTHIC AND HORROR
There are clearly overlaps between works which in some ways might be termed "gothic," and those with elements of "horror," the "supernatural," or the "occult" in them.
"Horror" is a much more recent generic classification, belonging to the age of pulp paperbacks and consumerist fiction. Horror writers like Stephen King, Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell, Anne Rice, Robert E. Howard and others use elements of the supernatural, of gothic-like perversions (of sexuality, cruelty, violence and other "inhumane" behaviour), in order to titillate, and to serve a consumerist reading strategy which makes the reader read once through, without hesitation, revision or uncertainty, from beginning to end.
There is also a very old tradition of the supernatural, which also overlaps with the gothic, and which predates both it and the modern horror genre. It is found in old literatures, usually of a oral or folk tradition, usually occupying ritualistic functions on behalf of a community - i.e. very often these texts serve to mediate the people's anxieties about gods, the natural world, the unpredictability of life, etc. Thus, in Greek mythology and literature based heavily on that mythology (where horror and shock often go to release "catharsis" [according to Aristotle] in the audience, and to make a moral warning which structures the community's moral code); so, the fate of the Medusa could be read as a warning against pride, a fear of (female) sexuality, etc. Or the story of Oedipus expresses and releases an innate fear of family tensions, incest and conflict. Other "ritualistic" literatures which use horror to express and relieve anxieties include the Bible (story of Jonah is an archetypal "night journey," a descent to hell; stories of incest [Judah; Noah's daughters] and conflict within the family [various stories of sibling rivalry and civil disorder, eg Joseph, Jacob] reflect anxieties about destiny and power; etc. Also folklore and folktales, with their stories of wicked witches, evil stepmothers, tests and trials.
"Gothic," in addition to having elements in common with the older supernatural elements, and with the newer horror fiction, can be distinguished as a field of study:
- by its historical-social specificity (i.e. it is a phenomenon of the "long revolution" of industrialisation and urbanisation from late 18th C onwards, beginning in Western Europe and America);
- by its textual characteristics, with its typical narrative style of embedded narratives/narrators, air of narratorial unreliability or uncertainty, and other features which are quite distinct from the linear narrative of consumerist fiction, or the strongly plot-driven narratives of classical and folkloric texts;
- by its ambivalent social function in relation
to industrial/capitalist/middle-class society - quite different from the
social function of popular fiction, or the ritualistic role of classical
In fact, we might say that the "gothic" proper is not primarily interested in horror, supernaturalism or the occult per se, and only use such (older and broader) devices/traditions in order to create its primary effects of unease, destabilisation and openness.
There is a certain set of textual features and generic types more closely connected with the gothic than mere "horror" or "supernaturalism," namely:
a. The romance genre and archetype
b. The figure or device of the double (doppelganger)
c. The poetics of the sublime and ineffable
d. The literary evocation of the uncanny (the unheimlich), in turn related to the unconscious
e. The device of feudalism, or the
exoticised use of the past.
JEKYLL AND HYDE
Published in Journal of Narrative Theory29:2 (1999)
TEXTUAL HYDE AND SEEK: “GENTILITY,” NARRATIVE PLAY AND PROSCRIPTION IN STEVENSON'S DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE
Robbie B. H. Goh
In discussing what is perhaps the nineteenth century's
most famous and enduring story of split identities, Robert Louis Stevenson's
1886 short novel The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, critics have
quite predictably used Dr Jekyll's scientific project as an analogue for
the narrative itself. Stevenson's tale, it is argued, offers
a plethora of signs split off from their signifieds, voices disembodied
and dislocated, and distinctions ellided. This in turn is seen
as part of Stevenson's attempt to undermine patriarchy, which - variously,
according to different scholarly views - is part of a project to create
a “reimagined male bourgeois identity” out of the ashes of the flawed one
the text dismantles, or an oedipal conflict with Thomas Stevenson centering
around the pleasure principle and the figure of the mother, or a gesture
of deviance (such as the sexual code of homoeroticism) within the constraints
of hypocritical Victorian society.
An extension to this overtly political role ascribed to the text is the view of it as engaging in narrative play intended to frustrate the linear codes of "readerly," "realist" expectations. Thus Alan Sandison speaks of Stevenson’s pervasive “metafictional structures,” his “subversive, deconstructive undertow” which is part of modernism’s “antagonism towards the literary tradition” of nineteenth-century realism. Scholars like Williams and Arata invoke Stevenson’s essays “A Chapter on Dreams,” and especially “A Note on Realism,” as evidence of the author’s predilection for literary experimentation and divergence from “traditional humanist notions of both realism and identity.”
The notion of divergence - literary, sexual or political - does not, however, offer a completely satisfying account of Stevenson’s narrative project. In particular, it offers no satisfactory account of instances of the narrative’s apparent complicity in moral codes or judgements, of conservative or authoritarian strands in the text - not merely the ironically smug patriarchal voice of characters like Utterson and Lanyon, but also the corroborating voice of the quasi-omniscient narrator. Scholarship on Stevenson has often been troubled by the presence in this novel of what Garrett calls the "strong conservative strain” (60), and Thomas a “plot of exclusion” (73), which in fact contradict the “savage pleasure” of its iconoclastic impulses. The inability to account for this contradictory impulses leads Garrett to conclude that the novella is guilty of "fictional irresponsibility," a "refusal or failure to offer any secure position for its reader or to establish any fixed relation between its voices" (70), and Thomas similarly calls the novel a "schizo-text" (83). Furthermore, the notion of a textual “deviance” (from realist conventions) that echoes a socio-sexual deviance imputes too much teleological purpose and coherence to a narrative which is complexly pre-moral, “plaisir” rather than logical intention; it is to foreground the thematics of the Hydean transgression, while neglecting the narrative performance which contains that transgression at the same time that it repudiates it.
In this novel, narrative itself is the site of meaning, of textual processes that operate prior to narrower thematic concerns and to simplifying social oppositions. This reinforces what might be termed the intensional nature of values and judgements, which do not stand outside of the text (in the seemingly pre-textual referents of “Victorian society” or “history”), but instead find meaning precisely in the acts of interpretative judgement structured and sustained by the narrative. Social criticism is very much secondary, and cannot form the interpretative key, to this form of modernist narrative, whose primary concern is the creation of a semiotic exercise in the act of reading, although of course this exercise is also a social, systemic function.
The central signifying codes, in this as well as other Stevensonian narratives, are those of shame and guilt, kinship and proscriptive banishment, which are played out in an unmistakeably Oedipal pattern. This is most apparent in the Scottish (pseudo) romances, Weir of Hermiston, Kidnapped, and David Balfour (or Catriona, as the latter was known in England and Scotland). Characters in these novels struggle literally against the name of the father, either as a repudiation of the biological father’s “coarse and cruel” nature (as is the case with Archie Weir in Weir of Hermiston, who effectively renounces his kinship with his father the “hanging” judge); or else as a conflict of emotional and political affiliations in the troubled Jacobite struggles which is the setting of the latter two novels. Naming the protagonist of Kidnapped and its sequel David Balfour (this being the family name of Stevenson’s mother) also allows Stevenson to write elements of his own troubled relationship with his father into this political drama.
The problematics of naming in these novels suggests the fundamental crisis in identity that Stevenson is very much concerned with, not the less because of his fascination with the name and legend of Rob Roy MacGregor:
...Stevenson hoped he might be descended from Rob Roy MacGregor or at any rate from the clan. Obviously, he was never able to prove it, and the “perfect evidence” he mentions in a letter...amounts only to the fact - if it is a fact - that when the name of MacGregor was proscribed some of the clan called themselves “Stevenson.”
David’s quest might be seen as that of gaining
his rightful appellation (“David Balfour of Shaws”) after the deceitful
disinheritance performed by his uncle Ebeneezer, but this can never be
made public: at the end of the first novel, he comes to a compromising
agreement in which the shamed uncle is financially penalised, but remains
installed at Shaws, to all appearances the Laird still. David, in
fact the rightful Laird, spends most of the two novels sans identity and
roots, tossed to and fro between different clan affiliations and power
factions. David’s outlawed Jacobite friend, Alan Breck Stewart, faces
a similar plight throughout these novels, caught between the pride of bearing
“a king’s name,” and the shame and guilt of having publically to hide that
name in Hanover England. The eponymous heroine of Catriona,
too, endures hardship and disgrace under a variety of names - as “the daughter
of James More,” the ward of “Mrs Ogilvy/Lady Allardyce,” and finally as
the wife of “David Balfour.”
In the troubled climate of the Scottish romances, identity is not merely oppositional, but is constantly ambivalent and shifting. Individuals do not merely struggle to choose between two affiliations - the legal and Hanoverian, or the oppositional, outlawed Jacobinical - but continually re-negotiate their plural identities in each different speech-act. David, for example, does not “regress” by “submitting himself to a series of father-figures,” as Sandison (190) suggests; rather, his career (if it has any significance at all) is that of a continual process of acceptance and repudiation of different father-figures. Thus he moves from the authority of his Whig Campbell mentor to the Jacobite intriques of Alan Breck and James Stewart, from the Stewarts to their enemies the MacGregors, from the petty outlaw escapades to the higher (but also contradictory) realpolik symbolised by Simon Fraser and Prestongrange.
In the end, he and Catriona have not so much resolved these questions of identity and forged their own place, as they have stumbled nolens volens through different, contradictory positions. The romance device of the ending marriage cannot conceal the fact that their union stands in the face of competing claims to their individual loyalties, a point which the reader is reminded of even at the very end, as their two children are named for Alan and for Prestongrange’s (the Lord Advocate who persecutes the Stewarts) daughter. David may well say that he marries Catriona “as though there had been no such person as James More” (290), but Catriona’s own renunciation of her father is muddled and irresolute: “I am a daughter of Alpin! Shame of the sons of Alpin, begone!” (286), she proclaims, proscribing his name by resorting to the legendary clan of the Alpins, although in so doing she perpetuates her kinship to him under another clan signifier. Yet again, she and David also re-affirm their ties to the MacGregors by seeking the blessing of the exiled chieftain of the clan, who implicitly associates them with James More once again, by refusing (and forbidding them) publicly to repudiate him (much as Ebeneezer cannot be publicly denounced): “we are all Scots folk and all Hieland” (290). These narratives thus accentuate the romance pleasure (the plot structure of growth, marriage and hope) by a perverse, sado-masochistic invocation of the cruelty, shame and pain of the betrayals (including self-betrayals) upon which the romance ending must be founded.
Oedipal relations are marked by surface affections and (ultimately) deeper betrayals and proscriptions, this narrative schadenfreude replacing the promised but undelivered plot structures of the bildungsroman. In reading David’s relationship with James Stewart, for example, one is compelled to work through a perversely sado-masochistic progression: James is the symbolic father, himself proscribed and persecuted by the Campbells, who provides temporary shelter to David and Alan: “James carried me accordingly into the kitchen, and sat down with me at table, smiling and talking at first in a very hospitable manner” (Catriona, 186, emphasis added). The peculiarity of this novel is that David moves from a plethora of motives (“justice,” “vanity,” gentlemanly “essence”) urging him to risk his life in James’s defence, to a gradual absorption into the affairs and concerns of James’s Whig enemies. Yet this betrayal is repeatedly marked by David’s own sympathetic sentiments on precisely this betrayal: in his comment on the political machinations which sacrifice James, he observes that “there was only one person that seemed to be forgotten, and that was James of the Glens” (150). Yet David is himself complicit (by his silence) in James’s fate:
There was never the least word heard of the memorial, or none by me. Prestongrange and his Grace the Lord President may have heard of it (for what I know) on the deafest sides of their heads; they kept it to themselves, at least - the public was none the wiser; and in the course of time, on November 8th, and in the midst of a prodigious storm of wind and rain, poor James of the Glens was duly hanged at Lettermore by Ballachulish. (187)
David, too, has kept his testimony “on the deafest
side,” as he puts it. He attempts to dilute this act with the complacent
rationalisation that “innocent men have perished before James, and are
like to keep on perishing (in spite of all our wisdom) till the end of
time” (187), and to naturalise his actions as a young man’s spirited rejection
of an unfair emotional burden, a lost cause.
Proscription (etymologically “pro scribere”) - writing as elission, rejection or banishment - is an inherently paradoxical act, not only in its play of presence/absence (as a declaration which names he who henceforth, by the authority of that declaration, is not to be named), but also in the admixture of pity and cruelty, pain and pleasure, as David shows. Thus the foregrounding of David’s feelings of guilt and anxiety are part of the very pleasure of their catharsis, and the reader (whose investment in the titular hero and heroine of these novels finds pleasure in the unfolding of their destinies, even if this denouement necessarily glosses over ethical and affective complexities) is no less complicit in this textual process.
Following Julia Kristeva, we might describe Stevenson’s textual pleasure as an instance of “jouissance,” which is only in part that covert pleasure which phallocentric narratives seek to suppress, and which may manifest itself in a delight in deviance or alterity: in primal terms the mother, that “other [who] has no penis, but experiences jouissance and bears children.” Beyond this, Kristeva (in her analysis of that most patriarchal of symbolic systems, Christianity) also speaks of “ecstatic” and “melancholic” jouissance, which are “two ways in which a woman may participate in this symbolic Christian order” (27, 28). In such attempts by the other “to gain access to the social order,” jouissance comes to assume ambivalent nuances: as the “reward” that the subject acquires from the symbolic order, the “triumph” of “sublimated sadistic attacks” on the other whom the subject now disavows or proscribes, but also as the “tearful” submission which brings the acceptance of self-recrimination (30). Thus the subject on the one hand assumes the position of the undifferentiated entity who is pleasurably accommodated by the patriarchal order (although only at the cost of losing distinctness); and on the other hand, relates to that order as a difference which must submit to punishment (but which punishment also brings the pleasure of acceptance). This complex duality incorporates both the proscription of the self (in the hysteric’s “unutterable jouissance”) as well as the proscription practised by the self on an other, in the name of the father-law.
This ambivalent union of ecstatic sadism and melancholic masochism is not, of course, confined to the daughter whose symbolic lack is so evident; Freud describes a similar ambivalence in the process of ego formation which he describes in the oedipal terms of the son-father relationship. According to Freud, the self ultimately "absorbs into itself the invulnerable authority" (superego) and consequently enters into the dual role of authority and rebel. The boy's discourses assume their own characteristics - recurring in Freud's accounts as tropes of hostility and symbolic violence towards the father (murder, castration) confirmed by acts of proscription (guilt feelings, displacement, jokes, the taboo). For Freud, the locus classicus of these tropes is totemism and taboos among the “primitive” aboriginal and polynesian tribes, a primitivist ethnology reflected in some ways in Stevenson’s view of the Pacific Islanders - and thus, by association, with the Scottish highlanders Stevenson frequently compared to the polynesians. For both Freud and Stevenson, totems and taboos were only the “ambivalent emotional attitude” of the father-complex in modern society writ in large and savage letters. The totemic symbols and related discourses of “avoidance,” taboo laws and religions are thus essentially narrative devices to negotiate the self’s anxious and pleasurable relationship with authority.
Jouissance and proscription are even more complexly interwoven in Jekyll and Hyde, where a number of complex narrative signs and (mis)directions take the place of the historical drama and action of the Scottish novels. Despite its evasive fragmentation - Sandison says that it is “not one story but ten enigmatic stories” (219), and Thomas speaks of the “fragmenting of the self into distinct pieces with distinct voices” (73) - the novella nevertheless reads at some levels like a moral, cautionary tale. Andrew Lang calls it “Poe with the addition of a moral sense,” and Stevenson himself insisted quite heatedly on a particular way of reading Jekyll, “because he was a hypocrite - not because he was fond of women,” and for his “cruelty and malice, and selfishness and cowardice.” However, this moral indictment (if it ever appears clearly in the narrative) is more problematic in respect of Jekyll’s peers - Utterson, Lanyon, Enfield, Carew - and the whole patriarchal society they represent. This is certainly a form of modernist “janiformity” wherein “organic” and conservative views of society can be preserved covertly, in the performance of the narrative, to create a critical project mounted in some bad faith. However, what distinguishes Stevenson’s narrative from, say, the hesitant imperialism and racism of Kipling and Conrad, or the divided Anglo-Irish political consciousness of Yeats - modernism in its mode of melancholic, identificatory social criticism - is that the contradiction exists, not as a statement or vision within (what Roland Barthes would call) the “cultural code,” but as a clash within/between “hermeneutic,” “semic” and “symbolic” codes. There is thus no organic, revisioned model of society and history to be uncovered (as a set of clues to the informed reader), but rather a moral goal through a textual performance into which the reader is interpellated. That goal is no less ideologically-fraught than modernism’s other visions; however, it consists, not in articulation or statement, but rather in narrative as a function of the social system.
Such a view of Jekyll and Hyde poses one kind of answer to the many problems of the text, one of the most vexing being the role of the shadowy, quasi-omniscient narrator (henceforth, for convenience, called the Stevensonian narrator), who at times suggests the role of moral commentary performed by the omniscient realist narrator of nineteenth-century and modern fiction, and at other times more closely resembles the non- (or pre) moral role of the narrator in metafiction. This Stevensonian narrator is elusive, variously present and authoritative, then closely aligned with the perspective of a narrating character, then elsewhere seemingly absent and giving way to disparate voices. It is thus hardly surprising that the existence of such a narrator is not usually recognised or conceded. In arguing his claim for the "disappearance of the author," Ronald Thomas names the major narrators in the novella: Jekyll, who possibly has the least control over what is ostensibly his own story, Utterson, and Enfield. We should add to this list the shadowy narrative voice whose textual presence is perhaps most clearly seen at the beginning of the novella:
Mr Utterson the lawyer was a man of a rugged countenance, that was never lighted by a smile; cold, scanty and embarrassed in discourse; backward in sentiment; lean, long, dusty, dreary and yet somehow lovable. At friendly meetings, and when the wine was to his taste, something eminently human beaconed from his eye; something indeed which never found its way into his talk, but which spoke not only in these silent symbols of the after-dinner face, but more often and loudly in the acts of his life. He was austere with himself; drank gin when he was alone, to mortify a taste for vintages; and though he enjoyed the theatre, had not crossed the doors of one for twenty years.
A number of details which will prove ironic are
established in this opening passage: Utterson's self-despised "taste for
vintages" is one of the prominent links between him and Jekyll's social
circle, "all judges of good wine" (22), but his gin drinking identifies
himself with the social other he encounters in Hyde's domain of Soho, with
its "gin palace" and women addicted to their "morning glass" (27).
The seemingly irrelevant point about his long absence from the theatre
anticipates the significant scene when Utterson passes through the doors
of Jekyll's "surgical theatre," a liminal space which marks the boundary
between Utterson's rational society and the irrational alterity of Hyde's
world (43). Perhaps significantly, that long-disused theatre is surreally
cluttered with "crates and bottles," a hint of the public house and the
lower appetites to which it caters. In Jekyll’s defensive statement
at the end of the novel, he compares his condition to that “when a drunkard
reasons with himself upon his vice” (69). This suggestion of uncontrollable
appetite is reinforced in the same chapter when Utterson reads Jekyll/Hyde's
desperate letters to the chemists, who are called "Messrs. Maw" - once
again suggesting consumption and appetite, in particular that of a "voracious
animal." Jekyll's addiction to the drug is of course
highly suggestive of another Victorian anxiety, the base appetite for opium.
That prevalent fin de siecle trope - the hypocrisy of the respectable middle class - is almost lost in these subtle - one might even say over-subtle - hints. This playful subtlety seems to be the point: what is created is a sly, teasing and provocatively confidential narrative voice, which suggests its intimate knowledge of Utterson and his world, while suggesting at the same time that some of those particulars should not be articulated. It is a narrative which seems to proscribe while it describes - Utterson, we are told, is not the most emotionally expressive person, and has qualities which "never found [their] way into his talk," so that it devolves upon a close confidante like the narrator to reveal his secret, "eminently human" aspect. However, this intention is not followed through, and the reader is instead referred enigmatically to "these silent symbols of the after-dinner face," seemingly interpolated into a scene of affectionate and intimate community, but one which is continually deferred. The closest one comes to penetrating into such a scene is at the beginning of the chapter "Dr Jekyll Was Quite at Ease," but once again Utterson's mysterious human qualities are teasingly elided under phrases like "his unobtrusive company," "practising for solitude," "the man's rich silence" (22). At any rate, his humanity and solicitude, such as it is, can only emerge after the moment of intimate companionship - after the dinner is over and the "old cronies" have departed. Here as elsewhere in the depiction of Utterson, the uncertain tone oscillates between affection and irony, between a warmth which invites the reader’s moral identification with the lawyer, and a contrary invitation to read more sinister (albeit equally cryptic) aspects into this characterisation.
One of the consequences of this narrative poise is an ontological uncertainty where the boundaries of narrative zones (in Bakhtin’s sense) blur and meld. On the one hand, this narrator at times shares so much of Utterson’s consciousness, point of view, and even more idiosyncratic characteristics, that he seems to fade into non-existence, leaving Utterson as the dominant narrative presence. Thus, for example, where Utterson begins to suspect something amiss in Jekyll’s affairs:
And the lawyer, scared by the thought, brooded awhile on his own past, groping in all the corners of memory, lest by chance some Jack-in-the-Box of an old iniquity should leap to light there. His past was fairly blameless; few men could read the rolls of their life with less apprehension; yet he was humbled to the dust by the many ill things he had done, and raised up again into a sober and fearful gratitude by the many that he had come so near to doing, yet avoided. (20-21)
This is grammatically the same third-person narrative
which opens the novella, and shares too the insight into Utterson’s state
of mind, the “sober and fearful” (self-) scrutiny, and something of the
irony (in Utterson’s utter misconception of Hyde’s relationship to Jekyll)
of the earlier passage. At the same time, however, the text is at
pains to establish a narrative voice and perspective that is characteristically
Utterson’s, distinct from the Stevensonian narrator as such: the self-deprecating
and dry Utterson in this passage and elsewhere never describes himself
in the affectionate and approving terms (“somehow lovable,” “an approved
tolerance for others,” “the last good influence”) that the voice at the
opening of the novella uses. Moreover, Utterson’s perspective lacks
the playfulness of the Stevensonian narrator, and is the “sober and fearful”
victim of the text’s ironies rather than their master; in particular, his
misplaced concern and sympathy for Jekyll create a distinctive note of
ironic anxiety in his perspective and voice. In contrast, the Stevensonian
narrator expressly lacks this note of anxiety, and is never a victim of
textual ironies; if he does not speak to reveal foreknowledge or insight,
neither is he taken by surprise as are Utterson and other narrators.
What is created is a narratorial equivalent of the ontological questions posed by the Jekyll/Hyde conundrum - the confusion of the pronouns “he/I” in Jekyll’s statement (73), the “community of memory” between the two personalities that Frederick Myers insisted on (Critical Heritage, 221). In a similar way, the ghostly movement from presence to absence, distinctiveness to similarity on the part of the Stevensonian narrator calls into question the very basis of narrative being - even that transient, actantial existence which enables the process of reading. Certainly Utterson has no grammatical ontology or person, no formal linguistic markers to designate his separation from the unnamed, “omniscient” narrator, who is given neither the pronoun “I” nor a name as the mark of his locus or identity. Yet in what other sense can it be said that Utterson is a narrator at all, than that the reader is taken so closely and intimately into his perspective and state of mind, and that he is given a greater centrality and presence than other speakers? The final two chapters in the novella embody this paradox: Utterson has retired from the physical drama by the end of the eighth chapter, and indeed does not intrude his perspective, tone and personality into the final two chapters. However, a chronological anomaly persists at the end, to maintain Utterson’s narrative centrality: the reader encounters the two final statements as it were on sufferance, only because Utterson (in his act of reading the letters) continues as a notional consciousness and narrative device in the novella.
The ontological puzzle deepens elsewhere, as narrative voices quite distinct and separate from that of the Stevensonian narrator are offered. Thus, for example, the beginning of the chapter entitled "The Carew Murder Case":
Nearly a year later, in the month of October 18-, London was startled by a crime of singular ferocity and rendered all the more notable by the high position of the victim. The details were few and startling. A maid servant living alone in a house not far from the river, had gone upstairs to bed about eleven....It seems she was romantically given, for she sat down upon her box, which stood immediately under the window, and fell into a dream of musing. Never (she used to say, with streaming tears, when she narrated that experience) never had she felt more at peace with all men or thought more kindly of the world. (25)
This passage is distinctive in several ways: its
tone is the detached and sensationalistically irresponsible voice of the
yellow press, and its perspective is speculative and tentative when compared
to the certainty of the omniscient narrator. Although the narrative here
has decided opinions, these are couched frankly as speculations or hearsay:
thus the maid’s chancing to witness the murder is embellished with a theory
of her being “romantically given” (which is more suggestive than precise
or explanatory), this in turn qualified with “it seems.” Her feelings
are not intuited by the narrator (as Utterson’s are), but deliberately
specified as her reported statement in the parenthesis “(she used to say...when
she narrated that experience”). Yet this narrative distance does
not stop the reporting voice from indulging in a kind of disparaging sexism,
which imputes to the maid all the tropes of a foolish sentimentalism and
weakness (“full moon,” “tears,” “pretty manner,” “fainted”) - an element
of sexual attitude (however negative) which has no place in the dry bachelor
atmosphere surrounding Utterson and his circle.
The change to Utterson’s point of view (in the third paragraph of the chapter) is marked and significant, although there are no explicit chapter or section breaks. It establishes that Utterson is not privy to the perspective and knowledge contained in the first two paragraphs: indeed, the narrative places him in an altogether separate space, so that the news (together with the envelope bearing Utterson’s name) must be physically conveyed to him at a specific time (“the next morning, before he was out of bed”). Utterson’s mind and feelings, too, are contained: on receiving the information, he “shot out a solemn lip,” carries himself with the enigmatically “same grave countenance,” and insists that he “shall say nothing” until he has seen the body (26). This may simply be (juris) prudence on the part of the lawyer, but it has a distinct narrative effect as well: the reader is suddenly denied access to Utterson’s inner state, an access quite freely given in much of the novel, through the omniscient narrator or through Utterson himself. This unusual denial thus serves to segregate two distinct narrative voices and the social registers they imply: the reader is inducted into the sensationalism and commonness of the initial paragraphs, only to encounter the social and narratorial proscription that Utterson's consciousness brings to the episode.
Veeder (119) argues that a note of dubiousness clings, not only to Carew’s encounter with Hyde (which suggests the anonymity of a homosexual solicitation), but also to the maid who mysteriously has the means and necessity to live “alone in a house.” More than the suggestions of sexual vice, however (which are indeterminate), the note of moral dubiousness is struck by the narrative liberties and improprieties in this passage. The journalistic voice and its chauvinistic trivialisation of the maid’s character and perspective, is repeated by the policeman who reports the murder to Utterson: asked by the lawyer (with characteristic understatement and periphrasis) if Hyde is a “person of small stature,” the policeman’s reply is crudely conjectural: “‘Particularly small and particularly wicked-looking, is what the maid calls him’” (27). The tone of narrative intrusion spreads throughout this chapter, like the fog which unites the environs of Hyde and the maid, Utterson, and finally Soho, where Hyde’s landlady is described as “an ivory-faced” woman, having “an evil face, smoothed by hypocrisy” (27). The blankness of the ivory face is overwritten by the curious semiotic contradiction wherein the narrative voice reads “evil” simultaneously with signs of its erasure (“smoothed by hypocrisy”). Other crudely intrusive interpretations which distinguish the narrative of this chapter include the description of the “blackguardly surroundings” of the neighbourhood, and the crass detail of Jekyll’s fortune (“a quarter of a million sterling”). Narrrative cruelty here is less blunt, and even more overdetermined, than in the Scottish romances, but it manifests itself quite clearly both in these gleeful accusatory voices, as well as the implied judgement against them.
The ontological uncertainty surrounding the Stevensonian narrator thus destabilises expectations at the level of codes such as the hermeneutic and symbolic: firstly, because the slippage between narratorial perspectives is also a slippage of moral perspectives and thus of judgement. The potential shame and guilt of Utterson’s “many ill things he had done” are diluted by the absence/presence of the omniscient narrator, who simultaneously enforces the external, objective criticism (which is also a quasi-objective exoneration - “His past was fairly blameless”), but also offers the possibility that these are no more than Utterson’s own alarmist and baseless fears, or hypocrital and baseless self-exoneration. Symbolic clusters - gin and wine, the front door and the back, professionalism and dilettantism, physical markers such as the tall/fair versus the short/dusky - accordingly never progress beyond the merely (but also problematically) suggestive, since it is never clear if they are always contained within the same signifying code or perspective. Furthermore, the primary hermeneutic code concerned with Jekyll’s motives and means is likewise also subverted: to reach the “full statement” at the end of the novel is not to move from fragmented “outside” perspectives to a unified “inside” one, but rather to encounter the further conumdrum of the Jekyll-Hyde identity conflation (“He, I say - I cannot say, I,” 73; and later when even Jekyll is referred to in the third person, 74), the moral equivocations (the quibble involved in terms like “double-dealer,” “duplicity,” and “hypocrite,” 60) and the inexplicable nature and source of Jekyll’s motivating “morbid sense of shame.”
Denied the bases of identity and individual character upon which to make any moral judgement, the reader encounters the hermeneutic code - the enigma which, in Barthes’s view, is teasingly proferred, but deferred right to the end of the narrative - not (or not merely) as the expected moral reversal, the patriarchal figure brought low and conflated with his degenerate prole self, but elsewhere, in the significance of narrative acts themselves. This simultaneously ecstatic and melancholic jouissance - the selective location of the narrative consciousness, now outside the transgressive other and delighting in his punishment, and elsewhere within and sharing in the other’s shame and guilt - has as its corollary the creation of a code of “gentility” in the narrative acts of other characters. This functions in similar ways to the romance elements Stevenson uses elsewhere, as a code which provides for the reader the pleasure of identification (in both senses, of deciphering the code, as well as of a positive affiliation and investment of interest), which is nevertheless troubled by the narrative cruelty and proscription upon which it is based. Utterson’s (juris)prudential silence in the case of the Carew murder, and its glaring contrast to surrounding instances of narrative and interpretation coarseness, is only one example. A similar class distinction seems to be at work in the Utterson/Enfield relationship, which is governed by tacit and complex codes of narrative avoidance, transgression, guilt, and tolerant inclusion.
Thus in the “Story of the Door,” Utterson listens to Enfield’s story with a companionable, seemingly casual silence, without betraying with any immoderate interruptions the fact that he too knows something connected with the door. The only indication of his private knowledge is the Stevensonian narrator’s hint, “with a slight change of voice” (9), when Enfield begins his story. Enfield’s “touch of sullenness” at the end, when Utterson reveals his knowledge, would seem at first to be a break from this gentlemanly code of narrative tolerance: Utterson comes close to challenging Enfield’s veracity, and this hint of impoliteness seems to sound the death-knell to their companionable exchange, as they “make a bargain never to refer to this again” (12).
However, the bargain itself turns out to be ironic, and understood as such by both gentlemen: in the chapter “Incident at the Window,” Utterson and Enfield are once again at their companionable walk, and refer quite casually and without heat to the taboo subject of Jekyll’s door (39). This renewal of the ostensibly taboo subject thus becomes an occasion for confirming the tacit understanding and shared values of this community of gentlemen: Utterson is quick to point out to Enfield that he too has seen Hyde, and “shared your feeling of repulsion” (39); and in the earlier exchange, Enfield’s discretionary attitude to scandal (“the more it looks like Queer Street, the less I ask,” 11), is echoed in Utterson’s tolerant and discrete treatment of Jekyll’s scandalous affairs. Both gentlemen-narrators are also caught in compromising moments, and both share “shame” at being compelled to break (however temporarily) the professional code of discretion: Enfield declares himself “ashamed of [his] long tongue,” not (it would seem) for narrating the affair of Hyde’s brutality, but for the fact that it has unintentionally compromised a gentleman whom Utterson knows. Utterson is placed in a similar situation after his encounter with Hyde: while he seems not at all ashamed (and even a little defiant) about lying to Hyde that Jekyll had mentioned him, he is unaccountably “ashamed of his relief” when Jekyll’s absence from home postpones the lawyer’s painful task of confronting him with the latter’s encounter with Hyde (18 - 20).
Notions of gentility, professionalism and patriarchy sit uneasily in this novel, of course, and I am aware that the novel’s ironic thrust serves to break down many of those careful social distinctions cherished by Victorian middle-class society, and that the figure of Hyde serves to transgress boundaries and distinctions. This is what Peter Garrett (69) describes this as a “contamination,” and Veeder the “dissolution of distinctions” which subverts Victorian society’s stratifications (121). On a slightly different tack, Sandison (taking exception to Veeder) insists that Utterson and Enfield not only do not belong to the same professional middle class, but also exist in a relationship of social inequality with an almost Oedipal tension (232-236). Arata points out that Hyde’s “stigmata” are overdetermined to the extent that he could equally be the “degenerate prole” or the “bourgeois male” (236, 238). It is too simple, however, to say (with Arata) that a “homosocial bonding” takes place as the middle-class professional men “close ranks around him” to “protect him from harm” (239). Moral confusion and the dissolution of social boundaries cannot hide the obvious repulsion that Hyde generates throughout the novel, and the moral imperative which condemns both Hyde and his middle-class creator and alter-ego.
However, if the closing of ranks does not obey the expected class logic, and thus problematises the reading of social meanings in the novel, it does sketch a logic of narrative gentility. Jekyll, with his immodest disclosures and interpretative excesses, is an obvious example of the transgression of this code, but so is Hastie Lanyon, whose first name, "boisterous and decided manner," and summary judgement of Jekyll as "wrong in mind" (15), already suggest something of his indecent interpretative haste and carelessness. This is displayed most clearly in his response to Jekyll's written plea for help: Jekyll expressly asks that Lanyon "draw out, with all its contents as they stand," the fourth drawer of his cabinet (53, original emphasis). Lanyon exceeds his instructions, and makes a detailed examination of those contents, speculating on the nature and purpose of the powders and of Jekyll's experiments. Jekyll does indeed list in vague terms the contents of the drawer - "some powders, a phial and a paper book" - but it is not solicitous concern and a desire to close ranks which prompts Lanyon's excessive curiosity. Lanyon makes no attempt at Jekyll's rooms to verify that he has the correct drawer, stuffing it with straw and sealing it unseen; it is only when it is too late, after he returns to the privacy of his own home, that he violates Jekyll's privacy. The investigation leads to "little that was definite," by Lanyon's own admission, but this inconclusive set of signs does not prevent him from forcing a prejudiced conclusion: the whole affair speaks, "(like too many of Jekyll's investigations) to no end of practical usefulness," and Jekyll consequently must be suffering from "cerebral disease" (55).
Lanyon's career in this novella thus becomes a moral tale cautioning against narrative indiscretion and hasty interpretation. It is his semiotic arrogance, in a sense, that dooms him. Having satisfied his curiosity and confirmed his derisory opinion of Jekyll's affairs, he declines the option to allow Hyde to take the potion and leave "without further parley" (58). The transformation he witnesses, accordingly, is an encounter with the ineffable (from Lanyon's point of view), described in terms of indeterminable signs and blurred categories: "he seemed to swell - his face became suddenly black and the features seemed to melt and alter" (59). As a proper recompense for his lack of discretion, Lanyon is told and shown everything by Jekyll, which finally brings about the collapse of his narratorial assuredness: "What he told me in the next hour, I cannot bring my mind to set on paper." This call for a discretionary narrative, he conveys (belatedly) in his instructions for his posthumous statement, which is “for the hands of J. G. Utterson ALONE and in case of his predecease to be destroyed unread” (37).
It is a similar lack of narrative gentility which (no less than his transformation into the social other, Hyde) condemns Jekyll. In his final statement, Jekyll begins by declaring himself “endowed...with excellent parts,” and indeed his narrative is constantly marked by excess: he aims at a “more than commonly grave countenance before the public,” his shame is “almost morbid” (unlike the shame shared by Utterson and Enfield, which is felt on behalf of other people, and quickly dismissed), he waxes panygerically on his own life (“I laboured to relieve suffering”; “much was done for others,” 71). It is not only Hyde, Jekyll’s physical “devil” within, who lacks restraint from the normal moral checks and balances; Jekyll in his full statement also reveals himself to be lacking in narrative restraint, in the habits of decorous perception and articulation upon which social order seems to rest.
The novel’s dominant symbolic code is thus not the “contamination” of the middle-class, although this is figured in the architectural degentrification and the urban sprawl which links respectable neighbourhoods with the slums of Soho; beyond this predictable semic level, the reader’s attention is directed to symbols of a threatening conflagration, which must be contained by avoidance and discretion. This often takes place on the verge of a revelation, as when the street on which Enfield and Utterson ramble is described as being “like a fire in a forest,” just prior to Enfield’s scandal-tinged story (8), or the atmosphere in Soho “like the light of some strange conflagration” (27) when Utterson struggles to keep his own counsel in the Carew Murder case. Utterson’s well-intentioned but inquisitive interrogation of Jekyll takes place with the two men on opposite sides of the fire, and is punctuated by a pause in which Jekyll urges a discretionary silence (“I beg of you to let it sleep”) and Utterson “reflected a little looking in the fire” (22, 23). The fire is also, of course, an image of primitive, libidinal energy, as when Hyde kills Carew in a “great flame of anger” (25), and running throughout Jekyll’s final self-justification, with its mention of the two “incongruous faggots” of human nature, the “hellish” energies, and the image of Jekyll as “a creature eaten up and emptied by fever” (69, 74), to name just a few instances. The fire interacts with the image of the fog, a conjunction which Conrad puts to very different effect in Heart of Darkness, where meaning in Marlow’s tales is as ephemeral as the way in which “a glow brings out a haze.” In Jekyll and Hyde, the two symbols interact to suggest opposing forces: where the fog is associated with the spillage which seeps across ostensible class dividers, and with the obfuscating lack of self-knowledge which results in error and excess, the flame is defined in opposition to these qualities:
...and there would be a glow of a rich, lurid brown, like the light of some strange conflagration; and here, for a moment, the fog would be quite broken up, and a haggard shaft of daylight would glance in between the swirling wreaths. (27)
The fire burned in the grate; a lamp was set lighted on the chimney shelf, for even in the houses the fog began to lie thickly;.... (30)
Between a revelation which consumes narrative
proprieties, and this obfuscation which denies enlightening (self) knowledge
altogether, the reader is directed to find the significance of right social
conduct at the symbolic level.
This is a deliberate “poetics of misdirection,” in which the reader’s interpretative energies are turned away from the hermeneutic, semic and symbolic patterns which would be expected to sustain a “cultural” code (in Barthes’s sense of a social referent or message) of fin de siecle social decay and hypocrisy. Instead, the play of narrative identities and code manipulation compel the reader’s interpretative energies and attention elsewhere, in a continual seeking of the moral flaw proscribed by the narrative’s over-subtle but persistently suggestive signs, and of an “abstract” gentility whose basis is no known or recogniseable social grouping or category, but rather is sustained by a shadowy procedure of “right” interpretative behaviour. The autotelic moral - the coincidence of the moral hermeneutic (narrative discretion and epistemological humility) with the reading process (which structures for the reader a position of continual wariness and the need to make precise distinctions) - is reinforced by the plaisir involved in the proscription of an imprecise dread. The closer the call, the nearer the reader’s own resemblance to and avoidance of this intepretative arrogance, the greater is the imperative in the reading process to proscribe the near-sin of the nameless narrator, and the more obvious sins of Jekyll and Lanyon.
The narratorial gentility suggested in Jekyll and Hyde might in some ways be compared to Stevenson’s articulation of an aesthetic gentility in his critical essays. When he cautions, in his essay "A Note on Realism," that the good writer “must...suppress much and omit more," he adumbrates the good taste which characterises the narratives of decent professional men like Utterson, Enfield and the omniscient narrator. Stevenson's essay advocates in writing a certain degree of “abstraction” or “idealism” against the tyranny of contemporary “realism,” by which he means the “merely technical and decorative” reliance on external “detail” which has risen in late nineteenth-century letters (69). His fragmentary essay, “A Chapter on Dreams,” similarly suggests that the unconscious, condensed and enigmatic narrative structure of the dream-work is aesthetically superior to the moral elaborations and embellishments of the “conscious ego.”
This aesthetic anxiety is not confined to Stevenson, and is also expressed in the essays of his friend and fellow novelist Henry James. James’s 1884 essay “The Art of Fiction” was, like Stevenson’s “A Note on Realism,” a reaction to Walter Besant’s lecture on fiction; like Stevenson’s essay, it was an act of repudiation, entering into the “New Grub Street” wars by delineating an aesthetic class position. James describes Besant’s form of literary professionalism as a type of snobbery and hypocrisy, clothing Besant in Jekyll-like clothes. Among Besant’s strictures are that “a writer whose friends and personal experiences belong to the lower middle-class should carefully avoid introducing his characters into society.” James finds this both “chilling,” as an act of social superiority and prescription, as well as ironic: Besant’s sweeping remarks are “not exact,” “so beautiful and so vague,” and thus lack the “precision and exactness” which Besant himself holds to be a key quality of the novelist. Beneath Besant’s vision of a proper literary professionalism, according to James, lies a journeyman style which resembles the plebeian models it disparages - an imputed social transgression, Jekyll-like, which on James’s part marks the close relationship between the aesthetic will and social anxiety.
It is also quite clear that beneath James’s own thinly-veiled courtesies to Besant lies his own act of proscription, subtly defining James’s code of aesthetic gentility by contrasting itself to the heavy-handed crudeness of Besant’s strictures. In place of the “vagueness” and “unguarded” aims of lower orders of writing, James advocates “precision,” which consists of being the most true to “experience.” Here his departure from Stevenson becomes clear: where Stevenson fears the dominance of realism's "local dexterity," "facts," the artist "with scientific thoroughness, steadily to communicate matter which is not worth learning" (74), James strongly approves of "exactness" and "truth of detail," even agreeing with Besant's suggestion that the author's novel should be stocked with facts from his notebook (55). For James, the "freedom" of the novel did not mean a retreat into ellipsis and unconscious signification, but was equivalent with "history" and life itself. Whatever his reservations about the “vulgarity, the crudity, the stupidity” of base reviewers and readers, James’s moral goals, like his aesthetic gentility, ultimately take the form of a broad humanism which attempted to present the “real” aspect of human experience to modern society. This aesthetic of human "experience" and the "real," despite its stylistic quarrel with the nineteenth century, retained its preoccupation with the social and political, and thus constituted (as Fredric Jameson and others have pointed out) a utopian and idealist vision. In this respect the modernism of the Conradian artist's "descent into himself" to reveal human experience, aligns itself with James's aesthetic: in particular, Conrad’s incessant concern with the ethics of European racism, as well as with the material bases of social decay (ivory in Heart of Darkness, silver in Nostromo, the larger economy of imperialist capitalism in which these signs function), and his quest for an implicit social and moral order that will offer an alternative to this, characterises the romantic organicism of his modernism no less than that of James and Yeats.
This impulse of veracity - a conviction of the larger world or reality which it is literature's duty to accurately copy - is conspicuously absent from Stevenson's poetic model. Stevenson's novel is sometimes reluctantly called into being by "financial fluctuations," and it will often have a dose of "morality" superadded ("Dreams," 208); but the "real" figures only as the hovering "evil angel" fighting for the soul of the text ("Realism," 72). This was also an alternative theory of narrative’s possible negotiation of power: romantic modernism’s response was to meet it with the opposed power of the impressionistic statement (epitomised by Lily Briscoe’s momentary, intense “vision,” Marlow’s “Buddha”-like story). Stevenson’s narrative, in contrast, responds to modernism’s anxiety about social power by a continual exercising (and exorcising) of the shame and guilty pleasure involved in the textual process. The reader’s engagement with narrative elements, as a form of language-power, becomes a ritual performance which displaces and defers the force of the actual, social and historical. In repudiating the realist and social utopian codes of romantic modernist narrative, Stevenson resorted to a narrative model which (in its anti-romantic conception of the “sublime” as a constant deferal, and in its reliance on profoundly self-conscious “language games”) more closely resembles and anticipates postmodernity.
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ARTICLE ON ANGELA
(Ariel: Review of International English Literature 30: 3 (1999), pp. 63-90)
SUPERNATURAL INTERACTIONS, EASTERN GHOSTS AND POSTMODERN NARRATIVE: ANGELA CARTER’S FIREWORKS
Robbie B. H. Goh
The work of deconstructing and dismantling
“orientalist” discourses by such scholars as Edward Said, Chris Bongie
and others reaches an impasse at the borders of the postmodern narrative.
Said’s key work Orientalism, in the first place, is essentially an historiography
concerned with “a Western style for dominating, restructuring and having
authority over the Orient.” This historiography encounters, and also
sets itself, certain limits in space and time: it is primarily interested
in the “Franco-British involvement in the Orient,” and that “from the beginning
of the nineteenth century until the end of World War II” (3, 4).
Secondly, Said generally focusses on a relatively straightforward mode
of discourse, what he calls “scholarship,” which from a post-structuralist
point of view might be seen as an old-fashioned belief in objective “facts”
of society. This is true even of more recent versions of orientalism
in the 1960s and 1970s. Said himself disparages this “new American
social-science attention to the Orient,” which reduces Islamic cultures
by failing to consider their literary articulations, but Said’s own view
of literature in this context is classical rather than postmodern: it is
a kind of cultural text distinct from the solemnity and grim reality of
political texts, but its own aesthetic qualities seem to constitute a set
of facts which are to redeem the reputation of Islamic societies.
There is, of course, a considerable body of scholarship which focusses on literary orientalism and its strategies of ambivalence, misdirection and deceptive “janiformity” (to use Cedric Watt’s phrase ). Among the studies more alert to racialist ideologies we might include Said’s own Culture and Imperialism, Benita Parry’s Conrad and Imperialism, and Chris Bongie’s Exotic Memories. While these scholars continue to offer some of the most interesting work on the racist imperium, not surprisingly their purview ends with the modern period, with such writers as Kipling, Conrad, Yeats and Joyce. Aesthetic modernism, with its anguished bewilderment with regard to Western civilisation and its dealings with various others, is relatively easily accommodated within orientalist analyses - one can say this without derogating the work of such scholars.
Postmodernism poses a different problem altogether. In the first place, it is an anti-historiography which does not so much contest the nature of “true” history, as undermine the entire ground and possibility of “history” altogether. Julian Barnes’ ironic A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters is fairly representative of the postmodern attitude to history: it insists that “History isn’t what happened. History is just what historians tell us.” His own text is a narrative romp through select events in received Western history; intentionally inexhaustive, playfully inventive, it seeks to elevate “fabulation” over any single historical account. If the postmodern consciousness refutes any possibility of a “metanarrative” (“grand recit”), as Jean-Francois Lyotard has it, then “history” - together with “metaphysics,” “race,” “culture,” “gender,” and other narrative accounts formerly assumed to be essential - is a field of particular, local possibilities, contextual (and perhaps temporary) assertions, rather than instruments of power. Put another way, we might say that the postmodern conciousness regards “Power” simply as an anachronism, to be treated ludicrously rather than with high seriousness - this, at least, is the thrust of postmodern rhetoric.
Secondly, postmodernism evades orientalist categories by resisting the very notion of categorisation. In Robert Rawdon Wilson’s phrase, “post-modernism is peculiarly the nexus of boundaries that traverse each other.” Some of the textual manifestations of this philosophy are well-known: “Pop Art,” for example, with its elevation to the status of art of popular visual images taken from advertising and comic strips, its conflation of visual and verbal signs (captions, floating mottos, dislocated words) and similar strategies. More than this mixture of aesthetic and generic categories, however, postmodernism - in its emphasis on the arbitrary fabrication of cultures - disavows the notion of a “social-science” or “scholarship” which, in its supposed facticity and seriousness, provides grounds for Said’s objections. The sociological, in this perspective, would be nothing more than a narrative unprivileged and indeed non-discrete, one which could take on characteristics of other narratives, and also be assimilated into such narratives. Furthermore, distinctions such as “oriental” and “occidental” lose their air of absoluteness in the materialist explanations of postmodernism, as a product of an extensive mode of “late capitalist” exchange. Fredric Jameson indeed refers to a “whole new economic world system,” implying a global applicability which, if not economically or culturally precise, can be taken as an expression of a kind of postmodern Weltanschauung. The question of whether such a view is “accurate” seems less important, or at least less articulable, than its disturbing pervasiveness, its air of a self-fulfilling prophecy in its own refusal to contest a cultural manifestation which it patently denigrates. If it still can insist on boundaries or demarcations, these now no longer sit (as it were) geographically, between nations, genres, narratives and economies. Rather, the boundary becomes a chronological one, between “modern” and “postmodern” as cultural phases of two moments within an evolving capitalist history. Thus modern “expression,” “style,” and “depth” are contrasted sharply with postmodern “depthlessness,” “pastiche” and “textuality” (8-28).
What materialist theoreticians have claimed of postmodern exchange society and its system of signs, narratologists have claimed more specifically of novels they label “nouveaux romans,” “metafictions,” the “self-conscious novels,” and of course “fabulations.” In this case, instead of the pejoration insisted upon by the Frankfurt school, there is an affirmation of qualities such as self-reflexivity, intertextuality and the blurring of genre boundaries. These become, in Robert Scholes’ terms, a source of narrative “joy,” an attempt to “transcend the laws of fiction.” In a postmodern condition where social reality itself is a textual construct, "the only fiction that still means something," insists Raymond Federman, "is that kind of fiction that…exposes the fictionality of reality." Certainly the roots of this narratology lie in a political project akin to postcoloniality: notions of narrative jouissance, the creation of a self-reflexive text, may ultimately be linked to post-structuralism’s attempt to undermine the political, philosophical and cultural bases of the Western imperium (for which the representative case was France) in an age of decolonisation.
Having said that, it is also true that the link between postmodern narratives and the political agenda of postcoloniality is far from obvious or uncomplicated. I am aware, of course, that even a term like “postmodern” poses its problems, most notoriously the question of whether this refers to a broad and inclusive period (after modernism) or a narrower set of texts with common characteristics. I am inclined to agree with those, like Theo D’Haen, who argue for varieties of postmodernisms marked by overlapping characteristics with particular emphases, but it is necessary to make the further qualification that not all texts produced in a postmodern age should be lumped together as “postmodernist,” no matter how broad that term becomes. There are certainly contemporary texts which owe much more to realist and objectivist traditions than to postmodern assumptions and techniques: the works of writers like Amy Tan, Roddy Doyle and Rohinton Mistry (as contrasted to Maxine Hong Kingston and Salman Rushdie), for example, and when we look into popular culture, the examples abound.
Scholars have used the terms “postmodern gothic” or “fantastic postmodernism” to demarcate one variety of postmodern narrative which insists on an epistemology and reference, and which thus continues the project of political engagement with imperial and patriarchal codes. Robert Rawdon Wilson’s argument is that postmodernism’s blurring of boundaries, its “nexus” of intertextual codes and references, allows for a kind of writing which “proclaims its recognition of context, its historicity” (116). Similarly, D’Haen rescues “social realism” within a type of narrative he calls the “fantastic postmodern,” in contradistinction both to modernism (which effaces the social role of the fantastic by assigning it an overwhelmingly psychological role), and the “aesthetic” or “poststructuralist” postmodern (which emphasises the “deferment of meaning” above all; 289, 284). Allan Lloyd Smith likewise argues for the “striking parallels” between the gothic tradition and postmodern narratives, chiefly in the articulation of an “anxiety and perplexity” as a response to social change.
There seems to be some justification for such a view in the nature of the classic gothic tales in their late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century phase. Scholars have argued for their “politicized” role, as “the voice of writers alienated from the mainstream” challenging the hegemony of bourgeois and industrial society. Other scholarship working from psychoanalytic, feminist and materialist perspectives has argued that gothic writing “functions to subvert and undermine cultural stability,” as Rosemary Jackson puts it. As earlier forms of self-conscious narratives, they exhibit elements of “play,” “heteroglossia,” and “intertextuality” which foreshadow the postmodern narrative, and do so as part of a project to question social authority by foregrounding the arbitrary nature of narratorial authority. Yet an essential ambivalence remains unanswered: was the classic gothic truly a “dialogic” subversion of the monologism of early bourgeois society, or did it “reinforce” that ideology by offering a pre-political, disordered discourse? Jackson, otherwise an able commentator on fantasy writing, raises the question in a way which makes the ambivalence obvious, but unresolved.
D’Haen’s solution - to delineate varieties of postmodern narrative - remains viable, but it is not simply resolved by recourse to the classic label of “gothicism” or “fantasy,” as if this unproblematically declared the political affiliations of one strand of postmodernism. If the historicised and politicised nature of such a narrative can be granted, it still remains to show its specific politics and ideology, particularly as functions of concrete narrative techniques which we would identify as characteristically postmodern. What, in particular, happens to politics when it is inscribed within a text purposefully self-reflexive, playful and intertextual? If Jameson is at least broadly correct in his assessment of the ubiquitous nature of “late capitalism” - which is to say, if it is a condition dominant in developed economies such as prevail in America and Western Europe, a point which other scholars affirm in respect of postmodernism’s cultural effects, then the political hotbed will not be class so much as race and nation. I maintain that the terms of orientalist analysis retain some of their relevance despite a postmodern context where the concepts of the “global” (sans boundaries), “fabulation” and “depthlessness” promise to unwrite or at least de-emphasise difference and otherness. Indeed, even in the gothic postmodern, a relatively historicised and engaged narrative, a form of orientalism may exist simultaneously with other political ideologies. Postmodern style, with its semantic overdetermination and apparently apolitical nature, becomes the host of an entrenched and complex politics of discrimination and otherness.
Angela Carter’s works provide an important and problematic example, as some of the scholarship related to issues of postmodern politics would suggest, somewhat contentiously. The prevailing view, espoused by Wilson, D’Haen, John Haffenden and others, is that Carter’s work is a prime example of metafictional narrative put to subversive and radical ends - these ends are usually analysed in terms of a feminist critique of patriarchy, or a postmodernist destabilisation of received history. Beate Neumeier sees it in slightly different, psychoanalytic terms, arguing that Carter’s “postmodern gothic” thrives on exploring “images and symbols of ‘infernal desire,’” thus “ridicul[ing] Western civilisation and its attempts at defining the Other in its own terms.” In opposition to these views, Robert Clark has argued that Carter’s works “make possible a knowledge of patriarchy,” without actually articulating a critique tantamount to a feminist politics. Her “transvestite style” thus owes more to aesthetic postmodernism than gothic engagement, its putative politics emerging merely as “non-referential emptiness” (158).
One can easily see why Carter has become a widely-cited topic within such a debate, as well as why there should be such disagreement on the politics of her text - although such scholarship does not directly engage with her orientalism. Carter herself cultivates the image of a “radicalised” feminist, a much-travelled, somewhat picaresque observer of societies, whose writings are as much sociological critiques as entertaining fictions. Her 1979 book The Sadeian Woman is "an exercise in cultural history," as she subtitles it, and as its title also suggests is a critique of the phallocentric gaze through an analysis of the Marquis de Sade's brand of outspoken, campy pornography. She also writes a number of articles for magazines like New Society, combining the narratives of the travellogue, social analysis, and autobiography, particularly in her articles on Japan, where she lived and worked for two years. Scattered through her works are many images which seem to be familiar iconoclasms pointing to the death of imperium and of its pseudo-objectivism: the fallen statue of “Queen Victoria’s swelling stone backside” on which the character Finn Jowle places his used chewing gum in The Magic Toyshop suggests both the effete nature of the old centre of power (Finn, incidentally, is Irish), and offers the ludicrous as a viable alternative to mainstream history.
In an important interview with John Haffenden, Carter emphasises the realist aspect of her fiction, eschewing as “frivolous” the kind of intensionality and self-reflexivity of a writer like Jorge Luis Borges. Thus she insists that Shadow Dance (her 1966 novel) “was about a perfectly real area of the city in which I lived,” “absolutely as real as the milieu I was familiar with” (80). She admits, “I do like to reduce everything to its material base,” and compares her work with both “anthropology,” as well as with the eighteenth-century picaresque’s project of making “imaginary societies which teach one about our own society” (92, 95). Yet the text of her interview is as playfully contradictory as many of her tales: she accepts Haffenden’s label of “magic realist,” and emphasises the qualities of “invention,” “bricolage” and “layering” in her stories - while simultaneously rejecting the label “postmodernist” (81, 87-92).
The key to this contradictory position - as cultivated and deliberate as it may also be - is the ideological blind spot of national space and identity which runs through Carter’s discourse. While she is often alert to gender codes, to their artifice and arbitrary power, she is much less aware of the imperialist codes which place the West in the centre of her consciousness, and efface all other regions and cultures into an indistinct and irrealist mass. Her comments on culture in the interview are unabashedly Eurocentric: they refer repeatedly to “the whole of western European culture,” to “western Europe,”and to “Britain,” as the core of her knowledge on “real” human nature and society. When she talks about racist ideology in literature, her example is Chinua Achebe’s famous essay on Heart of Darkness; but this observation leaves intact Carter’s own cultural imperialism. She immediately follows this point by localising her focus (“especially in the context of Britain”), speaking of British gender and class politics, but all this within a perspective which places Britain at the centre as a paradigm for an undifferentiated global society: in the case of Britain especially, she insists, the point that “everything is determined by different circumstances,” seems particularly true.
Carter’s localised cultural perspective, with Britain at the centre of a tight bulls-eye whose slightly wider perimeter is “western Europe,” would be unremarkable and even commendably forthright, if it were part of merely a direct strategy of limitation and qualification. This acknowledgement of British limitation was, after all, a point that was frequently made in the wake of the Suez Canal episode in 1956 which declared Britain’s diminished power in international affairs to the whole world. Ian Fleming’s James Bond, together with a mass audience of pulp readers, has to endure his chief’s acknowledgement of Britain’s increasing feebleness in global intelligence in the 1964 novel You Only Live Twice,
“He’s in fief” - Bond was amused by the old Scottish expression - “to the CIA. He probably doesn’t think much of us.” M.’s mouth bent down at the corners. “People don’t these days. They may be right or wrong. I’m not a politician. He doesn’t know much about the Service except what he’s penetrated or heard from the CIA. And that won’t be greatly to our advantage, I’d say. We haven’t had a Station in Japan since 1950. No traffic. It all went to the Americans.
while much more recently the year 1956 is
again invoked as a symbol of British limitation in Kazio Ishiguro’s The
Remains of the Day. In both cases Japan and America are the two points
of comparison by which British power is measured (although in Ishiguro’s
novel this Japaneseness is merely implicit): America as the Anglophone,
North Atlantic rival which displaces Britain from the position of global
supremacy, and Japan as the other - geographically distant, linguistically
distinct, and culturally bizarre - which can no longer be ignored or marginalised
in the new world order. Ishiguro’s understatedly critical evocation
of British social myths is just one part of the culturally hybrid
picture he creates, a picture which in other novels is equally critical
of Japanese history; this complexity should not be conflated with
Fleming’s wistfully nostalgic comment on Britain’s new uncertain place
in global affairs. Nevertheless, they are examples of narratives
of containment or limitation, a reflection of an acute ethnographic anxiety
in an age of de-colonisation.
Carter’s position is very different, and is complicit in a postmodern orientalism concealed within several narrative tropes: a criticism of “the west” which is really an Eurocentrism and an attempt to recuperate its culture by dramatising its “human” crisis; a faux sociology which selectively uses post-structuralist notions of cultural signs in order to create an illusory “universal”; a metafictional, overdetermined style which enables racist codes by placing them within a semantic pluralism; and an ambivalent gothicism which spectralises and doubles the other while seeming to destabilise the centre or self. These tropes cannot be taken individually, of course, for they are collectively part of a fantastic postmodern discourse with its distinct ideology of “cultural protectionism.”
Carter’s 1974 collection of stories, Fireworks, is a crucial text from the point of view of these concerns. The tales were begun while Carter was “living in Japan,” and incorporate a Japanese leitmotif throughout: the semi-autobiographical story of the Angela Carter-like narrator and her relationship with her Japanese lover. Not all the tales are set in Japan, however, and some have a distinctly “western” mise en scene, the mixture appearing to give the collection a deliberately hybrid, incoherent structure. Perhaps this is why Carter feels that the collection has the "singular moral function" of "provoking unease.” In an “Afterword” appended at the end of the volume, she declares that her tales will play a socially-critical, subversive role. They will not reinforce the "value systems of our institutions," and they “cannot betray its readers into a false knowledge of everyday experience.” She explicitly describes her tales as “gothic” in that they seek to "operate against the perennial human desire to believe the word as fact," and will do so by exaggerating "beyond reality."
The casual term “everyday experience” already suggests that Carter universalises social conditions. Her Japanese tales - the first, fourth and sixth in the volume - are complemented by other tales set in a variety of recogniseable places, and in some magically realist settings as well. It would seem, prima facie, as if Carter intended to destabilise the assumptions of the European centre with this set of exotically other cultures and locales. She suggests as much in the “Afterword” when she points to her own “Japanisation”:
So I worked on tales. I was living in Japan; I came back to England in 1972. I found myself in a new country. It was like waking up, it was a rude awakening.
What is implicit in this statement, and
in the cultural ideology of the volume, is the idea that the change in
one’s assumptions which comes from living in a cultural alterity, precisely
because of that alterity and difference, can somehow also be made relevant
and similar to one’s home or centre, at least similar enough to suggest
comparisons and changes. This assumed homology or universality becomes
the underlying justification for the touristic and imperial gaze which
runs through Carter’s writings, as if her condescending record of racial
and national differences were merely part of a larger and inoffensive project
of a global sociology.
The sociological tone is undeniable. When the first story, “Souvenir of Japan,” describes something of Japanese male chauvinism:
As they say, Japan is a man's country. When I first came to Tokyo, cloth carps fluttered from poles in the gardens of the families fortunate enough to have borne boy children, for it was the time of the annual festival, Boys Day. At least they do not disguise the situation. At least one knows where one is. Our polarity was publicly acknowledged and socially sanctioned. (6).
this sounds like a reprise (albeit relatively
muted in its criticism) of the social commentary of her New Society
articles. When she describes her (male) Japanese lover’s dissolute
nocturnal activities in the same story:
He and his friends spent their nights in a desultory progression from coffee shop to bar to pachinko parlour to coffee shop, again, with the radiant aimlessness of the pure existential hero. They were connoisseurs of boredom. The savoured the various bouquets of the subtly differentiated boredoms which rose from the long, wasted hours at the dead end of night. (8)
she might be dramatising an episode from her experiences
working as a bar hostess in Japan, as she does in the article “Poor Butterfly.”
At one level, these insights into the perverse sexism of Japanese society seems merely to be a part of Carter’s critique of patriarchy in all its global manifestations. Thus the seventh story, “Master,” seems to be a gothic revision both of the kind of benign imperialist history of which Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe is an early example, as well as a story of rapacious male power. The unnammed Englishman in this story, who is only called “Master,” is a racist, imperialist, phallocentric rapist and butcher all at once. Feverishly pursuing an exaggerated version of the white hunter’s career in the South American jungle, he abducts a native girl to be his sexual toy and bearer, and christens her “Friday.” His moral decay is that of English civilisation as well, and the story is careful to establish the English origins of his cruelty:
He had first exercised a propensity for savagery in the acrid lavatories of a minor English public school where he used to press the heads of the new boys into the ceramic bowl and then pull the flush upon them to drown their gurgling protests. After puberty, he turned his indefinable but exacerbated rage upon the pale, flinching bodies of young women whose flesh he lacerated with teeth, fingernails and sometimes his leather belt in the beds of cheap hotels near London’s great rail termini (King’s Cross, Victoria, Euston).... (71)
The critique of the centre is initially obvious,
and becomes even more obvious when the arena for his depredations becomes
the world of the South American natives.
However, even in this story Carter’s universalism diffuses her critique and contradicts its apparent revisionism. Master’s rapacious violence becomes a fact of a general phallocentrism rather than the specifically imperialist history the tale initially suggests. His inhuman sexual cruelties practised on the girl are after all enabled by the girl’s father, who barters her to the Englishman for a jeep spare tyre. The tale’s magic realist style is complicit in the Englishman’s own imperialist gaze, which refuses to confer significance and consciousness on any entity around him, while insisting on his own self-consciousness (“the eyes of his self still watched him,” 72). This perspective is mirrored by the tale’s representation of the girl, even when this seems separate from Master’s view of her:
The beliefs of her tribe had taught her to regard herself as a sentient abstraction, an intermediary between the ghosts and the fauna, so she looked at her purchaser’s fever-shaking, skeletal person with scarcely curiosity,...(74)
While the girl’s view of Master lacks critical
curiosity, she is viewed by both Master and the tale as an oddity, a curiosity
remarkable not merely for her own (convenient) self-spectralisation, but
also for her de-humanised innocence and animalistic folklore.
The exoticised girl is the virgin forest on which the Master’s male pen will carve out his cruel story: she is “as virgin as the forest that had borne her” (74), she belongs to the jaguar clan, a relationship which her simplistic mind literalises, so that when she weeps while the Master performs his atrocities on her, this is compared to the folktale of the jaguar’s water eyes, fabricated by the macaw (75). At the end of the tale, she has “magically” transformed into a jaguar, growing claws, eating raw meat, and gnawing at the Master’s corpse after she shoots him with his own gun. Her kinship with the ghosts of the slaughtered animals she (but not Master) sees around the fire also confirms her own immateriality, as a simplified and reduced backdrop in this Western drama.
The European male imperialist is finally hoist by his own petard, killed by the innocence he has corrupted and provoked into violence, but this development comes at the cost of the text’s deeply patronising view of “native” shamanism, passivity and ghostly abstraction. Such a primitivist view of the non-European also emerges in the Haffenden interview, where Carter speaks patronisingly of “shamanic jiggery-pokery in the High Andes,” and refuses to be gulled by “so much sentimentality about primitives” (Novelists in Interview, 88, 89). Carter’s version of magic realism in such a tale can only be an orientalist fantasy in which postmodern textual devices are also a means of sustaining an ideology of cultural superiority. When the magical dream about animalistic natives recedes at the end, we are left with what the tale sees as the real core of its moral, the warning to Europeans to beware the dangers of careless fantastical romps away from the centre: “Then only the flies crawling on his body were alive and he was far from home” (79).
The trope of universality also emerges in another complex story, “The Executioner’s Beautiful Daughter,” which initially might be read as a caricature of the modern police state. One of its central figures is the hooded executioner, who punishes acts of incest with beheading, even carrying this out upon his own son. He himself violates this edict with impuny, but only by virtue of losing his humanity and becoming his office: he never takes off his executioner’s mask, even when commiting the act of incest with his daughter, “for who would recognize him without it? The price he pays for his position is always to be locked in the solitary confinement of his power” (20). This dehumanised, corrupt and uniformed policing is complemented by a decrepit, absurdist monarchy which survives on meaningless ritual: the king is “stripped of everything but the idea of an omnipotence which is sufficiently expressed by immobility” (19-20). Hung perpetually from the ceiling in a “precarious but absolute position sanctioned by ritual and memory” (20), his static power (such as it is) is as much a dehumanising uniformity as that of the executioner.
The barbarous, brutal people of this country, with their defining predilection for incest, could thus be read as co-citizens of the savage Master in the story discussed above: like him, they are unreasonably prey to “infinite” vices and desires. The story suggests that these are bred precisely out of the savage suppression inflicted by the institutions of authority. The tale, like much of Carter’s writing, thus begins to sound like faux, or fictionalised, post-structuralist sociology. Its shocking or disturbing events circle inexorably around issues of taboos and totemisation, the mythopoeisis which creates social castes, ranks and traditions, charismatic power, and various forms of disciplinary gazes.
Thus far, the identification of a local, particular nation or society does not seem to be important, and Carter’s text uses the symbols and ideas of existentialism, structuralist sociology, and psychoanalysis almost as universal truths about the production of codes in every human society. Yet once again, an imperialist code is written into the story, providing a logic of reading which separates East and West. What seems at first to be universal, undifferentiated sociology takes on a core of meanings derived from Western, Christian industrial society; this seems to be the only way to make sense of the cryptic ending of the tale:
He perpetrates his inalienable right in the reeking courtyard upon the block where he struck off the head of his only son.
That night, Gretchen discovered a snake in her sewing machine and, though she did not know what a bicycle was, upon a bicycle her brother wheeled and circled through her troubled dreams until the cock crowed and out she went for eggs. (20-21)
The conjunction - execution, oedipal conflict,
filicide, incest and dream - acquires meaning against a backdrop of Judeo-Christian,
late capitalist middle-class symbols: the “inalienable right” which echoes
(or parodies) American constitutional individualism, the “only son” which
recalls Christ and his sacrificial death, the snake in the Edenic garden,
the sewing machine and bicycle. Indeed, Wilson argues that the bicycle
(which also appears in a Carter story, “The Lady of the House of Love,”
collected in another volume) stands for “England’s advanced technology
and industrial power.”
This, then, is a familiar ethnographic pattern in Carter’s work: the tacit clash between Western culture and its racial and cultural other, overcoded and concealed within other semantic and textual elements - the philosphical tale, folklore, the classic gothic, modernist angst, the anti-colonial. In “The Executioner’s Beautiful Daughter,” this clash emerges in the subtle dual vision with which the tale views the executioner and his daughter, on the one hand, and the other denizens of this town, on the other. The central figures are Aryanised: the Germanic name of the Executioner’s daughter (Gretchen) and her fair appearance (“flaxen plaits,” “pastel beauty”), the massive size of the executioner (“more than six and a half feet high and...broad to suit”) towering over all the other villagers. In contrast, the villagers are orientalised: the women in are “built for durability rather than delight,” with “forearms the size and contour of vegetable marrows” and agricultural hands “pronouncedly scoop-shaped,” like “fat five-pronged forks” (17-18). Their houses resemble “Oriental demons,” and their own faces have the “limp, flat, boneless aspect of the Eskimo,” and their eyes the “slack skin of the Mongolian fold” (17).
Carter’s notion of primitivism is once again invoked: the villagers’ lives “are dominated by a folklore as picturesque as it is murderous,” and “wizards, warlocks, shamans and practitioners of the occult” proliferate (19). They are all bound by the incest taboo, which is reinforced by a rigid folktale of damnation for previous sins of incest. The only ones exempt from this primitivism are the executioner and his daughter, who thus become the central human drama of this piece, symbols of the hypocricies and paradoxes of power, but also (inevitably) the site of cultural crisis and anxiety, the possibility of action and change. In such a perspective, the other villagers can only form the static, dehumanised backdrop to this symbolisation of the contemporary crisis in the west.
Carter’s Japan might in this sense be compared to another postmodern orientalist construction, namely the Japan of Roland Barthes’ Empire of Signs, published four years before Fireworks (although not translated into English until 1982). Barthes makes it a point to de-realise his Japan: he begins by considering the possibility of constructing “a fictive nation,” a “novelistic object” with an “invented name.” It will be merely a “system” of semiotic “features,” not “an Oriental essence,” so that “Orient and Occident cannot be taken...as ‘realities’ to be compared and contrasted historically, philosophically, culturally, politically.” Yet Barthes’ professed ignorance of Japan, his avowed refusal to write orientalist discourse, re-creates in semiotic terms the same cultural imperialism he disavows in historical and political terms. For this “Japan” he reveals to the reader becomes a “situation of writing,” which contextualises the gaijin in a “shock of meaning lacerated, extenuated to the point of its irreplaceable void,” an “emptiness of language” (4, emphasis Barthes’). The semiotic anomaly is of course also a cultural anomaly, a socio-historical freak which breaks radically from European cultural history. The nature of this anomaly is its curious lack of a centre or core: to use the terms popularised by Jean Baudrillard, Japan is composed entirely of simulacra, such that any dimension of the real can only be the “real” as it is constructed by signs.
Hence the ambiguous title of Barthes’ book, which (in French as well as in English) conveys something of the precession of these simulacra: “L’Empire des Signes,” the empire composed of signs, but also the imperial rule of signs over all else. This is the basis of Japan’s uniqueness, in Barthes’ eyes, and nowhere is this more apparent than in his contrasting of Western and Japanese theatre. Where Japanese Bunraku is the triumph of the sign over the signified, the role over the actor (“the sign shifts from the great female role to the fifty-year-old paterfamilias,” 53), Western theatre is “theological,” “the space of Sin,” of the “lie” (61), struggling tragically to resist the empty conventionality which the Japanese strangely embrace.
Underlying the ostensible valorisation of this Japanese simulation, however, is a touristic and imperialist impulse. For if Barthes’ gaze is perpetually outward - arranging Japanese society according to his few examples, which in turn are arrayed before his conviction of Japanese “emptiness” and pure signification - his emotional and moral engagement is inward, towards the human drama that is European society in post-colonial crisis. Japan, in this touristic perspective, is only a series of “flashes” (as Barthes puts it, 4), impressions devoid of “metaphysics,” struggle, pain. It is static and complete, already “empty,” and thus arranged in an artificial finality. The West, in contrast, is invested with moral struggle and thus moral purpose, with the “space” of human desires and corruption rather than the space of the pure sign, and thus with the burden of humanity which is scrupulously denied to this Japan.
Baudrillard describes the basis of this occidental project: analysing the Watergate hearings, he sees this as the creation of empty signs by the centre of authority, which simulate political policing or opposition in the name of “purging and reviving moral order” (Simulacra, 15). The figure of the other in this postmodern strategy takes on some common characteristics, despite the different arenas (the political, the literary, the American or British or French) in which it is created: the simulation of difference, the use of a plenitude of flashing, depthless signs, the gothic spectralisation of the other such that it is simultaneously concrete and ephemeral, particularised and vague. Baudrillard’s phrase, the “phantasmagoria of the social contract” (15), might again be another way of expressing this postmodern response to the crisis in late capitalist western society.
This brings us, finally, to the explicitly “Japanese” stories in Fireworks, which evince the most disturbing features of Carter’s narrative method, and which I have thus deferred discussing until now. For it is in these stories - “A souvenir of Japan,” “The Smile of Winter,” and “Flesh and the Mirror” - that Carter’s foregrounding of the west and orientalisation of the east is expectedly the most conspicuous and objectionable. Yet it is precisely in these stories that postmodern narrative devices intervene to overdetermine the tale and conceal this political agenda. In the first place, there is a marked blurring of textual and generic boundaries: the three stories tell of a foreigner in Japan and her troubled relationship with her Japanese lover. The gaijin is described as Carter is often portrayed in her photographs: she has “pink cheeks, blue eyes and blatant yellow” (7), admits to looking “lonely when I’m alone” (61), and reproduces the sardonic feminist tone of Carter’s own New Society articles on Japan. Indeed, the cognisent reader is often referred to those articles, as when a character (the “Asiatic Professor” in “The Loves of the Lady Purple”) speaks “an incomprehensible rattle of staccato k’s and t’s” (24), recalling the article entitled “Tokyo Pastoral” in which she describes Japanese as “a language full of Ts and Ks,” a “sound like briskly plied knitting needles” (Nothing Sacred, 29). Lady Purple’s early career, in which she seduces and kills her foster father and his wife, points the reader to Carter’s analysis of Oshima’s film Ai No Corrida , also a story of a murderous femme fatale, in her article “Japanese Erotica” (Nothing Sacred, 129-131). The image of the knitting needles also occurs in the tale “Reflections,” where an androgynous fate-like figure knits the fabric of worlds - Carter’s aural metaphor for (Japanese) language thus becoming a self-conscious analogy for fabulation and the work of the author herself.
These intertextual elements link not only the tales with the non-fictional articles, but also connect tale to tale, thus “Japanising” the seemingly non-Japanese stories: thus the geisha-like puppet in “The Loves of Lady Purple” has a chignon of hair decorated with “pieces of broken mirror” (26), and variations of this image recur throughout the volume: in the mirror on the ceiling of the tawdry hotel room which the gaijin and her lover occupy in “Flesh and the Mirror” (64-65); in the “sequin eyes” of the Japanese man she picks up in the same story (65), which is echoed in the “silver sequins” stuck onto the eyes of the adrogyne in “Reflections”; in the mirror-doorway in “Reflections,” and so on.
Yet another game which the narrative plays is that of metafictionalising, as if the tales were not narratives in which a story is to be told, but merely the occasion for talking about other fictions. Thus her similes and analogies are almost always borrowed from other texts: Japanese bikers are "as beautiful as the outriders of death in the film Orphee" (40); the gaijin lover is large (in the Japanese context) like "Glumdalclitch," Swift's young giantess (7), or lonely like "Mariana," Tennyson's foresaken lover (41); a South American native girl brutalised and abducted by an English hunter is christened "Friday" by him, and - lest we miss the allusion - the "Afterword" reminds us, superfluously but metafictionally scrupulous, that this is "a small tribute to Defoe, father of the bourgeois novel in England" (122).
Other passages dismantle histoire to reveal the bare skeleton of narrative or composition itself. Thus the story "The Smile of Winter," which appears at first to be a melancholy, existential ramble through the abandoned lover's consciousness, ends with a paragraph which breaks the spell of melancholia and reveals it for the self-indulgent and self-conscious exercise it is:
Do not think I do not realize what I am doing. I am making a composition using the following elements: the winter beach; the winter moon; the ocean; the women; the pine trees; the riders; the driftwood; the shells; the shapes of darkness and the shapes of water; and the refuse. These are all inimical to my loneliness because of their indifference to it. Out of these pieces of inimical indifference, I intend to represent the desolate smile of winter which, as you must have gathered, is the smile I wear. (46).
Here is the narrative's self-consciousness at
its most explicit, calling the reader's attention (lest one misses the
other cues) to the deliberately piecemeal nature of its composition, even
at the expense of de-realising its ostensible core of meaning - the mental
and emotional state of the gaijin lover.
One effect of these devices is that Carter’s style itself becomes a dazzling bit of mirrorwork, bursts of bright images like the “flashes” of Japan which Barthes encountered, or like the “fireworks” which Carter describes in her first Japan story and appropriately chooses as the title of her collection. The reader is fascinated by these allusive images, entering into a kind of game in which one is complicit with the self-conscious play of the narrative. Another effect, however, is to privilege the narrative's Anglocentric perspective, and that of the Carter-like narrator, as a seemingly detached, ironic and self-effacing position. It installs imperialist codes as merely one of multiple levels of meaning, racist insights as merely one "flash" of insight into a common sociological truth. Yet persistently, inexorably, the logic of textual (and political) segregation persists in all this: it is in the continued foregrounding and privileging of the western character and perspective as the "real" one, sustained by intertextual allusions to Carter's own biographical details, her image as represented in photographs on bookcovers, the authorial note of the "Afterword" which effectively becomes the fourth (quasi-biographical) Japanese tale in the volume, Carter's insistence on a final word from the position of the "Japanised expert." The segregation is also enforced by the way in which this quasi-biographical, persistently real "Carter" then perceives her Japanese lovers (and Japanese society as a whole) as the realm of the empty sign: unnamed, depersonalised, spectral and transient, possessing a fascinating plethora of surface details, but never the human significance and drama assigned to the west. It is only fitting to allow Carter's lover to retort and make this clear:
Sometime he seemed to possess a curiously unearthly quality when he perched upon the mattress with his knees drawn up beneath his chin in the attitude of a pixy on a door-knocker. At these times, his face seemed somehow both too flat and too large for his elegant body which had such curious, androgynous grace with its svelte, elongated spine, wide shoulders and unusually well developed pectorals, almost like the breasts of a girl approaching puberty. There was a subtle lack of alignment between face and body and he seemed almost goblin, as if he might have borrowed another person's head, as Japanese goblins do, in order to perform some devious trick. These impressions of a weird visitor were fleeting yet haunting. Sometimes, it was possible for me to believe he had practised an enchantment upon me, as foxes in this country may, for, here, a fox can masquerade as human and at the best of times the high cheek-bones gave to his face the aspect of a mask. (6).
Androgyny, ghostly haunting, shamanistic enchantment,
the kabuki mask and the simulation of a humanity actually absent - some
of the key tropes of Carter's gothic postmodernism - combine in a representation
of an entire national culture and space as essentially different, primitive
and threatening to the covertly, though decipherably, Western self.
Carter's gothic postmodern narrative is only a slightly more telling version of a late orientalism which persists in its segregation of the east - particularly communist China and Japan - from the central human perspective aligned with Western Europe and America. Jameson's notion of the late capitalist condition must be qualified with the awareness that this does not totally efface national spaces, which return, not in the cruder terms of "first" and "third" world economies, but in the "cultural protectionism" which subtly reinforces the more overt politico-economic discourse of trade competition. The racist codes of "free trade" and "human rights" criticisms targetted (usually) at China and Japan are fairly easily detected, but less obvious are the narratives inspired by postmodern tropes and techniques of simulation, gothic phantasms, mixed genres, and intertextual overcoding.
The link between western anxieties over eastern economic power (and Japan is once again the obvious scapegoat) and the cultural protectionism which creates zones of meaning differentiated along national lines, is revealed in Carter's telling note in Nothing Sacred, I "will probably never be able to afford to go back [to Japan] again" (28), which summarises a story of perceived western decline and the threateningly rapid growth of the former enemy and other. This hidden, perhaps unconscious anxiety and competition towards Japan, and more recently other parts of the “Asia-Pacific” region as well, is always involved in the seemingly introspective, literary and philosophical critique of the west by its own discourses. Carter's narrative demonstrates how a form of political pseudo-liberalism, born out of the post-structuralist riposte to imperialism in the 1970s, disturbingly re-writes that imperialism within a new discourse of "magic" tourism, sociology and cultural semiotics.
When other forms of gothic postmodern, magic realist narratives which do not create such orientalist codes are considered - one thinks of Toni Morrison's Beloved, or Ishiguro's A Pale View of Hills, both of which create spectral identities of the socially marginalised, but seen from within the consciousness of the hybrid self both authoritative and segregated - one is tempted to described Carter's narrative as the "anti gothic" postmodern.
"SHAME, SOIL AND SPECTRES - KIPLING’S COLONIAL GOTHIC NARRATIVE"
ROBBIE B. H. GOH
(In Ariels: Departures and Returns - A Festschrift for Edwin Thumboo, ed. Tong Chee Kiong et al. Singapore: Oxford University Press, 2001, pp. 248-266. Any use of or reference to this e-version of the article must be acknowledged and cited).
One sort of shame clings doggedly to Kipling’s literary reputation: the charge of his being no more than an indifferent writer, whose fame comes from a timely service to imperialistic and racist national impulses. What Lionel Trilling calls Kipling’s “puny and mindless imperialism” is often seen as the flip side of a high estimation of his journalistic and historical accuracy, which was praised by S. R. Crocket (who called Kipling the “Revealor of the East”), Charles Whibley, and others. This notion of journalistic accuracy is even used (if rather inconsistently) as an extenuation of the charge of colonial prejudice: thus Louis Cornell, after acknowledging Kipling’s “partial and somewhat distorted” view of India - only to be expected from a “member of the conquering race,” goes on to call him “very nearly the sole historian of the day-to-day life of British India.”
This view of an ameliorating historical accuracy is not shared by more recent critics, particularly those working in the tradition of post-colonial studies or colonial discourse analysis. Such criticism often focusses on Kipling's well-known colonialist sentiments, his friendship with imperial figures like Cecil Rhodes, and his support for the Boer war. In this post-colonial reading, the imputed literary shame is also the shame of ideological blindness, and of creating a literary discourse in service of that ideology. Thus Mark Pafford feels that in Kim and other works, “the Indian scene that emerges is at times too predictable, and too plastically subservient to Kipling the craftsman and Kipling the imperialist.” Similarly, Zohreh Sullivan’s close analysis of narrators and narrative structures in Kipling’s stories leads to the conclusion that Kipling’s discourse “is designed to transcend real issues and social problems through a language that connects and unifies real divisions by indulging in universal truths.” Here, the “colonial situation” is one element in the “schizophrenia” (a condition of “fundamental fears” and “defenses”) plaguing the colonial writer. A special problem is posed by the fact that Kipling is also a "children's writer," so that his aesthetic failure is seen as a failure to achieve the "complexity" of great fiction.
These various imputations of literary shame (whether or not softened by the consoling attribution of historical accuracy) are not always helpful in reading the cultural logic of Kipling's narratives of shame, or indeed in analysing their characteristic structure - their creation of strategies of transference and displacement which contribute to the "post-realist modernist sensibility" identified by Edward Said. Indeed, Said's relegation of Kipling to the ranks of the "optimism, affirmation, and serene confidence" of imperialist adventure stories, in contrast to the "extreme, unsettling anxiety" of modernists like Conrad, Forster, Yeats, T. S. Eliot and others, simplifies Kipling's narrative process and misses its function of self-consciousness and elaborate narrative framing. In Kipling's supernatural stories, in particular - which form a significant component of his Indian tales, and which often have the most complex narrative structures - we see strategies of negotiating colonial shame that reveal as profound an anxiety as that in Conrad. These narratives also reveal the complex transactional "cost" of negotiating imperialist and racist anxieties - the extent to which such strategies (in particular, the usefully dialogical tropes of "waste" soil and "spectres") threaten to escape narrative control and dismantle value-systems, even as they are used to displace and disguise the ugly truth of imperial power. Such an account of Kipling's narrative transactions may also help to account for the curious fact that this "jingoist" writer could also share characteristics with ideological opposites such as E. M. Forster, including the notion of "friendship across the bounds of race, religion, and nationality."
Territory as Soil; India as Waste Land
One way of analysing the cultural and political function of colonial discourse is to see it as an act of symbolic appropriation. This is what Deleuze and Guattari see as the “prime function incumbent on the socius,...to see to it that no flow [of desire] exists that is not properly dammed up, channeled, regulated.” As the very different images in this formulation suggest, there are a number of ways in which the colonial socius may effect this management of desire. Colonial discourse may be seen in general terms as the textual process of "decoding" and "deterritorializing" (in Deleuze and Guattari's terms) the concrete and material terms of the native identity, reducing them to abstract and symbolic terms in order to "reterritoralize" them as part of the colonialiser's culture. In the case of Kipling's Indian stories, this process of symbolic deterritorialization and reterritorialization often takes the form of a reduction of the supposed glamour and exoticism of India, a countering of metropolitan myths of the fabulous East found in Victorian texts such as Thackeray's Vanity Fair and Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone.
Moore-Gilbert (36) observes that one of Kipling's means of counteracting this myth was to describe India "in terms of a cemetery," emphasising the disease, violence and danger which afflicted both natives and Europeans. Yet it is clear that death, in and of itself, is not necessarily a deglamourisation of the imperial project: one need only think of the heroic natives and whites in many of Rider Haggard's adventure stories, whose glorious deaths in battle earn not only territory and power for the surviving colonialists, but also the immortal fame which purports to be fair recompense for their sacrifices. "Serviceable" deaths, like Gunga Din's and those faced by dedicated white colonialists and soldiers in many of Kipling's Indian stories, seem to play a part in a valorised project larger and more important than the individual. Like the chivalry and knightly companionship which takes Quincy Morris to his death at the end of Bram Stoker's Dracula, or the courage against the odds and loyalty to "the side" preached in Tom Brown's Schooldays, the serviceable death had its own, rather predictable, role to play in the martial value system of the imperium. Elsewhere, Kipling's deglamourisation of India takes a much more surprising form at odds with the positive images of the martial value system: not merely death in service, but various images of "waste" which inhere in colonial service, and which threaten to demean and degrade such service.
Some examples of this imagery of "waste" are fairly straightforward, and have to do with the cultural topography of India itself - in particular, with the native institutions such as the caste system and the Hindu religion, which are seen as irrational and oppressive. In "The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes," the crater in which Jukes inadvertently falls is literally a dump or cesspit, where the waste matter of the Indian world is jettisoned: Jukes is initially struck by the "most sickening stench" which "pervaded the entire amphitheatre" and the "filth and repulsiveness" of the its denizens, and shudders at the imagined accumulation of waste matter dropped in the "badger-holes" in which these outcasts live. The setting is appropriate to the story's account of the waste of human lives, and the wasting away of dignity and friendship, posed by the evils of the Indian caste system. What also wastes away is the possibility of friendly co-existence between white man and native which Kipling espouses in his more optimistic narratives: Jukes is insulted and betrayed by Gunga Dass, the former "jovial, full-stomached, portly Government servant with a marvellous capacity for making bad puns in English" (177), the latter's serviceability to the colonial cause melting away as rapidly as his fat and his social standing in the cruel and perverse outcast society. Thus what is wasted is not merely Gunga Dass' veneer of English civilisation, but also the hopes of a sociable assimilation of the babu culture within the colonial adminstration.
This sense that the colonial project is fraught with an inherent tendency towards atrophy and degeneration is marked in a well-known story, "Thrown Away," whose title already suggests something of the caveat about the terrible waste incurred by that project. The life that is "thrown away" is that of a young soldier, untried by the different moral and social climate of India, who commits suicide over a failed love affair, shooting himself in a "bare, limewashed room" reminiscent of a toilet. His head is "shot…nearly to pieces," and he becomes a "poor Thing," no longer recognisable as a human being. Much of the story revolves around the messy bodily matter, and the efforts of the narrator and the sympathetic Major to both physically clean up this mess, and also to whitewash the affair in the eyes of the boy's family and the public. The reduction of the human to constituent elements is emphasised: the Major wants to send a lock of the boy's hair home to his mother, but "there were reasons why we could not find a lock fit to send." This waste - of a good young Englishman's life - is precipitated by another waste: the lack of proper conditioning or training prior to his entry into Indian life, a training figured in terms of allowing a puppy to chew on soap or shoes and becoming "very sick" (16). The lesser waste proper to the domesticate and metropolitan sphere, it is implied - the symbolic vomit produced by the proper physical conditioning, the presentation of horrid facts in order to develop the right consciousness and attitude - is a necessary evil to prevent the greater waste threatened by the collapse or degeneration of the colonial project itself. It is precisely this function of consciousness-raising, through an exposure of the extreme conditions of degradation which may arise in the colonial situation, which forms one of Kipling's goals in his contribution to the colonial socius.
Often this threatened waste of colonial energies and resources is tied to the perceived treachery and instability of the native figure. This is true not only of Babus (like Gunga Dass), about whose fickle adoption of English ways Kipling was frankly critical, but also of the closer relationship which he hoped the English could have with the martial, honorable Mahomedans. "The Return of Imray" tells the story of a colonialist who is murdered by his Moslem "body-servant," Bahadur Khan, who is otherwise an exemplary servant both to Imray and his succeeding white master, Strickland. The deed arises out of a misunderstanding, precipitated by the very different beliefs of the native servant: Imray innocently pats Bahadur Khan's son on his head and says that he is a "handsome child," and when the boy coincidentally dies of fever ten days later, the servant is convinced that Imray "bewitched" the child.
The central image of the story is the bungalow which used to be occupied by Imray, and which passes (together with the services of Bahadur Khan) into the hands of Strickland. The narrator, staying as Strickland's guest, first raises the problem of Imray as a problem associated with the bungalow: it is a haunted, unsettling and unsettled place, giving the narrator the impression that "I was doing some one an injustice in not attending to his wants" (266). The disturbances - emphasised by the terrified behaviour of Strickland's dog - are an uncanny symbolism for the unrest and unsettled affairs in the "house" of India as a whole. What is articulated in fanciful terms by the notion of Imray's ghost roaming the rooms, seeking justice for and exposure of his gruesome disappearance, is the coloniser's anxiety of a vague and undefineable unrest underlying even the most serviceable of white-native relationships.
Bahadur is, in the final analysis, a "good" native servant, a point the story is at pains to emphasize. He is a man of honour, in his own way, of "land-holding stock," who chooses suicide rather than the disgrace of hanging (275). He takes great pride in his work, pointing out just before he dies, "Be it remembered that the Sahib's shirts are correctly enumerated, and that there is an extra piece of soap in his wash-basin." Kipling chooses the uncanny symbolism of ghosts and "bewitchment" precisely to emphasise the paradoxical relationship between Bahadur and Imray/Strickland. The story is not interested in making a simplistic judgement, nor merely in repudiating the faulty logic of the native mind. Strickland's comment on hearing Bahadur's explanation, indeed, is the ironic comment that "This…is called the nineteenth century"; however, he quickly goes on to balance this implicit rationalistic judgement of the native, by agreeing with the narrator that "Imray made a mistake" in not understanding "the nature of the Oriental," and that of the "seasonal fever" (276).
If neither Strickland nor the narrator can rationalise the episode or retreat into simplifying judgements, then the narrative's burden of meaning shifts elsewhere, to the uncanny symbols of the haunted house, the hidden-then-revealed corpse, the supernatural distress experienced by the narrator and by the dog Tietjens. The bungalow itself is depicted as an inherited problem - Strickland (and through him the narrator) come belatedly to it, and are tormented by the unfinished business between Imray and his native murderer. Kipling's discourse does not seem to be interested in (or capable of) assigning or analysing first causes in the problem of colonial India; thus the inherited problem becomes a trope suggesting the inescapably messy nature of colonial administration, which is of course also a means of side-stepping any examination of the problem of colonial power itself, and its contribution to this mess. Although both Strickland and the narrator do not, themselves, have problems with their native body-servants, they are implicated nolens volens into this colonial problem: Strickland, both as a policeman and as Bahadur's present employer, encounters the situation reluctantly, torn between his appreciation of Bahadur's services and his native beliefs, and a need to deliver a swift and simplifying colonial justice. It is significant that Bahadur is not mentioned at all until the very end of the story, suggesting the ambivalence of the native servant's invisibility, which marks both his insignificance in white eyes, but also his unpredictable, sudden treachery. For both Strickland and the narrator, the episode causes them to reconsider with some anxiety their relationship with their servants: among Strickland's first words to Bahadur in the story are an acknowledgement and realisation that "I have worked thee remorselessly for many days" (272), and the narrator later dwells with disquiet on the fact that "my own servant had been with me for exactly that length of time" that Bahadur had served Imray (276).
If the bungalow symbolises the essentially uneasy relationship between conquering and conquered races, it is a problematic symbol which emphasises the necessarily dirty duty of the coloniser. Bungalows in Kipling's stories are often depicted as dilapidated hulks, the scene of anxiety (if not always in the form of supernatural hauntings) and conflict, whose native caretakers are problematically indifferent, treacherous or incompetent. As such, the base and menial maintenance work falls upon the white men, as an inescapable chore. Like the narrator and the Major in "Thrown Away," the work of Strickland and the narrator in "The Return of Imray" is that of housekeeping - but specifically, its dirtiest and most degraded aspects, that of latrine duty. This centres around the ceiling-cloth of Strickland's bungalow, a seamy space which "harboured all manner of rats, bats, ants, and foul things" (Life's Handicap, 263). Consistent with Kipling's scatological symbolism, waste matter - first two wriggling "brown" snakes, then the rotting body of Imray - descend from apertures in the ceiling cloth, to drop into the living room and consciousness of Strickland and the narrator.
Working to clean up waste matter, in this narrative and symbolic logic, is thus presented as a defining, cathartic moment in colonial work - a point of degradation and shame which is also, implicitly, a strengthening of resolve and a creation of a supposedly higher and more aware colonial consciousness. That this takes place as a symbolic moment, rather than a rhetorical argument or pedantic assertion, that this symbolic moment comes accompanied by an aporia in terms of morality and systems of values, makes it all the more crucial as a re-writing of colonial anxieties. "Cleansing" is displaced from the level of power, to that of an ostensibly concrete act innocent of power. What is important in this textual process, however, is the fact that this symbolism hides its evasions, its abstractions (which, according to Deleuze and Guattari, de-materialise the native socius), behind that seemingly most earthy and degraded process of waste-removal.
Part of the power of this symbolism is its ability
to represent a number of different social conditions. Thus it is
also possible to see in many of these waste symbols a re-working of racial
anxieties, specifically those governing the hierarchical relationship between
whites and natives. In "Bertran and Bimi," an allegory of colonial
friendship (between the French naturalist Bertran and an orang utan, Bimi,
who - the German narrator Hans Breitman insists - "was a man," a "great,
dark devil," and not a beast), the ape's betrayal of that friendship evokes
both the anxieties of native treachery after the Indian mutiny, and racist
suggestions of the link between impulsive, child-like behaviour and the
less-evolved nature of the native races. Bimi's problem, according
to the German narrator Hans (who mouths some of the racist evolutionary
notions of late nineteenth-century Europe), is that it is treated like
a "child und brother" by Bertran, who spoils it with human kindness and
a kind of lax equality:
He had his room in dot house - not a cage, but a room - mit a bed und sheets, und he would go to bed und get up in der morning und smoke his cigar und eat his dinner mit Bertran, und walk mit him hand in hand, which was most horrible. (303)Hans sees Bimi's case as sui generis rather than unique: it is yet another ape with an "imperfect soul, which is midway arrested in defelopment" (302). The paradox represented by Bimi (and its kind) is that it is both frighteningly Other and non-human, and yet also familiar, "a man."
The central act of violence in this story also echoes the colonial uncertainty about native others in the wake of the Mutiny. Jealous after Bertran takes a young half-caste French girl as his wife, Bimi savages her in Bertran's bedroom, an episode redolent of vicious rape and mutilation, but one which also underscores the Other's inexplicable lapse back into inhumanity, the return of violence for kindness, the cowardly victimisation of the coloniser's woman. Bertran's tragedy results from his "softness" to Bimi, which is pointedly contrasted to Hans' advocacy of a hard colonial authority, including the resolve to shoot Bimi first to prevent even the possibility of an attack. Hans survives where neither Bertran nor his wife do, his tough German brand of colonial force returning in other savage lands, in other Kipling stories. The story thus evokes central racial issues familiar from the Eyre trial, that landmark Victorian episode where colonial violence came on trial: Eyre's defense, that such violence (which he explicitly compared to the repression of the Indian Mutiny) is "necessary" in dealing with "an ignorant and excitable population, in many respects little removed from savages, whose habit is untruthfulness," is the harsh necessitarian argument which hovers in the background of Kipling's ostensible animal story.
This is not to say that Kipling advocated Eyre's brand of simplifying racism and hard colonial violence: his story carefully conceals his views and the desired English colonial position, the Kiplingesque narrator merely reporting the contrasting views of Hans and Bertran, the German and the French. The story offers no simplistic answer to this colonial problem, and its scatological imagery conveys the sense of inescapable waste which is associated with the colonial endeavour. The bedroom in which Bertran's wife locks herself in a vain attempt to escape from Bimi, comes to resemble not so much an abattoir, as a cesspit or similar waste depository: there is no body, "nodings in dot room dot might be a woman. Dere was stuff on der floor und dot was all" (306). Hans compares the sight to a "waste-basket," and it generates more human waste, as he is "very sick" in reaction. Bimi drops into the room from the thatch, creating a hole in the roof, a liminal entrance that is as much a sphincter to control and release waste, as it is a threshold to mark the problematic boundary between European and native spheres, man and beast, white and "dark."
The story's impact depends precisely upon
these images of waste, so that the room-as-privy metonymically suggest
the act of violence itself, which is not depicted directly. When
Bertran finally catches up with Bimi, the ape has "a long piece of black
hair in his hands"; Hans cannot even mention the other bodily matter which
remains on Bimi's hands, "all black und thick mit - mit what had dried
on der hands." The English frame-narrator who listens to the story
is struck by another senseless waste: the loss of Bertran, who kills Bimi
with his bare hands and is killed in turn. Hans explains this "waste"
of Bertran's life - his own refusal to "help Bertran" kill Bimi and thus
save the Frenchman's life - with the explanation that is the shocking image
of the cess-pit or toilet: "it was not nice even to mineself dot I should
live after I haf seen dot room mit der hole in der thatch" (307).
There are variations of the cess-pit, including the polluted well, basin, or similar body of water which figures in many Kipling stories (including "Little Tobrah," "Dray Wara Yow Dee" and "In the House of Suddhoo"). These watery receptacles are befouled by bodies (often of murder victims) which are dumped into them, or are the means of concealing deceit and treachery, or symbolise the inescapable tragic fate which awaits the individual as a result of the irrational cruelties of Hindu beliefs such as the caste system. They contribute to the sense, in Kipling's Indian stories as a whole, that the country is a site of degradation and filthy matter, one which threatens to ensnare even the most conscientious and capable of colonial administrators.
It is hardly surprising that this politics of the colonial uncanny should so resemble scatology, since it is precisely at the trope of "soil" and "soiling" that the psycho-somatic, the moral, and the political meet. For Freud and his followers, the anal phase of the child's development was marked by potential shame and guilt which could lead to the pathologies of Narcissism, anal retention and anal eroticism. This latent content thus threatens to return in a variety of modes of behaviour in the sexual, social and even public spheres.
It is a trope which entered into much of the figural
language of imperialism in the 1870s and 1880s, for example in Ruskin's
blatantly jingoistic inaugural lecture as first Slade Professor of Fine
Art at Oxford:
This is what England must either do or perish: she must found colonies as fast and far as she is able, formed of her most energetic and worthiest men; seizing every piece of fruitful waste ground she can set her foot on,…. [Our colonists] are no more to consider themselves therefore disfranchised from their native land than the sailors of her fleets do, because they float on distant seas.The organic image is telling, and usefully ambivalent: the "fruitful" ground cannot be "waste" in the sense of being barren or irremediable - not in the sense of the "Waste Land" as Eliot would later use it. It is another sense of "waste" - waste product, the fecund but neglected (because shameful) matter at the end of the food chain - which combined the paradoxical elements of value and valuelessness that Ruskin suggests. His next image - disfranchisement and denial (of the colonists by the metropolitan centre) reminds his auditor, even as it tries to deny and reassure, that not only the land, but also the personnel who "set…foot" on such waste matter, are objects of potential shame and alienation.
The imperial desire is not always formulated in
such thinly-veiled scatological and degraded ways, of course - Disraeli,
the architect of Britain’s policy of expansion in the 1870s, saw the issue
not as a “mean” one, but one of “greatness”; for the individual, the imperium
was an opportunity for elevation, “where your sons, when they rise, rise
to paramount positions,” to “esteem” and “respect” (Beales 1969: 267 -
268). In its literary expressions, too, the imperium is at times
lofty, veiling its shameful parts: Rider Haggard’s adventurers do not face
indignities and degrading actions as a direct result of their imperial
forays and fantasies, and if they do, are seldom conscious of this and
do not enable moments of consciousness in the reader. In Conrad and
Rider Haggard, it is not white men or martial and serviceable natives,
but the intractable and hostile natives, who bear the burden of devolved
and degraded behaviour and physical appearances. In Bram Stoker’s
Dracula is to be found a similar racial segregation and projection of degraded
waste matter: where the West’s (England’s and America’s) men and women
are generally brave and honourable characters, animated by right behaviour,
compassion and courage, their “Eastern” opponent, the orientalised Count
Dracula, is conspicuously degraded in several respects. Like Rider
Haggard’s intractable natives, he is a devolved figure who clearly bears
the marks of a variety of beasts; he at times poses as his own servant;
and his act of territorial invasion (unlike the provoked and righteous
martial attack of the Westerners) involves sexual corruption, bribery and
filthy lucre. In an episode near the beginning of the novel, the
Count (in the guise of his coachman) periodically stops Jonathan Harker’s
journey in order to mark the wispy signs of a contaminated materialism
- dead men's gold. It is significant that this act of anal
retention, this degraded money-grubbing, is associated with the threatening
racial other, while the whites are clearly associated with opposite values
of technological progress, loyalty, and martial athleticism.
Kipling’s stories are more complex than those more obviously triumphalist and racist projects. His colonial figures do not typically stand back from the land and the native other, commenting on their degraded aspects, but are inextricably involved with them, their hands soiled with the messy work of administration and control. Kipling's text is fascinated by the great and burdensome cost of that colonial control, and forces the reader to confront this cost. This discourse nevertheless sustains colonialism by writing displaced symbols of English territorialisation; however, it does not do this along the segregationist story-lines of Rider Haggard and Bram Stoker, but through narrative frames and overdetermined symbols which suggest both the necessity (and perhaps the ultimate impossibility) of containing the degraded Other.
Marking the Tale: Framing "The Mark of the
To understand how Kipling's narrative paradoxically foregrounds colonial anxieties about the degraded and "wasted" nature of the colonial project, and yet also accommodates this topos within the jingoistic ideology evident in his poetry and other writings, it is necessary to examine the ways in which his gothic narrative structure frames his representation of the uncanny native other.
Kipling’s story, “The Mark of the Beast” (from the volume of stories Life's Handicap), has many features characteristic of his colonial gothic narrative. It is an unsettling tale which dissolves many of the racial and cultural categories treated more simplistically in other colonial discourses, including in other Kipling stories - the unstable mimic men (often “babus”) such as Hurree Chunder Mookerjee in Kim and Gunga Dass in “The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes,” cunning Mohamedan campaigners such as Kurruk Shah in “The Lost Legion” or Mahbub Ali in Kim, impetuous and lawless Irish in “Namgay Doola” and “The Courting of Dinah Shadd,” and other types which recur throughout his writings. It does feature a character, “Strickland of the Police,” who appears in other stories such as “Miss Youghal’s Sais” and “The Return of Imray,” but Strickland is an enigmatic character whose role - unlike that of another famous colonial policeman, McBryde, with his strict theories of race difference and predictable closed-ranks behaviour - is not to confirm the white man’s place and stature in relation to the natives, but to undermine any certitude of white difference or supremacy. Strickland in “Miss Youghal’s Sais” is described as one who inspires the fear and hatred of natives, because he “knew too much.” He is fond of putting on native disguise (in this story, he does so in order to woo a woman), and when he does so, is said to be “swallowed up for a while” - an image of cultural traversal which also threatens to be cultural transgression and loss of identity, as Mowgli, Kim, and Morrowbie Jukes show before their “natural” roles re-assert themselves. Strickland is the figure of cool professional detachment, saying little and doing his best to get the job done, no matter how bizarre and degraded the required actions. In "The Mark of the Beast," he is invoked in order to "bear witness to the facts of the case," although his professionalism itself comes to be questioned, in its paradoxical ability to act decisively and brutally, even in its absence of a clear conscience or consciousness.
“The Mark of the Beast” begins with a caveat,
an orientalising boundary, and a quasi-metaphysical distinction:
East of Suez, some hold, the direct control of Providence ceases; Man being there handed over to the power of the Gods and Devils of Asia, and the Church of England Providence only exercising an occasional and modified supervision in the case of Englishmen.However, the distinctions subsequently turn out to be drawn between various forms of rationalist colonial consciousness, and not between the white man and the native. The narrator immediately marks his difference from the sceptical rationalist narrators who expose the sham of native fakirs and superstitious creduluity in stories like “The Sending of Dana Da,” “In the House of Suddhoo,” and ”My Own True Ghost Story.” The narrator’s credulous readiness - or, at least, his suspension of disbelief - is also fleshed out in complex ways in relation to the three other white men in the story.
The inference which he drew from the evidence was entirely incorrect. He is dead now; he died in a rather curious manner, which has been elsewhere described.Dumoise’s inference is that the case is one of simple hydrophobia; the “elsewhere” refers to Kipling’s story “By Word of Mouth,” which appears in Plain Tales. Yet another supernatural tale, it tells of Dumoise’s demise after he is given a message, ostensibly by his dead wife, that she will “meet him next month at Nuddea” (Plain Tales, 231). Dumoise's name seems significant: it sounds both like "demise," which highlights the quietly unresisting way he expires in the story, and it also sounds like "dormouse," the nickname which the other whites give him, fairly contemptuous at his passive nature. Throughout the story, his acquiescent nature is emphasised: he is “A Civil Surgeon who never quarrels,” and is thought “dull” by the white community. After the supernatural visitation, he is suddenly given orders to go to Nuddea, where there turns out to be a cholera epidemic. Unlike the superstitious native bearer who had borne the dead memsahib’s message, and who takes the latest orders as a portent of doom, Dumoise dutifully goes to Nuddea, not completely sure that he is fated to die there.
He plays a similar role in “The Mark of the Beast,” taking the simplest explanation (“hydrophobia”) of the case of native spiritualism, repeating his conviction that “nothing could be done,” and preparing for the demise of the patient (“he would be ready to certify to the cause of death”). He is sharply contrasted with both Strickland and the narrator, who decide even in the face of an incredible supernaturalism to act positively to battle it and save Fleete's soul. If their actions call them into disrepute, on the other hand they emerge more positively than the dormant Dumoise, whose intertextual death is hinted at near the beginning of the tale.
The fourth white man in the story is Fleete, the plantation owner whose limited “knowledge of natives,” and fit of boisterous drunkenness one night, causes him to desecrate the temple image of Hanuman. He is cursed by a mysterious leper for his offense, and as a result degenerates into a bestial condition, losing his humanity and speech to howl like a wolf and bolt down raw meat. If Dumoise represents the demise of the acquiescent, passive coloniser, then Fleete (as his name and characterisation suggest) seems to represent the hasty and culturally-insensitive one, quick to upset the delicate balance in the relationship between the races.
Distinctions between the different white agents, and the different colonial mentalities they represent, are drawn in the climate of crisis and anxiety - centering around issues of race, morality and power - catalysed by the supernatural in the story. The title, on the one hand, evokes ideas of devolution into bestial behaviour familiar from Rider Haggard, Bram Stoker, Kipling's own stories like "Bimi and Bertran," and also from propagators of racist evolutionary ideas such as Brinton and Haeckel. Fleete is the first to introduce the notion, grinding his cigar on the forehead of the Hanuman idol and calling this the "Mark of the B-beasht!" (243). The notion is complexly overdetermined: Fleete clearly mimics the ash marks, which Hindu devotees make on their foreheads. In doing so, he mocks not only the religious mark, but the animalistic element in Hinduism as a whole. His allusion makes a cultural disparagement, identifying Hanuman worship as part of the religious heresy associated with the antichrist (Revelations 13:11-18).
Several reversals serve to undermine Fleete's cultural imperialism and disparagement: in the first place, Fleete's own act of placing his mark on the idol's forehead, mimes that of the antichrist, who is supposed to mark either the foreheads or right hands of all men (Rev 13:16). (In contrast, the Silver Man embraces Fleete, a strange means of effecting a curse, with suggestions both of homosexual as well as of inter-racial intimacy, so that the effects of the curse might in this context seem almost like a gently-administered, fond punishment, for Fleete's own good). Furthermore, after he is touched and cursed by the Silver Man, it is Fleete himself who wears a Mark of the Beast, black rosettes resembling a leopard's markings, on his left breast. There follows a series of references to a confusing range of species and genus, from the "great gray apes" which Hanuman is supposed to patronise, to the horses terrified by Fleete's presence, the repeated references to the dogs which Strickland is fond of keeping, and the noise "exactly like the mewing of an otter" which the Silver Man makes (243). Fleete's own degeneration is to the nature of a wolf, particularly in the "long-drawn howl of a wolf" which issues from his throat (250). The overdetermined bestial imagery triggered off by Fleete's act is almost a reductio ad absurdum of devolutionary anxieties, sparking a set of surreal transformations in which the white man's supposed superiority is of no avail.
This fear of the descent into bestial savagery is linked in this story to a caveat against colonial arrogance and power - as with Conrad's Kurtz, the white man's lust for violent power is another threatened degradation. In their battle to defend the civilised humanity of Fleete, both Strickland and the narrator (by their own admission) descend to depths which "disgrace" and "shame" their race (258). Once again, Fleete is the catalyst, his horrifying degradation (once again marked by scatalogical imagery) shocking the other white men into violent cruelty:
This unmentionable act is paired, by the narrator's tone and pose of coyness, with the similarly unmentionable act of torture, also associated with the white men: when they bind the Silver Man and "got to work," the narrative breaks off with "This part is not to be printed" (256).
The beast doubled backwards into a bow as though he had been poisoned with strychnine, and moaned in the most pitiable fashion. Several other things happened also, but they cannot be put down here. (255)
If Strickland and the narrator "soil" themselves
in much the same way that Fleete does, they do so in order to territoralise
symbolic ground - the old, white code of closing ranks, an Eye for and
Eye, and "disciplined" policing of unruly savage elements. On the
one hand, their behaviour is a form of necessary professional duty, "work"
in the narrator's phrase, their coy ellissions and declarations of shame
merely token gestures which do not, in the final analysis, prevent the
story from going "before the public" (258). If the narrator believes
that "no one will believe a rather unpleasant story," it is clear that
Kipling disagrees, and means his story to serve part of the project of
confronting the metropolitan readership with the unpleasant realities of
colonial administration. Strickland also justifies his decision
(to torture the Silver Man) with a Biblical allusion: “But he can’t take
away the life!” (253), Strickland says, outraged by the excessive compensation
demanded by the Silver Man, which to the white man’s mind is out of proportion
to Fleete’s crime. Strickland literally echoes the Mosaic codes of
fair recompense governing injury between individuals in Exodus, not just
in the conviction that the natives can demand no more than the “eye for
eye,” but also in the “burning for burning” (the physical burning inflicted
upon the Silver Man, in return for the spiritual "burning" which the transformed
Fleete seems to undergo) which inspires his form of torture (Exodus 21:24-25).
On the other hand, however, the story (like many of Kipling's gothic narratives) invokes uncanny narrative elements which do not tamely serve the purposes of creating the appropriately tough colonial mentality. One such element is the "colour scheme" of the story, which at one level involves a reversal of colonial religious hypocrisy. Conrad plays a similar reversal in the connotations of whiteness and darkness in Heart of Darkness. In Kipling's tale, the figure of the Silver Man begs cultural overwriting, and the narrator is the first to invoke the Bible by referring to him as "what the Bible calls 'a leper as white as snow.'" Initially this colouration, perhaps like Melville's whale, reads as an oddity and departure from the norm (of the dark native) which merely calls attention to this lapse or absence - an absence which is also a spiritual and moral absence. Even as the Silver Man is read, by his white antogonists, as an a-human deformity, a soulless ghoul who uses weird powers to torment Fleete, a textual reversal takes place which undermines this moral polarisation.
In the first place, the narrator's invocation of the Biblical comparison imposes a selective and narrow band of meaning upon the leper, gesturing only to the Old Testament notion (principally articulated in Exodus and Leviticus) that the leper is unclean and should not be allowed to contaminate the spiritual and physical purity of the chosen people. This meaning echoes Strickland's Old Testament interpretation of the letter of the law, allowing him to justify torturing the Silver Man. What is ignored, however, is quite another Biblical, New Testament strand of meaning associated with lepers: rejected by the law and by man, they turn in faith to the Messiah, recognising him when the religious leaders refuse to do so. They are also the recipients of Christ's mercy and compassion, and symbols of cleansing and forgiveness - as the narrator's comment recalls, the leper is the paradigm of the sinner, who may be cleansed "whiter than snow." The New Testament meaning complements the Mosaic law: it is precisely because of their status as the non-human "unclean," that lepers function so powerfully both as critics of society's hypocritical laws, and as symbols of Christ's inclusive compassion.
The sahibs' treatment of the Silver Man ignores these different levels of meaning, of course, seeing in him only the uncanny figure of native spiritual and moral difference. If Strickland and the narrator are not as unself-consciously exclusionary as Forster's missionaries, they nevertheless miss the complex irony of the ways in which the figure of the leper evades the Biblical frames which they insist on invoking. Certainly one value-system which is never invoked in the difficult moral struggle in the story, is that of Christian mercy and charity to the "other," which in this story might easily refer to the Silver Man and the native figure in general. The sahibs' selective and imperfect knowledge of the Christian codes they invoke only emphasises their own distance from those codes.
The colour scheme - the uncanny whiteness of the leper, which (like Freud's "unheimlich") should not be, since it violates racialist distinctions and differences, and yet nevertheless comes so powerfully to the fore of the sahibs' consciousness - thus calls attention to a number of other reversals and complex overdeterminations in this story. One of the chief of these is the very notion of the "mark of the beast," not just in its Apocalyptic notion of anti-Christian religious power, but also in terms of Victorian devolutionary anxieties. The layered meanings attached to this trope, while on the one hand segregating "good" colonialism (presumably that of the narrator and Strickland) from Fleete's offensive gesture, on the other hand fosters a reading which continually looks for further, potentially contradictory, layers of meaning. In this interpretative process, the narrator and Strickland also become implicated in "bestial" behaviour - not merely in the ways the narrator suggests, that of the necessary brutality in the name of white human decency and Old Testament equitability, but also of a cultural and textual brutality. In a sense, colonial discourse such as that of the narrative in this story - no matter what its pretensions of uneasy self-consciousness and coy ellisions - reveals its tendency to retreat into brutally judgemental terms of a cultural imperialism.
The tone of this cultural imperialism is evident
in the framing remarks at the beginning and end of the story. The
beginning, despite its ostensible qualification ("some hold"), which ascribes
this orientalising boundary to the naïve metropolitan Englishman,
nevertheless goes on to call this boundary and distinction a "theory" which
"accounts for some of the more unnecessary horrors of life in India" (240).
This notion of the "power of the Gods and Devils of Asia" thus comes to
"explain," not only the supernatural events of his story, but also to justify
colonial brutality, as a shame that is provoked by the unprecedented evils
of Asian spirituality. This is evident also in the conclusion to
the story, in which the narrator explains his playful "reluctance" to make
the story public:
I cannot myself see that this step is likely to clear up the mystery; because, in the first place, no one will believe a rather unpleasant story, and, in the second, it is well known to every right-minded man that the gods of the heathen are stone and brass, and any attempt to deal with them otherwise is justly condemned. (259)What is thinly concealed by this dig at the naïve and unbelieving "right-minded man" of the metropolitan centre, is an alternate imperialistic attitude, which is too ready to credit "heathen" behaviour and institutions with "unpleasant" powers and motives. This alternate imperialism, too, evinces its readiness to read the native cultural realm as unknown and unknowable, sublime and threatening.
This, ultimately, is the ambivalent power of the textual uncanny - on the one hand, its ability to evoke the elements of shame, degradation, anxiety and terror which the socius - especially the imperial socius - often represses utterly. Kipling's chosen role (in his colonial gothic tales) as the initiator of the colonial consciousness into that area of repressed shame and guilt, ostensibly for the purposes of creating a more purposeful colonial intent, marks him on the one hand as a self-consciously idealistic writer who (contrary to much of the prevailing scholarship) bears points in common with the modernist projects of Conrad, Forster and others. On the other hand, too, the uncanny in the colonial gothic is a site of textual slippages, a strategy of discourse which reveals as much about the irresolute anxieties of culture and power, as it does about the expressed ideals and values of the author and his or her socius.
In a letter of 27 September 1885 to his cousin, Margaret Burne-Jones, Kipling employs a different, public imperial discourse, one which uses a familiar form of "over-writing" (in Robert Young's phrase), a mapping which imposes English cultural knowledge onto the Indian landscape. Speaking of the "whole hosts of abuses, oppressions and unthinking wrong" which exist in India, Kipling tries to explain the colonial project by isolating hypothetically "a district as big as Yorkshire near Delhi," and by contrasting the chaotic irregularities of Indian institutions and customs to the well-known aspects of the English "parish" system. The task of the (colonial) writer faced with such a situation, in the very militaristic but also chivalric terms Kipling uses in this letter, is to "rake" the offensive native institutions with "statistics; tall writing; appeals, and finally 'chaff'" (92). Yet towards the end of his letter, after offering in his own discourse a small taste of that almost Quixotically heroic discourse for the consumption of the young metropolitan female reader - a discourse also well-suited, one imagines, for the consumption of the English public in general - Kipling allows that "writing letters is one thing and writing books another" (94). Indeed, looking at the different styles and discourses that obtain in Kipling's oeuvre, we might extend his distinction to say that "writing (colonial) books" is also a heterogeneous undertaking: from the overt jingoism of much of the poetry, to his journalistic prose (which carries over even to fictional work such as the Plain Tales from the Hills and elsewhere), to the moral simplifications of the children's stories and fables, and the troubled imagery and multiple perspectives of the gothic tales.
Within the overarching project of colonial discourse analysis, it is worth remembering - as one inevitably does in reading a writer like Kipling - that there are many forms of colonial discourse, not all clearly jingoistic and racist, and that these play different roles within the general cultural function of the imperium. We might say that the uncanny in the colonial gothic is a choice - one which Kipling admittedly does not always make - but that the choice is not always a conscious one, either on the part of the author or of the literary culture within which one writes. Even with its transactional cost (in terms of narrative slippages) and the attendant dualities of colonial shame and guilt it brings, the colonial gothic is chosen as a gesture of (seeming) self-criticism and self-consciousness; but this is also to say that it chooses itself as the textual site of recurrent anxieties of race, power and value.
(M)Othering the Nation: Guilt, Sexuality and the Commercial State
in Coleridge’s Gothic Poetry
Robbie B. H. Goh
(Journal of Narrative Theory 33.3 (Fall 2003): 270-291.
In an intriguing, if cryptic, notebook entry of 1799, Samuel Taylor
Coleridge speaks of “Commerce and its Effects disguised as a Fairy Tale”
(1957 I: 616). It is not clear if he is referring to the spell which
commerce and its commodities are supposed to exert on human participants,
although he does say in the poem “Religious Musings” that commercial man
is “Toy-bewitched,/Made blind by lusts” (1912 I: 114), while in the Lay
Sermon he uses the term the “sorcery of wealth” to describe the dominance
of commerce over all other aspects of human life (1972: 199). This
quality of enchantment attributed to commerce, would also seem to fit into
Coleridge’s poetics, what in the Biographia Literaria is described as that
“magical power to which we have exclusively appropriated the name of imagination”
(1983 II: 16). His own poem “Christabel” accords with this definition,
as a “supernatural” poem which “pretended to be nothing more than a common
Faery Tale” (1983 II: 6-7, 238).
Magical narratives which also convey some essential truth about the (in its own way magical) power of commercial relations, would go some way to relate the “world-historical” Coleridge (Shaffer 1975: 56, 101), who “marshals all the resources of the mind, including the imagination, towards an understanding of the human condition in historical terms” (Storch 1982: 449), with the poet of a “querulous egotism” (Watson 1966: 51) whose “introverted” poetry expresses the “elevation of the self’s truth” (Butler 1981: 83). The Biographia maintained that the magical power of the imagination could rescue “the most admitted truths from…impotence” by producing “the strongest impressions of novelty” (1983 I: 82), thus establishing the basis of a poetics which was also a politics of the commercial state. Coleridge’s various and rather desultory prose comments on the evils of England’s economic condition, in writings like The Watchman, his essays for the Morning Post, the Lay Sermons and elsewhere, form a backdrop for the gothic romance which emerges in the poetry – a romance in which the anxieties of the commercial state are played out in the psycho-sexual terms of desire, repression, alterity and regression. Not incidentally, this pairing of commerce and the miraculous tale bears more than passing resemblance to William Godwin’s account of the relationship between his gothic novels and his political ideas: in his preface to his 1805 novel Fleetwood, Godwin describes the “miraculous” and “surprising” elements in his novels as a reinforcement of the politics of his Political Justice, both kinds of discourse working in different ways “to effect a grand and comprehensive improvement in the sentiments” of men in society (1832: xvi). Clemit (1993: 1, 14) insists that the Godwinian novel is a “consciously political form” intended to oppose the values of “aristocratic culture”; she thus passes a considerable part of the political burden from Godwin’s explicit treatise Political Justice (which in any case undergoes a series of revisions and retractions), to the novels’ literary mechanism and their sentimental influence. Godwin’s profound but problematic influence on Coleridge is evident from as early in the latter’s career as the 1795 Bristol lectures, and Coleridge’s gothic project both derives from and distinguishes itself from Godwin’s attempt to depict “things as they are” in the fantastical form of the gothic novel.
This literary project can thus be seen in terms of the “channeling” of “desiring production,” the “coding” and “decoding of flows” of economic and political desires, which Deleuze and Guattari (1984: 9-10, 240) attribute to the capitalist state. The gothic, with its neurotic sensualisation of the affairs of the state, its imagination of the perverse psycho-sexual drama of power, is a prime example of such literary codes, “so true is it that the schizo practices political economy, and that all sexuality is a matter of economy” (Deleuze and Guattari 1984: 12). In the case of Coleridge, poetry is a means of articulating a sentimental response to the evils and sufferings which, in his view, were caused by opportunistic commerce in the form of (among other things) Britain’s trade in African slaves, the gulf between rich and poor, wars of commerce and the like. Yet this leads to a form of writing in which the problems of desire and transgression are displaced from politics to poetics, from power to sexuality. Morton (1998: 91) observes that even in the seemingly more direct narrative conventions of the Bristol Lectures and the Watchman, Coleridge deals with the complexly-interwoven issues of slavery, commercial greed and British middle-class complicity, in a rhetoric (whose chief image is the consumption of West Indian sugar) which “works in multiple directions simultaneously, establishing a bizarre, contradictory reciprocity between the consumed and the consumer” – thus, a form of dietary displacement, in which the political economy of the guilty commodity gets played out, not in a direct political manner, but as a trope of orality and the body. This form of gothic poetics might thus be seen as a project which “liberates the flows of desire” (Deleuze and Guattari 1984: 139), by taking it from the place where it poses conflicts (with sentimental and moral views of society), and re-presenting it in unlikely and provocative ways. In so doing, Coleridge’s poetic persona becomes split, other even to himself; on the one hand, a social prophet and ascetic who laments the greed of society, and on the other hand a visionary whose dreams re-position social conflicts as sexualized tensions.
Coleridge’s writings oppose the divisive and oppressive power of the commercial state, with a vision of communal bonds and social affections closely associated with a pre-commercial condition of nature, the rural retreat, and the domestic scene. Not surprisingly in an age of mercantilist voyages, for Coleridge the prime symbol of the divisiveness of commerce was the sea. In a poem like “Dura Navis” (1787), which advocates domestic contentment instead of ambition, the “dangerous deep” is an allegory for the “venturous” life in quest of delusory wealth (Coleridge 1912 I: 2-3). In this allegory, such a life is doomed by uncertainties and vicissitudes, much as the sea is governed by the “Storm’s impending rage”; at the same time, the sea also symbolizes the uncontrollable desires within the self, the storms within when “to the Clouds the Waves ambitious rise.” A similar analogy obtains in “A Lover’s Complaint to His Mistress” (1792); as the full title explains, the mistress is leaving her lover “in quest of a more wealthy husband in the East Indies” (1912 I: 36). She is thus a version of the merchants and other adventurers-at-sea, who spurn domestic contentment in favour of risky wealth. At the same time, she is herself (in her relationship with the hapless lover) an embodiment of the treacherous power of wealth and the sea: “The winds may learn your own delusive art,/And faithless Ocean smile – but to deceive” (1912 I: 37).
More than just a symbol of the fickleness of fortune or women (or fortune personified as a woman), the sea is also an actual site of commercial divisions and conflicts. The image of “the horrors of a Naval Fight” (“Dura Navis” 1912 I: 3) returns in a number of poems as testament to the violence occasioned by commercial conflicts. Thus in “Religious Musings” (1796), the present state of things is summed up as
A sea of blood bestrewed with wrecks, where mad
Embattling Interests on each other rush
With unhelmed rage! (1912 I: 113)
If this is true of commercial competition between nations, it is also
true of the individual, who “roams” as “a sordid solitary thing.”
Isolation is the concluding fate of commercial man, either as a result
of the attrition and violence which accompanies various forms of commercial
activity, or else as a result of the moral repulsion created by viewing
such horrors. Both fates are evident in “Monody on the Death of Chatterton”
(1794, revised 1796), which mourns the death by suicide of Chatterton,
like Coleridge a charity student at Christ’s Hospital. This similarity
in circumstances no doubt helps explain the speaker’s “suicidal identification
with his subject” (Dekker 1978: 64), which is manifested in his participation
as emotionally-involved spectator in Chatterton’s familial drama:
Thy Sister’s shrieks she bade thee hear,
And mark thy Mother’s thrilling tear;
See, see her breast’s convulsive throe,
Her silent agony of woe!
Ah! Dash the poison’d chalice from thy hand! (1912 I: 129)
Chatterton is a victim of England’s unjust and uncharitable laws of
property, the “coward Wealth and Guilt in robes of State” which are responsible
for his bitter want and despair. Yet the speaker too is a victim,
if not of Chatterton’s physical fate then of his spiritual one: disheartened
by this condition of England (the “sore ills” of the nation), torn by the
“storm” of emotions (both Chatterton’s, and his own sympathetic ones),
he proposes to exile himself “Where Susquehannah pours his untamed stream.”
The poetics of the gothic, it has been noted by scholars drawing on Bakhtinian theory, constitutes an “interroga[tion] of authoritative truths,” a “heteroglossia” whose different parts express “the differentiated socio-ideological position of the author” (Jackson 1981: 15; Howard 1994: 17). At one level, Coleridge’s poetry accomplishes this by mounting a sentimental “effusion” (Watson 1966: 51) which is at odds with the tyranny of commercial-national ambitions. The emotional pity and terror of the speaker in poems like “Chatterton,” “Dura Navis,” “Religious Musings” and others, are thus part of a gothic performance of recoil, a display of the “psychological, moral, spiritual, and intellectual energies” which DeLamotte (1990: 19) sees as the textual strategy underlying both the gothic and the literature of sensibility. Accordingly, the horrifying visions of commercial violence and divisiveness, are countered by visions of domestic and social affections. This resembles Coleridge’s nostrum, in his prose writings, for the dangers of political error and civil violence. Thus in the Bristol Lectures of 1795, he maintains that
The searcher after Truth must love and be beloved; for general Benevolence is a necessary motive to constancy of pursuit; and this general Benevolence is begotten and rendered permanent by social and domestic affections. Let us beware of that proud Philosophy, which affects to inculcate Philanthropy while it denounces every home-born feeling, by which it is produced and nurtured. (1971: 46)
In the poetry, “domestic affections” are dramatized as a familial
scene where the bonds of love pose a challenge (if ultimately a vain one)
to the evils of power and greed. Thus in “Religious Musings,” the
mad “Embattling Interests” are opposed by a vision of the hereafter which
combines domestic affections with communal economy:
Self-governed, the vast family of Love
Raised from the common earth by common toil
Enjoy the equal produce. (1912 I: 122)
Domesticity, hermitic retreat and familial affections draw their force
as an unstable, almost desperate antithesis to political authority and
commercial greed. Thus in “Fears in Solitude” (1798), the speaker
identifies himself as
…a son, a brother, and a friend,
A husband, and a father! Who revere
All bonds of natural love, and find them all
Within the limits of thy rocky shores,
O native Britain! (1912 I: 262)
In such poems, the peaceful scene of the nation-family is conjured up
as a contrast to the “fierce doings” of the nation’s political and economic
We have drunk up, demure as at a grace,
Pollutions from the brimming cup of wealth;
Contemptuous of all honourable rule,
Yet bartering freedom and the poor man’s life
For gold, as at a market!... (1912 I: 258)
The “market” of slavery and oppressive wage-labour is in turn sustained
by the patriarchal institutions of “Courts, Committees, Institutions,/Associations
and Societies,” “Merchant and lawyer, senator and priest.” This power
brings as its natural consequence, as well as its moral retribution, “carnage”
Leask (1988: 37) sees the emphasis on equal agrarian production (in poems such as “Religious Musings”) as a “curious combination of Christian spirituality and ‘levelling’ radicalism”; yet the tensions in Coleridge’s poetry at this time resist settling into an ideological position, however compounded or mixed. One clear sign of the cost of criticism is in the problematic positioning of the self. The speaker’s criticism of his nation’s oppressive law is once again a (dis)location of the self; if he can imagine himself as a part of a domestic scene, this is only possible in an imagined national community where familial relations displace commercial ones, where affections make power and oppression redundant. The realities of the commercial status quo, in contrast, bring the speaker to despair, thoughts of exile, and an emotional and psychological recoil from community. If the idealistic notion of the pantisocratic scheme is no longer articulated after the “Monody on the Death of Chatterton” (and Coleridge’s own falling out with co-schemer Robert Southey), other poems replace this simpler physical retreat with a more complex moral and psychological one. As the title of “Fears in Solitude” indicates, the speaker’s critical awareness of society’s ills brings with it the condition of isolation from the unthinking masses and motivated elite who perpetuate those ills. The earlier part of the poem describes the speaker’s entry into this powerful emotional state as a kind of projection or ekstasis:
My God! It is a melancholy thing
For such a man, who would full fain preserve
His soul in calmness, yet perforce must feel
For all his human brethren – O my God!
It weighs upon the heart, that he must think
What uproar and what strife may now be stirring
This way or that way o’er these silent hills – (1912 I: 257-258)
The subjunctive mood casts the speaker as other to himself (“such a
man”) in the act of feeling for his “human brethren,” even as he is set
apart from them by his “melancholy,” his critical consciousness.
This is figured as a physical disorientation, in which the speaker is torn
between this quiet place of contemplation – this “green and silent spot”
in which he is physically located – and the various points (“this way or
that way”) which in his imagination he also occupies.
Social criticism thus requires, not merely a removal of the self from the values and ideological positions of society, but a fundamental split between the empathetic self who feels with and for his “human brethren,” and the detached self (“His soul in calmness”) who is in a position to judge them. The condition of Coleridge’s speaker in response to his land and its suffering inhabitants, internalizes (in a disruptive and disturbing way) a struggle like that of the “uncanny Other[ing]” of conquered races by the European within historical colonialism (Fulford and Kitson 1998: 6-7): unable to practice a saving “exclusionary distinction” sponsored by racial differences, Coleridge’s speaker responds to the crisis of his own home in a way which constantly blurs (even as it alternately reinforces) the boundaries between self and other, individual and society, author and authority. Thus exile is not merely the ploy of moral superiority which enables the speaker to mount his criticism of his country, but also (in the form of imaginative ekstasis, being outside of oneself as a result of powerful emotions) the psychological and textual doubleness which comes with such an act. Criticism – itself a narrative act of power, which opposes the status quo with an alternative system of values and concerns – places the speaker at odds with the nation of which he nevertheless remains a member. As Coleridge himself puts it in his analysis of commercial evils, “wickedness may be multiplied, but cannot be divided,” and “the guilt of all, attaches to each one who is knowingly an accomplice” (1970: 138). The result is a dual conception of the self, as simultaneously complicit yet detached, guilty yet disdainfully critical. One of the ways this is manifested is in a sexualized narrative in which transgression is displaced onto patriarchal powers and institutions. Commerce and political power, seen as exclusionary and rapacious phenomena, are aligned with the “violent and jealous father who keeps all the females for himself and drives away his sons” in a recognizably Oedipal structure (Freud 1990: 202). This in turn locates the self as a symbolic participant in this structure, revealed in a highly-charged emotional narrative of jealousy, guilt, voyeurism and hysteria.
The rapacious father emerges in the poetry as a corollary of military, economic and political oppression of the weak and powerless, often figured as women and children. Thus in “Religious Musings,” the loss of domestic peace and order is marked (among other things) by the “childless widows o’er the groaning land” who “Wail numberless,” while “orphans weep for bread!” (1912 I: 115). This state of affairs is due to mankind’s separation from the love and spiritual precepts of “our universal Sire,” and the rule instead of a series of male paters: the “erring Priest” who excites violence in the name of religion, the avaricious slaver who trades in “human anguish,” and the ambitious “princeling[s]” who (unnaturally mothered) are “nursed in gore” and send their armies to their deaths for the sake of personal gain (1912 I: 113, 114-115). This chaos in loco parentis is also manifested in the unnatural woman who, disdaining the proper nurturing role of mother, assumes the masculine role of bloody and rapacious ruler. Thus in “Ode to the Departing Year,” the bloody imperial ambitions of Empress Catherine of Russia are highlighted by the image of the “women’s shrieks and infants’ screams” she leaves in her wake (1912 I: 162). More than just a stock figure of pathetic helplessness, women and (pre-pubescent) children are part of a sexual politics of otherness, as sexual victims because they lack the means (bio-sexual, political, economic and otherwise) to commit rape. The sexual fate of the poor and exploited is made clear in “Religious Musings”:
…O pale-eyed form,
The victim of seduction, doomed to know
Polluted nights and days of blasphemy;
Who in loathed orgies with lewd wassailers
Must gaily laugh, while thy remembered Home
Gnaws like a viper at thy secret heart! (1912 I: 119)
Interestingly, there is nothing (in terms of gendered pronouns or detailed
physical description) to feminize this “pale-eyed form” apart from its
status as sexual victim – yet if there is a degree of gender ambiguity
to this figure, sexual victimization itself casts it in the position of
the female, just as the masculine aggression of Catherine of Russia transforms
her into the monstrous androgyny of the lustful and bloodthirsty woman-man:
she is “The lustful murderess of her wedded lord!,”, and “The insatiate
Hag…with drunken eye” (1912 I: 115, 162). A note to line 40 of “Ode
to the Departing Year” explains that Catherine’s “desolating ambition”
and “libidinous excesses” disqualify her from the proper “dear and venerable
Character of WOMAN – WOMAN, that complex term for Mother, Sister, Wife”
(1912 I: 162-163, n. 2).
If Coleridge’s sexual politics identifies the safety of the home as the proper place of the woman, this is not simply a reactionary position intended to confine women to a marginal sphere; rather, it follows from his geopolitics of commerce in which far-flung economic ventures were closely associated with national/imperial greed, ruthless mercantile competition, slavery and economic exploitation in various forms. The special place that Coleridge accords to women is thus double-edged: while it associates the proper gender role of women with the rather limited sphere of the domestic realm, it also makes this a geopolitical site of familial affection which directly counters the venturesome and violent ambitions of individual and national commerce.
Anti-commercial sentiments are thus combined with a conservative sexual politics in which only the properly submissive female, who fulfills a well-defined familial role as “mother, sister, wife,” can be accorded the social affections due to a “woman.” This is the proper corollary to the speaker who defines himself in “Fears in Solitude” as “a son, a brother, and a friend,/A husband, and a father” (1912 I: 262); social decorum and familial roles dominate the identity of woman, while providing a locus for the speaker-as-family-man, who denies political and economic ambitions for the enclosed security of the domestic scene. Yet in many of these poems, a contrary self is also implied, one which is not antithetical to the familial scene, but works from within it to transform it into a place of anxious sexual desire. This tension is already seen in the intimate domestic setting in “Chatterton,” where personified “Affection” (who turns the suicidal Chatterton’s thoughts to his “native cot” and the emotional state of his sister and mother) is described in tantalizing déshabillé: “Her bosom bare, and wildly pale her cheek” (1912 I: 128). She thus resembles both the “pale-eyed” distressed “victim of seduction” in “Ode to the Departing Year,” as well as Chatterton’s own mother with her “breast’s convulsive throe.”
This other mother – who does not resign her nuturing, affectionate role, but at the same time acquires a sensual, desiring quality – is also a figure for the nation. Underlying the rapacious and patriarchal ambitions of the body politic, England in the speaker’s moral imagination is “Not yet enslaved, or wholly vile,/O Albion! O my mother isle” (“Ode to the Departing Year,” 1912 I: 166). Yet this invocation of England as the nurturing, peaceful land not yet completely despoiled by political and commercial ambitions, relies on a description which is as much sensual and erotic as it is affectionate:
Thy valleys, fair as Eden’s bowers,
Glitter green with sunny showers;
Thy grassy uplands’ gentle swells
Echo the bleat of flocks;
(Those grassy hills, those glittering dells
Proudly ramparted with rocks) (1912 I: 166)
The pastoral setting, befitting the pre-commercial and politically innocent
values the speaker wishes to uphold, is at the same time a symbol of fertility
with unmistakably anthropomorphic elements. “Gentle swells” and “grassy
hills” are overdetermined symbols of breasts: they nurse sheep, and in
so doing nurture an agrarian economy which is an alternative to rapacious
(male) commerce – the German princelings “nursed in gore” in “Religious
Musings,” for example (1912 I: 116). Their repetition, which recalls
the doubling of the “bosom bare” and “breast’s convulsive throe” of the
mother figure in “Chatterton,” marks their function as psychological bosom
for the speaker, the site both of comfort and uncomfortable desire or fascination.
The allusion to Eden thus invites a reading of this “fair” and voluptuous landscape in terms of woman-as-Eve – a reading which requires for its fulfillment the insertion of a male, Adamic figure as the other part of a closed, exclusionary sexual relationship (“they shall be one flesh,” Genesis 2: 24). The male sexual figure is suggested in the mythic connotations of the “sunny showers,” suggestive (by way of Zeus’ manifestation as a shower of gold in the lap of Danaë) of male insemination. The priapic presence is also seen in the “proudly ramparted” rocks which stand in contrast to “glittering dells” – their “pride” at their inseminating deed strangely resembling the imagined attack on England by some “proud Invader,” a rape of the mother land which the speaker similarly envisions in seminal terms (“stain’d thy fields with gore,” 1912 I: 167).
Yet it is not only the “proud invader” or England’s own political oligarchs who occupy the male sexual position, but the speaker as well, who imagines the mother isle in these terms of sexual desire. If in moral terms the feared invasion of England is just punishment for her political transgressions, in psycho-sexual terms it is the son’s vicarious possession of the mother (through the agency of a third party, a rapacious father figure) who is otherwise inaccessible to him. If the patriarchal law of rapacious commerce leads the mother-nation into corruption and defilement, the speaker-son’s deeply ambivalent response includes not a small measure of Schadenfreude, of a voyeuristic participation in this act of defilement which is also a vindication of his own warning. Yet this voyeuristic participation, like the classical scene of incest, still brings its punishment: if not Oedipus’s full blindness and self-mutilation, then a symbolic blinding (“the Vision fled;/Yet still I gasp’d and reel’d with dread,” “my eye-balls start,” 1912 I: 166). This wounding of the sexually-offensive male is also figured elsewhere in the poem in the image of England the “thankless Island” as Diana, “Her quiver full, and with unbroken bow” (1912 I: 165). Following this intertextual logic, the speaker is cast as hapless Acteon, his anxious desire for the mother rebuffed, just as the proud goddess brutally rejects and punishes Acteon’s desirous gaze.
The implicit note of sexual desire and transgression running through the poem explains the mendicant, hermitic fate of the speaker at the end:
Away, my soul, away!
I unpartaking of the evil thing,
With daily prayer and daily toil
Soliciting for food my scanty soil
Have wail’d my country with a loud Lament.
Now I recentre my immortal mind
In the deep Sabbath of meek self-content;
Cleans’d from the vaporous passions that bedim
God’s Image, sister of the Seraphim. (1912 I: 168)
While the exile from England is ostensibly a renunciation of the “evil
thing” of commercial greed and empire, in favour of an alternative existence
of simplicity and self-reliance, there is also a note of guilty renunciation
in the ascetic regime of “daily prayer and daily toil.” The “scanty
soil” of exile is also a direct contrast to, and denial of, the lush sensuality
and fertility of the speaker’s earlier descriptions of the mother isle.
While the final evocation of God’s presence is in keeping with the speaker’s
vision of a morally pure alternative to the “evil” of England’s ambitions,
what is curious is his insistence on cleansing his own “vaporous passions”
– etymologically (from the Latin “vapor”) connoting a steaminess which
makes the speaker’s passions suspect, more a pressure seeking release than
a controlled and justifiable social criticism. Curiously, too, the
final line restores the female form in an unexpected context: the “Seraphim”
of the Biblical tradition are explicitly male (“he covered his face,” Isaiah
6: 2) and the term itself comes from a “Hebrew masculine plural form” (Gigot
1999). At one level, the speaker is compared to the prophet Isaiah,
whose sin is purged by the fiery coal which the Seraphim places on his
mouth, and whose outcry at the condition of Jerusalem resembles the speaker’s
“lament” over England. At another level, however, this pseudo-Isaiah
carries over the feminine form and the familial relationships from the
earthly world, interpolating them in a disturbing and awkward manner into
the transcendent spirituality of the heavenly kingdom.
Coleridge’s poetic narrative may thus be compared to Freudian accounts of “repression,” in particular the variety known as “obsessional neurosis,” like all forms of repression an imperfect means of coping with desire, and involving a substitution between a “sadistic” or “hostile” impulse and an “affectionate” one towards “someone who is loved” (1991: 156-157). It is precisely the “withdrawal of libido,” the denial of a desire perceived as unacceptable and untenable, which creates a “reaction-formation” manifesting itself as an “opposite” emotional attitude. This fundamental “ambivalence” towards the loved one has as its psychical cost an impact on the self in the form of “social anxiety, moral anxiety,…unlimited self-reproaches” and “increased conscientiousness” (Freud 1991: 157). The guilt-ridden speaker in Coleridge’s poetic narratives, with his overwrought renunciation of English society in which there is also a significant note of self-criticism, is thus the effect of an obsessional neurotic desire for an ideal social integration – an ideal which is, not surprisingly, played out in the Oedipal terms of the speaker-son’s simultaneous affection-(sexual) hostility towards the mother. This deep duality, often manifested as an oscillation in emotional attitude to the mother-land, may be compared to Coleridge’s coy political stance, characterized by a “retirement/engagement/re-retirement” which Keane (1994: 189) associates both with the “systolic-diastolic” pulse of biological life itself, and with the symbolism of the sea and its rhythms in poems like The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
Politics, which for various historical, personal and literary reasons may not always be spoken, becomes displaced not onto a linear allegorical framework, but rather an ebbing-and-flowing one whose mechanics are that of coitus, the pulse, psychic strategies, and other such unconscious biological patterns. Keane (1994: 200-203) compares the Ancient Mariner’s struggles between making meaning out of the mysterious universe and his “unaware” actions (both impulses evident when he “blessed [the water-snakes] unaware,” 1912 I: 198), to Coleridge’s problematic relationship with the political father/God, the repressive Pitt government of the day. Such a reading could also relate Coleridge’s pulsating articulation of the anxieties of “domestic politics” to the psycho-sexual tensions of power and the feminine form (although such is not Keane’s primary concern). Anne Williams observes that the poem “Frost at Midnight” shows a “speaking subject” who “emerges when matter/mater is successfully repressed” (1995: 201). Language is then the medium, and narrative the means, for a “sleight of hand” in which expected gender roles become slippery, the mother is absent and “frozen,” and the self becomes “impotent” in light of this absence, and constitutes itself partially in female terms (1995: 202-203). This “female gothic” sensibility is in contrast to the “male gothic” one of Rime of the Ancient Mariner, in which “agape represses eros,” and symbolic language enacts a “horrified repression of the female” (Williams 1995: 185, 197). The political significance of this poetics is thus the uneasy relationship that patriarchal law has with the “maternal,” whose power and freedom must thus be perverted and made monstrous (the figure of the “Night-mare LIFE-IN-DEATH”), or else repressed as frozen and absent (the frozen nature of “Frost at Midnight”). A similar poetics is seen in Debbie Lee’s Kristeva-inspired reading of Rime of the Ancient Mariner in terms of a “marriage of identity and alterity,” a “boundary-dissolving process” in which the strict dichotomies of male and female, British and African, free and enslaved, are radically challenged (1998: 679). The images of illness in the poem, which Lee links to the epidemics of Yellow Fever that plagued the British territories in Africa and the West Indies in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, are thus part of a discourse of “guilt” meant to undermine the differences of power and race, and the processes of abjection, which were the basis of the British slave trade.
The abjected mother as a symbol for the (racial, gender, economic and political) other, offers a persuasive reading of poems like Ancient Mariner, in which the self’s crisis of the feminine must be resolved before true unity (of both individual and community) can be accomplished. Yet this unity is a fragile process, as Williams (1995: 196-197) is quick to point out, and the Mariner returned to dry land may be haunted by the spectre of the monstrous female, but “refuses to look back on what he knows is there.” Repression returns precisely at the moment of the Mariner’s seemingly transcendent vision of community and moral life at the end of the poem; the wedding-guest on his part turns away from the door of the wedding, symbolizing his own repression of eros, his disenchantment with the rituals of sexual-marital union, in the face of the monstrous feminine he encounters in the Mariner’s narrative. If the monstrous feminine in Ancient Mariner and the frosty mother in “Frost at Midnight” in some ways correspond respectively to the lustful woman (Empress Catherine) as “Hag” and the threatening virgin (proud England as Diana) in poems like “Ode to the Departing Year,” these manifestations – provoking repression and denial – function together with the mother as object of desire-hostility, collectively allowing the self a greater and more complex range of responses. “LIFE-IN-DEATH” in Ancient Mariner is thus balanced by the sensual figures of Geraldine in Christabel, and the various alluring feminine figures in “Kubla Khan.”
Kubla Khan is in many ways a very different figure from the mariner, imperial and powerful where the mariner is (for the most part) abject and helpless, and distant and shadowy where the mariner’s thoughts and emotional states are often laid open. Yet Suther (1965: 31-32) seems to be right in saying that Coleridge wrote “only one poem,” and “such a poem is likely to illuminate all of his other works, which will seem to have their meaning in function of it.” “Kubla Khan,” a poem about a powerful male principle which imposes itself on the land, and the consequences of this act of male authority, belongs in broad terms to Coleridge’s gothic romance of the nation-state. The Khan is a figure of wealth and plenty, but these are founded on exclusion, alienation and violence: this is marked most clearly by the “fertile ground” which he encloses with his “walls and towers,” not for their productive fertility, but for his own unproductive pleasure (1912 I: 297). The first part of the poem describes the Khan in terms of a set of dualistic, paradoxical traits: on the one hand only a name, never bodily present or concrete, he is nevertheless a name with a certain incantatory, kabbalistic power. Like the divine (and patriarchal) fiat in Genesis, the name of Kubla Khan seems to speak a world into being. The Khan’s actions are seemingly hedonistic and secular, yet they have an inexplicable connection with the spiritual and sacred: in the kabbalistic gestures of the “girdled” circle, the repetitive formula (“twice five miles”), the connection with “Alph, the sacred river.” The “stately” measurements of his pleasure dome are also in contrast to the irregular and “measureless” subterranean caverns below it. This duality then extends to his enterprise as well: while the edifice is dedicated to pleasure, presumably that of the Khan himself, there is nevertheless a sterility and joylessness about it, marked by his absence, the lifelessness of the “sunless sea,” the will-to-order which constrains nature’s bounty.
The Khan’s domain is contrasted with the wild landscape in the second part of the poem (lines 12-36), a vastly different landscape of wild passions and emotions: it is a “romantic chasm,” “savage” and “haunted” by “woman wailing for her demon-lover.” The land itself seems to reinforce this last image of manifest desire, with the earth heaving in “fast thick pants,” culminating in the seminal eruption of “a mighty fountain” in which are borne (and perhaps born) “huge fragments” like “chaffy grain.” The seminal flow, with its motile elements (“dancing rocks”), then follows a “meandering” path into the depths of the land, through “caverns measureless to man.” The end and result of this uterine journey is not conception, but sterility: the “lifeless ocean” which swallows up this seminal flow, is followed immediately (in line 29) by a return to Kubla and his intimation of “Ancestral voices prophesying war” (1912 I: 298).
War, in this symbolic representation, does not prevent desire and coitus, but exists alongside them, although it does curtail reproduction and new life. This symbolic structure thus resembles that of Coleridge’s poems of social criticism such as “Religious Musings,” “Ode to the Departing Year” and “Fears in Solitude,” in which war – horrendous naval battles over commerce, or the invasion of England by a foreign power as retribution and punishment for its social and political evils – is seen as the ultimate threat, alone capable of forestalling production and toppling the regime of power. The separation of sexual desire and (its biological concomitant) the reproduction of new life, can thus be read as a corollary of repressive politics and commerce – a patriarchal fiat which serves the desires (for power, commodities, wealth) of the authority-figures, while also manifesting itself in a sterility of the mother-land, the exhaustion and death of the common people, the restriction of rights and movements.
In this psychological alignment, the speaker and the Khan are not so much opposites, as they are male rivals in desire – and unlikely doubles of each other in their common enemy death. Drew (1993: 46) reads the Khan as a figure who “sought to make a transformation from imperial to spiritual power,” and thus becomes the “daemonified figure at the close” of the poem. This reading of the poem as an account of the Khan’s movement from ambition and materialism to spiritualism and transcendence, while convincing in broad terms, is less helpful with the detailed images of agonized conflict in the middle section of the poem, as well as with the precise terms of the relationship between the seer and the Khan. Rather, the relationship between the two personae or (what is also possible) two states of mind, seems best described in terms of the psycho-drama of doubling, split and tension. The doubling of speaker and Khan is particularly evident in the third and final part of the poem, from line 37 onwards: the speaker is the Khan’s successor or imitator of sorts, using narrative power to “revive” the vision of the Khan’s political regime, recreating in imagination “That sunny dome! Those caves of ice,” participating in similar kabbalistic/constructivist gestures (“weave a circle round him thrice,” which does one better than the Khan’s “twice five miles”), and reconstituting himself as a figure of power and “dread” (“And all should cry, Beware! Beware!”). The Oedipal triangle is thus written into the poem’s tripartite structure, in which the first section of the Khan’s dominance is the phase of the father’s control over pleasure (and the arrogation of pleasure to himself – although from the perspective of the rival son, this pleasure is also underutilized by the father); while the second section is a fantasy of female desire, where the landscape itself seems to enact a faceless and anonymous coitus. These images of desire cannot be strictly identified either as the domain of the father or of the son: if it is established that the father has political authority over the land, the poet-son has imaginative authority to re-create the land as the domain of a wild, uncontrollable domain of desire.
Yet the son’s fantasy-production does not kill off (conclusively remove) the father-figure, who resurfaces in the midst of this landscape of desire (ll. 29-30), and who also survives in aspects of the son’s imitative behaviour in the final section. If Watson (1966: 122) is right in saying that this is “a poem about poetry,” this is because poetry (together with the figure of the poet) is finally complicit and involved in the poetics of desire – a poetics whose other aspect is the titular Khan and the political power he represents. It might equally be said that the poem is about “world conquest, of the land mass by Mongols” (just as Ancient Mariner in some ways figures the power of the Old World over the New; Empson 1964: 318), that its “enchanted” chasm figures the commercial luxury that Coleridge elsewhere personifies as an “Enchantress vile” (in the poem “Happiness,” 1912 I: 31), and that its landscape of “ceaseless turmoil” and “chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail” also evokes the “unceasing toil” of the working class of which Coleridge complains in the Bristol Lectures (1971: 11) and the Watchman (1970: 132).
Desire, like guilt, multiplies through commercial society and through poetic representation: if the Khan is a figure of the patriarchal law seen as responsible for England’s present social woes, he is in turn repeated in the figure of Sir Leoline in Christabel: an oppressive father, whose domain is characterized by enclosing walls and constraining power. In that poem, too, desire (in the form of Sir Leoline’s impulsive attachment to Geraldine, even at the cost of alienating his own daughter) is linked with enchantment, as both father and daughter are “O’er-mastered by the mighty spell” (1912 I: 234). The absence (and faint spectral presence) of Christabel’s dead mother, far from being an abjection of the mother, only permits the fantasy production of a transgressive sexuality involving Geraldine as stepmother to Christabel (in a scene redolent of lesbian seduction, in lines 236-244) and as surrogate daughter to Leoline (in his lascivious embrace of his daughter while his eye rests with “cheerful wonder” on Geraldine, lines 397-402).
Swann (1984: 540) observes that “Geraldine is a fantasy, produced by the psychic operations of condensation and displacement’ – but a fantasy of both father and daughter, male and female consciousnesses, individuals of the court as well as the court (the feudal state) as a whole. Swann elsewhere (1985: 406) refers to Geraldine’s “strange overdetermination which creates disturbances” on a number of difference levels, including in the process of reading itself (and in the minds of contemporary readers). Part of this overdetermination is the sexual politics of both the family and the state. In Christabel, statehood and sexuality are commingled, and the appearance of Geraldine seems to mark the beginning of the end of the long rift between Sir Leoline and Lord Roland. It is not clear whether Geraldine truly is the latter’s daughter, or whether she intends good or ill to the two rulers. As the figure of desire, she revivifies complex emotions which previously had etiolated: on meeting her, Leoline is prompted to overcome the “aloof” silence separating him from Roland, and sends his bard with a proposal for an encounter between the two powers which is redolent as much of the urgency and struggle of war as it is of friendship:
He bids thee come without delay
With all thy numerous array
And take thy lovely daughter home:
And he will meet thee on the way
With all his numerous array
White with their panting palfreys’ foam: (1912 I: 231)
Geraldine’s sexually-charged body, which takes the place of the spectral
and disembodied mother-wife, stirs up acts of power in the lifeless and
faded household-state: the “toothless” and “old” mastiff is roused to an
“angry moan” at Geraldine’s passage, Christabel is initiated into sexual
knowledge, and Leoline is aroused from his gloomy perspective on this “world
of death” to a youthful and martial vigor once again. As in “Kubla
Khan,” power is marked by authority over language, and by language as authority:
Geraldine herself speaks with authority (which may explain her partially
monstrous appearance, shared with other authoritative women like the Empress
Catherine), banishing the ghostly mother with a command (“Off, woman, off!”),
enchanting Christabel with a spell “which is lord of thy utterance,” and
spinning her narratives of deceit which have power over others’ actions.
In this respect she also resembles Leoline, whose authority is marked by
utterances, as when he commands Bard Bracy to vigorous action, and proclaims
challenges to Lord Roland’s enemies.
Powerlessness, the position of the victim, is accordingly marked by the inability to speak, and in this respect Christabel is simultaneously sexual victim (whose status as victim extends into the inability to accuse her victimizer, into being made to bear guilt and shame), impotent soothsayer, and victim of a domestic gender imbalance and a tyrannical father. Her position bears similarities to that of the Coleridgean social critic, who is both complicit in guilt and desire (Christabel, for all her later hostility and futile criticism, introduces Geraldine into the castle, and shares her bed with her), as well as critical of the desiring authority she sees in her lord and father. The psycho-drama of bewailing the nation and belonging to it, comes home in the case of Christabel, since in her case the family and the nation are coterminous, just as Leoline is the ultimate patriarchal figure, king-father-desirer-author in one.
Christabel, like “Kubla Khan,” is a fragment that refuses to cohere into a logical, Aristotelian narrative. Yet it acquires a field of meanings from its resemblance to the psycho-sexual dramas in Coleridge’s other writings. This gothic criticism of the commercial state and the politics of oppression, is not the opposite of desire (for endless and rapacious acquisition of commodities and power), but its uneasy displacement onto a transgressive and guilt-ridden sexuality. Political belonging – the individual’s uneasy relationship with the state, caught between angry renunciation of its policy on the one hand, and a fear of complete alienation on the other – is worked out in a narrative of anxious complicity, which not only restores desire in the apparent act of criticizing it (elsewhere), but involves the reader (and reading/narrating) in a poetics of sensational excess and sensual participation. These gothic narratives may displace and disguise their politics onto an extravagant symbolic landscape, but in the process they also reveal modernity’s neurotic obsession with the power of desire, including its power over the self and self-realisation.
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