Words, words, words… well said Hamlet! A little blog to go off on tangents within the worlds of history and literature that interest me. From the Tudors to Tom Hardy's Tess, or from the Wars of the Roses to Wuthering Heights, feel free to browse through my musings to pick up extra ideas and points for discussion!
The Victorians really would’ve loved all the crime channels we have nowadays. It was in this era that the thirst for all things crime really took off, and newspaper companies noticed this in their sales. Papers would see spikes in sales when reporting high profile crimes, which was bolstered by people’s belief in the Criminal Class, a group of people who were predisposed to committing crimes due to their social standing. As well as being some of the first people in the country to truly love their real-life crime thrillers, there were plenty of other firsts for crime in the Victorian era.
The First Railway Murder
“This train will be stopping at Fenchurch, MURDER and Chalk Farm…”
People became much more suspicious of trains as the century progressed, with some women so fearful of them that they put pins in their mouths to halt unwanted advances. I’ve never seen a woman do that on the Met line. People went truly nuts over the murder of 69-year-old Thomas Briggs, the first man to be killed on a train. He was found on the 9th of July 1864, on the embankment next to the train lines. Briggs died several hours later of his injuries. Suspicions fell on German born Franz Muller, after he was caught trying to flog Briggs’ watch and chain. After stealing them from Briggs, Muller had thrown him out of the compartment. The authorities chased Muller to New York, and for the crime he was hanged on the 14th of November, in front of 50,000 people. He protested his innocence until his last moment, saying on the scaffold: ‘I did it.’ The public reaction resulted in the creation of the communication cord on trains, which was a hotline from the passengers to the railway crew. This was required by the Regulation of Railways Act 1868. Railway carriages with side corridors followed, which allowed passengers to move from their compartments while the train was moving.
Britain’s Most Prolific Serial Killer? A Baby Farmer
At aged 33 Amelia Dyer took to baby farming to support herself. She took illegitimate and unwanted children into her care, for a small fee. At first, she let them die of natural causes, but later she began to murder them, usually by strangulation. She did this for about 30 years, taking on new children under different names, ensuring she got paid in full before the children died. Creepily, she later stated that she ‘used to like to watch them with the tape around their neck, but it was soon all over with them.’ What a psycho. The discovery of the corpse of six-year-old Doris Marmon, found in a box in the Thames, led the police to Amelia’s door. She was arrested in 1896, 27 years after she became a baby farmer. She was hanged on the 10th of June for the murder of 200 to 400 children, six of which were confirmed. This makes her one of Britain’s most prolific serial killers, and one that shocked nation. She was known as the ‘Ogress of Reading’… which I think is deserved. Some even speculated that she was Jack the Ripper… but that guy deserves his own post.
The Brides in the Bath Murders – Forensic Fastidiousness
This hellish set of events takes us from the Victorian to the Edwardian era. George Joseph Smith was a serial bigamist and had seven bigamous marriages under several names between 1908 and 1914 as he was constantly short on funds. He killed six of his wives in total, all of which had died in especially strange circumstances. They had allegedly had a fit and drowned in the bath. Several coincidences about the circumstances of the deaths caught the attention of forensic pathologist Bernard Spilsbury. A lot if Spilsbury’s case rested on Bessie Mundy’s unusual grip on a bar of soap, which she maintained even in death. He also noted the goose bumps on her legs, a sure sign of drowning. He took the measurements of the recent victims and the bath they drowned in and used medical knowledge about epilepsy to try and suss out the case. When looking at another victim, Bessie Williams, Spilsbury concluded that the stiffening of the body, caused by a fit, would’ve pushed Williams’ head above water. Spilsbury brought in several female divers to test the theory, which confirmed that the tub was too small for the victims to drown in in this way. Spilsbury conducted his own experiment, and without warning, grabbed one of the divers’ legs and pulled her under water. It took half an hour to revive her, and when she awoke, all she could remember was a cold rush of water. That was Spilbury’s theory confirmed. George Joseph Smith himself had brought the bath as a wedding present for each wife, then promptly returned it after he had murdered said wife in it. It was probably the first time that police detection in a case of multiple murders and forensic investigation had come together to secure a conviction. After this, people hailed Spilsbury as the real Sherlock Holmes.
Luckily horror stories like this didn’t last too much longer, as Robert Peel’s police force, formed in 1829, became more efficient and disciplined. Society itself became less violent, and even though crime did decrease in the latter half of the century, the Victorians themselves still loved and lapped up the drama.
 All information taken from BBC History Magazine:
R. Crone, ‘Was Victorian Life Really So Grim?’ The Story of the Victorians, 2019.
 All information taken from BBC History Magazine:
C. Bloom, ‘Crime Scandals,’ The Story of the Victorians, 2019.
 All information taken from BBC History Magazine:
R. Crone, ‘Was Victorian Life Really So Grim?’ The Story of the Victorians, 2019.
Lydia Gwilt is the standout character of Wilkie Collins’s ‘Armadale,’ so much so that her wicked ways horrified Victorian readers. It’s no surprise given her status in the story as a liar, bigamist, husband poisoner and temptress. She was truly the antithesis of the demure, domestic and good-natured Victorian woman. I mean, in her first appearance she notes that she does ‘hate’ women… which is strange enough as usually, women club together and support each other in bonds of sisterhood. Lydia’s having none of it.
We know Lydia is antithetical to the desired Victorian woman by her physical appearance as well as her character. Ozias Midwinter is horrified by her hair, noting that ‘It was red.’ This short sentence emphasises the drama of the revelation, which is also signposted by the italics. The modern reader will probably think why? What’s wrong with a redhead? Unfortunately, Victorians associated red locks with female villainy. It’s interesting that Collins wanted John Everett Millais to illustrate the novel, as he was an important member of the Pre Raphaelite brotherhood. This revolutionary group, established in 1848, were known for their detailed, intensely coloured work. Majority of their paintings featured red haired, beautiful women, with intricate and dynamic features. They recycled their life models, so majority of the paintings bear resemblance to the others. A lot of the women depicted in the paintings with red hair, are associated with dangerous or immoral women, such as Ophelia from Hamlet, or Lilith. Collins portrays Lydia in the same vein in the text, and it seems he wanted to in the illustrations. That’s probably why Penguin Classics slapped ‘Madeleine Undressing,’ by John Everett Millais on the front cover. It’s also the header for this article. Even though the figure in the painting isn’t Lydia Gwilt, to me, that’s how Collins wanted her to look, and that’s how I imagine her.
The story of the novel is complex, and Lydia’s plans drive the plot. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but in short, there are two Allan Armadale’s. In the novel, one of them is known as Allan Armadale, the other as Ozias Midwinter. Ozias’ father killed Allan’s father, as the latter stole his proposed bride. Allan’s father did this, as his father before him, gave Allan’s fortune to Ozias’ father. Still with me? Lydia helped Allan’s father steal Ozias fathers’ proposed bride. Her plan? Marry Allan Armadale and get some of his fortune. This falls through. Her new plan? Marry Ozias Midwinter, whose real name is also Allan Armadale, somehow bump off the other Allan Armadale, and pose as his widow, cashing in in the process. Ok, breathe. Murder and deceit? Classic femme fatale tactics.
Lydia’s true nature is exposed when she successfully ensnares Ozias Midwinter after her first plan falls through. In desperation, she sycophantically simpers over Ozias Midwinter and plays the victim in true femme fatale fashion. He notes the ‘magnetic influence of her touch,’ and like a true femme fatale, she uses her femininity and sexuality to lure him in. Collins describes Lydia’s antics as ‘sexual sorcery,’ implying that Lydia’s witch-like power is drawn from her sexual appeal and femininity. Collins is telling us that beauty, when used, can be dangerous, and that men are susceptible enough to fall for it. According to Collins, men love a woman in need, and Ozias ‘yielded’ to her charms, proposing marriage, which she later accepts. However when he leaves, the ‘colour faded out of her cheeks; the beauty died out of her eyes; her face hardened horribly with a silent despair.’ This is the real Lydia Gwilt. She is at her most beautiful when she is at her most devious. This subverts traditional ideas of beauty and femininity, and shows a massive contradiction in her character and appearance. Lydia’s true features are worn, hardened and devoid of life, much like her soul.
But is it? Lydia is a complex figure, and perhaps isn’t quite a clear-cut femme fatale, I mean, their known for being morally ambiguous. Considering her part in the plot, between Ozias and Allan’s fathers, is she deserving of a cut of the money? To be honest, it looks like she willingly helped Allan’s father, but her life was pretty rubbish after that. We don’t learn about her backstory until much later into the novel, so the mystery surrounding her is maintained for majority of it. This is also a classic femme fatale trope. Lydia’s first husband suspected her of stealing and whacked her with a horsewhip, then her second husband Manuel spent all her money and then ran off. This does haunt her for the remainder of the novel, especially when Manuel rocks up again, asking her for more money. It’s abnormal for her to have a man love her, truly, and Ozias Midwinter appears to fill that void in her life. She thinks him stupid at first, and pities his affections, as she never expected anyone to genuinely care for her. She slowly comes round to him and falls for him. Although she is the novel’s main villainess, Collins does try to imply there is more to her, in trying to explain her motivations. She’s been abandoned, discarded and used by men surrounding her, so is it fair that she wants a slice of the action?
Her ending is somewhat tragic. She poses as a patient in a Sanitorium and lures Allan Armadale and Ozias Midwinter to her. For their stay Lydia places Allan Armadale in room four, and Ozias Midwinter in room three. She rigs room four, planning to flood it with poisonous gas, and in true Lydia fashion hisses ‘I shall be your widow […] in half-an-hour!’ through the door. It’s interesting that the Sanitorium is one that seeks to cure feminine hysteria. Lydia’s fate is hinted at here, as she’s trusting an establishment that, in the real world, would seek to silence her. The idea of feminine hysteria belittled women in general throughout history, as their genuine mental health issues were dismissed as just another weakness of the female sex. Feminists in the 80’s described it as an agent of female oppression. This does not bode well for Lydia.
Lydia’s pretty scary for readers because of the idea of the domestic poisoner. Lydia’s story takes inspiration from several high profile female killers at the time, whose cases scandalised and scared Victorian society. Female domestic poisoners were particularly feared as they had access to all areas of the home. The evidence of poison is pretty easy to dispose of, it’s not like a bloody knife. The fact that a woman could so easily get into the home and exact some monstrosity was even more terrifying than your average serial killer. Again, this type of woman is antithetical to the ideal Victorian woman. Collins tried hard to make people like Lydia, but, to please the masses, there was only one way her story could end.
Allan Armadale and Ozias Midwinter swap rooms, meaning that Ozias Midwinter is the one set to meet his maker. Lydia realises the mix up, pulls Midwinter out, and manages to save him. Feeling guilty, and seeking ‘atonement,’ Lydia shuts herself in room four and dies. So, does being in the Sanitorium cure her? I mean, she repents right? ‘Even my wickedness has one merit – it has not prospered. I have never been a happy woman,’ she says. Collins kind of has to kill her and make her repent to satisfy the Victorian masses, who don’t want to see Lydia win. If Lydia wins, evil is triumphing over good. And the Victorians aren’t down for that. In a way I see where they’re coming from, especially with Lydia, as throughout the majority of the novel she is evil and unforgiving. So, should she win? Really? Having said that, I was sad to see her go, and upon the event of her death even Collins was ‘upset.’ Despite this, throughout the novel she runs rings around majority of the men and maintains this control even in death, in true, iconic Lydia fashion.
Side note, she also dies on page 666… freaky coincidence.
Thanks for reading!
 Wilkie Collins, Armadale (London, Penguin Classics, 1995), p. 162.
Napoleon was initially successful in his European campaign, which spanned from 1803 to 1815, but this changed for the worse overtime. It was Napoleon’s own poor decision making that led to the depletion of the Grand Armée over time, which allowed the Coalition to eventually defeat him at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
Napoleon turned France into an aggressive military power, by mobilising majority of the population, beginning in 1791. At this point revolutionary France had an army of 200,000 men. Napoleon ensured that newcomers learned the traditional methods of warfare, which maintained a high level of discipline and order within the army. He also ordered that his armies march in columns, allowing them to advance further on the battlefield and attack the enemy with close range musket fire, causing greater devastation. These new tactics allowed him to initially exact continuous victories upon his enemies.
However, this didn’t last. Napoleon’s constant refusals of peace caused his forces to deplete further. Austrian diplomat Klemens von Metternich wished to negotiate peace between Russia and France, through the Armistice of Plaswitz, 1813. The Coalition wanted Napoleon to agree to strict terms, which included evacuating the French army from Germany and Italy, and giving up the Grand Duchy of Warsaw. Napoleon refused peace, thus prolonging the wars which would continue to drain his supplies. Metternich was aware that if peace was not negotiated, it would be ‘too late.’ Napoleon’s arguments with Metternich and refusal to attend peace conferences led to a series of bipartisan agreements signed at Teplitz on the 9th of September 1813 by the Coalition. This cemented an alliance between Russia, Austria and Prussia, which directly threatened France. If peace had been negotiated, the Coalition would not have united against Napoleon, and Waterloo might have been avoided. By continuing to facilitate war, Napoleon allowed the supplies of his army to further deplete.
Napoleon’s errors in military leadership also contributed to the depletion of the French army. An example of this can be seen when looking at the Battle of Borodino, in September 1812. Napoleon advised his army to attack the Russian forces in a full frontal assault, instead of enveloping them. This led to massive French casualties, as they were gunned down by musket fire. Napoleon also decided not to employ the Imperial Guard, a force totalling 18,000 men, which may have swung the result of the battle in his favour. This poor strategy, coupled with Napoleon’s refusal to make peace with the Coalition, prompted historian Charles Esdaile to argue that Napoleon betrayed France. Similar mistakes were made at the Battle of Leipzeig, in October 1813. Towards the end of the battle, the inaction of the Coalition allowed the majority of Napoleon’s forces to escape the battlefield. However, due to miscommunication amongst the French forces, the causeway that the French used to escape the battlefield was destroyed, resulting in 30,000 deaths. This figure added to the 38,000 causalities that the French had suffered over the three day course of the battle.
The size of the Grande Armée was also an issue, as it could not move quickly enough to encircle an enemy, and Napoleon found the huge force difficult to control. ‘Total war’ refers to warfare that includes all the population and resources of a nation, which Napoleon adhered to by mobilising the entire population of France in the 1790s. David Bell notes that although Napoleon initially made use of the army to wage total war in Europe, he eventually became a victim of total warfare himself. French General Antoine-Henri Jomini too concurred that the size of the Grande Armée became increasingly problematic, advocating smaller sized armies as they were easier to manage.
The size of the Grande Armée led to conflict amongst the generals, as the French high command found themselves disagreeing about how to best deploy the huge force. This lack of cooperation acted as a detrimental factor to the French forces, in contrast to the unity of the Coalition. Before his abdication, in 1814, Napoleon was stationed at Fontainebleau with 60,000 men. Napoleon planned to fight the Coalition, bargaining on a military victory, but his commanders refused to comply and ordered him to abdicate. Napoleon lost support from his generals and commanders due to his previous poor tactics in battle, as well as his inability to negotiate peace with the Coalition. Jacques MacDonald, one of Napoleon’s commanders, staunchly refused Napoleon’s orders, declaring that the French nation was ‘determined to make an end’ of the war with the Coalition.
Napoleon’s ill-fated invasion of Russia just made things worse. Before the Battle of Borodino, Napoleon had already lost supplies due thunderstorms and blizzards, depleting his army before the battle took place. Imperial Guard member Captain Coignet noted that the weather caused a loss in supplies, as the ‘ground was covered with horses frozen to death.’ Further supplies were lost due to dysentery, and 10,000 horses died due to malnourishment. Twenty-four year old infantryman Jakob Walter noted that the army was reduced to eating ‘uncooked’ horsemeat. At Borodino, Napoleon prepared to fight against Russia’s 121,000 men, with his 130,000. The French and Russians lost 30,000 and 40,000 men respectively. Although neither side can declare victory in such a situation it is conceivable to think that if Napoleon had not lost so many supplies on the way to Borodino, he would have had a greater chance of winning the battle due to his strength in numbers.
The Coalition, in contrast got stronger, and developed their own tactics to combat Napoleon, and also sought to replicate Napoleon’s in order to defeat him. Upon the French advance into Moscow, the Russians adopted the tactic of ‘scorched earth,’ and set Moscow alight. This exacerbated the precarious position of Napoleon following the Battle of Borodino and cost him even more supplies. Napoleon instructed his troops to ‘live off the land,’ so they survived on the resources of the towns that they plundered. In order to combat this, Russian agents set Moscow alight, reducing the city ‘to ashes.’ Russian general Kutuzov then cut the French columns in two repeatedly, inflicting major deaths upon the retreating French army. Due to the lack of food and cohesion of the French forces, Russia was able to exact victories over the French, by attacking them on all sides in November. The French were forced to flee, leaving valuables such as guns behind. Napoleon escaped Russia with 20,000, as opposed to the 130,000 which he led into battle at Borodino.  French losses amounted to half a million, which could have been prevented if the French army was well supplied and did not need to rely on the land to live.  In response to Napoleon’s failed invasion of Russia, the Coalition adopted Napoleon’s tactic of conscription.
Despite each nations’ own personal aims, the Coalition agreed on March 1st 1814 that their universal goal was to defeat Napoleon. This demonstrates the cooperation of the Coalition, as nations were willing to put their own priorities aside and prioritise dealing with the threat. This cooperation can be seen at Waterloo. During the climax of the battle, Wellington’s troops were reinforced by two Prussian corps, led by Gebhard Leberecht von Blucher. This combined strength overpowered Napoleon, and what was left of his army.
It seems that Napoleon tried to reach too far, as his own ambition, and refusal to desist caused his army to get smaller and smaller, leading to his eventual defeat at Waterloo.
Thanks for reading!
 M. Broers, ‘Changes in War: The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars’ in H. Strachan and S. Scheipers (eds.), The Changing Character of War (Oxford, 2011), p. 3.
Lucrezia Borgia’s reputation precedes her, as the debauched daughter of Rodrigo Borgia, more commonly known as Pope Alexander VI. The Borgia family dominated Renaissance Italy, and some describe them as Italy’s original crime family. What an iconic bunch. Lucrezia gets a lot of attention, especially in relation to her three marriages, and reputation as an avid poisoner. Were these rumours true? As juicy as the details may sound, most historians agree that they weren’t, and that she was in fact the target of slander… but then again… although the theories have never been proved… they have never been disproved… see what I did there?
One of the most heinous crimes she is accused of is committing is incest with her brother Cesare, and her father. The accusations came from her first husband, Giovanni Sforza, whom she married in 1493. The marriage was a political one, and originally helped Alexander forge some powerful ties with the Duke of Milan, Giovanni’s uncle. Here, Lucrezia appears as more of a political pawn than a femme fatale, as she was thirteen at the time, and Giovanni was twenty-six. This marriage was annulled in 1497, much to Giovanni’s anger, because Alexander, in a political move, decided to back a French candidate to become the King of Naples. The Sforzas were the enemies of the royal family of Naples, and Giovanni was not happy, so Alexander sent him packing. In an attempt to preserve Lucrezia’s chastity, Alexander argued that Giovanni was impotent.
This was not true, as his first wife died in childbirth. Top marks, Alexander. In response to the whole situation, Giovanni accused Lucrezia of incest with her father and brother. The family weren’t much liked anyway, especially as they had come from Spain, and Italy was automatically suspicious of any outsiders. Enemies of the influential family lapped up the incest rumours, and rumours about Lucrezia’s general sexual discordancy and diabolical nature were rife. Freud would be having a field day. This is ironic, as she was named after the Roman noble woman Lucretia, who killed herself after she was raped by Sextus Tarquinius, in order to preserve her dignity and chastity.
Her reputation as a poisoner was tied to all the mysterious deaths that occurred around the Borgia family, including her own brother, Juan. It was rumoured she wore a hollow ring, containing poison, which she would deploy at parties to bump people off. Poison was popular in Renaissance Europe, as it left a lack of evidence, and was therefore difficult to trace. That’s why it’s popular with Shakespeare. It was probably tied to Lucrezia because poison was tied to women in general. It’s not as violent, subtle or ‘manly’ as thrusting a sword into someone, so a female poisoner was doubly scary, as a woman had easy access to all realms of the domestic sphere.
Gross sexual indecency continued to follow Lucrezia, even after the death of her second husband, Alfonso of Aragon. He was attacked and strangled in his bed, by an agent of her brother, Cesare in 1500. This only bolstered the incest rumours. Then, cue, Eastenders ‘duff duff,’ an illegitimate Borgia baby rocked up in 1501, whose parents were never officially disclosed. Who’s the mummy? Who’s the daddy? Was he Lucrezia’s, with her rumoured lover Perotto who mysteriously died two years before? Was the boy the son of Alexander and Lucrezia? Was it the son of Cesare and Lucrezia? Two Papal Bulls were issued, one saying that Alexander was the father, the other stating that Cesare was. Lucrezia acknowledged him as her half-brother. 
The rumoured Banquet of Chestnuts also spread of rumours of sexual discordancy within the family, as Johann Burchard describes:
“On the evening of the last day of October, 1501, Cesare Borgia arranged a banquet in his chambers in the Vatican with “fifty honest prostitutes”,called courtesans, who danced after dinner with the attendants and others who were present, at first in their garments, then naked. After dinner the candelabra with the burning candles were taken from the tables and placed on the floor, and chestnuts were strewn around, which the naked courtesans picked up, creeping on hands and knees between the chandeliers, while the Pope, Cesare, and his sister Lucretia looked on. Finally, prizes were announced for those who could perform the act most often with the courtesans, such as tunics of silk, shoes, barrets, and other things.”
… I have no words… which I know is rare.
Lucrezia’s reputation, and status as a mother, caught up with her by her third marriage to Alfonso d’Este in December 1501. It took a large dowry of a hundred thousand ducats to secure the marriage, because of said reputation. She was reluctant to marry again, telling her father that her ‘husbands had been very unlucky.’ A bit of an understatement, Lucrezia.
Alexander also paid a medical practitioner to attest that Lucrezia was a virgin. The presence of her son Rodrigo, by her second husband, may have been a slight giveaway. Lucrezia was forced to leave her son behind when moving to Ferrara for her third marriage. She would never see him again. Although this was a political move, Lucrezia was slated for it, with people claiming that she was a child abandoner devoid of maternal affection. I mean, she had eight children with her third husband so… Her image also wasn’t helped by the fact that she allegedly had affairs with poet Pietro Bembo, and her brother in law, Francesco Gonzago.
Apparently, Alexandre Dumas, author of ‘The Three Musketeers’ weighed in, stating that Lucrezia:
“… had a wild imagination, was an unfaithful woman by nature and was the daughter and mistress of her father while also engaging in intimate relations with her brother”
I mean… how would he know? It’s not like they ever met.
Even poet legend Lord Byron had a thing for her, stating that her love letters were the ‘prettiest in the world,’ in 1816. He also claimed that he stole a lock of Lucrezia’s hair which was on display in the Ambrosian Library of Milan, calling it the ‘prettiest and fairest imaginable.’ For goodness sake, Byron.
If we take all of these rumours as fact, we would have a woman who murdered people, committed incest, and discarded her child. She literally would be antithetical to anything found in the Bible, and more importantly the Virgin Mary. People probably classed her as a she-Devil, as the crimes she was accused of were of the most heinous. All this comes with the added irony that her father was the Pope! It’s not hard to understand why Lucrezia, and the Borgias, had such an infamous image. Even though it is believed that all of the rumours surrounding Lucrezia are untrue, even if they can ever be proved or unproved, it still makes for gripping reading.
Alec D’Urberville is ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ big bad, as his rape of Tess sets all of the events of the novel in motion, leading Tess down a path of misery which ends in her death and his. Alec is initially portrayed as a bit of a moustachioed pantomime villain, but his later resurgence in the sixth phase of the novel shows that he has changed massively… or has he? I mean one thing that has definitely changed is, his moustache… that’s gone for good.
Tess is understandably distressed to see Alec preaching, as he comes across as a massive hypocrite. We are told that he hasn’t just changed, but that he’s undergone a whole ‘transfiguration.’ This is quite an aggressive reference to the Transfiguration of Jesus, perhaps prompting us to compare Alec to Jesus. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would actually do that, but Thomas Hardy wants us to believe that this man is totally different to the one that we originally met… but is he? Hardy is very descriptive about the whole thing, as he always is, but the most striking oxymoron is his note that Alec’s ‘animalism had become fanaticism.’ One minute Alec is the aggressive, forceful animal that raped Tess, next he is the religious zealot seeking salvation. Alec takes the ‘blame’ for Tess’ despair, and promptly wants to resolve the issue by deploying a ‘marriage license.’ He wants to marry Tess so that the rape effectively doesn’t count. Any sexual intercourse between them, pre marriage, wouldn’t really matter, as they would be husband and wife. Even before this, their sexual contact, consented or unconsented, would lead Victorian readers to believe that they were married in the eyes of the church. That’s Victorian sexual politics for you. Tess is married to Angel at this point, so naturally she doesn’t agree, and even though Alec’s attempts at making it up to Tess are extremely misguided, in his mind, he is trying to atone. Yes, to modern readers this sounds pretty crazy, but in his mind, and in the minds of Victorian readers, Alec is trying to do the right thing.
This falls flat though, even when he tries not to be tempted. Alec notes that he has a ‘fear’ of ‘women’s faces,’ because of how they tempt him. He even has the audacity to ask Tess to ‘swear’ that she won’t tempt him again. Tess may be tempting, but it isn’t her fault that Alec sexually assaulted her, so even though he is trying to atone, it appears that he still doesn’t realise that he is responsible for his own mistakes. Even though, we are told, that Alec has changed, and from this point is dedicated to his religion, it seems that he still doesn’t understand his past fully. But this conflicts with his declaration that he was to blame for Tess’ misery, so… he kind of atones but doesn’t fully understand how? It’s a tricky one.
This all becomes a bit clearer when his attempts to resist temptation fully break down. He promptly ditches preaching to give way to his ‘passion’ for Tess. So, before we could even fully understand Alec’s supposed conversion, he basically slips back into his old ways. Seeing Tess prompts a revelatory outburst, which adds to the complexity of the character, and makes for dramatically gripping reading:
‘I was on my way to salvation till I saw you again! He said, feverishly shaking her, as if she were a child. ‘And why then have you tempted me? I was firm as a man could be till I saw those eyes and that mouth again – surely there never was such a maddening mouth since Eve’s!’ His voice sank, and a hot archness shot from his own black eyes. ‘You temptress Tess; you dear witch of Babylon – I could not resist you as soon as I met you again!’
He’s gone on a full U-turn here, and goes back to blaming Tess for everything, after initially saying that she was blameless. He again, says that she tempted him, when in fact, she’s spent the last number of pages trying to shake him off. He casts her as a bit of a femme fatale. A lot in the novel is left up to chance, and if Tess hadn’t stumbled upon Alec again, perhaps he would have gone on to fully atone. It’s difficult to tell. Now, we know that Alec’s conversion is really just meant to criticise the hypocrisy of the church, as although it preaches forgiveness and love, Alec has been accepted even though he raped Tess. She suffers and loses faith throughout the novel, prompted by the refusal of the church to baptise her illegitimate child by Alec. Tess is unprotected by everyone in the novel, including the church. Where someone from the church should support her and help her, the church instead gives her the man who ruined her life, the difference being now that he has the backing of divine authority. It is incredibly hypocritical and insulting, and just reinforces Tess’ purity in contrast to the other characters within the novel. Even Angel, foretold as her guardian angel, is no saint. This girl cannot catch a break.
Alec certainly packs in a few Biblical references in his tirade, which is not uncommon throughout the whole novel. His likening of Tess to Eve demonstrates her uniqueness, and the pedestal that he places her on, seeing her as the first woman, and incomparable to all others. She isn’t just a woman, she’s the living embodiment of ‘woman.’ Obviously, Eve is tied up with temptation, and it seems that Alec has it in his mind that she was tempted by him. She did say that she found him handsome, but this obviously does not translate to consent. On the surface it seems pretty clear that Alec is the snake in the Garden of Eden. Tess’ association with Eve prompts the reader to wonder who her Adam is, and this is made even more complex when people debate if Angel is just as bad as Alec, and therefore unworthy of that title. Who sits in the Garden of Eden with Tess? Is it even Eden, considering how badly she is treated?
By the time anyone has the chance to figure out any of these questions, presuming that there is an answer, it is, as Tess says, ‘too late.’
Thanks for reading!
Stay safe, stay inside. Read something cheerful.
 Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, (London, Penguin Classics, 2003) p. 305.
It’s difficult to separate the fact from the fiction, when dealing with Mark Antony and Cleopatra, as so little sources survive about their love affair. One that does and is fairly accessible, is that of Plutarch, a renowned Roman philosopher and biographer. Now, he wasn’t alive to witness these events first-hand, but his account is frequently cited by historians. I didn’t get the impression that Plutarch was biased in favour of the Romans, and he appeared to portray Antony and Cleopatra both as real people. Shakespeare certainly took the events Plutarch describes as fact, so let’s see what he has to say.
On first view, Mark Antony seems like a bit of a jack the lad. From a young age, he is embroiled in ‘drinking bouts, love-affairs and reckless spending.’ This continues throughout most of his adult life, but does come into conflict with his ‘love of honour.’ On one occasion, before meeting with a senator in the morning, Antony got so drunk the night before that he vomited in his toga in the senators’ presence. Now fellow students, we can relate. This whole party hard lifestyle matched well with Antony’s philosophy to also work hard, as he was a well-respected politician and general, and under Julius Caesar, became one of the most powerful men in Rome. Antony, controversially, boasted that he descended from Hercules, which shows that he was a bit full of himself, but he still was able to accept the ‘good humour and jokes’ that people made about him.’ So, he probably sounds like that typical Uni lad, that we all know. It’s clear from his youth that he definitely has a ‘weakness for the opposite sex,’ and this certainly destroys Antony later on. Enter Cleopatra.
Plutarch credits Cleo with having the ‘strongest influence’ over Antony. When they first meet, she’s twenty-eight, and has already had an affair with Julius Caesar, a union which secured her position as queen of Egypt. She meets Antony in 41 BC in Tarsus, Turkey, and travels to him on the river Cyndus, under a ‘canopy of cloth of gold, dressed in the character of Venus.’ This was a piece of dramatic, political theatre, as Cleo demonstrated her wealth and power to the stunned Antony, in an attempt to woo him and secure his support, and vice versa. Cleo had a great ‘physical presence,’ and Plutarch rightly portrays her as not just a femme fatale, but a skilled political figure, who used her femininity and beauty for political gain. As well as this beauty, Plutarch writes that she had a certain ‘charm,’ and that ‘Plato speaks of four kinds of flattery, but Cleopatra knew a thousand.’ Antony is then whisked away to Alexandria by Cleo without hesitation. Her charm is demonstrated in one particular story, in which, at one of her lavish parties, she bet Antony that she could consume a meal worth 10 million silver coins. To do this, she dissolved her pearl earring in a cup of vinegar wine and drank it. It’s beauty and wit that seem to define Cleopatra.
Plutarch highlights the playfulness of their relationship. Cleo often humoured Antony, and when he would go on late night strolls through Alexandria, she would dress up as a maidservant and play along in his silly games. Cleo appeared to bring out this childlike side to Antony, as the Alexandrians observed that he had a ‘tragic mask for the Romans, and a comic one for them.’
The lovers’ ending is romantic and iconic. Their union was controversial and the favour that Antony continually bestowed on Cleo, at times in detriment to the Roman empire, angered the senate, making an enemy of Antony’s brother in law, Octavius. Eventually Octavius declares war on Antony, after denouncing him in the senate. Antony and Cleo recognised their impending doom, and formed a club named the ‘Order of the Inseparable Death,’ pledging to ‘end their lives together.’ In preparation, Cleo busied herself with testing poisons, and ascertained that the ‘bite of an asp’ was the most ‘painless.’
The affair takes a dark and betraying turn, when Antony kills himself upon the news that Cleo had done the same. Plutarch doesn’t really give his thoughts on why Cleo did this. It is difficult to see them both as genuine lovers when Cleo makes such a bold political move, knowing that her association with Antony is what is killing them both. His body is ‘hauled’ up the walls of Cleopatra’s monument, where she had retreated to for safety. Cleopatra in anguish tore her dress and lay it over Antony, and ‘beat and lacerated her breasts, and smeared her face with the blood of his wounds.’ There’s genuine pain and love here, which contrasts with her previous callous moves. I think that Cleo told Antony she was dead for political reasons, but this doesn’t mean that it’s not tearing her up inside. It’s not a cold-blooded killing but a sacrifice for Egypt, and her heritage. Plutarch portrays her as a complex woman, and maybe it’s part of the point that Plutarch, and by extension the reader, don’t fully understand her motivations, and never will.
Now, in true tragic fashion, we know that she poisoned herself, but it is unclear how the asp was brought to her. What is in a basket of figs? Did she provoke it with a spindle? It’s certainly a striking image. Cleo’s handmaiden, before she too killed herself, noted that ‘It is well done, and fitting for a princess descended of so many royal kings.’ Cleo gets the last laugh, as Octavius was reportedly ‘vexed’ that he could not parade her around Egypt as a spoil of the war that her death had ended. Octavius believed that the asp bit Cleo, citing puncture marks in her arm as evidence. In his victory procession, he had a statue built of Cleo with an asp clinging to her.
This article doesn’t cover half of the political drama, blood, lust and betrayal that went on behind closed doors during the lives of Antony and Cleopatra, but even if it did, I think I would still reach the same conclusion that Antony and Cleopatra both ‘lost the world for love.’
Thanks for reading!
Stay safe, stay inside. Read something cheerful.
 Plutarch, Makers of the Rome. Translated by Ian Scott-Kilver (London, Penguin Classics, 2004), p. 272.
Michael Crichton’s novel ‘Jurassic Park’ is certainly that, to the point where the readers are relieved by it. Crichton’s novel about genetically engineered dinosaurs running amok is a thrilling read, even if it’s not quite the same as actually seeing the dinosaurs for real on the big screen. What is omitted from the novel is the mass amounts of blood and body horror, which serve well to emphasise the threat, and nature, of the Jurassic monsters that roam the novels’ pages.
I mean, we aren’t even ten pages in and there’s already ‘blood everywhere’ after a worker is attacked by a Velociraptor. Next thing you know there’s baby dinosaurs tearing out ‘a ragged chunk of flesh from a baby’ in a hospital. These early scenes set up the threat of the dinosaurs, and tell the reader, before any character sets foot on the island, that the park is a big, bad idea. These initial incidences of violence don’t compare to the fate of Dennis Nedry however, who is caught by a dinosaur on his way to deliver stolen embryos to a rival company.
In the film, we know the dinosaur attacks Nedry, but we only see this through the translucent front window of his jeep. The book is far more graphic, with Nedry first going ‘blind’ after being covered in the Dilophosaurus’ acidic saliva. He then realises that his stomach has been ‘torn’ open by the dinosaur, and that his ‘intestines’ were ‘in his hands.’ Lovely stuff. It’s one thing to marvel at a dinosaur, but it’s another thing to come up close to it, and the frankest man in the novel, Ian Malcolm, astutely reminds John Hammond that these dinosaurs are ‘alive,’ they are not passive objects to be stared at.
Henry Wu too suffers later on in the novel but instead at the claws of the Velociraptors, who tear open Wu’s stomach and begin to munch on his intestines while he ‘was still alive.’ This is quite different to the film as Wu doesn’t actually die, and has popped up more recently in Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World films. There is a real obsession with intestines in the novel to be honest, and we even get a glimpse of a Velociraptors’ insides later on… but I thought two rounds of intestines was enough. It’s obvious as to why the novel is so bloody, as it’s trying to drum home the majority of Ian Malcolm’s remarks, that dinosaurs cannot be controlled. Wu claimed that they could be and look what happened to him. The novel is an exciting one, but to me it appeared primarily as a warning against genetic research, and more importantly, as a warning against messing with Mother Nature.
There’s a strange sort of natural justice in the novel, as the creator of the park himself is eaten by Compsognathus’. Note that this doesn’t happen in the film. John Hammond is oddly chilled about being eaten alive in the novel, and only feels a ‘slight pain’ when the dinosaurs begin to ‘chew his neck.’ Hammond didn’t really accept that his park was massively flawed in the novel and remained faithful to the last. It’s kind of fitting that he is consumed by the world that he wished to revive and recreate. He finds himself at the mercy of the Jurassic world, and it seems that he is honoured by this, as recreating the Jurassic era was his dream. In recreating the Jurassic world he was also responsible for all of the sufferings of the dinosaurs at the hands of humanity within the novel, so there is some sort of justice in there, as the dinosaurs take out the man that brought them back, caused them pain, and sort to use them in some crazy prehistoric circus.
We jump to Covid-19 now, and my ability to pretty much link anything to it. When commenting on the chaos within the park, Ian Malcolm notes that they ‘can’t see the other side until you’re there.’ We don’t know what the country, or even the world, will look like following the end of this crisis, and therefore maybe it’s best not to worry. It doesn’t really do much good for anyone’s mental health. We don’t know what will happen, and how everyone will emerge, we just have to wait until we get there. Even though the wait may still be quite long, try to rest easy, as the reality of the situation is that, as we see in ‘Jurassic Park,’ ‘life finds a way.’
Thanks for reading!
Stay safe, stay inside. Read something cheerful.
 Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park, (London, Arrow Publishing, 1991) p. 123.
Up to 40,000 people died during the early modern witch craze. Throughout this time, peoples’ understanding of witches frequently changed, in relation to ‘maleficia’ and the nature of witches, their gender, the law, the Reformation and the scepticism that emerged during the Enlightenment.
It was originally believed that witches practised magic, or ‘maleficia,’ on their own. Theologians and lawyers later argued that the ‘essence’ of witchcraft was a pact with the Devil. Now this was worse than previous ideas, and more ludicrous, as people were accused of secretly meeting with the Devil at sabbaths. At these ceremonies, they would take part in rituals that mocked the mass. Through this activity, witches directly threatened Christendom, as they took part in heretical practices. It was the Devil who brought all sin into the world, and Protestants and Catholics sought to eliminate Him. The Devil’s collusion with ordinary people meant that the threat of evil was ever present. See the change? First witches work alone, now they work with the Devil. This belief led to an increase in witch hunts, as peoples’ fear of witches, as well as the religious desire to stamp out evil, increased.
At first, people thought that only females could be witches… sorry ladies. This belief was solidified in Heinrich Kramer’s ‘Malleus Maleficarum,’ published in 1486, which claimed that women were more ‘impressionable’ to the charms of the Devil, due to their ‘fragile feminine sex.’ 75 to 85 percent of tried witches were female, which showcases the impact of Kramer’s work. Apparently women were better placed to carry out the Devil’s work, as their domestic roles in the household, such as cooks and midwives, gave them the opportunity to poison food and kill new-born babies. Accused women also did not conform to the ideal image of passive womanhood. The indictment against Scot Margaret Lidster in 1662 described her as a ‘witch, a charmer and a libber,’ the latter term being a negative connotation of a ‘liberated’ and free-thinking woman.’ The idea that witches were women rebelling against the social norm was a prominent one throughout the sixteenth century.
However, Christina Larner argued that ‘witchcraft was not sex specific,’ and this was true. Catholics and Protestants acknowledged this, attributing the idea to the gender ambiguous Biblical quote ‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.’ Catholics noted that men could also attend sabbaths, explaining the rise in male prosecution for witchcraft. Rita Voltmer demonstrates this change when examining the Rhine-Meuse region in the city of Trier, where a number of boys claimed to have attended the sabbath in order to provide musical entertainment. This reflected the male role in village life, as men were pipers and drummers. The idea spread due to the publication of the ‘Tractatus de confessionibus maleficorum et sagarum,’ in 1589 by Peter Binsfield, the Bishop of Trier, which recounted his experience of the Rhine-Meuse trials. This led to an increase of printed images and etchings of men at the sabbath, meaning that both men and women could be convicted and condemned. That’s some twisted gender equality right there. Male witches also inverted the traditional values of their sex, as women did, as the former were depicted as poor husbands and father figures, and effeminate, weak men. The Devil suddenly became even more scary as he could corrupt men and women.
Changes to the law allowed a greater rise in witch hunts, as people became more willing to accuse their peers of witchcraft. Traditionally witches were tried using accusatorial methods, in which the suspect knew the accuser. Said accuser could also be put on trial if the charges against the defendant turned out to be a load of rubbish. As the accuser was at risk, people were unwilling to testify. The inquisitorial method remedied this. Under this system, only legal authorities could bring cases forward, and a confession was required before execution, which was usually obtained through intense questioning and torture. Torture was used as lawyers did not believe that witches acted alone, and they sought the names of their conspirators. This change encouraged people to accuse others, as those doing the accusing were not put at risk themselves. The inquisitorial Method led to more deaths in Germany, Switzerland and Southern France. So, changes in the law meant big changes for witches.
Differing Catholic and Protestant ideas too affected witches. Protestants believed that the threat of the Devil was forever present. They downplayed the threat of witchcraft and instead were more concerned with the threat of Satan. Catholics agreed about the threat of the Devil, but some believed that the rival Protestant faith was itself the work of the Devil, leading to accusations of heresy and heightened religious conflict. Catholics continued to persecute Protestants in order to purify the world of Satan’s heresy, and planned to do so internally by resisting temptation, and externally, by prosecuting witches and heretics. Witch hunting was severe in places that harboured conflict between Catholics and Protestants, and especially affected religious minorities living on the boundaries of states with different religions, such as Germany and Scotland. The world officially went nuts.
Scepticism and enlightened attitudes also played a role. Some witch hunts ended due to the ludicrous nature of the accusations, and the lack of proper evidence for witchcraft. This was supported by peoples’ doubts over the existence of witchcraft, such as Johann Weyer and Reginald Scot. This led to tighter controls being issued by the superior central courts, such as the Parlement of Paris. The Parlement decreed that all witchcraft convictions needed judicial review, which was adopted in 1604. With proper restrictions placed on witch trials, practices such as torture to obtain confessions were halted, leading to a decrease in prosecutions. The legal constraints made it harder for the authorities to obtain a guilty verdict. People stopped accusing others of witchcraft, believing that their case would be dismissed. Therefore, cases declined… mainly because people started to engage their brains.
Religious ideas about the Devil too aided the decline of prosecutions. Leading Protestant thinkers, such as Luther and Calvin, maintained that God was sovereign and would always prevail against the Devil, as stated in the Bible. Protestants took the Bible as the word of God, and discarded ideas that were not explicitly recorded in it as invalid. The Bible did not mention Devil worship, and instead detailed how God actively restrains the Devil, which prompted Protestants to argue that witchcraft was not a threat.
From gender to religion, law to scepticism, beliefs about witches and their nature changed frequently throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. It’s lucky that common sense prevailed and eventually led to the decline of witchcraft prosecutions.
Thanks for reading!
Stay safe, stay inside. Read something cheerful.
 T. Blanning, The Pursuit if Glory: Europe 1648-1815, (London 2008), pg. 464
 B. Levack, The Witch Hunt in Early Modern Europe, (London, 2006), pg. 8.
 M. Wiesner-Hanks, Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789, (London, 2013), pg. 434.
Today we navigate through the dangerously queer displacements of desire in ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘Dracula’! Before we start, some definitions:
‘Displacement’ originates from Freud and is defined as the unconscious ‘shifting of energy’ from one person to another, the ‘energy’ in question being desire. 
‘Queer’ refers to anything that opposes the dominant ideals that humanity is supposed to conform to.
Victor Frankenstein’s creature and Dracula are therefore queer, as they subvert the conceptional ideals of humanity, being an artificially created monster and an undead vampire. I know, scary stuff. The queer displacement of desire involves the subconscious, a lack of control, the invasion of the mind and body, the formation of a network of queer, non-heteronormative relationships and finally, death. Read on if you dare!
The queer displacement of desire first pops up via the subconscious in ‘Frankenstein.’ Victor Frankenstein’s established love for Elizabeth Lavenza is pitted against his desire to animate the creature. The queer displacement of Victor’s desire is first explained in Victor’s dream, in which, after kissing her, Elizabeth transforms into Victor’s mother, before he catches sight of the ‘miserable monster.’ In Victor’s subconscious mind, his desire for Elizabeth is displaced by his obsession with the creature. His kissing of Elizabeth offsets the events within the dream, creating an ideal image of heterosexual relations. This romantic gesture upholds heteronormative ideals, but quickly rejects them when the creature appears, as he becomes the object of Victor’s romantic desire. This relationship fully subverts heteronormativity, and is queer, as Victor appears to have romantic feelings for an artificially created being of the same gender. The shifting images in Victor’s dream directly correlate to the queer displacing of his desire, in favour of the creature. Haggarty validates this, arguing that queerly displaced desire raises questions about male homosexual desires. Victor’s queer, non-heteronormative desire for the creature, displaces his desire for Elizabeth, as outlined by his subconscious mind. Victor cannot control this, suggesting that he cannot control the queer displacement of his desire. All in all, dreams are complicated and crazy things.
A lack of control in relation to the queer displacement of desire is also apparent for Jonathan Harker in ‘Dracula.’ Jonathan’s heterosexual desire for his fiancé Mina Murray is displaced in favour of the Brides of Dracula, which is displaced further by an encounter with Dracula himself, leading Maurice Hindle to assert that ambiguous desires drive the novel.
Jonathan’s desire to marry Mina allows the reader to understand the magnitude of his displaced desire, as he finds himself thrilled and repulsed by the Brides of Dracula. Jonathan describes that their teeth ‘shone like pearls against the ruby’ of their lips. The references to jewels suggest that their beauty is artificial, unnatural and downright creepy. Despite their queer appearance, Jonathan still has a ‘burning desire’ to be kissed by them, emphasising that his desire has fully shifted away from Mina in favour of the Brides.
Jonathan lacks control in this scenario as he takes the place of the female, as he ‘waited,’ and wanted, to be penetrated. Jonathan refers to the Brides as animalistic, implying their role as predator and his as their prey. His masculinity is fully subverted by the Brides, who adopt this masculinity by being sexually dominant. Jonathan instead displays a ‘feminine passivity’ towards them. This example of ‘sexual inversion’ further emphasises the queer nature of Jonathan’s displaced desire, as he has entered into a relationship that has disrupted heteronormative gender roles, as the women are sexually dominant, and the male is submissive. This is some real old fashioned thinking here.
Jonathan’s lack of control, and desire to be penetrated, is further explored by Dracula’s entrance. Dracula interrupts the Brides’ seduction of Jonathan by declaring that ‘this man belongs to me,’ taking full ownership and control of Jonathan. At this point Jonathan loses control fully, as he falls ‘unconscious’ and is at the mercy of Dracula. He later wakes up in his ‘own bed,’ to find that his ‘clothes were folded and laid on the bed.’ This implies that Jonathan was undressed by Dracula. It appears that Dracula’s claiming of Jonathan refers to Dracula’s sexual ownership of Jonathan, and control over his body. This hints at another queer displacement of desire that is non-heteronormative, due to the homoerotic undertones. Christopher Craft recognises the implication, arguing that Dracula’s penetration of another male is ‘threatened’ throughout the text.’ Craft’s use of ‘threatened’ implies that he recognises that no homosexual sex is explicitly stated, but also confirms that Craft believes this idea to be disruptive to the norm.
Mina too lacks control in her relationship with Dracula, and this results in the forced invasion of her mind. After forcing her to feed on him, Dracula declares that Mina shall come to his ‘call’ as he has forged a telepathic connection with her. Dracula declares that Mina is now of his ‘flesh,’ implying that they are the same person, in a scenario that Hindle compares to ‘forced enslavement.’ As a result of her displaced desire, Mina’s mind is invaded by Dracula, allowing him to take full ownership of her, and enslave her. Dracula’s connections with Mina and Jonathan lead to a complicated network of queer, non-heteronormative relationships.
The pairing of Jonathan and Dracula, and Dracula’s assault of Mina leads to the development of a network of queer, non-heteronormative relationships. Mina is found with her face forced in Dracula’s ‘bosom,’ and her ‘white nightdress smeared with blood.’ We don’t know whether Jonathan and Mina have consummated their marriage, and her encounter with Dracula hints to this action, subverting her traditional union with her husband. Robert Tracy speculates that this scene represents consummation, as Dracula’s bite is seen to be penetrative and therefore sexual. The white of Mina’s nightdress, which is representative of her purity, is stained by blood, a reference to the breaking of her hymen and loss of her virginity, creating an unholy union between herself and Dracula. Tracy recognises the queer nature of this, explaining that this ‘consummation’ creates a triangle that transcends and disrupts the loyalties of marriage, the bond between husband and wife. Dracula’s encounters with Mina, and Jonathan, and the various queer displacing of the characters’ desires, disrupts the institution of marriage, creating a network of queer and non-heteronormative relationships. Similar networks are also formed in ‘Frankenstein,’ between Victor, the creature and Elizabeth, as outlined by Victor’s dream.
The network of queer, non-heteronormative relationships between Dracula, Jonathan and Mina are forged due to Dracula’s overpowering sexuality, which is an important aspect of the queer displacement of desire. Despite her distress, Mina notes that she ‘did not want to hinder’ Dracula, when he forced her to feed on him. Here she changes from an unwilling to willing participant in this action, implying that Dracula unlocks her sexual desires, and that she indulges in them with him. Her desire for Jonathan is queerly displaced in favour of Dracula in this moment. Judith Weissman is unsurprised by this, citing Dracula’s unprecedented, unmatched sexual performance as the reason why Mina succumbs to him. Such a union between a human and supernatural being is especially queer, as Mina is supposed to be one of ‘God’s women,’ a figure that would be antithetical to the ‘devilish’ Count. It appears that the overall sexiness of vampires is overpowering yet attractive to humans, as demonstrated by Jonathan’s encounter with the Brides, and Mina’s with Dracula… and apparently ‘Twilight.’ This is queer, as the satanic-like vampires are able to seduce even the purest of humanity, such as Mina. To varied extents, both Mina and Jonathan indulge and allow this unholy sexual union, emphasising the queer nature of their displaced desires.
Death is the outcome of the queer displacement of desire within the Gothic novel. Victor’s dream implies that he has created death instead of life, as after kissing Elizabeth, she becomes ‘livid with the hue of death.’ This foreshadows her death at Victor’s hands, as he has prioritised the creature over her. Haggarty too observes this, noting that Victor’s displaced desire for the creature and his neglect of Elizabeth leads to her death. This is highlighted by Victor’s misinterpretation of the creature’s warning, that he shall be with Victor on his ‘wedding night.’ Victor rudely forgets that Elizabeth will too be present on their wedding night, as traditionally it is when the marriage is consummated. Duh. This supports the idea that Victor harbours homosexual feelings for the creature, as Victor chooses to delay the consummation of his marriage and pursue the creature instead. This implies that Victor’s desire has been fully displaced away from Elizabeth, leaving her vulnerable. Unsurprisingly, Elizabeth is later found ‘lifeless and inanimate.’ Elizabeth’s death is the result of Victor’s queerly displaced desire, and her demise frees Victor to pursue the creature for the rest of the novel. Elizabeth’s death is similar to that of Mina’s assault in ‘Dracula,’ demonstrating that the tension caused by the queer displacement of desire reaches its peak at moments that are sexually charged, as like the creature, Dracula throws ‘his victim back upon the bed.’ Ultimately, the displacement of desire describes a shift in lustful thoughts from one to another, and it is unsurprising that the climax of such conflicting desires sometimes results in death.
The queer displacement of desire away from the heteronormative is dangerous within the Gothic novel, as it just causes a load of grief and sometimes death. Just steer clear of vampires and artificially created monsters, and you’ll be fine.
Thanks for reading!
Stay safe, stay inside. Read something cheerful.
 Salman Akhtar, Comprehensive Dictionary of Psychoanalysis (London: Karnac Books, 2009) p. 263.
 David Halperin, Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997) p. 62.
 Robert Tracy, ‘Loving You Always: Vamps, Vamps, Vampires, Necrophiles, Necrofilles in Nineteenth-Century Fiction’ in Sex and Death and Victorian Literature, ed. by Regina Barreca, (London: Macmillan, 1990) pp. 32-59. p. 34.
This post contains full spoilers about ‘Little Women’!
Louisa May Alcott’s semi-autobiographical novel has charmed the hearts of Americans for generations. I only took notice of it following the release of Greta Gerwig’s adaptation in December 2019, which prompted me to read the book. Although I wouldn’t describe it as the most gripping read, it has heart, and I can understand why so many readers care greatly for the four March sisters. Their own distinct characters ensure they are individuals, who stand apart from one another. Each could probably have their own novel, and it’s surprising that Alcott can pull off such distinctly different women in a world and time where women were mainly domesticated and marginalised. There are timeless lessons that one can pick up from the novel, which, in this period of uncertainty are really more relevant than ever.
The novel also succeeds in being a feminist novel without having the need to ram it down your throat. Its tender and touching emphasis on the matriarchy and its importance is well handled on several occasions, see here:
‘They all drew to the fire, mother in the big chair with Beth at her feet, Meg and Amy perched on either arm of the chair, and Jo leaning on the back, where no one would see any sign of emotion if the letter should happen to be touching’
The image of the ‘little women’ crowding around their mother is a heart-warming one, which subtly tells the reader that, although they want their father, they don’t need necessarily him. In other words, a family doesn’t need a strong, patriarchal figure to ensure all hell doesn’t break lose. It’s subtle, but it’s there. The girls and their mother form an interconnected network of sisterhood, which gives them enough strength to overcome to the trials and tribulations within the novel. With their mother at the centre, these girls feel they can face anything, which is a true testament to the power of motherhood and the matriarchy. Laurie too benefits from this, as before the sisters came to him, he was a lonely, ‘solitary’ figure. This emphasises the benefits of the matriarchy, and the healing power that it brings. This also, by extension, explains the benefits of family, and how we need to rely on each other in times of crisis, such as Covid-19.
Although some people may think that the novel is written about women for women, the lessons within can be universally applied. Meg, the eldest March daughter takes some time away from her home to be with friends but is ridiculed and is the subject of ‘foolish gossip.’ Mother March swoops in to comfort her distressed daughter, to emphasise that, above all else, the happiness of her daughters is of primary importance. From this we learn what is important in life, that people are happy. It also teaches people that women shouldn’t tear down other women, and by extension no one should tear down or mock anyone else. Especially in times of crisis such as this, people should be supportive of one another, but this gesture also should extend to the normal as well as the abnormal. Some people criticise Meg, as her dream is to be a loving wife and mother. People jump in to say that this is anti-feminist, as her desire essentially is to serve. However, surely feminism advocates the idea that women should be allowed to do what they want to do, and this is what Meg does. Her dreams are no more or no less than any other character, and Mother March’s sentiment that, all she wants is for her daughters to be happy, emphasises the importance of motherly love and subtly advocates autonomy for all, regardless of gender.
The novel’s enduring message is one of hope, as following Beth’s death, things appear pretty bleak for the March family. Styled as the most innocent and pure of all the sisters, several incidences of foreshadowing implied to me that Beth may not survive. Despite this major disruption to the March family dynamic, through relying on the lessons their mother has taught them, and by binding together as a family, the end of the novel seems hopeful. Meg, Jo and Amy are happily married, which is what they wanted, and their parents are pleased with this development also. The family’s reliance on each other is what pulls them through their grief, and it appears that this message in particular is more relevant than ever. The last image echoes that of the earlier pages, with Mrs March gathering her family together, expressing her love and devotion to her children. This again, emphasises the importance of family, and its ability to act as a constant in all of our lives. Although Beth’s untimely death disrupted this constant, the maintenance of the March’s remaining family networks, bonds between mother and daughter, sister and sister, wife and husband and all other familial ties, ensured that the March family returned to stability, through their resilience, strength and undying hope.
So, in these troubled times, take a lesson from the ‘little women,’ support each other, have faith and have hope.
Thanks for reading!
Stay safe, stay inside. Read something cheerful.
 Lousia May Alcott, Little Women, (London, Penguin English Library, 2018) p. 13.
The term ‘consciousness’ is used to describe a person’s perception or awareness of something else, and as an English literature student, exploring the conscious mind of a character is how one truly gets to know them. By exploring their innermost fears, desires and loves, the true nature of a character’s personality can be revealed. The writer provides the consciousness of the character, and then the conscious reader will have to be susceptible enough to make good use of it. It is also important as a reader to be conscious of symbols and motifs in novels, so that we can understand the text in full. These motifs and symbols could be anything from colours to Biblical references.
The conscious reader would be able to recognise Thomas Hardy’s use of colour in his 1891 novel ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles,’ as the title character’s frequent association with the colours of red and white is clearly a reference to her dual personality as whore and chaste virgin. Red represents sexuality, and white represents purity. The conscious reader would develop this further, perhaps in reference to Freud’s ‘Madonna-whore complex,’ a dichotomy that explores the two personas that a woman could conform to. For more on that, follow the footnote!
For example, in Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel ‘Frankenstein,’ the Monster refers to himself as Adam. The conscious student will recognise that this is a reference to the first man placed on Earth, Adam, placing Frankenstein as God the creator, and the Monster as his first human creation. This analysis aids our understanding of the story as a whole, and the mentality of the Monster as he considers himself to be the first and only member of his own kind in existence.
The above two examples demonstrate the importance of being a conscious reader, and what a conscious reader will be able to find when interrogating a text. The above example of Frankenstein can be used to bridge the gap between the conscious reader and the consciousness of a character. Shelley provides an insight into the consciousness of the Monster by allowing him to refer to himself as Adam, and the conscious reader will then pick this up, explore it and end up with a better understanding of the Monster. Still following?
Another text that utilises the idea of consciousness in order to allow the audience to understand the characters involved more fully, is Shakespeare’s iconic tragedy ‘Hamlet.’ Hamlet’s own psyche and consciousness is explored through his seven soliloquies; seven speeches that the character delivers when he is alone on stage, explaining his inner thoughts, feelings and struggles. These seven speeches revolving around the consciousness of Hamlet provide plenty of material for the conscious reader to scrutinise.
Hamlet is set on a revenge mission to kill his uncle king Claudius, who had previously murdered Hamlet’s father and former king. Shakespeare draws inspiration from traditional revenge tragedies in the writing of the play, but also uses Hamlet’s own consciousness to break such conventions.
In traditional Greek tragedy, the act of revenge would occur quickly within the narrative, thus prompting the end of the play. Hamlet deliberates for five acts, and keeps the audience updated on the goings on within his mind via his seven soliloquies. This allows the play to develop on the traditional idea of Greek tragedy and address bigger questions.
The play itself is not just about the act of revenge but is more about the inner workings of Hamlet’s mind. His famous declaration of ‘to be or not to be’ is proof of this, as Hamlet explains to the audience that he is contemplating suicide. Without such insights into the characters mind, our understanding of the play would be greatly affected. Shakespeare utilises the idea, and literary technique, of ‘consciousness’ within the play to offer a tragedy that is of greater psychological complexity than the tragedies that have gone before.
Shakespeare is given this merit through the deployment of the seven soliloquies, and insight into the consciousness of Hamlet. Through the addition of these seven speeches, Shakespeare ensures that the audience can fully understand the character of Hamlet and his inner turmoil, thus reinventing the idea of a Greek tragedy. This is a clever move from Shakespeare, as the technique he deploys is one that gives the play greater depth.
‘Hamlet’ is widely praised for its complexity, and Shakespeare’s active interest into the conscious mind of his characters explains why. Hamlet is conscious of the fact that he has been asked to commit murder, and that he cannot carry this out without sufficient evidence. It is this struggle that he disseminates to the audience via his soliloquies.
Hamlet’s reputation as a great philosopher, and his tendency to contemplate the larger questions in life, stem from his soliloquies, which stemmed from Shakespeare’s desire to create a revenge tragedy that explored and interrogated the consciousness of its characters.
Emperor Aurangzeb is frequently viewed as a discriminatory figure, unlike his great grandfather Emperor Akbar, who is celebrated for his religious policy of tolerance. However, if we look past this, it becomes clear that Aurangzeb’s main concern was the maintenance of the empire, and not religion. What people view as Aurangzeb’s botched and discriminatory religious policy really isn’t one at all, as instead of a religious policy Aurangzeb was trying to maintain a larger policy of empire.
Bhimsen, a Hindu Kayastha memoirist, claimed that Aurangzeb had willingly sacrificed the ‘happiness of the subjects’ during his reign, suggesting that Aurangzeb had thrown out with his great grandfather’s policies of religious tolerance. Another example of this is Aurangzeb’s banning of religious festivals eight years into his reign, such as Eid al-Fitr, Holi and Diwali. On the surface this appears to display Aurangzeb’s religious intolerance, in comparison to Akbar, who welcomed different cultures and religious ideas. Aurangzeb also reinstated the Jizya tax, a tax specifically levied against non-Muslims within the empire in 1679, which further fuelled the image that he was a discriminatory, nasty piece of work. Aurangzeb’s decision to tear down several Hindu temples also painted him in a religiously intolerant, in contrast to Akbar. However, upon closer analysis we can actually see that Aurangzeb’s actions were not religiously motivated, unlike Akbar’s, but politically motivated for the maintenance of the empire. The maintenance and strengthening of the empire were Aurangzeb’s primary concerns, even if this resulted in accusations that he wasn’t prepared to give other religions the time of day.
At first it may appear that the restrictions Aurangzeb placed on religious festivals displayed his religious intolerance, but this isn’t true! In his writings, Bhimsen Saxena describes a festival that occurred every twelve years near Trimbak, Maharasthra, in which armed bands fight one another, which lead to fatalities. Frenchman Jan de Thevenot describes the Muharram celebrations in his work, writing that in Golconda in 1666 to 1667, violence was standard between Muslims and Hindus. At the Murharram celebrations of Burhanpur in 1669, fifty people were left dead. Aurangzeb wasn’t happy about this, and was also disturbed by the use of ‘obscene language’ used during the festivals of Holi and Diwali. Unlike nowadays, it appears that back in the day, festivals were violent and unruly events, which often ended in death. Based on these facts, Aurangzeb’s decision to ban such gatherings should not be linked to some sort of religious policy, but linked to his desire to maintain order and stability within his empire. In this situation Audrey Truschke notes that Aurangzeb’s key concern was ‘public safety,’ not religion. Aurangzeb adopted the idea that pleasing everyone was not essential to the running of a successful empire. His banning of such festivities was not related to some sort of religious policy, but related to his desire to preserve the empire, and prioritise the safety of those within it. Makes sense, right?
Aurangzeb’s reinstallation of the Jizya tax in 1679 was also not religiously motivated but was motivated by his larger policy of empire instead. Satish Chandra recognises this, arguing that the reinstallation of the tax was in response to the current economic crisis. The tax was reinstalled to fund money for the maintenance of the empire, not to discriminate against non-Muslims. The tax also provided much needed work and employment to those within the empire, and admin posts were given to Hindus. The fact that Aurangzeb provided work for Hindus further supports the idea that he was not religiously intolerant towards them, but more concerned about the state of the economy within the empire and not the religion of those within it. See, he’s not that bad really!
Aurangzeb is also known for destroying several Hindu temples across the empire. Richard Eaton notes that Aurangzeb only destroyed just over a dozen temples, and that he did order the construction of some. Aurangzeb only destroyed temples for valid reasons, such as Benares’ Vishwanatha Temple in 1669, and Mathura’s Keshava Deva Temple in 1670. Both temples acted as bases for political unrest within the Mughal empire, which prompted Aurangzeb to take action. His destruction of the above temples was not religiously motivated but motivated by his desire to ensure peace within the empire. The Keshava Deva temple was patronised by Dara Shukoh, Aurangzeb’s brother and main rival to the throne, and after several uprisings in 1669 and 1670, Aurangzeb destroyed the temple to put down the political unrest that it had encouraged. Aurangzeb believed a good ruler was one that ensured expansion of the empire, and he did so by putting down political unrest. Again, this decision was not motivated by some sort of religious policy, but a larger policy of empire.
Aurangzeb even said that he was not massively concerned with the religion of others, drumming home the fact that he was more concerned with his empire. A Muslim from Bukhara who had entered Mughal service in the late 1680s argued that the emperor should take the religion of people into account before they were allowed to enter into Mughal service. Aurangzeb rejected this proposal, asking ‘what connection have earthly affairs with religion?’ This clearly shows his disregard towards the subject of religion, in favour of the subject of empire. He also noted that ‘for you is your religion and for me is mine.’ Aurangzeb was willing to recruit people of all faiths into Mughal service, demonstrating yet again that all his decisions revolved around the maintenance of the empire. It also shows that Aurangzeb was not intolerant towards people of other faiths as people have incorrectly stated. In the first twenty one years of Aurangzeb’s reign, twenty one percent of the Mughal nobles were of the Hindu faith. This is only one percent off from the amount of Hindu Mughal nobles in Akbar’s reign, which disapproves the common perception that Aurangzeb discriminated against non-Muslims.
So here we can see that Aurangzeb shouldn’t be criticised for what some perceive to call his “religious policy.” I hope I’ve proved that, despite common misconceptions, all of Aurangzeb’s actions, as described above, were undertaken for the maintenance of the empire, his number one priority.
Thanks for reading!
Stay safe, stay inside. Read something cheerful.
 B. Metcalf and Metcalf, A Concise History of Modern India, p.30.
 Truschke, Aurangzeb: The Life and Legacy of India’s Most Controversial King, p. 74.
Now, as a student of both English and History, I’m not surprised that both topics have the ability to predict the future. We are living in unprecedented times, and probably facing the biggest crisis most of us will face in our lifetimes. The first thing I thought of, when I watched Boris enforce a quarantine, was that what was occurring in the world was like something I have read in a book. Those books are usually part of the Dystopia family, a genre that explores what will happen to the world, and humanity in the far future following some sort of apocalyptic event… in other words, it looks at a world where everything has gone to BLEEP.
A simple definition of the genre is the opposite of utopia, an idea outlined by Thomas More in his work, ‘Utopia,’ written in 1516. If utopia is the perfect world, dystopia is the direct opposite. There are different types of dystopia, and the genre evolves in response to different crises at the time, much like the one we currently find ourselves in. We get ‘Farenheit 451’ following Hitler’s abominable book burnings, ‘The Day of the Triffids’ follows fears about communism and the oncoming Cold War in the 1950s, and so on… People have also picked up on the fact that Dean Koontz’s ‘Eyes of Darkness,’ written in 1981, predicted the rapid spread of a virus originating from Wuhan in 2020. Now is the time to take literature seriously. This may not be the most cheerful subject in these times but prepare yourself for a whistle-stop tour of the Dystopian genre!
George Orwell’s ‘1984,’ published in 1949, has been in our minds for some decades now, due to rises in technology and its ability to become more invasive… and humanity’s ability to be lazy. Conspiracy theories about Alexa’s secret government connections hark back to Orwell’s “telescreens,” and even Facebook showing me ads for things I’ve mentioned in conversation contributes to the idea that we are always being watched by ‘Big Brother’… and I don’t mean Davina McCall’s smash hit on Channel 5… even though the title of the show is lifted from Orwell’s own mind. The idea of being controlled and constantly watched sits firmly with the idea of Totalitarian Dystopia, a world in which we have no control, and where the concept of freedom is a distant memory.
Aldous Huxley followed up Orwell’s harsh world in 1932 with his softer dystopia ‘Brave New World,’ in which people are willingly controlled by a drug named “soma,” distracting characters like Mustapha Mond and Lenina Crowne from tension, worry and pain. They really don’t like the idea of talking about their problems, and instead dose up on drugs to suppress their inner pain. Sound familiar? The UK had hit a major economic depression in the year prior to the novel’s publication, perhaps explaining Huxley’s exploration of the conflicting interests of the individual and society, propelled by the growing widespread fear of Americanisation. In a novel that puts together drugs, Shakespeare, suicides and orgies, in retrospect it seems to have predicted the birth of contraception and the free love that swept the world in the 60s, and still does today.
Anthony Burgess cranks up the violence in his 1962 work, ‘A Clockwork Orange.’ The novel follows Alex and his “droogs,” gang, as they go around pillaging, rioting, stealing and generally just acting like a bunch of BLEEPs. Like dystopian novels before his, Burgess responded to the current context and situation, more specifically, the mass delinquency that followed the Second World War. Young men found themselves with little to do, and at the time, hippies and skinheads were blamed for encouraging violence in the post war period. Burgess tapped into that, and within the novel explored how said teens can be controlled, using the fictional “Ludovico’s technique,” which is effectively a barbaric procedure to reduce people to brainless bags of meat. I did say this wasn’t going to be cheerful. Burgess raises the question as to whether it is ok to treat anyone in this way, regardless of their crimes and behaviour.
‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ enters the world with a bang in 1985, coming from the mind of Canadian writer Margaret Atwood. The novel really is the big one if you want to look at sex and gender in dystopia. Atwood appears to have responded to the current form of feminism, which we retrospectively dub as Second Wave feminism. This focused on the woman’s role in the home, and how actions are specifically gendered. It also asserted that the patriarchy originated in the home, due to the dominant father figure, and that this ideology was imprinted on the children, which they then carried on, and into the world outside. Those who have read the novel will know that it centres on women’s ability to bear children, which is primarily a domestic issue. In response to Donald Trump’s authoritarian presidency Atwood rolled out a sequel, ‘The Testaments’ in 2019. This was probably one of the first incidences in which a dystopian novel had a female protagonist, an idea that really takes flight in the 21st century.
I’m going to briefly touch on Malorie Blackman’s 2001 novel ‘Noughts and Crosses,’ which has just aired on the BBC. I haven’t read it myself, but it’s an example of how the Dystopian genre can adapt to anything, as it describes a futuristic world in which racial segregation is enforced in favour of the African upper-class. It’s noteworthy for this, as well as its inclusion of a female co-protagonist in Sephy Hadley. Give it seven years and Suzanne Collins will give us female fighter Katniss Everdeen in ‘The Hunger Games.’
Cormac McCarthy’s 2006 depression fest ‘The Road’ responds to our current economic crisis, as the constant use of the word “grey” really drills home the fact that the Earth is dying. A man and boy, who remain nameless as, what’s the point in identification and attachment now, trek through America to safety, hiding from fearful landscapes and human cannibals along the way… whilst having an existential crisis. It examines the human condition following an apocalyptic event, looking at starvation and malnutrition… loo roll is the least of these peoples’ worries. As if my Year 13 wasn’t stressful enough.
This is really a small selection of novels birthed from the genre… I would do more, but I don’t want to depress anyone further.
So really, the point of this post has been to show people that artists are influenced by what they say and what goes on in their times. The only thing left for us to wonder is, what novels, poems or plays will we get that have drawn inspiration from the 2019-2020 Coronavirus pandemic?
Now, I like Othello. Shakespeare brings the issue of race into his plays, and really paints a stunning portrait of a pure marriage that is slowly poisoned. Despite that being at the heart of the play, I found that a lot of other aspects of it are slightly underdeveloped… and even slightly annoying.
Let’s start with the main man. Being Shakespeare’s first explicit, in my view, black character, Othello earns himself an immediate reputation. He does have some great lines, and a tragic story, but apart from that, he is fairly passive. He is extremely gullible and is basically Iago’s plaything. Othello is really led by him and is led to the conclusion that Desdemona is being unfaithful. In this respect, Othello doesn’t have much agency, he doesn’t think for himself and he basically does what he’s told. In comparison to other Shakespeare protagonists, from Richard III to Hamlet, Othello oddly doesn’t do much, and appears slightly underdeveloped. We know he tells a killer story, but for a title character, who has the play named after him, he doesn’t really have the same presence and impact that Hamlet does. Othello is mainly known for being jealous, and although it is an interesting take on the emotion, it isn’t the greatest thing to be known for. Is there a particular reason that Shakespeare’s biggest black character is known for being a jealous wife killer? Is Shakespeare trying to make some sort of racist comment? That we will never know, but we can speculate.
Othello pretty much ends up playing second fiddle to the far more superior Iago, who is probably Shakespeare’s nastiest villain out there. But… that’s all there is to it really. He’s just a downright villain, slightly like Don John in ‘Much Ado About Nothing.’ He is interesting to read, but he’s just nasty, that’s it. I wouldn’t say he’s a three-dimensional character like Claudius from ‘Hamlet.’ His motivation is significantly underdeveloped, as he has a throwaway comment that he has a problem with Othello as he slept with his Mrs, Emilia. Iago’s actions are drastic, especially as they are based on a rumour. Coleridge swoops in to note this, declaring that the whole plot is based on ‘motiveless malignity.’ Coleridge is basically saying that Iago’s nastiness comes out of nowhere. When comparing Iago’s motives to the likes of Claudius, Richard III and Lady Macbeth, I’d back Coleridge any day. Also, Iago’s just very obsessed with sex. His motives are sex related, his plan to destroy Othello is based on Desdemona’s supposed sexual promiscuity. It’s all sex with Iago. He’s just a nasty sex obsessed man. And he also steals the show from Othello in Othello’s own play. That’s just rude.
Now I know women in Shakespeare don’t always have the easiest time, and apart from her sweet nature, Desdemona too is quite passive. She doesn’t even get a famous scene or line apart from her death scene. Lady Macbeth and Ophelia have some iconic lines and scenes, as does Beatrice, Juliet and the Nurse. Desdemona is just extremely kind, which although is endearing, it doesn’t make her that memorable. Her love for Othello is undoubtedly pure, as she loves him because of the stories he tells. Iago sours this due to his obsession with sex, and specifically Desdemona’s sex drive. Although she fights with her father and tries to reason with Othello, I can’t help but feel that she doesn’t stand out that much in comparison to Shakespeare’s other heroines.
Also, there’s that massive war that’s mentioned at the beginning, that the Turks are going to attack Cyprus, which is promptly dispensed with. It’s basically there to make Othello look like a hero, but apart from that, it just appears like a throwaway plot point. The Turks are destroyed by a storm, rendering them shipwrecked and very irrelevant. In Hamlet, the war is mentioned throughout, and comes full circle at the end of the play with the arrival and succession of Fortinbras, who serves as a foil to Hamlet and represents the rise of a stable kingdom. Fortinbras does all of this and only pops up twice in the play. I think that’s pretty good going. Iago’s hatred for Othello comes so out of nowhere that he probably could’ve tried to poison their marriage without any war with the Turks. It’s just that random.
The unsung hero of the play is by far Emilia, who fully dispenses with the patriarchy, her husband and all the passiveness that Shakespeare heroines are regularly accused of. I find her scene at the close of the play to be much more memorable than Desdemona and Othello’s dialogue. She becomes that strong female character that so many Shakespeare fans crave, despite her untimely death. Despite Iago’s underdeveloped motivations, to me, him and Emilia are much more memorable characters in the play, partly because they are both active agents who have pivotal roles within the plot.
In general, Othello is a great play on the surface, and there’s plenty of ‘marriage poisoned’ action to sink your teeth into. But when interrogating the characters, motivations and some of the plot points, it appears to slightly fall apart. Othello and Desdemona are supplanted as the most memorable characters by Iago and Emilia, the war with the Turks doesn’t really come to much, and if I were Othello, I’d be more jealous of characters like Hamlet and Claudius, who gain their iconic Shakespeare status for much more complex and intriguing reasons.
An analysis of Anne Boleyn’s portrayal in Hilary Mantel’s acclaimed novel, ‘Wolf Hall’!
Anne Boleyn is a central character in the book ‘Wolf Hall,’ by Hilary Mantel. Thomas Cromwell’s rise to power centred on the annulment of Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, as Cromwell was proactive in speeding up the divorce, and ensuring the ‘Dissolution of the Monasteries’ throughout 1536. This gained him great favour with the King. Ultimately, without Anne Boleyn, Cromwell would not have risen to power and as the novel is largely told from his point of view, a different take on Anne Boleyn is created, which is a wholly negative one. Throughout the book she is presented largely as a villainess, and as a schemer intent on tearing the kingdom away from Christendom and becoming queen, much to the despair of those at court. It’s definitely one for the Catherine of Aragon fans.
In a conversation with George Cavendish, a biographer of Thomas Wolsey, Cromwell discusses Anne’s betrothal and previous relationship with Harry Percy. Cavendish proceeds to tell Cromwell that she did not actually love him. Cromwell asks whether she respected him, and Cavendish flatly tells Cromwell that “she didn’t. She liked his title.” These short, dramatic sentences suggest that Anne was only interested in Harry Percy for his status, as she wanted to elevate herself in the world. It presents her as a liar and villainess, as she pretends to love somebody to gain power and status. This also casts her as a bit of a femme fatale. The fact that other people react negatively to her also proves she is villainous, as there are not many people in the novel who show affection to Anne, such as her own sister, Mary.
Later on in the novel, Mary makes similar comments about her sister, warning Cromwell that Anne probably “has some ideas about what to make you.” This cryptic comment portrays Anne as villainous, as beforehand Mary tells Cromwell that Harry Percy has been turned into a “madman” by Anne. Although this is a negative portrayal of Anne, the comment about Cromwell does not insinuate any positive or negative feeling towards him, but as the comment about Harry Percy is made earlier, this quote is made to make Anne villainous, as again, she is using others for her own advantage. Anne’s villainy is emphasised as it is her own sister that informs Cromwell of her belief. As she is related to Anne it is surprising that Mary thinks so badly of her sister and this rejection reinforces Anne’s villainy in the novel.
It is clear that there is rivalry within the novel between Anne and Cromwell, probably because the book is written from Cromwell’s point of view. Mantel notes that nowadays, Anne Boleyn is an “ambiguous character,” as little is known about her. This serves as the reason as to why Anne is portrayed how she is, as she is viewed through the eyes of her adversary, Cromwell. From this we can learn that Anne is presented as a villainess due to Cromwell’s biased view, and therefore may be a victim to Cromwell’s own agenda and ulterior motives. As Mantel aimed to tell the story from Cromwell’s viewpoint, it would be in her interests to make him appear as a hero and as a likeable character, therefore making Anne Boleyn appear as a villainous character, although in history, it is usually Cromwell who is depicted this way. Hilary Mantel comments that she feels Cromwell sees Anne as a worthy opponent, believing that one must be destroyed before the other.
In a conversation with Thomas Wyatt, Cromwell describes Anne to be a “calculating being.” This gives the impression that Cromwell believes Anne uses others for her own purposes, and the use of the word ‘being’ insinuates that he does not view Anne as a human with emotion, but as an entity intent on destroying and using others. Anne really is taking hit after hit here… and it gets worse.
Cromwell believes Anne to have “hungry black eyes.” This imagery presents Anne as animalistic, implying that she will feast on anything or anyone. As food is needed for one’s energy, Anne can be compared to a bear who uses people, food, for her own elevation, energy. This imagery presents Anne largely as a parasite, one who is willing to ruthlessly use others for her own gain. This gives the impression that Anne’s desires are evil and dangerous, as she is willing to use others for her own ends, and metaphorically, devour them.
According to contemporary accounts, Anne Boleyn did have black eyes in reality. Paintings that date back to the 1500’s of Anne also support this description, like the above image headlining this article. We can see from the painting Anne is accurately described in Wolf Hall, as in reality she had dark eyes and hair. It is clear from this image that all fictional portrays of Anne have been largely based on this painting and others like it, and one could possibly infer that Anne’s portrayal in Wolf Hall could be as accurate in personality as she is in the painting.
Cromwell later proceeds to tell Wyatt that he believes Anne likes to “torment” others for her own sport. This presents Anne purely as villainous, as it is suggested she enjoys being cruel to others for her own amusement and pleasure. This seems odd to the reader, and makes Anne seem like a sadistic human being who enjoys other peoples’ pain, presenting her largely as a villain.
Later in the book Mary talks to Rochford about her sister, saying that for “Seven years she schemed to be queen.” The fact that Anne has planned this for seven years shows she is desperate for power and provides a reason as to why she is seen as calculating, as she has one ultimate goal, making her seem villainous.
However, Anne could be seen as a victim of Thomas Cromwell, as the book is written purely from his point of view. Anne could be seen in this way, because he feels threatened by her, knowing that her power is growing. It could be argued that he fears she will overthrow him, and hates her, presenting her as a villainous and horrible person, in order to persuade others to agree and rise against her.
It would seem that Anne is largely portrayed as a villain in Wolf Hall, and a figure who uses others for her own advantage. By constantly commenting on her scheming ways and using animalistic imagery, Mantel, through Cromwell, portrays Anne Boleyn as a villain to a large extent. It is worth noting that Mantel’s Anne is not infuenced by the times we now live in, but solely on the idea of Cromwell’s protagonism, prompting Mantel to think that Cromwell would have viewed Anne Boleyn as a significant threat.
Thanks for reading!
 Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall (London, 4th Estate Books, 2009) p. 78.
To match with the chilly weather that we are getting this January I thought I’d write about one of the iciest characters out there, Estella from Charles Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations.’ Her reputation precedes her, and I for one can’t understand Pip’s infatuation with her… or people’s hatred of her. Yes, she is coarse, and haughty and horrible to Pip but by the end of the novel, in my opinion, she becomes the most rounded character still around, whose journey has had actual meaning and impact. I got so bored of all the other characters that Estella was the only reason I could keep reading, and here’s why.
Estella’s initial behaviour towards Pip throws a narrative hook to the audience, as for quite some time we are asking ourselves why she is such an annoying little thing. Her behaviour is enthralling to Pip, and his motivation to become a gentleman stems from his, slightly annoying, obsession with her. Without her, there really is no story, as although she isn’t the physical money, she is the reason as to why Pip wants, and uses the money. It also presents, what the audience think will be, the greatest love story ever. It would probably send Shakespeare spinning in his grave, crying that his ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ had been nicked by Dickens. She’s also the cause of Pip becoming an unlikeable character, as a lot of the time, he considers what Estella would do, or what she would think, prompting his disapproval towards other characters like the boringly kind Joe. She may not influence every single character, but she influences the most important – Pip. That’s enough to cement her importance in the novel and Dickens canon, no matter how many people dislike her.
So, upon her introduction, Estella throws out certain signals to the reader and the characters. She propels the story forward as she gives Pip the motivation to become a gentleman, and wills the reader to stick with her, in the hope that she becomes a bit nicer, and in the hope that her and Pip run off into the sunset together. I am making the assumption now that everyone wants Pip and Estella to get together, and I think from the offset people just assume that it is going to happen… what makes her such a great character, and in my opinion the best in the novel, is that of course, this doesn’t happen. But more on that later.
Estella’s character development builds throughout the novel but isn’t stretched out enough to deter us from being interested. It becomes clear that, as Pip is the plaything of Estella, Estella is the plaything of Miss Havisham. Personally, I wouldn’t like the idea of living with a jilted psycho lady who should be in one of those McDonald’s ‘like getting your money’s worth?’ adverts… as she’s always in her wedding dress. In her later life she plucks up the courage to tell Havisham that she is the cause of her coldness, and the reason she cannot love. Estella has been conditioned this way, and has been forced to dispel one of humanities’ greatest instincts – to love and to be loved. She’s really a tragic heroine. We see that here:
“You stock and stone!” exclaimed Miss Havisham. “You cold, cold heart!”
“What?” said Estella, preserving her attitude of indifference as she leaned against the great chimney-piece and only moving her eyes; “do you reproach me for being cold? You?”
“Are you not?” was the fierce retort.
“You should know,” said Estella. “I am what you have made me. Take all the praise, take all the blame; take all the success, take all the failure; in short, take me.”
Some critics think that we never truly get to know Estella, but she never really knows herself. A whole part of her, her ability to love, and be loved, is shut down by Havisham very early on in her life, and in Victorian society, there isn’t much else for a woman to do. Nobody can control someone else’s ability to love, we choose who we love and we ourselves are aware of it. Estella has this taken away from her, probably before she could even walk. For a character who has a whole part of her identity taken away from her before she understands it, I argue that we get to know Estella pretty well, and that she oozes with tragic complexity. Havisham has literally stolen Estella’s ability to love, and Estella is rightly mad about it. It’s here that we understand her, as she isn’t cruel to Pip as she is cruel herself but is cruel to him because she knows no different. She doesn’t have the capacity to be kind, and we can see that it greatly upsets her.
Estella also provides a real ‘EastEnders’ ‘duff duff’ moment, with the revelation that she is the daughter of Magwitch. The character provides a great dramatic revelation, one that drums home the main theme of the novel, subverted expectations. The haughtiest character in the novel is brought down to Earth by her paternity, which levels all the characters. No one is fully pure, no one’s status is fully preserved, there is social mobility and every character represents this in some respect. Estella’s ‘fall from grace’ is particularly notable, as she goes from one extreme to the other. She goes from being the most uppity little missy out there, to being the daughter of the lowest of the low. Dickens knows how to pack a punch.
Her abusive marriage to Bentley Drummle brings her to the end of her character arc, and this abuse, unfortunately, is what she needs. She has been moulded by Miss Havisham, and her suffering at Drummle’s hands breaks this mould. She now can start afresh, as she has had an emotional, traumatic experience that she can reflect on, and learn from. This experience makes her more vulnerable, and probably more empathetic. It is unclear what this abuse specifically is, but it obviously adds a dimension to what she has already suffered at Havisham’s hands, meaning this has shaken her up that bit more. Be it physical or verbal, it serves as proof that someone so brainwashed needs a significant experience to be roused from such a state, and clearly marriage to Mr Drummle is enough to compel Estella to change. In comparison, majority of the other characters just fade away, or conveniently die.
It’s so right that Pip and Estella don’t end up together, as if they did, her character development would have been hurried along in a fairly unnatural fashion. Estella isn’t ready to love after her marriage to Drummle, and it makes sense that Dickens left the ending ambiguous. We don’t know whether they get together, and it would be nice for them to in the future, but it wouldn’t make sense for Estella to be with Pip at the end of the novel. She is still discovering herself and how to love, and Dickens made the right in decision not to rush this huge development in the last few pages.
In comparison, Pip pretty much lands back at square one, having squandered all of his money. Sure, he learns things, but there’s not a lot of implication that he will grow, learn and develop. Estella will, and its right that this happens off the page, as she is now free from the grasp of Miss Havisham, and the grasp of Dickens’ pen.
 Charles Dickens, Great Expectations, (London, Penguin Clothbound Classics, 2008), Chapter 38.
Searching for the Gothic in Dickens’ Christmas classic!
‘A Christmas Carol’ is a classic Christmas story, as it encompasses all that should be at the heart of Christmas. Love, joy, family… and a prize turkey that can feed the five thousand. It also gives us the lesson that people can change and that sometimes they should, in a quick hit of one hundred and seventeen pages… depending on your edition.
This happiness however doesn’t come about on its own, and is only really facilitated by Scrooge’s conversion, which in turn is only facilitated by the appearance of the three Ghosts… four if you count Marley.
If we want to find the Gothic in the novel, we should start with Dickens’ finest creation. Scrooge! He kind of fits into the archetypal Gothic patriarch mould, a figure that is tyrannical, uncompromising and relentless. We get this from Manfred, in ‘The Castle of Otranto,’ and the Marquis in ‘A Sicilian Romance.’ He squeezes all the money he can out of everyone he can, he seeks to control Bob Cratchit, refusing to let him put more coal on the fire, and is unforgiving towards the plight of all the poor and needy, thinking they should pop their clogs to ‘decrease the surplus population.’ What a nice man.
Trying not to be rude to the man but let’s be real here – he is bloody scary looking:
“The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice.”
There is an obvious harshness to his appearance, with the ‘pointed’ nose, and his ‘grating’ voice. ‘Grating’ brings up ideas of ‘scratching’ and ‘grinding,’ and you don’t really want to hear those kinds of tones at Christmas. He really he sounds like a dead man walking, especially as his lips are turning ‘blue.’ Fun fact, having blue lips is called cyanosis, which is induced by extremely cold temperatures or a lack of oxygen in the blood. A lack of oxygen would definitely result in death. His appearance perhaps doesn’t resemble the classic Gothic patriarchs I listed above, but his appearance is terrifying, and considering the Gothic is supposed to be antithetical to the civilised, Enlightened world, we can definitely place the haggard character in that category.
The Ghosts fit in well with this too, especially Marley’s and the Ghost of Christmas Future. It is the ‘otherness’ of the Ghosts that make them Gothic, as well as their ability to transcend the physical world and laws of nature.
With Marley especially there is the conflict between the living and the dead, and the physical and the ethereal. Dickens immediately messes with our minds, saying the ‘Marley was dead: to begin with.’ As a reader we are all screaming that once you’re dead, you’re dead – that’s the end, not the beginning. This brings out the supernatural element, establishing it early within the narrative. Marley’s ability to shapeshift is Gothic too, although perhaps not in the classic sense. Traditionally, the shapeshifting of Gothic characters links into their ability to change their character, like Catherine Earnshaw to Catherine Linton in ‘Wuthering Heights.’ Marley physically changes into the doorknocker, which is a fairly potent and distressing image, which showcases his physical shapeshifting abilities.
Marley’s ghost can also link closer to ideas about bodily monstrosity and body horror, as he is quite literally, falling apart. Every director makes a meal of Marley’s runaway jaw. It is a great moment. The presence of his chains is also confusing, as he is not a physical being, yet he is held down by physical chains. It is a Gothic image of confinement and restraint, as his body and mind are confined, he cannot be fully free. The irony of course is that he is constrained by his own heinous crimes. It is a classic trope in the Gothic genre to be refined and constrained, stopping full expression of the soul… again, I reference Catherine Earnshaw and Catherine Linton.
The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is also a very Gothic image, as there is the element of the unknown and the element of mystery. We literally cannot see who, or what, is there. It is therefore something we cannot understand, which again, ties nicely in with the Gothic genre. It is not a heteronormative being, it’s form cannot be understood by Scrooge, making it appear as a classic example of the ‘other.’ Its main function is to tell Scrooge that he is going to die, and to show him his fate. There is an obvious darkness to this, and the idea that in that moment, Scrooge is doomed. This too is a Gothic element, the foreshadowing idea of death, and the idea that meeting our maker cannot be avoided and is inevitable. Scrooge can put it off by turning into Father Christmas, but he can never truly avoid it.
Away from the physical appearances of the characters, we could even say that the novel is Gothic as it looks at the darker side of humanity. Scrooge is everything that he wouldn’t want someone to be, cruel, pessimistic, tyrannical… I could go on. The Gothic genre frequently looks at humanity and explores their darkest desires, such as Ambrosio’s lust in ‘The Monk.’ Scrooge’s desire perhaps isn’t that seedy, as he purely desires money. However, like Ambrosio, this desire pushes him to do bad things, and alienate all of those around him. Dickens pays attention to Scrooge’s desires that disrupt those around him for the worse, a trope that the Gothic genre frequently employs.
Scrooge really provides an anatomy of the human psyche, as we witness his conversion from miser to merry man. Here he appears to depart from the classic Gothic villains, who don’t get the chance to convert or change… as most of them all die. Again, Scrooge exhibits the Gothic trope of shapeshifting, much like Marley before him, as his character jumps from one end of the spectrum to the other. Proof that with a little help from some Gothic ghouls, everyone can embody the true spirit of Christmas.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Thanks for reading!
 Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (London, Penguin Classics Read Red, 2007) p. 10.
3 iconic figures. 3 historians. A guide to the ending of one of the most dramatic marriages in British history – who was responsible?…
The controversial union of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn in January 1536 led to the break with Rome, and the formation of the Church of England. Their marriage ended with Anne’s execution in May 1536. Historians have disagreed over who was responsible for her demise, and have noted that Anne herself, Henry and Thomas Cromwell were the most important figures in the events that occurred in 1536. When defining the word ‘responsible’ one most consider the people that it is being applied to. If Anne were responsible for her own fall, as Bernard argues, one must take from this that she was guilty of adultery, and therefore deserved to be executed. For Cromwell and Henry, the term ‘responsible’ explains their role in her downfall and subsequent death. David Starkey argues that Henry initiated her demise, making him responsible. As it was Cromwell who crafted the trial of Anne, ensuring that she would not survive the ordeal, he is the most responsible figure for her downfall, as argued by Tracy Borman, making her theories the most convincing.
Borman credibly argues that Thomas Cromwell, who she defines as Anne’s “greatest adversary,” was the most responsible for her sudden demise. Both Anne and Cromwell were reformers, and the religious changes that Cromwell made to England enhanced his power, as First Minister, as well as Anne’s presence within the Church of England, as both could easily influence Henry. To understand Borman’s argument, one must look at the reasons as to why Cromwell may have wanted rid of Anne. Borman’s strong argument rests on the idea that Anne and Cromwell were caught in a bitter power struggle, peaking in early 1536. This idea can be given credence when examining the controversial sermon delivered by John Skip, Anne’s almoner on the 2nd April 1536. Skip spoke of the “evil counsellor” Haman, the greedy enemy of Queen Esther in the New Testament, who persecuted Jews, and placed their riches into the royal treasury. Through her almoner, Anne attempted to expose Cromwell’s avarice to the entire congregation, and paint herself as the heroic Queen Esther, who would save the clergy. The insinuation that Cromwell was the greedy counsellor provides evidence of the conflict between Anne and Cromwell, which had been escalating for several months, therefore making Borman’s ideas highly valuable. Both had previously argued over what the money extorted from the clergy should be used for, with Anne arguing that it should be put to “better use,” meaning education. According to Eustace Chapuys, the Spanish ambassador, Anne even threatened Cromwell saying that she would “like to see his head off his shoulders.” This thought would have only crossed Anne’s mind if Cromwell and herself were caught in conflict with one another. By evidencing that there was a power struggle between the two figures, it is conceivable to think that Cromwell was indeed an enemy of Anne. This provides significant reasons as to why Cromwell was the most responsible for Anne’s downfall, therefore making the opinions of Borman highly valid and credible.
Borman has already established reasons explaining why Cromwell may have plotted Anne’s downfall, and to further support these assertions examines his involvement in the events that followed, cementing her valid theory that Cromwell was the most responsible for Anne’s fall, as he crafted and shaped the events that led to her death, beginning with an altercation he had with Henry. Cromwell proposed an alliance with the pope to Henry, but he refused. This displayed Henry’s loyalty to Anne, who had previously threatened to have him killed. Borman notes that Chapuys believed that Cromwell began plotting the fall of Anne because of his humiliation at the hands of Henry. Cromwell retreated to his house in Stepney, searching for “incontrovertible proof that Anne was a traitor.” This makes Cromwell appear to be the most responsible for Anne’s fall, as he is undertaking the task of planning it, cementing the valuable opinion of Borman. Cromwell writes to Chapuys, stating that he “set himself to devise and conspire the affair” of Anne’s downfall, which, in the light of their political conflict, which is well justified, would benefit Cromwell greatly. This builds on Borman’s convincing assertion that Cromwell was solely responsible for Anne’s fall, due to the conflict between the two. Borman argues that this evidence makes Cromwell the most responsible for Anne’s fall, as he confessed that he planned it. This makes him directly responsible for the events of 1536, as Anne’s imprisonment, trial and execution were of his own design, therefore making Borman’s views highly valuable.
When finding evidence for Cromwell’s involvement in organising Anne’s fall, Borman cites the evidence provided by Mark Smeaton, after his arrest on the 30th April 1536. It is believed that Smeaton, according to contemporary George Constantine, was racked in order to ensure a confession of guilt. Borman uses this to support her credible argument, that Cromwell was the most responsible for Anne’s fall, as he only needed one guilty confession to condemn her, and as the punishment for adultery was death, kill her. The arrest of Will Brereton, on the 4th May 1536, is used by Borman to further support her argument that Cromwell was the most responsible for the fall of Anne. Brereton managed churches in Cheshire and had previously blocked Cromwell’s reforms. Oddly he was not in Anne’s circle, making him an unlikely person to have committed adultery with her. Removing Brereton would further Cromwell’s cause, in getting rid of his rival at court and pushing his religious reforms in the north. Borman uses this evidence to justly support the idea that Cromwell was the sole architect of Anne’s fall, and that he was in complete control, making him the most responsible for it. His control is explained through the forced confession of Smeaton, and his condemning of Will Brereton, who would allow him to tighten his religious grip on the north, if he were got rid of.
Cromwell’s involvement in Anne’s fall, and his wish to destroy her, is also conveyed by his choice of jurors, which sealed Anne’s fate. By placing her enemies, such as Suffolk and Norfolk on the jury, Cromwell ensured that Anne would not escape the trial alive, which suited his political needs. The evidence above, validly argued by Borman asserts the notion that Cromwell was in a power struggle with Anne, and then planned her downfall, making him solely responsible for it. Therefore, Borman’s views can be seen as highly valuable when assessing who was the most responsible for Anne’s fall, as by claiming Cromwell’s guilt, and evidencing Skip’s sermon, one can clearly see why Cromwell would want to be rid of Anne, as they were caught in a power struggle. The letters of Chapuys, and the arrests of Smeaton and Brereton also support the idea that Cromwell was the most responsible for the fall of Anne, as he himself planned her arrest and trial, which he knew would lead to her execution, therefore making the views of Borman highly convincing.
David Starkey disagrees with the views of Borman, arguing that Henry was the most responsible figure for Anne’s fall, as he was responsible for the decisions that led to her investigation and arrest. Starkey writes Henry was the most responsible for Anne’s downfall as it was he who instructed Cromwell to investigate “certain causes of treason” against Anne, and with this signal, Cromwell put together a case that would certainly see Anne fall. Starkey argues that without Henry’s agreement, Cromwell would not have acted, therefore making Henry the most responsible for the fall of Anne, as it was he who gave Cromwell the authority to investigate her. Anne was investigated in the “profoundest secrecy,” and as Cromwell would not have acted without the permission of Henry, Starkey argues that this makes him the most responsible for the fall of his wife. Although this signing of the “commission” can be recognised as Henry making his formal decision to move against Anne, Starkey argues that his decision was made the day before, and can be seen in his behaviour to her brother George. Although Starkey mentions that Henry “vacillated,” he revealed his hostilities towards his wife by announcing that “Sir Nicholas Carew, the Queen’s Chief antagonist, had been elected a Knight of the Garter, in preference to her brother, George, Lord Rochford” on the “23rd April 1536.” From this act it can be inferred that the Boleyn’s were quickly losing favour and status within the Tudor court. Starkey uses this to provide evidence of Henry’s guilt, as the decisions concerning the fate of Anne’s family and herself came from Henry. Starkey highlights the significance of this event, explaining that “to exclude Rochford was an acute public rebuff.” By citing this action Starkey argues that this shows Anne’s decreasing favour, and Henry’s decision to allow others, like Cromwell, to plot the demise of his wife. As Henry acts as the puppet master, and Cromwell as the puppet in this scenario, Starkey argues that Henry is the most responsible for the demise of Anne, as it was ultimately his decision to launch the investigation against her. In order to understand this further, one must examine Henry’s motives and why he may have wanted rid of his current queen.
An event on the 29th of January could explain Henry’s growing dislike for his wife, giving him cause to authorise her downfall. On the day of Catherine of Aragon’s burial, Anne miscarried of a male child. Chapuys notes that she “miscarried of her saviour,” as this baby would’ve been the son and heir that Henry had craved so desperately for. Historians believe this to be the catalyst of her downfall, and a source of tension between the couple, as Anne herself was blamed for her inability to provide a male heir. Retha M Warnicke notes the growing intensity of the situation upon Nicholas Sanders’ revelation that Anne gave birth to a “shapeless mass of flesh.” During this time, such a child insinuated gross sexual adultery on Anne’s part, which harmed Henry’s honour. Henry is frequently portrayed as a patriarchal, dominant figure as he was obsessed with masculinity. Having a wife with a greater sexual appetite than him, as the deformed baby suggested, did not reflect well on him. When discussing whether Henry was responsible for Anne’s fall, it can be argued that this incident would have motivated him to organise an investigation against her. This event put Henry’s reputation at stake, and also Anne’s. Therefore, due to the implications of such a child, one can understand why Henry would show growing dislike towards his wife and her family. This particular event explains why Henry might have been motivated to move against his wife as argued by Starkey.
Anne’s relationship with Henry, according to contemporaries like Chapuys, was a tumultuous one, as the pair were “changeable” and prone to “lovers quarrels,” further explaining why Henry may have wanted rid of his second queen. Anne’s “abrasive” attitude was becoming increasingly “intolerable to her husband,” and provides another reason as to why Henry may have wanted rid of her, upon the entrance of Jane Seymour. Seymour’s character was the opposite to that of Anne’s, and appeared to be much more obedient. When sending Seymour a purse of money and a letter in April 1536, she returned it unopened, stating that there “was no treasure in the world that she valued as much as her honour,” and that she would wait for some “advantageous marriage.” This chaste action drew Henry to Jane Seymour further, and in the light of Anne’s miscarriage, and her overall attitude, one could speculate that Henry wanted rid of Anne so that he could marry Seymour. Anne was well aware of this flirtation, and it would have caused more arguments between herself and her husband. Anne once again used her almoner, John Skip to tell the story of Solomon, who lost “true nobility towards the end of his life by sensual and carnal appetites.” This is read by historians, like Borman, as an attempt by Anne to steer Henry away from Seymour, action no doubt that would’ve caused further tension for the couple. With the increased strain placed on their marriage because of this, as well as Anne’s miscarriage four months previously, one can easily see why Henry would be motivated to plot the downfall of his wife. After a painful ulcer that Henry acquired in a jousting accident in early 1536, he became irascible and intolerant towards Anne’s behaviour, further supporting Starkey’s idea that he was the most responsible for her fall due to this reason.
As Henry was the King of England, one could argue that he was the most responsible for the downfall of his wife. Although it is well documented, by historians such as Starkey, that it was Henry’s decision to move against his wife, it was Cromwell who carried this action out and formed a case against her. He was responsible for the case built against Anne, and although Henry commissioned it, the blame must still lie with Cromwell, as it was he who crafted Anne’s demise ensuring that she would not make it out alive. This makes the view of Borman, that Cromwell was the most responsible for the fall of Anne, the most convincing, and it therefore discredits that of Starkey’s. Starkey notes that Henry favoured Cromwell’s plan, as “the great advantage of this method was that it killed Anne.” This insinuated that the events of Anne’s downfall were not defined by Henry, but by Cromwell, making him directly responsible for her death, as it was he who planned her trial in such a way, ensuring that she would die. This can be seen in Cromwell’s choosing of the jurors. This ensured the fall of Anne, with the permission of the King. This shows that Borman’s theories are more convincing than that of Starkey’s. Although Henry’s role is of great importance, as well as the events leading up to May 1536, it is still the role of Cromwell, and the views of Borman that must be noted as the most important, making him the most responsible figure when looking at the fall of Anne, in comparison to Henry.
GW Bernard argues that Anne herself was the most responsible figure for her fall, a view that it somewhat rare. It must be noted that in Anne’s case, ‘responsible’ would mean that she was guilty as charged. If she were guilty of adultery, and plotting the death of the King, then she would be responsible for her own fall, as she gave the law the opportunity to condemn her, through the fault of her own actions. When discussing whether she was the most responsible for her downfall, one must ask whether she was guilty of adultery, as if she were, the law had just cause for judging and sentencing her to death. GW Bernard argues that Anne was guilty of adultery, making her the most responsible figure for her fall. When examining this theory, one must debate whether Anne was guilty of adultery, whether Smeaton’s confession was genuine and examine the words of Anne Boleyn herself.
Bernard states that Anne was the most responsible for her fall as she was adulterous. Rumours of Anne’s alleged adultery came from her lady in waiting, Lady Worcester. In a conversation with another courtier, about her own promiscuous conduct, Worcester argued that the queen was at “much higher fault” and that she entertained men late at night within her chamber. GW Bernard cites this incident in his case against Anne, stating that as a lady in waiting, she “would have been aware of it, indeed might have been complicit” with any adulterous acts. Bernard therefore gives credibility to the source, leading him to believe that this is enough proof of Anne’s infidelities, making her the most responsible for her fall, as she was guilty of adultery. This would make her absolutely responsible for her downfall, as she was judged fairly by the standards of the time. This accusation would have fitted well with the contemporary perception of Anne. Borman notes that the Treason Act of 1534 said that slandering the royal marriage was treason, implying that belief that Anne was promiscuous was common.
Bernard also cites the confession of Mark Smeaton as sufficient evidence for Anne’s guilt and uses it to explain why Anne was the most responsible figure for her fall. Bernard notes that torture was rarely used in Henry’s England, and that Smeaton never withdrew his confession. Bernard therefore argues that we can only assume that this means Smeaton, and therefore Anne, were guilty of adultery. Bernard does not find enough evidence to exonerate Anne, stating that she probably was “guilty of at least some of the adulteries of which she was accused.” Again, if all historians were to agree with Bernard, they would be condemning Anne in declaring that she was guilty with what she was charged with. On the scaffold at his execution, Smeaton conveniently proclaimed that he “deserved the death.” When discussing why Anne may have been promiscuous, Bernard even goes so far to speculate that she did so in numerous attempts to become pregnant. If one were to use this evidence against Anne, one would question why Smeaton never withdrew his confession. Bernard argues that, as torture was rarely used in Henry’s England, Smeaton confessed his guilt without force, meaning that there must be some truth in it, as well as the allegations made against Anne.
Anne’s own conduct was key to the turn of events, especially her conversation with Henry Norris in April 1536, which made her highly responsible for her own downfall. This conversation was used against her in court, and made her appear guilty of adultery and treason. Anne declared to Norris that he looked “for dead men’s shoes, for if aught came to the king but good, you would look to have me.” Anne is telling Norris that if the King should die, he would look to marry her. Anne was now accused of imagining the death of the King. This accusation of treason also made Anne looked increasingly guilty of adultery, with Henry Norris. Although one cannot provide a definitive answer for Anne’s adultery, this conversation is well documented, and proves that Anne’s own conduct did not aid her case. The Treason Act of 1534 had declared that imagining the death of the King was treason, and although Anne wasn’t planning to murder Henry, her allusion to his passing, was enough for the jury to condemn her, making her the most responsible figure for her downfall as stated by Bernard.
When evaluating Bernard, and proving the credibility of Borman’s theories about Cromwell, one must assess whether Anne was guilty of adultery or not. If she were, this would make her responsible for her own downfall, as she would have been treated fairly by the standards of Tudor England. As it would be her own conduct that led to her downfall, she would be the most responsible figure for it. If one can use Borman’s theories to exonerate her, this maintains that Anne herself was not the most responsible for her fall, but that Cromwell was. Borman’s views on Smeaton have already been explored, as she argues that Cromwell tortured him. In doing this he would procure a confession, as one was all that he needed to ensure Anne’s death, as this was the punishment for adultery. He would ensure her death by accusing her of adultery with Smeaton, and by placing her enemies, Suffolk and Norfolk, on the jury. Borman proves Anne was innocent of adultery by citing the evidence. She points out that Smeaton could not “have had sex with Anne at Greenwich on the 13th of May,” as she was in “Richmond on that day.” This, and other incidences like it prove that Anne was not guilty of adultery, and that she was therefore not responsible for her own fall. Borman convincingly notes, “on at least two of the four dates cited for Anne’s adulterous relations with Brereton, she had not been in the location claimed.” This immediately discredits Bernard’s theories, and gives greater credence to Borman’s stronger theories that it was Cromwell who fabricated the trial that led to Anne Boleyn’s death. The lack of evidence supporting the adultery between Anne Boleyn and William Brereton strengthens Borman’s theory that Cromwell invented it, as Brereton was blocking Cromwell’s religious reforms in the north.
Chapuys also reported that, in her last confession, Anne swore on the “damnation of her soul, that she had never been unfaithful to the King.” In a deeply religious age, it is difficult for one to believe that Anne would have lied right before she was about to die, and allegedly meet God. This leads historians, like Borman to believe that Anne was innocent of the charges. In order to discredit Bernard, his use of speculation must be criticised. There is no substantial evidence to suggest that Anne was guilty of adultery, or that her desperation for an heir would have pushed her to commit adultery. Within his theory, Bernard speculates the two, despite the compelling and convincing evidence that has been put forward by Borman, which affirms Anne’s innocence. This makes Bernard’s claims that she may have been guilty, are puzzling because of this, and appear to be founded in only in speculation. This makes Anne Boleyn the least responsible figure for her fall, unlike Thomas Cromwell who crafted, and accelerated, her downfall and subsequent death. This therefore makes the views of Borman highly valuable.
In conclusion, Thomas Cromwell must be seen as the most responsible figure for the downfall of Anne Boleyn. Although it was Henry who allowed the investigation to occur, it was Cromwell who orchestrated and organised the entire investigation, ensuring that the jury, despite the inconsistent evidence, would find her guilty. Borman has convincingly cited Cromwell’s own words to Chapuys to support this idea, and has also picked up finer details like the abnormal arrest of William Brereton, and the dubious circumstances under which Mark Smeaton’s confession was procured. Borman validly explains that Cromwell undertook this challenge due to the ensuing political conflict between himself and Anne, and in accelerating her downfall; one can see that Cromwell was prioritising his own security. Such a skilful investigation can only be attributed to Thomas Cromwell, and because of this the fall of Anne Boleyn can be seen as his greatest “triumph.”
Thanks for reading!
 Borman, T. (2015) Thomas Cromwell: The untold story of Henry VIII’s most faithful servant, UK – 1st edn. Hodder and Stoughton (pg. 230)
Note: This article will probably make more sense if you have read the novel, and contains spoilers!
Some thoughts on Hardy’s use of colour in the aforementioned novel, based on my first reading of it!
Thomas Hardy is one of those writers who really paints a picture. He does so using exuberant imagery, and he pays particular attention to colour. ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ was my first brush with Hardy and my above points are what stuck out to me most in his work. His use of colour is so pronounced in ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ that the reader can pretty much predict the story of the heroine from her first introduction. The common colours associated with the character of Tess are red and white, which tell us a great deal. Here’s the piece of text we are going to work with:
“A young member of
the band turned her head at the exclamation. She was a fine and handsome girl –
not handsomer than some others, possibly – but her mobile peony mouth and large
innocent eyes added eloquence to colour and shape. She wore a red ribbon in her
hair, and was the only one of the white company who could boast such a
Tess is introduced in chapter two, as a “fine and handsome
amongst a crowd of other girls wearing white at the May Day dance. It should be
noted that her youthful nature and naïveté are highlighted by her “large
eyes, which act as red flags to the reader, as young, innocent girls are
frequently taken advantage of. This fear is heightened further, due to her
unique beauty, as beauty equals desirability. What Hardy is saying here, is
that we have a beautiful, innocent woman, who is likely to attract the
attention of several men, that this is dangerous. Those who have read the novel
will know that this is definitely true. Another aspect that makes Tess stand
out is a red ribbon running through her hair, deemed as a “pronounced
can’t she have a red sash around her waist instead of a ribbon in her hair?
Probably because hair is associated with sex and beauty. Here the use of colour
comes into play, as we have the contrast of red and white, which Hardy uses to
discuss the central theme in the novel, which we will get onto later.
Hardy’s frequent juxtaposition of the colours of red and
white strikingly allude to Freud’s ‘Madonna-Whore complex,’ the idea that a
woman has one core persona, either the chaste virgin, or the promiscuous whore.
As you probably guessed, white is associated with purity and virginity, and red
is associated with lust, sex and promiscuity, follow the footnote for more on
and this next one for my thoughts on Freud’s concept in Gothic literature! It
is worth remembering that Freud’s idea developed in the early 1900s, after
Hardy’s novel was published, so Hardy did not write ‘Tess’ with the complex in
mind, but it can still be applied retrospectively.
The immediate contrast of these colours that collide on
Tess’ physical person tell the reader that these two personas will dominate her
life, and how she is viewed by those around her.
Let’s break this down further. Imagine a wedding dress with
a splash of red paint on it. One would describe it as ‘tainted,’ or ‘stained.’
To me, by adding the splash of red in the form of the ribbon against the white
dress, Hardy is telling the reader that Tess’s virginal image, which we get
from the colour white, will be tainted by some sort of sexual scandal. I’m
getting all of this from the colours, backed up by my own knowledge of Freud’s
theory. What will be the result of such a sexual scandal? Hardy also pays
attention to the countryside in the novel, emphasising the presence of the
colour green. Green is associated with nature, fertility and childbirth… see
where this could go? This observation is further validated by Hardy’s specific
note that the May Day festivities are occurring, a time of year that celebrates
new birth and fertility. Green also throws in a hint of jealousy too, which
becomes relevant when Tess has to contend with the men in her life.
The use of these two colours, and these two personas, brings
us to the biggest question in the novel – what persona does Tess fall into? Madonna
or Whore? It’s up to the reader to decide, but the point of the novel, in my
opinion, is to argue that she is not just one set ideal, as Angel discovers, she
is not one set woman, but a multifaceted character… that being said Hardy
argues for her purity in the subtitle of the novel: ‘a pure woman faithfully
really Hardy is saying that she is the pure virginal figure… even though she is
not a virgin literally as she is raped by Alec… but is metaphorically as she
did not consent? See what I mean? This is the central contention in the novel,
and I do think this particular question is timeless. The themes within the
novel explain why Hardy had trouble publishing ‘Tess’ in the Victorian era as
censors frequently got in his way. It also demonstrates how Freud’s idea
doesn’t really fit in with the idea of a modern, 21st century woman,
explaining our different reaction to the novel. I’ve not yet encountered a
person, or source, that places the blame on Tess, but to a Victorian audience,
the above debate would have been more heated. Hardy previews Tess’s story, and
this central idea through his deft use of the colours of red and white during
her first introduction.
So, from her introductory paragraph, I ascertained that the
young, innocent Tess will be embroiled in some sort of sexual scandal, that
will call into question her purity and chastity. This is signalled by her
physical description, and particularly Hardy’s use of colour, which invokes
Freud’s infamous ‘Madonna-Whore complex.’ There is also the idea that a child
will be on the horizon, based on the presence of the colour green and the time
of year, which is frequently associated with fertility. Guess what? My
prediction was pretty much spot on. The colours also feature throughout the
novel in other forms, such as red in the form of blood, white in the form of
milk, and the two colours collide at the end of the novel again when Tess
murders Alec. The colours of red and white are always present for significant
plot developments within the novel, as the central question that they represent
drives the narrative forward.
I guess this post doubles as a close analysis exercise, as
all these observations stem from one paragraph, particularly a couple of
sentences within said paragraph.
Thanks for reading!
Hardy, Tess of the D’Urbervilles (London, Penguin Classics, 2003) p. 14.