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‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ in ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’: Why it’s problematic

TW: Sexual Assault

E.L James’s ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is no literary masterpiece, but what intrigued me the most about it was the numerous references to Thomas Hardy’s ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles.’ For me personally, it is this that makes the book problematic. Anastasia is writing an essay on ‘Tess’ at the novels start, and after interviewing Christian Grey, he sends her copies of first editions of ‘Tess.’ Enclosed is a card with the quote: ‘Why didn’t you tell me there was danger? Why didn’t you warn me? Ladies know what to guard against, because they read novels that tell them of these tricks.’[1] This quote is spoken to Tess by her mother, after she is raped by Alec D’Urberville. Tess chastises her mother as she was not warned by her mother about the dangers of men. Like Tess, Anastasia is an innocent virgin, and does not know much about men. She does have her friend, Katie however to help her, and by Tess’s logic, because Anastasia reads books, she should know enough about men, and the danger they could present to her. She demonstrates this when she rejects José’s advances, recognising them as advances. Anastasia should then know that she should stay away from Christian, and Christian is telling her this by sending her this card. This ultimately foreshadows Anastasia’s sadness at the end of the novel – when she realises that she should have stayed away from Christian.

When asking for more information about Christian, he notes that she ‘like Eve’ is ‘quick to eat from the tree of knowledge.’[2] Eve carries many associations, but there is this idea here that Anastasia’s relationship with Christian will induce his fall, like Eve’s eating of the fruit induced the fall of mankind. Ultimately it does, as he begins to become more romantic with her, as evidenced by his staying in the same bed as her – something he would not normally do. Eve is also associated with sexual deviancy, especially in Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost.’ In this text, after Eve eats from the tree, she is imbued with a sexual power that ensnares Adam. Anastasia learns more about her own sexuality through her relationship with Christian. Tess is also compared to Eve by Angel, as he idealises her and sees her as the perfect form of womankind. It is difficult then to pin down what this particular association for Anastasia means, as like Angel, Christian is attracted to Anastasia, but like Eve, she also induces his fall.

In a later exchange, Christian tells Anastasia that he ‘could hold you to some impossibly high ideal like Angel Clare or debase you completely like Alec D’Urberville.’ Anastasia replies that she will ‘take the debasement.’[3] This is slightly uncomfortable, as Alec raped Tess. I am not saying that Anastasia is asking to be raped… but her asking to be debased does not let her run in parallel with Tess – she asked for no such thing. Surely this would ring alarm bells for Anastasia, as a literature graduate. Her comparing of herself to Tess also foreshadows the physical pain that Christian will cause her, especially at the end of the novel when he beats her with a belt. It is a difficult moment to pin down, and I have to wonder why James chose to compare Tess to her heroine. Considering Hardy’s novel aimed to tackle Victorian sexual double standards, it seems a little insulting to reduce it to this context. In this specific moment, Anastasia is asking for Christian. Tess did not ask for Alec. This is the difference. Tess’s situation is no laughing matter, as in the eyes of society, her ‘debasement’ means that she is no longer deemed pure, and therefore valuable, by society. To me, it feels like Anastasia and Christian are mocking Tess, probably one of the most important female characters in literature. Anastasia is a woman, James is a woman… so what the hell are they doing? Anastasia later says that she does not believe that Christian would hurt her, ‘well, not without my consent.’[4]Alec hurt Tess without her consent… what is to stop Christian? The two men display similar, controlling and obsessive tendencies.

Grey explains that he was in a submissive/dominant relationship with one of his mother’s friends, beginning when he was fifteen… so, in this instance, who is Tess? Is Grey Tess, as he has been abused? What would this make Anastasia? Angel? She rejects him after finding out about his true nature, what he truly is, what he truly wants. She idealises him throughout the novel, she is taken with his looks and aura. But would this then do Anastasia a disservice, as we would then look at her negatively for rejecting Christian, as we look negatively on Angel for rejecting Tess. We are not supposed to chastise Anastasia for her decision at the end of the novel… we are supposed to support her. All problematic.

Even worse, Anastasia writes that she succumbs to Grey, as Tess succumbed. Tess did not succumb, she was raped. Why is James making these parallels? There are no parallels, the situations are not the same. The allusion is uncomfortable, and seems that something has been lost in communication. Does James and Anastasia think believe that Tess was seduced, and not raped? I find this implausible, as the whole point of the novel is that Tess’s sin is not her fault. At the end of ‘Tess’ she does succumb to Alec’s advances, for financial support of her family. However she tells Angel, that in this action, she feels that she is dead. Her succumbing to Alec makes her feel like the living dead, so what does this foreshadow for Anastasia? Well, Christian wants her to give up all her sense of self, and fully submit to him. Anastasia succumbs to Christian and has sex with him, Tess only does this at the end for financial aid… originally, Tess did not succumb, that is the point of Hardy’s novel. Trying to draw a parallel between the two appears way too complex to deal with in one throwaway line. The result is heavily problematic.

Anastasia later sends Christian a note, saying ‘I agree to the conditions, Angel; because you know best what my punishment ought to be: only-only-don’t make it more than I can bear!’[5] This comes when Angel and Tess part ways, following his rejection of her, because she was raped. For Anastasia, this may foreshadow the incident with the belt, as it is this punishment that she cannot bear. It just feels distasteful, Tess is being punished for something that was not her fault… Anastasia is entering into this relationship with Christian. Tess did no such thing.

Later, Anastasia writes to Christian, that after he punished her on one occasion, that she felt debased. He returns ‘so you felt demeaned, debased, abused, and assaulted – how very Tess Durbeyfield of you.’ It is just in poor taste. Yes, Tess felt debased and demeaned, but James’s use of the subject matter just seems to be making a mockery of Tess’s plight. Perhaps Anastasia does not understand? Maybe she is trying to flirt… she is an English major though, and a Thomas Hardy fan… it is too problematic.

Grey’s links with Tess become more alarming when he flatly tells Anastasia that he is aroused by the fact that she refused his sexual advances at his parent’s dinner table. He is aroused by the word ‘no.’ Throughout the novel he does repeatedly emphasise the importance of her consent, so I am not suggesting that this means that he will rape Anastasia. However, due to the Tess references, it is somewhat concerning… if we are to believe that Anastasia is Tess.

One confusing reference, is the reference to the strawberry scene. Thinking about Christian’s ‘largesse,’ Anastasia recounts her Grey trophies, describing them as a Mac, Blackberry, jacket and the Tess editions.[6] This reminds her of when Alec force-feeds Tess strawberries. In ‘Tess’ this action foreshadows Alec’s desire to possess Tess, and her sexual assault by him. I am not sure what it means in ‘Fifty Shades,’ perhaps that Grey is forcing all of these things upon her? She does rebuff him, and try to reject them, but then agrees to keep them to make him happy. These are physical objects she can give back though, Tess cannot give the strawberry back. Perhaps this is supposed to show how the two relationships are different, Tess has no choice – she cannot remedy her physical impurity. She cannot give that back. Anastasia does have a choice, sign the NDA and be with Christian, or not. On another note, Alec does shower gifts on Tess in the form of financial aid for her family. This money Tess could return, but feels she cannot, as her family are destitute. Tess throughout the novel feel she has no choice.

Maybe this what it all boils down too, the idea of choice. It seems that Anastasia and James feel that Tess had some sort of choice, a choice that mirrors the choice Anastasia will make concerning Christian. She chose to succumb, chose to be debased… Anastasia did, but Tess did not. James’ implication that Tess did is unsettling, and frankly distasteful. In romanticising Tess and Alec’s relationship through Anastasia and Christian, James is romanticising violence and sexual abuse. Why did she not choose another book? I must admit I would find it difficult to find one, as not many Victorian novels talk about sex so vividly… ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’? Both Anastasia and Constance do discover sexual pleasure. Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester? Perhaps not that sexual, but the darkness of Rochester is present in Christian. While Christian describes himself as ‘fifty shades of f***** up,’ I’d argue that the book itself is, due to its problematic, forced relation to ‘Tess.’

Thanks for reading!


[1] E.L James, Fifty Shades of Grey (Vintage Books: 2011), p. 54.

[2] Ibid., p. 74.

[3] Ibid., p. 95.

[4] Ibid., p. 99.

[5] Ibid., p. 249.

[6] Ibid., p. 444.

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The ‘Femme Fatale’ on Screen

The French phrase ‘Femme Fatale’ translates to ‘fatal woman,’ and describes an archetype that originates from the classic film noir of the 1940s and 50s. This stock character usually brings about the destruction of the protagonist, usually male, and manages to reject traditional ideals of femininity while she does. There have been many iterations of the femme fatale on screen, but there are several traits that they commonly share. Critics generally concur that the presence of the femme fatale reflects male anxieties about women, be that about their domestic role, or their sexuality.

Early versions of the femme fatale can be seen in figures such as Eve or Salomé. Both show the audience what would happen if women were to gain some sort of independence, with Eve eating from the Tree of Knowledge and bringing sin into the world. In Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost,’ after eating from the Tree Eve acquires a dangerous sexuality which seduces and leads Adam astray. Post war films of the 40s and 50s reflected changes in women’s roles, as during the war, they had left the domestic space of the home and entered into work. They earned their own money, and discovered some of the freedom that men had always possessed. This idea of freedom is applied to all aspects of the female in the femme fatale character, and is well reflected in the 1946 film ‘Gilda.’

Rita Hayworth depicts the titular character, and it is her free sexuality that raised the eyebrows of the audience. In the film, Gilda decides to make her ex Johnny jealous by spending her time with other men. Johnny hates Gilda because of this, and does not realise that she is actually married to another man at the time. At the end of the film, she sings ‘Put the Blame on Mame.’ The song talks about a sensual woman who is blamed for all of the world’s problems. Her attire and alluring dance moves force everyone to view her as promiscuous, an idea that Johnny has forced upon her. At the end of the film, when it is revealed that Gilda is married and is not promiscuous at all, Johnny ceases hating her and reconciles with her. The realisation that she does not have a dangerous, free sexuality ultimately resolves the story.

The femme fatale can also appear as the ‘wealthy woman,’ who is obsessed with wealth and material gain. This reflected the money and independence that women earned during the war. Such a woman is depicted in the 1944 film ‘Double Indemnity,’ which starred Barbara Stanwyck as Phyllis Dietrichson. Dietrichson murders her husband for his life insurance, and also murdered his previous wife to marry him in the first place. It is her desire for wealth that drives the plot, and makes her dangerous.

Linking to the idea of wealth is the ‘working woman’ who is deemed dangerous because she can provide for herself. In 1945 film ‘Mildred Pierce,’ Joan Crawford’s Mildred is tormented by her spoilt daughter Ida. Ida would not have been so indulgent if her mother did not earn money to treat her with. It is therefore implied that all of Mildred’s problems stem from her desire to provide for her family. Nicole Kidman’s portrayal of Suzanne Stone in ‘To Die For,’ 1995, is more explicitly dangerous, as, when her husband requests that she give up her career to start a family, she kills him. Stone’s apparent rejection of motherhood make her a dangerous and divisive female, as she rejects the societal role that women were typically associated with, and encouraged to fulfil.

The ‘ageing woman’ is an interesting one, as she is seen as a threat to society purely because she refuses to fade away and let new talent enter the limelight. This is an obvious reference to Hollywood’s obsession with youth. An example of this is Norma Desmond in ‘Sunset Boulevard’ a film from 1950 that stars Gloria Swanson.

Traditionally, femme fatales were reprimanded for their behaviour, an idea that was mentioned in the Hays Code. This was a colloquial term for the Motion Picture Production Code, which acted as guidelines for filmmakers. It was noted that villainous characters should always receive their comeuppance. Due to this, the femme fatale rarely has a happy ending, and is punished for her actions. She may go to jail, or she may die. However, when journeying out of film noir, even this trope appears to change.

A notable example of a femme fatale, that ties many of these ideas together, is Catherine Tramell from 1992’s ‘Basic Instinct,’ played by Sharon Stone. She is fully aware of her sexuality, and uses it to manipulate those around her. Most notably, Michael Douglas’s Nick. She does not kill him, although it is implied that she will at the end of the film, but destroys him from the inside. She awakens in him a darkness that makes him pliable to her. Although she inspires feelings of lust in others, she herself is cold and psychopathic. Tramell survives ‘Basic Instinct’ and returns for its sequel, meaning that, she does not appear to get any comeuppance as her predecessors do. This means that male anxieties about women, in relation to Catherine Tramell, are not dispelled. They survive. If Tramell had been reprimanded, peace would have been restored.

Megara in Disney’s 1997 film ‘Hercules’ is not reprimanded for her deception of Hercules, and is instead rewarded at the end of the film. She is quite obviously a femme fatale, as she is alluring, and draws Hercules to his doom, by drawing him closer to Hades. She does suffer, and nearly die, but ultimately, she is rewarded and given a romantic relationship with the title character. Critics have noted that Megara is a multi-faceted Disney heroine, and perhaps it is this quality that means that she is able to avoid the fates of her femme fatale predecessors.

More recent depictions seem to invert the traditional femme fatale qualities. Natalie Dormer’s popular portrayal of Anne Boleyn in Showtime series ‘The Tudors’ charts Anne’s rise from seducer, to queen. The first season focuses on her femme fatale features, and continually emphasises her sexual beauty, which is what draws Henry to her. In the second season, she is criticised for this, earning her the titles of ‘the Concubine’ and ‘the whore,’ both of which are historically accurate. She also rivals the king, and audience, with her intelligence, in relation to gender roles and religion. It is this, along with her inability to give Henry a male heir, that ultimately leads to her downfall. It seems that in the show, and in real life, Anne reflected male anxieties about the role of women and femininity.

Blake Lively’s character Emily Nelson in the 2018 film ‘A Simple Favour’ does not lead a man astray, but a woman, in Anna Kendrick’s innocent character Stephanie Smothers. Interestingly, Nelson is a mother, unlike previous femme fatales, but like them is judged for being career driven.

Lena Headey’s Cersei Lannister also bucks the trend, as all of her femme fatale-esque actions are driven by her desire to protect her children. Ironically, her love for her children is supposed to be her ‘one redeeming quality,’ and yet it encourages her to kill and manipulate others, including Tyrion and Margaery.

The superhero genre boasts several femme fatales, the most notable probably being Catwoman. Although many actresses have played her over the years, most recently Anne Hathaway, all depictions exhibit femme fatale traits. Hathaway exhibits many, and like her predecessors is mysterious and alluring. Her tight-fitted cat suited highlights her sex appeal, an aspect of her character that is recognised by Bruce Wayne. She also leads Wayne into trouble, by handing him over to Bane. However, she redeems herself, and at the end of the film helps Wayne save Gotham, and in doing so is rewarded with a romantic ending with Wayne.

Krysten Ritter’s Jessica Jones and Rosamund Pike’s Amy Dunne from the 2014 film ‘Gone Girl’ are both femme fatales, but also subvert the trope. Both women are allowed to tell their own stories, and although both are not totally vindicated for their dubious actions, they are at least sympathised with. They are the heroes of their own stories, which gives them a slight feminist edge over some of their predecessors. 2020’s ‘Promising Young Woman’ provides the audience with a fully-fledged feminist femme fatale in protagonist Cassie, played by Carey Mulligan. She continually punishes, and reprimands men for taking advantage of her in a club, a situation she traps them in after faking inebriation. Although I have not seen the film, the promotional material depicts her ensnaring men, and although she does so for different reasons compared to classic femme fatales, it is this feature that aligns her with them.

The femme fatale is often the most memorable character in the story, due to her controversiality. It is certainly true that femme fatales are strong, independent female characters throughout their respective films. It is how others react to them, and see them, that make them fail. As they are chastised for their feminist qualities, notably their free sexuality and desire for independence, the characters themselves showcase anxieties about femininity. Retrospectively, femme fatales have at times been recognised as victims of male dominated societies. Many seek financial independence, and freedom from their oppressive husbands. It is this pursuit of freedom however that condemns them, earning them the label of ‘femme fatale.’

Thanks for reading!

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Historical Fiction: Can it make sense?

On the surface ‘historical fiction’ appears to be a contradictory term. ‘Historical’ clearly refers to events within the past, ‘fiction’ refers to ideas that are based upon the imagination. In theory these two ideas should not go together… so how do they? And what are the consequences?

Hilary Mantel, author of ‘Wolf Hall,’ notes that ‘when we die we enter into fiction.’[1] This explains her motivation to write her novels, and also suggests that she believes that the work of the author is to fill in the gaps between historical events. This allows the idea of history and fiction to co-exist, as one does not contradict the other, merely tries to understand and complement it. We do not know what Anne Boleyn said to her ladies the night before her execution – but we know they were all in the same room. Mantel is saying that her role as author, propels her to ask what might have been said, and why.

But, does this make works such as Mantel’s historically inaccurate? The conversations that she creates may not have happened. I suppose this does not make the novel accurate, or inaccurate, as we have no historical documentation to compare it too. If there is no documentation should these conversations be included? I suppose so, as this genre is not non-fiction, it is historical fiction. So, if this is the case, why was ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ criticised for its lack of historical accuracy? Perhaps it is to do with what is considered to be high and low brow literature. Critics noted that in Philippa Gregory’s novel, historical facts were blatantly distorted. However, on closer inspection, some ideas that Gregory posits are merely things that historians cannot agree on, that she chooses to interpret and use for dramatic effect. Historians cannot agree whether Henry VIII fathered one of Mary Boleyn’s children, and we will not be getting answers any time soon. Gregory just makes a choice, and uses it… is it wrong purely because nobody can prove the answer? Is it right? Perhaps it is because Gregory argued her point so forcefully that there was such a reaction? The novel is certainly more dramatic, and therefore entertaining, due to its inclusion of this plot point… so what’s the harm? It is fiction after all. Anne’s character also came under fire – she is depicted as vindictive and scheming. ‘Wolf Hall’ depicts her in the same way, albeit for different purposes. This is how Gregory and Mantel interpret Anne, and although we cannot know her now, we do know that perhaps she did possess these traits – but maybe not as explicitly. Natalie Dormer’s performance in ‘The Tudors’ seemed to cover all basis, her spitefulness and her vulnerability.

Anne’s incest with her brother was a large plot point in the novel, and amongst historians. Most agree, bar G.W Bernard, that Anne was innocent of all charges, but if we just base our assertions on the historical fact, the indictment and execution, one could say that as she was executed for these crimes, she was guilty. I personally do not believe this, but imagine if all those historians are barking up the wrong tree? We cannot possibly know – what if Gregory’s interpretation is correct? This may well be the point of historical fiction, to flesh out the nuances and different aspects of the historical material. Does this make works of historical fiction inaccurate? Because they explore ideas that are not widely accepted? Well, is Anne Boleyn’s conversation with x at x time about x in ‘Wolf Hall’ widely accepted by historians? If it is not, is it inaccurate, like TOBG? It is quite complicated.

While ‘The Crown’ was lauded by critics, many cited that that it had taken its artistic license a tad too far… even though that probably was the point. Culture secretary Oliver Dowden called for the show to have a ‘fiction’ warning, as the programme was seen to be damaging to the monarchy. This mainly revolved around the royal family’s treatment of Princess Diana. In contrast, Prince Harry praised the program’s ability to capture the constraints and stresses of being a royal. There was a concern that people would take the show as fact, and that, if they were to do so, their respect for the royal family would rapidly diminish. Personally, I do not believe that this is an issue to do with the show itself, but more an issue with the audience. The audience should know that what they are watching is a work of fiction… but is ‘The Crown’ a work of fiction? Perhaps not when drilling into the specific details, especially of Season Four, but the overall themes and dynamics appear to be relevant – especially the marriage of Charles and Diana. Why then were the first few seasons not called out for these so-called distortions? Perhaps it has more to do with the characters, namely Charles and Diana. Their tumultuous marriage, as portrayed in the fourth season, arguably had the ability to do more damage to the image of the monarchy than Philip’s suggested infidelity or Margaret’s alcoholism, due to peoples undying love for Diana. The debate about the ‘fictional’ element of ‘The Crown’ has never ramped up so much than it did last year. The point does still remain though that, whichever way you look at it, Diana had a terrible time, and a large part of this was due to the actions of her in-laws… in this respect, ‘The Crown’ does appear accurate. Perhaps it is not accurate in the right way for some people, perhaps the focus was too much on the family, and not on the nature of the suffocating lifestyle… even though I have just posited this idea, I do find it hard to uphold, as it is the family that uphold the lifestyle, and impart it to Diana. What is true, and does remain, is the fact that the show does draw inspiration from history… so there must be some element of truth.

Controversial casting has also been an issue, which has manifested in the form of colour-blind casting, as seen in ‘Bridgerton.’ Can casting ever truly be colour-blind? Can we believe people when they say it is? Should it matter? The issue is a complex one, and it is obvious that, although the word ‘diverse’ did not exist in the Regency era as it does now, it would be a generalisation to note that it was white-centric. However, Lady Danbury’s note that society has dramatically changed since George III married a black woman, Queen Charlotte, is a tad ridiculous and makes racial equality seem all too easy… especially because it has no historical basis. A huge event, that seemingly solves all racial inequality, is mentioned in one throwaway line. It does a disservice to the issue, and appears inconsiderate especially considering the Black Lives Matter Movement. What ‘Bridgerton’ does allow is for people of all colours to see themselves in all positions on screen. It tackles typecasting. So, should casting be colour-blind? I really doubt that it is, and it seems unsettling that, in casting, peoples skin colour is ignored – as that appears to be ignoring part of their identity. Perhaps ‘colour-bind’ is the wrong term… but then perhaps it is the right one, as the person who can best portray the character should be chosen for the job – no matter what their skin colour. Maybe it is not the job of ‘Bridgerton’ to be diverse, perhaps we must find stories that centre around ethnic minorities to encourage diversity.

Channel 5’s ‘Anne Boleyn’ aired yesterday, starring black actress Jodie Turner-Smith. This caused quite a large reaction, especially from Anne Boleyn fans. It depends how people read Anne’s story, if it is a story about her struggle within a patriarchal world, then surely the colour of the actress does not matter. If she were being portrayed by a black woman in a documentary, I would probably feel more strongly about it, as a documentary is supposed to be historically accurate. I am not saying that Turner-Smith’s casting is not inaccurate, it is inaccurate, as Anne Boleyn was white, but just that perhaps this should not be the focus for a work of historical fiction, as it is, in part, fiction. Perhaps the casting of a black actress is being used to show the difference, and distance, between the royal family and Anne herself, like a physical signifier. I am unsure that I like this theory, as Anne herself was not chastised for her colour, that seems like somebody else’s story. Anne was chastised for her resilience, and in part, her religious views. This should be focused on. Anne Boleyn’s story is not about the struggle of a black woman in a male dominated world, so perhaps it should not be made to be… but is it being made to be, purely by her presence? Turner-Smith’s skin colour cannot be ignored. If the drama focuses fully on Anne’s character, and does it well, then fair do’s. That being said, if a black woman was cast as Diana in ‘The Crown,’ there would have been greater outrage than the casting of Turner-Smith. Perhaps the former would have caused greater outrage as Diana is a more recent public figure… but should that matter? Should some parts of history remain untouched? Laurence Fox has recently criticised the ‘diversity agenda’ behind Turner-Smith’s casting, arguing that it is unfair that a black actress can portray a white woman, and not the other way around. Turner-Smith has said that she wants to tell a ‘human’ story. I doubt these two mindsets will meet and come to some form of agreement. Anne Boleyn’s kiss with Jane Seymour has also drawn particular attention, and it is this that stands out to me as particularly strange… I just cannot see it happening, I imagine that Anne hated Jane! I shall have to withhold comment until after I have watched it.

I am unsure whether this post has achieved anything, but hopefully it has provided some food for thought.

Thanks for reading!


[1] Reith Lectures, 2017.

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Close Analysis: King Arthur’s round table at Winchester Castle

The object is King Arthur’s Round Table which is on display at Winchester Cathedral. The wood of the table dates back to the 1200s and was originally used at court for roundtable festivals. Edward I enjoyed Arthurian legends and the chivalric ideals they epitomised, and Martin Biddle argues that the table was created to celebrate the engagement of Edward’s daughter Joan. Biddle also notes that by 1463, the table was hanging in the Cathedral without its legs. The table was revitalised for the visit of Emperor Charles V in 1522, in which a Tudor rose was painted in the centre, as well as Henry VII sitting on Arthur’s throne. The Arthurian legends enjoyed renewed popularity during Henry’s reign, and for him, they presented a link to Wales, where Henry first landed to fight in the Battle of Bosworth. Henry’s portrait on the table tells us that he wanted to be associated with Arthur directly, and the peaceful reign Arthur presided over. This helped Henry cover up his somewhat dubious claim to the throne, as he descended from the illegitimate children of John of Gaunt. This links to the wider theme of dynasty, and the securing of it which was done with the help of propaganda.

Henry wanted to be associated with table, and Arthurian legend, to bolster the legitimacy of the Tudor family’s claim to the throne. Biddle notes that Henry’s naming his son Arthur, and baptising of him at Winchester was a ‘political tool’ to achieve this. This made the Tudors appear as if they had descended from a prestigious, ancient family. This enhanced their ‘Englishness,’ and also would have increased support for them and patriotism throughout the country. John Guy agrees, and notes that Henry prioritised the ‘security and stability’ of the dynasty, as demonstrated by his desire to be associated with Arthur. This was also demonstrated by his fiscal policies, as he wanted to ensure that he left a financially stable kingdom to his son. Henry VII’s desire to maintain the dynasty can also be recognised in Henry VIII.

Henry VIII’s obsession with primogeniture greatly influenced the Break with Rome, as Henry sought a divorce so that he could marry Anne Boleyn, after Catherine of Aragon failed to birth a male heir. Henry VIII’s obsession with dynasty, and the securing of it is demonstrated in one of his portraits by Holbein in 1536. The original painting was destroyed, but many copies exist. Henry’s pose is one that demonstrates militaristic power and strength, his stance accentuates his leg muscles and his broad shoulders show has the strength to rule England. The painting demonstrates the security, and physical strength of Henry VIII as well as the security and strength of the dynasty. Tatiana String aligns the presence of the large codpiece, the focal point of the painting, with the idea of primogeniture, as Henry is demonstrating his success as the male courtly lover, as he is virile and fertile. This also shows the future security of the dynasty. Patricia Simons calls the codpiece a ‘surrogate political weapon,’ one that confirms Henry VIII’s potency.

Another painting, the 1545 family portrait thought to be by Holbein, reasserted Henry VIII’s claim to the throne by depicting him with his children. The painting resembles ‘The Donne triptych.’ This image shows the Virgin Mary holding Christ at its centre. Henry is at the centre of his painting, which relays the sacred nature of the monarch, and reinforces the idea that they were chosen to rule by God. This piece of artistic propaganda further secures the Tudor dynasty. A copy of the painting was reissued in 1572, following Elizabeth’s accession to the throne. This further asserted her claim, as it presents how she came to the throne, a link that Henry VII tried to root in King Arthur by aligning himself with the table at Winchester.

Other activities were also undertaken to cement the power of the dynasty, such as tournaments, which Henry organised upon the birth of Edward. These conveyed wealth and power, as did progresses. Progresses allowed the monarch to appear directly to the people, with the intention to impress and intimidate.

The Tudors used propaganda to assert the security and validity of their rule in England, but also on the global stage. Biddle noted that Henry VII’s desire to link his ancestry back to King Arthur placed him amongst the monarchs of Europe that traced their ancestry to Charlemagne. These links with British legends and physical displays of power in paintings and in person sought to affirm the security of the Tudor dynasty.

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Happiness as a vain illusion in Ibsen’s ‘A Doll’s House’ and Chaucer’s ‘The Merchant’s Tale’

‘The Merchant’s Tale’ and ‘A Dolls’s House’ both examine the idea of marriage, and what a truthful marriage really is. In Chaucer’s fabliau, and satire of courtly love, Januarie’s incorrect and over optimistic view of marriage appears as a vain illusion, especially when the audience is introduced to May’s clandestine affair with Damyan. Despite this, at the end of the poem, one could argue that in the end the happiness of the pair does seem apparent, as both Januarie and May appear to satisfy each other’s’ needs. In Ibsen’s play, this dynamic is in reverse, with the happiness of the Helmer’s marriage coming first, until later on in the play, when Nora realises that her happiness has been an illusion and decides to leave her life behind and begin anew. Critic August Stringberg notes that it was ‘A Doll’s House’ revealed that marriage was no “divine institution,” and strengthened the idea that happiness is indeed an illusion, especially for Nora and Helmer.

The moment at which the illusion is realised for Nora in ‘A Doll’s House’ is somewhat difficult to pinpoint. The audience certainly realise the severity of her actions and the realism of it with the slamming of the door. It is Nora’s own belief in “miracles” that makes her realise the illusion that is her marriage, and makes her see that Helmer is not her knight in shining armour, but in fact vain. His vanity in this scenario makes her realise the true extent of her situation. After his masculine claim that he will not be “lacking in strength or courage” when the real crisis comes, Nora intently waits for the “miracle to happen,” and for him to save her from the scandal of the loan. For Helmer, being able to save his wife is what feeds his ego and superiority, as he needs her to be dependent on him so that he can retain his control over her. Helmer’s tirade, when finding out about the letter, is what shatters the illusion of her marriage, as Helmer’s lack of appreciation hurts her, as she has previously proclaimed that she had saved his “life.” Helmer is much more distressed that she has taken her role as wife too far, and broken societal norms as laid down by Coventry Patmore’s poem ‘The Angel in the House,’ which described the typical role of  a Victorian woman. The patriarchal society in which the characters live dictates that it is the man who should deal with finances, adding to the idea that men and women have different ‘spheres,’ the one of the woman being totally domestic. It is Nora’s actions that have “ruined” his “whole future,” even though it was she who gave him a future. His declaration that he has “forgiven” her is also insulting, as he lays the blame on her and glorifies his own actions, as the man who forgave, and allowed her back into his life. It is in this moment that Nora realises that she is undervalued and underappreciated, building to the realisation that her happiness in her marriage was an illusion, partly due to the vanity of Helmer, and the lack of appreciation he shows his wife. In this respect, Raymond Williams notes that the play is “anti-romantic,” as there appears to be no warmth between Nora and Helmer.

When building on the lack of miracles within their marriage, for Nora and Helmer, it is clear that the statement ‘happiness is a vain illusion’ could not be more fitting. Nora, in her greatest moment of strength exchanges her colourful clothes, tears away the façade of her marriage and discovers her true identity. She then declares that she has “changed,” and the audience is aware of this not just in the literal sense. Nora lays down the law to Helmer, declaring that she has just “had fun,” and that instead of being his equal, Nora has been his pretty “doll-wife.” His obsession with image, and her “pretty little eyes” and “delicate little hands” support the idea, that Nora is his trophy wife. After being let down by the non existent miracle Nora realises that her happiness has been fake, as has Helmer’s love for her in her view, as he cares only for his social position and image. One pinpoints the disappointment of the miracle as being the reason that pushes Nora to understand that a “great wrong” has been done against her, and that societal bonds have entrapped her within a loveless and worthless marriage. In order to combat this, she breaks free of societal shackles, and fulfils the “need of every individual to find out the kind of person he or she really is, and to strive to become that person” as Michael Meyer notes. This need is more important to Nora than maintaining the image of her happy marriage, as she wants to search for something real, in the real “world.” For Nora, happiness is a total illusion, and she denounces the validity of her entire marriage as soon as she claims that Helmer never loved her. In this respect, the marriage can be seen as a vain illusion, as all efforts to keep up the façade of a happy marriage have failed for Nora and Helmer.

When arguing against this illusion, it is fair to point out that the two had been happily married for “eight years.” This happiness is channelled by Nora herself, as she enjoyed making Torvald happy, and being responsible for saving his “life,” and also adding to his vanity. This gave her great “pride and joy,” and it may be difficult for the audience to understand why this was an illusion, when to Nora it was clearly not. Nora herself delights in furnishing the house with “nice things just the way Torvald likes,” and thrives on making Torvald happy, and the attention he gives her for it. This is demonstrated in the dancing of the “tarantella,” as Nora notes that it is Torvald that “wants” her to go dressed as a “fisher girl.” It is obvious that in this form, she arouses Torvald, and she is more than happy to oblige. He also wishes to fuel his own vanity, by parading her in front of the party in an attempt to make people jealous of him, as Nora is his. However, in the case of the tarantella, Nora’s excitement and happiness are an illusion, as the moral implications of the letter are weighing on her mind. The tarantella was usually performed following a bite from the wolf spider, and it was thought that the dance would prevent a dangerous fit of hysteria, which would result in death. This emphasises the meaning of the tarantella to Nora, and it is not one of pleasure. One could also argue that the pair still find each other physically attractive, as they have had three children. However, this could lead one to argue that sexual attraction does not constitute a happy marriage. Even after Helmer finds out about the loan, Nora still declares to him that she loved him “more than anything else in the world.” As the miracle has already failed her, one questions whether happiness is truly an illusion for Nora, as this profession of love does seem genuine despite the underlying melodramatic tone.

Januarie’s perception of marriage does appear to be a vain illusion throughout the poem, as he is made to be a “cokewold.” Januarie justifies his new desire to marry saying that there is is “so parfit felicitee,” and that within marriage, the couple will experience “hevene in erthe here.” Januarie also wants a wife so that he can get himself an heir, and he also wants to be able to “pleye,” which within the context of marriage is perfectly permissible. Januarie’s true intentions are revealed in his declaration that his new wife “shal natte pass twenty” years old. Januarie hopes that marriage will provide him with sexual fulfilment, as well as an air. It is also permissible to speculate that having a young wife will make other men jealous, fuelling his own vanity, much like Helmer and Nora. Critic Aisling Murray notes that his objectification of women is commonplace, and he expects to be able to do what he likes. It is this mindset that makes Januarie think that marriage will be full of bliss and happiness, as it will allow him to do what he likes without being judged negatively by society. However, for Januarie this happiness is an illusion, and this is realised by the audience when “fresshe” May begins her clandestine affair with “this Damyan.” The use of the word “fresshe” highlights the irony surrounding May, as she is in no way pure or chaste. Januarie’s metaphorical and moral blindness continues until his “sighte” is restored, in which he realises that his happiness has been an illusion, and that his wife has been having an affair. Although May provides him with a “suffisant answere” to persuade him otherwise, it is at this moment that Januarie realises his happiness with May has been an illusion, and his own perceptions and views of marriage have been changed, with the restoring of his sight as he realises that his happiness has been an illusion, as the wife that he has adored has been having an affair with his “owene man.”

Although this encounter dispels the myths about happiness and truth within marriage one could still argue that Januarie’s discovery of the truth strengthens the bond between himself and his wife. Prior to this, Januarie, upon becoming “blind” appears humble, and notes that he can at times be “jalous.” He understands that her “beauty” may not belong with the “unlikely elde” of him and ultimately that he would be at a loss without her “compaignye.” Januarie appears to mature, and realises his need for human companionship, rather than sexual pleasure. This appears to be the first point in the poem in which he shows genuine affection for May. After she convinces him of her innocence, he “hire wombe he stroketh hire ful softe.” When discussing happiness, it could be argued that both Janurie and May are at their happiest here, and their struggle towards happiness has not been in vain. Januarie has believed May’s innocence, and as Proserpina has gifted her with the answers that she needs, she is free to continue her clandestine affair with Damyan. Perhaps this is permitted as Januarie realises that he is not worthy of the beauty of May, and that he doesn’t want to lose her. For May, as well as this permission, she has financial security and an increased status through marriage, and appears to have everything that women in the 13th century sought to obtain through an advantageous marriage. The focus on the “wombe” could imply that May is pregnant, although we don’t know the paternity of the child. By his stroking of the womb, one can expect that Januarie will raise the child as his own heir, meaning that the needs of the husband and wife are well satisfied by the conclusion of the poem. The happiness lies in the compromise that has occurred between the two, which allows them to forgive and forget their past mistakes and go forth stronger and happier.

A similar scenario occurs in ‘A Doll’s House’ between Linde and Krogstad. The set up of the ‘Well Made Play’ consists of a simple plot and set up of characters, and in keeping with this theme, the story of Linde and Krogstad form one of the two plot strands, and contrast the relationship of Helmer and Nora. Linde acts a foil to the character of Nora, as she displays great maturity, which she has acquired though her experience of “poverty.” Linde notes that she couldn’t marry Krogstad due to his lack of “money,” which caused considerable anguish for him. Their relationship appears to be one of great emotional depth as Linde claims that Krogstad would have once done “anything” for her. In their last conversation of the play, Linde asks to be reunited with Krogstad, as she needs someone to “work for,” and wishes to be a “mother” to his children. Her declaration that her and Krogstad “need each other” carries great emotional resonance, as each of them have changed since their last meeting, but have both wanted to be with each other since. In a way this conversation makes it appear that happiness is no vain illusion, and that there is genuine hope within the world of the play for an honest, loving relationship to emerge. Perhaps it is the separation and time that allowed Linde and Krogstad to grow and reflect on their previous encounter, and maybe something like this would be beneficial to Nora and Helmer.

In the world of ‘The Merchants Tale’ and ‘A Doll’s House’ happiness could be seen as a vain illusion because of the setting. The “gardyn” is used to fuel Januarie’s sexual appetite, and bolster his vanity, as he feels that in the garden he will perform better sexually. The images of the “welle” and phallic trees emphasise the object of the garden, to expand Januarie’s sexual fantasies. However, this image of vanity is too an illusion, with the entrance of the “lechour in the tree,” who is sitting “under a bussh anon.” The entrance of Damyan destroys Januarie’s dreams about the garden, and effectively steals the attention from Januarie, through May, as Damyan becomes her only concern within the garden. The garden is also used to demonstrate Januarie’s paradise, leading to a satire of Genesis. It is Damyan who, like Satan, destroys the perfection of the garden and shatters the present illusion.[1]

For Nora and Helmer, their apartment also represents this vanity, although it is “comfortable and tastefully” furnished, it is not “expensively” furnished. In creating the Helmer’s Ibsen formed a classic bourgeois family, which would have been greatly relatable in the 17th century. The audience would’ve felt that they were looking into their own apartment, the difference being the dramatic events that occurred within. The “stove” in the play appears to represent the warmth within the apartment and gives the impression of the harmony within the family home. Nora uses the stove to extort money from Helmer, whilst playing with his “coat buttons.” The entrance of outside forces into the apartment represents great danger for Nora, and shatters the illusion of security, represented by the stove. Even by leaving the door “ajar,” Krogstad is able to enter from the cold, outside world, and disrupt Nora’s “games” with her children. It is from this point that the illusion of happiness within the house begins to falter, as Krogstad begins to exert his influence over Nora, using the “I.O.U” as leverage.[2]

Although both couples realise that happiness is a vain illusion at different times, both marriages suffer for it. Januarie suffers towards the end of the poem upon finding out about May’s affair, but seemingly forgives her in the hope that she will produce him an heir, and in the hope that she will continue to be his companion. In contrast to this somewhat happy ending, for Nora and Helmer, the realisation of the illusion comes at a crucial point for Nora, who comes to terms with the fact that she needs to discover the world herself, and no longer be caged within the apartment by Helmer. In discovering this, she realises that her marriage has been nothing but a vain illusion.


[1] All quotes from:

Geoffrey Chaucer, The Merchants Prologue and Tale, ed. Sheila Innes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

[2] All quotes from:

Henrik Ibsen, A Doll’s House, ed. by Nick Worral (London: Bloomsbury, 2008).

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Did Barack Obama’s election to the Illinois state senate secure his place as a candidate for the presidency?

When debating the most important factor that led to Obama’s nomination for presidency, many points in his career can be cited. Although the Illinois state was a significant turning point, his high profile and public image were the most significant factors that led to him becoming the candidate for presidency.

Obama’s election to the Illinois state senate can still be deemed as a significant turning point in his career to become the future Democratic Party nomination for president. This appointment showed that Obama had experience in a position of high authority, and also improved his reputation. Obama was elected to the state senate in 1996, and the 13th district of Illinois contained the South Side of Chicago, an area of high social deprivation for black people. 65% of the South side of Chicago was black. Obama made a name for himself as he worked with Republicans and Democrats to pass legislation within the state senate. He focused on social issues, and passed legislation to expand healthcare and early years education. He became the chairperson for the Illinois senate Health and Human Services Committee, and helped to improve the rights of suspects by requiring video taping of police interrogations. Obama carried out significant social reforms within the state senate of Illinois from 1997 to 2004, proving it to be a significant turning point in his career. However, it is not of the greatest significance, as although his role in the senate gave him significant political experience, it was due to his positive image and high profile that people decided to support him, as the Democrat Party candidate.

Obama’s high profile and image was the most significant turning point in his career that led to his elevation as the Democratic Party’s nomination for President. Obama initially gained greater recognition when he gave the keynote speech at the Democratic Party National Convention in 2004. Only two other black men had been in this position previously, immediately boosting Obama’s public profile. His endearing personality and rhetoric made him a highly sought after speaker, raising his profile even higher. It was this recognition, and positive response to his character that led to him becoming the Democratic Party candidate for President. Obama appealed to all voters, with his moderate views. Another black activist who spoke at the convention, Al Sharpton, appeared more radical citing the failures of the Civil Rights movement and Lincoln. Obama in contrast appealed to all people, and was not tainted by the Civil Rights Movement unlike previous black speakers. This immediately gained a positive response. John Kerry placed Obama in this position knowing that he could win minority votes. The positive response gained from Obama’s speech increased his profile, making him an eligible candidate for the Democratic Party nomination.

Obama’s high profile as a black man within the senate also attracted him great attention, paving the way for his elevation to become the Democratic Party candidate nomination. When elected to the state senate in 2004, Obama won with 70% of the vote, and was the 99th senator out of a 100, in terms of seniority. This immediately increased his profile, as he was the third black American senator since the Reconstruction. The Democrats were also a minority, and despite this, Obama increased his already high profile by collaborating with Republican and Democrats alike. His place in the senate, as the only black man, increased his profile, increasing his chances at becoming the Democratic Party Candidate.

Obama’s high profile and public image gained him the Democratic Party nomination. He gained a place on the Foreign Relations Committee, and also created a website that tracked federal spending, with Republican Tom Coburn. This followed Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Obama himself went to visit victims of the disaster, which increased his profile further, as he appeared as a caring man who was willing to help. This increased Obama’s image as a positive figure, which was met with a positive response from the American people. This response led to his nomination as the Democratic Party candidate.

Obama’s high profile and image as a family man also helped his campaign, as Americans saw him as a role model and aspired to be like him. This admiration for Obama led to his elevation to the Democratic Party candidate. Obama appeared to embody the American dream, as he had an attractive family and good job. This increased his public profile as people responded well to him. This positive response to Obama’s manner and image acted as a turning point in his career to becoming the Democratic Party candidate.

It could be argued that his campaign was also a significant turning point in his career, and that this led to him becoming the Democrat Party candidate for the presidency. Obama adopted new election strategies, which showed that he was the candidate for change. Obama utilised the Internet, noticing that in 2007, 26% of the American population were using it. Obama used Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to campaign, and set up his own website. 42% of 18-29 year olds noted that they, to read the news, used the Internet. Through his website, which 450,000 people signed up to, Obama was able to raise $6.9 million, which was significantly greater than Hilary’s $4.2 million. Obama embraced new strategies in order to win the Democratic nomination, and by taking smaller donations, but more frequently, Obama raised more money than his opponent. Obama’s strategies acted as a turning point which led to him becoming the Democratic Party’s nominee for President.

The failure of Obama’s fellow Democrat nominees could be seen to be a significant turning point in his career to becoming the Democratic Party candidate for President. In the Primary elections, Obama faced considerable opponents who had higher profiles than he did. Blair Hull was a significant opponent, and he had a personal fortune of up to $444 million, some of which he donated to Democratic campaigns within Illinois in 2002. However, Hull’s marital problems and ensuing divorce greatly benefitted Obama, as Hull’s public image was damaged. Although this may not be considered a failure on Hull’s part, in this incident, it was the poor image of his opponents that benefited Obama, making him a possible candidate for the presidency.

The failure’s of fellow Democrat Hilary Clinton’s campaign to become the Democratic nominee could also be seen to enhance Obama’s chances at becoming the Democratic Party candidate. Hilary herself was linked to the scandal of Bush’s presidency, and did not represent change, as America needed. Political scientists Heliemann and Halperin could not imagine Hilary being able to control the cabinet, f she could not previously control her husband. She also did not raise as much as Obama, and used old traditional tactics during her campaign. She also engaged in negative campaigning against Obama, declaring that he was “un-American.” Clinton also only had one pollster working for her, unlike Obama’s four. Clinton’s campaign was run poorly by her friend Patti Solace Doyle, and this led to conflict between the two. Bill Clinton too appeared to damage the campaign of Hilary, by going off script and attacking others in order to hide that his wife was losing. The failure’s and mistakes of Clinton’s campaign to become the Democratic nominee boosted Obama’s chances of achieving this goal.

The failures of the Republican party also enhanced Obama’s chances at becoming the Democratic Party candidate for president. Obama noted that change was needed, following the Republican presidency, which had plunged the economy into a recession and into the Iraq war. Obama’s policies, and focus on stabilizing the economy and withdrawing from Iraq, was attractive to Democrat voters, demonstrating that he was the candidate for change. Obama’s emphasis on his emergency plan to save his economy could be regarded as a significant reason which led to his ascension to becoming the Democratic Party candidate, as he sought to rectify the mistakes of the Republican presidency led by Bush.

The most significant turning point in Obama’s career to becoming the Democratic Party candidate can be identified in his increasing profile, beginning with his keynote speech in 2004. This speech increased his profile as a talented speaker who appealed to all with his moderate views. The positive response that this speech was met with increased his profile and chances at becoming the Democratic Party nominee.

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Nora Helmer in ‘A Doll’s House,’ Act One: Puppet or Puppeteer?

In Ibsen’s ‘A Doll’s House’ the main female protagonist Nora displays many traits. Her role within the play and the dramatic action she takes at the end rest on how much control she has within the house, leading the reader to question whether she is the puppet or the puppeteer. Nora is able to manipulate her husband, making her seem like the puppeteer as she uses her sexuality to gain money from him. Similarly, when her forgery is unveiled she again appears as the puppet master, as it is she who has secretly saved the life of her husband using her own intelligence and cunning. However, it is clear that Nora is also the puppet in certain circumstances. Helmer treats his pretty little wife as a dolly, and as the dutiful wife that she is; she is automatically under his control by traditional social convention. Krogstad also wields power over Nora due to his knowledge of the forgery, and he attempts to use her to retain his station and position at the bank.

Initially, the audience pick up on Nora’s status as the wife of Helmer, and this could make one see her as a puppet. She appears to run around doing Helmer’s bidding, and takes it upon herself to prepare the house for Christmas, as can be seen when she sorts out the delivery of the Christmas tree. Helmer has affection for Nora, and teases her like his plaything by calling her ‘squirrel’ and ‘squanderbird.’ At this point, one could argue that the relationship between Helmer and Nora is a paternalistic one, and that he treats her like a child. In this context a child could mean a puppet, as he plays with Nora as a father does his child. Also, like a child, Nora is excitable about Christmas day and the incoming money from Helmer’s new job. Nora does Helmer’s bidding, and does ‘promise’ that she could never disobey him. Helmer obsesses over her ‘pretty eyes and your delicate little hands,’ emphasising the idea that she is Helmer’s doll, and that she is in fact his puppet to play with. Helmer even refers to Nora as his ‘creature,’ making her seem like a being that exists purely to do his bidding. It does not reflect well on the character of Helmer, and it is this attitude of his at the end of the play that pushes Nora to leave him. Due to the role that she has within the home as Helmer’s wife, and the way that he treats her, it is conceivable to see Nora as Helmer’s puppet, as she is there to do his bidding, to be played with and to be admired like a pretty ornament.

Nora can also seem like a puppet during her heated conversation with Krogstad about her forgery. His sudden entrance into the house shatters the happiness Nora is sharing with her children, and his presence immediately makes Nora uncomfortable, as Krogstad is from the outside, and with him brings the harshness of the world outside Nora’s comfortable, warm home. As the door was ‘ajar’ he assumes that he can enter, which increases his threat and hold over Nora, as she is not safe even in her own home. It is this initial scare that makes Nora vulnerable and allows her to be played by Krogstad, as he already has her attention. Nora appears completely helpless here, as she fails to understand that Krogstad also has ‘influence,’ and is a significant threat to her. Although Krogstad is calm towards Nora, the information he has distresses her, leaving her ‘almost in tears.’ It is the information about her forgery that he holds over her, and allows him to play her as a puppet. By exercising his influence over Nora, he plans to use her to exercise her influence over Helmer, in order to retain his position at the bank. In this scenario, Nora is powerless to defend herself from Krogstad, as he has information that could send her to jail. Her childish reaction, to burst into tears, displays her desperation, emphasising how much she needs Krogstad to keep her indiscretion a secret. This could imply that, throughout the rest of the play, Krogstad will use Nora to do his bidding, as he has knowledge, which will destroy her. As he has significant information against Nora, and doesn’t appear afraid to use it, Nora is put in a position of weakness, as Krogstad is the puppet master. The situation is made clear by Nora herself, almost making Krogstad look like a villain, as he is threatening to expose her ‘pride and joy.’ As the secret is important to Nora, it places her in an even more precarious position, which emphasises her vulnerability, and current state as a puppet, as she is being controlled by Krogstad.

However, it is Nora’s ‘little business sense’ that allows her to be seen as the puppeteer, as it was she who organised the loan that ‘saved Torvald’s life.’ It is important to note that this was illegal for women in the late 18th century, which further emphasises Nora’s resourcefulness. Nora is proud that she has a ‘secret’ to unveil to Mrs Linde, and in revealing this secret Nora becomes the puppeteer, as she has been secretly working to turn events to her advantage in the light of Helmer’s illness. She appears secretive and cunning, as it is this private knowledge that makes her feel ‘proud and happy.’ Nora also seems to be planning for the future, and will deploy this information when she sees fit. The fact that she is going to keep the secret of the loan ‘up her sleeve’ for when she is ‘no longer pretty,’ displays Nora as conniving, and makes it seem like she is pulling the strings to her own advantage again. It is almost as if she is ensuring that she has something to fall back on, as she fears, that in her old age, Helmer will fall out of love with her. In order to keep hold of Helmer, Nora plans to unveil this secret at the right time, making her seem like the puppeteer, as she is certain that he will feel that he owes her, and will not cast her aside as a result. Nora enjoys exercising the ‘influence’ that she has, and recognises that if Helmer were to find out about the loan, he would find it ‘painful and humiliating.’ As the puppeteer, Nora appears to be cunning and resourceful, as it was her who acquired the loan, and her who is keeping it secret from her husband. Nora’s secret dealings with Krogstad make her look like the puppeteer behind the doll’s house as without the loan, it is possible that Torvald would’ve died. It is this added responsibility that makes her realise that without her aid, the family would not have survived. It is this added sense of self-importance that Nora relishes, making it clear that she is the puppeteer, and that she enjoys being in this position of control, which pushes her on to abandon Helmer at the end of the play.

It is also clear that Nora has control over her husband, and uses her sexuality to acquire it. Helmer can be seen as a slave to Nora in this sense, as when she flirts with him he gives in and lets her have what she wants, which is usually ‘money!’ These encounters usually take place near the ‘stove,’ the area that Nora moves to if she feels threatened or vulnerable. Here is a place of heat and love, which serves as a comfort to her and her husband, and sets the scene for her flirtations with him. Initially, Nora asks Helmer for money, and when he refuses, she retreats to the stove and begins to ‘play with his coat buttons.’ It is this flirtatious nature that allows her to obtain the money from Helmer, making him seem like the puppet, and her the puppeteer. It also makes him look shallow, as, he lets go of his financial worries when she begins to flirt with him, and prioritises her advances over the stable environment which he values. This allows Nora to ‘indulge’ herself, which ironically Helmer discourages. This emphasises the control that she has over her husband, as although he discourages overspending, stating that a home built on debts can ‘never be a place of freedom and beauty.’ Although he acknowledges that she is a little ‘spendthrift,’ he still gives in to her sexual advances, compromising his own morals and values. This makes Nora seem effective and skilful as the puppeteer. These encounters with Helmer demonstrate Nora’s role in the play, and the influence she has over her husband.

Within act one, Nora shows both sides of being the puppet and the puppeteer. She is able to use her sexuality in order to extricate money from her husband, and has even plotted behind his back to acquire a loan from Krogstad. Both of these examples display Nora as the puppeteer, and show how she is an integral part of the play as without her influence and resourcefulness, the Helmer’s may not have a roof over their head. However, it is this decision that haunts her, and also makes her appear as the puppet, as Krogstad uses details of the forgery to gain control over her, and push her to use her influence over Helmer. When deciding which persona Nora adopts the most, considering the details of the loan and the security that it gave to the family, it is fair to see her predominantly as the puppet master.[1]

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[1] All quotes from:

Henrik Ibsen, A Doll’s House, ed. by Nick Worral (London: Bloomsbury, 2008).

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Was the Printing Press and growing literacy rates the main reasons for Martin Luther’s widespread support in Germany?

In the 16th century, majority of the people in Germany were illiterate, meaning that it was difficult to communicate or circulate ideas, as this could only be done by word of mouth. However, growing literacy and the introduction of the printing press, which was invented in the 1400s, provided Luther with an opportunity to spread his reformist views and ideas. Luther developed his ideas in response to papal corruption, which would become the basis of the Protestant faith. ‘Widespread’ is defined as gaining support from multiple areas and people. The printing press and growing literacy can be seen as the main reasons for the widespread suport Luther received, as it increased his support from the laity and the nobility. However, Luther could also be seen to gain support due to the weak structure of the Holy Roman Empire, which the Princes took advantage of, as well as the papal corruptions within the Roman Catholic Church.

The printing press and growing literacy can be seen as the main reasons for the widespread support given to Luther’s ideas in Germany in the years 1517 to 1555, as they increased Luther’s support from the laity and the nobility. Among those who were literate, Luther was able to circulate his ideas with the use of pamphlets, such as “Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation.” This pamphlet, published in 1520, declared that the pope was an adversary and attacked church doctrine. The deployment of the printing press ensured that many pamphlets were distributed quickly, thus spreading Luther’s ideas in the same fashion, which gave his idea’s support from many different people and places. Growing literacy rates meant that they could be appreciated, which gained Luther popular support. In 1524, Luther also published his first collection of hymns, aimed at those who were not fully literate. By replacing the rude, bawdy lyrics with religious teaching, Luther also used word of mouth to spread his ideas, which gained him further support from more people and areas. Luther also gained support from the laity, after he supported them in putting down the Peasant’s Revolt of 1524. After this, Luther dedicated much of his time ensuring that people understood his doctrine, which gained him further support from the nobility, as they were more able to understand his doctrine and teachings. The use of the printing press ensured the fast spread and movement of Luther’s ideas, while the growing literacy rates ensured that people could appreciate and understand his pamphlets, thus making both of these factors main reasons for his the widespread support Luther received in Germany. From 1530 to 1555, Luther began to receive wider support from the Prince’s, who were able to appreciate his work because of the growing literacy rates. The Princes also had the power to install Lutheranism within their individual towns and cities, and many Princes, such as Philip of Hesse, began to convert. The growing support for Lutheranism, as aided by the printing press and growing literacy eventually culminated in the 1555 Peace of Augsburg, which meant that Lutheranism achieved legal status in the empire. As support for Luther’s ideas was strong, and Charles V and Ferdinand I could not quash it, their only way of uniting Germany was to legalise it. It must be noted that this support would not have been so strong if it were not for the printing press and growing literacy rates. Both of these factors ensured that Luther’s ideas were circulated around the whole of Germany, and the growing literacy rates ensured that people of any class were able to understand his ideas, thus providing him with a great deal of support in the years 1517 to 1555.

One could argue that a more prominent reason for Luther’s widespread support was due to the weak structure of the Holy Roman Emperor. One can easily criticise the behaviour of Charles V, and has lack of influence over the empire, partly because of its size. This reduced influence meant that Charles did not have much control over Germany, and was more of an afterthought in the minds of the people, who were more concerned with Luther’s ideas, due to the rapid circulation of pamphlets. The power of Charles was also suppressed and weakened by the Princes. The Princes had full autonomy when governing their individual states, and would only carry out the emperor’s commands if they agreed with them themselves. This meant that Charles lacked a significant amount of control, which can be seen throughout the 1530s when the Prince’s began converting their own states to Lutheranism. When looking at the structure of the Holy Roman Empire, it can be argued that growing literacy rates and the printing press were not main reasons for Luther’s widespread support, as the lack of a significant authority within the Holy Roman Empire meant that Luther was not suppressed or stopped. Charles’ lack of authority, when compared to the Princes, ensured the spread of Lutheranism, as well as its support, as the Princes openly welcomed the new religion into their states, against the wishes of the Holy Roman Emperor. For majority of his rule, Charles was not in Germany, but was away dealing with threats from France, Spain or the Ottoman empire. This is also a significant reason as to why Luther’s ideas gained support from many people and places, as there was no authority present to stop him. For example, in 1542, Charles faced attacks on his Italian inheritance from the French and the Ottomans. This issue took precedence over the threat of Lutheranism, and Charles left Germany. This provided Luther, and the Lutheran Princes with an opportunity to gain more support in Charles’ absence, as there was no significant authority present to stop them. Charles absence was taken advantage of by the Lutherans, to ensure that Luther’s ideas gained more popular support, and with the addition of people becoming more literate, Luther’s ideas did acquire this support. The weak structure of the Holy Roman Emperor can be seen as one of the main reasons Luther’s ideas gained popular support in the years 1517 to 1555.

It could also be argued that one of the main reasons for the increase in widespread support of Luther’s ideas was due to the corruptions of the Roman Catholic Church. It was the Humanists, such as Ulrich Von Hutten, who brought attention to these issues, and informed the laity about them. These corruptions formed the basis of Luther’s ideas, as he developed his faith as a response to Catholicism, and considered his ideas to be an improvement on it. The Indulgency scandal of 1517 was heavily mentioned in Luther’s 95 Theses, and he openly criticised it, declaring it to be a significant example of papal corruption. Another example of this is Luther’s support of papal marriage, which would stop priests and clergyman engaging in sodomy, which was condemned in the Bible. The growing literacy rates helped people understand corruptions within the church, and also helped them to see Lutheranism as an attractive alternative, and a way in which issues could be solved. Luther also sought to combat issues of absenteeism, as the laity felt neglected by their local spiritual authority. In response to this Luther believed that priests should live within the parish, or very close to it. This gained Luther support from the people as he was seen as a heroic, national figure, who was fighting for the rights of the German people, in a time in which Germany was being heavily exploited by Germany. From this perspective, it could be argued that Luther gained support from many areas and people because the laity, nobility and humanists were dissatisfied with the corruptions of the church.

The most important reasons for the support given to Luther’s ideas from many people and areas in Germany are the use of the printing press ad growing literary rates. These combined factors ensured that more people are able to access Luther’s ideas, and also meant that people from all over the country and from different classes could read and understand them. This made Luther appeal to the people, as they believed he was fighting for their rights, and he became a nationalist figure. As the printing press and growing literacy rates ensured more people could understand Luther’s doctrine, they can be seen as the main reasons for the widespread support that Luther gained from 1517 to 1555.[1]


[1] A. Grundy, Religion and state in early modern Europe, (London, Pearson Education, 2015).

And my own knowledge.

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The Demonic in ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ and ‘Wuthering Heights’

Tess spends majority of the novel attempting to resist the demonic forces in her life, but yields to Alec for the sake of her family. If she becomes Alec’s mistress, he will financially support her family. Alec is a demonic figure in the novel. His assault of Tess and carrying of a pitchfork demonstrate this quite strongly. The Edenic setting of their first meeting, and his forcing of fruit into her mouth, fully realise Alec as the devil who will lead Tess into sin.  It is at the end of the novel that her entrapment by Alec, and loss of Angel for a ‘second time’ drives her to extreme action. Tess compares herself to a ‘caged bird!’[1] Her exclamation emphasises her distress, and the paragraph in which this quote is based in is littered with hyphens and ellipsis, implying the fractured nature of her mental state and distress. While confronting Alec, Mrs Brooks notices that her ‘lips were bleeding from the clench of her teeth.’[2] Throughout the novel the drawing of blood has been in reference to violence enacted on Tess, and the forced loss of her virginity by Alec’s. Here it foreshadows the violence that Tess herself will enact upon Alec.

Tess sees violence as the only way to achieve her goal, of being accepted by Angel. Alec too used violence against Tess in the Chase, in order to achieve his own goal of sexual gratification. In killing Alec she adopts his violent, demonic tendencies, and the descent of red blood from the ceiling subverts the traditional position of heaven with hell, emphasising that Alec has trapped Tess in a hell on earth. Despite Angel’s status throughout the novel as Tess’s supposed saviour, it was he who informed her that they could not be together ‘while that man’ lives.[3] It appears that Tess did not kill Alec as much for herself, but more so for Angel. This action transforms Angel supposed saintly image into a devilish one, as it was his comment, coupled with Tess’s distress, that encouraged her to act so violently towards Alec.

It is this act that leads directly to Tess’s demise. Although Tess has taken control in this act, she is still dominated by the influence of others, and the demonic presence in her life that is personified by Alec. To an extent this negates her agency and demonstrates the Gothic nature of Hardy’s narrative, as Tess’s life is governed by supernatural forces that are beyond her control or understanding.

Like Alec, Heathcliff demonstrates a significant demonic force in Cathy’s life in ‘Wuthering Heights.’ It is therefore unsettling to the other characters that such a being would bring Cathy comfort. However this is disrupted by the presence of Thrushcross Grange, and Cathy’s forced isolation there. Heathcliff recounts the event in which Cathy is bitten by Edgar’s dog Skulker, saying that ‘the devil had seized her ankle.’[4] The first syllable of the animal’s name, skull, foreshadows Cathy’s own macabre death at the Grange. The name’s likeness to the word ‘skulk’ personifies the dog, by implying that it had sinister intentions in keeping out of sight. As the Grange is the antithesis of the Heights, Skulker’s holding of Cathy against her will frames him as a demonic creature that threatens to tear Cathy away from her own personal paradise. Cathy does not ‘yell out,’ and instead it is Heathcliff who ‘vociferated curses enough to annihilate any fiend in Christendom.’[5] Cathy is acted upon by Skulker and actively defended by Heathcliff, rendering her as a passive figure in her own assault. Heathcliff believes his words carry a force unavailable to the average human being, stating that they could ‘annihilate any fiend.’[6] The violence and finality of ‘annihilate’ emphasises Heathcliff’s status as a supernatural being, who exerts a greater power than the humans who surround him. Heathcliff attempts to ram a ‘stone between its jaws,’ in an attempt to free Cathy.[7] This description of Skulker’s mouth adds to the monstrosity of the and dangerous nature of the scene, as it styles Skulker as the opening and entrance to the Grange, and by extension, Cathy’s own personal version of hell. Despite Heathcliff’s own self proclamation of his power, he cannot subdue Skulker. It is Cathy who is subdued by these two demonic forces that battle over her, resulting in her being ‘carried’ into the Grange.[8]

Heathcliff is banned from visiting her and can only watch from the outside as ‘spy.’[9] Cathy’s feet are ‘washed,’ her hair is ‘combed’ and she is ‘wheeled to the fire.’[10] This episode results in the loss of Cathy’s independence, as her physical maiming prevents her from venturing onto the moors. She passively accepts the Linton’s kindness and becomes a doll like figure whom they wash and dress. Her forced insertion into this environment represents her forced insertion into domestication and adulthood. On her return to the Heights, it is obvious to Heathcliff and Nelly that she is no longer the ‘hatless little savage,’ of her childhood.[11] It is from this point onwards that Cathy begins to accept the reality of her situation as a woman, which ultimately fractures her bond with Heathcliff irreparably. This acts as a preview of her future life at the Grange, and Skulker’s bite acts as a precursor to the violence that Cathy will experience at there should she choose to stay. The grandness of the Grange appears deceptive in this light and appears more like a gilded cage.

It is Skulker and his attack of Catherine that offsets a key turning point within the novel, much like Tess’s first meeting with Alec. This calls into question whether either heroine has any control over their own lives at all, and whether they are really just the playthings of supernatural, specifically, demonic forces.

Thanks for reading!


[1] Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D’Urbervilles (London: Penguin Classics, 2003), p. 381

[2] Ibid., p. 381

[3] Ibid., p. 243

[4] Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights (London: Penguin Classics, 2003) p. 49.

[5] Ibid., p. 49.

[6] Ibid., p. 49.

[7] Ibid., p. 49.

[8] Ibid., p. 49.

[9] Ibid., p. 51.

[10] Ibid., p. 51.

[11] Ibid., p. 53.

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Vaisakhi: A Brief History

Vaisakhi is a festival observed by both Sikhs and Hindus in the Panjab. The festival is usually celebrated on the 13th of April, although in some years it has been celebrated on the 14th. Vaisakhi is a harvest festival for the people of Northern India, and for Hindus, Vaisakhi marks the beginning of the solar New Year. As well as cultural importance, the festival also carries religious significance for Sikhs. Guru Gobind Singh was crowned the tenth Sikh Guru on the 29th of March 1676. He was crowned following the martyrdom of the ninth Sikh Guru, Guru Teg Bahadur Singh, who was killed by Emperor Aurangzeb for refusing to convert to Islam. Vaisakhi marks the anniversary in which Guru Gobind Singh formed the Khalsa, on the 13th of April 1699. On this day, Guru Gobind Singh asked Sikhs to gather at Shri Anandpur Sahib and addressed the crowd.

He emerged from a tent, carrying a knife, asking who would be prepared to give their life for their faith. One volunteered, went into the tent, but did not come back out. Guru Gobind Singh did, only with a bloody sword. Guru Gobind Singh continued to ask for volunteers, and five Sikhs disappeared into the tent. People feared the five to be dead, but they all emerged wearing turbans. Guru Gobind Singh proclaimed that these five were to be known as the Panj Pyare, the ‘Beloved Five.’ Guru Gobind Singh praised them for their dedication to their faith, as shown by their willingness to die for their faith. Guru Gobind Singh baptised the five men into the Khalsa, by saying prayers and sprinkling them with holy water called Amrit. The five men were then given the surname Singh, meaning lion.

On this day, Guru Gobind Singh also introduced the Five K’s.

  1. Kesh: Uncut hair. This stated that Sikhs should not cut their hair, out of respect for its status as God’s natural creation.
  2. Kangha: A wooden comb. Used to keep hair tidy.
  3. Kara: An iron or steel bangle worn around the wrist. It is supposed to remind Sikhs that God is eternal and that we should also strive to commit good acts, not bad.
  4. Kirpan: a small sword. This reflects the fearlessness of the Sikh warrior, and their willingness to defend their faith.
  5. Kachera: A pair of shorts usually worn as underwear. This is supposed to remind Sikhs that they should control their sexual desire, and treat those of the opposite sex respectfully.

The wearing of the Five K’s acts as a physical signifier of Sikhism. Mid-April is also a significant time for Sikhs as it marks the anniversary of the rise of Ranjit Singh. On the 12th of April in 1801, Ranjit Singh was named Maharaja of the Sikh empire which he had helped to establish. His crowning created a unified political state.

The 13th of April also marks the anniversary of the 1919 Armritsar massacre, in which Acting Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer ordered the British Indian Army to open fire at a crowd of unarmed Indian civilians. 379 died, and over a 1000 were injured. The civilians had assembled at Jallianwala Bagh to celebrate Vaisakhi, and were not aware that Dyer has banned all meetings, fearing an insurrection. Some, particularly those who benefitted from the formation of the British Raj, praised Dyer’s actions. However, many condemned them. He was never reprimanded for it however, and Britain has never formally apologised for the massacre. In light of this, one could say that Vaisakhi is an important day for many different reasons, but the one that is probably remembered the most is the formation of the Khalsa, which is representative of the dedication that people should have to their faith.

Happy Vaisakhi!

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‘Warming Her Pearls’: Status, Possession and Lust

It is the status of the mistress that separates her from the maid, and acts as a permanent barrier between the two characters. There is no social mobility in the poem, as demonstrated by the description of the pearls as a ‘rope’ (l. 8),[1] symbolising the relationship between master and slave, as one is bound to serve the other. Hallett notes that the symbol of the pearls allows ‘eroticism [to intersect] with ideas of class’[2] as they represent an unattainable, desirable object, much like the mistress to the maid. The maid is unable to break free from her low status, and so cannot enter into a romantic relationship with her mistress.

Duffy’s uses the titular image of the pearls to discuss the idea of possession. The maid is firstly jealous that her mistress dances with ‘tall men’ (l. 7), which heightens her obsession for her mistress, as the image presented here shows how men disrupt, dominate and interfere with female relationships. To combat this, the maid infuses the pearls with her ‘persistent scent’ (l. 11), like an animal marking her territory. The maid tries to use the pearls to claim the mistress as her own, demonstrating her possessive nature.

The maid’s lust remains unchanged throughout the poem and is exacerbated by the absence of the pearls. Duffy’s maid is part of an unchanged cycle, as she warms her mistress’ pearls every day and then gives them up to her. Her lust for her mistress is heightened by the loss of the pearls, as she notes that she feels ‘their absence and I burn’ (l. 24). The burning sensation demonstrates the strength of the maids’ desire for her mistress. Nobody dies in this poem, unlike in the Browning poems I wrote about over the last two weeks. Does this say that the maids’ lust perhaps is not as strong as Porphyria’s lovers’? Is her possessive nature weaker than that of the Duke? Perhaps it is purer, as it does not manifest in any murderous intent. Perhaps it is purer because it is the love of a woman, not a man? Maybe there is no murder because the social status of the maid remains unchanged, unlike Porphyria and the Duchess. Some things to think about…

Thanks for reading!


[1] Carol Ann Duffy, ‘Warming Her Pearls’, in The Norton Anthology of Poetry, ed. by Margaret Ferguson, Mary Jo Salter, and Jon Stallworthy, 6th edn (London: Norton, 2018), pp. 2117-2118.

[2] N. Hallett, ‘Did Mrs. Danvers Warm Rebecca’s Pearls? Significant Exchanges and the Extension of Lesbian Space and Time in Literature’, Feminist Review, 74 (2003), pp. 35-49, 39.

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‘My Last Duchess’: Status, Possession, Egoism and Contempt

In ‘My Last Duchess, the Duchess is killed by the Duke for her failure to recognise his status within society, and his ‘nine-hundred-years-old name’ (l. 33)[1] that she possesses because of him. Her disrespect of the title, and her ability to be ‘too easily impressed’ (l. 23) insults the Duke. The Duke implies that the Duchess was fickle and did not meet the standards of his high-ranking family, as she was pleased by all things, such as a ‘bough of cherries’ (l. 27) and a ‘white mule’ (l. 28). This leads to the Duke giving ‘commands | Then all smiles stopped together’ (ll. 45-46). The abrupt nature of line 46 demonstrates the speed of the death of the Duchess following the Duke’s order and makes for dramatic reading. The caesura caused by the phrase, in the middle of line 46, also gives the reader a moment to digest the barbarity of the Duke’s actions, which were motivated by his wish to preserve his status. Status influences the deaths of both female characters in the poems, albeit it in different ways. The Duchess’ failure to recognise her newfound status leads to her downfall. Here Browning may be criticising the idea of social mobility, as for the Duchess it ends in death.

The Duke’s possession in relation to the Duchess is explored by his keeping of her image ‘painted on the wall | Looking as if she were alive’ (ll. 1-2). This personification of the painting emphasises the detail within it, as well as the Duke’s desire to hold his wife in an infinite moment. The painting is kept behind a curtain so that only the Duke can access and make an exhibition of her, when he pleases. This demonstrates his possessive nature towards his wife, and his desire to capture her in a perfect moment as if she were living. The use of the word ‘my’ throughout the poem, and in the title, emphasises the possessive nature of the Duke towards his wife. Emily Francomano correctly summarises that, for the Duke, ‘true love is equivalent to the complete control that can only be attained by the deaths of the women they desire.’[2] This can also apparent in Brownings other work, ‘Porphryia’s Lover.’ Both women are victims of the desire of their male counterparts, specifically the desire to possess them fully.

The Duke’s killing of his wife is motivated by egoism. Browning ends the poem using an exclamatory phrase in which the Duke describes a statue of Neptune. The Duke casually finishes his tale, about the murder of his wife, and swiftly moves on, downplaying its significance. This alarms the reader, as the Duke appears unremorseful for the role he played in his wife’s demise, and more concerned with himself. The Duke is presented as a figure who lacks ‘human affection,’[3] as he killed the Duchess for egotistical reasons: the protecting of his own status.

The Duke feels considerable contempt towards the Duchess, and when this emotion reaches its peak, he orders for her to be killed. The dramatic shift in tone can be seen in the poem, signifying the peak of the Duke’s hatred for her, as he vows ‘Never to stoop’ (l. 43). This short dramatic sentence encapsulates the strength of the Duke’s contempt and a shift in the tone of the poem. It is clear that the Duke considers himself to be of greater moral standing than the Duchess, prompting him to have her killed. This action abruptly ends their relationship.

Thanks for reading!


[1] Robert Browning, ‘My Last Duchess’, in The Norton Anthology of Poetry, ed. by Margaret Ferguson, Mary Jo Salter, and Jon Stallworthy, 6th edn (London: Norton, 2018), pp. 1061-1062.

[2] E. Francomano, ‘Escaping by a Hair: Silvina Ocampo Rereads, Rewrites, and Re-Members “Porphyria’s Lover”’, Letras Femeninas, 25 (1/2) (1999), pp. 65-77, 65.

[3] J.R Watson, ‘Robert Browning: ‘My Last Duchess’, Critical Survey, 6(1/2) (1973), pp. 69-75, 74.

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‘Porphyria’s Lover’: Status, Possession and Justification

In ‘Porphyria’s Lover,’ the status of the title character heavily influences her relationship with her lover. It appears that Porphyria has been unable to give herself to her lover and set her ‘struggling passion free | From pride’ (ll. 23-24).[1] Porphyria’s passion for her lover has been constrained by her high status. The use of the word ‘murmuring’ (l. 21) also demonstrates Porphyria’s inability to give herself to her lover, as she is not prepared to announce her love for him in society. Her declarations of love for him have been reduced to whispers, demonstrating the significance of her status, as it interferes with their relationship. However, Porphyria’s leaving of the ‘gay feast’ (l. 37) signifies a change in their relationship, as it appears that Porphyria has abandoned her family at a celebratory meal. This indicates that she has abandoned her status, and the constraints that came with her high rank, and is ready to fully give herself to her lover. This is indicated by the removal of her ‘cloak and shawl,’ (l. 11) which implies that she intends to stay with her lover awhile. Her overcoming of her status and eventual acceptance of him, as well as her love for him, leads to her death in the poem, as the narrator wishes to capture the moment in which Porphyria ‘worshipped’ (l. 33) him. Here the cycle of their relationship ends, as the narrator ends the life of Porphyria, holding her forever in a single moment. Browning may be using Porphyria’s story to comment on the negative effects of social mobility.

Porphyria is killed at the moment when her lover is in full possession of her, and when she fully commits to him. He notes that she was ‘mine, mine fair’ (l. 36). The repetition of ‘mine’ demonstrates the possessive and egotistical nature of the speaker, and this acts as his self-justification for killing her. His wish, to hold her in that moment of submission, as well as his possessive nature, leads to her death, as he strangles her with her own hair. He is invigorated by his actions, as implied by the ‘burning kiss’ (l. 48) he plants on her cheek. His possessive nature is symbolised by her corpse, which he happily sits ‘still’ (l. 51) with long after her death. He objectifies her by noting her ‘rosy little head’ (l. 52), reducing her to a doll like figure that he can fully dominate and possess. In this respect the poem comments on prominent themes in Browning’s work, ‘experiencing an infinite moment and seizing love’s chance in defiance of respectability and fear,’ as noted by Eggenschwiler.[2] Porphyria’s lover kills her in a moment of bliss, in the hope of retaining that moment and making it last forever.

Following Porphyria’s murder, the narrator goes on to justify himself and his actions, stating that in killing her he granted her ‘wish’ (l. 57). His self-justification can be seen through the narrators’ use of ‘I’ throughout the second half of the poem, as he takes control and animates his dead lover’s body. The delusion of the narrator prompts the reader to realise his mental instability, which is heightened with the ending exclamation of ‘And yet God has not said a word!’ (l. 60). The exclamation is a rarity in the poem, and initially appears jovial. However, the exclamation could be one of surprise, for it appears that God has not judged his actions. It raises further questions about the narrators’ state of mind, as it is unclear what emotion Browning is trying to convey with this exclamation. The fact that the narrator killed Porphyria in an attempt to grant, what he believed, was her wish, is especially disconcerting. This supports Eggenschwiler’s idea that the poem is a ‘psychologically complex dramatic monologue.’[3]

Thanks for reading!


[1] Robert Browning, ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, in The Norton Anthology of Poetry, ed. by Margaret Ferguson, Mary Jo Salter, and Jon Stallworthy, 6th edn (London: Norton, 2018), pp. 1057-1058.

[2] D. Eggenschwiler, ‘Psychological Complexity in “Porphyria’s Lover”’, Victorian Poetry, 8(1) (1970), pp. 39-48, 40.

[3] Ibid., 39.

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St Patrick’s Day: A Brief History

Saint Patrick’s Day, or the Feast of Saint Patrick, is annually held on the 17th of March and is a religious and cultural celebration. It is celebrated primarily by Christians, and also celebrates the heritage and culture of the people of Ireland. The day is a public holiday in Ireland and has been since 1903. Saint Patrick’s Day is also celebrated globally. Irish emigrants transformed the festival into a secular one in the United States, which celebrates all things Irish. Since 1962, Chicago has coloured its river green to mark the day. The festival is also a public holiday on the island of Montserrat, as it was founded by Irish refugees. Due to the day’s association with Ireland, celebrations there greatly influence celebrations across the rest of the world.

As you may have guessed, the day itself celebrates Saint Patrick, a Christian missionary who lived in the 5th century. Most information about him comes from ‘Declaration,’ which was allegedly written by Patrick himself. The text details a story in which Patrick, at the age of sixteen, was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken from his home, Roman Britain, as a slave to Gaelic Ireland. After working for six years as a shepherd there, he found faith. Toward the end of this six-year period, he began to hear a voice telling him that he would soon go home, and later that his ship was ready. He escaped, and travelled to a port, 200 miles away. There he found a ship and sailed back to Britain. By the time he returned to his family he was in his early twenties. There, he continued to study Christianity.

Patrick later had a vision, and in it, claimed he was visited by a man named Victoricus, who was from Ireland. The vision told hm that he must return to Ireland and lead them. Acting upon this, Patrick returned to Ireland to introduce his new Christian faith to the Irish people. The 17th of March is traditionally believed to be the day that he died. Although he has never been officially canonised, he is recognised as the primary patron saint of Ireland and is sometimes called ‘Apostle of Ireland.’ He is also regarded as ‘equal-to-the-apostles,’ meaning that his service to Christianity is considered to be on par with Jesus’ original 12 apostles.

The shamrock is a common symbol of Ireland, and legend has it that Saint Patrick used it to aid his teaching. According to the story, which first appeared in writing in 1726, he used it to illustrate the idea of the Holy Trinity. The three leafed sprig was representative of the father, the son and the holy spirit. It is now heavily associated with Saint Patrick’s Day. Allegedly, St Patrick also banished snakes from Ireland, chasing them all into the sea when they attacked him during his 40 day fast on top of a hill.

Green is associated with Ireland primarily because of the image of the shamrock. Other reasons have also been outlined. The story of Goídel Glas was described in the 11th century book ‘Lebor Gabála Éren.’ Glas was bitten by a snake, which was healed by Moses through the use of his staff. As a reminder, Glas retained a green mark that would also lead his people to a land that would be free of snakes. In the 1640s, the green harp flag was used by the Irish Catholic Confederation, further strengthening the link between the colour and the country. The wearing of the ‘Saint Patrick’s Day Cross’ was also a popular custom until the early 20th century. They were Celtic Christian crosses made of paper, covered with different coloured silks, commonly with a rosette of green silk in the centre. The festival is actually celebrated in more countries than any other national festival.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

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Harry and Meghan: History Repeating Itself?

Harry and Meghan’s interview with Oprah aired in the UK on Monday and was viewed by 12 million people. In the aftermath of its airing, Piers Morgan resigned and many media outlets have spoken in defence of their work and decried the couple. The couple candidly discussed Buckingham Palace, mental health and claimed that they received a lack of support from the family… or the institution… or is it the same thing? Meghan herself recognised it was difficult to separate the two, and Harry later confirmed this idea. In response, the Daily Mail released an article ‘fact checking’ the claims made by the couple: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9338421/Royal-revelations-test.html

Were the couple lying? Dare we have the right to accuse them of it? Why do people feel the need to so staunchly defend the royals? What’s the real difference between Meghan and Diana? Let’s have a think.

I will admit that I was surprised to think that Meghan had not even Googled Harry when she first met him. To debunk this, the Daily Mail quoted couples’ friends, and cited the recent book written about the Duke and Duchess, ‘Finding Freedom.’ Meghan’s maid of honour at her first wedding, Ninaki Priddy, asserted that Meghan was obsessed with the royal family, particularly Diana. Americans especially are interested in the royal family, so I assumed that she would have heard of them and recognised their status. Although Google may be able to give an idea of what being a working royal might be like, I doubt it could tell us what it is like day to day. Google would probably comment on a generalised notion of royal duties, but I doubt there is a comprehensive guide out there for people marrying into the royal family. There certainly was none for Diana, who noted that she ‘was thrown in the deep end,’ in one of the tapes Andrew Morton used to write her biography. Diana specifically here was referring to the Australia tour. Everyone was sympathetic to Diana about this issue, but it seems that Meghan has not been afforded the same sympathy. What is the difference? We do not see what goes on behind closed doors, as Diana’s story proved. We only learned about her experiences when she spoke out as Harry and Meghan are doing so now. Perhaps you would think that Meghan would have Googled Harry, but would it have really helped? Considering what Harry was saying in the interview, his experience in recent years has been as bleak as Meghan’s. It appears that even Harry did not fully realise what being in the royal family was like until now, or how ‘trapped’ he was inside it.

The couple also claim that they were wed secretly before the wedding. The Mail states that this is unlikely, but I cannot fathom what could be gained from the couple lying about this. The Mail says that in reality this just could have been an exchange of vows, not a legally recognised wedding. Perhaps this is enough for the couple, to them that counted as a wedding. Some say this was for publicity, but the couple have their Netflix deals, they were not paid for the interview. I can only think that this interview was agreed on because the couple wanted to tell their story.

Meghan claimed that she was ‘silenced’ by the royal family. The Mail cites evidence from royal insiders that the couple ‘called the shots’ when it came to publicity, but who are these royal insiders? Are they trustworthy? Why should we not trust in what the couple has to say? Diana too experienced similar treatment, her bulimia was overlooked by the family, and her decision to do the 1995 Panorama interview stemmed from her belief that a divorce from Charles would result in a gagging order. Sarah Ferguson also spoke out about eating disorders that she faced during her royal marriage, and she too faced personal criticism from the press. This idea of having a ‘stiff upper lip’ and not expressing ones feelings seems like an all too familiar narrative.

Issues surrounding Archie are both contentious and damning. If history dictates that Archie should not have a title, then fair enough, so be it. This is where facts and perception may get confused. It certainly looks bad, that the first royal baby of colour, will be the only one not to receive a title from an outsider perspective. This also links to Meghan’s treatment by the media. If you put a picture of the family together, the most noticeable difference is that Meghan is a woman of colour. Anything relating to Archie’s race, or colour, be it based on precedent or not, is bound to be inflammatory. If the couples remarks are indeed incorrect, then the palace should issue a statement to correct them. The Queen did step in in 2013 to issue a Letters Patent that ensured that George’s siblings received a title… could she not do the same for Archie? Why is she willing to bend the rules for them and not Archie? I am in no way saying that I believe that this was racially motivated, but if you ask people to look for a link, this is what they will come to – as it is the only difference between Meghan, Archie and the rest of the family.

The issue of Archie’s security strikes me personally as not an issue relating to the monarchy, but an issue relating to family. Archie is still Archie, and Prince Harry will forever be known as Prince Harry. The family will be forever hounded by the media. It appears that in their treatment of Harry and Meghan, the royal family subtracted the fact that they were family. Although people have cried out saying that Harry and Meghan should not have access to money from the taxpayer, and rightly so, surely the other royals would want to support Harry and Meghan in their move abroad? Yes, they wanted to be financially independent, but this does not happen overnight. Could no one have provided them with some money to settle? It does look uncaring on Charles’s part, especially in light of Harry’s remark that his father has stopped taking his calls. Following ‘The Crown,’ and all the history that has been dragged up by it, Charles has not fared well in recent months. Diana detailed Charles’s treatment of her in the biography, and if all are to be believed, it seems that some things are not changing. Harry is right in saying that Archie is still his grandson, Prince or not.

The Mail Online’s stance about Meghan’s requests for help being denied has been labelled as ‘difficult to verify.’ This is just a version of saying ‘we do not know,’ which is only a stone’s throw away from saying that Meghan is lying, as she is not being vindicated. This is insulting to her and others who have had mental health issues. Diana suffered the same treatment, but it appears that everyone’s compassion was then and does not exist now. The Mail even cites the fact that Harry did not know what to do about it, and so effectively blames him for his own wife’s poor mental health.

In terms of stories coming out, and protection from the media, from an outsider perspective it did not seem like the palace did not do much to stop the barrage of abuse Meghan was receiving. Parliament did discuss it, and Harry made a statement but no more was done. This again does not look good. The Mail labels this as ‘contested.’

I suppose viewers cannot really ever know the truth. It is Harry and Meghan’s word against someone else’s. What I will say is that, in my view, the Duke and Duchess did not come across bitter or vengeful in any way, and instead appeared sincere. There was no intense criticism of the character of individual members of the family but a mere description, of what they say, happened. Charles did probably come off the worst, but even then, Harry never made a comment on Charles’s character, just that Charles had stopped taking his calls, and that he felt let down. From an outsider perspective however, it does not look good, and based on what we know, looking at the experiences of Diana, Sarah Ferguson and Meghan, there are certainly common themes. This in itself is unsettling. It made me think of my own time working at Buckingham Palace, and although the situation was completely different, it seems that the harshness of the environment, and at times lack of sympathy, something that these three women described, does filter through to all levels.

What we all should remember is that these people are still people with feelings. They are still a family who fight and disagree with each other. No one is perfect, and no one is blameless, and even though people have come out in staunch defence of the royal family, solely because they are the royal family, they too are people who can, and I personally think have, made mistakes. I do not think people should take it so personally, especially when these people are not our own flesh and blood family… a hint to Piers Morgan, whose vendetta against Meghan seems childish and slightly obsessive. In terms of mistakes, and a totally different context, look at Prince Andrew.

Thanks for reading!

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The influence of scripture, tradition and law on the abolition of Sati

‘Women become sites upon which various versions of scripture, tradition and law are elaborated’ – Lata Mani.

Mani’s sentiment rings true, as scripture, tradition and law were used to address Sati, an issue that primarily concerned women. Women therefore did become sites upon which versions of these three sources were elaborated and developed. Although these debates stemmed from a problem exclusive to women, the discussions demonstrated peoples’ desire to ascertain the legality of Sati, not their desire to help Hindu women. This is reflected in the rulings of the Nizamat Adalat, and in the works of Rammohun Roy and Walter Ewer.  The ideas that were generated by the debates concerning scripture, tradition and law impacted on Britain’s understanding of Sati, leading to the generation of colonial discourse on the topic. This cemented the British view that India was an immoral land, a view that validated their own, colonial, Christianising mission. Although scripture, tradition and law directly affected the debates around the abolition of Sati, and by extension women, women acted as passive bodies that these ideas were elaborated from, as their plight was disregarded in favour of assessing the legality of Sati, and later the colonial agenda of the British.

Initially, the East India Company were deterred from abolishing Sati as they did not want to appear as religiously intolerant, and they also worried about the economic repercussion’s abolition would have on the Company.[1] Due to this, there was a lack of legislation that explained Sati.[2] Regional traditions of the practice also varied, such as the direction of the pyre and whether the widow’s body should be placed on the left or on the right of it.[3] This made the practice inscrutable to the British colonisers. To combat this, instead of condemning Sati, they sought to assess how it should be practised, and to enshrine this in law. Enshrining Sati in a universal law meant that Indian widows could still carry out the practice, in a way which the British colonisers understood. The British colonisers believed this was the best way to minimise disruption to the Indian natives.[4]

British Utilitarianists, such as James Mill, advocated a universal code of law based on British values, believing that by reforming society, they could also improve Indian morality.[5] To generate accurate legislation, British colonisers depended on the interpretation of Indian pandits to understand Indian jurisprudence. This was problematic, as regional variations of Sati were largely ignored.[6] Increasingly, dependence on pandits, and the power that they exercised, became unsettling to British colonisers, so they sought new ways of understanding Sati and ascertaining the legality of it.[7] Social reformers such as Rammohun Roy advocated a return to scripture in order to do this.[8]

The influence of scripture over the debates about the abolition of Sati reinforced the authority of the pandits, as the interpreters of Hindu scripture. When attempting to ascertain the legality of Sati, which in this context refers to its scriptural authority, the court of Nizamat Adalat called on the pandit Ghanshyam Surmono.[9] In 1813, Surmono concluded that because the practice was ‘recognised and encouraged by the doctrines of the Hindoo religion,’ it should be legalised.[10] Surmono stressed that the legality of Sati rested on the voluntary nature of it.[11] This is recognised in magistrates’ records of Sati, in which the countenance of the widow was examined to ensure that she was committing the act of ‘her own free will.’[12] This defined the role of woman as the dutiful wife who was obedient to her husband and obedient to scripture.

The court also concluded that widows could only commit Sati ‘provided she has no infant children, nor is pregnant.’[13] If the widow were to commit Sati, she should also make provisions for childcare.[14] This view casts the widow in the role of mother and demonstrates a conflict between this role and her role as wife. The courts advocation of Sati supports the women’s position primarily as wife. Unfortunately, this does not consider the plight of the widows in question, as their lives rested on the presence and age of their children, and not their own will.

Rammohun Roy’s 1818 tract disagreed with the legal rulings of the court, and asserted that Sati had no scriptural authority.[15]  He claimed that corrupt Hindu princes invented the practice, ‘under the cloak of religion,’ to ensure the faithfulness of their widows, and then asserted the legitimacy of Sati in scripture.[16] Roy noted the absence of Sati in the Shashtras, texts which the British colonisers used as principal guides to the Hindu faith.[17] Despite this apparent display of support for women, Roy’s opposition to Sati stemmed primarily from its lack of scriptural authority.

Instead of Sati, Roy advocated ascetic widowhood, which, as described in the Manusmriti, ‘should preserve the virtue required of widows.’[18] Walter Ewer corroborated the importance of the text, seeing it as the ‘parent of Hindoo jurisprudence.’[19] Governor General of India William Bentinck supported this idea, stating that ascetic widowhood was ‘the purest precepts of religion,’ and that, for the rest of her life, the widow would act as a role model for future generations of Hindus. [20] 

In response, supporters of Sati argued that a prolonged life of widowhood would lead to one of prolonged suffering, recognising Sati as the lesser of two evils.[21] It was also feared that widows were a danger to society, as they did not have a husband to contain their irrepressible sexuality, making Sati a more favourable alternative.[22]

Roy’s use of the Manusmriti to support his argument was also problematic, as the text did not address the issue of Sati, rendering it irrelevant.[23] This led to the broader assertion by the opposition that a lack of scriptural basis did not validate the disregarding of traditional practices.[24] The durga puja and dola jatra were cited as examples.[25] Although women acted as sites upon which these debates were elaborated, their plight was disregarded, and instead, the assessment of the credibility of scripture in defining Sati was prioritised. Women were relegated to an inactive and passive role by scholars in the debates about the abolishment of Sati. Britain selected details of these ongoing debates to incorporate into their own distinct colonial discourse on the topic of Sati.

British evangelical missionary Charles Grant decried the treatment of women in India, and saw them as the ‘unfortunate part of the community and greatly to be pitied.’[26] Politician William Wilberforce publicly condemned the ‘fireside evils’ that Indian women were subjected to, which directly contrasted with the evangelical view of the fireplace, as the heart of the idealised Christian family.[27]

Walter Ewer developed this idea further through his conception of the Hindu widow. His 1818 work advocated voluntary Sati, but argued that the widows involved in the practice were enslaved by religion and the will of those around them.[28] Ewer asserted that any normal person would ‘turn with natural instinct and horror from the thought of suttee,’ but that the widow does not because she lacks education and the ability to reason independently.[29] This infantilised the widows, making them occupy the position of wife, mother and also child.[30] This is ironic, as in 1818, sixty-four percent of Sati’s were above forty years of age.[31] Whilst, in a way, defending women by stating that Sati must be voluntarily, Ewer also does them a disservice by casting them in the role of the unintelligent victim, that needed the aid of foreign intervention. This demonstrates Britain’s ability to manipulate certain ideas about Sati to suit their own colonial agenda.

Ironically, Britain’s discourse on Sati increasingly focused on Hindu men rather than Hindu women. Britons viewed Hindu men as effeminate and weak, leading them to the conclusion that they were unable to protect Hindu women from practices such as Sati.[32] The British decided that they needed to intervene to protect Hindu women from Hindu men, the enforcers of Hindu faith and tradition. The selective discourse that the British employed is also present in their commentary on female infanticide. Hindu men interviewed by Major Walker stated that female infanticide ‘belonged to the Nursery,’ attributing the act to women.[33] However, the British elected to blame Hindu men for this, saying that women committed infanticide on the order of their husbands, who enforced the Hindu faith upon their women, even though Hinduism itself made no mention of female infanticide.[34] This suited the British agenda by confirming the superiority of British, Christian moral values, and encouraged the colonial belief that India was a morally corrupt country that required British intervention.

This was vocalised by Wilberforce, who argued that Christian conversion was an ‘imperial duty.’[35] Charles Grant concurred, claiming that the only way to reform India was to reform its morals.[36] Although these ideas stemmed from the practice of Sati, the focus on Hindu men disregarded the plight of the women in favour of validating the British agenda: the Christianisation of India.

Sati was used to appeal to the wifely and maternalistic nature of the British woman and to inspire their sympathy, in the hope that they would travel to India as missionaries.[37] Bentinck wished for this to happen quickly, in contrast to the gradual change that had gone before.[38] Such a mission epitomised the evangelical idealisation of motherhood, as it saw women expanding their domestic role in the English home to include the country of India.[39] The mission of the women was the spread of education, in the hope that intellectual enlightenment would encourage Hindus to convert to Christianity, and thus end immoral Hindu practices, such as Sati.[40] The campaign itself was successful, and by May 1821 over 521 pounds was collected by the Ladies Committee of the British Foreign School Society to send a teacher to Calcutta.[41] Mary Anne Cooke was selected, and in setting up schools throughout Calcutta, educated 800 pupils over three years.[42] Cooke herself styled her work as one of self-sacrifice, as she had left the comforts of Britain to help people less fortunate than herself.[43] Her sacrifice contrasted the self-sacrifice of Sati, serving the British cause further in highlighting the differences between Britain and India.[44] Despite the good intentions of her mission, it is conceivable to think that the story of Cooke would have attracted more attention than the Indian women who she was trying to educate, and also reinforced the British conception that the people of India were intellectually and morally inferior, as illustrated by their selective discourse. In retrospect Britain’s response to Sati can be read as a white saviour narrative, in which Britain’s attempts at helping India were predominantly self-serving.

Sati was abolished in 1829, meaning that British colonisers were successful in intervening in the lives of the Indian natives. As I have demonstrated, although women acted as sites upon which the debates concerning the abolishment of Sati were elaborated, because Sati specifically concerned women, their feelings were disregarded in favour of the debates that ensued between scholars and academics, who sought to ascertain the true nature of Sati. The ensuing discussions cast women in several different roles, such as wife, mother and victim, roles that the women themselves had no control over. Britain chose which ideas to incorporate into their colonial discourse, concluding that the Indian natives needed to be saved from themselves, citing the weakness of Hindu men as the cause of this development. Britain’s solution was the spread of Christian ideals, perpetuating a white saviour narrative. No action which led to the abolition of Sati demonstrated specific concern for the plight of the widows, as, in the words of Gayatri Spivak, it is their ‘testimony’ that is never encountered, rendering them as the unrecognised, eternal victims of Sati.[45]

Thanks for reading!


[1] L. Mani, ‘Production of an Official Discourse on “Sati” in Early Nineteenth Century Bengal’, Economic and Political Weekly, 21 (1986) pp. 32-40, p. 33.

[2] S. den Otter, ‘Law, Authority, and Colonial Rule’, in Douglas M. Peters and Nandini Gooptu (eds.), India and the British Empire (Oxford, 2012), pp. 168-190, p. 174.

[3] Ibid., p. 38.

[4] Ibid., p. 33.

[5] F. G Hutchins, The Illusion of Permanence: British Imperialism in India (Princeton, 1967) p. 10.

[6] S. den Otter, ‘Law, Authority, and Colonial Rule’, p. 172.

[7] Ibid., p. 179.

[8] L. Mani, ‘Contentious Traditions: The Debate on Sati in Colonial India’, Cultural Critique, 7 (1987), pp. 119-156, p. 104.

[9] Mani, ‘Production of an Official Discourse on “Sati” in Early Nineteenth Century Bengal’, p. 33.

[10] L. Mani, ‘Contentious Traditions: The Debate on Sati in Colonial India’, p. 94.

[11] Mani, ‘Production of an Official Discourse on “Sati” in Early Nineteenth Century Bengal’, p. 33.

[12] Mani, ‘Contentious Traditions: The Debate on Sati in Colonial India’, p. 94.

[13] Ibid., p. 98.

[14] Mani, ‘Production of an Official Discourse on “Sati” in Early Nineteenth Century Bengal’, p. 33.

[15] R. Kumar, The history of doing: an illustrated account of movements for women’s rights and feminism in India 1800-1990 (London, 1993), p. 14.

[16] Mani, ‘Contentious Traditions: The Debate on Sati in Colonial India’, p. 105.

[17] Kumar, The history of doing: an illustrated account of movements for women’s rights and feminism in India 1800-1990, p. 14.

[18] Mani, ‘Contentious Traditions: The Debate on Sati in Colonial India’, p. 108.

[19] Ibid., p. 108.

[20] Ibid., p. 112.

[21] Ibid., p. 108.

[22] A A. Yang, ‘Whose Sati?: Widow Burning in Early 19th Century India’, Journal of Women’s History, 1 (1989), pp. 8-33, p. 15.

[23] Mani, ‘Contentious Traditions: The Debate on Sati in Colonial India’, p. 108.

[24] Ibid., p. 108.

[25] Ibid., p. 108.

[26] C. Grant, Observations, on the State of Society among the Asiatic Subjects of Great Britain, Particularly with Respect to Morals and on the Means of Improving it, Written Chiefly in the Year 1792 (London, 1813), in Andrea Major (ed.), Sati: A Historical Anthology (New Delhi, 2007), pp. 75-8, p. 75.

[27] C. Midgley, ‘Female Emancipation in an Imperial Frame: English Women and the Campaign Against Sati (Widow-Burning) in India, 1813–30’, Women’s History Review, 9 (2000), pp. 95-121, p. 97

[28] Mani, ‘Production of an Official Discourse on “Sati” in Early Nineteenth Century Bengal’, p. 35.

[29] Ibid., p. 35.

[30] Mani, ‘Contentious Traditions: The Debate on Sati in Colonial India’, p. 97.

[31] Ibid., p. 98.

[32] C. Hall, ‘Of Gender and Empire: Reflections on the Nineteenth Century’, in Philippa Levine (ed.), Gender and Empire (Oxford, 2007), pp. 46-76, p. 53.

[33] D. J.R Grey, ‘Creating the ‘Problem Hindu’: Sati, Thuggee and Female Infanticide in India, 1800-1600’, in Joanna De Groot and Sue Morgan (eds.), Sex, Gender and the Sacred: Reconfiguring Religion in Gender History (New Jersey, 2014), pp. 104-116, p. 108.

[34] Ibid., 107.

[35] L. James, Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India (London, 1997) p. 224.

[36] Hutchins, The Illusion of Permanence: British Imperialism in India, p. 10.

[37] Midgley, ‘Female Emancipation in an Imperial Frame: English Women and the Campaign Against Sati (Widow-Burning) in India, 1813–30’, p. 98.

[38] G.D. Bearce, British Attitudes Towards India, 1784-1858 (New York; London, 1961), p. 156.

[39] Midgley, ‘Female Emancipation in an Imperial Frame: English Women and the Campaign Against Sati (Widow-Burning) in India, 1813–30’, p. 98.

[40] Ibid., p. 98.

[41] Ibid., p. 98.

[42] Ibid., p. 98.

[43] Ibid., p. 98.

[44] Ibid., p. 104.

[45] Yang, ‘Whose Sati?: Widow Burning in Early 19th Century India’,  p. 110.

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Moll Flanders: Subverting Romance Conventions

Daniel Defoe’s ‘Moll Flanders’ was published in 1722. The passage I will be focusing on comes halfway through the novel as an older Moll recounts a time of high notoriety in her life. Following her failed marriage to the banker, Moll turns to a life of thievery, and following the capture and execution of her accomplice, adopts the name ‘Moll Flanders’ in order to conceal her true identity. In the passage, located in Chapter 18, Moll is seduced by a ‘Gentleman’ that she meets at ‘Bartholomew Fair,’ and following the end of their liaison, she robs him. This passage, like the rest of the novel, continues to subvert traditional romance conventions, by drawing attention to romance conventions in the passage, the setting, actions of characters and by using free direct discourse. 

Romance conventions had been previously established in works of romance prose fiction, and such conventions can be identified in the opening of the passage. Moll’s ‘Gentleman’ is ‘extreamly well Dress’d and very Rich.’ These adjectives illustrate Moll’s suitors’ wealth and status within society, making him a highly eligible bachelor. Suitors would often be of a high status in romance prose fiction, as identified by William Congreve, who noted that stories of this nature involved individuals of ‘the first Rank.’[1] This emphasises that characters involved in romance prose fiction were of the highest status, which mirrors the implied status of Moll’s suitor. This is certainly true of Aphra Behn’s prose romance Oroonoko, in which the title protagonist is a ‘prince.’[2] Moll’s impression that her suitor is ‘civil’ may correspond with Congreve’s assertion that ‘lofty Language’ frequently appeared in romance prose fiction.[3] This could refer to hyperbolic romantic language, which suitors would deploy to incite feelings of affection within their lovers. Moll’s suitor also buys her a ‘Feather Muff,’ in an attempt to win her affections. This could be equivalent to the heroic acts that male suitors in romance prose fiction were supposed to complete in order to win the hearts of their lovers, referred to as ‘invincible courages’ by Congreve.[4] This plays to the idea that as well as words, suitors would have to physically prove their love to their female counterparts. The opening of the passage appears to adhere to conventions of romance prose fiction, as it develops a male character that is of high status who attempts to win Moll’s hand by showing his affection for her by buying her a gift. This then allows Defoe to subvert these established conventions throughout the remainder of the passage and novel.

The setting of the passage confirms that this was Defoe’s intention. Moll encounters her gentleman at ‘Bartholomew Fair.’ The fair had taken place since the twelfth century, in honour of Saint Bartholomew.[5] This specific setting is selected by Defoe as by 1720, two years prior to the publication of Moll Flanders, the Fair had become home to ‘debaucheries, drunkenness, whoredom’ and was deemed unfit for ‘Christians ears and eyes.’[6] This emphasises the immorality and irreligious nature of the fair, as activities within it were condemned by the Church. This foreshadows the unconventional romance between Moll and her lover, despite the initial opening of the passage, which appeared to adhere to typical romantic conventions.

This choice of setting also marks the rise in formal realism, as the novel begins to act as a ‘picture of real life and manners.’[7]  Ian Watt also recognised this as a mark of the eighteenth century novel, due to its attention to particular ‘times and places.’[8] This demonstrates that the novel is reflective of the times in which it was written, thus progressing away from romance prose fiction, which described more fantastical stories of heroism. The setting is an ironic one in which to find a romantic relationship, as those at the fair are generally seen as ‘idle’ or of ‘loose’ morals.[9]

The actions of Moll’s suitor continue to support the assertion that the passage subverts typical romance conventions. The absence of a name removes any identifying feature from the character, and also emphasises his lack of relevance in Moll’s life, as another of her nameless conquests. As the passage progresses, more is discovered about the character which contradicts the readers’ first impressions of him. He ‘press’d’ Moll to drink, implying that he forced her impolitely. He is not heroic and does not go to great efforts to win Moll, as suitors were expected to in other works of romance prose fiction. In Oroonoko, the title character notes that to save his love, he would ‘venture through any hazard to free her.’[10] Moll uses the verb ‘yielded’ to describe how she responded to her suitors’ advances and describes that he ‘did what he pleas’d with me.’ These descriptions make Moll appear passive, as her suitor is actively pushing her to drink. The relationship appears one sided, suggesting an unequal balance of romantic feeling between the two. There is an imbalance of power, as Moll appears passive to the active agency of her suitor. The forceful nature of Moll’s suitor contradicts her initial impressions of him and confirms the constitution of his character to her and the reader.

Defoe uses free direct discourse to expose the true nature of Moll’s suitor, describing him as ‘so absurd, so surfeiting, so ridiculous.’ This list of three emphasises Moll’s disdain for him, and her use of ‘surfeiting’ implies that she has endured too much of his company which has caused her to desire no more. This confirms that he stifled her, as previously suggested by his persistent action in encouraging her to drink. Moll declares that he was ‘in the possession of two devils at once.’ This metaphor emphasises his immoral nature, as he is controlled by not one but two devils, linking back to the idea that the Fair was home to people devoid of Christian moral values.  It is now confirmed that her suitor represents the antithesis of Christian morality, styling him as a devilish villain. Defoe’s use of free direct discourse allows the reader to see Moll’s point of view verbatim as she recounts her own personal experience. The lack of punctuation gives the impression that Moll has launched into a tirade of anger against her lover and is consumed by it. This emphasises her ‘individuality of character,’[11] which was explored in the eighteenth century novel, as it allowed the reader to understand characters fully, and moved them away from the stereotypical archetypes of romance prose fiction.[12] Both Moll and her suitors’ supposed morality depletes as the passage progresses, revealing their true, corrupt nature.

Moll’s own actions display her own corrupt nature. In response to her lovers’ revealed character, Moll ‘pick’d his Pocket of his watch and his purse of gold.’ What originally appeared as a romantic liaison now has descended into petty thievery. This also marks the shift away from romance prose fiction to realist novels, as Moll’s individuality of character dictates her nefarious actions. This reduces the romantic nature of the liaison to something purely economical and confirms that both characters have used each other for mutual gain. The beginning of the passage contrasts the ending, as the morality of the characters declines as the passage progresses, showing their mutual descent into moral degradation. Moll does not intend to marry this man, as one might expect at this point in her life, and the relationship is considerably dishonest as he appears as something he is not, and she robs him. Although she claims that the situation was ‘unlook’d’ for and ‘undesign’d,’ Moll makes great use of it. The unconventional use of the prefix ‘un’ attempts to emphasise Moll’s lack of involvement in the circumstances of the affair, as she tries to redeem herself in the eyes of the reader.

The passage, and novel, display the transition from romance prose fiction to the eighteenth-century novel, by subverting typical romance conventions. Defoe’s focus on setting and individuality of character allowed him to tell a more realistic story that reflected the times in which it was written, unlike the hyperbolic romance fantasies that had gone before. The moral degradation of Moll and her suitor is reflected in the dénouement of the passage, as their true nature is revealed. This is aided by his use of free direct discourse, allowing greater insight into Moll’s mind. Their actions and behaviour fully subvert the previously established romance conventions of romance prose fiction.

Thanks for reading!


[1] William Congreve, Incognita; or, Love and Duty Reconcil’d (London: Printed for Peter Buck, 1692), A5v sig [Available online: EEBO].

[2] Aphra Behn, Oroonoko (London: Penguin Classics, 2004) p. xxv.

[3] Congreve, Incognita, A5v sig.

[4] Ibid., A5v sig.

[5] Daniel Defoe, Moll Flanders (London: Penguin Classics, 2011) p. 187, n.1.

[6] Ibid., p. 187, n.1.

[7] Clara Reeve, The Progress of Romance (1785), quoted from lecture, Jessica Fay, ‘Moll Flanders’ (9th January 2020, University of Birmingham).

[8] Ian Watt, The Rise of the Novel (London: Pimlico, 1957 repr. 2000) p.32.

[9] Defoe, Moll Flanders, pg. 187, n.1.

[10] Behn, Oroonoko, p. 20.

[11] Watt, The Rise of the Novel, p.32.

[12] Northrop Frye, ‘The Four Forms of Prose Fiction’, The Hudson Review, Vol. 2, No. 4 (1950) p. 584.

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Valentine’s Day: A Brief History

Nowadays Valentine’s Day is associated with love and commercialism. However, the origins of the day are far more interesting, tragic and violent. In ancient Rome, the pagan fertility festival of Lupercalia was celebrated in from the 13th to the 15th of February. The festival itself honoured Lupa, the wolf that suckled Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. The festival also honoured the Roman God Faunus, the God of fertility. Traditions on this day were somewhat more gruesome than traditions today and included animal sacrifice. Young women were whipped with the bloody skin of the animal sacrifices to ensure they were fertile for the next year.

In the 5th century, Pope Galasius I tried to Christianise the day by declaring it Saint Valentine’s day. There were many Saint Valentines that were canonised over the years but the one most associated with the day is the Saint that died in AD 269 in under the reign of Emperor Claudius II. Interestingly, Saint Valentine of Rome is also the patron saint of epilepsy and beekeeping. Saint Valentine was a clergyman who ministered to persecuted Christians, and also conducted secret marriages for them. Emperor Claudius II had banned marriage as he constantly needed men to fight in the army. He did not want men in the army to have a family that they would be attached to, as it became hard for the men to abandon their loved ones. Unfortunately, Claudius found out about Saint Valentine’s secret activities and put him in jail. According to legend, people who he had married posted roses into his cell. There are also rumours about a love story between Saint Valentine and his jailer’s daughter, with notes being exchanged before his execution being signed off with ‘from your valentine.’ He was martyred on February 14th and buried on the hill of Terni. His relics were kept at the Church and Catacombs of San Valentino in Rome, which became an important site for pilgrims throughout the Middle Ages. Valentine’s day is also known as the Feast of Saint Valentine.

Throughout the 14th and 15th centuries the festival became more widely associated with courtly love, spring and fertility, an association that to some extent continues to this day. During the 18th century the day became associated with expressing feelings of love, and in the Victorian age of commercialism, the festival really took off. Cards began to find their way into shops, usually decorated with the image of Cupid. Valentines cards emerged in America during the 1840s also. Different countries have different traditions however, and in Italy Valentine’s Keys are exchanged, giving lovers the power to unlock each other’s hearts. Keys are also given to children to ward off epilepsy. Nowadays, different regional areas have different folk traditions. In Norfolk, a character called ‘Jack’ Valentine knocks on the back door of houses leaving presents for children. In the UK, 1.3 billion pounds is spent yearly on Valentine’s day gifts. Twenty-five million cards are also sent each year. It remains one of the biggest celebrations of the year, after Christmas day.

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Fallenness and Gender in ‘Paradise Lost,’ ‘The Monk’ and ‘Lamia’ – Part Two

The establishment that Fallenness is attached exclusively to the female sex becomes more difficult to uphold when interrogating the texts more deeply, as men exhibit Fallenness like their female counterparts. Ambrosio recognises that he is currently in the ‘period of life when passions are most vigorous, unbridled, and despotic.’[1] This list of three emphasises the uncontrollable and tyrannical nature of Ambrosio’s sexuality, which is already present before he is tempted by Matilda. He recognises the frail nature of man, which in his mind is ‘prone to error.’[2] Ambrosio displays psychological Fallenness before he enters into sexual sin with Matilda.

Ambrosio is tempted by Matilda in a garden, where he is bitten by a ‘serpent.’[3] Matilda in the role of tempter and the presence of the snake alludes back to Milton’s Paradise Lost, and places Ambrosio in the role of Eve, as it is he who is being tempted. Peter Grudin pushes the comparison of Ambrosio and Eve further by arguing that, like Eve, Ambrosio does not understand the consequences of his Fall, as he does not understand the ‘true nature of his tempter.’[4] Ambrosio and Eve’s lack of understanding about Matilda and Satan respectively means that they are oblivious to the questionable intentions of Matilda and Satan. Ambrosio’s ability to be manipulated, and to become passive to Matilda’s advances transforms his masculinity into effeminacy, which further aligns him with the feminine figure of Eve.[5]  Ambrosio displays a similar sexual and psychological Fallenness to that of Eve, meaning that he is just as Fallen as she is.

In creating Eve, Adam asks for ‘thy other self,’ (VIII. 450) implying that he wishes for his partner to be a mirror of himself. One way in which Adam and Eve display equality is in their unanimous lack of knowledge before the Fall. Like Eve, Adam recalls that he does not know what death is, only seeing it as ‘some dreadful thing’ (IV. 426). Eve’s lack of understanding of this concept allows her to be manipulated by Satan, and, as her and Adam have been created equal in Adam’s eyes, it is conceivable to think that Satan could have manipulated Adam using the same concept. As Eve’s lack of knowledge results in the Fall of Man, why would Adam’s lack of knowledge not result in the same consequence?

As previously discussed, following Eve’s eating from the Tree, Adam indulges in her sexual desires and Fallenness with her. Although Eve is portrayed as the instigator of this act, it should be pointed out that Adam himself ‘on Eve Began to cast lascivious Eyes, she him As wantonly repaid’ (IX. 1015). It is Adam who encourages this immoral sexual activity; Eve merely reciprocates his desires and his actions. Here Eve is criticised for her own sexual Fallenness, and yet Adam displays an equal Fallenness and role in their ‘amorous play’ (IX. 1045).

After the Fall of Adam and Eve, the Archangel Michael reminds Adam that ‘From Mans effeminate slackness it begins’ (XI. 634). It is Adam’s defence, crafted by Milton, which states that Adam’s susceptibly to Eve’s ‘female charm’ (IX. 999) and his failure to control her growing independence is what resulted in the Fall. It is Michael’s view that Adam was the superior of the couple but became the inferior when he lost control of Eve and failed to stop her from eating from the Tree. Although this argument still acknowledges, and endorses, the fault of Eve, it does still make the point that, although Adam was blinded by Eve’s beauty, he did not act in any way to prevent her actions, and by extension the Fall of Man, assigning him responsibility for it.

Despite their own Fallenness, both Ambrosio and Adam misogynistically blame their female counterparts for own their transgressions. Milton describes that Adam is enamoured by Eve’s ‘Beauty and submissive charms’ (IX. 498). The inclusion of ‘submissive’ implies that Eve’s beauty is not attractive to Adam unless it is combined with her submission to him, as this reinforces the patriarchal relationship between the two. Following the Fall, Adam declares Eve ‘ingrateful,’ (IX. 1164) and chastises her as, because of her discretion, he too must leave the Garden of Eden. It is after the Fall that Adam’s patriarchy transforms into misogyny, as he solely blames Eve for their expulsion from Eden, a view that is affirmed by Milton.[6]

In his Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (1643) Milton reduces the role of wife to that of the ‘meet help,’ and her failure to fulfil this role implies her failure as a wife.[7] Milton, articulates these views through Eve, who declares that:

‘Him who worth in Women overtrusting,

Lets her Will rule; restraint she will not brook,

And left to herself, if evil thence ensue,

She first his weak indulgence will accuse’ (IX. 1183-1186).

Milton asserts that those who trust women will suffer for it, as women cannot restrain themselves in the presence of evil. This mirrors the popular cultural belief that women were the cause of the Fall, a view that Milton seems to adhere to.[8] Mary Wollstonecraft attacked Milton for his depiction of Eve, and by extension womankind, saying that through Eve he tries to ‘gratify the senses of man.’[9] Wollstonecraft suggested that Milton’s Eve is only present to play to male misogynistic perceptions of women at the time. This view has since been criticised as reductive however, as an emerging body of female scholarship argued against popular misogyny.

In his work, Feminist Milton, Joseph Wittreich argued that women became increasingly suspicious of the male critical discourse, prompting them to view Milton in an alternative light.[10] These emerging views opined that Milton’s invocation of traditional gender ideas were only present as he was ‘bringing them under review and subjecting them to challenge.’[11] The act of ‘Falling’ should also be critiqued, as in the Romantic sense, it has been attached to the emergence of knowledge, ‘consciousness and imagination.’[12] By pairing Milton’s perceived advocation for female rights and the Romantic view of the Fall, Eve’s desire to ‘feed at once both Bodie and Mind?’ (IX. 779) should be seen as commendable, as Eve embarks on an individual quest for knowledge. This quest for independence and knowledge aligns Eve with the Romantic image of Satan, but ironically, it is the latter who is celebrated despite their equal aspirations.[13] Despite the immediate negative consequences of the expulsion from Eden, the long term effects are more positive, as Eve imparts knowledge to mankind. This thinking acknowledges that Eve’s actions occurred for the better, prompting Wittreich to assert that Milton was encouraging ‘women’s liberation.’[14] This view is interesting as on the surface, Milton appears to support popular misogyny. It is only when looking deeper into the text that a ‘feminist Milton’ seems to emerge. Much like the text, Wollstonecraft herself offered two views on Eve, praising the ‘paradisiacal happiness’ of Adam and Eve, as representative of an ideal marriage. Despite the intense debate that surrounds the text, within its pages, unfortunately Eve is incorrectly labelled as being solely responsible for bringing sin into the world.

The misogyny that Adam displays is also present in Ambrosio. After Ambrosio rapes Antonia, he blames her for his own sins, asking her ‘Was it not thy beauty? Have you not plunged my soul into infamy?’[15] Antonia, or her beauty, cannot be held accountable for Ambrosio’s Fall as she herself was assaulted by Ambrosio. For her role, Ambrosio likens Matilda to a ‘Syren,’ a mythical creature that lures men to their deaths.[16] Unlike Eve and Antonia, when Matilda is reprimanded by Ambrosio for her role in his Fall, she does not accept full responsibility and instead encourages him to accept that he is Fallen. Matilda asks Ambrosio if she herself has not ‘shared in your guilt? Have you not shared in my pleasure?’[17] The italicisations emphasise Matilda’s opinion that both her and Ambrosio are responsible for their giving in to temptation, a view that he does not accept. Ambrosio continues to blame Matilda, declaring that she ‘roused’ his dormant desires.[18] Matilda’s defence appears to incorporate some of the debate that ensued around Paradise Lost, and may imply the latter’s impact on wider society. The female assertion that women should not be fully blamed for the Fall, both inside and outside of the texts, leads to the conclusion that Fallenness cannot be attributed to one specific sex, making it an ambiguous, ‘sexless’ concept. This is better communicated and explored in Keats’s poem Lamia.

In the poem, Lamia first tempts Lycius with the ‘words she sung’ (l. 249).[19]  The mythical creature of Lamia here is likened to a siren, as was Matilda, because Lamia actively seduces Lycius. Upon seeing her, he ‘drank her beauty up, Leaving no drop in the bewildering cup’ (I. ll. 251-252). The power Lamia draws, and exudes, from her endless beauty can also be likened to the powerful beauty of Eve. Although Lamia catches the attention of Lycius, he greedily enjoys and consumes her beauty for his own pleasure. The two then live together in ‘sweet sin’ (II. I. 31). This sin is not attributed to one character alone, and both actors partake in the relationship equally. At the end of Lamia, Lycius dies and Lamia vanishes (II. I. 305-311). Both characters are seen to suffer for their part in the relationship. This Fall occurs due to the intense devotion Lamia and Lycius have for each other, and in this respect, the poem appears to make general comment about the dangers of all-consuming relationships, one that should be heeded by the characters in the works of Milton and Lewis. The ambiguities present in these texts reflect the debates, and eventual conclusion, that Fallenness is sexless.

With the conclusion that Fallenness transcends sex and the cultural construct of gender, it is conceivable to think that Fallenness transcends humanity altogether. When Milton introduces Eve it is made clear that ‘Satan still in gaze’ (IV. 356) is present. Dobranski argued that here, Satan’s gaze was ‘contaminating’ Eve with Fallenness.[20] The present tense of the word implies that Satan’s corruption of Eve was constant and ongoing. The idea is explored more explicitly later, as Satan exploits Eve’s confusion and gains her trust through ‘flattery,’ (IX. 11) an act which ‘induces’ (IX. 18) her to eat from the Tree. Although to Adam, and endorsers of popular misogyny, Eve’s Fall is inevitable and of her own doing, the presence of Satan, and her manipulation by him, should not be ignored. It is also Apollonius’ gaze, much like Satan’s, which causes the downfall of Lamia and subsequently Lycius (II. I. 258).

Satan plays a similar role in The Monk, as it is revealed that He directly targeted Ambrosio and placed Matilda in his ‘way.’[21] Satan was the architect of Ambrosio’s Fall, and as Matilda acted as Satan’s puppet, her role is negated and attributed to him. Satan declares to Ambrosio that ‘I saw your artifice, knew its falsity, and rejoiced in deceiving the deceiver!’[22] Although Satan concedes that Ambrosio was psychologically Fallen before his intervention, without the presence of Matilda, as engineered by Satan, Ambrosio’s Fall may not have occurred, as before the presence of Matilda, Ambrosio did resist temptation. In the above cases, external actors directly manipulate the concept of Fallenness to induce the Fall of others for their own agenda, placing the concept of Fallenness out of the control of the humans who Fall.

Fallenness is a difficult concept to define. Writers during the Romantic period defined it through its exclusive attachment to the female sex. I have demonstrated how the physical and psychological characteristics of Eve and Matilda imply their inherent Fallenness, and also explored how, ironically, their male counterparts are equally Fallen. Adam and Ambrosio’s Fallenness, and their subsequent denial of this, mirrored popular misogynist attitudes which, as in the texts, attributed Fallenness exclusively to the female sex. In response, an emerging body of female scholarship vindicated the actions of Eve, rendering Fallenness as an ambiguous, sexless force. This ambiguity is explored in Lamia, in which the title character and her lover appear as equally culpable for their own destruction. However, the intervention of external actors such as Satan and Apollonius render the other characters powerless, placing Fallenness on a higher pedestal as an external, sexless force that transcends the humans that it directly affects. Perhaps Milton should have blamed not man for our ‘first disobedience,’ but blamed the creator, and creation, of the concept of Fallenness.

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[1] Ibid., p. 18.

[2] Ibid., p. 32.

[3] Ibid., p. 56.

[4] Peter Grudin, ‘“The Monk”: Matilda and the Rhetoric of Deceit’, The Journal of Narrative Technique Vol. 5, No. 2 (1975), p. 142.

[5] E. J. Clery, The Rise of Supernatural Fiction, 1762-1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995) p. 103.

[6] Wittreich, Feminist Milton, p. 95.

[7] John Milton, The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce in Complete Prose and Essential Prose of John Milton, ed. by W. Kerrigan, J. Rumrich and S. M. Fallon, (New York: Modern Library Inc, 2007), p. 854.

[8] Walker, Milton and the idea of woman, p. 16.

[9] Mary Wollstonecraft, ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects’, in Romanticism and Revolution: A Reader, ed. by Mee and Fallon, (New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011) p. 95.

[10] Wittreich, Feminist Milton, p. 31.

[11] Ibid., p. 32.

[12] Lucy Newlyn, Paradise Lost and the Romantic Reader (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001) p. 156.

[13] Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (New Haven, Conneticut: Yale University Press, 2000), p. 196.

[14] Wittreich, Feminist Milton, p. 46.

[15] Lewis, The Monk, p. 296.

[16] Ibid., p. 173.

[17] Ibid., p. 172.

[18] Ibid., p. 207.

[19] John Keats, ‘Lamia’, in Romanticism: An Anthology, 4th edition, ed. by Duncan Wu (New Jersey: Wiley Blackwell, 2012) pp. 1472-1488.

[20] Dobranski, ‘Clustering and Curling Locks: The Matter of Hair in Paradise Lost’, p. 343.

[21] Lewis, The Monk, p. 377.

[22] Ibid., p. 338.

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Fallenness and Gender in ‘Paradise Lost,’ ‘The Monk’ and ‘Lamia’ – Part One

Milton’s use of ‘man’ in Paradise Lost (1667) refers to the entirety of mankind, even though, ironically, it is woman, specifically in the form of Eve, who commits the ‘First Disobedience.’ Eve then draws Adam into sin with her by sharing with him the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. For this, Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden, a Fall that signifies a state of transition from innocence to disgrace, triggered by an act of ‘disobedience.’ For Milton, a state of ‘Fallenness’, or susceptibility to temptation, is exclusively tied to the female sex in the form of Eve, as it is she who displays physical and psychological characteristics that make her appear as degraded and vulnerable to temptation. Like Eve, Fallenness is exclusively tied to Matilda in Matthew Lewis’ The Monk (1796) as she also facilitates the Fall of her male counterpart, Ambrosio. Initially presented as a pious, incorruptible monk, Ambrosio is encouraged and succumbs to his temptations upon the arrival of Matilda. Although both women are solely blamed for these occurrences, Adam and Ambrosio also display an equal susceptibility to be drawn into Fallenness. Despite this, Adam and Ambrosio blame their female counterparts for their own Fall. Conversely, in Keats’ poem Lamia (1820) the Fall and destruction of Lamia and her lover Lycius is not attributed to one particular character or sex, and the nature and concept of Fallenness is instead ambiguous. This essay will therefore explore the concept of Fallenness, and by interrogating its portrayal in Paradise Lost, The Monk and Lamia will examine how the concept manifests itself, and will also consider whether the concept transcends humanity altogether.

Initially it appears that Fallenness is exclusively attributed to the female sex. Eve’s ‘golden’ hair is described by Milton as ‘Dishevell’d but in wanton ringlets wav’d, As the Vine curls her tendrils’ (IV. 305-307).[1] ‘Tendrils’ portrays Eve’s untidy hair as winding and flowing, representing a dangerous force that could entrap others. The use of ‘wanton’ demonstrates Eve’s promiscuity, so that her ‘wanton ringlets’ serve as a metonym for her untameable sexuality.[2] These images confirm that, even at her conception, Eve is already licentious and devoid of innocence. Adam has shorter hair which signifies his moral integrity in comparison to Eve (IV. 303). Ambrosio admires his painting of the Madonna and wishes to ‘twine round my fingers those golden ringlets.’[3] Stephen B. Dobranski posits that loose hair was deemed as inherently sexual, because of its association with undressing and ‘sexual availability.’[4] This creates a contention within the painting between the purity of the Madonna and the brazen sexuality that her ringlets imply. The paintings’ resemblance to Matilda also foreshadows Ambrosio’s subsequent Fall by her intervention, but also his desire to be intimate and to become entwined with her. It is the hair of Eve, the Madonna and Matilda that demonstrates one aspect of their Fallenness: their innate sexual degradation.

The untameable sexuality associated with the female is damning for them and those around them, as realised in the figure of the Bleeding Nun in The Monk. The young Beatrice de la Cisternas ‘took the veil at an early age,’ but she soon ‘abandoned herself freely to the impulse of her passions and seized the first opportunity to procure their gratification.’[5] Beatrice’s lack of control is emphasised by the fact that she impetuously sought to sate her desires at the ‘first’ opportunity. ‘Seized’ implies that she did so with suddenness and force. The use of ‘their’ personifies her sexual passions, cementing their status as the dominant force in her life, of which she is slave to. She becomes the mistress of the Baron Lindenburg, and all of Bavaria was ‘scandalised by her impudent and abandoned conduct.’[6] Her sexual appetites control her so completely that she is willing, and conspires with another lover, to murder the Baron, a crime that is ‘attributed solely’ to her.[7] Her multiple sexual partners emphasise her promiscuity, and in the religious world of the novel, this is justification enough for her own murder. Her innate sexual degradation, which is attributed exclusively to the female sex, possesses her so entirely that it results in her death.

Eve also displays a psychological Fallenness. When looking at her reflection, Eve is ‘pleased’ (IV. 463) that ‘What there thou seest fair creature is thyself’ (IV. 468). This alludes to the mythological figure of Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection. Like him, Eve exhibits an intense vanity, and it is only through God’s intervention that she pulls herself away from her reflection. Milton demonstrates here that women need God’s help to detach themselves from their materiality and vanity. God lures Eve away from the pool upon the promise of bequeathing her the title of ‘Mother’ (IV. 475), an offer which Eve accepts when she realises that she will see ‘multitudes like thyself’ (IV. 474). This is attractive to Eve, as having humanity made in her own image, mirrors how God made Adam in His own image. This would give Eve an exalted status, similar to that of God.[8] Her desire to recognise herself in her children, and the superior status over them that this would grant her, is attractive, as she wants to replicate the image of herself she saw in the pool. The decision to accept this title of Mother is driven by her own vanity. This quality, attributed exclusively to the female sex, emphasises the Fallenness of Eve’s psyche.

Eve’s confusion and lack of intelligence precipitates the Fall of Man. Eve’s first action when she is born is to look into the ‘Smooth Lake, that to me seemed another skie’ (IV. 459). Eve looks to the ground; Adam looks to the sky. This shows Eve’s confusion between the two, and lack of effective ability to reason. Eve also does not understand ‘God or Death, of Law or penalty?’ (IX. 775) which makes her vulnerable in the presence of Satan, whose actions are based on deceit. Satan uses these flaws to persuade Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge.

Milton’s criticisms of Eve’s psyche are summarised by his assertion that:

‘The Wife, where danger and dishonour lurks,

Safest and seemliest by her Husband staies,

Who guards her, or with her the worst endures’ (IX. 267-269).

The specificity of ‘Wife,’ and the iambic stress that falls upon it, emphasises that part of Eve’s Fallenness stems from the social position she occupies as Adam’s consort. ‘Lurks’ supports this view, as it tells us that her Fallenness remains deceptively hidden. ‘Lurks’ also supports the idea that Eve’s Fallenness was foregrounded by her sex but is elevated by her status as the consort of Adam. This is fully realised and apparent to those around her when she eats from the Tree. Both Milton and Lewis encourage the reader, as well as the male characters in the texts, to view the female sex as solely accountable for the advent of the Falls that occur in both texts. This is foreshadowed by the sexual and psychological Fallenness that Eve and Matilda exhibit upon their introductions. The marriage of sexual and psychological Fallenness render the women as totally Fallen, and totally irredeemable.

Eve and Matilda also have the ability to cause the Fall of others as their own Fallen nature is hidden behind a façade of extreme virtue. To Adam, Eve’s golden tresses enhance and demonstrate her virtuous power as does her beauty.[9] In her presence:

 ‘That space the Evil One abstracted stood

From his own evil, and from the time remained,

Stupidly good.’ (IX. 463-465).

Eve’s beauty is enhanced by her virtuous nature, and is so powerful, that she temporarily exorcises the evil from Satan. Matilda too appears virtuous, as demonstrated by the ‘dazzling whiteness’ of her breast.[10] White is a colour representative of purity, and it is this that attracts Ambrosio to Matilda as well as the painting of the Madonna. Ambrosio is correct in asserting that ‘vice is ever most dangerous when lurking behind the Mask of Virtue.’[11] ‘Lurking’ echoes Milton’s own description of ‘Wife’ and affirms that Eve and Matilda’s physical exteriors align them with a hyperbolic image of virtue, which shields their Fallen nature. This makes them even more dangerous to their male counterparts, who are unaware of the extreme Fallenness that they are encountering and are at risk to.

Adam falls victim to this, as following her eating from the Tree, Eve ‘wantonly’ (IX. 1015) tempts and encourages Adam to indulge in her sexual desires, and by extension, Fallenness. The repeated use of the word ‘wantonly’ emphasises Eve’s sexual immorality, in contrast to Adam and Eve’s first sexual encounter, in which the two were ‘pure of sinful thought’ (VIII. 504), and Eve is described as ‘blushing’ (VIII. 511) like the innocent morn. Through the use of her ‘contagious fire’ (IX. 1035) Eve diffuses her sin into Adam, meaning that, in having sex with her, he is indulging in her Fallenness with her, and Falls himself. Despite the reader being informed of Eve’s dubious intentions, Adam only sees, and is seduced by, her ‘female charm’ (IX. 999). In this moment it is clear that Adam’s Fall is the fault of Eve. Similarly, Ambrosio has sex with Matilda as he is seduced by her false façade of ‘warmth and passion.’[12] This emphasises the Fallenness of the female sex, as they are so corrupted that they are willing to draw others into their own Fallen state through the use of their manipulative, dangerous sexuality.

Thanks for reading! Part two next week!


[1] John Milton, Paradise Lost, ed. by John Leonard (London: Penguin Clothbound Classics, 2014).

[2] John Wittreich, Feminist Milton (London: Cornell University Press, 1987), p. 87.

[3] Matthew Lewis, The Monk (Oxford: Oxford World Classics, 2016), p. 32.

[4] Stephen B. Dobranski, ‘Clustering and Curling Locks: The Matter of Hair in Paradise Lost’, PMLA Vol. 125, No. 2 (2010), p. 348.

[5] Lewis, The Monk, p. 134.

[6] Ibid., p. 134.

[7] Ibid., p. 135.

[8] Julia M. Walker, Milton and the idea of woman (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998), p. 151-152.

[9] Dobranski, ‘Clustering and Curling Locks: The Matter of Hair in Paradise Lost’, p. 349.

[10] Lewis, The Monk, p. 51.

[11] Ibid., p. 66.

[12] Ibid., p. 71.

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The ‘supreme’ Tudor monarch and material culture

All Tudor monarchs used material culture to enhance their status as the ‘supreme monarch,’ by constructing themselves as the supreme authority in several different aspects of life. Henry VII first used material culture to communicate the legitimacy of the Tudor claim, and during the Break with Rome, and subsequent religious changes, material culture was used to communicate that the monarch was the supreme head of religion in England. Objects such as the Angel Coin also communicated the divine link between the monarch and God, and implied their supreme healing powers. Material culture was also used to communicate the supremacy of the monarch to the lay people. These ideas culminate, in visual art, which successfully communicates the supremacy of the reigning Tudor monarch in all aspects of life, earning them the overall title of ‘supreme monarch.’

Henry VII first sought to construct and communicate the legitimacy of the Tudor claim to the throne. He used Arthur’s Round Table at Winchester Cathedral to do this. The table dates back to Edward I, and reflects a time in which the Arthurian legends were popular, as they epitomised nobility and the chivalric ideal. Henry VII tapped acknowledged this, and Martin Biddle asserts that Henry’s decision to baptise his son Arthur at Winchester meant, in trying to connect his family with King Arthur, Henry was trying to communicate the legitimacy and ‘genealogical prestige’ of the Tudor family. This also aimed to dispense the Tudors’ somewhat dubious claim to the throne, as they descended from the illegitimate children of John of Gaunt. Henry took this further, and when Emperor Charles V visited in 1522, he painted a Tudor rose in the centre of the table and painted himself in Arthur’s throne. This showed Henry as supplanting Arthur’s position as the ideal knight and monarch. This further strengthened the link between Arthur and the Tudors, and the legitimacy of the Tudor dynasty due to their ancient, British roots. This placed the Tudors on equal footing with other European emperors, who claimed that their families were related to Charlemagne, and so worked to assert the legitimacy of the dynasty on a global stage. After constructing the legitimacy of their claim, the Tudors then sought supremacy over religion.

Beginning with the reign of Henry VIII, the Tudors asserted themselves as the Supreme Heads of the Church and religious policy. Henry VIII used material culture to do this, as seen on the front cover of the Great Bible, published in 1539. The Bible came following the Break with Rome, a series of Parliamentary legislation that facilitated England’s split from the Roman Catholic Church, beginning with the First Act of Supremacy in 1534. According to John Guy, this act granted Henry the caesaropapism that he desired, as his secular authority now incorporated religious authority. This is depicted on the cover of the Great Bible. It was commissioned by Thomas Cromwell, who Henry proclaimed as Vicegerent in Spirituals, and was written by Myles Coverdale. On the front cover, Henry is depicted at the centre, delegating various religious doctrine to Cromwell, who in turn directs the Bishops. What is displayed is a hierarchy of authority, with Henry delegating the religious reforms at the front and centre. A small image of God is depicted above him emphasising the divine link between the two, but also Henry’s superiority over God, whose image he dwarfs.

The role of Cromwell also demonstrated the authority that Henry could grant his advisors. Cromwell controlled the printing of English Bibles, and reduced the price from 13.s 4d to 10s, to ensure that all English parishes had access to one, which they did by 1547. This technique was also employed by Elizabeth I, who, when she reinstated Royal Supremacy in 1559, issued the Elizabethan Bible. Elizabeth is depicted on the front as ‘Hope,’ with the figures of ‘Faith’ and ‘Charity’ either side of her. Like the Henry, this communicates divine Elizabeth’s status as the supreme head of the English Church. As well as being the supreme head of religious policy, the Tudor monarchs were also believed to have supreme healing powers.

These ideas are communicated by the Angel Coin, as it was believed that this, prayers, and the Kings Touch could cure Scrofula. The gold coins, which are nineteen millimetres in diameter, were first introduced in 1465. One side depicted Archangel Michael slaying the dragon, a reference to the triumph of good over evil, and the idea of the Guardian Angel. On the opposite side, an English Galley is depicted, with a ‘H’ and a rose below the main topmast. A shield with the Kings arms is also present. ‘By thy cross save us, Christ redeemer’ is inscribed in Latin around the circumference of this side of the coin, and implies the connection between Christ and the monarchy, the latter represented by the Kings Arms. A hole is punched through it to negate its monetary power. The coin symbolises the idea that the ruling monarchy was sacred, as they were chosen to rule by God. This was also communicated in ceremonies such as the Maundy, an event which took place on Maundy Thursday every year. The monarch would wash the feet of poor people, as Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. This closely aligned the monarch with Jesus. This enhanced the ‘legitimacy’ of Tudor rule, Max Weber argues, as the Tudor monarchs were seen to be carrying forward ancient traditions. This was particularly prevalent for Elizabeth, whose image as the Virgin Queen closely aligned her with the Virgin Mary, as Carole Levin has argued. This emphasised further the divine nature of the monarch, and also led to the creation of the Cult of Elizabeth.

This was used by Elizabeth to maintain her image and authority amongst her people. Her gifting of the Heneage jewel to her courtier Thomas Heneage communicates this. Made in 1595, the jewel is a gold locket containing a miniature of the Queen by Nicholas Hilliard. The dissemination of her image allowed Elizabeth to enforce her supremacy and authority and acted as a physical reminder to the people of who they should serve. This image was also perpetuated through events such as Crownation Day, an event purported by David Cressy as the ‘queen’s holy day.’ This celebrated the anniversary of Elizabeth’s coronation, way into the reign of James VI.

The dissemination of images of the monarch among the populace was not new however. Anne Boleyn’s 1534 medallion was struck to in anticipation of the birth of a male heir, and was inscribed with Anne’s motto the ‘moost happi.’ Images such as these helped the people feel a personal closeness to the monarch. Visual displays of material wealth had the same function.  Jousting’s were used to epitomise the military supremacy of the monarch, and such events were organised to celebrate the birth of Edward. Progresses also communicated the authority of the monarchy directly to the lay people, as it gave them a rare opportunity to see their monarch and their entourage.

These ideas, about the legitimacy of the Tudor line and the divinity of the family, are communicated in Tudor paintings, which were used as propaganda. An example of this is the 1545 ‘The Family of Henry VIII’ portrait. Tara String opined that majority of Henry’s portraits positioned him in a stance that accentuated his calf muscles and shoulders, emphasising his military prowess and physical strength. His large codpiece is also the focal point of the painting, demonstrating his success in the roles of the courtly male lover: fertility and virility. His virility is also demonstrated by the presence of his three children in the painting, along with his late wife Jane Seymour. The structure resembles a triptych employed by ‘The Donne Tryptych.’ This 15th century piece by Hans Memling depicts the Virgin Mary holding Christ at its centre, flanked by Saints. This religious allusion present in the 1545 portrait communicated the divine status of the Tudor family and dynasty. Elizabeth reissued a similar image in 1590, to reassert her legitimate claim to the throne and her own divine nature.

I have demonstrated that material culture was regularly employed by the Tudors to construct and communicate themselves as the supreme monarchs of the 16th century. By communicating their superiority in several important aspects of life, they asserted their role as the overall supreme monarch. This began with Henry VII’s rooting of the Tudor dynasty in Arthurian legend to assert the dynasty’s legitimacy on a global stage. Henry VIII asserted supremacy in another aspect of life: religion. By making himself head of the Church of England, he granted all Tudor monarchs the power to legally alter the religion of England. Through the construction of Bibles, the monarchs also communicated their own divinity. This, as well as the dissemination of images, was used by Elizabeth to ensure that her courtiers and country were loyal to her. These ideas are instilled in the 1545 family portrait, which constructed and communicated the legitimacy, religious authority and overall supremacy of the Tudor monarchs.[1]


[1] All my own knowledge – written under exam conditions.

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Bhangra: A Brief History

It is undisputed that Bhangra originates from the Panjab, a province in northern India. ‘Panjab’ means ‘the land of the five rivers.’ Bhangra itself has been around for over five hundred years. What is more disputed, and difficult to define, is the word ‘Bhangra’ itself. In general terms, Bhangra describes a traditional folk dance, usually performed around Baisakhi, April 13th, the festival of the harvest. It is widely asserted that the dance originates from Sialkot in the Majha area of Panjab, as the dance practised here is regarded to be the standard. Key components of the dance generally remain consistent, and include instruments, the most well known being the dhol, a double-sided barrel, and boliyan, rhyming couplets which form the majority of lyrics. Traditionally, social issues are focused on, like love, marriage and drinking. The combination of the dance and the dhol encourage rhythmic cohesion. The oldest literal mention of the term ‘Bhangra’ dates back to the late 1800s.

The term itself acts as an umbrella term, and encompasses folk dances such as, Sammi, Jhummar and Giddha. All are classed as Bhangra but have slight variations. It is argued that Jhummar, originating from Jhang-Sial, can be traced back to the Aryan period. This took place between 1750-500 BCE, where Indo-Aryans settled in Northern India. Sammi is a dance that centres around the story of a fabled girl. Sikh freedom fighters have also been the topic of lyrics and dances. Giddha is a dance that is performed by women, and the dances enact verses called bolis, representing a wide variety of subjects from familial conflict to political affairs. Along with the beat of the dhol, the handclaps of the dancer’s guide and control the rhythm of the dancing.

For men, Bhangra represented the epitome of strength and masculinity. The energetic dance movements paraded their strength and stamina. The dance’s association with the harvest also speaks to self-sufficiency in agriculture. Wider themes associated with Bhangra have included independence and bravery.

Another interpretation, associates Bhangra with Panjabi martial dances. This is evident in the performing of Gatka, a Sikh martial art in which people use swords, sticks, or daggers. It is believed that sixth Sikh Guru, Guru Hargobind, started this following the martyrdom of his predecessor, Guru Arjan Dev. Gatka is usually performed on special Panjabi holidays, a practice which upholds traditional ideas of bravery and masculinity.

Bhangra gradually began to spread and become more mainstream, beginning in the 1940s. Following Partition, displaced Panjabis took Bhangra to new places and countries, such as the UK, where many emigrated to. In the 1950s, Bhangra was patronised by the Maharaja of Patiala, who requested a stage performance of it in 1953. This marks a distinct change, as from then on, Bhangra was not just associated with the harvest, and was seen more widely as entertainment. Throughout the 80s and 90s, artists, such as Gurdaas Mann, helped Bhangra enter into mainstream music and reach a wider audience.

Clothing worn by performers is eye-catching and colourful. To ensure that their movement is not restricted, their clothes, the vardiyaan, are loose fitting. This accentuates their movement and also the rhythm of the dance, making the overall performance of Bhangra impressive and aesthetically pleasing.

Today, with the aid of artists such as Diljit Dosanjh, and the influence of Bollywood, Bhangra is massively popular. Bhangra has even been suggested as an exercise alternative. Sarina Jain was the first woman to create a Bhangra fitness workout. Bhangra societies and clubs have popped up all over the country and inspired national competitions. There is even a section dedicated to the dance as part of BBC Bitesize’s GCSE Music curriculum. It seems that Bhangra is still changing and reaching a wider audience, which is impressive considering the folk dance is over five hundred years old.[1]


[1] Information taken from:

https://hiteshsharma001.tripod.com/id2.html

https://learnbhangra.com/history

And my own knowledge.

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Was there resentment towards the Roman Catholic Church in Germany in the early 16th century?

In the years 1500 to 1517, the vulnerability of Germany and the weakness of their government led to their over exploitation by the church, and by extension the Pope. Due to Germany’s feeble government, the Pope was able to instruct and send Princes, who governed individual states, to impose the laws and views of the Pope on the German people. This continued manipulation led to resentment, meaning growing disapproval and dislike. This ill feeling towards the way Germany was being exploited caused many individuals to become opposed to the church itself. The most important and apparent source of this disapproval was the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church itself, and the behaviour of those in authority, which led to the church being viewed in a negative light. Another fundamental reason for the growing dislike towards the church were the individuals who opposed the church, who named themselves ‘Humanists.’ This growing group ensured that new ideas and ways of living were spread, thus causing opposition towards the Catholic Church to grow. Despite these warring factions, it should be noted that up to and during this time, the Catholic Church still had great power and influence over Germany and also the entire Holy Roman Empire, which dominated the majority of central Europe. 

The most important and apparent reason for the growing disapproval towards the Roman Catholic Church was the corruption that took place within it. The behaviour of those in authority was condemned, and led to the eventual growth of opposition. This dislike stemmed from the behaviour of the priests themselves, and when examined, it was discovered that they themselves were not fulfilling their duties and were being unprofessional. Absenteeism was rife, and this angered locals, as they wanted to be able to consult a religious authority at all times to administer the seven sacraments when needed, which the church believed were the seven things a good Christian must carry out in their lives. If one died without confessing his sins, or the Last Rites, due to the absence of a priest a German Catholic would argue that their relatives’ time in Purgatory would be longer as they had not confessed. This could have had a profound affect on the members of the family left behind, and their mind would not be at ease, due to the absence of their local priest. Non-residency also angered the German people in the same way, as there was nobody to turn to if religious help was required. Some priests even lived with women, which was strictly prohibited, as the prospect of a woman and a family in the life of a priest would distract them from their devotion to God. Pluralism also was apparent in the church, and one person could hold several positions. Bishops could be in charge of many dioceses at a time, and this did not allow the Bishops to focus on one state alone. For example, Albert of Brandenburg was the Archbishop of Mainz (from 1514-1545) and the Archbishop of Magdeburg (1513-1545). These positions could also be sold to the highest bidder, insinuating that some people saw the church as a means to make money. During the Indulgency scandal of 1517, Jakob Fugger of Augsburg lent Albert of Brandenburg money so he could become the Archbishop of Mainz, proving that one needed money to climb the hierarchy in the Catholic Church. Many of these people were unqualified, which led to an ignorance of Latin and doctrine. This meant that the people of Germany were not getting the required spiritual consultation they were hoping for, and that those within the church did not take their position seriously and were not well informed enough to provide the public with help. As the ordinary lay person couldn’t understand Latin, it was imperative that they had someone they could approach to help them to decipher it, and due to their unprofessionalism and ignorance of the priests, there was know one to turn to. The practise of nepotism also took place, implying that when assigning a new role, the skills and knowledge of the candidate were not considered, and only his familial ties were. This is unsettling, as it shows how little care the Catholic Church showed for the ordinary people, as they were not prepared to provide them with the most knowledgeable people. There was also great instability within the church itself as many tried to promote reform within it. One of these people was Luther, who after being caught in a thunderstorm in 1505 became ordained. The civil war within the church itself demonstrates the extent of how corrupt it was, as the ways of the church had clearly created groups with differing ideas. Priests also behaved appalling outside of the church, and were regularly seen indulging in activities that were frowned upon, such as drinking, gambling and womanising. The church condemned gambling as it could lead to addiction, and the “enslavement” of the person taking part in gambling. Money was also a cause for the corruption of the Catholic Church, as priests without payment would not perform many religious acts. These included marriage and baptisms. Money was also extracted from those embarking on pilgrimages and those who wanted to see, what the church claimed were, ancient remains, or relics. Perhaps the greatest example of exploitation by the church is the selling of Indulgences. It was believed that the purchase of Indulgences was “a way to reduce the amount of punishment one has to undergo for sins” in purgatory. Whether they were dead or alive did not matter, as Indulgences could be bought for the previously deceased. Of course, their spiritual value could not be proven, but Pope Leo X used the money raised to fund projects such as the rebuilding of St Peters’ Basilica in 1517. This again displays how the clergy would exploit the people and their own position (as well as that of the church’s) to gain money. The overall unprofessionalism of the church, as well as their exploitation of the public, provides reason for the growing dislike and disapproval towards the Roman Catholic Church in the early 16th century.  

Another important reason that added to the strong disapproval towards the Catholic Church in the early 16th century was the activity of the Humanists. This group, led by Martin Luther and at times Phillip Melanchthon, voiced the problems within the church and ensured they were well known to the public. Their actions spread the news about the corruption of the church and also provided ways to combat it. It could be argued that their open criticism of the church was the most important reason for negative feelings, but it was fundamentally the church, and the acts that those inside it, that fuelled the reforming ideas of Luther and the Humanists as well as their criticism. For example, Ulrich Von Hutten was known to mock “clerical ignorance” within the church. This movement was primarily proposed and led by Luther, and came to a climax in 1516. It struck Luther at this time that “The righteous shall live by faith,” thus propelling him to nail his 95 Theses to the doors of the university church at Wittenburg. Before this action the Humanists were responsible for promoting the general feelings of anti-clericalism and anti-papalism in Germany. This opposition to the church based on its abuse of power spread through Germany, as well as a feeling of nationalism. Humanists defended Germany’s language, culture and outlook and regarded them as highly important. This gave the Humanists the right conditions for reform, as the people of Germany were beginning to value their culture and faith again. The Humanists used this to discuss new ideas about faith and how to be a good Christian, which involved the German people further. This nationalism led to arguments from the Humanists supporting the idea that the Bible should be in the vernacular; and this eventually happened in 1522, based on Erasmus’ Greek translation in 1516. The Humanists emphasised the importance of having a good understanding of the Bible, and how this was the key to faith. The idea of “sola scriptura” was highlighted, meaning the scripture, the Bible alone, is the way to full religious knowledge. This also contributed to the idea of “sola fide,” meaning faith alone. This phrase condemns the Church’s’ practise of extorting money, as only faith is needed to be a good Christian. By making the Bible easy to understand for the ordinary person, the Humanists and particularly Erasmus hoped that this would lead to debate about religious practises, and hoped that people would become emboldened by their views of the Church. Knowledgeable theologians also supported Luther in the build up to the reformation, including Philip Melanchthon, who was present at Luther’s’ first dispute with the church in 1519 in Leipzeig. The intelligence of the Humanists, as many studied theology at university, allowed them to understand the reforms taking place and were able to actively engage with the changes. The Humanists hoped that everyone would not accept the authority of the church so easily, and would be able to grapple with new ideas of reform. The Humanists also denounced the way the Church dealt with money, and condemned the selling of Indulgences because of it. Humanists condemned the idea of relics and pilgrimages, referring back to the key concepts of faith, which they believed was having a thorough understanding of doctrine. The Humanists were partly responsible for the growing disapproval towards the Catholic Church in the early 16th century, as it was them who voiced their personal resentment towards it, thus spreading the word about the Church’s corruption to the public.

However, it can be argued that there was no disapproval towards the church whatsoever during the early 16th century. The church provided a local authority for the German people, and was regularly consulted up to the reformation, as it had great ecclesiastical power. Despite the criticisms of the Humanists, local German people still valued the Church and regarded it with great importance. The church had great influence due to the structure of the Holy Roman Empire, which dominated much of central Europe. There were 46 ecclesiastical states in the Empire, compared to only 26 secular ones. Many people turned to the church and asked for sacraments to be administered. It was believed that if the Last Rites were not performed, the amount of time spent by the dead in purgatory would be longer than intended. This emphasised the importance of the church, and how much people depended and relied on them. They also trusted them greatly, to save the souls of their loved ones and to ensure that they got to heaven. The church was regularly consulted, as people believed that God and the Devil were responsible for the good or bad events. If there were a bad harvest, the people, after consulting those in the church, would believe that God was asking for good deeds to be delivered, in order for the good times to return. Priests were also seen as teacher in the local community, and were supposed to be available at all times for consultation. The Church also spread fear among the locals, as those who broke the rules of the Church were told that they would suffer eternal damnation in Hell. This increased the popularity of the church and the amount of people who went as they wished to know how to avoid this, and they could only find out this knowledge if they understood the Bible. The Church was the sole interpreter of the Bible, because know one understood Latin, and priests were the only people allowed to read it. This inspired great respect for the church, as many believed the priests within it to be learned and cultured. This was partly the reason why many respected the church, as they felt their divine knowledge and understanding of doctrine could not be disputed, especially their attitudes to saints and relics. The viewing of such relics was believed to aid individuals towards eternal salvation, and as this belief came from priests, many people obliged. This insinuates that there was actually no disapproval towards the Roman Catholic Church, as many people saw them as the only spiritually learned men in their state. As priests were the only people who could read the Bible they were well respected and had great status, thus diminishing the disapproval towards the Church.

There was not resentment towards the Catholic Church in Germany in the early 16th century but only strong dislike, mainly for the corruption within the Church. Their unprofessionalism and exploitation of the people for money are the actions that fuelled Humanist activity, and are therefore primarily responsible for the growing disapproval of the Catholic Church.[1]


[1] All information taken from:

A. Grundy, Religion and state in early modern Europe, (London, Pearson Education, 2015).

And my own knowledge.

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Female Suffering in Shakespeare: Ophelia and Juliet

Female expressions of love lead to suffering, and this initial suffering comes in the form of exploitation. Ophelia suffers as she is exploited by Polonius and Claudius in Hamlet because of her love for the title character.  Although their love is debated, Ophelia confesses that she did ‘love’ Hamlet ‘once’ (3.1.1114).[1] AC Bradley concurs, declaring that Hamlet once ‘sincerely’ loved Ophelia, making her exploitation all the more upsetting as her genuine feelings for Hamlet are disregarded.[2] This love prompts Polonius to ‘loose’ (2.2.159) his daughter to Hamlet, in the hope of ascertaining the cause of his madness. Ophelia is traded by her father in aid of Claudius’ schemes, leading to her suffering. Emi Hamana recognises this scenario, noting that Ophelia suffers a series of ‘patriarchal oppressions.’[3] She suffers at the hands of the patriarchy as her interests are ignored and subverted in favour of the dominant males that surround her, notably Claudius and Polonius. Ophelia’s declaration of love for Hamlet leads to her suffering as she is considered a useful tool to be exploited.

This exploitation of Ophelia leads to a different form of suffering, as she is subjected to verbal abuse by her former lover. Hamlet ambiguously banishes Ophelia to a ‘nunnery,’ (3.1.120) which could be a reference to a brothel. This reference implies that Ophelia is sexually promiscuous and does not uphold traditional ideas of purity and chastity. Avi Erlich therefore defines Ophelia as ‘sexually treacherous,’ and theorises that she has had sex with Hamlet.[4] Upon her wedding, Hamlet threatens to give Ophelia a ‘plague for thy dowry,’ perhaps a reference to sexually transmitted diseases, thus confirming Ophelia’s sexual activities with Hamlet (3.1.135). Her demonstration of love towards Hamlet, having sex with him, has led him to shame her publicly, and therefore led to her suffering in the form of verbal abuse. Hamlet shames Ophelia and implies her sexual discordancy in the presence of Claudius and Polonius, leaving her feeling ‘most deject and wretched’ (3.1.154). Ophelia feels rejected by Hamlet as he has cast her aside and alluded to her sexual impurity through his verbal abuse directed at her. Hamlet’s verbal aggression towards Ophelia opens her up to ridicule and leaves her vulnerable, as he exposes their clandestine affair in front of her father and Claudius, resulting in her suffering.

Juliet’s expressions of love for Romeo lead to her suffering at the hands of Lord Capulet as she is also subjected to a tirade of verbal abuse. Lady Capulet tells Juliet that Paris seeks her for ‘his love,’ (1.3.75)[5] and Juliet opines that marriage was an ‘honour’ she did not ‘dream of’ (1.3.67). Juliet agrees to ‘look’ at Paris, as her mother wishes, like a dutiful daughter (1.3.98). However, upon marrying Romeo, Juliet dispenses with her daughterly duties, as she marries without her parents’ consent and does not consider their opinions on the matter. Her strength of love for Romeo has led her away from her familial duties demonstrating her newfound loyalty towards him. Cedric Watts notes that Juliet defies the will of her parents and opens herself up to ridicule by marrying for love and without her parents’ consent.[6] As a result, Lord Capulet is verbally aggressive towards Juliet, declaring that she is a ‘disobedient wretch!’ (3.5.166). The use of exclamation marks is rare in Shakespeare, and its inclusion emphasises the anger of Lord Capulet towards Juliet. Lord Capulet declares that having her has been a ‘curse,’ (3.5.166) implying that Lord Capulet now sees his daughter as a burden that he seeks to reject, as she has disobeyed him and refused to marry Paris. ‘Curse’ implies that Capulet believes Juliet will continually cause the family distress and harm. Juliet is rejected by her father during this tirade and risks being fully ejected from the family in her refusal to marry Paris, prompting her to beg for ‘pity’ (3.5.197). Her expressions of love towards Romeo and her agreeing to marry him, has led to her suffering as she is subjected to verbal abuse by her family. This occurs as she has compromised her duty and role within the family. Watts also notes that Lord Capulet’s response is symbolic of the feud due to its ‘intensity,’ which Juliet has concentrated into her own home through her marrying, and love of Romeo.[7] This cements the idea that female expressions of love lead to suffering, and in this instance suffering comes in the form of verbal abuse and aggression.

Female expressions of love lead to suffering, and for both women this also manifests in the form of grief, which is caused directly by their lovers. Upon hearing that Romeo has murdered Tybalt, Juliet acts with confusion, which is conveyed in her discussion with the Nurse, as she calls Romeo a ‘beautiful tyrant, fiend angelical’ (3.2.75). This juxtaposition shows her distress at the news, as she cannot reconcile Romeo’s beautiful appearance with his murderous actions. Romeo’s killing of Tybalt places Juliet in a precarious position, as she cannot condone the murder of Tybalt, but also finds that she cannot ‘speak ill of him that is my husband’ (3.2.125). Juliet suffers due to her love for Romeo, as it was Romeo who killed Tybalt offsetting her grief and all of the events that follow.

The ‘poison of deep grief’ (4.5.75) affects Ophelia differently, and prompts her descent into madness. She is distressed at the idea that Polonius should be laid in the ‘cold ground,’ (4.5.70) an action directly caused by Hamlet as he is the murderer of Polonius. Shakespeare’s use of prose here emphasises the madness of Ophelia, as she speaks and acts freely within her madness, expressing disdain towards Hamlet, highlighting the suffering that he has caused her. Ophelia sings about a man who ‘promised me to wed,’ (4.5.63) implying that Hamlet is the object of her hatred and disgust. She also states that this promise was made before he ‘tumbled’ (4.5.62) her, a reference to sexual intercourse. Despite her father’s murder, in her madness, caused by her intense grief, Ophelia still fixates upon her lover, imploring the audience to realise that Hamlet is the direct cause of her suffering, as her father’s murderer, and her suffering throughout the whole play.

Juliet’s suffering is sustained past the stages of grief, due to her continued loyalty to Romeo. Unlike Ophelia, Juliet remains loyal to her male lover, and retains her sanity. This prolongs her suffering, as she finds that she is further tested with the impending news of Romeo’s banishment. Juliet explains that ‘there is no end, no limit, measure’ in the word ‘banished’ (3.2.125). Juliet notes that the word itself has infinite powers to kill and destroy, and that the physical act of Romeo’s banishment kills her beyond infinity. As well as having to deal with her grief, and the prospect of Romeo’s banishment, Juliet finds that in allying with Romeo, she will make enemies of her family, who seek the ‘murderer’ (3.5.84) of Tybalt. She then tries to involve herself in the Capulet plot to avenge Tybalt, falsely claiming that she will not be satisfied until she sees Romeo ‘dead’ (3.5.94). Her loyalty towards Romeo means that she has to cope with the possibility of his banishment, as well as the grief and anger of the Capulet family, which exacerbates her suffering.

The final suffering of both heroines is death, which is used to discuss the wider position of women in society. Juliet greets death with the strength that she draws from her love for Romeo. Her loyalty to him, and the suffering she has endured, leads her to this moment, as she declares that she is the ‘sheath’ (5.3.170) of Romeo’s dagger. Juliet’s death is used by Shakespeare to discuss love more broadly, as in her final act, Juliet dispenses with the conventions and duties that have restrained her, personified by Lord Capulet.[8] Juliet has consistently resisted the societal pressures that have been placed on her, and rejected her duty as daughter in order to pursue Romeo. Juliet’s final sacrifice and suffering confirms the magnitude of her love for Romeo, as Shakespeare uses the character as a cipher to argue that love can be measured by the acts that lovers perform for each other.[9] Her reunion with Romeo in death advocates the idea of free choice, as Juliet is rewarded for her loyalty to her husband in death.[10]

Ophelia’s death is somewhat more peaceful as she is pulled ‘to muddy death’ (4.7.181). The ‘willow’ (4.7.164) is a symbol of unrequited love, again referencing the fact that her expressions of love for Hamlet have led to her suffering, and subsequent death.[11] Her lack of will to stop her drowning leads some critics to argue that Ophelia’s death was suicide, much like Juliet’s. In contrast to Juliet, Ophelia is not reuniting with any lover in death but instead seeks to escape the suffering that she has endured in her life, exacerbated by her love for Hamlet. Elaine Showalter opines that Ophelia’s madness and death is representative of women’s oppression within society, suggesting that, like Juliet, Shakespeare uses Ophelia to discuss the wider issues and treatment of women.[12]

Juliet and Ophelia’s love and loyalty for their male counterparts leads to their suffering and eventual deaths, which is preceded by suffering in the forms of exploitation, verbal abuse and grief. Although Shakespeare endorses free love in the character of Juliet, such emotions can be dangerous for young women. Love is portrayed as a destructive force that leads to multiple character deaths, and draws women away from their duties, thus imploring them to break free from societal restraints. Only Juliet succeeds in this, as her suicide subverts societal expectations and allows her to succeed in being with Romeo. Ophelia, in contrast, is destroyed by the men in the play, most specifically Hamlet, and is exploited by Polonius and Claudius because of her love for Hamlet. Her freedom comes in the form of her madness, suggesting that Ophelia is used to open discussions about female oppression. The sufferings and subsequent deaths of both heroines can be used to discuss issues that are still prominent today concerning the freedom and oppression of women.

Thanks for reading!


[1] William Shakespeare, Hamlet, ed. by Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor (London: Arden Shakespeare, 2016).

[2] AC Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy, (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1992) p. 129.

[3] Emi Hamana, ‘Whose Body Is It, Anyway? – A re-Reading of Ophelia’, in Hamlet and Japan, ed. by Yoshiko Uéno, (AMS Press: 1995) pp. 143-154. p. 145.

[4] Avi Erlick, Hamlet’s Absent Father, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015) p. 171.

[5] William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, ed. by René Weis (London: Arden Shakespeare, 2012).

[6] Cedric Watts, Romeo and Juliet, (Conneticut: Twayne Publishers, 1991) p. 92.

[7] Ibid., p. 72.

[8] Cedric Watts, Romeo and Juliet, (Conneticut: Twayne Publishers, 1991) p. 97

[9] Ibid., p. 115

[10] Ibid., p. 114

[11] William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, ed. by René Weis (London: Arden Shakespeare, 2012).  p. 436.

[12] Elaine Showalter, ‘Representing Ophelia: Women, madness and the Responsibilities of Feminist Criticism’, in Shakespearean Tragedy, ed. by John Drakakis (London: Routledge, 1991) pp. 280-296. p. 281.

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The Other in ‘Beloved’ and ‘Under the Skin’

The concept of the Other refers to something, or someone, that is dissimilar to the norm and outside of the realm of the familiar.[1] What is exclusively classed as the Other in both novels is not so clearly defined. This complexity prompts the reader to question what truly is the Other, and in turn, what this means for understanding its opposite, the familiar. This essay will explore how the Gothic novels ‘Beloved’ and ‘Under the Skin’, complicate the trope of Otherness through the use of physical forms, such as the home and the body, intangible concepts, such as language, the subconscious and the conflicting nature of characters’ thoughts and actions. The conflict that arises from attempting to identify the Other leads to attempts at self-destruction and suicide for both of the novels’ protagonists, Sethe and Isserley. 

The physical form of the home may be considered the ultimate familiar, but this is disrupted in Beloved, complicating the trope of Otherness. Anthony Vidler describes the home, as the seat of ‘domesticity, its residue of family and nostalgia.’[2] There is nothing abnormal about domesticity, and it appears as fairly banal. The presence of the family and memories make the home an ‘intimate shelter of private comfort.’[3] The privacy of the home enhances the security and familiarity of it, which Vidler attributes to the presence of loved ones. This safe space shields its inmates from harm, and by extension, from the Other. The first line of the novel subverts this conception of the home and personifies Sethe’s own home by stating that it was ‘spiteful. Full of baby’s venom.’[4] Sethe’s home harbours a malicious force which intends to poison its inmates. This contrasts with the readers’ preconceptions of the security and familiarity of the home, forcing them to realise that it may in fact be the opposite.[5] This blurs the line between familiarity and Otherness, which is further complicated by Beloved’s physical presence in the home.

Sethe allows Beloved into her home, believing Beloved to be the embodiment of her deceased daughter.[6] Beloved’s physical body is used to examine and complicate the trope of Otherness, as she initially appears as a ‘young woman’[7] who possesses ‘good skin, bright eyes.’[8] Paul D notes that she is ‘strong,’ portraying Beloved as a familiar image of beauty and health, prompting Sethe to accept her.[9] Despite Beloved’s youthful appearance, she moves like an ‘older’ person, demonstrating a conflict between Beloved’s physical appearance and physical capabilities.[10] Beloved grows in strength as the novel progresses, and physically weakens when she is deprived of Sethe’s attention, which is shown by Beloved’s loss of a tooth, and her own lamentation that next it would be her ‘arm, her hand, a toe.’[11] Beloved is revealed to be a parasitic figure, who must draw nourishment from Sethe in order to survive. This perhaps explains her lack of strength when she first appears. Such a being closely aligns with the concept of the Other, due to its lack of familiarity and similarity to a human being. Beloved’s physical body hides her true nature, again blurring the distinction between familiarity and Otherness.

Sethe’s scars are also tied to Otherness, as the presence of such scars are not the familiar for others within the novel. They represent the physical cruelty of slavery, and imply that Sethe’s body is still owned by the slave owners.[12] However, Sethe reclaims the scar, by seeing it as a metaphorical ‘sculpture’[13] of a ‘chokecherry tree.’[14] The beauty of the tree contrasts with the ugliness of slavery, and although the presence of such scars may not be the familiar for most people, Sethe’s reclaiming of them ensures that they become the familiar for her, in spite of the Otherness that they initially represented.

Isserley’s physical body in ‘Under the Skin’ too complicates the trope of Otherness. Like Beloved, Isserley is initially presented as a familiar representation of female ‘beauty,’[15] and is even described as ‘page three material.’[16] Isserley’s reflection of the highly sexualised females that appear in the media ascend the idea of familiarity, portraying her instead as the perfect example of female beauty, from the male perspective. She later reveals that, in modelling her body, a ‘magazine’ was used as a ‘guide.’[17] Her hyper familiarity is not natural but synthetic, highlighting the inherent Otherness of her deceptively familiar appearance.

The extent of Isserley’s Otherness is explored further when her true form is revealed, which contrasts with her initial familiarity. Her physical form is antithetical to that of a human being, as she resembles a ‘tripod style’[18] alien being, with a ‘prehensile tail,’[19] ‘vulpine snout’[20] and ‘soft fur.’[21] Isserley’s true nature fully embodies the Other, as she is an alien, which is unfamiliar to the humans in the novel and the reader. Her intense strength is hinted at through her ‘prehensile’ tail. Her ‘vulpine’ snout implies that she is fox-like and cunning. Like Beloved, Isserley embodies both the familiar and the Other simultaneously, complicating the readers’ perception of her, and her own perception of herself. While the reader would consider Isserley’s human form to be the perfect form of female beauty, she sees it as a physical mutilation of her natural form, and believes herself to be monstrous in the eyes of her colleagues.[22] This conflict raises questions about identity, as Isserley and the reader find it difficult to categorise her as human or alien, and by extension, heroine or anti-heroine.[23] The physical body is used to complicate the trope of Otherness, as it conceals the true nature of Isserley and Beloved.[24]

Aside from physical forms, intangible concepts are used to complicate the trope of Otherness. Isserley’s use of language forces Otherness upon humanity and asserts herself as the familiar. She dehumanises the physical bodies of the humans that she encounters. By naming humans as ‘vodsels’ Isserley forces Otherness upon them, as from her perspective, it is the humans, and by extension the reader, who are the aliens, and therefore the Other.[25] She describes one of her hitchhikers as ‘bristly, wrinkled and scarred, with a mottled snout of a nose.’[26] By likening his features to an animals’, Isserley removes his humanity. She goes further by describing humans as ‘specimens’[27] and ‘fleshy bipeds,’ portraying them as pieces of meat.[28] She later likens two human heads to the ‘polyps of an anemone.’[29] By comparing them to a plant, Isserley strips the humans of their ability to reason, reducing them to inanimate beings in contrast. This further complicates the relationship between Isserley and the reader, as even though her Otherness has already been explored, we are encouraged, from Isserley’s perspective, to view human beings as the Other, despite their familiarity to us.

Humans are deprived of their language while they are being processed, as their tongue is ‘carved’ out.[30] Jacques Derrida declares that animals are non-human because they do not possess the quality of ‘speech.’[31] Isserley’s race judges’ humanity on their ability to communicate, and the division between the two races is based on language.[32] This could be comparable to humanity’s attitude towards animals. In the eyes of Amliss Vess, the son of Isserley’s employer, the possession or non-possession of language informs him whether it is acceptable to kill humans or not, and because of his preconception that they do not have a language, he believes it is acceptable.[33] Without language, Isserley’s race renders human beings as mindless beasts, making them appear as the Other. This allows Isserley’s race to emotionally distance from the humans being slaughtered, minimising their guilt. This could also act as a wider critique of humanity’s treatment of animals outside of the novel.

Isserley criticises humanity’s lack of intellectual capability, aligning them with the Other from her perspective. Derrida notes that animals are unlike humans because they do not possess the quality of ‘reason.’[34] Isserley feels similarly about humans, as they cannot ‘siuwil, they couldn’t mesnishtil, they had no concept of slan.’[35] Isserley reprimands humanity as they do not possess the same intellectual capabilities that she does, which she believes is essential to any being. This is ironic as these are not human qualities, so it is unsurprising that humans do not possess them. Despite this, Isserley still tries to measure humanity by the intellectual capability of her own species, citing the former as the inferior.

Beloved’s use of language too brings into question her intellectual capabilities, further complicating the trope of Otherness. Beloved, presumably talking about Sethe, states that she is ‘not separate from her there is no place where I stop   her face is my own.’[36] Morrison’s use of free direct discourse allows for a stream of consciousness, and direct insight into Beloved’s mind. This mirrors Beloved’s belief that she does not ‘stop.’ The lack of punctuation implies Beloved’s infantile lack of coherency, highlighting the conflict between her physical appearance and intellectual capabilities. Beloved’s monologue merges with the monologues of Sethe and her sister Denver. All declare that ‘you are mine,’[37] and the lack of punctuation implies that there is no barrier or divide between the three characters.[38] Beloved wants to physically and psychologically merge with Sethe and Denver and wishes for them to do the same. In merging and becoming like Beloved, Sethe and Denver would too align with the concept of the Other as Beloved does.

It is through a lack of language, that Beloved is eventually expelled from the narrative.[39] She is ‘disremembered and unaccounted for,’ as Sethe and Denver do not give life to her, through their speech.[40] By not talking about her, Beloved is effectively removed from their lives. Luce Irigaray tries to explain this, by arguing that a mothers’ love is needed for a woman to ‘retain’ her identity.[41] Sethe’s decision to not speak about Beloved could imply her lack of love for her, causing Beloved to lose her place in Sethe’s heart and therefore the physical home. This again demonstrates Beloved’s Otherness, as she is destroyed by a lack of attention, something which cannot physically harm an ordinary being.

An exploration of Isserley’s subconscious is also used to complicate the trope of Otherness. After being sexually assaulted, Isserley realises that humans can inflict pain upon her, as she can on them.[42] This brings an unexpected, and unsettling, level of equality between Isserley and humanity.[43] Isserley then wishes to see a vodsel suffer and enjoys watching one being butchered.[44] This destabilises her, as her emotional response means that she cannot treat the vodsels as mere animals, and she begins to see them as living beings.[45] She later tries to ‘see herself as a vodsel might,’ in an attempt to accept her human form.[46] Isserley now finds herself identifying with humanity and their pain, complicating her own conception of the Other. This inner conflict gives voice to her own internal Other.[47] Isserley finds herself torn between her physical appearance and who she identifies with subconsciously. Her growing internal Otherness and rejection of herself, in favour of her humanity, marks a conflict that escalates throughout the remainder of the novel.

Sethe’s thoughts and actions provide a similar internal conflict in relation to her role as a mother. In anguish Sethe frequently mentions that her ‘nursing milk’ was stolen from her.[48] Her continual grief at this development emphasises her strong desire to be a mother, which also implies her suitability for the role, as her grief shows how much she cares, and how attentive she would be. Sethe believes that her primary function was to be a mother, and that this opportunity was partly stolen from her upon the death of Beloved. Sethe’s suitability as a mother is later reinforced by Sethe’s conviction that her ‘world’ was in her house, implying that her children, Beloved and Denver, are all that she needs to feel complete.[49]

This image however is disrupted when the reader learns that Sethe ‘meant’ to kill all of her children.[50] Carolyn Dever argues that mothers in the Gothic narrative are ‘constructed as an emblem of safety.’[51] Sethe however decapitates Beloved with a ‘handsaw,’ and this behaviour of a mother towards her child is antithetical to the familiar conceptions of motherhood.[52] The complication of the trope of Otherness is examined in the conflict between Sethe’s own thoughts and actions, as her desire to be a mother conflicts with her action of killing Beloved.

However, following on from Dever’s belief, that the mother represents ‘safety,’ perhaps Sethe’s actions maintain her status as a perfect mother, as she sought to shield her child from the horrors of slavery.[53] Out of context, her action of infanticide would likely be condemned, but some may be more sympathetic because Sethe’s intention was to shield her child from future harm, despite the pain that the act would cause to herself. This further shows how the conflicting thoughts and actions of characters complicate the trope of Otherness, and also lead to their self-destruction.

The escalating conflict of internal Otherness leads to attempts at self-destruction. Sethe wishes to care for Beloved as ‘no mother ever tended a child.’[54] Sethe’s willingness to let Beloved into her home is self-destructive, as Beloved ‘ate up her life.’[55] Sethe does not care for Beloved in the conventional sense, but instead metaphorically ‘yielded’ her life force to her, in her desperation to care for her.[56] This threatens Sethe’s own life, as physically evidenced by Sethe becoming ‘smaller,’ and Beloved becoming ‘bigger.’[57] Sethe’s internal guilt over personally Othering the familiar conception of motherhood, and her desire to be a mother, blinds her to the reality that, by letting Beloved remain in her home, she risks her own life.

In contrast, Isserley’s internal conflict with the Other results in her suicide. By this point in the novel, Isserley does not feel exclusively human or alien, due to the conflict between her subconscious mind and physical body, and therefore does not exclusively belong on Earth or her home world.[58] Isserley is more attracted to the idea of becoming ‘atoms,’ and a ‘part of the sky.’[59] The climax of Isserley’s internal conflict with the Other is suicide, as she ascends from her physical body to a realm where there is no exclusive identity that she must conform to. She frees her ‘soul’ from her physical body, and with it, the judgement of where she should belong.[60] Isserley’s suicide allows her to literally and metaphorically, rise above her internal conflict between her physical appearance and who she identifies with subconsciously.

The Gothic novel complicates the trope of Otherness, as it demonstrates that there can be no individual concept of the Other, as settings and people evolve throughout the narrative, and can embody established preconceptions, as well as the Other. Physical forms that the reader identifies with, such as the home, can be infiltrated and can embody the Other, as demonstrated by Beloved’s entrance. The human form also cannot be separated from the Other as Isserley and Beloved embody the familiar and the Other simultaneously, complicating the trope of Otherness in general. Otherness can also be forced upon concepts and characters through language. This makes the concept of the Other difficult to follow, and the conflict between such ideas can be straining for the characters involved within the genre, leading to attempts at self-destruction and suicide.

Thanks for reading!


[1] Stephen Frosh, ‘The Other,’ Discourses of the Other, Vol. 59, No. 4 (2002) p. 395.

[2] Anthony Vidler, The Architectural Uncanny: Essays in the Modern Unhomely, (London: MIT Press, 1994), p. 17.

[3] Peter Hutchings, The Horror Film, (Oxford: Routledge, 2004), p. 74.

[4] Toni Morrison, Beloved (New York: Vintage Classics, 2007), p. 3.

[5] Hutchings, The Horror Film, p. 74.

[6] Morrison, Beloved, p. 236.

[7] Ibid., p. 66.

[8] Ibid., p. 67.

[9] Ibid., p. 67.

[10] Ibid., p. 67.

[11] Ibid., p. 157.

[12] Jean Wyatt, ‘Giving Body to the Word: The Maternal Symbolic in Toni Morrison’s Beloved’, PMLA, Vol. 108, No. 3 (1993), p. 478.

[13] Morrison, Beloved, p. 21.

[14] Ibid., p. 18.

[15] Michel Faber, Under the Skin (London: Canongate Canons, 2017), p. 2.

[16] Ibid., p. 181.

[17] Ibid., p. 178.

[18] Ibid., p. 110.

[19] Ibid., p. 110.

[20] Ibid., p. 110.

[21] Ibid., p. 110.

[22] Virginia Harger-Grinling and Chantal Jordaan, ‘Fifty Years On: “Animal Farm” Gets Under the Skin,’ Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, Vol. 14, No. 2 (2003), p. 249.

[23] Ibid., p. 253.

[24] Ibid., p. 252.

[25] Sarah Dillon, ‘“It’s a Question of Words, Therefore”: Becoming-Animal in Michel Faber’s Under the Skin’, Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 38, No. 1 (2011), p. 140.

[26] Faber, Under the Skin, p. 77.

[27] Ibid., p. 1.

[28] Ibid., p. 3.

[29] Ibid., p. 169.

[30] Faber, Under the Skin, p. 214.

[31] Derrida, The Animal That Therefore I Am, p. 135.

[32] Dillon, ‘“It’s a Question of Words, Therefore”: Becoming-Animal in Michel Faber’s Under the Skin’, p. 135.

[33] Ibid., p. 138.

[34] Jacques Derrida, The Animal That Therefore I Am. Translated by David Wills, notes by Marie-Louise Mallet, (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008), p. 135.

[35] Faber, Under the Skin, p. 174.

[36] Morrison, Beloved, p. 248.

[37] Ibid., p. 256.

[38] Wyatt, ‘Giving Body to the Word: The Maternal Symbolic in Toni Morrison’s Beloved’, p. 481.

[39] Ibid., p. 479.

[40] Morrison, Beloved, p. 323.

[41] Diana Wallace, Female Gothic Histories: Gender, History and the Gothic (Wales, University of Wales Press, 2013), p. 184.

[42] Dillon, ‘“It’s a Question of Words, Therefore”: Becoming-Animal in Michel Faber’s Under the Skin’, p. 147.

[43] Ibid., p. 147

[44] Faber, Under the Skin, p. 219.

[45] Dillon, ‘“It’s a Question of Words, Therefore”: Becoming-Animal in Michel Faber’s Under the Skin’, p. 147

[46] Faber, Under the Skin, p. 250.

[47] Frosh, ‘The Other,’ p. 394.

[48] Morrison, Beloved, p. 236.

[49] Ibid., p. 215.

[50] Ibid., p. 179.

[51] Ruth Bienstock Anolik, ‘The Missing Mother: The Meanings of Maternal Absence in the Gothic Mode’, Modern Language Studies, Vol. 33, No. ½, (2003), p. 27.

[52] Morrison, Beloved, p. 295.

[53] Bienstock Anolik, ‘The Missing Mother: The Meanings of Maternal Absence in the Gothic Mode’, p. 27.

[54] Morrison, Beloved, p. 237.

[55] Ibid., p. 295.

[56] Ibid., p. 295.

[57] Ibid., p. 294.

[58] Harger-Grinling and Jordaan, ‘Fifty Years On: “Animal Farm” Gets Under the Skin,’ p. 250.

[59] Faber, Under the Skin, p. 296.

[60] Ibid., p. 292.

Featured

Dickens and the classic Victorian Christmas

Dickens and the classic Victorian image of Christmas are inextricably linked, mostly because of ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Published in 1843, the book sold 6000 copies in five days, and became massively popular. First editions today sell for ten to fifteen thousand pounds. Dickens is often credited with creating Christmas, but it is more accurate to say that he revived it.

Christmas had fallen out of fashion by the 1810s, and its classic traditions were researched and revived by a group of upcoming antiquarians. The Victorians themselves loved history and enjoyed classical literature and the romance of the past. Researching the origins of Christmas would not doubt have been enjoyable. Christmas had taken a hit under Oliver Cromwell, and it was banned. It was revived under Charles I, but never to the same degree of revelry as had gone before. The antiquarians pictured the ideal Christmas in the court of Elizabeth I, and through research, the Victorians cherry picked the traditions that they wanted to keep, replicate, and revive.

The frivolity is ever-present. Games were traditionally played on Christmas day, such as Bindman’s buff by Dickens himself. There were dinners, games, and Dickens himself loved to dance. He even prepared magic tricks for his children and party guest, emphasising the fun nature of Christmas. Santa himself went through many different forms and was originally based on a pagan figure that encouraged drinking and frivolity. He only too on the traditional Santa we know today when he married with the American version of Santa.

Trees became popular throughout the Victorian period, as did tree decorations in the 1850s. The image of Victoria and Albert, as the ideal Victorian family, encouraged others to copy them and too get their own Christmas trees. In the decade before, crackers began to take shape, as well as the idea of the traditional Christmas card, as put forward by Henry Cole. Shops also tapped into this, and would decorate their shop windows elaborately, which encouraged the act of gift giving and also led to the commercialisation of the Christmas period. Christmas food is relevant here too, with the rich eating beef on Christmas Day. Dickens himself had a Turkey in 1843, which became the more common choice. Henry VIII was the first person in Britain to eat a Turkey. Geese were also popular, as per the ending of ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Charles Dickens himself tapped into the commercial side of Christmas, and took a great deal of time in designing ‘A Christmas Carol.’ The images were coloured by hand, and the book itself looked like a sophisticated Christmas gift. Dickens capitalised on this further, and towards the end of his life would tour the country reading his famous works. He profited a great deal from this, and on Christmas day 1867, he was touring around America.

At the heart of Christmas for the Victorians was also the Church. The Victorians prided themselves on tradition and morality, which is also explored in Dickens’ novel. It is wrong that Scrooge is a cruel miser, and it is right that he is given the opportunity the change. It reinforces the idea that everybody can change, and that people should always be charitable and do good deeds at Christmas time. The alternative is to embody the children, named Ignorance and Want. Dickens skilfully weaves together several genres and themes, thriller, ghost story, gothic… and also manages to ensure his novel carries a strong, social message about child poverty, cruelty and hardship. All of these things should be tackled at Christmas and extinguished with festive charity.

The Christmas zeitgeist took off in the Victorian era, and Dickens certainly helped the traditions get off the ground. His novel and Victorian attitudes melded perfectly and allowed the popular image of the family Christmas to enter into popular culture. It feels as relevant now as ever, as in times of hardship, especially at Christmas, the novel tells us to be caring towards others, and to have faith and have hope. God bless us, everyone![1]

Merry Christmas, thanks for reading!


[1] Charles Dickens and the Invention of Christmas (television programme) London: BBC, December 23 2020).

Featured

Diana in ‘The Crown’ Season Four: An Analysis

TW: Eating disorders

The fourth season of the ‘The Crown’ on Netflix has caused quite a stir, with royal biographers and insiders criticising the depiction of the royal family. Both Lady Diana Spencer and Margaret Thatcher made their entrance in its most recent season, to rave reviews. In particular, the spotlight was placed on the well-known marriage of Charles and Diana. The series covers their relationship from their first meeting, up until the late 80s. Over ten episodes we watch Charles and Diana’s marriage falter, while the rest of the royal family, and Camilla, stand by and watch.

We first meet Diana, played by Emma Corrin, along with Charles in episode one. She is 16 and dressed as a ‘mad tree.’ She is preparing for her school’s production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ The choice of play is obviously deliberate, as is her costume, and writer Peter Morgan should be commended for the allusion. It evokes the idea of the magical fairytale, a theme that runs throughout the series in tandem with the Wales marriage. The play itself revolves around two sets of lovers, who through, the intervention of magic, switch couples. A lot of this action takes place in an enchanted forest, hence Diana’s costume. In the play, Hermia herself runs away from home as her father does not approve of her choice of groom, Lysander. She is instead supposed to be married to, and is loved, by Demetrius. In this immediate situation we could place Charles as Hermia, Lysander as Camilla and Demetrius as Diana. The obvious couple swapping foreshadows the adultery that occurred within the royal marriage, with Charles, Diana, Camilla and James Hewitt taking on the role of the four lovers, and the confusion that ensues within the play speaks to the general confusion felt by Charles and Diana and… well everyone else as to what is going on. The fact that the action takes place away from the city and in the forest also speaks to the dichotomy of public and private. The action between the four lovers in the play is not seen by anyone else other than those directly involved. The public were not fully aware about the specific difficulties in the Wales marriage until the 90s, following Andrew Morton’s book and interviews given by the couple. The fact that Charles does not see Diana’s face throughout the scene, as she wears a mask shows that, from the off, he cannot see her or understand her properly. Later on, in the episode, Diana randomly appears in front of Charles at a fair to offer her condolences following the death of Lord Mountbatten. After their brief conversation she floats away into the background as fairground music plays, giving her an almost fairy-like, ethereal quality.

The second episode revolves around the royal family’s trip to Balmoral, and their obsession with shooting a stag. When invited to Balmoral, Diana is told that this would be the ‘most important weekend’ of her life. At the end of the episode, the stag is caught and mounted on the wall. Following Diana’s debut, she is described as ‘perfection’ and ‘a triumph’ by members of the family, putting the pressure on Charles to marry her. By the end of the episode she is the prize, and the new addition to the family. Much like the stag. The stag is immortalised on the wall, as Diana is in history. There is the obvious fact that at this point, the stag is dead, having been shot down and caught by the royal family.

The third episode heavily focuses on the engagement of the couple and the wedding. The aptly titled ‘Fairytale’ is well established throughout the episode, beginning with the excitement of Diana’s friends. The perfect vision of princess happiness, tiaras and tea is quickly subverted when she joins the royal family for drinks. They stand in a circle, and Diana walks into the centre. She curtseys and calls the wrong people by the wrong titles in the wrong order. The camera places us in the circle, with the royal family. It circles around her, invoking the image of vultures swarming around their prey. Charles later leaves Diana to go on a royal tour, telling her to contact Camilla, who is the ‘best company.’ The use of the word ‘best’ literally places Camilla above Diana in Charles’ affections. As part of her Princess training later, in order to stop her hands from flapping, Diana’s grandmother ties rope around her arms. This metaphor shows how the royal family are constraining and trapping Diana in the palace and in their rigid, traditional ways. Throughout the season we see Diana trying to break free of these rules and conventions. Diana’s lunch with Camilla is also an interesting scene to dissect. Dressed head to toe in yellow, a colour that usually denotes happiness, Diana discovers that she knows nothing about her intended. Although she may not intend to do it, Camilla patronises and belittles the young Diana by knowing everything about Charles. This is probably more the fault of Charles, and the conventions of courtship, but it is at this point that Diana realises her and Charles are mismatched. The power dynamics in the conversation shift however, as after Diana finishes dessert, she leans back in her chair, and answers all of Camilla’s questions with confidence and aplomb. The occasional squint emphasises how much Camilla is irritating her. Diana also dishes out her own knowledge about Charles, and how he plans to renovate Highgrove. This is partly new information to Camilla, which puts Diana back into the spotlight. Diana also flatly asks Camilla why she asks all of these questions, which takes Camilla aback, prompting her eyes to drop to the floor. It descends into tragedy however, as Diana is seen throwing up her food following lunch. Diana becomes increasingly isolated in the palace and is seen failing to get through to Charles or the Queen on the phone. Directly after the lunch she asserts that the marriage will be a ‘disaster.’ Despite this, the episode ends with the family preparing for the wedding, with some fairly ominous music playing in the background, like an ill foreboding. We see Diana from behind, followed by her long train. She appears to be walking into a dimly lit room, quite literally signalling her entrance into a dark period of her life.

Diana at the close of episode three

Diana comes under scrutiny in episode four, as Charles berates her interests and Anne expresses jealousy over Diana’s growing popularity. Episode six focuses on the Wales’ tour of Australia. Diana causes controversy by insisting on taking William on the tour. Diana is used throughout the series to subtly critique the royal family, as in this instance, her devotion to her child is not directly mirrored by the queen, who saw no issue with leaving her children at home for five months, when her and Philip toured Australia in 1954. In a heated argument about taking William on the trip, Charles’ secretary notes that Diana’s wishes are irrelevant, as she ‘married the Prince of Wales,’ which is an ‘act of service.’ The use of the word ‘service’ essentially affirms that Diana now has no life outside the royal family, and that she has entered into a life of servitude to the monarchy. She does not have independence or freedom. Diana’s main concern is that William will have no ‘vestige of humanity in him’ and asserts that the ‘greatest’ act of service she can perform as Princess is being a hands-on mother to her son. Charles later complains about Diana to Camilla, as she faltered in the Australian heat, asking for water. He moans about her weakness and fragility, even though for any normal person it is perfectly permissible to feel dehydrated. Diana appears to be much more human and relatable throughout the entire season, and little moments like this emphasise this. In a heated row, Diana tells Charles that she knows about Camilla, asks to be ‘heard, understood, appreciated’ and questions where she fits in. In a poor attempt to resolve the situation, Charles tells Diana that he loves her. This lie feeds Diana exactly what she has been craving, which only heightens her tragedy further, as she is effectively being manipulated by her once handsome Prince. This brief period of happiness quickly descends into jealousy, as Charles cannot handle the attention that Diana gets. When leaving Australia, Diana steps into the plane, which inside is pitch black, implying her unhappiness.

In a desperate conversation with the queen, Diana explains that Charles ‘resents’ her and points out that the public understand that she has ‘suffered.’ Diana hugs the queen, calling her ‘mama’ like a lost child. She is rejected by the queen, leaving Diana as the archetypical fragile, abandoned child. The Queen Mother later labels Diana as ‘immature,’ and asserts that she will ‘bend’ to the ways of the royal family. When questioning if she does not, Margaret chips in saying that Diana will ‘break’ if she refuses. At this point in the series, she is breaking, if not already broken, as her bulimia demonstrates.

Episode nine sees Anne describe the Wales marriage beginning with the phrase ‘once upon a time.’ The obvious references to the fairytale scenario only emphasises the irony and tragedy of Diana’s situation. Diana’s adultery is a large plot point in the episode, and Anne even says that she has a ‘revolving door’ of men. Charles in this episode is not questioned about his infidelity, and Diana takes the flack. This again shows how the family are firmly against Diana and blame her for the failure of her marriage. Her bulimia is discussed by other members of the family, yet no one is seen reaching out in an attempt to help her. After vowing to save the marriage, Charles grows ever distant and so Diana resumes her affair with James Hewitt.

Episode ten centres largely around the couple, and is aptly titled ‘War.’ Diana notes that she is treated as if she is ‘mad’ by the family, and inspires greater fury in Charles when she is seen hugging a child with AIDS on her New York trip. This again only draws the line between the unemotional royals, and the raw, human Diana. After yet another row, Charles informs Diana that, if she is unhappy in the marriage, she should take it up with the ‘people who arranged it.’ It appears that Diana had no power from the very beginning, and that her entire life has been controlled and managed by other people. She was merely a puppet and it is now that she finally realises it. Charles tells her here that he only wants Camilla. At Christmas, Diana awkwardly stands on the periphery during the family celebrations. In one scene, Diana catches the Queen coming inside from a walk, while the lyric, ‘baby it’s cold outside,’ plays. This may be a reference to the Queen’s icy behaviour and attitude towards Diana. She later describes the family as a ‘cold, frozen tundra’ to Prince Philip. He tells her that all people in the family are outsiders bar the queen, and that Diana needs to realise that she is not the centre of the family. Diana threatens to divorce Charles here, completing her arc in the season, from innocent, timid girl, to strong, powerful and nearly independent woman. She is only nearly independent as Philip warns her that a divorce would not ‘end well’ for her. Diana is then seen walking down the stairs to take the Christmas family photo. She walks past some decorative antlers, perhaps emphasising the aggressive and harsh world she inhabits. She also wears black, a colour that directly contrasts with the joy of Christmas, and is more linked to death. She does not smile in the photo, nor at the close of the series. She is expressionless, as if she is devoid of personality, and what we see before us is merely a husk of the once joyful young Princess. Perhaps the title of this episode, ‘War,’ foreshadows the ‘War of the Wales’s’ that will no doubt dominate season five.

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What was the significance of policing inter-racial sexual liaisons in late eighteenth century India?

The significance of the policing of interracial sexual liaisons in the 1790s cannot be realised without understanding Britain’s previous activities in India. Since its conception in the seventeenth century, the East India Trading Company’s primary function was the building and maintaining of trade links with India as a whole.[1] This holistic focus began to narrow under the administration of Warren Hastings, who intended to better understand India by interrogating the country’s customs and languages. This resulted in a degree of cultural assimilation and hybridity, which although it was not fully accepted, was not explicitly discouraged. This led to an increase in interracial sexual liaisons.  Such liaisons did not totally discriminate against Indian women, which is demonstrated by the degree of power that they exercised within these relationships. Hastings’ administration marked the beginning of colonial rule in India. It was during the era of Hastings’ successor, Charles Cornwallis, that the focus of British colonial rule narrowed further and began the process of racialisation, as Cornwallis sought to distance the people of India from the British. ‘Racialisation’ refers to the process in which social practices are defined by race, the practices of which were previously racially unclassified.[2] Cornwallis’ 1793 policies and attitudes towards Eurasians, those of mixed race, indicated this and encouraged the perpetuation of racist stereotypes throughout India which caused Britons to view all Indians with increasing anxiety. The racialisation of the British colonial state had lasting effects following Cornwallis’ departure. Cornwallis’ reforms had encouraged the British to view Indians as the inferior race, as demonstrated from the absence of Indian women from birth records in India and the establishment of Haileybury college. Later, the British desire to abolish Sati showed the highly racialised nature of the colonial state, as the British believed that the people of India needed to be helped in order to save themselves. In this essay I will argue that the policing of interracial sexual liaisons in late eighteenth century India was significant as it marked the increasingly narrowing focus of British colonial rule on race, which led to the racialisation of British colonial India.

Hastings’ administration must be understood in order to appreciate the significance of the policing of interracial sexual liaisons later on in the eighteenth century. Hastings was appointed Governor-General of Bengal in 1773, and sought to adhere to India’s ‘ancient uses and Institutions.’[3] To accomplish this, William Jones established the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1784, which prioritised the study of ancient Indian texts.[4] This demonstrates that, in Hastings’ quest to better understand India, he placed the peoples of India and their views first and wished to adapt British concepts of rule in order to suit them. In Hastings’ mind, this would increase British interest in the culture of India and make Indians feel less subjected to British rule, as the British would have made an effort to understand them.[5] In Hastings’ view, this would lead to a harmonious colonial state. This, to an extent, did occur, as the education and proximity of British officials with the people and culture of India resulted in a degree of cultural assimilation and hybridity.

Many British men adopted Indian customs. Dalrymple’s work illustrates this, and speaks of British men who established harems and adopted Mughal ways of governance, such as James Kirkpatrick.[6] This occurred so frequently that contemporaries remarked that the British in India represented a fictionalised, outdated replica of Britain, because they were not attuned to the ongoing developments occurring in their homeland.[7] Under Hastings, the British immersed themselves into Indian culture, turning away from aspects of their native British culture, which resulted in an increase of cultural assimilation and hybridity. The growing proximity between the people of Britain and India resulted in an increase in interracial sexual liaisons.

Captain Thomas Williamson advocated the idea of interracial sexual liaisons and concubinage under Hastings, as it was ‘more practical and economic’ than marriage to a European woman.[8] Williamson justified such liaisons further merely as the result of the ‘disparity in numbers’ between British men and women in India.[9] It is worth noting that, these Indian mistresses too adopted European customs, and even went so far as converting to Christianity, thus encouraging further cultural assimilation.[10] Williamson did not discourage such unions and instead appears to dismiss them as unimportant, as did Hastings’ administration by extension.

These early interracial liaisons are significant as the Indian women involved fashioned themselves into colonial subjects and became involved with colonial governance and finances.[11] Although this power should not be overstated, Indian women did take the opportunity to use their advantageous connections with European men, which allowed for a degree of social mobility.[12]

It was under Hastings that the focus of the British began to narrow increasingly on the language and culture of India and how this could be used for administrative purposes. Although Hastings did respect Indian culture and tradition, it should not be forgotten that the British learned about India in order to rule the country more efficiently and legitimise British colonial rule.[13] Correctly, historians, such as Kopf, identify Hastings’ administration as the beginning of the establishment of colonial rule in India.[14] Although in Hastings’ eyes the resulting cultural assimilation and hybridity of his administration could be seen as examples of tolerance and cosmopolitanism, as Gosh argues, the advent of cultural assimilation and interracial sexual liaisons also led to an increase in anxiety,[15] which was acknowledged and acted upon during Cornwallis’ tenure as Governor-General, beginning in 1786.[16]

It was during the administration of Cornwallis that the focus of the British narrowed further and focused specifically on race, marking the beginning of the increasing racialisation of the British colonial state. The Cornwallis Codes of 1793 barred Indians from taking posts in the British colonial administration.[17] This reform directly contradicted the work of Hastings, who based his administration on the ancient texts and word of India. Cornwallis’ measures ensured that only Britons could be appointed to positions of power in the administration, which Stokes described as ‘a defensive form of Anglicization.’[18] Cornwallis felt that he was defending the British by limiting their contact with the Indians, as he believed them all to be ‘corrupt.’[19] Cornwallis’ anxieties directed the developing ideas of the colonial state, and encouraged him to abolish interracial sexual liaisons through the deployment of legal reforms. Through said reforms Cornwallis clearly marked the distinction between British and Indians and discouraged cultural assimilation, as he saw interracial liaisons and cultural assimilation to be destabilising and threatening to the British colonial order. Both this action and belief represents a radical change in the direction of colonial policy and the beginnings of racialisation in British colonial India. Cornwallis found that such cultural assimilation and hybridity would result in the birth of Eurasians, whose presence he also found problematic.

Eurasians were viewed as a direct threat to the increasing racialisation of British colonial rule as their mixed heritage bridged the divide between the coloniser and the colonised.[20] As part of the Cornwallis codes, Eurasians were also barred from taking positions of power within the colonial administration.[21] Their existence, as part of the ‘colonial family’ threatened British ideals of domesticity and the conventional definition of family.[22] Carton explains that British anxieties were bolstered further by confusion over shifting Eurasian political affiliations, and their lack of a unified voice.[23]  This linked to broader, conflicting ideas of national identification, as Eurasians were not fully identifiable with the Britons or Indians, and therefore represented a dangerous, third party.[24] For the British, the existence of Eurasians and the difficulties that they posed clearly demonstrated the dangers of interracial sexual liaisons, and in Cornwallis’ eyes, called for the policing of them. This demonstrates the narrowing focus and increasing racialisation of British colonial rule, as Cornwallis primarily sought to reduce all forms of contact between the people of Britain and India. Such ideas encouraged the perpetuation of racist stereotypes within the empire.

The perpetuation of racist stereotypes heightened the anxieties that Britons felt towards Indians, which can be examined when looking at the figure of the Indian prostitute. This image epitomised the attractive yet dangerous nature of India, as well as its degradation because of what the British called ‘temple prostitution.’[25] This referred to the devadasis, women who lived out their days in a temple in dedicated worship of a chosen God.[26] The British believed that such a position shamefully married eroticism and religious worship, which only heightened their fears of the Indian woman further.[27] The moral degradation of the Indian woman was vocalised by Lord Kitchener, who declared that all women in India had Syphilis in its most ‘fatal form.’[28] This strengthened the view that India was a diseased country that needed to be contained. This view was supported by British contemporaries, such as Mary Sherwood, who lamented that young British men in India were ‘sacrificing themselves to drinking, smoking, want of rest, and the witcheries of the unhappy daughters of heathens.’[29] Sherwood referred specifically to the Indian nautch girls.[30] The perpetuation of the racist stereotype of the ‘degraded Indian woman’ implied that Indian women were not suitable sexual partners for elite British men and should therefore be shunned. This marks a change in attitudes from Hastings’ administration, which allowed the development of interracial relations and even afforded Indian women a degree of power. The policing of interracial sexual liaisons is therefore significant, as it reflects Britain’s narrowing focus and increasing racialisation of British colonial India.

Despite Cornwallis’ departure, in 1793, his active racialisation of the British colonial state had lasting effects. The racist stereotypes perpetuated about Indian women and men cemented Cornwallis’ belief that the people of India needed to be helped to save themselves. This view was epitomised by the act of Sati, which saw a widowed woman throw herself on her husbands’ funeral pyre.[31] Seen by the British as a barbaric act, Sati legitimised the superiority of Britain’s domestic ideology and Christian values.[32] Britons declared that, as Indian men lacked these, they were devoid of authority and masculinity, and therefore could not govern their household properly, let alone their country.[33] As Indian men were unfit to protect their women from the horrors of their own tradition, the British decided that they must.[34] In response, the British legally abolished Sati in 1829.[35] This perpetuated the idea that the people of India were so morally degraded and incompetent that they needed to be saved from themselves by the British. This marks the point at which the British colonial state can be seen as highly racialised, as the British not only decided that the people of India were inferior, but that they had to involve themselves with, and alter the traditions of India.

The erasing of Indian women from birth records also supports the idea that the British colonial state had become highly racialised. Dalrymple’s research indicates that from 1805 to 1810, bibis appeared in only one in four wills; by 1830, this decreased to one in six, and by the middle of the nineteenth century, bibis were no longer present.[36] The anonymity of Indian women speaks to their position outside of the traditional British meaning of ‘family.’[37] This communicates the extreme lengths at which the British were willing to go to sever ties, and associations, between British men and Indian women, and in turn, the racialised colonial state that Cornwallis had aided.

The British also felt the need to discourage such relations even before British men took up post in India, beginning with their education in Britain. Haileybury college was established in 1806 to educate young Britons about Christian values, morality and self-restraint.[38] The temptations of India appeared to be so dangerous to the British that they assumed officials would need to be trained specifically in order to resist, and that this would require the establishment of an entire college. This demonstrates the profound impact of the stereotypes and anxieties that were embedded in British minds during Cornwallis’ administration. This shows the significance and results of, the policing of interracial sexual liaisons in India, as such extreme provisions, like the establishment of an entire college, were taken to ensure the separation of the people of Britain and India.

By examining the administrations of Hastings and Cornwallis, as well as the aftermath, I have demonstrated that the policing of interracial sexual liaisons in the 1790s was significant as it led to the racialisation of British colonial rule. I have discussed how Hastings was concerned with the culture of India and did not explicitly discourage cultural hybridity. Cornwallis’ conception of the British colonial state was examined to illustrate that social groups and practices of the Indians were negatively attributed to race. The British were styled as the superior through the perpetuation of racist stereotypes, a gulf which, as established in the 1790s through the policing of interracial sexual liaisons, only widened further throughout the nineteenth century.

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[1] T. Metcalf, Ideologies of the Raj¸ vol. III.4, New Cambridge History of India (Cambridge, 2007), p. 57.

[2] H. J. Gans, ‘Racialisation and racialisation research’, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 40 (2017), pp. 341-352, p. 342.

[3] B. D Metcalf, A Concise History of Modern India (Cambridge 2006), p. 57.

[4] Ibid., p. 62.

[5] Ibid., p. 62.

[6] W. Dalrymple, ‘Assimilation and Transculturation in Eighteenth-Century India: A Response to Pankaj Mishra’, Common Knowledge, 11 (2005), pp. 445-485, p. 449.

[7] D. Ghosh, Sex and Family in Colonial India: The Making of Empire (Cambridge, 2006), p. 47.

[8] Ibid., p. 35.

[9] Ibid., p. 35.

[10] Dalrymple, ‘Assimilation and Transculturation in Eighteenth-Century India,’ Common Knowledge, 11 (2005), pp. 445-485, p. 448.

[11] Ghosh, Sex and Family in Colonial India, p. 15.

[12] Ibid., p. 16.

[13] M. S. Dodson, Orientalism, Empire, and National Culture: India, 1770-1880 (New York, 2007), p. 5.

[14] D. Kopf, British Orientalism and the Bengal Renaissance: The Dynamics of Indian Modernization, 1773-1835 (Princeton, 1969), p. 13.

[15] Ghosh, Sex and Family in Colonial India, p. 33.

[16] Ibid., p. 14.

[17] J. Sramek, Gender, Morality, and Race in Company India, 1765-1858, (Basingstoke, 2011), p. 40.

[18] Ibid., p. 40.

[19] Metcalf, Ideologies of the Raj, p. 24.

[20] K. Ballhatchet, Race, Sex and Class under the Raj: Imperial Attitudes and Policies and Their Critics, 1793-1905 (London, 1980), p. 4.

[21] Sramek, Gender, Morality, and Race in Company India, 1765-1858, p. 40.

[22] Ghosh, Sex and Family in Colonial India,p. 3.

[23] A. Carton, Mixed-Race and Modernity in Colonial India: Changing Concepts of Hybridity across Empires (London, 2012), p. 38.

[24] Ibid., p. 32.

[25] Metcalf, Ideologies of the Raj, p. 102.

[26] Ibid., p. 102.

[27] Ibid., p. 102.

[28] Ibid., p. 102.

[29] S. Sen, ‘Colonial Aversions and Domestic Desires: Blood, Race, Sex and the Decline of Intimacy in Early British India’ South Asia, 24 (2001), pp. 25-45, p. 31.

[30] Ibid., p. 31.

[31] Metcalf, A Concise History of Modern India, p. 82.

[32] Metcalf, Ideologies of the Raj, p. 96.

[33] Ibid., p. 94.

[34] Ibid., p. 94.

[35] Metcalf, A Concise History of Modern India, p. 82.

[36] Dalrymple, ‘Assimilation and Transculturation in Eighteenth-Century India,’ Common Knowledge, 11 (2005), pp. 445-485, p. 447.

[37] Ghosh, Sex and Family in Colonial India, p. 18.

[38] Sramek, Gender, Morality, and Race in Company India, p. 48.

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The Gothic in ‘A Christmas Carol’

Khambay's Words, Words, Words

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…

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Why is Princess Diana still remembered today?

Diana, Princess of Wales is a figure that seems to be ever-present. She comes back into the public imagination on the advent of any royal ceremony, be that the wedding of her former husband or both of her children. It is difficult to think of a royal that has had a similar impact, one that is continually, universally popular. Perhaps it is fitting that her own children, the next generation of royals, seem to be on the path of gaining similar levels of popularity from the public. But why is she so popular, and why was she dubbed the People’s Princess?

Diana married Charles when she was a 19-year-old kindergarten teacher, and was seen as the young, pure woman who managed to snag bachelor Prince Charles. Friends noted her keen sense of fun, and quick wit. One particularly funny story recounts her riding her bike around Buckingham Palace the night before her wedding. Their wedding came at a time of national upheaval, following the rise of Margaret Thatcher in 1979. Riots were breaking out in Brixton also, and so the impending royal wedding was an easy way to unite the country in revelry and festivity. Diana’s advancement to become the Princess of Wales immediately styled her as the young woman entering into the dream fairy-tale. At the wedding, held on the 29th of July 1981, the Archbishop of Canterbury himself declared that the vision before him was the ‘stuff of which fairy-tales are made.’ The wedding was watched by 750 million.

Their romance had been slightly strange up until this point. Charles had first met Diana while dating her sister, Lady Sarah Spencer. Richard Kay, a friend of Diana and journalist, noted that Diana and Charles’ romance was incredibly formal, and that she had to call him Sir. Essentially, they never got to fully know each other, at least not enough to realise that they were massively incompatible. In retrospect, former BBC royal correspondent Jennie Bond argues that, as Charles could not marry long term girlfriend Camilla Parker Bowles, he went for the next best option.

Diana was stalked by the media very early on, and was dubbed by Kevin Mackenzie, former editor of the Sun, as ‘The Princess of Sales.’ He noted that she changed the way in which the royals were reported, and that Diana herself pushed the royals forward into the 80s.

However, problems in the relationship of Charles and Diana started early on. Following their engagement, Charles flew to Australia on tour. Diana was caught crying on camera, not because she feared missing him, but because she had caught him on the phone with Camilla shortly before his departure. Diana recounted on several occasions, that she suffered from bulimia, and was violently sick the night before the wedding. Reportedly, on this night, Charles told Diana that he did not love her. Her waist shrunk prompting several refits of her dress, emphasising the delicate state of her mental health. She described this as a ‘symptom’ of what was happening in her relationship, which only worsened when she became Princess of Wales. Diana’s former Personal Protection Officer, Ken Wharfe recently said that Camilla was always on the scene. Kevin Mackenzie, claimed that Diana’s young age and naivete made the situation ‘even more deceitful by Charles.’

Their 1983 tour of Australia bought further trouble, as Charles became increasingly jealous of Diana’s popularity. This sparked a growing resentment between the couple. Former photographer Ken Lennox saw that, when Diana was weeping on tour, Charles did not give her a second glance. After Prince Harry’s birth in 1984, Diana told author Andrew Morton that ‘the shutters came down.’ Baroness Rosie Boycott, a former newspaper editor, believes that Charles emotionally abused her. Former butler Paul Burrell asserts that, as Diana had provided ‘the heir and a spare,’ it left Charles free to go back to Camilla. Morton asserts that Diana was ‘being lied to by everyone,’ and that everyone knew and supported Charles’ clandestine relationship with Camilla. The couple began to lead separate private lives.

At this point, we see Diana as a young woman trapped and essentially tricked into a loveless, deceitful marriage. Her descent from the fairy-tale princess into the prisoner is incredibly tragic and is in part why she is remembered. The sheer sympathy that the public felt for Diana is quite overwhelming, and still stands today. It is even more remarkable what Diana did with her elevated position.

Diana is remembered for her empathy and charity work. In 1987, Diana opened a ward in Middlesex hospital, specially built to treat AIDS/HIV patients. At the time, there was a great fear of the disease. People did not know how it was transmitted. Diana shook hands with nurses and patients, without wearing gloves. This event displayed Diana’s endless empathy towards those in need, and she singlehandedly debunked the theory that HIV can be transmitted through touch. This was, and is incredibly powerful, and caused Diana’s popularity to soar. It is difficult to match another royal act to this, that had such an impact on AID’s sufferers, the public as well as scientific studies about the disease.

Diana in 1987

Following, Morton’s 1991 book, which Diana secretly helped with, the Squidgygate and Camillagate tapes and revelations that both parties had been adulterous… the couples’ separation was announced in 1992, although they had no plans to divorce. This meant that Diana would still one day be queen. On the 20th June 1994, Charles tried to hit back at Diana’s popularity by giving an interview with ITV. He stated that he was only unfaithful to Diana after their marriage had ‘irretrievably broken down.’ Here, her confirmed his adulterous affair. Both Charles and Camilla were vilified in the media. Cue Diana’s 1995 Panorama interview.

Diana was approached by Martin Bashir, who stated that he had ‘proof’ that her friends were spying on her. At the time Diana was paranoid about the secret service, and was concerned she was being watched. The interview was certainly dubiously obtained, but it is more remembered for its shocking content. In the space of half an hour, Diana lifted the lid on her marriage, which confirmed details present in Morton’s book. She also criticised members of the royal family, including Charles and the Queen Mother. Paul Burrell termed the interview as ‘unprecedented,’ and all recordings and tapes were under constant guard. Diana told the palace about the interview moments before the BBC announced it. The whole affair was shrouded in secrecy. Diana was swayed, partly because of the bank statements Bashir presented her with, but also because she feared that an impending divorce meant an impending gagging order.

Seen as ‘earth shattering,’ ‘explosive television’ and one of the most important interviews given in the 20th century, the interview was watched by 23 million people. Diana’s description of her bulimia, in graphic detail, helped people better understand a previously misunderstood illness. She stated that she was blamed for the failure of her marriage, as she was frequently referred to as ‘unstable.’ Baroness Boycott saw this as a message to all people in the world, telling them that it was ok to be vulnerable. In Boycott’s eyes, Diana unbuttoned a fairly ‘buttoned up society,’ with her frankness. She validated the feelings and fears of everybody. She famously stated that there were ‘three of us in this marriage,’ and also confirmed her own infidelity with James Hewitt, stating ‘yes I adored him, yes I was in love with him.’ Mackenzie and his team were shocked, as all stories that they had run on the royals, which had previously been denied, were confirmed by Diana in the space of half an hour.

As a result, the Queen asked the couple to divorce, and the Queen’s Christmas broadcast was also shown on ITV. The interview itself greatly affected the relationship between the monarchy and the BBC. Diana, in the interview, wished for a monarchy that had a more ‘in depth understanding’ of its people, and wished this for William and Harry. Following her death in 1997, Charles took up some of Diana’s AIDS work, and it is Morton’s belief that Diana paved the way for Meghan Markle’s entrance into the royal family.

So, why is Diana still remembered today? With her 1995 interview, Baroness Boycott felt that Diana ‘blew the lid off the world,’ and in a way, she did this during her lifetime. Her beginnings as a young naïve woman made the public fall in love with her, a feeling that only strengthened upon seeing her compassion and empathy towards AIDS sufferers. Her honesty in her 1995 interview was shocking, as viewers saw their future queen admit her vulnerability, validate the vulnerability of others and share her own hopes for the future of the British monarchy.[1]

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[1] Information taken from:

The Diana Interview, Revenge of a Princess (television programme) (London: ITV Television, November 24 2020).

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To what extent did women exercise political power within the Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal Dynasties?

Within the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal empires, it is a common belief that women were subject to ‘widespread oppression and subordination.’[1] However, this view can be deemed reductive It is within the dynastic setting that women were able to exercise a degree of political power even if they did not always have full autonomy. By examining the harem, their relationship with the sultan, marriage, rare examples of queenship, patronage and education, it can be ascertained that women within the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal dynasties wielded political power to a moderate extent. Their degree of political power was only moderate as it rarely allowed them to affect political policy directly, and even when they had the chance to do so, their political power was limited by their gender and established role at court, which was usually tied to the family.

The royal harem was an area in which women could exercise political power within the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal dynasties. During the Ottoman empire, the sultan’s mother was at the ‘apex’ of the harem and had considerable influence within it.[2] As she was close to the ruler of the Ottoman empire, she could still indirectly influence the goings on within the empire. This was aided by her strong influence within the harem, and her high status as the mother of the sultan.[3] Women would partake in ‘harem intrigue,’ the goal of which was to elevate the position of their husbands.[4] This involved making connections with men of high status, to increase the status of their own family. This demonstrates that women did exercise a moderate degree of political power within the Ottoman empire, albeit behind closed doors. Fanny Blunt supports this, and observes that many viziers gained influence within the Ottoman court due to the influence of their wives within the harem.[5]

Similarly, within the Safavid empire the harem was seen as an ‘internal power structure,’ in which women could exert political power.[6]

It appears that with the advent of the Mughal empire, the harem began to directly exert political power. Akbar left his mother, Hamida Banu Begum, in charge of the empire when he had to deal with unrest in the north, placing political power directly into the heart of the harem.[7]  However, when looking at the harem across all three dynasties it is clear that women were only able to exercise a moderate degree of political power. The fact that their influence mainly occurred behind closed doors emphasises the fact that, despite this influence, they did not have the means to enter into mainstream political decisions.

Through analysis of the women’s’ relationship with the ruling sultan, it can be learned that women wielded a moderate degree of political power. Lisa Balabanlilar recounts that within the Ottoman court, females were removed from power and that the purpose of women within the court centred around the family.[8] After giving birth, women were supposed to educate and protect their sons, which would have given them the opportunity to forge a strong relationship with their child, and perhaps influence them at a young age in political matters.[9] Despite this influence, it is still clear that their relationship to the sultan was one that depended on their ability to produce children, which took precedent over their political agency.

The Mughal ruling dynasties emphasised the importance of the female role within the family and household. Elderly women would intervene in familial and political crisis’ which is demonstrated in Jahangir’s use of female diplomats.[10] Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal emperor, relied heavily on his daughter Jahanara to run the household,[11] and even left her in control of finances.[12] Audrey Truschke, noted that royal women were involved in succession struggles.[13] This is true of Jahanara, who failed to quell the war of succession between her two brothers, Aurangzeb and Dara Shukoh, despite her attempts via letters.[14] The fact that she was not a competitor for the throne herself demonstrates that she only had a moderate degree of political power. This emphasises that a women’s primary role within court was one that was allied with the family and the household.

Within the Safavid dynasties, marriage was used to consolidate power.[15] This would have allowed women to further the political course of the empire through an advantageous marriage. By intermarrying with military and civil dignitaries of Turkic and Iranian origin, more local states were incorporated into the Safavid empire.[16] Women were therefore instrumental, and were frequently married more than once.[17] It would be through their mother that the children of Safavid princesses would inherit, giving the latter a degree of political power as through marriage they could secure their place within the Safavid court through their son’s inheritance.[18] An example of this is Shah Abbas I’s incorporation of Mazandaran into the Safavid state, due to familial connections from his mother’s side at the end of the 16th century.[19] This provided women with a moderate degree of political power. Although they were not able to directly wield it, they were still able to secure their place, and the place of their children, through an advantageous marriage.

There are rare examples of queenship across all three empires. Within the Ottoman dynasties, female sultans were privileged not with political power but with freedom.[20] Within the Safavid empire, Khayr al-Nisa Begum governed the Safavid state from February 1578 to July 1579.[21] She was the wife of Shah Mohammed Khodabanda, and it is recorded that ‘no affair was conducted without her advice.’[22] She had a considerable influence within the Safavid court, and held administrative roles, made military decisions and approved royal decrees.[23] However her constant quarrelling with the Qizilbash amirs prompted the comment that the Shah should ‘rule by himself and not delegate his power to a woman.’[24] This power struggle climaxed in July 1579, when Khayr al-Nisa Begum and her mother were strangled in the royal harem by the Qizilbash.[25] Judging by the Qizilbash’s response, it appears that it was the gender of the Shah’s wife that should have halted her ability to wield political power. This gives the impression that in society, female rulers were not accepted. Despite her high political influence, her power could not be maintained and was thwarted by other men within the Safavid empire. This leads to the conclusion that across the dynasties, women only wielded a moderate degree of political power.

Women wielded power through their patronage, and although this cannot be considered as a direct political influence, it would have enhanced the legitimacy of their ruling families. Within the Ottoman empire, status would be conveyed by the number, location and the designs of buildings that were commissioned by patrons.[26] Princess Mihrimah had two mosque complexes built in Üsküdar and Edirnekapi, the inscriptions of which proclaimed her privileged status.[27] She was also the first princess to commission a monumental mosque complex in Istanbul, in memory of her deceased brother.[28] Building mosques styled the ruling dynasty as Islamic, increasing its legitimacy to rule. Within the Safavid empire, princess Gawhar-Shad Begum was recognised as the largest patron of charities and the arts.[29] She also was a recognisable figure on the political scene in the first half of the 15th century, demonstrating that her political power was tied to her patronage. Many Mughal women acted as the patrons of shrines, such as Nur Jahan, who was married to Jahanghir.[30] She built several ships and independent palaces, using her political influence to impact the culture of the Mughal empire.[31] She was seen as an ‘exceptionally powerful woman,’ and considered to be a co-regent to her husband.[32] Patronage can be seen as an example of indirect political influence, as through her status in the Mughal Court Nur Jahan was able to affect the culture and appearance of the Mughal empire. This cements the idea that women possessed political power to a moderate extent, as although they could use this power to influence patronage there were still limits as to how they could influence political policy directly.

Mehmet II established a Palace School in order to educate young women of the Ottoman empire.[33] They were taught feminine arts, such as sewing and embroidering.[34] This tells us that women were educated in the domestic sphere and were not intended to exercise political power within the Ottoman empire.

In contrast, during the Safavid empire, young women were subject to the same curriculum as young boys, and were encouraged to study the Qu’ran and principles of the Shari’a.[35] Both sexes were taught about rules of civility and social behaviour.[36] Judging by this curriculum it could be argued that children within the Safavid ruling families were subject to greater gender equality than in the Ottoman empire.

The Mughal’s ensured that royal women were educated in many subjects including Maths and astrology, with some learning the Qur’an.[37] Emperor Akbar styled himself as the moral centre and exemplar in the empire, and it is conceivable to think that both men and women were answerable to his high standards.[38] If one were to take this as true, both men and women were supposed to follow the example and rules of Akbar, creating an empire which encouraged equal education. Despite this equality, it appears that this did not impact the female ability to wield political power in their adult life, as women only wielded political power to a moderate extent, as outlined above.

This leads one to the conclusion that women of the ruling dynasties of the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal empires only wielded political power to a moderate extent, as their attempts at exercising power were not enough to secure their direct political influence at the royal courts. Their main function within court was rooted in the production of children and the family, which, although this would give them a degree of power, it still would not allow them to direct political policy themselves.

Thanks for reading!


[1] N. R. Keddie, B. Baron, Women in Middle Eastern History: Shifting Boundaries in Sex and Gender (Yale, 2008), p. 13.

[2] F. Davis, The Ottoman Lady: A Social History, 1718-1918 (Contributions in Women’s Studies) (Conneticut, 1986), p. 1.

[3] Ibid., p. 9.

[4] Ibid., p. 171.

[5] Ibid., p. 171.

[6] M. Szuppe, ‘Status, Knowledge and Politics in Sixteenth-Century Safavid Iran’, in Guity Nashat and Lois Beck (eds.) Women in Iran from the Rise of Islam to 1800 (Urbana 2003), pp. 140-169, p. 142.

[7] L. Balabanlilar, ‘The Begims of the Mystic Feast: Turco-Mongol Tradition in the Mughal Harem’, Journal of Asian Studies 69, 1 (2010), pp. 123-147, p. 135.

[8] Ibid., p. 137.

[9] Ibid., p. 137.

[10] Ibid., p. 140.

[11] Ibid., p. 140.

[12] Ibid., p. 141.

[13] A. Truschke, Aurangzeb: The Life and Legacy of India’s Most Controversial King (Stanford, 2017), p. 25.

[14] J. Mikkelson, “The Way of Tradition and the Path of Innovation: Aurangzeb and Dara Shukuh’s Struggle for the Mughal Throne,” in Hani Khafipour (ed.), The Three Empires of the Near East (New York, 2019), pp. 240-263, p. 243.

[15] Szuppe, ‘Status, Knowledge and Politics in Sixteenth-Century Safavid Iran’, p. 144.

[16] Ibid., p. 144.

[17] Ibid., p. 144.

[18] Ibid., p. 148.

[19] Ibid., p. 148.

[20] Davis, The Ottoman Lady, p. 14.

[21] Szuppe, ‘Status, Knowledge and Politics in Sixteenth-Century Safavid Iran’, p. 158.

[22] Ibid., p. 159.

[23] Ibid., p. 159.

[24] Ibid., p. 160.

[25] Ibid., p. 160.

[26] C. Isom-Verhaaren, ‘Mihrimah Sultan: A Princess Constructs Ottoman Dynastic Identity’, in Christine Isom Verhaaren and Kent Schull (eds.) Living in the Ottoman Realm: Empire and Identity, 13th to 20th Centuries (Bloomington, 2016) pp. 150-165, p. 157.

[27] Ibid., p. 157.

[28] Ibid., p. 157

[29] Szuppe, ‘Status, Knowledge and Politics in Sixteenth-Century Safavid Iran’, p. 142.

[30] Ibid., p. 142.

[31] Ibid., p. 143.

[32] Ibid., p. 143.

[33] Davis, The Ottoman Lady, p. 47.

[34] Ibid., p. 47.

[35] Szuppe, ‘Status, Knowledge and Politics in Sixteenth-Century Safavid Iran’, p. 149.

[36] Ibid., p. 149.

[37] Balabanlilar, ‘The Begims of the Mystic Feast: Turco-Mongol Tradition in the Mughal Harem’, p. 142

[38] R. O’Hanlon, ‘Kingdom, household and body: history, gender and imperial service under Akbar’, Modern Asian Studies, 41 5 (2007), pp. 889-923, p. 898.

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Saint or Dragon? Johnny Byron’s presentation in ‘Jerusalem’

The protagonist in Butterworth’s 2009 play ‘Jerusalem’ comes in the form of Johnny Byron, a character that has been classed as ‘one of the most compelling, complex and iconic characters in modern British theatre’ by critic Paul Mason. He was portrayed by Mark Rylance. It is no doubt that the audience find the character comical, but it takes a deeper reading of the text to decipher whether Johnny is the hero or the villain of the play. To ascertain an answer, one must look at Johnny’s characteristics, individual moments in the play and his interaction with Phaedra, in comparison to Troy.

Initially, the audience could quite easily jump to the conclusion that Johnny is the dragon, as he may be holding Phaedra against her will. While Pea asks the others about the disappearance of ‘Phaedra Cox,’ Johnny, in the royal court production, is off stage chopping logs. Only a sharp sound can be heard as ‘Johnny splits a log,’ albeit more suspiciously as the scene continues. Although the audience may not have realised yet, Phaedra has already been seen in a ‘fairy’ costume, emphasising her innocence and vulnerability. If one compares this to Johnny’s control over the wood he is chopping, and by extension nature, then he would be perfectly capable of controlling and dominating her. We are then informed that Phaedra is the ‘May Queen,’ which in the context of the play is a highly sexualised pubescent, crowned at the modern ‘Flintock Fair.’ Phaedra is increasingly depicted as a vulnerable young girl, who could easily be controlled or taken advantage of, and currently, Johnny appears suspicious enough to be that person controlling her, making him seem like the dragon who has abducted the fair maiden. Davey’s poor humour about the situation, resulting in the ‘werewolf’ story can also be used to make links with Johnny, as we already understand that the ‘wood’ is his, and that he likes a ‘shag.’ The idea is referenced again at the beginning of act two, with the use of the Barry Dransfield song. Johnny is liberal, and does not fully abide by the laws, as he is a ‘drug dealer.’ At such an early stage in act one; it is plausible to think that, when discussing Phaedra, Johnny is the dragon who is abusing her.

As with most passages in literature, it can also be read differently. This reading presents Johnny as a saintly figure, who is shielding and protecting a vulnerable young girl from her abusive ‘stepfather,’ Troy. Majority of abusers are well known to their victims, and Phaedra does know Troy better than Johnny. Statistics suggest that most abuse cases occur between family members within the home, which could explain why Phaedra has run away from home, multiple times, as Pea explains. When speaking to Troy, Johnny belittles him and taunts him over Phaedra, who he deems a ‘treasure,’ and proceeds to note her ‘big eyes.’ Previously Phaedra had been presented as an innocent, vulnerable girl, but here she is discussed as a sexual plaything in the presence of Troy. Similarly, young girls in manga comics emphasise this idea, as they are designed to be sexually attractive to the reader, and Johnny makes it clear that Phaedra is sexually attractive to Troy, making him the dragon, and Johnny the protective Saint George. Perhaps this sexualising of Phaedra makes her seem like a femme fatale in their eyes, as it is she who draws both men together, subsequently hinting to some kind of conflict, as a reference to the story in which Saint George slays the dragon. In the passage Johnny is not explicitly made out to be a saint, but it is Troy that is implied to be the dragon, thus automatically making Johnny the saint protecting Phaedra. One can link this, as well as the werewolf references, to the tale of Red Riding Hood. This would make Troy the wolf who drools and fauns over the huge, tempting eyes of Red. Phaedra does show willingness to be with Johnny, making him seem even more of a saint. When she finally emerges at the end of act two, in the royal court production, Phaedra calls out for Johnny, as if for protection. Phaedra appears to be safe with Johnny, and stays there by choice to get away from Troy. She also has the ability to ‘command’ Johnny, as seen with the ‘fish in the bag,’ which makes her seem even more comfortable with Johnny, and more at ease than she is with Troy, making him seem like the dragon, and Johnny the saint.

 Johnny can also be seen to have saintly qualities and characteristics. It is clear that his ‘onlookers’ idolise him, and wish to be him, most notably Ginger. Ginger is constantly desperate to gain the approval of Johnny, as can be seen when he pushes Johnny to ‘say’ that he is a ‘DJ.’ Ginger also tries to tell stories in the vivid fluid fashion that Johnny does, but continually fails, much to the disappointment of the audience. Most of the time Ginger is put down by Johnny, as well as the audience, which alternatively could present Johnny as a dragon, who has named the loyal and unassuming Ginger as one of his victims.

Whether this be true or not, it is clear that those at the caravan believe that after the events of ‘1981,’ Johnny does indeed deserve a ‘statute,’ and to be immortalised in stone. They even compare him to King Arthur, a figure of folklore who is believed to return in England’s hour of need. By saying this, the group believe that Johnny deserves to enter into English heritage, culture and folklore, and become immortalised like a saint. Johnny can also be seen as saintly as he cares for children. Although it is his fault that children are seen ‘wandering around at night pissed,’ he still cares for them, and ensures they are safe by allowing them to sleep in his ‘caravan.’ Much like Saint George who protected the people from the dragon, Johnny can be seen to protect teenagers from themselves, as arguably, they are safer at the caravan than they would be if they are wandering about, and this could result in them getting hurt.

As well as saintly qualities, Johnny is also represented as a dragon, or more generally as an animalistic monster, which could have, and perhaps already has, ‘envenomed’ Flintock. Beginning with his ‘feral bellow from the heart of the earth,’ it is made clear that Johnny is an animalistic creature, and is fully at home within the forest. This idea is then elaborated on, as Davey calls him an ‘ogre.’ This particular monster is incomparable to that of a dragon, but a vampire is not. As the play progresses, the apparent ‘danger’ Johnny presents to the to the others does also, as he mentions that ‘all Byron boys are born with teeth.’ This presents Johnny as a mythical, vampiric figure, who is harmful to those around him, like a dragon would be. Byron boys must also be tended to like a ‘wound,’ as there is the danger that he could infect others, and the land, much like the dragon that ‘envenomed all the country.’ Johnny also has the ability to draw people in, and ensnare them, as can be seen when he seduces Dawn. All these qualities do present Johnny as a monster, like a dragon as he has animalistic qualities that are comparable to such a creature.

The ending of the play is also useful when considering the presentation of Johnny, beginning with his branding by Troy. Troy is the dragon, and Johnny is the saint in this instance, for obvious reasons. It is Troy who orders his men to wield the ‘blowtorch,’ which is symbolic of a fire-breathing dragon. In the royal court production of the play, Johnny also makes the sign of the crucifix, portraying him as a saintly figure, which is suffering to protect others. He visibly gives himself up to Troy and his henchmen, further likening him to a saint-like figure, or even Jesus, who surrendered himself in the garden of Gethsemane in order to save mankind. This idea is further explored in his last conversation with Ginger.

Ginger is Johnny’s most loyal supporter throughout the play, and always seems to jump to his aid. Although Ginger did run away upon seeing Troy, one must ask themselves what use he would have been against him, as in the royal court production, Troy appeared significantly stronger than the ‘lanky’ Ginger. However, he does return, and vows to protect Johnny from the council, which has less chance of success than the previous situation with Troy. Johnny denies that he and Ginger are ‘friends’ and decides to send him away, in a forceful and aggressive manner. This could make Johnny seem like a dragon, purely because he is acting in a hostile manner, much like a dragon does. This reading, that Johnny is here being a dragon, is more metaphorical than literal, as it is based on his personality, and his volatile behaviour in this context. Alternatively, Johnny can be seen to protect Ginger, and shield him from harm and hurt in sending him away. This could be Johnny thanking Ginger, albeit in a horrid fashion, for his years of service and loyalty. This would make Johnny a saint, as he is protecting the weak, as he knows that Ginger will not survive this confrontation. Johnny also knows that the only way to get rid of Ginger is to be vile to him, as Ginger is used to being made fun of. Johnny now abandons Ginger in a more severe fashion, to ensure that Ginger hates him enough to leave him behind for the council to find. Johnny sacrifices his friendship with Ginger, for Ginger’s own sake, and perhaps himself, as Johnny will not survive such a confrontation, making him appear as a saint-like martyr.

Johnny’s ever changing representation in the play makes for dramatic and interesting viewing, particularly when considering whether Johnny is the saint or the dragon. At the beginning of the play, it is insinuated that he is the dragon, but this is due to the fact that the audience do not know the character of Johnny well enough, or the character of Troy. As Troy is implied to be the abuser, Johnny instead appears as the saint, as it is he who is shielding and protecting Phaedra, and later Ginger, from harm and suffering.[1]

Thanks for reading!


[1] Quotes from:

Jez Butterworth, Jerusalem, (London: Nick Hern Books, 2009).

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Why is Guy Fawkes day celebrated?

Everybody knows of Guy Fawkes because of his involvement in the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Guy Fawkes was caught while guarding a cache of explosives under the House of Lords, with the intention of blowing up the Protestant king James I and replacing him with a Catholic head of state. Fawkes had become involved in the plot the previous year, and was introduced to a small band of Catholics, led by Robert Catesby. The plan that they formed involved Guy Fawkes lighting the fuse and then escaping across the Thames, while a rebellion was to be started in the Midlands, with the intent of capturing James’ Protestant daughter Princess Elizabeth. The crisis was luckily averted when the plan was leaked in an anonymous letter addressed to William Parker, 4th Baron Monteagle, advising him to not go into Parliament on that specific day, the 5th of November. The letter stated that Parliament ‘shall receive a terrible blow… and yet they shall not see who hurts them.’

Upon his arrest, Guy Fawkes was tortured for the names of his twelve co-conspirators, and it is speculated that he was racked. After withholding information for several days, he gave the names of the men who he had worked with. Fawkes was executed on the 31st of January 1606 along with Thomas Wintour, Ambrose Rookwood and Robert Keyes. However, Fawkes managed to avoid the pain of being hanged, drawn and quartered, as he fell from the scaffold before and broke his neck.

The infamous letter

The thwarting of the plot was a major triumph and success for the kingdom. In commemoration, James I decreed that people should celebrate the failure of the plot with bonfires, provided that they were not too large or too dangerous. Several months later, the introduction of the Observance of 5th November Act decreed that the 5th of November should be celebrated as a thanksgiving for the plot’s failure. This was suggested by Edward Montagu, who believed that James’ divine protection and deliverance deserved some recognition. The day has not survived fully since its inception, and its celebration has been tarnished and associated with begging and violence. Sometimes effigies of the Pope would be burnt by the Puritans instead of Fawkes. However, with the advent of the 20th century, Bonfire Night, or Guy Fawkes day, has become a social occasion complete with bonfires and firework displays.

Fawkes himself as become synonymous with the plot, so much so that effigies are regularly burnt of him during Bonfire Night. This also led to the development of the Guy Fawkes mask, a stylised depiction of him that still survives and runs through popular culture today. The mask gained higher popularity and recognition with its use in the 2005 film ‘V for Vendetta.’ From then on the, the Guy Fawkes mask became a popular symbol of resistance against governmental tyranny.

A Guy Fawkes mask

Apparently, Guy Fawkes also haunts the Guy Fawkes Inn at York. There have not been many sightings of him, but there have been some reports. This location was the site of Guy Fawkes’ birth. Perhaps he achieved the fame that he wanted after all.

Thanks for reading!

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Close Analysis: The Chequers Ring

This ring is one of the last surviving pieces of Elizabeth I’s jewellery collection, and dates back to the mid 1570s. It has a mother-of-pearl hoop, which is rare and expensive. The ring is also encrusted with cut rubies. White diamonds on the bezel form ‘E’ for Elizabeth, and ‘R’ for Regina can also be seen made with blue enamel, which is a type of porcelain. The presence of pearls may be a reference to Elizabeth’s virginity. The locket opens to reveal a side profile portrait of Elizabeth, and another woman. Some believe it is her mother, Anne Boleyn who was executed in 1536, partly because the figure sports a French hood, which dates back to the mid 1530s. Anne herself was known for wearing French fashion. During Elizabeth’s reign, more portraits were commissioned of Anne, so it is conceivable to think that the figure could be her. Others, because of the figures reddish hair believe it to be Catherine Parr, whom Elizabeth was very close to. Catherine Parr, after Henry’s death, later married Thomas Seymour, which is interesting as, the symbol of a phoenix is present at the back of the bezel. This would strengthen the idea that the ring was a gift from a Seymour, but again, this is subject to debate. A third theory is that the portrait is in fact one of Elizabeth in her youth.

If this were to be the case, the ring could reference three of the most powerful families at the time, the Boleyn’s, the Seymour’s and the Tudors themselves. It would be nice to think that the portrait is of Anne, although it is believed that Elizabeth seldom mentioned her. Some historians theorise that the ring is proof of Elizabeth’s affection for her mother, and perhaps acts a reminder to her to not make the same mistakes that she did. It is one of those objects that could be interpreted in many different ways, but it what it does signify is the power of the females that it ties to. All three women associated with the ring are immensely important to British history, and the images, jewellery and presentation of them in the shape of a ring, traditionally associated with femininity, demonstrate the strength of their power, and by extension, female power.

The ring also represents the end of the Tudor dynasty, as Elizabeth herself chose to remain unmarried and childless. There is a popular legend that Elizabeth’s relative Robert Carey plucked the ring from her finger when she died at Richmond Palace. Robert Carey’s father was Henry Carey, the son of Mary Boleyn. Carey took it straight to James I, as proof Elizabeth’s death and James’ ascension to the throne of England. James and his Queen Anne of Denmark dispersed and subsequently lost Elizabeth’s jewellery collection. The next trace of the ring comes in the form of Alexander Home, who received the ring from James I. It descended through the Home’s family and was then acquired by Arthur Lee, the Viscount Lee of Fareham. Lee then presented his country house for the use of the Prime Minister, and with it, its extensive collection of historical artefacts. The iconic ring remains there.[1]

Thanks for reading!


[1] Information taken from:

And my own knowledge.

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‘Goblin Market’ Close Reading: The Fallen Woman, Female Sexuality and the Bible

Christina Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market’ primarily serves as a warning to women about indulging in their sexual desires. Laura’s interaction and excessive gorging of the Goblin fruit allude to her indulgence in her sexual desires, and Rossetti uses the tale to warn women of the dangers of such activities. The passage being studied, lines 115-162, takes place after Laura’s first encounter with the Goblin Men and recounts her buying of the fruit.

Fruit is symbolic of sexuality, and Laura’s obsession with it supports the idea that she is indulging in her sexual desires with the Goblin Men. Marina Warner argues that the consumption of the fruit symbolises sex, and this metaphor further solidifies the idea that, by consuming the fruit, Laura is indulging in her sexual desires.[1] The uneven rhyme scheme alludes to a chant, a string of words shouted by one group in unison.[2] This presents a disturbing image, as the young Laura is outnumbered by the Goblins who encourage her to indulge in the fruit, and therefore her sexual desires.

Laura does not just eat the fruit but gorges herself to excess. The repetition of ‘suck’d’ demonstrates the magnitude of her sexual appetite, and desire to consume the fruit in its entirety. Laura is unable to stop herself from eating the fruit, even when her lips grow ‘sore,’ implying that her desire to indulge in the fruit outweighs any physical pain that occurs from the strain of consuming it. This provides an insight into her lack of care for her physical self and her reputation. Laura’s gluttony disorientates her, and she concludes that she ‘knew not was it night or day,’ emphasising the intensity of her feasting, which has affected her senses. Her cognitive ability is also compromised, which is reflected in the lack of grammatical coherency in the above quotation. Rossetti warns women of the direct effects of indulging in their sexual desires excessively, through Laura’s experiences.

It is significant that Laura gorges herself to excess, as this highlights the dangers of female sexuality. Laura’s obsession with the fruit is directly linked to her large sexual appetite, which would have been discouraged by Victorian society, as such appetites would have threatened Victorian social ideals. Victorian women were prized for their virginity and purity, and the loss of it would ruin their reputation. They were not supposed to enjoy sex, as men did, and would only endure it in order to produce children and fulfil their societal role. Laura’s large sexual appetite would have subverted that of the male population, threatening the stability of Victorian society. Laura’s excessive gorging of the fruit implies the magnitude of her sexual desires, which highlights the dangers, and disruptive nature, of female sexuality within Victorian society.

Lizzie’s warning implies that Laura should have known not be tempted. Lizzie notes that ‘twilight’ is a dangerous time for ‘maidens.’ ‘Twilight’ is the time of day between lightness and darkness. The specificity of this time suggests that Laura willingly sought the Goblins, as such a specific time of day is easy to avoid, and should be, considering it is dangerous. The changeable state of nature also reflects the changeable state of Laura’s purity, which she has now lost, as she has indulged in her sexual desires. It also speaks to her transition from girlhood to womanhood, a change that is facilitated by the loss of her virginity. ‘Maiden’ refers to a virginal woman, implying that, before she left, Laura was a virgin and that her sister still believed her to be so. The previous events validate the truth in Lizzie’s warning to Laura, even though ironically, the former is unaware of her sister’s transformation. ‘Loiter’ implies Laura’s complicity in the situation, as she appears uncaring that she was ‘in the haunts of goblin men.’ Laura willingly ventured into the ‘glen’ at a dangerous time of day, with the intention to find, and buy fruit from the Goblin Men, making her fully culpable. This serves as proof that Laura herself yielded her virginity to the Goblins and indulged in her sexual desires by her own volition, despite the well-established warnings that Lizzie repeats concerning the dangers of twilight and the Goblins.

The story of Jeanie illuminates this further, as it details the later consequences of dealing with the Goblin Men. Following her first encounter, Jeanie ‘pined and pined’ for the Goblins, despite their abandonment of her, much to her distress. The consequences of her encounter are explained through the lack of ‘grass’ on her grave. This implies that she is tainted, due to her encounter with the Goblin Men. Her tainted nature cannot facilitate the growth of new life and nature upon her grave. This serves as Jeanie’s punishment, as she ‘grew grey.’ Such a colour implies Jeanie’s barrenness, and inability to become a wife or mother, which were the traditional roles for women in Victorian society. Jeanie’s story explains the consequences of dealing with the Goblin Men. Similarly, to Laura, Jeanie did ‘loiter’ while seeking the Goblin Men. Jeanie and Laura’s stories appear to run parallel to one another, and Lizzie’s recounting of Jeanie’s story serves as a warning to Laura and other women about consorting with the Goblin Men. Jeanie’s story also foreshadows the fate of Laura, if Lizzie did not intervene.

Laura’s indulgence in her sexual desires result in her becoming a fallen woman. Her form of payment, the ‘golden lock’ is symbolic of her fall, as she offers up a part of her own physical body to the Goblins as payment in exchange for the fruit. This references prostitution and strengthens the idea that she gives up her virginity to the Goblins, as she is parting with a piece of her physical self. The image plays out as a transaction, for which she trades her body for the Goblin fruit. The fact that her hair is gold emphasises its economic value, as well as her beauty. The Madonna-Whore complex could come into play here, as the contrast between her purity and sexual degradation. Her temptation to eat the fruit and her indulgence in it is similar to that of Eve in Genesis, as she too ate the forbidden fruit and fell from the grace of God. This enhances the status of the poem as a whole, to a quasi-religious text, and one that is supposed to be educational. By rendering up part of herself and indulging in the fruit, Laura, like Eve, becomes a fallen woman. This leads Serena Trowbridge to argue that the poem is a ‘parable of sexual sin.’[3] Her use of the word ‘parable’ again likens the poem to a Biblical story, emphasising the idea that Rossetti intended for the poem to be semi religious, and a warning to women against the pursuit of their innate sexual desires.


[1] Mary Arseneau, Anthony H Harrison, Lorraine Kooistra, The Culture of Christina Rossetti: Female Poetics and Victorian Contexts (Ohio, Ohio University Press, 1999) p. 117.

[2] Ibid., p. 118.

[3] Serena Trowbridge, Christina Rossetti’s Gothic (London, Bloomsbury Academic, 2015) p. 122.

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Was World War One a key turning point in the changing geography of Civil Rights issues in the USA?

Throughout the civil rights movements several events caused black people to migrate around America, and civil rights issues moved with them.

This change began after the end of the Civil War in 1865, following the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. This allowed black people to move freely across the USA. They began to move throughout the 1900s, and this movement continued to move the issues of civil rights throughout America.

The migration of black people during, and before, World War One can be deemed an important turning point in the changing geography of civil rights issues in the USA.  The increase of black Americans in the North led to competition for jobs, highlighting civil rights issues as white people and black people found themselves in close proximity to one another, breeding racial tension. Originally, black people moved to the North from the South to escape the lack of jobs. Although black people also sought to escape de jure segregation in the South, they faced de facto segregation in the North. In the South, the cotton industry had declined due to the presence of the Bull Weevil in Texas in 1914. It originated from Mexico, first appearing there in 1982. From 1920 to 1932, the price of cotton dropped from 42 to 5 cents due to lack of demand. Many sharecroppers were impacted and moved north, highlighting civil rights issues in the North, as black people were willing to work for less money than white people, creating racial tension.

World War One can still be deemed an important turning point in the changing geography of civil rights issues. The tensions caused by this particular migration during World War One can be seen in several examples of riots. The KKK were revived in 1915. In July 1917, a major race riot occurred in Illinois, which preceded the Red Summer. 48 black people were killed during this time and 300 buildings were destroyed. This highlights how civil rights issues were recognised during the migration of World War One, as competition for jobs led to increased racial tension and the outbreak of a riot. 

Black people began moving to the town of Harlem in New York City in 1905, and this proved to be the most significant turning point for the changing geography of civil rights issues. As black people were concentrated into one specific town, and aided each other by setting up workers unions for black people, this community explored issues of civil rights to a greater extent. This however, led to an increase in racial tension. This migration led to the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, which caused a growth and exploration in black culture. From 1920 to 1930, 87,000 black Americans moved to Harlem. Claude McKay declared it to be the ‘black capital of the world.’

People such as Marcus Garvey fought for black rights, establishing the United Negro Improvement Association in 1914, and he moved to Harlem from Jamaica to promote it. He established the idea that black was beautiful, and advocated the idea of self-help. A. Philip Randolph too demonstrates the significance of the move to, and concentration, of black people in Harlem. In order to combat black unemployment, Randolph set up the National Brotherhood of Workers of America. Due to de facto segregation, black people were barred from joining workers unions. By setting up his own union, Randolph ensured that black people had the opportunity to gain work, thus highlighting civil rights issues in the North.

Racial tension increased in Harlem, leading to a riot in 1943, in which 700 people were injured. The dispute was triggered due to poor resources that black people were afforded. Black schools were of poor quality and in terms of housing, 1979 out of 2191 houses had no windows.

Black people also demonstrated political power in Harlem, as their presence allowed for a black candidate to enter politics within the North, highlighting the changing geography of civil rights issues. Oscar De Priest was elected as a Representative of Illinois in 1929.

Another significant turning point in the changing geography of civil rights issues could be the slow drift back to the South beginning in the 1950s. In 1970, 53% of black people lived in the South. Black people began to flee the North due to high crime and a lack of jobs. Areas such as Florida and Texas, located in the ‘Sun Belt,’ offered jobs and employment which proved attractive to black Americans. The North east became known as the Rust Belt, an area of the USA associated with declining industry, after the oil crisis of 1973. Car manufacturing in Detroit also decreased, with the number of firms and employers halving from 1947 to 1977. Initially, black people fled the South due to racism and violence, which was now fast occurring in the North. This changing geography of black people highlights the changing movement of civil rights issues. The move back to the South implies that the civil rights movement was effective to an extent in the South.

In conclusion, the most significant turning point in the changing geography of civil rights issues was the move to Harlem in 1905, which laid the foundations for the Harlem Renaissance, and establishment of a distinct, black culture. As black people formed a united, concentrated group, they were able to find work and even enter into politics.[1]

Thanks for reading!


[1] All information taken from:

D. Murphy, Civil Rights and Race Relations in the USA, 1850-2009 (London, Pearson Education, 2016).

And my own knowledge.

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Why does Hamlet delay his revenge?

Critic Kenneth Muir is right in saying that there are ‘many different explanations’ for Hamlet’s procrastination in avenging his father. Hamlet is delayed by others and delayed by himself, as he grapples with his own conscience in his quest to avenge his fathers’ ‘foul and most unnatural murder.’

Hamlet is clearly grieving for his father. In his ‘inky cloak,’ he chastises his mother for suggesting that he looks on Denmark (Claudius) as a ‘friend,’ and goes on to say that the black that he wears does indeed ‘denote’ him. He tells Gertrude that his demeanour indicates that he is grieving, but it is what is ‘within’ that is the truth, and the truth is that he is bereaved. It is clear to the audience that early on in the play, Hamlet is consumed by grief. Claudius and Gertrude appear insensitive, as Claudius declares that Hamlet’s grief is ‘unmanly.’ it is understandable that Hamlet feels isolated, as those who are supposed to care for him instead patronise him, and do not display empathy. This is in part why Hamlet delays his revenge. Hamlet must be solely focused on avenging his father, as he later realises, but in order to be focused on this task he has to make peace with his bereavement. Before he has done this he is tasked with revenge, and he delays this act so he can come to terms with his loss, and clear his mind to make way for the vengeful act. The true extent of Hamlet’s grief is revealed in his soliloquy in act one scene two, in which he hails his father as ‘excellent,’ and compares him to ‘Hyperion’ who in Greek mythology was the human embodiment of the Sun. His idolisation of his father intensifies his grief, and delays his revenge further as it becomes more difficult to come to terms with. The love that he bears for his father leads to a comparison of his father to Claudius, in which he muses that Claudius is ‘no more like my father, than I to Hercules.’ As well as his grief it appears that Hamlet has an underlying anger towards Claudius as he has replaced his father in every way, and he is not worthy of such a position. With these emotions running around in his head, it is clear that Hamlet is addled.

The Ghost confuses Hamlet further, and causes him to descend into hysteria, in which he swears to ‘remember.’ Hamlet’s initial trusting of the ghost dwindles however, as Hamlet then doubts that the Ghost even existed. It is also this doubt that delays Hamlet’s act of revenge, and it begins with Horatio’s fear that the Ghost may draw Hamlet into ‘madness.’ Hamlet tries to adopt the ideas and mindset of Horatio and accept that the Ghost ‘may be the devil.’ Hamlet assesses the idea, and concludes that this could be the case, and that he was taken advantage of due to his ‘weakness and melancholy.’ Hamlet’s moral compass can be seen here, as he does not want to kill Claudius unjustly, and at first seeks to discover whether the Ghost is truly real. The idea also displays Hamlet’s rationality and intelligence. In the Elizabethan age, ghosts were seen to be an ill omen, and Hamlet acknowledges this and thinks seriously before he allows the ghost to ‘damn’ him, if that is the intention of the Ghost. This doubt leads to a detour in the plot, through the deployment and formation of ‘The Mousetrap.’ A great deal of time is spent on the play, with the soul purpose of catching the ‘conscience of the King.’ If Hamlet was certain of the Ghosts’ existence, and had remained in such an impassioned state, it is conceivable to believe that Hamlet would have avenged his father a lot sooner. Hamlet grapples with the idea of seeming, and being, as the Ghost appears real to him, yet may not be. In the closet scene, the idea is looked into further, as only Hamlet can see the Ghost. This casts doubt over the Ghosts’ existence for the audience, yet it is too late for Hamlet to revoke on what he believes he has seen. It can be argued that, following his grief, this doubt is what truly hinders Hamlet’s revenge, as in the scene after the play, act three scene three, Hamlet appears closer to avenging his father than ever before.

After the Dumb Show Claudius finds it difficult to conceal his guilt. This culminates in a confession, which ultimately condemns the ‘rank’ actions of Claudius, and presents Hamlet with an opportunity to kill Claudius. Hamlet comes close to killing Claudius, but does not carry out the deed. After discovering that Claudius did in fact murder his father in the previous act, Hamlet seems more prepared than ever to kill him, but decides to delay again to ensure that there is ‘no relish of salvation in’t,’ ensuring that Claudius does not go to ‘heaven.’ It appears that Hamlet wants to seek justice for his father at the expense of Claudius, leading him to delay the revenge further. This delay however is different, as it is clear that Hamlet does intend to avenge his father. Hamlet appears to plan his revenge, and wants to slay Claudius in ‘rage’ or in ‘th’incestuous pleasure of his bed.’ Due to his intense planning, one can argue that Hamlet was always going to kill Claudius but could not, as he was unsure of the Ghosts existence and did not trust it’s words. Hamlet’s decision to kill Claudius when he is committing an immoral act is likened to the death of his father, who was killed in the ‘blossoms of my sin.’ Now that Hamlet believes the Ghost, he knows that without the Last Rites, Claudius’ soul too will be ‘doomed’ to burn in ‘fires.’ In Elizabethan England, the sacrament of the Last Rites was a core belief in the Roman Catholic Church, and without it, it was believed that souls could be confined to purgatory. This acts as an incentive for Hamlet, as he wishes for Claudius to be punished for murdering his father, and as he has accepted the word of the Ghost, he knows that Claudius will be. Hamlet’s true anger and feelings towards Claudius are conveyed here, and his desperation for Claudius’ suffering provides the reason for the delay in Hamlet’s revenge, as he wants to ensure that Claudius’ soul has the greatest chance of going to hell.

Hamlet’s feelings towards his mother also play a part. During the closet scene, Hamlet’s outburst of anger towards Gertrude delays his revenge in that moment, but whether this is an overarching theme in the play is questionable to an extent. Hamlet does chastise his mother especially in relation to her ‘o’erhasty marriage.’ In addition to his grief, and doubt over the Ghosts’ existence, Hamlet deals with the repercussions of his mothers’ marriage to his uncle. Hamlet’s many emotions appear to delay his revenge and make him appear indecisive, and one of these emotions is his conflicting hatred and love towards Gertrude. He is angered that she has been ‘stained,’ by Claudius, but also angered that she even accepted him, stating that she has his ‘father much offended.’ The pinnacle of Hamlet’s vexation is exposed in act three scene four, as he clearly cannot understand why Gertrude would marry a ‘murderer and a villain.’ This question is key to Hamlet, and without it’s answer, the idea poses another threat to the carrying out of revenge, as it is another obstacle Hamlet must overcome. His view and respect towards Gertrude has dramatically decreased, as she claims that her marriage vows to King Hamlet are now rendered ‘false,’ as she has married the ‘mildewed ear.’ His exasperation aimed at his mother and his confusion over her decision to marry Claudius weighs on his mind, and temporarily distracts him from obtaining his revenge, as the Ghost agrees. The Ghost tells Hamlet that the conversation has a ‘blunted purpose,’ insinuating that clearly, in this scenario, Hamlet’s release of inner anger towards his mother has directly delayed his act of revenge and is pointless.

However, when trying to decipher the reason for Hamlet’s delay in killing Claudius, one could argue that the answer is simple. Many critics agree, including Goethe, that Hamlet is of a ‘pure, noble and most moral nature’ suggesting the idea that revenge is not in the nature of Hamlet. In act two scene three, even Hamlet himself notes that he is ‘pigeon-liver’d,’ and that his actions lack ‘gall.’ He appears to be stuck in a situation of inaction, and in one instance comes close to killing Claudius, but still does not. In contrast, Laertes is certain that he will have his revenge. Upon hearing of his fathers death and witnessing the madness of his sister, Laertes swears that his ‘revenge will come.’ From act four scene five Laertes’ aim is made clear, and remains clear until the end of the play, unlike Hamlet’s wavering feelings. In this respect, it appears that Hamlet’s indecisiveness and moral compass hinder him from exacting his revenge, and give him the impression that he is not cut out for such an act, unlike Laertes. This could lead one to believe that Laertes looks at the issue of honour differently, and more seriously than Hamlet, as the reason for Laertes’ revenge seeking is because his honour ‘stands aloof.’ As Laertes feels his honour is under attack, he immediately acts to reclaim his dignity, unlike Hamlet. This could suggest that Hamlet delays his revenge as he is not the correct person to carry out such an act, and as he does not take honour so seriously enough as to kill a man for it. Although Laertes displays the positive attitude of decisiveness, one could argue that killing another man as he has threatened ones honour displays irrationality. Laertes appears to follow the ancient Roman religion of Fame. This prized family honour above all things, and as a man’s reputation was all that lived after him, it was imperative that justice was done. It fell to his son to take the law into his own hands, and Laertes can be seen to do this by agreeing to avenge his father. Laertes’ pure motivation to avenge his father is due to his damaged pride, which although Hamlet does mention this, it appears that Hamlet seeks to ensure that his father is justly avenged (ensuring that Claudius goes to hell). When discussing Hamlet in relation to Laertes, it can be said that in comparison, Hamlet delays his revenge, as he is not the correct person to carry out due to his lack of decisiveness and drive. His wish to ensure Claudius’ condemnation also delays him, whereas the issue of Laertes’ dignity being restored means that his revenge can be carried out in any situation, unlike Hamlet’s.

As Hamlet has more weighing on his mind than other characters, and has many more character traits, the reason for his delay in avenging is apparent. In contrast to Laertes, his distinct decisiveness and high regard of honour pushes him to plot to kill Hamlet, but Hamlet’s wish to ensure that Claudius suffers delays him. Shakespeare appears to be unfair to Hamlet, as if Hamlet did not have to manage his grief, along with his feelings about Claudius, Gertrude and the existence of the Ghost, his revengeful act may have occurred a lot sooner.[1]


[1] All quotes from:

William Shakespeare, Hamlet, ed. by Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor (London: Arden Shakespeare, 2016).

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How did Britain gain control of India?

The complicated relationship between Britain and India began with the formation of the East India Company in 1600, by the command of Elizabeth I. the intention of the company was to explore and to compete with other powers in the East Indies. Britain was not successful here, so turned her attention to India. In 1640, a representative of the Company got a grant of land in southern India and built Fort St George. More forts followed, and Britain began to compete with the Dutch and the French who also had a presence in India. Britain then started exporting spices in 1690.

The decline of the Mughal Empire, signalled by the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, also gave Britain an opportunity to gain more control over India. The falling empire resulted in a power vacuum, which Britain took advantage of. The Bengalese and the French were defeated by the British in 1757, allowing Britain to add more land to their arsenal. The Company overshadowed other European powers, and using their large naval fleet to ferry more and more men to India. People also enjoyed trading with the Company, and Britain had a formidable presence and influence in the south, along with the French.

Warren Hastings’ took the position as the head of the Supreme Council of Bengal in 1772. There needed to be changes, as the East India Company had left land infertile in Bengal, which resulted in a famine two years prior, which caused millions of deaths. Hastings, as well as Robert Clive is credited with laying the foundations of the British Empire in India. Hastings emphasised the importance of learning about the culture and languages of India, believing that this was the only way to understand the country fully. In 1773, Hastings introduced a series of Regulating Acts which helped the East India Company avert bankruptcy. Calcutta was redeveloped and became the capital of British India. He ensured that English civil servants had some sort of understanding of the country and sought to document the history of India with the help of Indian scholars.[1]

The Anglo-Sikh Wars took place throughout the 1840s and saw Britain wage war on the Sikh Empire. Britain won, and as a result, fifteen year old Maharaja Duleep Singh was taken away from his family and homeland to be raised in Britain, under the watchful eye of Queen Victoria. The threat of the Sikhs had been neutralised. As a sign of subservience to Britain, Maharaja Duleep Singh handed Victoria the Koh-i-noor in 1849. Duleep became a favourite of Queen Victoria and was known as the ‘Black Prince’ in Britain.[2]

The Indian rebellion of 1857 rocked the Company. The Company employed local Indian people to work in the army, who were known as ‘sepoys.’ There was already tension present, as the Indian people continued to be exploited by the British, which resulted in a famine. Taxes were high, and the Indian textile industry was not supported. Indians also felt the pressure to convert to Christianity, which caused further unrest.

Word then went around that the bullets that the army were supplied with had been dipped in pig or beef fat, to ensure that the guns were easier to load. Cows are sacred in India, and this fact added to the already increasing unrest amongst the army. This led to a full-scale rebellion. Both sides committed atrocities, with both Indians and British being murdered, including women and children. The Indians were brutally suppressed by the British, and some were tied to cannons in order to be executed. This was an old Mughal punishment. The rebellion ultimately failed due to the differing intentions and religions of those involved, as well as the lack of organisation and funding.

Following the rebellion and bloodshed, the East India Company was disbanded, and India found itself under the control of the Crown. India formed the jewel in the crown of the British Empire. Queen Victoria added ‘Empress of India’ to her title in 1877, under the Royal Titles Act passed by Benjamin Disraeli’s government. Britain also brought several new modes of transport to India during this time, including trains, telegrams and the steam ship.

As time progressed, Indians felt that they were owed independence. The Bengal famine of 1943, and Britain’s poor handling of it caused cries of independence to grow further. The debates continued, with Gandhi on one side and political figures like Muhammad Ali Jinnah on the other, who thought that India should be divided depending on religious territory. British Prime Minister Clement Atlee was sympathetic, and so India achieved independence in 1947. This was not without bloodshed however, as Partition displaced 10-12 million people. British India was split into two independent states, India and Pakistan. The redefining of the borders meant that people were displaced depending on their religious views, and there were numerous incidences of ethnic cleansing across the country. This post is just a snippet of the rich and turbulent history of India.[3]

Thanks for reading!


[1] Kopf, David, British Orientalism and the Bengal Renaissance: The Dynamics of Indian Modernization, 1773-1835 (Princeton, 1969), part I, pp. 13-42.

[2] Information taken from

BBC History Magazine, The Story of the Victorians, 2019.

[3] Information taken from:

And my own knowledge.

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Torvald Helmer in ‘A Doll’s House,’ Victorian societal expectations and 21st century changes

In Henrik Ibsen’s play ‘A Doll’s House’ Torvald Helmer’s treatment of his wife Nora appears to be in line with 19th century societal expectations of men. As the man of the house, Helmer brings in the money, but also chastises Nora, controls her and is at times cruel to her. When discussing what has changed in the 21st century, it can be argued that the actions of Nora symbolise the developing and changing role of women.

In the opening stage direction, it is noted that the Helmer’s live ‘comfortably and tastefully.’  What Ibsen describes is a classic bourgeois family, judging by his description of the house and the role of Nora. Ibsen even wrote the play for the middle class urban audience, writing it in ‘riksmal,’ the official language of the church and state. Although Nora is in charge of the house, it is still decorated in the way that ‘Torvald likes,’ emphasising the control that he exercises over the whole household. This plays to the ideology of the ‘separate sphere,’ which describes the ‘natural habitats’ of a man and woman. The fact that women had such great influence in the home was even used as an argument against giving them the vote in Britain. Nora, as the wife, plays an important domestic role, whereas Helmer fulfils his financial duties. Although it appears that the roles of men and women were distinct, Helmer still influences the decisions that Nora makes when furnishing the household. The fact that one can gather so much from the stage directions is also a trait of the ‘Well Made Play,’ which depicted the normalities of life populated with identifiable characters. Nora and Helmer are identifiable in this way, as they represent the classic middle class roles of men and women in the 19th century, and Helmer in particular is concerned with social values and image, bringing the character in line with societal expectations.

Helmer is developed in line with societal expectations purely because he is the man of the house, and brings in all family income. The survival of the family rests on Helmer, as the man of the house, which further emphasises the importance of the loan, as Nora effectively ‘saved Torvald’s life,’ and by extension, that of her family. This is in line with the idea of a patriarchal society. Helmer works hard, and values that his house is not founded on debts, as if it were, it could never be a ‘place of freedom and beauty.’ Helmer’s romanticizing of his financial situation emphasises its importance to him, in contrast to Nora’s spending. Helmer is seen frequently carrying ‘papers’ and exiting to go to the ‘office,’ further emphasising and defining the role of the traditional 19th century man, who, during this time commuted to his place of work. It is fitting that Nora’s attempts at ‘being a man’ stretched to ‘copying,’ as she does not fully understand how hard Helmer works, and acts as a foil to this.

Helmer can also be seen as spiteful and disrespectful towards his wife, and although this may not define all Victorian men, it is worth noting that he enjoys controlling Nora. He calls her a ‘squanderbird’ and wags ‘his finger’ at her when she spends money. As a squanderbird would not survive in the winter, Nora depends on Helmer, as Helmer depends on being in control of her. His security depends upon him feeling superior, as proved by the games they play, and Nora’s cooing that she will do ‘lots of pretty tricks for him.’ This is paternalistic, as Nora adopts the role of surrogate daughter, and delights in rebelling against Helmer when buying ‘macaroons.’ This show the first signs of changes that develop through the 21st century, and also foreshadows Nora’s act of rebellion against societal expectations at the end of the play. Helmer however, maintains his focus on typical values, mocking Nora and calling her ‘little Miss Independent.’ This demonstrates his delight in being in control, and also how he mocks her, and her gender. By declaring that the ‘germs of evil’ are ‘always spread by the mother,’ Helmer develops his own philosophy and view of societal roles, and continues to chastise Nora in her role as the mother.

Helmer also controls Nora sexually. When asking which character runs the doll’s house, and who is playing with the dolls, one could see Nora as Helmer’s sexual plaything. He even notes her ‘pretty eyes’ and ‘delicate little hands,’ describing her like a china doll. Nora also plays up to this idea, and uses her sexuality to gain money from him. Notably, she does this by the ‘stove’ which represents a place of warmth and love, where Helmer, who has just come in from the cold, is pliable to her demands and sexuality. It is obvious that in the play, Nora’s behaviour allows Helmer to control her, as while she begs him for money, she plays ‘with his coat buttons,’ leaving him in a superior position, which she has placed him in. One could argue that she is in control, as she gets what she wants also. He enjoys this, as well as her use of her sexuality, and delights in indulging his wife. Nora’s declaration that she could never go against Helmer’s ‘wishes’ emphasises her significance, as she too shapes Helmer and brings him in line with societal expectations, as the man was the dominant figure in the home. In contrast, the ideal wife was painted in Coventry Patmore’s poem ‘The Angel in the House,’ and was described as charming and graceful. In this instance, Nora is both of these things. Helmer’s decision to have Nora ‘dance the tarantella’ supports this idea, as he will enjoy seeing her dressed as a ‘fisher girl.’ This dance will also tire her out, and make it easier for Helmer to seduce her afterwards.

It is worth mentioning that Nora may not be seen as the conventional 19th century woman when discussing sexuality, as when she brandishes her ‘flesh’ coloured stockings in front of Doctor Rank. This is the 19th century flirting. The sexual appetite of a woman was discouraged, and emphasis was placed on the pursuit to become a mother, not sexual fulfilment. When relating Nora to the changes of the 21st century, one could argue that she embodies this change, and acts outside of the societal norms, by parading her intimate clothing in front of Doctor Rank. If one were to read the play in a feminist light, it would be perceived that Nora walking out at the end exemplified the breaking of societal norms, and the freeing of the bird from the cage. With this same reading, one could argue that Nora’s seductive actions toward Rank, whether she is aware that they are or not, signal her beginning to break societal norms, and move towards the more accepting attitudes of the sexuality of women in the 21st century.

When examining Helmer, one can see that he fits into societal norms with his arrogance. Helmer’s attitude towards Nora and her father exemplify this. Helmer insults her father, declaring that he did not have an ‘unassailable reputation,’ but that he does. This is an example of dramatic irony, as Helmer doesn’t realise how much he truly owes to his wife, and how the loan could destroy his own reputation. Helmer’s declaration brings him in line with societal norms further, as it reiterates the point that he cares greatly about social standing and image. It is this realisation that, at the end of the play, pushes Nora to leave him. Nora also acts as the catalyst for the dismissal of Krogstad, which stems from his ‘petty’ hatred of Krogstad calling him by his Christian name, claiming it to be improper. In the 19th century, this would establish the two as equals, and as Helmer is concerned with maintaining his authority, for him, this was a grave error. This develops the character of Helmer in line with societal roles, as he conforms to ideas about class, and what respect constituted. In response to the character of Helmer, Michael Meyer, in 1965, declared that what was needed was a ‘revolution of the spirit of man.’ It is Helmer’s attitude that pushes Nora to leave at the end of the play, allowing her to embody the changes of the 21st century.

When discussing what has changed within the 21st century, it is fair to argue that women have a greater, and more equal role, in society. Nora frequently appears to be breaking the traditional role of the submissive and meek wife. Her role in the story is not only defined by Helmer, as it is he who instructs her how to furnish the house, but is also defined by the loan. Such an act was illegal in the 19th century, unlike now. Nora, although it may not be seen as strenuous, also took little jobs to pay off the loan, and one should not look at her so ‘patronisingly,’ as she did save Helmer from ruin. Kate Millett, in 1971 noted that ‘Nora confronted every convention and the chivalrous masculine prejudice that caged her.’ Nora’s restlessness, especially at the beginning of act two, likens her to a bird who is trapped in a cage, waiting to break free from the societal bonds and stereotypes that entrap her. In this respect, Nora embodies what has changed within the 21st century, in contrast to Helmer’s portrayal as the classic 19th century man.[1]


[1] All quotes from:

Henrik Ibsen, A Doll’s House, ed. by Nick Worral (London: Bloomsbury, 2008).

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Was there political instability in Elizabeth I’s government?

Elizabeth encountered several problems throughout her long reign which included faction, developing from Cecil and Essex, war and the issue of succession. But did these issues cause significant political instability?

The development of faction with Elizabeth’s government only led to moderate political instability within England. John Guy notes that Essex and Cecil ‘rivalled’ each other and that the ‘feud escalated.’ Both Essex and Cecil vied for the queen’s affection, and she had to manage them effectively to ensure that one did not overpower the other. By doing this, Elizabeth ensured that she could use both Essex and Cecil in ways that benefitted her in an attempt to ‘control her policy.’ Cecil’s father William was a close political adviser to Elizabeth, and him and his son both demonstrated Elizabeth’s caution and restraint when dealing with foreign affairs, which elevated him to become the Queen’s Secretary in 1596, unlike Essex. Essex resembled one of the old nobles, and his status depended on being close to Elizabeth, and through her patronage. Essex displayed an appetite for glory and war, and had some successes in Cadiz. The difference and conflict between both factions caused the ‘atmosphere’ in court to deteriorate as Elizabeth found herself playing peacemaker between the two factions. However, although this makes faction seem like a serious threat, Guy’s evidence makes it appear that it is only a moderate one, as Essex is eventually ‘forbidden royal presence’ in 1598. This demonstrates Elizabeth’s sovereignty at court, as she is able to bar him from seeing her. This led to the downfall of Essex as his power depended on his closeness to her and his patronage. This shows that overall; the threat of faction was only moderate as Elizabeth was able to put an end to it. Initially Loades argues that faction is of much greater threat, as he notes that the ‘younger gentry’ saw Essex as the ‘man of the future.’ He comments that Essex house became ‘headquarters for a faction.’ Following Essex’s house arrest in 1599 Elizabeth didn’t renew his monopoly on sweet wines the follow year, causing him to fall into debt. Essex’s rapid decreasing in favour weakened his position, and so in 1601 planned to use armed force to capture the court and the queen. Essex, as Loades argued, ‘stirred up some of his followers to plot murder,’ and when the court was alerted, Essex launched a revolt and 140 men marched towards London. This failed however, and after Essex House was besieged, Essex was captured. Loades notes the moderate nature of the incident stating that the revolt ‘could have caused a dangerous insurrection’ if it had been ‘efficiently managed.’ Essex was executed on the 25th of February 1601 following the revolt, demonstrating the lack of threat that he presented. This put an end to the presence of faction within Elizabeth’s court, demonstrating that Essex was not strong enough to overpower her of the court. Loades’ assertion, that the revolt was not well managed, demonstrates the lack of threat, forming the conclusion that faction only posed a moderate threat to Elizabeth’s government as supported by Guy and Loades.

Another factor that led to political instability in England was the issue of war. The Spanish Armada were a constant threat after their defeat in 1588, and Guy notes that Essex was frequently ‘urging campaigns in Europe.’ Essex favoured the idea of national glory and tried to persuade Elizabeth to enter into foreign wars, unlike Cecil who had a cautious attitude to foreign affairs. Guy also Essex’s favour began to diminish before his ‘departure to Ireland.’ Tyrone’s revolt began in 1593 and became a full scale revolt by 1595, and was led by trained English and Spanish captains. Tyrone began with an army of 100 infantry, 4000 musketeers and 1000 pikemen, demonstrating the scale and size of the revolt, making it a significant factor that led to political instability. English supply lines were stretched, and the added threat of Spain made the threat of war a significant factor that led to political instability during the reign of Elizabeth. Loades notes that the ‘grinding effort of the war’ contributed to a turbulent time in England. With the intervention of Lord Mountjoy, the revolt came to an end in 1603, again demonstrating that the threat of war was not significant enough to cause genuine instability as it was put down.

Another factor that caused political instability in England was the issue of succession. Loades alone notes that Elizabeth’s ‘ageing rule’ and the fact that her reign was ‘drawing to a close’ caused instability within England, and particularly caused conflict between Elizabeth and Parliament. In 1563 and 1566, Parliament brought up the issue of succession, which angered Elizabeth. In response, she stated that Parliament should only concern itself with matters of ‘commonweal,’ meaning matters concerning the people and not her own successor. Loades argues that the issue of succession caused ‘widespread restlessness and dissatisfaction.’ This could imply that the issue of succession led to the growth of the Cecil and Essex factions, perhaps arguing that the instability caused from faction originally came from Elizabeth’s ambiguity over her successor. Although this conflict in Parliament over succession did cause political instability, Elizabeth still possessed more power than Parliament due to her prerogative powers.

Considering that the issues of faction, war and conflict with Parliament were easily quashed by Elizabeth, it is clear that significant political stability was avoided.[1]

Thanks for reading!

All information taken from:

[1] A. Grundy, Religion and state in early modern Europe, (London, Pearson Education, 2015).

And my own knowledge.

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Cathy’s ‘I am Heathcliff!’ Speech: An Analysis

Cathy’s ‘I am Heathcliff!’ speech, is probably the most iconic declaration of love in literature. It is so long that it should probably be classed as a series of speeches. I certainly found it powerful and overwhelming, which leads me to believe that at the heart of ‘Wuthering Heights’ is a story about a love that is so pure, and so strong, that it transcends the boundaries of the physical world. Surely that is the purest form of love? It is difficult to pinpoint a specific piece to analyse, as the conversation between Cathy and Nelly goes on for seven pages. Let us see what Cathy says exactly:

‘… My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff’s miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning: my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty strange: I should not seem a part of it. My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being. So don’t talk of our separation again: it is impracticable; and – …’ [1]

There is a lot to unpack here. The first few lines concerning Heathcliff’s miseries imply that Cathy feels so connected to Heathcliff, that his suffering automatically means her suffering. They feel the same, they suffer the same. ‘My great thought in living is himself’ is quite a complex statement, and when I first read the novel, I really had to think about it. It almost does not make grammatical sense, especially the use of the word ‘himself.’ It would make more sense to use the word ‘him,’ but the inclusion of the word ‘self’ emphasises the fact that Cathy is thinking about Heathcliff’s whole, entire person. Cathy’s thoughts just concern Heathcliff, she is so in love with him that no other thought enters her mind. She does not contemplate one aspect of him, but him in his entirety. It seems that she cannot view Heathcliff in a negative way, she views him as one whole, and that whole that she sees is good.

She goes on to say that her home is Heathcliff, and if he were not here, then she would be totally lost and abandoned. The violence of the words ‘perished’ and ‘annihilated’ emphasise Cathy’s passion and love for Heathcliff, as well as the general melodrama of the novel. Cathy compares her love for Edgar to the ‘foliage in the woods,’ and her love for Heathcliff to the ‘eternal rocks beneath.’ Foliage obviously dies in the winter, implying that Cathy’s love for Edgar will not last, and will change pretty fast. Winter here represents the turbulent and difficult times in marriage, and essentially, when the going gets tough, Cathy knows that her and Edgar will break down… and spoiler… they do. The rocks beneath emphasises how stabilising Heathcliff is to Cathy, and how he grounds and attaches her to the physical world, and how he also grounds her in herself, as he is part of her. As these rocks are ‘eternal,’ the connection between Cathy and Heathcliff will never die, even when they themselves perish. Cathy, or rather Brontë, definitely knows how to use imagery.

Cathy’s ability to shape-shift into Edgar Linton’s ideal woman is a classic trait of the Gothic heroine. Cathy actively betrays herself to conform to societal ideals. She kind of works as a femme fatale, as she captivates both Heathcliff and Edgar, as they fall in love with her, and this draws everyone into madness and despair. I would not say she is a typical femme fatale, as usually femme fatale’s act with intent. Cathy does not intend to make everybody’s lives a stressful misery, so she is kind of a femme fatale by accident. In general though, Cathy is not one archetype or character, she is multiple things, as demonstrated by her differing identities of Catherine Earnshaw, Catherine Heathcliff and Catherine Linton.

It is almost like Cathy does not know how to talk about it without going on and on. She finally realises how to sum up the last seven pages, with the exclamation ‘I am Heathcliff!’ The fact that ‘am’ is in italics emphasises the shock and melodrama of Cathy’s realisation. This sentiment sums it all up in one. Even a discussion about separating from Heathcliff causes Cathy so much distress that her speech ends, and she trails off. ‘Impracticable’ emphasises the impossible nature of it, that Heathcliff and Cathy cannot be separated. It is a physical impossibility. It literally cannot happen. Of course, it does later on in the novel, and it is Heathcliff’s grief and rage that drives all the action for the remainder of the novel. So even though Cathy is only around for half of the novel, her impact is huge. Without her, really there would be no novel.

Thanks for reading!


[1] Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights, (London: Wordsworth Classics), p. 59.

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Did Martin Luther’s 95 Theses represent a serious challenge to the Roman Catholic Church?

During the years 1517 to 1520, Luther’s 95 Theses spread rapidly across Germany. The These were originally written as an attack against Johann Tetzel’s selling of Indulgences, which were ‘permits’ that could be purchased from the Church to gain salvation. Obviously you cannot ‘buy’ salvation from God, so Luther clocked on that the Church was pulling a fast one. The publication of Luther’s 95 Theses was a serious challenge to the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. One comes to this conclusion because of Luther’s developing ideas and the reaction that they prompted from the Church.

Luther’s 95 Theses can be seen as a serious challenge to the church due to Luther’s developing and evolving ideas. Luther’s Theses initially attacked Indulgences, but over the next two years they appeared to develop and attack the papacy as a whole. This development could be blamed on people such as Cardinal Catejan and John Eck, who spurred him on to develop his ideas in response to their alacritous debate. Catejan, who was a renowned biblical scholar, was under orders to arrest Luther if he refused to recant at Augsburg in 1518, but decided to engage in debate with him after granting an imperial guarantee for Luther’s safety. This debate developed Luther’s ideas further, as it was here that he began to develop the idea of ‘sola fide,’ or faith alone. Luther argued that faith was the only thing needed for salvation, which directly combated the idea of Indulgences. For Luther, all that was needed for salvation was the ‘word of Christ.’ He also openly expressed the view that the Pope could make mistakes. It appears that the 95 Theses displayed only the beginning of Luther’s ideas, and his debate with Catejan caused them to develop.

The Leipzeig debates in 1519 too pushed Luther to develop his ideas further. For the past eighteen months, the Dominican Church had been attacking Luther through the use of pamphlets. At the debate, hosted by Duke George of Saxony, John Eck persuaded George to grant Luther safety, in order to engage in a debate with him. Eck previously believed that Luther had attacked the papacy, and the debate between the two of them led to the development of Luther’s ideas on this matter. Eck provoked Luther by discussing Luther’s views on papal authority, saying that he shared similar views to the heretic Jan Hus, who was burned in 1415. As Luther ‘understood the snare,’ he ‘raged’ and in this impassioned frame of mind, divulged his feeling that there was no evidence for the papacy in scripture. He used these ideas to attack and undermine Eck, and some development can be seen in his thought process, which began with the publishing of the 95 Theses. Development can be seen in his ideas, as this was the first instance in which he seriously challenged the papacy as whole, and not just clerical abuses, which he addressed in the Theses. He went on to denounce papal authority and claimed that the only authority within the Church lay in the general council. This was a group of bishops, archbishops and cardinals. The council was subservient to scripture, and also condemned Jan Hus. Luther went on to incriminate himself further by saying that they should not have killed Hus, and that his views were based on scripture. In Wittenberg, people began to support Luther, on which the debate had a great affect, as he was forced to express ideas in defence that would outline his new theological ideas and theories. Here Luther’s idea of ‘sola scriptura’ can be seen to develop, beginning with the serious challenge that he presented to the Roman Catholic Church in the form of the 95 Theses.

The severity of the papacy’s reaction to the Theses is also telling. After the meeting at Heidelberg in 1518, Leo ordered that Luther should be brought to Rome and executed, seeing him as a direct threat to the Roman Catholic Church. Leo’s quick change of thinking demonstrates how seriously the 95 Theses were taken by the papacy, insinuating that they were seen to be a serious challenge. Despite the intervention of Frederick the Wise, Leo still asked Catejan to arrest and make Luther recant at Augsburg. Leo took action against Frederick, even though he needed his vote for the imperial election, demonstrating the severity of the matter, and of the 95 Theses, as it had lead to the formation of Luther’s ideas that began to threaten the Church. Leo’s continued failed attempts to capture Luther lead to the papal bull Exsurge Domine, stating that the Church must protect itself from the ‘wild boar’ that threatened it. This action was taken, as forty-one of Luther’s views were deemed heretical and were seen to be a serious threat to the Church itself, the structure of the papacy, and the thoughts and beliefs of those within it. Very serious stuff.

On the flip side, some people thinking the Theses were not to be taken too seriously. Luther belonged to a conservative, middle class family. His mother in particular as deeply devout, and from a young age he was taught that God was the ultimate judge, and that prayer was a way of communicating with him. His mother Margarethe also taught him the importance of good deeds and the parables in the Bible. As he came from a deeply religious family, it can be argued that Luther would not want to the Church to change completely, but alter some aspects within it for the better. It can be argued that the main reason Luther was angry was due to Tetzel’s selling of Indulgences, and not so much the papacy. Luther also did not originally intend for the Church to be reformed. From his perspective, the Theses were intended to inspire debate and discussion at Wittenberg University. This shows that the 95 Theses were not a serious threat, purely as Luther claims that he did not intend them to be. The university was known to have theological debates, and generate new ideas, so the prospect of Luther wanting to incite one does not mean that the Theses were a threat in any way, as it could appear that he was participating in a perfectly normal practice. Perhaps if the Pope had halted the selling of Indulgences, Luther’s ideas would not have developed or spread. Luther also wrote the Theses in an enraged ad impassioned state, implying that he could have exaggerated his true feelings. Luther later stated that he did not expect the Theses to spread, and that he would have not written some things if he knew that they were going to. This erratic thinking could imply that he did not think about the Theses seriously, and that they were not intended to be taken seriously.

   Despite Luther’s erratic feelings towards the Theses and his upbringing, the 95 Theses can be seen to be a serious challenge to the Church. Considering the reaction that Luther’s developing ideas prompted from the Church, it is hard not view the 95 These as a serious challenge to the Church.[1]

Thanks for reading!


All information taken from:

[1] A. Grundy, Religion and state in early modern Europe, (London, Pearson Education, 2015).

And my own knowledge.

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Ambrosio and Irony in ‘The Monk’

‘The Monk’ is a pretty crazy book, it grabs you by the throat and does not let go. It is not afraid to tackle difficult topics, and covers murder, corruption and incest in its monastic setting. It was difficult to write this and choose one topic to focus on, but I do feel that the overriding themes of irony come from Ambrosio, and that the main message of the novel is that evil lurks around every corner, no matter how pious something may appear.

We are told, at the start, that ‘women came to show themselves, the men to see the women’ at church.[1] Ok, this is not the reason to go to church. The idea of irony is established here, as everyone is pretending to be pious and virtuous when in fact, they have just gone to church to see who is around. Some, like Antonia, go to church for the right reasons. We know she is virtuous because of her ‘whiteness,’ a colour associated with purity and chastity.[2] Antonia is here to see the famed monk Ambrosio.

Ambrosio is a fascinating figure in the novel. It seems rare that someone so pious can live in such a corrupt city. He embodies the irony of the church more than any other. He looks like a Gothic hero, ‘his nose was aquiline, his eyes large, black and sparkling.’[3] His glance is noted for being ‘fiery and penetrating.’[4] The darkness in him and the intensity of his glare emphasises his importance, and the use of the word ‘penetrating’ may well be a sexual reference, as we know that Ambrosio is struggling with his sexual desires and passions. His appearance is unique, and coupled with his murky past, the character has the ability to bewitch and entice. Ambrosio is held in high regard by all in the community, especially Antonia who is spellbound. Again, this emphasises the irony of the story, as he who is the most pure, will become the most corrupted. At this point he is doing an ok job at keeping his passions caged, but it does not last long.

Matilda facilitates Ambrosio’s fall. She manipulates him by showing him her breast, and threatening to kill herself if she is forced to leave the convent. When Ambrosio is literally stung by a serpent in the garden, it is clear that this is just a metaphor for Matilda.[5] She becomes Eve, as well as the forbidden fruit in Ambrosio’s eyes. It’s ironic, as originally, we met Matilda when she was disguised as a man. She is Ambrosio’s confidante, and again, it is ironic that someone who is so close to Ambrosio is so determined to destroy him. This is where Ambrosio’s fall begins, as in a moment of weakness, he has sex with her.[6] This one act sets Ambrosio on a dangerous path, as the prospect of breaking his vows does not seem that scandalous. He has already broken them once by having having sex with Matilda, so he is not that bothered if he does it again. Especially when he becomes obsessed with Antonia. Matilda in true femme fatale fashion, has led Ambrosio by hand into corruption and destruction.

Matilda again encourages Ambrosio to pursue Antonia, even concocting a plan that would allow Ambrosio access to her with or without her consent. It is pretty scary stuff, and also asks whether Ambrosio’s fall is his own fault. It is revealed in the ending pages of the novel that the entire affair was designed by the Devil, who sent a demon disguised as Matilda to corrupt Ambrosio, just for His own amusement.[7] Perhaps Ambrosio would not have committed the acts that he did if the Devil had not interfered, and purposely tried to destroy him? It is an interesting idea, and raises questions about our own human nature. Ambrosio’s crimes are certainly inexcusable, but it is also made obvious that without Matilda’s help, Ambrosio would not have been able to do what he did. As a whole, the character represents the fall of mankind, and what happens when we give in to temptation. The novel, and character, warn the reader that there is evil in the world, and that we must be guarded against it. Good does not even win, as most characters die, especially those who are the most innocent, like Antonia and Elvira.

This makes the whole novel work as a Gothic story. The darkness of humanity is explored, as well as the ironies we represent, and all things that affect the characters are spearheaded by Ambrosio’s self serving nature. We see this in ‘The Castle of Otranto’ and ‘A Sicilian Romance.’ The male characters in these novels dominate all others, especially women. A classic example being Manfred’s murder of his own child, Matilda. This directly contradicts the place that the patriarch, or dominant male figure, should have in the family, the church or the world. Big irony here. The novels convoluted and sensationalised plot also aligns it with the original Gothic novels, and ensures that even now, it still makes for gripping and chilling reading. There is definitely more to unpack within the novel, so watch this space, there may be more Monk madness to follow.

Thanks for reading!


[1] Matthew Lewis, The Monk, (London: Alma Classics, 2019) p. 13.

[2] Ibid., p. 13.

[3] Ibid., p. 23.

[4] Ibid., p. 23.

[5] Ibid., p. 74.

[6] Ibid., p. 69.

[7] Ibid., p. 429.

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Did the lives of Black Americans improve during the Reconstruction period of 1865-1877?

After the American Civil War, and the abolition of slavery, America entered into a Reconstruction period, which was originally designed by Lincoln to improve the lives of former black American slaves. Andrew Johnson took over reforms upon Lincoln’s assassination on April 14th 1865, and following this Johnson and Ulysses Grant oversaw the remaining years of the Reconstruction period. Johnson’s ideas were different to that of Lincoln’s, and he granted the Confederate states a pardon, allowing them back into the Union. This led to conflict with the Radical Republicans in Congress, who had opposed slavery and believed that the South should be punished for their treatment of former black slaves. Johnson claimed that these Republicans were traitors, and the tension increased when Johnson vetoed two congressional proposals intended to help black people, the Freedman’s Bureau and Civil Rights Bill of 1866… but more on those later. It is difficult to definitively say that lives fully improved, or that lives did not improve at all in this specific period. Let us see what went on during this time.

In the early years of the Reconstruction period, black people suffered at the hands of the emergence of White Supremacy, in the form of the Ku Klux Klan. Established in 1865 in Pulaski, Tennesee, the clan sought to protect white people in the south, and claimed to uphold patriotism, chivalry, mercy and humanity. Ironic I know. Nathan Bedford Forrest, a former Confederate cavalry general, was elected Grand Wizard in 1867 in Nashville. The KKK justified the former arguments that allowed black people to be treated as inferior to whites, and claimed that black people were arsonists and murderers. They used violence against black people to stop them from voting, and had contact with Southern Democrat Politicians. The violence also extended to schools and churches, which were burned down in Alabama after the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870. During the 1868 elections, 1300 voters were attacked and killed by the terror organisation. In the early 70’s three acts were passed in order to restrict the KKK and other white supremacist groups. The 1870 Enforcement Act placed penalties against anyone who interfered with a citizen, no matter what race. A Second Enforcement Act placed the election of congressman under the surveillance of elected officials. Most notably, the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 gave troops the power to arrest and habeus corpus suspected KKK members. This specifically can be seen to improve the lives of black Americans, as it restricted the activity of white supremacist groups, and allowed them to be brought before a judge or court. This development led to a decrease in white supremacist activity. From this perspective it would appear on paper that, Congress were attempting to improve the lives of black Americans. However, these facts probably do not speak to the individual experiences of black people.

There were several initiatives within the Reconstruction period that only temporarily improved the lives of black people. The Freedman’s Bureau, which, although initially vetoed by Johnson, was passed by Congress and established in 1865. The Bureau aimed to help free black people and poor white people, providing food, housing and medical aid, schooling and legal assistance. They also attempted to settle former slaves on confederate lands confiscated or abandoned during the war. The positive effects of the Bureau were short lived, due to the lack of funding and personnel. The Bureau even gave more money to white people than black people, and in 1872, Congress shut down the Bureau after white southerners refused to help former slaves. During the seven years that the Bureau was running, it did seek to improve the lives of black people for the better, giving them a basis on which they could build a new life, albeit for a short time.

Sharecropping has a similar story. Landowners divided large plantations of small farms of 30-50 acres under a rental agreement, which usually involved payment in half the crop produced on the land. Former black slaves received a farm and half a crop, which was better than the arrangement under slavery. This provided black people with a land of their own, and crop, which could provide them with a steady income, which provided them with a better arrangement than previously. During the economic depression of 1873, sharecropping was a more economic use of land, and by 1880, 80 percent of land in the cotton producing area of the USA was farmed by sharecroppers. However, this was short lived, as sharecropping did have negative aspects. As former slaves were poor, they often borrowed money at high interest to buy equipment and seed, which led to them giving some of their crop away to pay back their loans. This system forced those who could not pay into debt, and as many were illiterate, they had no other job prospects. There’s a conflict here, as there were positive effects for the short term, but in the long term, black people were tied to the land, and were in debt to landowners.

The Federal Government also tried to improve the lives of black people. The acts passed by Congress, known as the ‘Civil War Amendments’ were brought about in response to the use of Black Codes, which were laws passed by Democrat controlled Southern states in 1865 and 1866. These codes allowed black people to be treated as they had before the issuing of the 13th Amendment in 1865. The codes were introduced in the former confederate states, and discriminated against former slaves. In Mississippi, black people could not carry arms, liqueur and did not have the right to own property. These discriminatory views were restricted initially by the issuing of the 13th Amendment in January 1865. In January 1865 slavery became constitutionally abolished, which resulted in the liberation of 4 million slaves. Although this left black people, who had no money and education, in a precarious position, the amendment improved the lives of black people, by stating that not slavery ‘shall exist within the United States.’ As well as being freed, land was given to black people by ex-confederate states, providing them with their own property. Despite the initial situation that black people found themselves in after the passing of the amendment, their lives were greatly improved by the positive step of the abolition of slavery. As well as abolishing slavery, the amendment protected former slaves from it, claiming that Congress has ‘power to enforce’ the article by ‘appropriate legislation’ if broken.

In 1866 the Federal Government passed a Civil Rights Act. This act made all American citizens equal under the law, stating that they all should have the ‘same right(s).’ the Act also allowed black people the right to access to property, and allowed the Federal Government to override state legislature, if they attempted to block the Act.

The passing of the 14th Amendment further intended to improve the lives of black Americans during the years of Reconstruction. The 14th Amendment was a feature of Radical Reconstruction, and was passed in 1868. All former slaves were made citizens, and were made equal under the law. The Amendment also aimed to protect black people from former confederate states, stating that those which had participated in ‘rebellion’ against the Union, may not be allowed to vote. The 15th Amendment also, passed in 1869, granted black people the right to vote, and was seen as a triumph for Radical Republicans. On paper this improved the lives of black Americans, as they were given the legal right to vote. However, the struggle for the vote was far from over, as hindsight now tells us.

The Civil Rights Act of 1875 too sought to improve lives of former black slaves during the years of the Reconstruction. This particular act discussed and dealt with public accommodations, and noted that all citizens of the USA should be entitled to the full use of facilities such as inns, land, water or theatres. Section four of the Act also allows black people to become juries. As set forth in previous acts, states cannot prevent equality under the law, and the continuing authority of the Federal Government ensured discrimination was restricted against black people.

Black people also sought to better themselves during the period of Reconstruction. Most notably, many black churches and schools were set up, to ensure that black people had a proper education and had a chance to enter into a trade to earn income. This tackled the problem of illiteracy, which stopped black people from earning income, unless they were sharecroppers. This led to developments in black culture and identity, and provided black people with leaders and role models, such as Booker T. Washington, who was a priest in a black church. As a result of this, the KKK did target 50 black teachers, and destroyed 25 schools in response to the public schools act of 1870 in Mississippi, emphasising the importance of ways in which black people sought to better their own lives. From 1860 to 1880, black literacy increased from 70 to 90 percent, showing the improvement in the lives of black people, and the future opportunities that this will bring, allowing them to better themselves in the years after the Reconstruction.

It is difficult to staunchly come down on one side, and say that black American lives improved or did not improve during the Reconstruction period. On paper, from 1865-1877, one could argue that they did for a short time, and that steps were taken in order to facilitate this. However, white supremacy, the closure of the Freedman’s Bureau and the negative effects of sharecropping lead one to argue that their lives did not improve. And of course, after the Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws came into effect to dispel the legal rights that black people had been given during the Reconstruction, and for example, tried to prevent black people from voting. Maybe it is best to settle that the intent from Congress was there, and in the short term black people did benefit from the Freedman’s Bureau, sharecropping and education… but that maybe in the long term, it was not enough.[1]

Thanks for reading!


[1] All information taken from:

D. Murphy, Civil Rights and Race Relations in the USA, 1850-2009 (London, Pearson Education, 2016).

And my own knowledge.

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Lady Susan and Subverting Gender Roles

The title character of ‘Lady Susan’ would have been considered subversive in 1871, as she rejects traditional gender roles.

Lady Susan actively uses men for her own advancement. In response to Sir James’ overtures of marriage to Lady Susan’s daughter, Frederica, Lady Susan decides to ‘lay aside the scheme for the present.’[1] The word ‘present’ implies that she will return to this plan to marry the wealthy James Martin to Frederica. Lady Susan herself adopts the fatherly position in trying to find her daughter a suitor, noting that Sir James made ‘proposals to me’[2] for Frederica. Austen’s heroine Emma Woodhouse too brings people together but is not forceful like Lady Susan. This emphasises the subversive nature of Lady Susan as she actively seeks a partner for her daughter and subverts traditional gender roles. In this novel it is the women, not the men who influence the action.

Lady Susan’s daughter Frederica, in contrast, lives up to the expectations of women at Austen’s time, as she is virtuous and chaste. Catherine Vernon declares her to be ‘timid, dejected and penitent.’[3] She fulfils societal expectations, in her marriage to Reginald at the story’s end. Lady Susan expresses irritation towards her daughters’ countenance, declaring that she is the ‘greatest simpleton on Earth.’[4] Lady Susan clearly finds traditional ideas of femininity infuriating. Frederica is portrayed as ‘feminine’ by Simone de Beauvoir’s definition, as ‘weak, futile, docile.’[5] By deciding that Frederica epitomises the idea of femininity, one must recognise the subversive nature of Lady Susan as she openly rejects these ideals, and traditional gender roles.

This is demonstrated by her scandalous affair with Manwaring, despite being widowed ‘four months’ previously.[6] This contradicts the assumption that all of Austen’s unmarried female characters were virgins. While Frederica goes to men for help, Lady Susan manipulates them for her gain. Serious Femme Fatale vibes here.

Lady Susan has been called an ‘unkind mother,’[7] and she sarcastically praises her ‘maternal affection.’[8] Lady Susan rejects her societal duty of motherhood to Frederica, and instead spurns her daughter throughout the novel, declaring that Frederica was born to ‘torment’ her life.[9] Ann Oakley, in contrast, believes that ‘women’s position in the family is founded in their maternity.’[10] This aspect of the character could be an insight into Austen’s own views about society and may imply that the novel is a social satire. Austen could be excoriating the gender conventions of her time, by creating a heroine that flouts them, to a degree of success. Brassard concurs, noting that ‘Austen applauds her heroine’s pursuit of freedom and rewards her maternal indifference.’ The ‘reward’ could be referring to Lady Susan’s wealthy marriage to Sir James at the novel’s close, and therefore her success, as Brassard’s mentioning of this implies Austen’s support for her subversive heroine.[11]

The epistolary form of the novel shows that the strong female relationships drive the plot. Lady Susan initially feels isolated by these relationships, noting that other women in the family are ‘united against’ her due to her disregard for social conventions, and inappropriate behaviour.[12] Despite their domestic roles, the women of the novel are still ‘pragmatic and powerful,’ as Deborah Kaplan notes.[13] Lady Susan’s power has already been noted through her ability to use men for her advancement. Her friend, Alicia, is privy to her private thoughts, and it is in these letters that Lady Susan’s character is truly explored. Lady Susan draws power from this relationship, as Alicia acts as her confidante and advisor. Lady Susan appears as a conventional woman to an extent, as she has female friends. However, this is hampered by the fact that some women in the novel still dislike her.

By writing letters, Lady Susan is able to freely express herself as her letters remain unchecked by men. Her discourse is different to that of the male characters, resulting in a distinct, female voice. In the eyes of Virginia Woolf, this is a positive step in the history of women’s writing, as previously, women could only express themselves using the ‘language of men.’[14] It is the deployment of her own voice, and the sense of strong female relationships that allows Lady Susan to subvert gender roles. Lady Susan’s use of the first person allows for clear characterisation, and the formation of a character that is multidimensional, as she discusses her feelings in the past, present and future.

The men in the novel are uninvolved in the machinations of the female characters, and therefore remain unaware of their schemes, rendering them powerless. Kaplan acknowledges the strength of ‘intense relationships with female correspondents,’[15]  but despite this, she berates Lady Susan’s attempts to detach herself from gender conventions, as she still needs to marry to gain ‘property.’[16] Women did not own property in Austen’s time, and therefore their only access to it was through marriage.[17] Kaplan is highlighting the fact that, despite Lady Susan’s cavalier attitudes, her interests sit firmly with all other women at the time, making her hardly extraordinary.

Despite this, Lady Susan’s scheming, poor treatment of her daughter and use of her own voice still make her standout against Austen’s other heroines, as the most scandalous, subversive, and also as one of the most captivating.

Thanks for reading!


[1] Jane Austen, Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sandition (New Edition, London, Penguin Classics, 1974), p. 4.

[2] Ibid., p. 4.

[3] Ibid., p. 26.

[4] Ibid., p. 4.

[5] Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, trans. and. ed. by H. M Parshley (London: Pan, 1988), p. 359.

[6] Jane Austen, Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sandition (New Edition, London, Penguin Classics, 1974), p. 4.

[7] Ibid., p. 4.

[8] Ibid., p. 4.

[9] Ibid., p.4.

[10] Ann Oakley, Woman’s Work: The Housewife, Past and Present (New York: Vintage, 1976), pp. 186-197.

[11] Genevieve Brassard, ‘”The Sacred Impulse of Maternal Devotion”: Austen’s Critique of Domesticity and Motherhood in Lady Susan’, Women’s Studies, 34.1 (2004), 27-48 (pp. 27-28).

[12] Jane Austen, Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sandition (New Edition, London, Penguin Classics, 1974), p. 4.

[13] Deborah Kaplan, Jane Austen Among Women (Baltimore, The John Hopkins University, 1992), p.160.

[14] Virginia Woolf, ‘Men and Women’, TLS 1920; repr. in Essays II, Hogarth Press, 1986, p. 67.

[15] Deborah Kaplan, Jane Austen Among Women (Baltimore, The John Hopkins University, 1992), p.160.

[16] Ibid., p.164.

[17] Ibid., p. 164.

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The Gothic in ‘Jane Eyre’

Gothic fiction primarily sought to be ‘anti-Enlightenment,’ and the antithesis of Christian, western ideas. It is mostly attributed to the Goths, a group of Germanic people who played a key role in the fall of Rome and the emergence of the Middle Ages. In literature, Gothic motifs and ideas are reflected in morality, architecture and character, just a name a few things. People debate whether ‘Jane Eyre’ falls on the Romantic side or the Gothic side, and in my view, there are definitely elements of both. For now, let us look at the Gothic.

Thornfield Hall screams Gothic, as its darkness and abnormality, in comparison to traditional British Victorian architecture is evident. Here are a few key words:

‘… long gallery…’

‘… vault-like air…’

‘… cheerless ideas of space and solitude…’

‘… eerie impression…’

‘… dark and spacious staircase…’

‘… long, cold gallery…’[1]

‘… stepped over the threshold…’[2]

‘… battlements…’[3]

… return to stagnation…’[4]

Well, Thornfield sounds like depression city. The long, winding corridors are a staple of Gothic fiction, as they hark to an inescapable fortress, echoing the haunted castles that can be seen in the early of Gothic novels, such as Walpole’s ‘The Castle of Otranto’ and Radcliffe’s ‘A Sicilian Romance.’ The whole of Thornfield is just quite large, and quite empty and devoid of life. The ornate galleries and staircases also echo the architecture of the Gothic castle, which also leads the reader to consider what Gothic creatures or figures reside inside it. The house represents more than just the Gothic home, but the Gothic realm in general. Jane notes this when she steps over the ‘threshold,’ as if into another territory. The coldness of the house show that it is devoid of love and warmth, which mirror Rochester’s personality. The presence of ‘battlements’ is pretty Gothic too, and paints Thornfield Hall as more of a castle or fortress than a stately home. It is trying to keep the outside world out, and the Gothic nature of it inside. The fact that Jane likens the whole house to some form of ‘stagnation’ is pretty revealing… and slightly insulting… The house is out of touch with the rest of the world, and is almost like the house that time has forgotten.

The Gothic figure that inhabits the halls of Thornfield is of course Bertha Mason. The woman is scary. We first get a glimpse of her when she tears Jane’s wedding veil, the night before Jane is set to marry Rochester. She appears as a ghost like figure that prophesises the failure of the marriage, and of course, it does not go ahead. I probably do not have to go into too much detail about how a ghost is Gothic, but again, it links to ideas that combat the rationalism that stemmed from the Enlightenment age. Jane is thoroughly frightened by Bertha, describing her as:

‘Fearful and ghastly to me – oh, sir, I never saw a face like it! It was a discoloured face – it was a savage face’[5]

We later learn that Bertha was brought up in Jamaica, and that her mother too went mad. For more on that, see Jean Rhys’ novel ‘Wide Sargasso Sea,’ and one of my other articles linked in the footnotes.[6] There’s some real racism here, and Bertha’s demeanour and description play to the idea that she is not civilised and westernised, like the rest of the Victorian characters. She therefore represents the ‘Other,’ which is a term that can broadly be applied to anything that opposes the norm. The colour of her skin and her nature does this, and aligns her Jamaican heritage with something that is monstrous and abnormal to characters such as Jane and Rochester. She is almost vampiric, especially when she attacks her brother with a knife, causing him to lose a great deal of blood. Critics argue that Bertha represents Jane’s alter ego, and together, they represent woman as a whole.[7] Linking to ideas of race, Bertha’s incarceration speaks about imperialism, and how white people and countries would seek to control other territories with the intention of expansion.[8] This really took off during Victoria’s reign.

‘… what it was, whether beast of human being, one could not, at first sight, tell: it grovelled, seemingly, on all fours; it snatched and growled like some strange wild animal: but it was covered with clothing, and a quantity of dark, grizzled hair, wild as a mane, hid its head and face.’[9]

Not the kind of lady you want to meet on your wedding day. Bertha is described as animalistic and a savage, which again gives an insight into western views about people of different races and colour. Bertha is so nuts that she acts more like a ticked off lion than a human woman, which may be understandable as she has been shut away in Thornfield for several decades, with only a drunk attendant for company. The ability to shape shift is also a quality of the Gothic female, and by acting like an animal, Bertha does pull this off. By being Jane’s alter ego, Bertha basically represents the darkness within all people, and directly combats Jane’s capacity for good. This again is a classic Gothic theme, as the genre seeks to explore the inherent darkness within all humanity, and in this context, Bertha herself particularly focuses on madness. It is when we look at the character externally that more complex ideas of race and imperialism come into play, which, for Victorians, is akin to concepts such as the ‘Other,’ and this concept is at the heart of the Gothic in ‘Jane Eyre.’

Thanks for reading!


[1] Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, (London: Penguin Classics, 2006) p. 116

[2] Ibid., p. 117.

[3] Ibid., p. 118.

[4] Ibid., p. 137.

[5] Ibid., p 327.

[6] https://khambayswordswordswords.blog/2019/10/11/on-the-affect-of-absent-mothers-in-wide-sargasso-sea-and-dolly/

[7] Ibid., p. xxii.

[8] Ibid., p. xiv.

[9] Ibid., p. 338.

Featured

Magna Carta and Religious Change in the Tudor Era

Magna Carta was drawn up in 1215 with the intention of limiting the power of the crown and has since been used to defend individual liberties.[1] It was used frequently with the intention of affecting religious change during the Tudor period.

Magna Carta was primarily used to aid the learning of young lawyers at the Inns of Court.[2] Tutors, named ‘readers,’ would choose a clause, and use it to teach pupils through means of assessment and discussion.[3] Magna Carta provided students with an inactive legal statute to study, as the Charter was not seen as a living constitution.[4] Lawyers were taught at an early age that the king and governing classes should prioritise ‘matters concerning God and the Church,’ as described in a Reading dating back to the early 1530s.[5] As lawyers were taught that the king should prioritise the Church above all else; they, as well as opposers to religious reform, were provided with a legitimate document that they could use to discredit religious change, in the form of Magna Carta. This explains why Magna Carta was used with the intention of affecting religious change throughout the Tudor period, in response to events like The Break with Rome.

The Break with Rome was prompted by Pope Clement VII’s refusal to grant Henry VIII a divorce from Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn.[6] In response to this, Henry sought to obtain Royal Supremacy, which would grant him absolute power over church policy within England, thus allowing him to grant himself a divorce.[7] Parliament had to pass a series of laws to facilitate The Break with Rome, which led to the formation of the Church of England.[8] Churches which still had ties to the Roman Catholic Church were stripped of their land and value, their riches being added to the king’s coffers in an act known as the Dissolution of the Monasteries.[9] The Dissolution led to outrage and encouraged people to cite the first clause of Magna Carta in attempts to affect the current religious changes.[10]

The first clause stated that the ‘English Church shall be free and shall have all its rights undiminished and its liberties unimpaired.’[11] In 1532, the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Warham, wrote a speech opposing the proposed reforms to the churches in England, to be delivered to the House of Lords.[12] He argued that the ‘liberties of the Church are guaranteed by Magna Charta,’ signalling a resurgence in peoples’ use of the document in attempts to affect religious change.[13] Warham’s successor, Matthew Parker, too cited Magna Carta to defend the state church against the religious reforms.

Magna Carta was also cited by the fifty thousand people taking part in the Pilgrimage of Grace,[14] a mass northern uprising led specifically to combat the ‘suppression’ of the churches.[15] Leader Robert Aske specifically cited Magna Carta as the rioters’ ‘warrant for rebellion,’ as they argued that they were defending the freedoms of the church, which were outlined in Magna Carta.[16] As well as citing Clause 1 of Magna Carta, Clause 29 was also referenced to ensure the liberty of the people, defending them from unlawful imprisonment. Clause 29 stated that ‘No man shall in future be arrested or imprisoned […] except by lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.’[17] Despite the efforts of those above, the Dissolution of the Monasteries continued and the government quashed the Pilgrimage of Grace, executing Robert Aske in 1537.[18]

Thomas More cited Magna Carta as a form of personal defence against the law. More was a conservative Catholic, who opposed The Break with Rome and Henry’s divorce.[19] This prompted More to resign as chancellor in May 1532.[20] The 1534 Act of Succession, demanded that everyone swear to the validity of Henry’s marriage to Anne, prioritising any of their children as legitimate heirs to the throne.[21] More refused to comply, and in response was imprisoned.[22] At his trial, More referenced Magna Carta, declaring that the indictment against him and the treatment of the church was ‘both contrary to the laws and statues of this our land yet unrepealed, as they might evidently perceive in Magna Charta.’[23] More used Magna Carta to justify his own religious beliefs, and his belief in the freedom of the church, both of which were being attacked by the proposed religious reforms.[24] However, his citing of the document did not help to win his cause, as he was executed in 1535.[25]

When she came to the throne in 1558, Henry and Anne’s daughter Elizabeth I inherited a divided England.[26] Her predecessor, Mary I, had attempted to restore the Catholic faith and stamp out Protestantism by restoring England to the Roman Catholic Church.[27] This led to the formation of an extremist Protestant faction, known as the Puritans, based in the heart of Elizabeth’s government, who tried to prioritise their own interests to the detriment of the remaining Catholics in England.[28] Elizabeth proclaimed herself the Supreme Governor of the Church of England under her Act of Uniformity in 1559, breaking with the Roman Catholic Church as her father Henry did.[29] Elizabeth’s religious settlement was less harsh than total Protestant uniformity, which discomforted the Puritans.[30] Elizabeth appointed John Whitgift as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1583, who was tasked with dealing with those Puritans who opposed Elizabeth’s milder religious settlement.[31]

Whitgift forced all suspected Puritans to take an ex officio oath, swearing to Elizabeth’s Act of Uniformity, and thus acknowledging Elizabeth’s milder religious settlement.[32] To facilitate this, the Court of High Commission was created in 1559.[33] The Court fined those suspected of heresy and incarcerated them without bail, powers which were not given to ordinary spiritual courts.[34] In response to this, attorney James Morice used Magna Carta to defend Puritan sympathiser Robert Cawdry in 1591, declaring that there was an imbalance of equality between lay ecclesiastical jurisdiction, as the Court drew power from the crown, an unchecked power.[35] Diplomat Robert Beale acted similarly in 1593, using Magna Carta to defend the Puritans while criticising Whitgift and the Court.[36] Beale argued that the oath and the Court came into conflict with Clause 29 of Magna Carta,[37] which stated that one could not be starved of their liberties without being judged by the law.[38] Both Beale and Morice believed that the Court of High Commission should not be given the authority to ‘change or alter the lawes of this Realme,’ which were detailed in Magna Carta.[39] Despite Beale and Morice’s protests, and attempts to use Magna Carta to ensure that the rights of the Puritans were not unlawfully encroached upon, they were ignored and the Court of High Commission continued to practice until 1641.[40]

Magna Carta was frequently cited within the Tudor period with the intention of affecting religious change. However, its lack of success, evidenced by the failure of the Pilgrimage of Grace, More’s execution and the continuing practices of the Court of the High Commission, confirm that it was correctly viewed by those it was used to educate, as an in inactive document.

Thanks for reading!


[1] RV. Turner, Magna Carta Through the Ages (New York, 2003), p. 8.

[2] M. McGlynn, ‘From Charter to common law: the rights and liberties of the pre Reformation Church’ in Griffith-Jones, R. & Hill, M. (eds.), Magna Carta, Religion and the Rule of Law (Cambridge, 2015), p. 57.

[3] Ibid., p. 57.

[4] J. Baker, The Reinvention of Magna Carta 1216 – 1616 (Cambridge, 2017), p. 86.

[5] ‘Reading 10, circa 1530’, in M. McGlynn, The Rights and Liberties of the English Church: Readings from the Pre-Reformation Inns of Court (London, 2015), p 141.

[6] J. Guy, Tudor England (Oxford, 2000), p. 116.

[7] Ibid., p. 39.

[8] Guy, Tudor England, p. 116.

[9] Ibid., p. 14.

[10] F. Thompson, Magna Carta: Its Role in the Making of the English Constitution (Minnesota, 1972), p. 140.

[11] Magna Carta (1225), Clause 1, trans. in H. Rothwell (ed.), English Historical Documents Volume III, (London, 1995), p.333-338.

[12] Thompson, Magna Carta, p. 140.

[13] ‘Undelivered speech to the Parliament of England, August 1532,’ in F. Thompson, Magna Carta, p. 140.

[14] S. Lipscomb, 1536: The Year that Changed Henry VIII (London, 2009), p. 148.

[15] Ibid., p. 156.

[16] Thompson, Magna Carta, p. 141.

[17] Magna Carta (1225), Clause 29.

[18] Lipscomb, 1536, p. 166.

[19] Guy, Tudor England, p.141.

[20] D. Starkey, Six Queens: The Wives of Henry VIII (New York, 2004), p. 450.

[21] Lipscomb, 1536, p. 41.

[22] Guy, Tudor England, p. 40.

[23] ‘Speech of Thomas More at Westminster Hall, July 1535,’ in F. Thompson, Magna Carta, p. 140.

[24] Guy, Tudor England, p. 141.

[25] Ibid., p. 139.

[26] A. Weir, Elizabeth the Queen (London, 2009), p. 3.

[27] Ibid., p. 2.

[28] Ibid., p. 3.

[29] JP. Somerville, Royalists and Patriots: Politics and Ideology in England (New York, 1986), p. 94.

[30] Guy, Tudor England, p. 261.

[31] Weir, Elizabeth the Queen, p. 347.

[32] Thompson, Magna Carta, p. 212.

[33] J. Baker, ‘Magna Carta and personal liberty’ in Griffith-Jones, R. & Hill, M. (eds.), Magna Carta, Religion and the Rule of Law (Cambridge, 2015), p. 98.

[34] Ibid., p. 98.

[35] Thompson, Magna Carta, p. 219.

[36] Baker, ‘Magna Carta and personal liberty’, p. 100.

[37] Ibid., p. 100.

[38] Magna Carta (1225), Clause 29.

[39] James Morice, Brief Treatise of Oathes Exacted by Ordinaries and Ecclesiasticall Judges, trans. in F. Thompson, Magna Carta, p. 219.

[40] Baker, ‘Magna Carta and personal liberty’, p. 100.

Featured

Lucy Westenra’s Transformation in ‘Dracula’

Lucy and Mina are the two main female characters in the Gothic novel ‘Dracula,’ and both have very different roles. Mina is dark haired, Lucy is fair haired, Mina is the brains, Lucy is the progressive thinker, in terms of relationships and sex. Together they are ‘woman,’ and individually form two sides of the same coin. Both fall victim to Dracula, but for Lucy this is fatal. Before her death however, Lucy is described as a highly sexualised and voracious female vampire. She’s an example of the ‘sexy vampire’ trope, and becomes a creature that is antithetical to the idealized image of woman and mother.

We already know that Lucy is confronting Victorian sexual codes when the reader realises that she is universally desired. She has three suitors, in the forms of Quincey Morris, Arthur Holmwood and Dr John Seward.[1] She confesses that if she could, she would marry all three, but settles for Arthur. This seems like innocent girl-talk with her best mate Mina, but to Victorian readers, Lucy saying that she wants to marry three men is basically the same thing as saying that she wants to have sex with the three men. For Victorians, this is hugely scandalous, and so from very early on in the book, everyone is under the impression that Lucy has an untapped sexual desire, waiting to break free. Cue Dracula.

Dracula basically rocks up, takes advantage and enhances Lucy’s tendency to sleep walk, and begins feeding from her. Mina notices that her friend is getting ill, and at this point, Van Helsing is called in. Long story short, she gets weaker and weaker, and receives blood transfusions from all three of her suitors.[2] Dracula keeps draining her, creating a slightly nauseating flow of blood between the five of them. It’s worth noting that Victorians believed that, during sex, the couples’ blood would become intermingled. Based on this ridiculous fact, the Victorians would have believed that these five characters… well you can guess the rest. Lucy becomes increasingly ‘bloodless,’ and eventually dies.[3]

Alarm bells ring early on though, in the run up to the funeral, Quincey, Arthur, Seward and Van Helsing notice that Lucy’s coffin is frequently empty.[4] When she’s inside, however, and they do catch a glimpse of her, Seward notes that:

‘There lay Lucy, seemingly just as we had seen her the night before her funeral. She was, if possible, more radiantly beautiful than ever; and I could not believe that she was dead. The lips were red, nay redder than before; and on the cheeks was a delicate bloom.’[5]

So… Lucy looks better dead than alive? Strange. She’s highly sexualised and basically becomes the perfect example of Victorian female beauty in her death. Her lips are red, her skin pale, her cheeks rosy. Serious Snow White vibes here. She’s also laid to rest in her coffin in her wedding dress. White obviously signifies purity, and the contrast of this with the red of her lips is an obvious reference to the Madonna-Whore complex. Lucy also becomes a tad more demanding in death, commanding Arthur:

‘Come to me, Arthur. Leave these others and come to me. My arms are hungry for you. Come, and we can rest together. Come, my husband, come!’[6]

Lucy has all of the men’s blood inside her, so all men respond to her call. She’s less innocent here and has more agency when acting on her sexual desires. Her sexual desires are heightened in her vampiric state. She tries to be a femme fatale here, but it doesn’t quite work as Arthur, although tempted, doesn’t submit. Lucy’s actions and character here play to the dichotomies of pain and pleasure, danger and attraction. Stoker does a good job of encapsulating all of these big ideas into one character, making sure the reader knows that Lucy is not one set ‘thing.’

Stoker then goes on to add the ‘anti-mother’ to the list. Back in the day, women were expected to be subservient, and bear children. Lucy directly subverts the ideal of the perfect mother, as she is seen to be feeding off the blood of a ‘fair-haired’ child.[7] Lucy’s ‘sweetness was turned to adamantine, heartless cruelty, and the purity to voluptuous wantonness.’[8] Again Stoker notes Lucy’s new, overt sexuality here, but the ‘heartless cruelty’ here is worth noting. She’s carrying a baby and drinking its blood. That’s not something mothers do. Carolyn Dever argues that mothers in the Gothic narrative are ‘constructed as an emblem of safety.’[9] In this case, Lucy isn’t. Usually mothers protect their children in the Gothic novel from other forces that would harm them, but Lucy’s not quite up for that. She is the force that harms the child.

Her death climaxes a lot of these themes, especially that of her sexuality. The driving of a stake through her heart by her beloved Arthur works as some kind of strange, sexual release. The blood that spurts from her body is a reference to Arthur taking her virginity. But, as she is not conscious when he drives the stake in, it’s also a reference to rape. Lucy’s death acts as a punishment for her, by Victorian standards, unnatural sexual desires. In this weird, sex act Lucy’s soul is saved as she is no longer a vampire. Lucy’s portrayal in ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula,’ 1992, by Sadie Frost is probably the most iconic and accurate to the book.

Sadie Frost as Lucy Westenra in ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula,’ 1992

And that’s pretty much it for Lucy. Here lies a thoroughly modern woman gone too soon, punished and criticised by the Victorian sexual codes and patriarchal society that she found herself stuck in. Lucy dies about halfway through the novel, so even though she isn’t around for long, she is important. Her death spurs on the others, particularly Mina, to hunt Dracula down and kill him.

Thanks for reading!


[1] Bram Stoker, Dracula (London: Penguin Clothbound Classics, 2011), p. 64.

[2] Ibid., p. 131.

[3] Ibid., p. 121.

[4] Ibid., p. 210.

[5] Ibid., p. 213.

[6] Ibid., p. 226.

[7] Ibid., p. 225.

[8] Ibid., p. 225.

[9] Ruth Bienstock Anolik, ‘The Missing Mother: The Meanings of Maternal Absence in the Gothic Mode’, Modern Language Studies, Vol. 33, No. ½, (2003), p. 27.

Featured

Henry VIII and Donald Trump: More alike than not?

Henry VIII and Donald Trump are probably two of the most famous men in history… but don’t tell them that or we’ll never hear the end of it. On the surface, I didn’t think they would have much in common, but there was more there than I thought.

Beginnings

Both are second sons, so were not intended to inherit their father’s empire. Henry’s older brother Arthur died, as did Trump’s. Trump’s brother, Fred Jr, died of alcoholism, leaving Trump to take over the family business. Both men ascended to positions of power at a young age, and spent a lot of money that their fathers had saved for them. Both use this money to build their own personal empire, deploying the ancient art of propaganda.

Personality and Propaganda

Henry commissioned a painting by Holbein, featuring himself, his mother and father, and Jane Seymour. In contrast to his son, Henry VII looks weak and feeble, and is seen leaning on a pillar. Henry wants to be better than his father and uses artistic propaganda to perpetuate this image. Written on the pillar on which Henry VII leans, the text is inscribed: ‘the son was born to a greater dynasty.’ Henry spent more money on lavish jousting tournaments and builds 60 palaces just because he could.

Copy in oils of the Whitehall Mural, commissioned by Charles II in 1667. Artist: Remigius Van Leemput.

Trump’s version of this, is to become the president of his father’s, Fred Trump’s, construction empire. Trump bought a lot of property, and to build his own personal brand, stamped his name all over it. Trump opens a gaming industry, casinos, naming one ‘Trump’s Castle.’ He clearly thinks he’s the King. He then opened Trump tower in 1983. Basically, the modern equivalent of lots of paintings, right? There’s a degree of showmanship on both sides here.

Advisors and Governing

Trump and Henry also had the ability to make and break their advisors. Henry had Wolsey and Cromwell, and initially, Trump had Roy Cohn, who was feared throughout Manhattan. In both incidences, both Trump and Henry made their advisors and gave them a degree of power. This means that Wolsey, Cromwell and Roy Cohn all completely depended on those that they served, and if they should cross them… well two out of the three ended up losing their heads. Steven Bannon masterminded Trump’s campaign, and I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen him anywhere near Trump recently, as he was fired. Henry himself was responsible for 300 executions, and both Henry and Trump appear to govern by fear. Trump has his finger on the ‘nuclear’ button, Henry could cut off heads. Trump noted that his administration was ‘different,’ and warned people not to ‘underestimate’ him, or they will be met with ‘fire and fury.’ Scary stuff. Dominic Sandbrook argues that both Henry and Trump have encouraged a hyper nationalism, ensuring that those who they govern are focused on their country and their country alone, we see this in Trump’s slogan ‘Make America Great Again.’

First Marriage

Trump and Henry both have had tumultuous relationships with women. Both men also don’t like to be upstaged by their wives either. Catherine of Aragon and Henry married in 1509, and had a happy marriage. She even used to sew his shirts by hand. On one occasion, while Henry is away, Catherine fends of a Scottish invasion, noting that the battle was ‘worth more than anything you could achieve in France.’ Catherine’s success outshone Henry’s in France, which probably did not go down well. 500 years later, Trump fell for Ivana Zelnickova, who he later left her in charge with refurbishing and relaunching the Plaza Hotel. Judging by the video footage, Trump is there as an accessory at the opening party, and he doesn’t exactly look happy. With Ivana at the fore, perhaps Trump also felt upstaged.

Divorce

Both men would go through some messy divorces. Henry cast Catherine of Aragon aside in favour of Anne Boleyn, and formally separated from the Roman Catholic Church in order to marry her. This was a very public divorce battle, with Catherine of Aragon, at one point, openly storming out of the divorce court. Trump follows suit by having a very public affair with Marla Maples, which leads to a messy divorce battle with Ivana. Both of these don’t last though, as Anne’s marriage with Henry sours after a riding accident in 1536, which leaves him cantankerous and lacking mobility. Henry’s lack of activity makes him pile on the pounds, eating 5000 calories a day. Anne’s three miscarriages exacerbated the already strained relationship between the pair. All of this culminates in Anne’s execution, in May 1536, which was carefully crafted by Henry’s advisor Thomas Cromwell. Trump and Mala’s relationship also deteriorated, when the papers reported that the pair were regularly have fierce arguments, partly because of Trump’s unhealthy lifestyle. They divorced in 1991.

Mid Life Crisis?

Both men later married younger women, which Matt Frei identifies as a way to rejuvenate themselves. Henry marriages teenager Catherine Howard in 1540, and Trump married Melania, who was 24 years his junior, in 2005.

Campaigning, Fake News and Personal Politics

You wouldn’t think it, but Henry has also had a brush with the old fake news. The printing press was a relatively new invention in Tudor England, and Henry used it to launch and aid his break from Rome. However, he gained some bad press about the war with Scotland, with sources citing that there were mass killings of women and children. Henry fought pamphlet with pamphlet, and went around sticking signs on the inflammatory pamphlets, stating that they were fables… in other words… fake news. Joanne Paul notes that we are told to believe that only those in power hold the truth. Matt Frei argues that Trump’s use of Twitter allows him to communicate directly with the electorate. Both Henry and Trump ensured that politics became personal, and that their own image was at the forefront. Referring back to ‘Personality and Propaganda’…

Germaphobes

Matt Frei notes that Trump is a germaphobe, and its well documented that Henry would cook up all kinds of remedies to combat diseases like the Sweating Sickness. Suzannah Lipscomb goes further, calling Henry a hypochondriac.

Women and Violence

Both men have not treated women well. For Henry, this mainly concerns his advocation of beheading his wives, including 17 year old Catherine Howard. In terms of Trump, rumours about sexual misconduct were, and are, rife. In 2015, videos filmed in 2005 of him speaking about sexually molesting women came to light, and since he has come to office, 20 women have come forward to report sexual assault. He denied all claims. Ivana, Trump’s first wife, reported that he raped her at trump tower, although she later said she did not mean rape in the literal sense. Whatever she meant, Henry and Trump’s behaviour to women is and was unacceptable.

Next in line?

From a young age, Henry and Anne Boleyn’s daughter Elizabeth learnt what it meant to grow up in an unstable political climate. Her arrest at a young age, at the hands of her sister Mary I, made her realise the dangers of ruling, as Mary suspected that Elizabeth was part of a political uprising to overthrow her. Matt Frei sees Ivanka Trump in the same way, arguing that Trump is preparing her to take over the family dynasty. She is always at his side, is his senior advisor and is her own independent businesswoman. Perhaps like their fathers, Elizabeth and Ivanka have some things in common?[1]

They may have these similarities, but will Trump have the same legacy as Henry VIII? Only time will tell.

Thanks for reading!


[1] All information taken from:

‘Henry VIII & Trump: History Repeating?’ Channel 5 Documentary:

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt12158188/

And my own knowledge.