Featured

‘Mexican Gothic’ and Decay

‘Mexican Gothic’ was published in 2020 and was written by Silvio Moreno-Garcia. Upon its publication its popularity quickly soared, and many likened the novel to the works of Guillermo del Toro and Daphne du Maurier.

The novel opens with young heroine Noemí receiving a disturbing letter from her cousin Catalina. Catalina fears that her husband, Virgil Doyle, is trying to poison her. Noemí flies to her cousins’ aid, and discovers at the Doyle’s household, High Place, a multitude of secrets.

The beginning of the novel pays homage to many of the original Gothic classics. Noemí likens High Place to an ‘abandoned shell of a snail,’ implying that the Doyle household is desolate, and has been forgotten by civilisation.[1] A snail shell is also fragile, perhaps a reference to Catalina’s fragile state of mind. It also might foreshadow the Doyle’s downfall at the end of the novel. Their position is not secure. The atmosphere of High Place is cold and unwelcoming, setting the scene for an eerie Gothic tale. At High Place, Noemí goes on to uncover a family curse, a history of incest and a deadly mycelium that has infested High Place and the Doyle family themselves. It is this that they use to stay alive. At the end of the novel it is revealed that the fungus can store memories and preserve the family history. This explains why the family intermarry, as to not pollute their bloodline and strengthen their own connection with the fungus. Before the truth about the fungus is uncovered, it is clear from the start that High Place, and its inhabitants are rotting from the inside.

It is noticed that Catalina is ‘ravaged by disease.’[2] While it is clear that Catalina is ill, the aggressive nature of the word ‘ravaged’ emphasises her fragility, and the violence of her illness. While she is ravaged by disease, whilst inspecting the library, Noemí notes that a book is ‘ravaged my mould.’[3] It seems, in High Place, that the superior power is bacteria or fungus. Nothing else can stand in its way, animate or inanimate objects are rendered helpless in the face of it. As the story deepens Noemí concludes that everything that the family touches ‘rots.’[4] Although she does not yet know that the family control this fungus for their own ends, it seems that she is beginning to associate the family with decay, not just the conditions of High Place itself.

Following on with this theme, during one her dreams, Noemí imagines that she is being regarded by Virgil, like a ‘butterfly pinned to a velvet cloth.’[5] Virgil is clearly controlling Catalina, and her status as a pinned butterfly references the ongoing conflict between man and nature. In this instance, the Doyle’s are winning this battle, as they control the fungus, and in this specific example, Virgil controls Noemí. She has supplanted Catalina as Virgil’s muse, and her helpless state foreshadows the growing danger that she faces at the hands of the family. She is being watched, and being acted upon in this scenario, as she is being acted upon by the fungus, even though she doesn’t know it.

An interesting image, which is present throughout the novel is the ouroboros. It is essentially the image of a snake that is eating its tail, it serves as the family emblem. The image itself appears to allude to self-destruction, as the snake is ingesting itself. The Doyle family, while using the fungus to stay alive, also destroy themselves to do it, sacrificing family members to the deadly fungus over the centuries. The snake’s self-ingestion may also allude to the history of incest within the family, a trick used by the Doyle’s to ensure their compatibility with the fungus, which is well suited to their bloodline. The infinite nature of the snake alludes to the enduring nature of the fungus and the immortality of the Doyle family.

When the truth is finally revealed, so is the irony of the situation. At the end of the novel Howard is essentially rotting away:

‘His skin was terribly pale… boils… emaciated… boils grew, as thick as barnacles… a corpse afflicted by the ravages of putrefaction, but he lived.’[6]

Howard plans, with the help of the fungus, to take over the body of Francis. In this description, again, the idea of being ravaged comes up, and it appears that Howard is afflicted with some kind of disease akin to the plague. After inhabiting the body of Francis, he plans to marry Noemí to continue the family bloodline. It is ironic that the family’s desire for self-preservation involves their own physical pain and decay. They sacrificed their own family member, Agnes, to host the fungus. Their immortality comes at a great price, and requires them to turn on each other, turn away from reality and from civilisation. Amongst all this destruction, it is further destruction that destroys the family and frees Noemí from the fungus. Agnes’ body is set on fire, and as the host, her demise weakens the family’s connection with the fungus.

At the end of the novel, Francis worries that he may still be infected with the fungus, having been exposed to it for a long time. Noemí assures him that together, they can persevere. A union between Noemí and Francis is hinted at, but not the one that Howard had imagined. Noemí in the novel is representative of the outside world, and it is her influence that saved Francis from his corrupt family. It was she who dragged him away from them and into the outside world. Out of the darkness of High Place, and into the light.

Thanks for reading!


[1] Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Mexican Gothic (London, Jo Fletcher Books, 2020), p. 21.

[2] Ibid., p. 24.

[3] Ibid., p. 38.

[4] Ibid., p. 69.

[5] Ibid., p. 80.

[6] Ibid., p. 203.

Featured

‘Bridgerton’ and South Asian Representation

I’ll be honest – the only reason that I watched the second season of Netflix’s ‘Bridgerton’ was to see the story of the Sharma’s. I was not as mesmerised by the first season as other people were and found it to be a bit too romanticised. I described it as period drama that lacked the darkness of Brontë and the sarcastic bite of Austen. However, the announcement that the cast of the second season would feature South Asian characters compelled me to watch. There was not much South Asian presence in the first season of ‘Bridgerton’ and I would allege that there is hardly any on television right now. The Sharma’s, particularly sisters Edwina (Charitha Chandran) and Kathani, or Kate (Simone Ashley) are at the heart of the second season, and with much of the discussion that has come with it.

Something that critics have noted is the historical inaccuracy of the very presence of the Sharma family. Namely, the fact that South Asian people would not have had the chance to rise so highly, and that the show does a disservice to our heritage and culture by not acknowledging Britain’s colonial past. Similar debates erupted around the presence of Lady Danbury and Duke Simon Hastings in the first season. Can we really expect a show like Bridgerton to be historically accurate? It is regency romance after all, which is not a criticism of the genre but just a reminder that it is not designed to be the historical fiction akin to Hilary Mantel’s ‘Wolf Hall.’ And if Kate or Edwina were to chastise the Caucasian characters for the atrocities that Britain committed against India… what would be the point in a show like this? If Kate were to raise this point, we would then see her marry Anthony at the end. Would people then argue that her character was somewhat hypocritical? It is a tricky debate to handle, but ultimately the show is here to entertain, and provide some light-hearted, soapy romance drama in period dress. Should Britain’s colonial past be discussed in this format? It would probably fit better, and strike harder, in a properly researched documentary.

However, this kind of thing does rear its head at an uncomfortable dinner. Kate’s white grandfather threatens to disinherit her because of, what we are told to believe, is sexism. When watching though, it seems like it is there in black and white, or rather brown and white. It then becomes more confusing as we then see an Asian mother chastise her Asian daughter, Lady Mary, for ‘polluting’ the family with her illicit love affair. This is a reference to the fact that Lady Mary’s lover, who she ran away to India with, was not of aristocratic standing. I found the whole thing to be a bit confusing, and I thought, is this a caste thing? The man that Lady Mary ran away with, Kate’s father, was of lower social standing. Could this have been the moment to explore Britain’s colonial conquests and prejudices? But then, would this have worked if the debate erupted between two Asian women?

Rightly or wrongly, what first stood out to me about the Sharma sisters was their skin colour. It is typical of Bollywood films to cast fairer actors and actresses in lead roles, as lighter skin is favoured in India. This is a reflection on the caste system, as labourers would work in the fields, and become more tanned, but also a leftover thought of colonialism in which white people saw themselves as intellectually and physically superior to the people of South Asia. Either way, I, along with family and friends have found it disheartening that our own skin tone is not favoured by our own home country. The fact that a Netflix show with a dark-skinned Indian woman at its heart was, for a time, the most watched show on the streaming service is something that should be praised. Chandran highlighted this when talking to Teen Vogue, noting that no one let her ‘forget’ that she was dark skinned growing up.

However, people have picked up on, and criticised other details about the Sharma family. One big question which has been raised is where the family actually come from. Edwina refers to Kate as ‘didi,’ which is Hindi for sister, yet the latter refers to the former as ‘bon,’ which is Bengali for sister. The Tamil word ‘appa’ is used when the girls refer to their father. Asian surnames also provide information as to where a family may hail from, and their caste, with critics pointing out that those having the northern caste name of ‘Sharma’ would not speak Marathi, a language that comes from Maharashtra, a state in western India. Obviously, India is a mix of hundreds, if not thousands of cultures and languages… but it is probably unlikely that one family interchanges between four different languages every day… or maybe the fictional Sharma’s do? Maybe this was done on purpose to show that the two sisters are accomplished? Or maybe this is just lazy. Maybe the name ‘Sharma’ was chosen just because it shares a prefix with ‘Sheffield.’ The show has said that extensive research was carried out to ensure the Sharma women were authentic… but who carried out this research? I do not really want to go naming and shaming, but, for example, if these researchers were Caucasian, would that just mean that, again, white people are telling Asian stories? It is Asian people that have pointed out these details – they know them without having to research. Surely Asian people are the font of all knowledge when discussing Asian culture and issues… just save time and ask them!

Although their surname could be confusing, upon viewing I was more bugged by the characters’ forenames. I have never been hugely passionate about the diversity debate as I perhaps should be, but one thing that has continually annoyed me is seeing South Asian actors on screen appearing as characters with Anglican or Christian names. A ‘Doctor Who’ special a few years back had an Asian actor appearing as ‘Mitch,’ and I just thought… what is the point? Anyone could have been cast in that role. And would you really meet an Asian man called Mitch? I highly doubt it. It does nothing for Asian representation. American sitcom ‘Parks and Recreations’ blew this out of the water by having Tom Haverford call himself Tom to avoid people getting confused about his real name. This happens in real life, I ‘anglicise’ my own name, so people find it less hard to say. I do not like the way it sounds, but I felt I had to do it. Actress Simone Ashley has done the same thing, her real name being Simone Ashwini Pillai. So, when it was revealed that Kate was in fact ‘Kathani,’ I was pleasantly surprised, and actually appreciative. ‘Kathani’ is also not one of the common Asian names that you see on television, immediately setting Miss Sharma aside from other Asian television characters. It was nice that the show made this extra bit of effort. As for the name ‘Edwina’ however… I will just have to let that one go. In the shows’ defence, I cannot think of how they would have been able to ‘Asian up’ Edwina’s name, without changing it completely.

However, it was nice to see Asian practices on screen, and for me these were the scenes that stuck out. One of the highlights was the Maiyan, or Haldi ceremony, as this is something I have taken part in at family weddings. The string cover of the theme of ‘Kabhi Kushi Kabi Gam’ was also a nice touch. Many people commented on Kathani’s oiling of Edwina’s hair as something that they related to too. This scene spoke to the bonds of South Asian sisterhood, and the closeness of Edwina and Kate in the show.

One Asian practice that did draw criticism though was Kate’s brewing of masala chai. Although it was nice that chai got a mention, and it was funny to see Kate chastise English tea, I agree with her, some criticised Kate’s brewing technique. Other people criticised its inclusion altogether, stating that something built off the back of colonialism should not be included. I am not sure how far I agree with the latter statement, as chai is a huge part of Asian culture. The Sharma’s are not just Indian for the sake of being Indian, the Asian actresses are not there to tick a box, their culture affects and informs their characters. That is the mark of good representation.

Thanks for reading!

Featured

Vaisakhi: A Brief History

Khambay's Words, Words, Words

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…

View original post 479 more words

Featured

‘Wuthering Heights’ at the National Theatre: An Analysis

Emily Brontë’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ is famously hard to adapt, in part because of the non-linear narrative and the nature of the protagonists. While the book has legions of fans, including myself, it is not difficult to understand why people would find Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff irritating, and why readers would find the narrative, and therefore book in general, difficult to get into. I feel like this is where Emma Rice’s adaptation of ‘Wuthering Heights’ both succeeds and fails.

Beginning with the narrative, Rice makes a bold, but good move, in cutting out the character of Nelly Dean, and replacing her with the character of ‘the Moor,’ (Nandi Bhebhe) which can be compared to a Greek chorus. Through song and dance, ‘the Moor’ tells Lockwood the story of the Heights. Critics often refer to the landscape as its own character, and one that influences all other action within the novel. Catherine’s and Heathcliff’s own volatility and wide nature reflect the untameable landscape. Just like Catherine’s and Heathcliff’s own connection with each other, they also share an unbreakable relationship with the land, first living on it and then returning to it in death. Rice takes this idea and personifies the landscape, making their connection even more tangible and explicit. This move also cuts the character of Nelly Dean and the many problems that she brings, namely her unreliability as a narrator.

The play is also quite good as continually demonstrating the otherness of the inhabitants of ‘Wuthering Heights.’ At the beginning Lockwood is seen struggling to fight against the harsh winds of the Moors, in a somewhat comical scene… but more on comedy later. Heathcliff, Hareton and Cathy Linton enter the scene, and are unaffected by the harshness of the weather. Immediately, the audience is aware that these characters are of a different breed to Lockwood, quite literally, as children of the Moors and of Yorkshire in general. The ghost of Catherine Earnshaw is seen in the background, at times wailing and screaming to imitate the harshness of the weather. In death, been subsumed by the landscape, physically, as she is buried within the Earth, and spiritually as her actions and movements reflect the harsh landscape.

While these points were all good, I did however think that Catherine Earnshaw was a weak link in the production. Not because of Lucy McComick’s acting ability but probably how she was directed. The dialogue was pretty faithful to the book, and in the book Catherine can be pretty unlikeable. It is up to the director and actress to find the subtlety, nuance and vulnerability in Catherine, as without that, the audience will not root for her. There was much screaming and wailing, which dampened the parts of the book where Catherine is supposed to be screaming and wailing, namely when she is losing her grip on reality towards the end of her life. By having her scream and wail pretty much all of the time, the impact of her final moments is lost… as she has been behaving this way all throughout the play.

When Catherine returned from Thrushcross Grange after being bitten by Skulker, she was dressed in a huge gown with big, puffy sleeves. It was like something out of a pantomime, and the whole performance was very camp. She seemed like a petulant child imitating maturity, when in the book it is made clear that she has matured, and is not as fierce as she was before. It was just all a bit jarring – but camping up her sense of newfound propriety, it just felt quite fake and unconvincing. When in the book, it is convincing to a degree… as she does change, as reflected when she chastises Heathcliff for his appearance. What is good though, is how she observes all the action for the remainder of the play – Catherine is always present, just as she is always present for Heathcliff.

Heathcliff, played by Ash Hunter, has some interesting additions. A line that stood out was when he was referred to as ‘black granite.’ Rice chose to portray Heathcliff as black, picking up on some of the hints of the novel. The idea of granite also links to Heathcliff resembling the ‘eternal rocks beneath’ as Cathy explains in her ‘I am Heathcliff’ speech. We also get to see Heathcliff’s childhood briefly in Liverpool, in which he is played by a puppet. It’s another good way of othering him from the other cast members. Despite this, he remains fairly the same throughout the play. There is no kind of crescendo, to his rage and anger which was building throughout the first half. He broods constantly, but never quite flips. In cutting his death scene, and the days leading up to it robbed Hunter of some good material to work with, as Heathcliff becomes increasingly volatile, yet vulnerable in his last few days. I feel like in most adaptations, and the book, Heathcliff becomes crueller and more volatile as the story progresses… and I did not see much progression. Heathcliff always seemed quite broody and restrained.

The play did try to mark the difference between characters through the use of comedy. The Linton’s and Frances are key examples, the former being overly pompous and the latter appearing as a somewhat dim-witted. These characterisations were used well, especially as they were minor characters. Frances was not around for long, and her overly feminine nature was used to mark her difference between Catherine. Although initially comedic, Isabella is later seen as a sympathetic figure, after her marriage to Heathcliff.

It is Linton Heathcliff (Katy Owen) that commits the crime of becoming too pantomime and therefore irritating. In a play that is inherently dark, it is incredibly jarring to watch a character for the entirety of the second half trying, and in my opinion failing, to be funny, through the use of short, snappy lines and physicality. Linton is sympathetic in the book, he is not a clown, and he is treated horribly by Heathcliff and forced to subject Cathy Linton to imprisonment. In the play, he is an irritating whose death could not come soon enough… and even this death was incredibly dragged out. He dominates the shorter second half, to the point at which Heathcliff’s death scene is not even witnessed properly but mentioned in passing by the Moor. Linton’s role should have been dramatically reduced, and it is partly his fault that the second half lost its way.

The play also ends like a rom com, with Hareton appearing in a pinny having just baked a Victoria sponge. Yes, Cathy softens him, but again, this jump is so jarring… and unnecessary. There are petals falling on the stage, and singing, the focus totally shifting from the previous generation. The play is rife with tonal extremes creating an overall feeling of tonal imbalance.

The structuring of the play also does not help this, as at the beginning we are given a lot of exposition about how all the characters are related. Why? Show don’t tell. It surely would be easier for the audience to just watch than to have all characters thrown at them, especially characters who all share similar names. The first half is longer than the second and ends with Cathy’s death. Surely the natural break is when Cathy and Edgar get married, as three years pass? This would allow a bit of time to digest what we have seen – it would make the time lapse more visceral, instead it happens straight away. It also robs the second half of having a better structure, and having more plot points to work with, as all we get is Linton ranting for most of the time.

The play definitely has good moments, and really inventive ideas, but I feel like structure and some of the key characterisations let it down.

Thanks for reading!

Featured

‘A Doll’s House’ and ‘The Merchant’s Tale’: Hidden Truths Will Always Be Revealed

In ‘A Doll’s House’ and ‘The Merchant’s Tale,’ secrets drive the plot forward, and their reveal occurs at the climax of each respective work. A hidden truth can be interpreted as a known secret that it kept secret deliberately, which makes the reader question why, and for whose benefit. When discussing truth and secrecy in these two texts one must also debate the impact of the revelations of such information, and their impact on the narrative. When looking at these texts it is fair to say that the truth is always revealed.

In Chaucer’s ‘The Merchant’s Tale’ and Ibsen’s ‘A Doll’s House,’ the reveal of May’s adultery and Nora’s secret loan form the basis of the climax of each text. In this respect, one can argue that the truth is always revealed, as the deception of the female protagonists is clearly unmasked, unfortunately for them. For Nora, the reveal that it was she who “saved Torvald’s life” is a surprise to Mrs Linde as well as the audience, who are quickly made aware that such an act was illegal in 1879. In the Victorian era, women and men were expected to operate in separate spheres, the woman being primarily concerned with the home, and the husband dealing with finance and business. Nora’s exits her own sphere by taking out the loan, and signing “papa’s name there” illegally. This emphasises the seriousness of the loan, and the need for it to remain secret, especially as Nora notes that Helmer would not want to “owe” anything to her. However, through the intervention of Krogstad and his “letter” Helmer learns of the loan, despite Nora’s protests against Krogstad’s plans. This demonstrates that the truth will always be revealed. May’s clandestine affair with Damyan is exposed when Januarie’s “sighte” is restored by Pluto. Although Nora kept her secret for the good and health of her husband, May’s secrecy appears selfish as she wishes to indulge in sexual pleasure. Perhaps one can sympathise with her from this perspective after her unpleasant wedding night with Januarie. Despite their different motivations, the reveal of the transgressions of Nora and May demonstrate that hidden truths are always revealed.

One must also assess the fallouts of the revelations within both texts to ascertain the writers’ approach to truth and secrecy. When looking at May, one could debate whether her deception is even revealed, as she manages to convince Januarie that what she did was to restore his sight. She notes that he has no “parfit sighte,” and that he who “misconcyveth, he misdemeth.” After Januarie’s revelation that he does genuinely care for her, perhaps he ignores her adultery, or is convinced that there is none. His act of stroking her “wombe” may demonstrate his acknowledgement of his illegitimate heir, or his obliviousness to her affair altogether. It was worse for a woman to have an affair, as her illegitimate child would not have the same family blood as her husband. When discussing the ending of the fabliau, it could be argued that truths are not always fully exposed, if we are to believe that May convinced Januarie that she was not unfaithful. From this perspective, it could be argued that writers note that the protagonists get their most desired outcome when the truth is revealed. If Januarie is acknowledging an illegitimate heir, May’s clandestine affair with Damyan may continue, effectively giving her what she wants. It should be noted that the greatest lies told in both texts come from women, which is perhaps inspired by the biblical figure of Eve and her eating of the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden. Eve too fulfills the same function in Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost.’ This emphasies the severity of their defeat, as women were seen to be “creatures of an organised tyranny of men,” as argued by Eleanor Marx. This view argues that women were subservient to men, implying that their deception carries greater ramifications as it was not expected of them to rebel against man. There is no debate as to whether Nora’s secret remains ambiguous, as it is detailed in Krogstad’s letter as “delicately” as possible. Nora too realises what she wants after her deception is revealed, perhaps implying that when truth is revealed, it is so for the better.

Helmer’s reaction to the IOU makes Nora realises that there are no “miracles,” and this prompts her to realise that she is more than Helmer’s “songbird.” Nora’s wish, that Helmer would be able to “bear the burden” for them both fails to materialise, making her truly understand the man she married, and their marriage. She notes that she has just had “fun” and that her and Helmer had never exchanged a “serious word on a serious subject.” Nora realises that she is “first and foremost a human being,” and that she must get “some” experience of the world. Michael Meyer notes that the play explores everybody’s need “to find out the kind of person he or she really is, and to strive to become that person.” Before becoming that person, Nora must discover who she is, and the revelation of truth about the IOU prompts her to see her unrealized truth. This truth cannot be classed as one that is hidden purpose, but one that develops and is realised towards the end of act three. This can be likened to Holman Hunt’s painting ‘The Awakening Consciousness’ in which a woman struggles to break free of her husband’s grasp while gazing out of the window. It is conceivable to think that like Nora, this figure realises her own entrapment and wishes to break free. Nora only realises this with the revealing of her secret, leading the reader to believe that revelations of truth benefit those who are harbouring it. Nora gains her chance to discover who she is, through the revelation of her deception.

It is ironic that both females were so reluctant to give up their secrets despite the positive impact that it had, or could possibly have, on their lives. The revealing of their secrets allows the women to get what they want, although it is not they who give their secrets away. If it were their choice, hidden truths would have remained unrevealed, as it is external forces that forced their hands. Krogstad notes that he has the “means” to make Nora reveal her secrets, and does so despite her protests. Pluto’s gifting of Januarie’s “sighte” also reveals May’s adultery. It is interesting to note that although women hold these secrets over their husbands, which grant them a degree of power, it is other men that undo them and cause their downfall. Perhaps this can be linked to the words of Mary Wollstonecraft, who notes that women only want “power over themselves.” May and Nora lack that power as their deception is unveiled by male external forces that dominate them. From a feminist perspective, it could be argued that men are oppressing women, and not allowing them to make decisions for themselves. When discussing truth and secrecy, perhaps the writers of these novels are more negative towards women who harbour secrets, and require a man to do the moral, just thing of unveiling the truth. This demonstrates that men, perhaps, are the morally superior figures in these stories, as the women are portrayed as liars. Martin Steven’s agrees noting that Chaucer’s tale shows the “deceitfulness of women.” This could link in particular, to Chaucer’s own view of marriage. Chaucer’s sister in law was the wife of wealthy knight John of Gaunt, and it was rumoured that Chaucer’s wife was having an affair with Gaunt. Perhaps Chaucer’s own unhappy marriage inspired the character of May, the deceitful, adulterous wife.

Although these truths seemingly have a positive outcome, in both texts revelations of love and passion have the opposite affect. Chaucer’s fabliau is a satire of courtly love, an idea that Chaucer understood well after his translating of the French Romantic text of ‘The Romance of the Rose.’ Instead of completing a daring act of love, Damyan instead writes a note using a pen he “borwe” and secretly hands it to May. The fact that he had to borrow the pen emphasises how unequipped he is for the role of courtly lover. David L Shores notes that this acts as a “condemnation of courtly love convention,” arguing that Damyan displays no conventional aspects of the courtly lover. Damyan’s confession, that he is possessed with “Venus fyr” ultimately paves the way for the rest of the tale, and the birth of May’s secret. In this respect again, hidden truths appear always to be revealed, as can be seen in Damyan’s confession of love and the whole affair at the end of the tale. The difference here is that Damyan’s confession has a negative impact, most notably on the character of Januarie, who is being cuckolded.

Dr Rank too harbours his love and desire for Nora, and the revealing of this truth does not have a positive impact on his beloved. After declaring that he is ready to serve her, “body and soul,” Nora backs away declaring that it was “quite unnecessary.” This confession is a selfish one, as Rank has been harbouring this love for years. In this respect, again, hidden truths are always revealed, even if they are not well received. Despite this reveal, the details of Nora and Rank’s secret conversation in act three remain a secret, and act as a farewell between Nora and Rank, when she supplies him with the “light.” Such light could mean Nora herself and her spirit, which has sustained Rank for so long. In the case of Dr Rank, although some truths remain undeciphered, such as his conversation with Nora, his greatest secret is truly revealed.

Both Januarie and Helmer have an internal moral blindness to their own situations and failings. Januarie’s sexual prowess is revealed to be a fantasy by May, who claimed that his “laboureth” was not “worth a bene.” The façade of Januarie’s love making is revealed to the reader, and to May. Although this may not fall into the category of a hidden truth, as Januarie accepts it as truth and is oblivious to any other interpretation. Januarie is physically turned “blynd” by Pluto, and it is during this period that Januarie begins to realise his own failings. He notes that he is “jalos,” but that May should not take any notice. Januarie is humbled by the experience of being blind, and it appears that this is the only time that he can see clearly. It is ironic that during this time May is with the “lechour in the tree.” Throughout the poem the reader see’s the extravagant, virile image of the “Knyght” fall away, as he too acknowledges his own failings.

Unlike Janurie, Helmer displays this blindness throughout the play, and it does not falter. When Nora reveals her “duty to herself” Helmer combats this by arguing that she is firstly “a wife and mother.” Helmer shows no empathy and understanding towards her situation, much in contrast to Januarie and his wife. Helmer keeps denying and arguing with Nora, despite the audience’s agreement with her. When declaring that Helmer and her father have done a great “wrong” to her, Helmer notes that it was these two people hat loved her “most in the world.” Raymond Williams see’s the marriage of Helmer and Nora as “anti-romantic,” due to Helmer’s lack of empathy towards Nora and her situation. Although Nora reveals her true feelings to Helmer, following his learning of the IOU, he personally does not accept the truth, leaving one to question whether Nora’s truth is fully revealed. Or, like May’s adultery, one could argue that Helmer and Januarie’s understanding of the truth is somewhat ambiguous and may not be as clear cut as a fully understood revelation. It is at this point that Nora realizes she must leave, as Helmer does not understand her at all.    Nora’s deception, May’s adultery, Rank’s love and Januarie’s inadequacy are all examples of hidden and suppressed truths that have been revealed in these two texts. It is clear that in some of these examples, the truth has benefitted the characters that have been deceiving, like Nora, who realizes what she wants to achieve in her life. Januarie’s ambiguity at the end of ‘The Merchant’s Tale’ may also reveal that May has been allowed to continue her clandestine affair with Damyan. In these two texts, hidden truths are mostly revealed, albeit by external factors at time.

Thanks for reading!

Featured

Bhangraland is open! An interview with children’s author Kiran Lyall

Ready my interview with children’s book author Kiran Lyall here!

#WorldBookDay

https://www.funjabituition.com/post/bhangraland-is-open-an-interview-with-author-kiran-lyall

Read more about the history of Bhangra here:

Thanks for reading!

Featured

Were there major changes in the role of Parliament from 1529 to 1588?

It can be argued that until 1529, the monarch only rarely summoned parliament, and it appears that their main function was to grant taxation to fund wars. Parliament had only met four times between 1509 and 1529 for this reason. It is only from 1529 that one can see that Parliament met much more frequently, as Henry needed their aid to break with the Roman Catholic Church, during the Reformation. From this point, the influence and power of Parliament began to dramatically increase. Parliament appeared to be more involved, and more assertive, implying that there were major changes in the role of Parliament in the years 1529 to 1588, as they appeared to enable religious and financial change in England, making them a useful tool for the reigning monarch.

There were major changes in the role of Parliament from 1529 to 1588, beginning with the meeting of the Reformation Parliament in 1529. To secure his divorce from Catherine of Aragon, and take full control of his country, Henry decided to break with the Catholic Church in Rome, a seven-year struggle in which the action of parliament was vital. It is in this instance that the role of parliament can be seen to change dramatically when concerning religion. Royal Supremacy was eventually achieved in 1534, with Henry adding “Supreme Head” to his title the following year. A series of parliament acts enabled this, beginning with the significant Dispensations Act in 1534. This followed the First Act of Annates in 1532, which reduced all payments to Rome to five percent; leading to the Dispensations Act, which formally forbade all payments to Rome. This act made it clear to Henry and Cromwell that events were moving in the direction in which they intended, and that, in England, the role and presence of Rome was being reduced significantly. The Act of the Payment of the First Fruits stated that taxes that went to Rome when one was appointed a clerical position now went to Henry, and through this act of parliament, by 1536 Henry was receiving fifty-one thousand, seven hundred pounds. Financially, the Catholic Church in Rome was isolated from England, and now what only remained was the declaration of Henry’s supremacy. It was through the second parliament Act of Supremacy in November 1534 that Henry was granted caesaropapism. This meant that Henry was now in charge of land and the church. In the following months the role of the Pope was denounced, showing that there were major changes in the role of parliament during the Reformation as the acts they passed restricted the financial burden Catholicism opposed on England, and the role of the Pope in relation to religion. It can be seen that parliament’s role greatly changed in this respect, as they became concerned with matters in Rome as well as in England, and it was they who granted Henry Royal Supremacy, finally giving him the power that he had longed for. The events of the 1530’s also led to the idea of ‘king-in-parliament.’ This was the idea that the most powerful force in the country was the King when he acted with parliament, as opposed to him acting alone. The idea restricted Henry to an extent, as without working with parliament, his power decreased. This demonstrates how dramatically the role of parliament changed, as after securing the break with Rome, the King was seen to hold less power without the help of parliament. Parliament had initially been unequal to the monarch, but now it appeared equal if not more important, as without parliament’s support, Henry did not have full control over the Church or his country. The Reformation also increased parliamentary power for the long term, as it was only through parliament acts that previous laws, regarding the Reformation, could be reversed by Mary I. Throughout her reign (1553 to 1558) parliament was again used to change the religious status of England, as she reversed the religious changes that Henry VIII and Edward VI made in 1553 and 1554. Her aim was to restore England to Catholicism and back to Rome. Beginning with the meeting of the Reformation Parliament, the role of Parliament majorly changed, as politicians became far more concerned with matters of religion, and made decisions that affected England on a large, and global, scale. The growing power and influence of Parliament led to politicians becoming more assertive and, in their eyes, authoritative, particularly under Elizabeth I. After Sir Francis Walsingham discovered the Babington Plot in 1586, Parliament gathered a case against Mary Queen of Scots. It was discovered that a group of Catholics, led by Anthony Babington and John Ballard, planned to assassinate Elizabeth and place Mary on the throne. In this case, Parliament had a great influence over the indecisive Elizabeth, and Cecil forced her to sign the death warrant of her cousin, Mary. It was dispatched without Elizabeth’s permission, highlighting the audacity of those in Parliament, as they had defied the wish of the reigning monarch, demonstrating that their role had greatly changed, as here they took action without Elizabeth’s consent, even though she had always tried to use her royal prerogative as a means to restrict Parliament’s power. As well as their power, Cecil believed he had a great enough authority to dispatch the warrant highlighting the major changes in the role of parliament. Parliament’s role greatly increased in the early 1530’s, due to their prolific role in the religious matters of England, which gave them a greater importance and responsibility than in previous years. Parliament’s granting of Henry’s Royal Supremacy gave them great power and position, as without their help England would not have broken with Rome. This led to them having a greater sense of authority. For parliament, their success continued as people began to see Henry as less powerful without the aid of parliament. This greater sense of authority led to the assertive Parliament of Elizabeth I throughout her reign, as demonstrated by the way in which Mary Queen of Scots was dealt with in 1587. This bolder approach from Parliament stemmed from their heightened importance and role, beginning with the inauguration of the Reformation Parliament in 1529, as here the role of parliament changed majorly, due to their heavy involvement with religion and the break with Rome, leading to their increased power. 

However, it could be argued that there were not major changes in the role of parliament in the years 1529 to 1588, as there were only moderate ones. It appeared that over the course of Henry VIII’s reign, and at the start of Edward VI’s, parliament was used to alter and change the line of succession. There were three Succession Acts in March 1554, June 1536 and July 1543. After both being declared bastards, and being removed from the line of succession, Mary and Elizabeth were returned to it in 1543. Parliament was relied upon to alter the line of succession as Henry wished, and this can be seen as a moderate change in the role of Parliament as the decisions that were made did not grant Henry as much control as his Royal Supremacy. Parliament’s role changed, in the context of succession, due to the frequent changing of it. Parliament’s continuing assertiveness throughout the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary I led to conflict within the Parliament of Elizabeth I. In 1563 and 1566, the issue of succession was raised against Elizabeth’s wishes, as the issue had to be debated. This can be seen as a change in Parliament, as in previous years such an issue would not have been raised and challenged without permission of the monarch. However, as Parliament felt authoritative enough to incite the discussion, it can be decided that the role and status of Parliament had increased, due to the important role it had played in matters, such as the Reformation. Their discussion would have been unimaginable during Henry’s reign. Elizabeth did not respond well to their intervention, and sought to restrict Parliament. She suggested that they only discussed matters of ‘commonweal,’ which were matters concerning common good and the country. This led to the Freedom of Speech conflict, causing tension between Elizabeth and the House of Commons. In comparison, Henry’s Supremacy was a major change in the role of Parliament as they had the power to bestow such great authority on him, which does not compare to alterations to the succession, as it did not increase the authority of Henry and Parliament as much as the Reformation had, making this a moderate change. Also, despite the assertiveness of her parliament, Elizabeth was still in charge, unlike the Reformation when it was mainly Parliament alone that secured the break with Rome and gave Henry Supremacy, making this also a moderate change. This would lead to the conclusion that there were only moderate changes in the role of Parliament. 

On the contrary, it could be argued that there were only minimal changes in the role of Parliament between 1529 and 1588. Although Parliament was well utilised to break with Rome, it can be argued that even in this instance, this was achieved primarily through financial alterations made by Parliament. Before the summoning of the Reformation Parliament, Parliament was infrequently called to grant taxation, in order to fund wars. Parliament’s attacks on Rome initially began by reducing the amount of money that was sent to Rome by England, implying that although the task at hand was much greater, Parliament still approached the matter from a similar financial perspective, citing the minimal changes in their role, beginning with the first Act of Annates in 1532. The first actions of Parliament were purely based on matters to do with money, as they first sought to limit the amount of money Rome received from England. The Dispensations Act cut off all payments in 1534, and it was only in this year that ideas about Royal Supremacy began to take shape. It was the preamble of Cromwell’s draft of the Act of Restraint of Appeals in April 1533 that originally outlined Henry and Cromwell’s initial vision of Supremacy. It was this act that prevented Catherine appealing to the Pope. As the idea of Supremacy only began to form four years after the original Reformation Parliament was called, it can be argued that the role of Parliament changed minimally, as during the Reformation they were primarily concerned with matters to do with money. It could even be argued that Royal Supremacy was not part of Henry’s original plan and vision, but it was Cromwell’s initiative that brought the subject to discussion, further emphasising the idea that Parliament had planned to formally break with Rome in an economical sense, by reducing the amount of money they received from England. Parliament continued to debate over financial matters, such as the ‘First Fruit and Tenths’ bill in 1555, which kept the House sitting until three ‘o’ clock in the afternoon, which as seen to be abnormally late. Although this bill intended to change the decisions of Henry VIII, by returning money to the Church, it reinforces the idea that majority of changes and topics that were debated in Parliament were based on money, implying that the role of parliament changed minimally, as before, during and after, the Reformation parliament primarily concerned itself with financial matters. 

It is highly accurate to say that there were major changes in the role of Parliament in 1529 to 1588, due to their large role in the religious matters of England. The increased power of Parliament stems mainly from their role in the Reformation, and securing the separation from the Roman Catholic Church. Henry’s great reliance on Parliament in this period gave parliament a greater sense of power, as without their support, Henry would not have been able to secure his divorce and the reform he also desired. These events led parliament to have a greater authority which then allowed them to challenge following monarchs on matters such as Mary Queen of Scots’ execution in 1588. The Reformation appears to be the pinnacle of Parliament’s power, as it was during this time that the idea of the ‘king-in-parliament’ came into being, suggesting that without the aid of parliament, Henry was less powerful, emphasising the fundamentality of parliament. As parliament were essential to him and were greatly needed, one can see that the role of Parliament majorly changed in the years 1529 to 1588, due to their essential role played in the Reformation. 

Thanks for reading!

Featured

Valentine’s Day: A Brief History

Khambay's Words, Words, Words

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…

View original post 370 more words

Featured

Lata Mangeshkar and the Evolution of the Bollywood Song

India entered a period of mourning when it was reported that Indian playback singer Lata Mangeshkar passed on Sunday the 6th of February. A playback singer is a singer whose voice is recorded for use in films – the actor or actress essentially lip-sync the words, so that the singers voice can be dubbed over. A cultural icon, sometimes referred to as the ‘Nightingale of India,’ Mangeshkar recorded thousands of songs for films in over thirty six languages, and for her services to film was awarded India’s highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna in 2001. Due to her status, she was awarded a state funeral.

Born in 1929, Mangeshkar began her music career in the 1940s, and also took on several small acting roles before deciding that she was ‘happiest singing.’ For decades she was the most in demand singer in Bollywood cinema. She also performed with her sister Asha Bhosle, on several occasions. Bhosle also noted that the two sisters never sought to compete with each other. Aside from this, her other passions included, the Beatles, Mozart, Cricket, the Sherlock Holmes novels and she was also a James Bond fan. She also had nine dogs, and confessed that she enjoyed the slot machines in Vegas!

Mangeshkar also took up composing in the 1950s and also experimented with producing. She collaborated with Yash Chopra on many occasions, and sang for the acclaimed film ‘Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge’ in 1995. Unsurprisingly, she went on to say that romantic films were the most popular in Bollywood. Upon her death, Chopra stated that Mangeshkar had ‘God’s blessings in her voice.’ Mangeshkar rose to prominence during the golden age of Bollywood, and part of this was the evolution of the Bollywood song. Not all music that comes from India is from Bollywood, 80% of it is. The Bollywood industry in general is much bigger than Hollywood, as the former has a greater film output.

Songs are common staples of majority of Bollywood films, regardless of genre and plot. This has been the norm since the Indian cinema industry began in the 1930s. Songs can be written in different languages, but most common are Hindi and Urdu, but Panjabi has been used. Urdu poetry has previously had a strong influence on Bollywood songs. Critics recognise that Hindi songs in Bollywood films incorporate and draw inspiration from various traditional folk dances and songs, like ‘Ramleela’ and ‘Nautanki.’

More recently, Bollywood has been influenced by the West. English has been incorporated into the songs, examples being 2010’s ‘Sheila Ki Jawani’ and 2007’s ‘Deewangi Deewangi.’ The idea that the Bollywood song should also reflect the mood of the scene in the film has also been explained as the influence of Hollywood films. This can be seen in one of Mangeshkar’s best known films, ‘Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.’ Simran’s (Kajol) first song ‘Mere Khwabon Mein Jo Aaye’ reflects her desire to find out more about the man she has been dreaming about. Interestingly, villains do not sing in Bollywood films, as the arts are considered to be a mark of humanity, a quality which villains do not possess.

Genres of the Bollywood song include Bhajan, which refers to songs that have spiritual or religious meaning. The Disco genre became popular in the early 1980s, and since then there has been a greater focus to incorporate an electro feel to Bollywood songs, with the inclusion of instruments such as synthesisers. Again, the West can be credited with the rise in Bollywood songs that have incorporated this theme, especially in the 60s, when psychedelic rock was popularised by bands such as the Beatles.

Ghazal refers to Urdu poetry, which was instrumental in influencing early Bollywood music. This influenced lasted until the 1980s, but then was revived in the following decade with the 1990 film ‘Aashiqui.’ Qawwali, refers to devotional Sufi music, a good example of that being ‘Pardah Hai Pardah’ as seen in 1977’s Amar Akbar Anthony. This genre has also evolved, and more recently qawwali has taken on influence from Western culture, focusing on the genre of Techno. This can be seen in the 2005 song ‘Kajra Re.’ ‘Kajra Re’ was an ‘item number’ in the crime comedy film ‘Bunty Aur Babli.’ An item number is a song that is present in the film, but does not actually further the plot. Another example of this is the song ‘Chikni Chameli,’ as seen in 2012 film ‘Agneepath.’ The song is placed merely to build tension between warring drug lords Kancha (Sanjay Dutt) and Vijay (Hrithik Roshan). An item number typically features an alluring female dancer, and suggestive lyrics, as if to distract the main protagonists from the plot. Due to the subject matter of item numbers, they have come under scrutiny and criticism for their objectification of the female body. Although it is rarer, item numbers have featured men in the past, such as Abhishek Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan.

It will be interesting to see how Bollywood music continues to evolve over the coming years, without the likes of trailblazers such as Mangeshkar.

Thanks for reading!

Featured

Race Relations in American Literature: 1850-2009

Relations between black people and white people has been a relevant and important topic, now more than ever. The issue has been discussed and critiqued in works of American fiction, beginning in the 1850’s with ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin.’ These novels, generally speaking, reflected peoples’ perceptions of race relations at the time of their publication, and encouraged debate and change.

Harriet Beecher Stowe penned ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ in 1852 in an attempt to reveal the horrors of slavery, and to attract the issue greater attention. Stowe herself had helped slaves escape the South, which encouraged her to view the institution of slavery from the black perspective. It was people in the North that initially fought against slavery, and discouraged its extension to the West, putting them at odds with the South, leading to the American Civil War. Stowe’s novel followed the passing of the Fugitive Slave Law Act, 1850. This law stated that everyone had to help catch runaway slaves, and refusal to do so would lead to a $1000 fine, and six months in jail. The South still advocated the existence of slavery, explaining Stowe’s decision to set the novel in Kentucky. In the novel, Uncle Tom is sold into the harsh world of slavery and is eventually whipped to death by his white owner Simon Legree, after sacrificing himself for his family. Uncle Tom is portrayed as a religious man, who is morally superior to the white people within the novel. This makes his savage murder all the more upsetting. Stowe’s novel made people acknowledge the harsh lives of slaves, and also set up the stereotype of the simple but kind black slave who is unfairly treated. The novel reflected the attitudes of Stowe, and other northerners like her who opposed slavery. According to legend, Lincoln even credited Stowe’s novel with starting the ‘great’ Civil War. The novel encouraged others to view slavery as an immoral institution, and its publication alone shows that perceptions of race relations were beginning to change.[1]

Mark Twain’s ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ written in 1884, used satire and the perspective of a child to subtly critique the institution of slavery, maintaining some of the themes set up by Stowe. The book was published twenty years after the Civil War, and people still argued that black people were inferior beings, who were now out of the control of the state. Twain did not criticise slavery as heavily as Stowe did, as he wished to sell his book to the North and to the South, taking into account their differing views on slavery. The novel follows the relationship of black slave Jim and white child Huck Finn, as Finn begins to realise how harshly black people were treated slaves. Like Uncle Tom, Jim too is killed when sacrificing himself for his white owner, Tom Sawyer. Speaking through Finn, Twain’s views mirrored northern views that slavery was an unjust and unfair institution.[2]

Margaret Mitchell’s ‘Gone with the Wind’ proposed a different view of slavery to the previous novels. It chronicles the lives of the O’Hara family, living at their plantation at Tara, where the slaves are treated well and lead happy lives. When given the opportunity to eventually leave, black nurse Mammy decides to stay with white girl Scarlett. This idyllic view of slavery is interrupted with the freeing of the slaves following Lincoln’s ‘Emancipation Proclamation’ in 1863. This was a real-life act, that freed 3.5 million slaves. The social disruption caused by this forces characters in the novel to conclude that black people were better off as slaves. The novel taps into previous Southern beliefs about slaves at the time of the Civil War, and the ‘Positive Good’ argument. White people argued that black people could not take care of themselves, and therefore had to be cared for through the institution of slavery, for their own safety and protection. At the time of the novel’s publication, in 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was pushing his ‘New Deal.’ These were a series of economic programs and reforms that were designed to help the American economy following the Great Depression. This appealed to black Americans, as they believed that the Deal would help them, and further the civil rights movement. However, this was criticised by white senator Josiah W. Bailey, in his 1937 ‘Conservative Manifesto.’ He protested at the amount of money being spent on New Deal programmes, inspiring others, especially in the south, to oppose further social and economic reforms. In retrospect, the reforms did not last, and only helped black people moderately. The novel accurately reflected perceptions of race relations at the time, as white people were unwilling to help black people, and still viewed them as inferior beings. This is highlighted in the book, through the characterisation of certain black characters, like the simple Uncle Peter, and the dishonest Prissy. Their portrayal reflected white people’s stereotypical perception of black people, which prompted their advocation of slavery, as they believed black people to still be inferior.[3]

The publication of Harper Lee’s 1960 novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ follows the story of Tom Robinson, a black man who is falsely accused of rape. White lawyer Atticus Finch defends him in court, but the town condemns Tom because of his race. The novel is told from the perspective of Atticus’ daughter, Scout, who learns from Atticus that people should not be treated differently because of their race. Black journalist Ida B Wells argued that being accused of rape was the main reason why a black man would be lynched in the 1890s. Considering that the novel is set in 1933, it could be argued that Harper Lee took inspiration from this fact. The 1950s marked the beginning of the active Civil Rights movement, beginning with Brown vs Topeka in 1954, which led to the desegregation of schools. Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1956, which, following black peoples’ refusal to board public buses, led to their desegregation. The Greensboro and Nashville sit-ins followed in 1960, as groups of students sat at lunch counters and refused to move. This led to the desegregation of lunch counters. The desegregation that occurred around the country showed that race relations were changing, as reflected in Harper Lee’s novel. The novel shows Tom Robinson as a respectable young man, in contrast to white characters such as Bob Ewell, an idea established in Stowe’s novel. These ideas mirrored the decision of the Supreme Court to desegregate certain institutions, as people in power began to actively implement laws in attempts to secure racial equality. It is upsetting to think that Scout’s advocation of absolute racial equality has not been fully realised, even today.[4]

Toni Morrison’s 1987 novel ‘Beloved’ tells the story of former slave Sethe, who is haunted by her baby that she killed in an attempt to stop it being sold into slavery. The baby, known as ‘Beloved,’ represents the haunting legacy of slavery. The novel looks at slavery in retrospect, informing the reader that although slavery no longer exists, its ramifications are still felt. Morrison lived in Ohio in the North, and her novel follows a long line of northern ideas, that slavery was an unjust and brutal institution. The novel was written in a period after the end of legal segregation, following President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Civil Rights Acts of 1964, which prohibited racism in public places, and 1968, which discouraged racism in housing and employment. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 gave government agents permission to ensure that voting practices were being carried out properly, and that black people were allowed to exercise their right to vote. The establishment of Affirmative Action, a set of laws ‘intended to end and correct the effects of a specific form of discrimination,’ emerged from the Regents vs Bakke case in 1978.[5] This demonstrates that the novel reflected changing perceptions of race relations at the time, as people in power continued to push for legal racial equality.[6]

In Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 novel, ‘The Help,’ white journalist Skeeter publishes the stories of several black maids in a book, giving them a voice and empowering them. For some, the inauguration of Obama as president in 2008 represented an end to racism and discrimination. 125,000 people assembled in central Chicago to see the announcement, and Civil rights activist, Jesse Jackson, who took part in sit-ins in the 1960s, was caught openly weeping with joy on camera. Obama himself heralded his presidency as a new era and people around the world recognised the importance of America’s first black president. Again, the novel raised the issue of race relations, and acknowledged the poor treatment of black people, as detailed in the novel. This acknowledgement from Stockett, who gained her ideas from Mississippi maid owners and maids, demonstrates that the novel accurately reflected changing perceptions of race relations.[7]

Majority of the novels accurately reflect the views of the author, and by extension, changing perceptions of race at the time of publication. Despite the changes that these novels have tapped into and encouraged, it seems that recent events have proven that so much more needs to be done to encourage and ensure racial equality.[8]

Thanks for reading!


[1] Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, (London, Penguin Classics, 1981).

[2] Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, (London, Penguin Classics, 2014).

[3] Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind, (London, Pan Publishing, 2014).

[4] Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, (London, Arrow Publishing, 2010).

[5] Walter Feinberg, ‘”Affirmative Action” in. The Oxford Handbook of Practical Ethics,’ (ed.) H. Lafolette, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2005).

[6] Toni Morrison, Beloved, (New York, Vintage, 2007).

[7] Kathryn Stockett, The Help, (Penguin, 2010).

[8] Additional information taken from:

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

And my own knowledge.


Featured

‘Claudius in ‘Hamlet’ is powerful and effective in his leadership, but not as a man’

Claudius has been dubbed as the central villain in ‘Hamlet,’ and considering it is his immoral actions that lead to Hamlet’s quest for revenge, one could easily agree that he is the archetypal villain. It is very easy to say that Claudius is the reason for the ‘moral poisoning,’ as Tawe notes, in Denmark, but one must also consider his abilities as an effective and powerful leader. It is apparent that he is loved by the people, and presents himself as an effective leader. Although he may be a ‘murderer and a villain,’ does affect his leadership?

From his introduction, it is obvious that Claudius is an effective King, and that his presence is dramatically felt. In act one scene two, it is clear that Claudius is charismatic, and is able to charm people with his courteousness. He is obsequiously kind to Hamlet, albeit in a patronizing way, and asks him to look upon him as a ‘friend on Denmark.’ He appears to be kind to Hamlet, declaring that he will be a ‘father’ to him. In the Branagh version, this conversation happens in a great hall full of people, who cheer for Claudius. On the outside, Claudius appears to be loving towards Hamlet, which gains him the favour of the people in Elsinore, although to the audience he does appear insensitive. The image that he portrays is what makes him an effective leader, as he is able to draw people in and entice them, much like he did with Gertrude. He too enticed her in with ‘dexterity,’ which makes Claudius appear to be a magnetic figure that people respond well too, which is a desired quality in an effective and powerful leader.

As the play develops, Claudius’ morals come into question as he begins to use and manipulate others for his own purposes. He does this skillfully, and appears to be an effective leader in this sense, but does this make him an immoral man? Claudius quickly becomes a Machiavellian figure, as his cunning and scheming ways are unveiled, and it becomes evident that he is responsible for the political intrigue in Elsinore. In this respect, Claudius is seen to be duplicitous, as while he appears to be using people for Hamlet’s benefit, he is really doing it for himself. In particular, he uses people to betray Hamlet, first beginning with Rosencrantz and Guildernstern, who are asked to investigate Hamlet’s ‘lunacy.’ Claudius and Gertrude promises them a ‘king’s remembrance’ if they are successful in their investigation. Claudius’ bribery of Rosencrantz and Guildernstern implies that Claudius knows and understands people, and their motivations. It appears that Hamlet’s friends which to raise and further their status, and Claudius exploits this character trait to use it for his own purposes, making him a manipulative, but effective leader of others. This same exploitation can be seen in the case of Ophelia, who is too used to find out information about Hamlet’s ‘transformation.’ In act three scene one, she is subject to verbal abuse from Hamlet, which provides a helpful result for Claudius, as he notes that Hamlet’s words ‘lacked form a little,’ leading him to believe that he is not mad. Claudius begins to suspect that Hamlet knows his secret, and employs several other characters skillfully to investigate him, in order to protect himself. His subtlety in doing to emphasises his skills at leadership, as well as manipulation, as it is clear that he is able to coerce people into doing his bidding. AC Bradley notes that Claudius uses Laertes with ‘great dexterity,’ as he pushes him to kill Hamlet, and ‘avenge’ the death of Polonius. Claudius manipulates Laertes into this action, by challenging his ‘love’ for his father, and implying that he does care for his ‘honour.’ However, it is clear Laertes does, as he operates under the Roman tradition of ‘Fame’ in which a father’s murder would be avenged by his son, to maintain family honour. Claudius’ skillful use and deployment of other characters in the play for his own ends display him as an effective leader, but not necessarily as a good or moral man.

Claudius’ act of murder must be discussed, as it is the ‘foul and most unnatural murder’ of old King Hamlet that is the driving force behind most action within the play. Although Claudius may be a successful leader, this does not make him a good man, as as the play progresses, he can be seen to lose his control and grip on Denmark. In his only soliloquy, in act three scene three, he notes that he has committed the ‘primal eldest curse.’ He likens his act to the killing of Abel by Cain, which in the Bible, is described as the first murder. This emphasises the grotesque nature of Claudius’ action, and also implies that it has been weighing heavily on his mind. While delivering this speech in the 2017 Harrow School production, Claudius appeared to wretch, as if the rot inside him was killing him, and was rising up like vomit, implying that his actions had caused an illness, that has infected the ‘state of Denmark.’ Richard D Altick notes that it is the ‘cunning and lecherousness’ of Claudius that does indeed effect Elsinore, and it is this act that causes the growth of the ‘unweeded garden’ in the play. The Ghost notes that Claudius is the ‘serpent’ who ‘stung’ him, and this phrasing is used as in Elizabethan England, venom was thought to be stored in the tongue of the snake. This depiction of Claudius as Satan, likening him to the snake in the Garden of Eden, emphasises the nature of his ‘offense,’ and it understandable that Claudius begins to feel like he is losing control in Denmark, despite his skills at being a leader. After the death of Polonius, he finds no other solution to the situation other than to kill Hamlet, and hoping that ‘England’ will do it. Claudius begins to take such drastic actions to guard his secret, and realises that things are becoming more difficult at every turn. He appears affected by the madness of Ophelia in act four scene five, as he notes that it ‘springs from her father’s death.’ Claudius realises that the repercussions of Polonius’ death, and the news that Hamlet was responsible for it has sent ramifications throughout the court, and that he must now deal with it. He worries about Ophelia, due to the ‘pestilent speeches’ she may have heard, as this could lead to the incrimination of himself. Claudius appears to be losing control of people at this point, as can also be seen with Gertrude, in the Harrow School production, where she began to turn away from him. Claudius’ effective skills as a leader can be seen to wane, as he begins to lose control of people and the actions within the court, due to his previous immoral actions.

When examining Claudius’ soliloquy, one could argue that Claudius, despite his powerful leadership, is a weak man. It appears that Claudius feels he cannot be forgiven for the murder, as he is still ‘possess’d’ by the ‘effects for which I did the murder.’ Claudius does not seem to care about the death of his brother, but more cares about what he has gained from it, making him appear to be a man of low morals, and a weak willed one, who is only interested in material things. When apologising in prayer, he notes that ‘words without thought never to heaven go.’ It is clear that Claudius does not show repentance for his actions, as he is more concerned with what he has gained from it, making him appear to be a weak willed man who is only interested in power. The objects of this is his ‘crown,’ which he notes first in his list of three explaining his gains. This emphasises the importance of it to him, implying that he appreciates the power he has inherited from his brothers’ murder. This directly makes Claudius appear immoral, despite his effective leadership skills, as he seems only concerned with power, and is prepared to murder for it. This can be seen in the play, with his decision to kill Hamlet in order to maintain his position as King of Denmark. Gertrude is noted last in the triplet, which could be seen to downplay his love for her. This idea is further explored when he meekly tells her ‘not to ‘drink’ at the end of the play. If he did truly love her, should he not have tried harder to prevent her death? This points and supports the idea that Claudius is a weak man, who was perhaps jealous of his brother’s power, which led him to murder. This contrasts with Claudius’ strong leadership, as behind it appears a man who is only concerned with his own ‘ambition’ and advancement, making him appear to be a weak and despotic figure, who is prepared to murder for    power.

It is clear in the play that Claudius is able to lead and use people for his own gains, and although this can be seen as morally dubious, it does not encroach on the fact that he is a good leader, and is able to entice people to do his bidding. However, when examining Claudius as a man, it appears that he is not so strong, as he appears to be a weak man only obsessed with the power that he can gain. It is clear that he unforgiving and unrepentant for the murder of his brother, and that he most appreciates the royal status and power that he has gained from it. However, it is this action that causes his undoing, as even he realises that he cannot control the ramifications of his own actions, making Claudius, in the end, a weak man who has lost control of Denmark.[1]


[1] All quotes from:

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

Featured

Lohri: A Brief History

As Lohri was last week I bet lots of you have asked this question since: What is the festival really about? Well, like many festivals, Lohri draws on lots of different ideas and customs. The festival always falls on January 13th, which differs from other festivals that have an everchanging date, like Diwali. Lohri is primarily celebrated by Panjabi’s and Hindus.

Lohri is generally associated with the winter solstice. The festival welcomes longer days and celebrates the sun’s journey to the northern hemisphere. Lohri is regarded as an ancient festival, and British accounts of celebrations date back to 1832. European visitors visited Maharaja Ranjit Singh in Lahore, and described a bonfire being lit for the festival of Lohri.

There is speculation that the festival is linked to the story of Dulla Bhatti. The Panjabi folk hero is believed to have saved many Sikh Panjabi girls from being sold into slavery under the Emperor Akbar. He also led a revolt against Mughal rule, and although he may be absent from the history books, he survives in the Panjabi folk songs that are sung at Lohri. It was by Emperor Akbar that Bhatti was eventually hanged in 1599 in Lahore, his last words apparently being ‘No honourable son of Panjab will ever sell the soil of Panjab.’

Traditional Lohri celebrations, as mentioned, include lighting a bonfire. Songs are sung, and people dance around the fire in the style of the ancient Panjabi folk dance: Bhangra and Giddah. Dried foods such as rice and sugar are also thrown into the fire. Gifts are also given, and the festival acts as an excuse for families to get together in celebration. Traditional Lohri food includes makki di roti and saag. Saag and makki di roti are served because these were the foods that were in season in January. Saag would be made the night before, as it takes hours to cook.

In India, in the run up to the festival, Panjabi boys and girls would go around collecting logs to place on the Lohri fire. Children go knocking on doors, singing and asking for Lohri. Gifts would be given to the children in the form of food, the practice can be likened to trick or treating.

Lohri is celebrated if there has been a wedding in the family, or if a new baby has been born. Lohri’s association with childbirth may well be connected to the harvest. The idea of regrowth and rebirth may well have encoruraged people to associate the birth of new children with Lohri, but it is still debated today whether Lohri is a festival for baby boys, or baby girls.

Nowadays, Lohri is seen especially important if a baby boy has been born in the household. This revolved around the idea of having a male successor, something that was cause for celebration. Those hosting Lohri celebrations would be expected to give gifts to guests, including suits and mithai.

This may deviate from traditional beliefs about the festival, as research seems to suggest that the festival primarily focused on women. This builds on the stories of Dulla Bhatti, asserting that Lohri is a festival that celebrates the freedom of women, specifically their freedom from male oppression. It has been opined that the switch from celebrating women to celebrating men may have been engineered by patriarchal ideas, and the desire to restrain women. It is a more common practice now to celebrate Lohri even if girls are born.

The Hindu celebration of Lohri is slightly different, and is instead known as Makar Sankranti. In areas such as Gujarat and Maharashtra, colour kites are flown to celebrate the day.

Happy belated Lohri!

Thanks for reading!

Featured

‘West Side Story’: An Analysis

‘West Side Story’ is recognised as one of the most popular musicals of all time, and it is not surprising that it has its roots in Shakespeare given the tragedy and romance of the whole affair. Almost all the songs have been subsumed into popular culture, and are instantly recognisable. 

The story takes Shakespeare’s idea of two feuding families, and places them in 1950s New York. However the warring factions are not family, but Americans and Puerto Ricans. The conclusion of the story is that hatred leads to violence, and violence begets violence. Apart from the characters and setting, the play, and both films, follow Shakespeare’s plot to the letter, apart from the ending, as it is only Tony that dies… but more on that, later. The play seems to be part of many attempts to bring Shakespeare to a modern audience, and normalise his work. Having said this, the story can be seen to fit into the genre of realism, but also can be seen as unrealistic. The opening prologue of both films shows gritty, dirty building sites and back alleys, to show that this story is grounded in reality. The inclusion of the clicking, ballet and choreographed fighting takes the audience away from its more realistic images and settings. The films straddle both genres. 

‘West Side’ refers to the west side of America, New York, where the story takes place. The conflict between Puerto Ricans and Americans is historically founded. After America acquired Spain in the 1898 war, Puerto Ricans were declared American citizens in 1917, prompting an influx of Puerto Ricans coming to America. This peaked in the 1950s, with over 470,000 migrants moving to America. The presentation of Puerto Ricans in both films has been criticised, and to those who devised the original, I doubt it is likely that Puerto Ricans were chosen to explore their culture, but merely to match with what was going on at the time. Essentially the conflict that history offered to the writers was convenient at the time. Due to this, the Puerto Ricans seem like any other gang that the Jets have dispensed with in the 1961 film, and the war just seems like it is to do with land… not ethnicity or cultural difference. It is not until Spielberg’s version that some effort is made to dispense with harmful stereotypes, but more on that later. There was a rise in gang crime also at the time, especially following World War Two, and the general feeling that many men had been left behind by the system. 

The protagonists Tony and Maria share some of Romeo and Juliet’s qualities, and are both loving, passionate and ultimately idealists. Tony, played by Richard Beymer and Ansel Elgort, seems to be more the more active of the pair, as after the dance he pursues Maria, and later persuades her to run away. Tony, throughout the film believes in a better life, that something big is coming his way. This of course foreshadows his meeting with Maria, which in a way brings him back to life. The same can be said of Romeo, as when he first lays eyes on Juliet, and forgets his heartbreak. In both films, Tony used to be an integral part of the Jets, and in Spielberg’s version he is on parole. This gives some reason to Tony’s idealism, and the desire to keep his hands clean, and stay away from the gang war. He is convinced that he and Maria will be fine, and that Bernardo will love him. His idealism borders on naïveté. It is ironic that his love for Maria is what forces him to get involved in the war, in his attempts to try and break it up. Tony fits the mould for a tragic hero, as despite all of his love and idealism, is ultimately consumed by the hatred that surrounds him, and is ultimately crushed by it. Not only is it a tragedy that Tony dies, but it also acts as a metonym for the entire conflict that plagues the film, which leads to Maria’s moving speech about hatred at the end of both films. 

Maria definitely has a naiveté and girlishness. She has just arrived in New York, so everything is new to her. In a way, this makes her the audience surrogate, as we learn about the conflict between the Sharks and the Jets through her eyes. In her first scenes, she is displeased with the dress that Anita has made for her and is keen to make a good first impression at the dance. Maria, much like Juliet, exhibits an undying strength, a strength that comes from her love for Tony. This explains how both heroines forgive their male counterparts so quickly for killing their brothers. Maria has chosen love, and recognises that, if she were to hate Tony, she would only be perpetuating the hatred that killed her own brother. She transforms from being naive, to understanding the politics of the gang war and the concept of hate pretty quickly, and is even tough enough to stand up to both groups at the end of the film, after Tony’s death. Maria is probably the most innocent of them all, and is at risk of being corrupted by the hatred that surrounds her. However, she is strong enough, and clever enough, to hold it back. Anita succumbs, in my opinion, as demonstrated in her lie to Tony that Maria has been shot and murdered by Chino. 

Maria’s portrayal by Rachel Zegler is notable as Zegler is Latina, as is Ariana DeBose, who plays Anita. While some people have criticised that Zegler herself is not Puerto Rican, I do think that Spielberg has made effort to try and give more time to Puerto Ricans and Latin culture. This can be seen in his use of Spanish. Interestingly, Spielberg chose not to subtitle the Spanish because he did not want to give the English language control over Spanish. This is an interesting thought, and one I had not considered, and I do see his point. Conversely though, you could argue that without a translation, the divide between Spanish and non-Spanish speakers is only widened. This inclusion though does hammer home that the conflict between the Jets and the Sharks is ethnically motivated. Throughout Spielberg’s version also, the audience can see that signs are being down and replaced with words and images that harken to other cultures, like the creation of an Irish pub. It is clear that there are cultural differences which lead to conflict. 

Anita Moreno is well used by Spielberg to talk about assimilation and the merging of different cultures. She debates that, should she open her shop to the Sharks, she may be betraying her Puerto Rican culture. Anita in both films becomes disillusioned by America following Bernardo’s death, and fades away from the film at this point. Valentina’s singing of ‘Somewhere’ builds on her experience as a mature person, and emphasises the idea that, still, Puerto Ricans do not belong in America. Her relationship with Doc can be contrasted with that of Maria and Tony, one is successful, one is not. 

Considering the original was made in 1961, it is visually impressive. What stood out to me in both versions is the costuming. In both versions of the film, the Jets and Sharks wear different colours, to clearly mark their difference and rivalry. It is Maria who stands out in both versions though, wearing white at the dance at the beginning. A colour that no doubt implies her purity and innocence. Her red belt adds a touch of colour, and maybe hints at her passion and loving nature. The two colours of red and white always remind me of Tess at the May dance, and the Madonna-whore complex. I do not know if this complex can be applied to Maria, but like Tess, Maria’s wearing of white also implies that she is impressionable, and at first, a blank slate. The ideas and beliefs of those around her are projected onto her, such as hatred, and like Tess, she tries to combat them. As mentioned, Maria succesfully does.

In the 1961 version, the Jets wear purple and red, whereas the Sharks were blues, oranges and yellows. The shades of colour are not that far apart in this version interestingly, perhaps trying to imply that both groups are not that different, ‘both alike in dignity’ as Shakespeare says. Those on the outskirts of the dance wear a darker green, perhaps to show them as outsiders. Bernardo is horrified to find Maria and Tony together, but Maria claims that it was not the Jets as a whole, but ‘only him.’ She only has eyes, and love, for Tony. She does not see a group, but an individual, meaning that, unlike her brother she does not see the gang conflict, in part because she is new to the city. At the end of this film, Maria wears red. Originally she wanted to wear red to the dance. It is at the end of the film that Maria appears how she wants to, she is not being dressed by Anita, but is confident enough to dress, and be, herself. Tony brings this out in her. 

In Spielberg’s version, the divide is more obvious, the Jets wear blue, the Sharks wear red. Maria however flits between the two, and while she wears red at the beginning of the film, her choice of colour clearly changes. During Rachel Zegler’s beautiful rendition of ‘I Feel Pretty,’ she wears a blue dress with a red apron over the top. She is both Jet and Shark, American and Puerto Rican, as denoted by the two different colours. From this point on she wears blue, and in the final scene, Tony dies in her arms while she wears a blue dress. It is Tony’s death that unites the two gangs, and together they carry his body off in a funeral procession. Both films abruptly end here, probably to emphasise the tragedy that has just occurred, and to leave the audience with Maria’s speech and message that violence begets violence, perhaps in an attempt to ensure that the audience carries this message forward with them.

Maria survives though, which marks a departure from Shakespeare’s source material. This means that the ending is not totally depressing, and maybe means there is some hope for the future. Maria, like Valentina, in Spielberg’s version is in a minority, and perhaps, when she grows old, Maria may become a version of that character. Hopeful for change, having had a brief, but somewhat tragic, taste of that hope and idealism herself. 

Thanks for reading! 

Featured

Was the introduction of Jim Crow Laws by state governments the most important reason for the denial of civil and political equality for black Americans?

 After Lincoln’s issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, a period of Reconstruction began in America from 1865, which attempted to integrate black Americans into society. After Lincoln’s assassination, the Reconstruction took a different turn, which gave way to the evolution of Black Codes and eventually Jim Crow Laws primarily within the Deep South. Such laws denied black people civil and political equality, regarding voting rights and miscegenation. Apart from the introduction of Jim Crow laws by state governments, violence, the decisions of the Supreme Court and property restrictions denied blacks civil and political equality. It was the introduction of Jim Crow Laws by state governments that was the most important reason for the denial of civil and political equality for black Americans. 

   The Jim Crow Laws that were implemented across America concerning miscegenation denied civil equality for black Americans, as white men and women were condemned for entering into sexual relationships with blacks. Laws concerning miscegenation were implemented across 27 states. This showed that these laws were put into practice across the whole of America, showing how racism was widespread, and not just concentrated within the Deep South. In Mississippi in 1890, after the rewriting of their current constitution, the marriage between a white and black was declared “null and void.” Such laws were reinforced in Utah as late as 1943, denying blacks civil equality as it was implied that blacks were inferior to whites, and therefore could not enter into a relationship with them.

   Jim Crow Laws greatly affected political equality for black Americans as they interfered with the black populations’ ability to vote. After the Reconstruction, black voters outnumbered white voters in five of the former Confederate States. The Democrat heavy southern state governments, in response to this, sought to find out ways that they could remove the political rights of black Americans. After the rewriting of the Mississippi Constitution in 1890, the state legislature ensured that black Americans would not be allowed to vote. This contradicted the 15th Amendment, which had given all American citizens the right to vote, regardless of race. Louisiana’s ‘Grandfather Clause’ played a significant role in affecting the political equality of blacks. 

   Louisiana’s ‘Grandfather Clause’ was introduced on the 8th of February 1898, and successfully denied political equality for blacks. The aim of the Clause, as laid down by the president of the Louisiana Constitutional Convention was to remove illiterate voters. Such a term was used to hide their discriminatory views against black people. Under the convention, one could only vote if they owned land and could pass a literacy test. In order to deny blacks the right to vote, the ‘Grandfather Clause’ was added, stating that if somebody’s grandfather could vote, they could also. However, they must have been eligible to do so from 1867, which successfully excluded blacks, as they had not been given the vote until 1870. Such segregation demonstrates the lengths that white people went to exclude blacks, and also shows how black people were denied the right to vote.

   The poll tax also introduced by state governments also denied blacks political equality, as, on the surface, they were excluded from voting on financial grounds. This tax also led to a drop in white voting, as they too could not afford to pay the two dollar poll tax. Georgia and Arkansas installed poll taxes, which caused a 65 percent drop in black voting. In Arkansas in 1890, 71 percent of blacks voted in the election, which dropped to 9 percent after the poll tax was instated. The poll tax was used as a cover for racial discrimination, as state governments intended the new laws to be financially, and not racially motivated. Such laws were introduced in several northern and western states, such as Wisconsin, California and Connecticut. This stopped many blacks from voting, as they simply could not afford to do so. This allowed state governments to racially discriminate against black people while claiming that the new laws were based on purely financial grounds. The steps taken to restrict the voting rights of black Americans prove that the introduction of Jim Crow Laws by state governments were the most important reason for the denial of civil and political equality for black Americans.

   The evolution of white supremacy and violence towards black Americans is another way in which blacks were denied civil and political equality, beginning with the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan was set up in 1865 in Pulaski, Tennessee, and consisted of a group of former Confederate soldiers, who sought to protect chivalry, mercy and patriotism. They targeted black teachers and ministers as they wished to halt black education. They were also responsible for lynching many black men, averaging to 187 in the 1890’s. Lynching’s were public and family events, and one shocking example is the lynching of Henry Smith, who was tortured for fifty minutes before he was lynched and set alight. 10,000 people gathered to watch the event in Texas in 1893, which was reported in the New York Times. The New York Sun reported, “Every groan from the fiend, every contortion of his body was cheered by the thickly packed crowd.” This created a state of fear within the south, as blacks were too scared to ask and fight for their political and civil rights, making it another significant way in which these rights were denied. Ida Wells Barnett, a journalist who eventually migrated to the north, noted that blacks would most commonly be lynched if they were disrespectful to a white, were accused of raping a white woman or if he were too prosperous. This use of fear and scaremongering was also used to stop blacks from voting, which led to denial of their political and civil equality. Although this violence impacted greatly on the lives of blacks it is still the Jim Crow laws that had the most significant affect in denying their civil and political equality, as this was done formally through state governments with the aim of discriminating against black people.

   The decisions of the Supreme Court can also be seen to deny civil and political equality to black people, especially when looking at the repercussions of the Plessy v Ferguson case. The case challenged the Louisiana law of 1890, which demanded segregation on railroads. Homer Plessy was one eighth black, and deliberately broke the segregation rules on street cars. His lawyer tried to prove that, by pointing out that Plessy was mixed race, segregating facilities by colour was absurd. However, the Supreme Court ignored this argument, stating that Plessy was a known black, and that he should know his place. The Court then proceeded to argue that segregation posed no problems as long as the facilities were equal. The case gave rise to the phrase ‘separate but equal,’ and the court argued that, in having separate facilities, the 14th Amendment, which had promoted “equal protection under the law,” was not ignored or contravened. The case appeared to legalise segregation, denying blacks civil equality, as they were still seen as inferior to white people. Although this decision was legally endorsed, it does not carry the same weight as the Jim Crow laws, as they aimed to discriminate and restrict the political and civil equality of blacks.

   In the North, a different type of racism denied blacks civil equality, through the use of property restrictions. As white people did not want to live near black people, they were not offered certain properties. This forced black people to gather in concentrated areas, resulting in ghettos.  Areas were identified that would not be sold or rented to black people, which resulted in de facto segregation. As the population of black people were concentrated into these small areas, they were subject to worse conditions, poorer standards of education which led to higher crime rates. Again, this segregation made black people feel like inferior citizens, and led to a poorer quality of life, as their civil equality had been denied to them.

   It is the Jim Crow laws that were passed by state governments that were the most important reason for the denial of civil and political equality for black Americans. These laws discriminated against blacks and went out of their way to exclude them from society, as can be seen with laws against miscegenation and blacks voting. The overall denial of their civil and political equality does come from other factors discussed in the essay, which were legally endorsed by the Supreme Court case of Plessy v Ferguson. However, it is the Jim Crow laws that act as the most important reason as to why blacks were denied civil and political equality.

Thanks for reading!

Featured

The Corrupting Presence of Rebecca de Winter in ‘Rebecca’

Given the the title of du Maurier’s most famous work it is unsurprising that Rebecca dominates the entire plot, like some sort of Gothic spectre. Although she is dead, she manages to corrupt all characters, and the physical house of Manderley, while being corrupted herself.

Rhododendrons are mentioned throughout the text, and they grow over certain parts of the house. Being red in colour, their presence foreshadows the revelations of Rebecca’s bloody death, and also the fire that will consume Manderley. They also represent Rebecca herself, as she is creeping back into the house, creeping back into Maxim de Winter’s life from beyond the grave.

Although we are led to believe that Rebecca is perfect, it turns out that she is not, in the eyes of Maxim anyway. One of her many faults is her sexual discordancy – in life, she had many affairs, including one with her cousin. Rebecca can be likened to the archetypal femme fatale, as she has drawn Maxim into some sort of obsessive madness, while managing to beguile everyone else around her. We are also told that Rebecca cannot produce children. Traditionally speaking, marriage and the bearing of children was what society expected of women, so Rebecca’s rejection of this ideal makes her incredibly subversive… even if it was not her choice, but nature’s. Pushing on with the idea of subversiveness further, it is hinted throughout the text that Rebecca and Mrs Danvers could have been lovers. Perhaps this is stressed more on Mrs Danvers’ side than Rebecca’s, especially when Mrs Danvers shows Mrs de Winter Rebecca’s lingerie. Rebecca’s behaviour would have no doubt shocked readers, and who knows? Perhaps she might have inspired rebellion in some of du Maurier’s readers, meaning that Rebecca’s influence could extend beyond the pages of the book itself. 

The irony is of course is that the narrator desperately wants to be like Rebecca, who in the eyes of Maxim, is the devil incarnate, and morally corrupt. This means that, through their terrible communication, Maxim and Mrs de Winter never understand what their partner actually wants. Mrs de Winter wants to be something that Maxim despises. Perhaps this is why Maxim, irritatingly, always tries to control the narrator. He tells her not to eat with her mouth full, and she asks him not to treat her as if ‘I was six’ (Daphne du Maurier Rebecca (London: Virago Classics, p. 227). The two have a paternalistic relationship, which is the opposite to his relationship with Rebecca, as did not have the ability to control her. This is probably why Maxim chose the narrator, as she is young, and therefore in his eyes, pliable. Rebecca is clearly a foil to the narrator. 

Rebecca manages to corrupt the narrator from beyond the grave, though. When Maxim tells Mrs de Winter the truth, he notes that she seemed ‘so much older’ (p. 336). Her innocence is corrupted by Maxim’s revelations, and by extension the presence, and murder, of Rebecca herself. With this revelation, he narrator becomes an accessory to murder. She blindly accepts that her husband is a killer, and decides to support him, safe in the knowledge that he never loved Rebecca. Rebecca has infected the narrator to the degree that she compromise her own morals, as Rebecca did in life, to suit her own needs and desires. Maxim did not love Rebecca. That is all the narrator cares about. The narrator is so blinded by her inadequacy that she does not even consider the fact that she herself could be at risk from her husband slash wife-killer.

These ideas become more interesting, and more complicated, when we learn that Rebecca herself was dying from cancer. While Rebecca has been growing in the mind of the narrator, festering and corrupting her, Rebecca herself is being physically corrupted by her own body. Is this supposed to explain her immoral actions? Was it the cancer controlling her? Who knows. Or, is Rebecca’s cancer a result of her immoral ways… is nature punishing her?

Building on from this, Maxim opines that Rebecca manipulated him into killing her… does this mean that she was really devoid of morality? Or did she act with the sole intention of getting Maxim to hate and eventually kill her? She did smile when he shot her. It is an interesting detail to add, as, cancer or no cancer, Maxim killed Rebecca anyway. It is up to the reader to decide how big of an impact Rebecca’s own diagnosis had on her, and how much it influenced her actions. We can only wonder at what the significance of Rebecca’s cancer is. 

Rebecca does however, get the last laugh. Upon seeing Manderley in flames, the narrator likens the sky to a ‘splash of blood’ (p. 428). Again, the blood references Rebecca’s own blood, which Macim spilled, and links to the colour of the oft mentioned rhododendrons. Rebecca rises from the water and takes her revenge on her murderer with fire, giving her a supernatural quality. In some way, Rebecca is triumphant because, from beyond the grave, she succeeds in destroying Maxim’s family home. It is possible that Mrs Danvers herself set the fire, but even if she did, it is powered by her devotion to Rebecca. Rebecca acts through Mrs Danvers, and the burning of Manderley only cements the fact that Rebecca is an ever-present, corrupting, and lasting force, throughout the novel.

Thanks for reading! 

Featured

Dickens and the classic Victorian Christmas

Khambay's Words, Words, Words

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…

View original post 540 more words

Featured

‘1984’s’ Feminist Retelling: Some Thoughts

The prospect of a feminist re-telling of ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’ is incredibly exciting. Orwell’s estate have approved the release of Sandra Newman’s book ‘Julia’ for a June 2022 release, and, as the title suggests, the book will tell the same story but from Julia’s perspective. But what could this entail? Here are some random musings. 

Before reading deeply into the news stories that were reported today, I just assumed that the novel would focus on several new female characters, which would allow several different female perspectives on the totalitarian state of Oceania. I did not think that anyone would touch Julia, considering that she is a titular character in Orwell’s most iconic book. In focusing on Julia, the novel could just repeat what the reader already knows, or even ruin the mystery and enigma of the original character. 

In the book, we first see Julia through Winston’s eyes. Winston despises her, in part because she appears so dedicated to the party, and also because he cannot have her. This leads him to have some disturbing fantasies about raping and murdering her. Winston is constantly concerned that Julia is a spy who will denounce him. So, it comes as a surprise to the reader when she decides to slip him a note, saying ‘I love you.’ What Newman’s novel could elaborate on, perhaps, is the reason as to why Julia chooses Winston. We know that Winston has varicose veins, the whole point of the character is that he is ordinary, and obviously past his prime. He is no conventional hero. It is never quite clear what Julia sees in Winston, but in her he finds a fellow rebel. 

Julia is far more rebellious than Winston, and has had affairs with party members since the age of sixteen. Her position, in the Junior Anti Sex League, acts as a cover to her numerous sexual relationships. Despite portraying the perfect Party member on the outside, Julia proudly tells Winston that she is ‘corrupt to the core.’ Perhaps Newman’s novel will explain how and why Julia became corrupt as this was always unclear. We know that her grandfather vanished when she was eight, so perhaps Newman will explore this further in her novel. It may have been this that turned Julia against the Party.

While Julia provided Winston with an outlet to physically rebel against the Party, she also represented the death of femininity within the Party. As everyone has to wear blue overalls, the idea of traditional gender norms are diminished, with a particular emphasis being placed on the destruction of femininity. In the novel, Julia wears make up to make herself more attractive to Winston. The death of femininity in the totalitarian world will hopefully be explored further in Newman’s novel, and the complex issue would certainly benefit from the presence of several female characters, to comment on several different ongoing issues.

It will also be interesting to see how Julia’s affairs, some of which she had at a young age with Party members that rank above her are treated in light of the MeToo movement. Julia’s backstory is not elaborated on that much in the novel and instead she is portrayed as an independent woman who wants to have as much sex as she can, so that she can rebel. But what triggered these feelings? Perhaps Julia’s sexual experiences as a child bolstered this rebellious feeling, especially if she suffered at the hands of other Party members. 

Julia’s illicit dealings are not discussed in much detail either. As well as smuggling make up, Julia also manages to get hold of goods such as milk and coffee. Julia says that she gets these items from higher Party members, but the relationship that she has with them is not really discussed any further. Could Julia have been having multiple relationships at once? Were these goods in exchange for sexual favours? Maybe Newman will enlighten us. 

While Julia features prominently throughout the main section of the book, her presence decreases towards the end of the novel, which focuses on Winston’s imprisonment. She resurfaces at the end of the novel, and is seen with a ‘long scar, partly hidden by the hair, across her forehead and temple.’ Orwell implies that Julia has been lobotomised. This emphasises Julia’s rebellious zeal, as parts of her brain had to be physically removed in order to subdue her. How O’Brien made Julia confess and what she endured is a total mystery, something that Newman could, and should, definitely explore.

Thanks for reading!

Featured

‘Rebecca’ Chapter One: An Analysis

‘Rebecca’ was published in 1938 and is Daphne Du Maurier’s most influential novel. Throughout the novel, the unnamed narrator describes her life with her new husband, Mr de Winter, and begins to realise that he, and her marital home, are haunted by Mr de Winter’s previous wife. 

The novel opens with the iconic line: ‘last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again’ (Daphne Du Maurier Rebecca (London: Virago Classics, p. 1). Throughout the first chapter it is unclear how the narrator is related to Manderley, but it is clear that Manderley is not quite tangible to the narrator. Manderley appears as a recurring dream, as indicated by the word ‘again.’ As the dream is recurring, we can assess that the narrator is being haunted by the memory of Manderley. In a way this is ironic, because the narrator is having a dream, not a nightmare. Does the narrator want to return to Manderley? Is just within her subconscious?

Manderley certainly has gothic qualities. It is described as an impenetrable fortress, as it is bolted with a ‘padlock’ and ‘chain’ (p. 1). We already are aware that Manderley, to the narrator is a memory, and the idea of a padlock on these memories implies that the past, especially that of the narrators, could be dangerous and disconcerting. It is locked, to keep memories in, and perhaps to keep the narrator out. The gate has ‘rusted spokes’ and is ‘uninhabited’ (p. 1). Crumbling mansions such as this are a common staple of the gothic novel, which date back to its inception with ‘The Castle of Otranto.’ In this novel, the crumbling castle is reminiscent of the declining aristocratic family that inhabits it. At this point it is unclear what class the narrator belongs too, but perhaps the inclusion of this trope foreshadows some sort of class conflict, or degeneration, as reflected by the physical appearance of Manderley itself. 

The narrator herself ‘passed like a spirit’ through the gates to Manderley (p. 1). In this scenario, the narrator holds more power than the manifestation of Manderley. Manderley is passive to the narrators thoughts and movements within her dream. Manderley is also passive to nature, which had ‘come into her own again’ (p. 1). Nature is personified, and described as a woman, that has regained control over the man-made house of Manderley. While this shows that Manderley is being consumed, and is passive to nature, it also demonstrates that Manderley survives and endures, not only in a physical sense, but in the mind of the narrator.

Manderley is also unaffected by time. ‘Time could not wreck the perfect symmetry of those walls, nor the site itself, a jewel in the hollow of a hand’ (p. 2). So, even though Manderley is overrun by Nature, it still retains its value and beauty, as implied by the word ‘jewel.’

Nature also seems fairly ominous. It is described as having ‘menace,’ it is ‘dark and uncontrolled’ and the shrubs are described as ‘monster’ ones (p. 1). Nature is being personified to the max here, and it appears that specifically, it is being portrayed as a monstrous, menacing woman. Perhaps the author, ironically  a woman herself, is trying to warn the reader about the dangers of dominant women. Perhaps it is a dominant woman that will cause the fall of the estate. 

This allusion is carried further when Du Maurier states that the ivy ensnares Manderley. The ‘malevolent ivy, always an enemy to grace, had thrown her tendrils about the pair and made them prisoners’ (p. 3). Whether intended or not, I see strong parallels to ‘Paradise Lost’ here. After her fall from grace, as symbolised by her eating of the Forbidden Fruit, Eve’s hair is described as tendrils that ensnare Adam into having sinful sex. The ivy is again personified and described as feminine, so perhaps Du Maurier, by providing this literary link to ‘Paradise Lost,’ is trying to imply that some sort of fall from grace, or corruption, engineered by a woman, is what led to Manderley’s abandonment. 

Although Manderley is still standing, it is not without struggle. The nettles ‘choked the terrace,’ and are described as ‘vulgar and lanky’ (p. 3). The violence and aggression of nature also emphasises Manderley’s physical strength, and enduring presence. 

These ideas are all tied together as the house is described as a ‘sepulchre,’ one with ‘fear and suffering [lay] buried in the ruins. There would be no resurrection’ (p. 4). A sepulchre is a tomb, and its inclusion gives Manderley much greater significance. Not only is it a memory of the author, but it also holds other memories and secrets, linking back to the image of the padlock and gate. The narrator can enter in her dreams, but not in real life, and nothing can escape. These old memories, and old life, cannot return as implied by the idea that there can be no ‘resurrection.’ This leads the reader to ask why – what does Manderley hold that is so dangerous?

The chapter concludes with the note that ‘Manderley was ours no longer. Manderley was no more’ (p. 4). If we are to take this literally, it must mean that Manderley does not physically exist… yet we have been told that it does. The lines between memory and the physical world are very blurred throughout the chapter, but what is definitely clear, is that the narrator’s memory of Manderley is impenetrable. 

Thanks for reading!

Featured

Was the influence of Thomas Cromwell the main reason for reforms to the English Church from 1529-1540?

The Henrician reformation of the early fifteen hundreds was brought about by a culmination of people and factors. Before this period, Henry VIII struggled to produce an heir and the religious dominance of Rome was greatly felt by England. Factors such as these can be considered as reasons for the reformation, but they appear to be part of a much broader spectrum of issues. It is important to note from which people these issues sprang, and in order to understand the main reason for the reformation, one must consider who Henry VIII listened to when these issues were voiced. Cromwell did a great deal to steer the reformation into the direction in which he intended, but when considering the main reason for reforms to the English church from 1529 to 1540 one must look at all of those who surrounded Henry VIII, and Henry VIII himself. When examining the evidence it can be seen that Henry VIII was indeed the main reason for the church reforms, as without his initial anguish over his current situation, he would not have used Cromwell to reform Parliament.  

Due to individual influence of Cromwell, and his deployment of Parliament, one can see that his influence was a significant reason for reforms to the English church in the period of 1529 to 1540, but not the main reason. Cromwell should be credited and treated with significance in this way, as it was he who realised that Parliament was able to grant the annulment. Cromwell developed this idea further, and used Parliament as it was the official law-making body, it could be used to pass a series of Acts, such as the ‘Statute in Restraint of Appeals Act,’ in 1534 which recognised Henry as the final legal authority in matters concerning England. This use of Parliament would grant Henry the power he desired, by breaking with the Roman Catholic Church. Without this development, the reforms may not have occurred, as there would not have been many other ways to procure the break with Rome. Although this act alone proves that Cromwell was a significant reason for the reforms, one must note that without Henry’s initial desire for change, Cromwell would not have not have considered using Parliament for any such matter. When tasked with obtaining the annulment, Wolsey appealed directly to the Pope, and this action failed. Without Cromwell’s involvement, and his desire to use Parliament, one wonders whether the reformation itself would have occurred, making him a significant reason for the reforms to the English church. In 1532, it was Cromwell that used the people within Parliament to further Henry’s cause, by exploiting the anti-clerical feeling among them. By doing this, Cromwell ensured that those within Parliament would support new Acts and bills that he placed in front of them, as these acts would address their issues. This meant that acts, such as the ‘First Act of Annates,’ in 1532, would be passed quickly and more efficiently, thus speeding up the break with Rome. Cromwell can be seen to be a significant influence and reason for reforms to the English church due to his drafting of the ‘Act of Restraint of Appeals’ in 1534. This act barred Catherine from appealing to the Pope for help during ‘The King’s Great Matter,’ and the preamble of the draft outlined what was later identified as Royal Supremacy. This allowed Henry’s desire for caesaropapism to be written as a formal idea, which then became the aim of the reformation. Without Cromwell’s input, Henry’s wishes might not have been formed in a proper fashion that could be understood. This makes Cromwell significant in the matters and progressions of the reformation, as he put Henry’s ideas on paper, and sold the idea in Parliament by exploiting the anti-clericalism within it. 

To those in Parliament, Henry’s desire for absolute power would have combated some of the known clerical abuses, such as the use of clerical courts. Henry planned to remove benefits of the clergy, to ensure his absolute rule. In this respect, Cromwell’s exploitation of Parliament ensured that the idea of Royal Supremacy, that Cromwell helped shape, would gain more support. In the years that followed, Cromwell was made Vicegerent of Spirituals, which increased his influence over the King, which was already cemented by his previous successes in Parliament, and the Valor Ecclesiasticus. Throughout this time, Cromwell used propaganda to spread reformist ideas around churches, in order to make them cooperate and obey Henry’s wishes, such as accepting the divorce. Cromwell later spent four hundred pounds of his own money to get three thousand copies of Coverdale’s Bible printed in Paris, in 1539. While Henry instructed Cromwell and told him of his wishes, it was Cromwell who enforced them and made them happen, presenting Cromwell as a significant figure within the Henrician reformation. Cromwell also finalised the break with Rome by producing the act of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536. Henry had reformist ideas that he passed on to Cromwell, in a passive manner. It was Cromwell who then actively reformed England with the ‘Dissolution of the Monasteries Act,’ which destroyed smaller monasteries that were once loyal to the Pope, and gave their land to the crown. This physical action of destroying the monasteries displays the significance of Cromwell during the reformation of 1529 to 1540, as he had an active hand in enforcing Henry’s wishes and new reformist beliefs, whilst ensuring that Parliament were also swayable to new ideas. Despite Cromwell’s significant role, one cannot class him as the main reason for the reformation, as without the initial thoughts and ideas of Henry VIII, no religious change in England would have occurred.

Henry VIII can be seen as the main reason and influence for reforms to the English church in 1529 to 1540, as without his initial feelings, less religious change would’ve occurred in England. When looking at Henry’s situation in the late 1520’s, it can be seen that a culmination of factors and influences led him to push for religious change, as this allowed him the divorce and absolute power. Henry began to steer toward religious reform originally as Catherine could not produce a male heir. Although they had a son in 1511, he died several weeks later and only their daughter Mary survived. Henry believed that his lack of an heir, and therefore primogeniture, meant that God was judging his marriage unfavourably. Upon meeting and becoming enamoured with Anne Boleyn in 1529, Henry began to feel that if he were to divorce Catherine, and marry Anne, she would bear him sons. Without this initial desire for an heir, Henry would not have considered a divorce, and by extension the religious reforms in England, making him the main reason for the reforms that occurred. If Henry had no desire to marry Anne, or to have a son, the idea of divorce would not have crossed his mind, and there would have been no reform of the English church as there would have been no need for it, as a divorce would not be needed. Cromwell would have taken no action, as Henry would not have wanted to divorce Catherine, making Henry the greatest influence and the main reason for the reforms to the English church from 1529 to 1540. Although one could argue that without Anne, Henry would not have become interested in divorce, Henry should still be seen as the greatest influence of the reforms as he actively carried them on through the 1530’s, which led to his Royal Supremacy. It was not until 1530, after Pope Clement VII refused to grant him the divorce, that Henry became interested in new ways of religious thinking, which led to his reformist views. Although Henry did not agree with Luther, and wrote notable works against him such as the “Defence of the Seven Sacraments,” he was still influenced and interested by his reformist views, such as his emphasis on ‘sola scriptura.’ The court faction of reformers, such as the Boleyns, aided his ideas about imperial kingship, and Humanists within England also reached out to the court. John Colet in 1512 called on the church to reform from within, as did Thomas More’s ‘Utopia,’ written in 1516. Christopher St German also concurred that Henry should govern the church. These new ideas presented Henry with ways in which he could get his divorce, by manipulating and exploiting feelings of anti-clericalism and reform within England. Henry saw that by listening to reformers and using their ideas, he could become supreme head of his own church, which would satisfy all his needs, as he could then grant himself the divorce. Without the aim of divorce, Henry may not have listened to such ideas and they would have been quashed, as Henry was a Catholic, leading one to believe that Henry was the main reason for the reforms in England, as without his lack of an heir, he would not have considered divorce, and would then not have listened to reformers such as More and Colet. Upon launching a pamphlet campaign in order to question the Pope’s authority, which spread quickly due to the Printing Press, one can see that one event easily led to another. After Catherine’s failure to provide a son, and the arrival of Anne Boleyn, Henry became interested in divorce, and after his and Wolsey’s failure to obtain one; he looked to ideas of reform to reach his goal. These reformers, such as St German, then caused Henry to look into the idea of caesaropapism, which in Henry’s mind was Royal Supremacy, which if granted, would allow him to obtain his divorce. Henry realised that by achieving Royal Supremacy, with help from Cromwell and reformers, he could satisfy all his needs, and profit from the land and money of the church. In this manner, one can see that the feelings and needs of Henry were the main reason and driving force for the religious reforms in England throughout 1529 to 1540.

As previously noted, another significant reason for the reforms to the English church from 1529 to 1540 was the presence and influence of Anne Boleyn. Although Henry was frustrated with his wife Catherine, perhaps if Anne had not appeared at court, he would not have become interested in divorce so quickly. It was her presence and his immediate love for her that pushed the King to enquire about a divorce, and after his lack of success, onto ideas about religious reform. One could argue that her arrival at court in 1529 caused the reformation to begin with great speed, mainly because Anne refused to become his mistress, leading Henry to enquire about obtaining a divorce. As Anne refused Henry several times, she managed to prolong his interest for many years, whilst ensuring she was close enough to influence him. It was Anne’s refusal of him, and her demand that she should be his queen, that pushed Henry to ask Wolsey to get him a divorce, thus beginning the events of the reformation. This makes Anne a significant reason for the church reforms during the 1530’s, as if she had become Henry’s mistress, he may not have become interested in marrying her. Although any children between the two would’ve been illegitimate, it is logical to think that Henry would have tried to enter the child into the line of succession, as he planned to with Henry Fitzroy, around the time of his death in 1536. Anne was also a reformer, and along with her family, she pushed Henry to take control of the church in England. This secured her position, as if Henry got the power he craved, she would become queen, and her whole family would benefit. It was Anne that persuaded Henry to read Tyndale’s “The Obedience of a Christian Man,” and also sponsored his New Testament. Her influence can also be seen in the appointment of evangelical bishops such as Latimer, Shaxton and Cranmer, who on the 25th of January 1533, married Henry and Anne. As Henry was in love with Anne, and as she managed to prolong his interest, she was at his side for a great amount of time making him easier to influence as her importance to the King was greater than that of other people. As he was in love with her, Henry protected her from her enemies, and emboldened her. In this position, by henry’s side, Anne was able to persuade him into looking at new ideas of reform, which would satisfy his desire as well as hers, to become queen. A combination of Henry wanting to have sex with Anne and her refusal forced Henry to look into the idea of divorce, in order to marry Anne as she requested, which opened him up to ideas of reform, which included caesaropapism, an idea that Anne Boleyn supported. This makes Anne a significant reason for the reforms of the English church, as her presence led to Henry discovering ideas of reform, all because he wanted to obtain a divorce in order to marry her. Although one could argue that Anne herself started the process, it was still Henry who chose to look into divorcing Catherine, and therefore into reforming the church, which he continued to do even after Anne’s execution on the 19th of May 1536. Throughout her life Anne had a great influence over Henry, up until her death. From this point onward, it Henry alone that continued to reform the church based on his own intuition and believe in change, making him the most important reason for reforms to the church in England. It was Henry who instructed those below him, such as Cromwell to carry out said reforms, making Henry the main reason for them, although Anne is still highly significant.  

When looking at all the factors surrounding the Henrician reformation of England, it can be seen that the main reason for the reforms is because of King Henry’s influence. If he had no initial desire for divorce, there would be no need to look into ideas of reform, and therefore the reformation would not have occurred. Although this desire was offset by the arrival of Anne Boleyn at court, Henry still maintained power over all the reforms that went on in his kingdom, and ensured that they benefited him and the woman who he wanted to marry. Cromwell also played a highly significant role, as he actively reformed the church by destroying the monasteries in 1536, and later in 1538. Despite this direct action, it was still Henry who passively instructed Cromwell, and used him to achieve his own wishes and aims, making him the greatest influence and the most important reason for reforms of the church in England from 1529 to 1540.

Thanks for reading!

Featured

‘Wholeness’ in ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’

‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ is mostly remembered for its vivid depictions of sex. It was these that caused quite the stir when it was first published in 1928, and led to Penguin Books being put on trial for violating the Obscene Publications Act of 1959. Since then, the novel has been recognised as D. H. Lawrence’s masterpiece, and as well as sex, is known for tackling themes such as the conflict between the mind and body, and social class. While some people may just read the novel for the explicitly sexual passages, Lawrence uses the novel to convey his idea that people need sexual fulfilment as well as intellectual fulfilment, to become a fully ‘whole’ and enriched person.

Lawrence explains that Connie was attracted to Clifford because of his mind. It is explained that Clifford and Connie’s connection is not just about physical attraction, but is ‘deeper, much more personal than that’ D. H. Lawrence Lady Chatterley’s Lover (London: Penguin Clothbound Classics, 2009, p. 12). Their ‘passion’ comes from ‘mental attraction.’ This connection ensures that Clifford and Connie remain happy, until he returns from the war. He returns paralysed, and is described to be ‘in bits’ (p. 5). From this point on Clifford is not imagined as an actual person, but more as the remnants of one. Due to Clifford’s physical maiming, he and Connie do not have any sort of physically intimate relationship. It becomes all about their mind. The lack of sexual intimacy, coupled with Connie’s growing desire for a child, means that the two become more and more distant. 

Clifford goes far enough to say that marriage is not about sex at all, but ‘companionship,’ and the idea of two people falling into ‘unison’ with each other (p. 8).  Now, while what Clifford is saying is in part true, you do need an intellectual connection to have a partnership, this is not what love is totally about. In this conversation, Clifford also gives Connie permission to have an affair, with a man of high social standing, and should she fall pregnant, style the child as the heir to the Chatterleys’ estate. Not only is Clifford shutting down Connie’s hopes of any sexual contact, but also encouraging her to sleep with other men. ‘If the lack of sex is going to disintegrate you, then go out and have a love affair’ (p. 5). While Clifford, in his mind, is trying to tell Connie to be free and live as she chooses, for Connie it is not the nicest thing to hear, and she feels fairly rejected. Quite simply, Connie enters into an affair with Mellors because he wants her, and she wants to be wanted. Mellors sees her not as Connie, but as a woman, who has an untapped sexual desire. It is this that revives her, and essentially brings her back to life. 

Connie’s attraction to Mellors is explained in her exclamation of ‘a body!’ (p. 66). When she first sees Mellors, she describes each aspect of his body, his arms, his torso, his loins. She is taken aback by his physique, and is also stunned because she has not seen he nakedness of a man in so long. Unlike Clifford, Mellors is a complete body, which is able to have sex with her. Mellors is able to give Connie everything that she wants at the moment, which is physical fulfilment. 

Connie’s desire to be a mother also unconsciously propels her to have an affair with Mellors. While it is not in the forefront of her thinking, she is aware that her body feels ‘meaningless’ (p. 70) because she cannot bear Clifford’s child. While having sex with Mellors, Connie is aware that she ‘opened her womb to him’ (p. 121). So, not only does Mellors offer Connie physical fulfilment, but he also offers her the chance of having a child. This is hinted at when Mellors and Connie bond over Mellors’ chicks. The chicks resemble Connie’s own captivity, as she is trapped in her home with Clifford, as they are trapped in their pen. Mellors’ gentle control over the chicks hint at the tenderness of the relationship between Connie and Mellors. 

While their affair is first based upon physical attraction, from this grows tenderness and a meeting of the minds. In each other, both Mellors and Connie find what they want in a sexual partner. Connie begins to feel whole when she is with Mellors, to the point at which she fears being apart from him. Connie fears the ‘terrible moment when he would slip out of her,’ and ‘clung to him’ (p. 133). Mellors and Clifford represent two opposing ends of the spectrum, and Connie throughout the novel toys and is thrown between the two. Mellors and Connie become so intimate that his sweat upon her becomes ‘holy’ (p. 137). Mellors becomes something that Connie covets, and desires. Me becomes essential to her being, she feels incomplete without him. 

As Mellors ejaculates inside her, his ‘soul sprang towards her too’ (p. 239). Like Clifford describes, Mellors and Connie begin to fall into unison. However this unison is different to Clifford’s understanding of it, as Mellors and Connie fall into unison sexually, and intellectually. Lawrence’s use of the world ‘soul’ implies that Mellors’ and Connie’s connection goes beyond the physical world, and that the very essence of their beings have become intertwined. It is at this point, which occurs towards the end of the novel, that the reader is aware that Connie is supposed to be with Mellors, and not with Clifford. Being with Mellors is like being reborn for Connie, she is revitalised and renewed. 

However, the two are separated at the end of the novel, as Clifford refuses to divorce Connie. Who should we feel sympathy for? It is difficult to say, considering that Clifford’s injury is not his fault, but his attitude and lack of understanding towards Connie is. Cheating should also not be condoned. Lawrence does not debate this at all really, and instead works to hammer home the point that the union of bodies and minds it what allows a person to feel whole and complete. 

Thanks for reading!

Featured

‘Spencer’ 2021: An Analysis

This post contains spoilers for the 2021 film ‘Spencer.’

Pablo Larraín’s latest biopic, which focuses on the late Princess of Wales, has been lauded by critics and caused quite a stir. Those who would be expecting  something similar to ‘The Crown’ will be in for a surprise. The film does not just follow the Princess, over Christmas Eve, day and Boxing Say 1991, but delves deep into her psyche, allowing the audience to simultaneously watch Diana but also inhabit the world that Larraín has created for her. Let’s take a closer look.

The film opens with the subtitle ‘a fable from a true tragedy.’ A ‘fable’ and the idea of truth directly contradict one another, already complicating the age old question of ‘is this based on fact?’ With this statement Larraín is trying to tell us that his story is both true and not true. Although it may not be true that Diana said this, or wore that at that exact time, I think it is conceivable to think that her trauma and upset was very real, even if it did not play out in that specific way, at that specific time. It is asserted that Diana’s life descended into tragedy, which is true, due to her untimely death. In summation, this statement I believe is trying to say that the film has a factual, emotional and psychological basis. 

We are then taken inside Sandringham to see the Christmas preparations. Instead of seeing maids and chefs going about their business, first we see the army entering, searching the place and carrying several large boxes with them. It is revealed that food is inside the boxes, giving Christmas dinner a strange, militaristic feel. The chefs then enter, and are told by head chef Darren to get started. ‘Once more unto to the breach’ he says, a line uttered by Henry V in Shakespeare’s eponymous play, on the eve of battle with the French. The royal family appear to be spending their Christmas in some sort of battlefield. The two images of Christmas dinner and a battlefield directly oppose the other, and also style the royal family as cold and calculating – as this type of preparation is the norm for them. They are all on time, all present to carry their particular traditions on, bar one, who is late. It is she who breaks tradition: Diana. 

Diana’s opening line of ‘where the fuck am I?’ Is punchy and daring, as I doubt anyone has ever heard the Princess swear before, apart from perhaps her nearest and dearest. It is also something that not not many people would bother imagining. At this point in the film Diana is driving to Sandringham and is lost. In the first few minutes of the film, Larraín is immediately trying to strip away the ‘Peoples Princess,’ image and is trying to tell the audience that Diana is just Diana, a normal woman who has got lost on the way to her family Christmas. The idea that Diana is lost, and at literal crossroads echoes her current mental state. She is trying to find happiness, and the synopsis of the film states that she is debating whether or not to divorce Prince Charles. She is physically and mentally at a crossroads. 

Linking back to the idea of the royal family being cold, Diana remarks frequently, as do William and Harry, that they are cold. Diana notes that the family refuse to turn the heating on. The fact that only her, William and Harry point this out mark them as outsiders. It does make you wonder – how do the royals cope with being cold? Does this link to the idea that they could be cold hearted? Unlike Diana as the film suggests? Later on in the film Diana questions the boys about what their perfect Christmas would be, and what they describe dispenses with all royal protocol. The film shows that Diana and her children form their own independent trio, quietly rejecting and rebelling against the royal traditions that they are subjected too. 

Diana is quickly given a pearl necklace by Charles. She immediately dislikes them, as she recognises that he bought the same set for Camilla. Diana thinks that the pearls imply that things are ‘all set,’ and that everything has already happened. While traditionally, pearls are symbolic  of ideals such as purity, wisdom and serenity, in the film they symbolise the opposite. They remind  Diana her that her husband is having an affair. Diana wears the pearls throughout the film, and she constantly tugs at them, as if they are physically uncomfortable. The pearls are symbolic of a chain or yoke, they represent Diana’s constant feeling of suffocation and claustrophobia. One particular scene sees her imagining tearing the pearls off at dinner, and then eating them. What causes this is the searing gaze of Charles and the Queen, a stare which tells Diana to eat. The destruction of the necklace hints at her desire to break free of the shackles, ie, the royal family, that contain her. While this image is striking it is also confusing, as I am unsure what her eating of the pearls it trying to convey. Perhaps it is her suicidal thoughts, and her attempts at self harm. As this is just her imagination, her pearls are very much still around her neck – she cannot break free yet. It is also worth noting that during the dinner scene, the non-diegetic music gets louder and intensifies, as does Diana’s discomfort and distress. This happens frequently throughout the film.

The pearls also link to another plot thread that runs throughout the film, the inclusion of Anne Boleyn. Diana spends majority of the film delving into her family history, and recalls that she is related to the Boleyns. The obvious parallel is that both royal wives are discarded for another, and believed to have had affairs themselves. Diana did have an affair, and although most historians agree that Anne Boleyn did not, the parallels are still obvious, as is the image of Boleyn’s iconic ‘B’ pearl necklace which she wears throughout the film. During the film we see Diana in the guise of Anne, and we also watch the two converse. Diana is actively interrogating, conversing and learning from her own history, in an attempt to reclaim it. She is not related to the Boleyn’s through marriage to the Windsors, but through her own Spencer blood. In the room where the royals eat dinner, three portraits hang, that of Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour. Diana’s family history is ever present, and overbearing. Her ancestors are constantly watching her, as are the royals. 

It is Anne who finally encourages, and gives Diana the strength to tear off her pearls. Whilst going through her old childhood home, Anne tells her about when Henry gifted Jane Seymour a miniature of himself, which she wore around her neck. Anne possessed the same miniature, and tore it off of Jane with such force that her fingers bled. From this, Diana finds the strength from Anne to tear off her pearls, which cascade down the stairs. This happens in the latter half of the film, signalling Diana’s growing strength and increasing understanding of who she is. At one point William asks what has made Diana so sad, and the boys disagree over whether it is the past, present or future. The past could refer to Anne Boleyn, the present an obvious reference to her marriage. Diana says that ‘in this house, the past and the present are the same thing.’ Does this mean that Anne and Diana are the same? Their stories certainly have similarities, and at one point we do see Diana in full Tudor dress. If one did not know about Diana’s impending death, and they heard this statement, perhaps it would be enough for them to understand Diana’s fate. Diana’s statement may imply that she is not only learning about her past, specifically Anne, but actually living it. 

On Christmas Day, the family attend church. All wear dull colours, apart from Diana. She wears a black hat, and a bright red coat. Red is associated with passion and anger, and oddly it reminded me of Mary Queen of Scots’ decision to wear red at her execution – so her blood would not show. Many saw Mary Queen of Scots as a Catholic martyr, and the colour itself is associated with martyrdom. Specifically the type of martyrdom that involved torture and violence. Red martyrs, as they are known, faced persecution of a religious nature. Although Diana does not die for religious reasons, the emotional outpour at her death has immortalised her in our history and culture, much like a real life martyr. Is this decision, for her to wear red, hinting at this?

During a conversation between Diana and Charles, across a pool table, Charles informs Diana that there ‘must be two of you,’ the private Diana and the one that ‘they take pictures of.’ He also says that Diana must make her ‘body do things’ that she hates. Is this a loaded reference to her bulimia? She feels that she has to make herself sick. If so, Charles is cold and unfeeling, and their physical distance, across the table, is representative of their difference in thinking and distance within marriage. He accuses Diana of having an affair, and at this time, 1991, Diana is not having an affair, but Charles is. As they talk, the sound of gunfire can be heard outside, as William and Harry are clay pigeon shooting. The sounds synchronise with Charles’ words, suggesting that his words wound Diana, as real bullets would. The only physical contact that Charles and Diana have is via a pool ball which Charles rolls to Diana, as if handing her some sort of challenge. After picking up the ball, she drops it, as if she is picking up the gauntlet, but then throwing it back down in protest. She is refusing to conform to Charles’ ideas and ideals. 

Pheasants are also present throughout the film. Darren remarks that they are ‘bred to be shot.’ Those that are not, he explains wander into the road, and get hit by cars, as they are not very bright. Diana notes that a Vogue article once noted that she was ‘beautiful but not very bright.’ Diana seems to relate to the pheasants throughout the film, and this implies that she feels that she was chosen by the royal family just because she was pretty. She also think that this is why she is liked, and she recognises that when she wears something, other women imitate it. She feels like a pheasant with pretty feathers, who is admired by onlookers. Of course, the idea that she may be being bred to be shot may refer to the emotional abuse she suffered in her marriage. She was discarded once she gave birth to Harry, a moment which Diana herself compared to ‘shutters’ coming down. Diana was chosen, trained and bred to bear royal sons, after that, Charles distanced himself from her. 

When she returns to her room, she is told by her maid that her curtains have been sewn shut. This is because Diana had left the curtains open, and the family were worried about reporters seeing her. Diana is also aware that everything she says is reported to others at Sandringham. So she plays the game, telling her maid that she needs be left alone to ‘masturbate,’ and adding that the maid can spread that information. While away, Diana uses wire cutters to tear her curtains back open, with such force that she hyperventilates and pants. She manages to break free from Sandringham for a moment, as throughout the film, it has seemed that she is slowly being trapped against her will. When the curtains are open, she nips her own arm with the wire cutters, drawing blood. This acts as some sort of release for her, as masturbation would allow for some sort of release too. It is likely that these two types of releases are different, but it is interesting that the two ideas appear in such close proximity. 

It is at this point in the film that Diana returns to her ancestral home, which holds many Gothic qualities. The Spencer house is crumbling, and dark and dingy. It is the seat of an old, aristocratic family, traits that are shared with the early Gothic novels such as ‘The Castle of Otranto.’ Diana also stumbles up the stairs, as the foundations are failing. Her wavering grip on the banister is reminiscent on her loosening grip on herself and her family history. It is this that she is trying to reclaim. She does this also by taking her fathers old coat off of a scarecrow. She repairs it, and wears it throughout he film. It is here that Diana tears off her pearls, when she is most steeped and surrounded by Spencer history. It is interesting that this all takes place around Christmas time, a time that celebrates the birth of Jesus. Diana in a sense is being reborn, as she is rediscovering and reclaiming her Spencer heritage. 

All of this comes together in the last few minutes of the film, as Diana is told by dresser Maggie that all she needs is love. Diana takes her ‘place amongst the pheasants’ and walks towards the family as they are shooting. Charles allows William and Harry to leave with her, and the three drive off and away from Sandringham, blasting the radio. As the camera turns to Charles, the lyric ‘never know what you got til it’s gone plays.’ How fitting. 

When ordering a KFC with the boys, Diana notes that the order is for ‘Spencer.’ This is clearly where Diana is most happiest, eating a KFC with her children. It is also important that this is the last word of the film, and it implies that after much soul searching and attempts to reclaim her heritage, her heritage is now fully reclaimed. Diana was lost at the beginning of the film, now she is far from it. This is confirmed by her vocalisation of her name, ‘Spencer.’

Thanks for reading!

Featured

Diwali: A Brief History

Diwali is the ‘festival of lights,’ and is celebrated by Sikhs, Hindus and Jains. Although the date of the festival changes every year, it usually falls in October or November and lasts for five days. Many celebrate the festival in honour of the goddess Lakshmi, the wife of Vishnu and the goddess of wealth. It is common for families to open windows and doors in their home on Diwali to allow Lakshmi to enter their house and bless them with wealth and riches. The word ‘Diwali’ itself originates from the Sanskrit word ‘deepavali,’ meaning ‘rows of lighted lamps.’ The image of lamps links to the idea of good triumphing over evil, a prevalent theme in the stories that surround the festival. It is the light of the candle, good, that keeps away the darkness, evil. On the night of Diwali, families light tea lights and lamps and place them around their home to replicate this idea. Fireworks are also set off to celebrate the festival.  

For Hindus, Diwali celebrates the day that Lord Rama returned home with his wife Sita, following her kidnapping by the ten headed demon, Ravana. At this point Rama and Sita were living in exile, and upon discovering that Sita had been kidnapped, Rama despaired that he and his younger brother Lakshmana did not have the resources to to save her. However, this did not deter them from trying. While captured, Sita constantly resisted Ravana’s advances and refused to become his queen. After travelling to find help, they gained the support of an army of monkeys who were commanded by Hanuman. After a confrontation, Rama killed Ravana and took his wife Sita back home to Ayodhya. This story supports Diwali’s central theme: the triumph of good over evil. 

Rama and Sita - Vishnu's Bedtime Stories
Rama and Sita

While this version is regularly taught in schools, the ending of the story is usually omitted. Rama is crowned king upon his return to Ayodhya, but rumours begin to spread that Sita may have willingly eloped with Ravana. When Sita’s moral purity is called into question, Rama’s faith in her wavers. In one version of the story, Rama asks Sita to prove her innocence by undergoing a test before ‘Agni,’ fire. She passes the test, lives happily with Rama thereafter and gives birth to twins, Luv and Kush. In another version of the story, Rama’s mistrust of Sita leads to her banishment, and she gives birth to her sons in the woods. In their adolescence, Luv and Kush persuade their father that he was wrong to banish her. When Rama asks for forgiveness however, Sita rejects him, and effectively commits suicide by allowing her mother, the Earth, to swallow her up. Another slightly different version sees Sita dying of sorrow, thus solidifying her as a tragic, and moral heroine who was spurned by an intolerant society. In other versions of the story, Sita’s death leads Rama to drown himself, and they reunite happily in the afterlife. Despite Sita’s suicide in several versions of the story, she is revered in Hindu tradition, and is seen as the ideal of womanly virtue. The story of Rama and Sita is told in the Hindu epic the ‘Ramayana,’ of which Rama is the central character.  

For Sikhs, Diwali makes the escape of their sixth Guru’s, Guru Hargobind’s escape from jail in 1619. Guru Hargobind took 52 other princes with him when he escaped. When originally asking if this was possible, the prison guard said that Guru Hargobind could only take those who could hold onto his cloak. This cloak was made with 52 pieces of string, allowing Guru Hargobind to lead the 52 princes to safety. This particular event is known to Siikhs as Bandi Chhor Divas, or the ‘Day of Liberation.’ To celebrate Guru Hargobind’s safe return, the Golden Temple was illuminated with candles, a tradition that still occurs today. The foundations of the temple itself were also laid on Diwali in 1577. 

Guru Hargobind Singh escaping from jail with the 52 princes

Diwali is also important to Jains. The founder of Jainism is Lord Mahavira, and it was during the festival of Diwali that he reached Moksha, meaning eternal peace. 

Mahavira - Wikipedia
Lord Mahavira

Happy Diwali!

Thanks for reading!

Featured

Halloween: A Brief History

Everybody knows that Halloween falls on the 31st of October every year… but not everyone knows how the modern traditions surrounding the spooky day came about. Historians believe that Halloween’s prequel came in the form of the Celtic festival Samhain. 

During this festival, Celts would light bonfires and wear frightening costumes to ward off spirits. The festival marked the end of the Harvest season and led to the beginning of winter. Nowadays it is held on November 1, but festivities begin on the 31st of October. Sometimes people would light torches and from the bonfire and carry it into their homes. Although not all divination involved fire, the bonfire was used to try and read the future, as were several games played on the day of the festival. 

Apples and hazelnuts were used by the Celts to divine the future, and so were frequently used in the games. A common game played was apple bobbing, a tradition that has lasted until today. Another game involved hanging a wooden rod from the ceiling, with an apple hanging from one end and a lit candle on the other. The rod was spun round, and everyone took it in turns to catch the apple with their teeth. When the apple was peeled, it was done so in one long strip, and the peel was then tossed over the persons shoulder. It was believed that the apple peel would fall into the shape of the first letter of the persons’ future spouses name. 

Samhain was seen as an important time of year – it marked the point at which the boundary between this world and the ‘Otherworld’ was significant weakened. This meant that ghosts could more easily cross into our world, hence the bonfires and the dressing up. 

Mumming and Guising was also an integral part of Samhain from the sixteenth century onwards, and describes people going from house to house in costume, and reciting songs in exchange for food. The practice can now be seen as a version of trick or treating. Some believe that the tradition stemmed from people impersonating the souls of the dead, and asking for offerings on their behalf. By impersonating a spirit, one believed that they also were protected from them. Trick or treating also may have come from the tradition of going to peoples house to collect food for Samhain feasts, or fuel for bonfires. 

Whereas nowadays pumpkins are more popular, for the Celts, turnips were the chosen vegetable that was hollowed out and used to ward off evil spirits. Jack-o’-lanterns were popular in Ireland and Scotland before they spread throughout England. 

Let’s jump back a bit further. The Romans conquered the Celts in 43 AD, and it appears that some Roman traditions may have become combined with the celebration of Samhain. One was Feralia, a day in late October in which the Romas commemorated the dead. The second festival honoured Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. Pomona’s symbol is the apple, which made frequent appearances at Samhain in the form of apple bobbing. 

The plot thickens. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III stated that All Saints Day should be held on November 1st. This day commemorated saints and martyrs throughout Christian history. This day falls on the day after Samhain, but overtime the two festivals became incorporated. All Souls’ Day follows, on November 2nd. This day remembers the dead, especially those that lounge in purgatory. All Souls’ Day was also celebrated in a similar fashion to Samhain. All Souls’ Day is also known as All Hallows Eve, which later became Halloween. Together, these days form the observance of Allhallowtide, a collection of days that remembers the departed. The three days blur together into this period of observance, with Halloween falling on All Saints’ Eve.

Allhallowtide is a Christian idea, not a Celtic one, however. So how did this work, I hear you ask. Well, It is believed that the Christians Christianised the Celtic observance of Samhain in order to reform them, and encourage their conversion. However, this is subject to some debate. So to make things clear, the time of Allhallowtide encompassed the three days of All Saints Eve (Halloween), All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day. 

Halloween is known for being popular in America, and although in New England the practice was condemned by Puritans, its popularity picked up after with the influx of various ethnic groups brought new ideas about the festival to America. Celebrations included parties, and events to celebrate the harvest, and neighbours would come together to hold street parties. New immigrants that came to America in the second half of the 19th century also helped to bolster Halloween’s popularity. Now, Halloween is America’s largest commercial holiday after Christmas. 

Thanks for reading!

Featured

‘In what ways is the world of ‘1984’ a totalitarian state? How does Big Brother organise society?’

A totalitarian state is one that has a centralised government. The dictator leading the state requires all those within it to be subservient to the state. This dictator can also be seen to be an autocratic figure, as they are a ruler who has absolute power. An example in our history of a totalitarian state can be seen in Stalin’s Russia, which collapsed in the early nineties. This form of harsh dictatorship can be seen in the world of ‘1984,’ as the Party demands total commitment from all those living within the state, of which “Big Brother” is the “guardian” and unanimous “leader.” Big Brother’s thick “moustache” is also reminiscent of that of Stalin’s, as is the policies and rules of Oceania. Big Brother maintains control over society, and organises it by effectively using propaganda to unite the population. Their ability to create and “vaporise” people also helps Big Brother organise society, with help from O’Brien. The Party’s response to emotion and feelings coupled with Newspeak also helps Big Brother organise society, as rebellion seems to appear even more impossible. 

Big Brother uses the tactic of propaganda, much like in World War one and two, to organise society and unite those within the totalitarian state of Oceania. Orwell himself understood the affects of propaganda as during the Second World War he worked on propaganda for the BBC. It is already established, with the opening of the “diary,” that Winston is not like all the other people in Oceania, and that he is a sentient being. He can see through the regime enough to rebel against the Party, making him appear daring and heroic. However, Big Brother’s deployment of propaganda during the “Two Minute Hate” proves to ensnare everyone, even Winston, which makes him appear fickle, even though the audience knows that he is not. The fact that Winston finds it “impossible” not to get up in the hate demonstrates how effective this simple use of propaganda is, as it allows Big Brother to organise society by uniting it against a common enemy, “Emmanuel Goldstein.” The power of propaganda is demonstrated here, as everyone and anyone, even those like Winston who are sentient, are caught up in the surge of “hatred.” Like Offred in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’ in this instance Winston appears numbed by the common regime, and appears to be just another member of the mob. Big Brother effectively organises society by uniting the people of Oceania against one common enemy, which helps to bolster camaraderie, and a sense of general understanding among the people. While directing their hate at Goldstein, their “adoration” is absorbed by Big Brother, thus ensuring that the despotic figure on the posters is still regarded as the saviour of the nation.  The war with Eurasia is also the stimulus for much propaganda in Oceania, as demonstrated by Winston’s own job, and his creation of “Comrade Ogilvy.” Winston creates the perfect Party member, who served on the front line and has a “devotion to duty.” This is another effective use of propaganda, as Big Brother uses Winston to create the perfect Party member, and someone who all other people can aspire to, even though he had just been brought “into existence” by Winston. Given that the propaganda, the Hate and Ogilvy, aims to unite the people and provide them with figures to detest and aspire to, proves that the despotic Big Brother needs all people within the state to be subservient to him, leading one to believe that Oceania is governed in a totalitarian fashion, by which Big Brother maintains control. 

Big Brother also maintains control by creating and destroying different figures to affect the population. By controlling individual people, Big Brother can control the subsequent affects their actions will have on the rest of the state, and ensure that he benefits from it. O’Brien notes that who “controls the past controls the future,” and this can be seen in the example of “Aaronson, Rutherford and Jones.” Winston himself deduces that their “confessions were lies,” for the benefit of the Party. By making an example of these people, those within the state were clearly told that if they dared to rebel, they would be found out and tortured, then made an example of. By constantly making an example of others, the state ensures that this acts as a deterrent for others with “vague plotting’s against the Party,” such as Julia and Winston. To Big Brother, and the Party’s advantage, the past remains “alterable,” and by changing the past, the Party ensures that people know how to behave for the future, and can learn from the mistakes made by others, be them real or not. “The Chestnut Tree Café” also adds to this idea, as those who go there are labeled by other Party members as traitors. This places all traitors in one specific area, giving efficient Party members a place to avoid, and they understand why. By changing the past, and creating and destroying people, Big Brother ensures that people know how to behave, and also ensures that they understand the consequences if they defy “Party doctrine.”

O’Brien, along with the “Thoughtpolice” ensure that Oceania is well organised on behalf of Big Brother as they actively seek out those who intend to “rebel.” The group in the novel appear to allude to the Gestapo, the Nazi secret police, or Stalin’s’ NKVD, who arrested and tortured those who spoke out against the authority in secret. In the novel, O’Brien causes Winston to incriminate himself, by fooling him into believing that he is a fellow rebel. Winston was convinced that O’Brien always thought the “same thing as himself.” In his trusting nature, Winston fell for O’Brien’s tricks, which is ironic, as Winston seemed to forget his own firm belief that the Thought police will “always get you in the end.” By using a secret group to infiltrate those rebelling against the Party, Big Brother ensures that rebellion is not common knowledge, thus restricting it as well as mass panic. As the group is a “secret organisation,” Big Brother ensures that all those within the state are solely focused on the Party and himself, and are not distracted by rebellious action, which allows him to maintain order.

Party members within the state must be focused on the Party in all that they do. For example, the state sees that the only purpose of sex is to “beget” children. To ensure all thought is related to the state, the Party aim to eradicate emotions and feelings. In relation to sex, the Party means to remove the orgasm, to ensure that lust and desire do not cloud the judgement of Party members, and distract them from Big Brother. It is this action that Winston and Julia indulge in and use to satisfy their desire for love and “political” rebellion, which will inevitably lead to their downfall. Winston and Julia are both intelligent, and understand the Party enough to realise what the Party wish to deprive them of, making them a significant threat. They are able to think and to feel, and accept that they are “the dead” upon their promise that “only feelings matter.” They both realise that being caught is inevitable, but also appreciate that while they feel for each other and “love” each other, the Party has no control over them, and in this respect, they will always triumph over Big Brother. It is this attitude that worries the Party and O’Brien, leading them to try and “stamp” their emotion out. By ensuring that these feelings are eradicated, Big Brother ensures everyone’s focus remains on the Party, and nothing else. When torturing Winston with “rats” in “Room 101,” O’Brien has the soul objective of removing Winston’s love for Julia, and replacing it with love for Big Brother. O’Brien is successful, with Winston’s outcry of “Do It to Julia!” which is seen as the ultimate act of betrayal, by the reader and Winston and Julia themselves. In the play at the London Playhouse Theatre, excessive strobe lighting and loud noises, mark the moment in which Winston betrays Julia. It is perhaps the most distressing and disorientating moment of the play to emphasise the epic betrayal that has just occurred. It marks the end of Winston’s heroic arc, and leaves him with nothing by the end of the novel, and only the thought that he “loved Big Brother.” Winston has essentially been pacified, as his love for Julia, and therefore rebellious feelings, have been suppressed into nothing. This emphasises how threatening the idea of love and emotion is for the Party, as Winston and Julia are sentient beings, which do not think of the Party as the most important thing in their lives. 

Another focus for O’Brien, while torturing Winston is his memory, as he seeks to change it. Before Winston is tortured, he is seen in the novel, with O’Brien, to be drinking to “the past.” Winston was born in a time before the “revolution,” and can “remember” the past, much like Offred in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.’ It is this quality that makes the protagonists in each novel unique, as they have a cause to rebel against their respective regimes, as they wish to return to the days in which “they used to live,” as this time was associated with freedom. Winston becomes closer to gaining this freedom throughout the novel, as he actively rebels with Julia. O’Brien claims that, by manipulating the memory of Winston, he will become “perfect,” as he will cease to question Big Brother. By weakening his memory, O’Brien makes him pliable, and Winston becomes an empty Party member who will believe anything that he is told by the Party. If Winston is not sure of anything, he is unable to question the Party, as he will not know what truth truly is. This is clearly demonstrated in Winston’s turmoil over the answer of the simple mathematical sum, “2+2=4.” Mathematics is a fixed concept, and there is only one correct answer to the question. However, O’Brien tortures Winston so much that he becomes devoid of sense, and confesses that he doesn’t “know” the answer to this simple question. This proves to Winston that nothing is fixed, and that everything is “alterable,” as has been discovered throughout the novel. The destruction of Winston’s memory and emotions are described by O’Brien as the death of the “last man,” as no other Party member was like Winston. Winston and Julia appeared to be unique members of the state, as they understood the Party enough to rebel against them. In this respect, they can be seen as the last remnants of Human kind before the revolution, due to their sentient nature, but they too have been quashed by the Party and Big Brother. By altering people’s memory and making them pliable, Big Brother ensures that all those in Oceania will accept the facts of the Party and their doctrine, creating a totalitarian state in which the people are subservient to their dictatorial leader, Big Brother. 

The Party also uses a much simpler way to control people, by integrating “Newspeak” into society. Syme excitedly tells Winston that with the “destruction of words,” people won’t even be able to think about rebellion, as they will not have the vocabulary. Those in Oceania won’t notice this more passive form of control, as it is subtle. People such as Syme will be more excited about the new language and dictionary, but they will not notice that their freedom of speech is being taken away from them, for the benefit of Big Brother. By organising and creating the language in this way, Big Brother makes it difficult for those within the state to think about rebellion, and commit “Thoughtcrime,” thus maintaining peace within the state. Although Winston believes that “nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres inside your skull,” this is not true as, with the growing use of Newspeak, the Party alter peoples’ thoughts with the language that is available to them. Without the words to fully express themselves, Big Brother ensures that they also do not have the thoughts to do so. Big Brother organises the state in this way, and ensures that he stops the thought of rebellion, and by extension the action of rebellion.

By using Newspeak, propaganda, the past and many other tactics, Big Brother organises the state in such a way that benefits him. People are reduced to robotic figures, whose emotion and focus is entirely directed onto Big Brother. They do not even realise that their autonomy is being destroyed by the state, as they are brainwashed by the Party to ensure that no thoughts diverge from the savior that is Big Brother. As Big Brother requires all people to be subservient to him, the state of Oceania can be seen to be a totalitarian state, organised to ensure that nobody has the capacity to think anything that goes against “the principles of INGSOC” or Big Brother himself. 

Featured

Was the growth of towns the main cause of poverty in the Tudor period, 1558 – 1588?

Throughout the reign of Elizabeth I, the issue of poverty and vagrancy was a prescient one. The social situation of the country led to a great deal of government action and laws being implemented, in an attempt to reduce the number of vagrants within England. The growth of population within towns can be seen to be the most important cause of poverty in the Tudor period, as the growth of people within these towns led to a significant strain on local resources. Other important reasons for the growth of poverty could be enclosure, which forced people to move to towns, and growing urbanization.

The growth of towns can be seen to be the main cause of poverty within the Tudor period when looking at the issue of population growth. This dramatic population growth could not be sustained within the towns, especially after several decreases. The Black Death killed off a third of the population in the 14th century. There was only a steady increase in the population throughout the 15th century, due to the threat of disease, and due to a lack of money, people married when they were older, so less children were born. During Elizabeth’s reign, however, the marriage age began to fall again and people began to get married at a younger age, as they could afford to, so people began to have more children, which led to an increase in population within the towns. This caused a dramatic increase in population in towns and especially London, and eventually led to a food shortage, as more people were demanding food that was not available to them, as there was not enough of it. Supply and demand was not met within the towns, and the little food that remained was over priced due to its rarity. Whilst the prices of food began to rise dramatically, people’s wages began to decrease. Economically this led to inflation, and also led to more people going hungry. As less and less people were able to afford food, poverty began to increase, as people did not have the sufficient amount of money to live. Several acts were passed to deal with vagrancy, illustrating the seriousness of the dramatic population growth, which was the main reason for growth of poverty within towns. The 1563 Act of the Artificiers forced people to donate money to aid the poor, with the threat of imprisonment if they refused. This demonstrates how serious the problem of vagrancy was, due to overpopulation within the towns. The Poor Law Act of 1576 also stated that there should be one ‘house of correction’ per county, which were run on poor relief funds. These houses were set up to reduce the numbers of vagrants on the street, and also put them to work. The severe issue of over population within towns can be realised when examining these acts, making growth in population the main cause of poverty within Elizabeth’s reign. Depopulation was also a factor that contributed to the population growth within London, as people relocated from their towns to London, as it was a greater industrial area. This can also be seen before Elizabeth’s reign, in the early 1500s, in which the population of Coventry fell by 2000. At the time, 30 percent of the population couldn’t afford to pay their taxes, illustrating the dire circumstances caused by the population growth in towns. This supports the idea that the growth of towns was the main cause of poverty, as it presented a direct strain on resources. As more and more people could not afford to pay the high prices more people found themselves slipping into poverty. The growth in towns is the main reason for the increase in poverty during this period, as the growth in population within the towns led to a direct strain on resources, which then led to a financial and economic crisis in the form of inflation. Debasement of coinage also added to the issue of inflation, as more metal was melted to create coins, as a solution to overcome the economic crisis. However, as there was more money available, prices still increased, which did not help the already serious situation within towns. It is the original problems within the towns that can be seen as the main cause of poverty, as the resources that the towns provided could not support its growing population, which by the 1590s, had reached 3.89 million.

Another important cause for the growth of poverty within the towns during the reign of Elizabeth is enclosure. Before the implementation of enclosure by the local landlords, all those within the town had access to common land where their animals could graze. However, landlords forced people off their land, as they realised that sheep farming needed little manpower, and that enclosure allowed for greater profits as landlords saw the opportunities that rearing sheep brought in terms of the cloth trade. As those living in rural areas lost their land, and had nowhere to go, they began to wander into towns looking for work, which further increased the levels of poverty within the towns, as the towns could not sustain the influx of people from the countryside, who had left rural areas as they had lost their land. Enclosure also affected copyhold tenants, as their leases were open to challenge, meaning that their landlord could evict them at any time. This also led to many more people travelling to towns looking for work. Although enclosure is an important reason for the growth of poverty, as many people were displaced, it cannot be seen as the main reason for its development, as this was the population growth within the towns itself. If the population of the towns did not increase or develop so quickly, it is more likely that people coming into towns from rural areas could’ve been accommodated. The situation originally stemmed from the issue of population growth within towns, and enclosure merely contributed to that, further draining the resources and increasing levels of poverty, without being a direct cause of it. 

It could also be argued that the growing urbanization of England can be seen as a principal cause of the growth of poverty within towns during the reign of Elizabeth I. During the reign of Elizabeth, England had become further industrialised due to the developments in the cloth trade, and although this was seen to have a positive affect on the economy, it did contribute the levels of poverty within towns. Cloth makers began subcontracting work, and instead of having a group of people ‘putting out’ wool to make cloth, they decided to pay one person to complete the task. This led to a great deal of unemployment, and again, resulted in people moving to towns to look for work, as they had been displaced from their old jobs in the rural areas. Cloth makers realised, that by having one person working for them, they would save money, as they would not have to pay multiple workers. As a result of urban decline within towns such as Bristol and Coventry, the population increased in London as a result of depopulation within the towns. As London became an important point for trade during the period, due to the River Thames, peoples’ migration from smaller towns to London appears logical, as London was a highly industrialised area. This relocation, however, contributed to the growth of poverty within the towns, as the towns could not sustain the vast numbers of people. For example, the population of Coventry decreased by 2000 in the early 1500’s, due to depopulation. This can be seen to lead to the growth of poverty in the latter half of the Tudor period, as it caused people living in rural areas, to move to the towns looking for work. These towns were already overpopulated and couldn’t sustain the people already within them, making the issue of growing urbanization only a contributing factor to the issue, and not a main reason for it. Like those displaced by enclosure, those who lost their jobs in the cloth industry merely added to the already severe situation of poverty within the towns, and don’t act as a main reason for the poverty within them, unlike the population growth within the towns. 

Although the issue of enclosure and urbanization can be seen to be important reasons for the growth of poverty within the towns, the growth of population within the towns themselves is the most important one. It is this issue that originally caused increase in poverty within the towns, due to the dramatic increase of population within them, which led to a significant drain on resources, which then developed into an economic and financial crisis. If the population growth had remained steady, then the impact of those coming from rural areas to towns would’ve been more manageable. However, the additional rural population that migrated to the towns only added to a problem that was already fully developed, and had already increased the levels of poverty within the towns. 

Thanks for reading!

Featured

Is ‘Legally Blonde’ a Feminist Film?

‘Legally Blonde’ is one of the popular teen flicks, and tells the story of Elle Woods’ journey to Harvard and beyond. While many young women appreciate the feminist qualities of the film, does it stand up to scrutiny? When situating the film in a broader feminist context, the film seems to comment on first wave feminism. This hit in the 60s, and focused on women’s role in society, and their political power. For example first wave feminism, focused on what jobs women should be allowed to hold.

The reasons as to why and how Elle gets into Harvard are somewhat dubious. She decides that she want to go to Harvard to follow Warner, her boyfriend who has just dumped her. To look at this simply, which the film does, she goes to Harvard solely for this reason. This is where the films feminism falters slightly. Interestingly, it is Elle’s application video that slightly turns this around, as in any normal situation, her application would have been refused. The film notes that it is the lechery of the application panel that lets her in, as well as Elle’s intellectual capabilities. This particular scene comments on how men are failing women, and how they are underestimating Elle. This is a theme that originates with Warner, and continues throughout the film. 

One thing that the film succeeds in is the representation of Elle’s friends. They are nothing but supportive, and although they do not understand why Elle wants to go to Harvard, they still help her with the LSATs and her application. They also turn up at the end of the film to support her in her first case. Elle’s teacher is the same, and although she is somewhat perplexed at Elle’s decision to go to Harvard, she supports her.

When Elle first bumps into Warner, her epic putdown of ‘what like it’s hard?’ Encapsulates the idea that if one puts their mind to it, one can do anything. This is a testament to Elle’s character, and although still at this point, she is at Harvard for Warner, we do see glimpses of her strength and determination. 

Warner’s rejection of Elle at Harvard is a significant turning point for the better. It is at this point that Elle does not just stay at Harvard for a boy, but she stays at Harvard for herself. She wants to learn, and believes she is capable. Vivienne’s snappiness and Elle’s shambolic first class also do not stop her, and Elle again exhibits motivation and strength – both of which are positive qualities. 

Elle’s kindness is also showcased in her relationship with Paulette. Elle supports Paulette in her divorce, and specifically in her fight to get her dog back. Elle seems to cover all bases, she has brains, empathy and beauty. Elle takes another hit when Callahan acts inappropriately with her, but again, instead of letting a man stand in her way, she trusts in her abilities and convictions, and fights to win her case. But again, this moment shows Elle in a positive light, and shows that it is in fact men who are holding, and have been holding her back. This particular scene does not scream feminism at the audience, but instead screams that Elle has to constantly fight to be taken seriously and survive this male dominated profession. The scene highlights a social problem which is still prevalent today.

Elle also single handedly busts female stereotypes. Elle’s girlishness and entire look cold easily be associated with Regina George. Elle could have been portrayed as shallow and villainous, but she bucks that trend by having heart and depth. She beats down the dumb blonde stereotype, and proves that you do not need to change yourself to be successful. 

In the end, Elle wins the case because of all the qualities that Warner left her for. Her Cosmo girl knowledge, the very knowledge that makes her a stereotypical ‘bimbo’ is what saves her. What the film says is that it is ok to be feminine and strong and intelligent, and that more often than not, those who are feminine are not be overlooked. Like Elle should not be overlooked. This again reinforces the idea that girlishness and femininity are not negative traits, in certain situations, they are helpful and even powerful. Elle’s win, and criticism of Chutney’s perm proves that it is ok for Elle to be herself, and although she now loves the law, she did not need it to make her a ‘better’ person who should be taken seriously. 

This is what Elle says in her closing speech. She reaffirms that you should always have ‘faith in yourself.’ This is where the film succeeds in its feminist aims, but not by shoving feminism specifically down your throat. Here we have a woman, who was judged by all, assumed to be stupid, standing up and addressing the Harvard class of 2004. How did she succeed? By having faith in her own character, the character that basically got mocked throughout her first few weeks at law school, even though it was this character that actually won her her first case. Elle’s enduring message, really can be applied to man or woman, but it adds extra emotional weight that it comes from a woman, as it is a male dominated world that Elle has continuously been battling throughout the film, something that she did with strength and courage.

Thanks for reading!

Featured

The Pencil Case: A Brief History

One of my favourite parts of going back to school was buying some brand new stationary… I’m a humanities graduate, what can I say?

Pencils

Back in ancient Rome, the equivalent of a pencil was called a stylus, which was a thin metal rod. This was used to leave marks on papyrus, or wax tablets. Pieces of wood were also used. As early as the 8th century, lead was used to write and draw images. The monk who wrote the Lindisfarne Gospels, who is believed to be called Eadfrith, used lead paint to illustrate and create the work. This took approximately ten years. Although there is some debate about what ink was used, if it was lead based, then Eadfrith’s work would predate the modern pencil by several centuries. It was not until the mid 1500s that graphite was discovered, and due to the properties of the material, it was easily applicable to paper and left much darker marks. However, graphite is also delicate and brittle, so in order to fashion the pencil, it was encased in wood. Germany began mass producing pencils in the 17th century. In the 18th century, Nicolas-Jacques Conté began to blend graphite and clay into pencil lead, and with that the modern day pencil was born. The word ‘pencil’ itself comes from the Old French pincel, meaning little tail. This referred to camel hair, which artists originally used for their paint brushes. It should also be noted that, until the mid 20th century, paint used to cover the wood of the pencil contained a high amount of lead, which could have become dangerous when the pencil was chewed, as lead is poisonous. 

Pencil Sharpener

Of course, you could not have a pencil without a sharpener. Before these came about, pencils were sharpened by whittling with a knife. The development of pencil sharpeners began in France, when Mr C. A. Boucher reported in an 1822 book that he had created a device that sharpened pencils. Inventors in Germany also recognised his ideas. Boucher however did not patent his sharpener, perhaps explaining why many people have been linked to its invention. 

French mathematician Bernard Lassimonne patented the sharpener in 1828, and these sharpeners were sold at a shop in Paris. A version of the sharpener was patented by Cooper and Eckstein in 1833, and was called the Styloxynon. The device consisted of two blades set at right angles to each other, in a block of rosewood. Another person linked to the invention of the sharpener is African American inventor John Lee Love. He was a carpenter in Massachusetts where he developed a version of the pencil sharpener, which he operated with a hand crank. He gained a patent in 1897. Electric sharpeners came onto the scene in the 1900s, with the oldest recorded one being introduced in 1936.

Rubbers

Old school rubbers included wax, which was used to remove spelling errors. Pumice stones were used to make corrections on papyrus, and crustless bread was also used rub away pencil markings. It was not until Edward Nairne began experimenting with rubber in 1770 that the rubbers we have today began to come into fashion. Nairne accidentally picked up a piece of India gum, which was rubber but not called it at the time, and realised how effective it was by accident. He had intended to pick up some breadcrumbs. Raw rubber though, was perishable. Philosopher Joseph Priestly also knew that India gum was effective, and it was he that named the material as ‘rubber’ because of its skill at ‘rubbing out.’ We have Charles Goodyear to thank for the modern rubber, as he developed the process of vulcanisation in 1839. This made rubber harder and more durable. This process also aided the creation of rubber tubing. 

The Biro

Ideas about the biro began to surface in 1888, and came from American man John J Loud. Although his ball point design worked, his design was not compatible with paper. In the 1930s,  Hungarian journalist László Bíró and his brother György did further work on the idea, and developed a quick drying ink that could be used for it. Their plans for the pen were disrupted by World War Two, and after fleeing to Argentina from the Nazi threat, the brothers were Jewish, they released the ‘birome’ pen in 1943. The USA based company Reynolds International Pen Company released their own version of the pen, and tweaked it enough so that it would not integer with the Bíró’s biro. All of these versions required frequent refills however, and it was not until Marcel Bic from France began manufacturing Bic pens that cheap biros came onto the market.

Thanks for reading!

Featured

Religious Allegory in ‘Harry Potter’

The ‘Harry Potter’ series has been subjected to much critical analysis over the years, and many critics have noted the religious allusions present in the books.

Harry himself can be likened to Jesus, especially going off from his death in the seventh book. Critic Ernie Rea notes that Harry sacrifices himself for the sake of all those that are threatened by Voldermort. In a similar fashion, Jesus sacrifices himself for humanity. Both reject the help of others, and both feel betrayed by their superiors. Jesus tries to reason with God in the Garden of Gethsemane, Harry feels betrayed by the late Albus Dumbledore. In the last novel Harry realises that Snape had always been protecting him on Dumbledore’s orders, so that Voldermort himself could kill him. The idea of Harry being ‘The Chosen One’ also echoes the role of Christ, as the one saviour of humanity. 

If we rewind to the ‘Chamber of Secrets,’ the Basilisk itself as a snake has strong allusions to Satan, and the form He took in the Garden of Eden. Harry goes down to the Chamber of Secrets to rescue Ginny from Tom Riddle, an equally Satanic figure. Harry is aided by a Phoenix, who can be compared to Christ. The Phoenix is sent by Dumbledore, who takes the role of God, as it was God who sent Jesus amongst mankind to save them. This links to the general theme of good triumphing over evil, which really features in all of the series. 

Vanessa Zoltan even goes so far as comparing Hagrid to the Virgin Mary. Hagrid provides a maternal influence to Harry throughout the series, and literally carries him at the start of the series to Privet Drive, and out of the Forbidden Forest at the end. This image of unadulterated love and protection is similar to that of Michelangelo’s Pietà, which depicts the Virgin Mary carrying the dead Jesus Christ.

In an issue of the Vatican newspaper in 2008, the Harry Potter series was praised, as they taught the audience lessons about loving, and selflessness. The paper argued that the line between good and evil is clearly defined, and that this is communicated strongly to the audience. 

As well as this, the series has been met with strong opposition by religious scholars. Former official exorcist of Rome, Gabriele Amorth, declared that the novels were the work of the Devil… extreme I know. This probably stems from some peoples’ belief that the novel encourages people to believe in witchcraft and the supernatural, ideas which are generally condemned within scripture. Some critics, such as Professor Edoardo Rialti have gone so far as to say that the series itself praises witchcraft and the occult. He explained that, just because the protagonists have possession of these powers, and they use them for good, it does not actually make the characters good people. 

The series has also been publicly burned, as recently as 2019. In Poland, priests from the northern city of Koszalin set fire to the novel series, as well as the ‘Twilight’ series, in fear that the novels promoted magic and sorcery. The ‘Harry Potter’ books were also banned in a school in Tennessee, as Reverend Dan Reehil argued that the spells used in the series were real ones, that could be used to conjure up ‘evil spirits.’

Thanks for reading!

Featured

D. H. Lawrence: A Brief Biography

On D. H. Lawrence’s birthday week, I take a quick look at his eventful life. David Herbert Lawrence is most well known for his erotic novel, ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ but people often forget that he was also a poet and painter. ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ probably gets the most attention because of the 1960 obscenity trial that it precipitated. Penguin Books were taken to court over the publication of the novel and won the case. The novel then promptly sold three million copies. But what led Lawrence to write this novel, and how did his life and upbringing affect its subject matter?

Lawrence was born on September 11th 1885 into the mining community of Nottingham. He had three older siblings. He was deeply close to his mother, Lydia Beardsall, but had a tempestuous relationship with his father, Arthur John Lawrence. It is through his father however that Lawrence developed a deep love of nature. His mother hailed from a higher class than his father, who was known in the local area for his drinking.

Throughout his life Lawrence had poor health, and a bout of pneumonia aged nineteen plagued him for the rest of his life. Lawrence never properly settled in one place either, and for several years after school, he worked as a clerk, and then as a teacher. He developed a close bond with fellow bookworm Jessie Chambers, and their bond became so close that his family encouraged him to marry her, or break contact with her completely. He chose the latter in 1910. It was that year that his mother also died from abdominal cancer.

After his brief teaching career, Lawrence decided to become a lecturer in Germany. He enlisted the help of a former professor, Ernest Weekley to help him do this. When arriving to discuss the matter with Weekley at his home, Lawrence instead was welcome by his wife Frieda. Frieda had just engaged in a love affair with Otto Grosse, a Freudian analyst. It was here that Lawrence and Frieda discussed the love and sex, deciding that all desires should be freely expressed and enjoyed. Frieda was to have a profound impact on Lawrence, as he persuaded her to leave her husband and three children and elope with him.

Lawrence published ‘Sons and Lovers’ in 1913. The book is almost semi autobiographical, and chronicles the life and losses of Paul Morel. The novel focuses on his relationship with his mother, and his relationships with two women, Miriam Levers and Clara Dawes. The novel almost tries to analyse what went wrong with Jessie Chambers. In the novel, Paul has sex with Miriam, and then sex with Clara. He notes that sex with Clara is physical, not spiritual, whereas sex with Miriam is the reverse. Paul cannot integrate a sexual relationship with a spiritual one, and it would appear that this is what Lawrence was seeking in his life. Frieda helped him write the novel, and told him how it would be seen through Freudian eyes. Her notes are present in his manuscripts. It is conceivable to think that Freud would have picked up on Paul’s closeness with his mother, and would have made further comment on this. Her death in the novel marks a major turning point for Paul.

Lawrence’s next novel ‘The Rainbow’ was much broader than ‘Sons and Lovers,’ and covered several generations of the same family. The material again was controversial, and as was his reputation. Ezra Pound even described Lawrence as a ‘detestable person.’ Frieda and Lawrence married in 1914, and their neighbours noted that, although they would literally tear each other’s hair out in rage, they were deeply attached to each other. Lawrence once recounted to a friend that he wanted a woman who challenged him. During this time, as Lawrence struggled to get his work published, Frieda and Lawrence were so poor that they relied on charity to live.

Lawrence finally decided to leave England after the war. Although not a pacifist, he detested the war so much that he became alienated from his own homeland. For the rest of his life, he would continue to travel.

Lawrence began his ‘savage pilgrimage’ in 1919, and his travels took him to Sri Lanka and America. He eventually settled in New Mexico. It was in 1925 that Lawrence received his tuberculosis diagnosis. His rapidly declining health affected his ability to work, and wit much effort, ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ was published privately in 1928. While Frieda had several affairs during their marriage, Lawrence only had one with Rosalyn Banes. Scholars think that this one night of passion in 1920 partly inspired the novel, as did Frieda’s liberal feelings about sexuality. Rosalyn herself may have been a model for Constance, as both had similar upbringings. The novel may have also been inspired by Frieda’s affair with Angelo Ravagli, the couple’s landlord. ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ might have been Lawrence’s way of telling Frieda that she needed to explore her sexuality.

In 1929, an exhibition of Lawrence’s paintings ended in a police raid, and thirteen of his paintings were confiscated for obscenity. Lawrence succumbed to his tuberculosis on 2nd March 1930, and he died in France in the presence of Frieda and novelist Aldous Huxley. Frieda would go on to marry Angelo in 1950. Angelo was tasked with bringing Lawrence’s ashes to be interred at Lawrence’s former ranch in New Mexico, at a shrine Frieda had built for him. However, on discovering that Angelo had to pay a tax to take Lawrence’s ashes on the boat, he decided that the Mediterranean sea would be a better resting place for him. The urn was then filled with dust and dirt, and interred in a concrete block in the chapel in New Mexico that Frieda had erected.

Thanks for reading!

Featured

‘Bates Motel’ TV Series: An Analysis

‘Bates Motel’ ran for five seasons from 2013 to 2017, and centred around the trials and tribulations of Norma and Norman Bates. Both characters appear in Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel ‘Psycho,’ and Hitchock’s acclaimed horror film of the same name the following year. The series starts with Norma and Norman moving to White Pine Bay, and buying their infamous hotel. Throughout the fifty episodes the two become embroiled in the politics of the Bay, and leave a string of corpses behind them.

It is clear from the beginning of the show that Norma (Vera Farmiga) and Norman (Freddie Highmore) are very close. His name is literally an extension of hers, as he is a physical extension of her, as her son. She does not act like a mature woman in the opening scenes, as she runs around the new motel, and jumps on the bed. She wears pretty clothes, mainly dresses with floral prints. The flowers emphasise her femininity, as does her girlish behaviour. Her blonde bob and pretty face, which is usually done up, make her appear more like a pretty dolly than a human woman. This of course foreshadows Norman’s cross dressing as his mother, and his digging up of her corpse in the fourth season. His preservation of her body is also flagged by his unnerving interest in taxidermy.

In the first episode, he witnesses her being raped by an intruder. After breaking free, Norma straddles him and repeatedly stabs him. This scenario already creates an unhealthy relationship between sex, violence and death, a trio that Norman carries with him. Bodies with multiple stab wounds are usually suggestive of a ‘crime of passion,’ and it is this passion that is simulated when Norma kills her assailant. Her repeated stabbing, and the spurting of blood, acts as some kind of release and carries sexual undertones. Although Norman is not physically involved in this act, seeing his mother kill somebody, and witnessing the act of sex for the first time in this way effectively ends his innocent childhood, and forces him into the reality of adulthood… suffice to say, this is no normal adulthood. It is here where he enters Norma’s world – she had to cover up Norman’s father’s death, and also suffered abuse at his hand. This is Norman’s first glimpse into his mother’s world and it is this world, specifically his mother’s persona, that he will totally adopt.

Throughout the series, the lines between sex and authority are regularly blurred. Although Norma tries to stop Norman having sex with other girls, and describes other women as whores, she has several sexual relationships throughout the series. One of these is with Sheriff Romero, which blurs the lines between sex and authority. Blaire Watson only complicates Norma and Norman’s relationship. She acts as a pseudo-mother to him, but also tries to seduce him. This blurs the relationship between sex and authority, and only intensifies Norman’s attraction to his mother. Norman adopts the mother personality and kills the women that Norman is sexually attracted to. Because of this, Norman is continually abandoned by women who he likes and who he thinks care for him, like teacher Blaire Watson and schoolmates Bradley Martin and Emma Decody. Norma is the only woman that does not reject Norman, which only intensifies their bond.

Norma and Norman also act like a couple. They share intimate moments, he zips up her dress, they sleep in the same bed. They have numerous shared experiences. In the fourth season, Norman remembers Norma being raped as a child. Norman hides under the bed, and takes Norma’s hand. He jolts as she does, making her rape by her husband an almost shared experience. This idea of shared experience goes further, as Norman later becomes Norma and dresses up in her clothes.

On the night of Norma’s death, weirdly their roles switch. Norman sings Norma a lullaby as she drifts to sleep, which ultimately infantilises her. She is infantilised just like she has infantilised Norman, and it is this that kills her. Norma’s death has a tragic element, as Norman is now alone in the world. His plan has massively backfired. Norma had to die in season four, to ensure that season five could sufficiently delve deep into Norman’s downward spiral.

The following events have a ‘Wuthering Heights’ vibe, as he begs his mother not to stay in ‘the abyss where I cannot find you.’ Heathcliff says a similar thing when Cathy dies, and at one point digs up her corpse just to feel close to her. Norman does this same, meaning that the writers are intentionally, or unintentionally, comparing the mother and son to Heathcliff and Catherine. Both couples have a doomed, destructive love, and both couples never enter into a sexual relationship. It is more a relationship of the mind. Heathcliff and Catherine speak as if they are two halves of the same soul, and Norman and Norma are the same. Like Norman, Heathcliff dreams that Catherine is still alive.

When Norman dreams about Norma, he dreams that she stays at home and does the housework, while he goes out as the breadwinner. The two sound like a traditional 50s couple. Norman seeks to recreate his mother by dressing up as her, and then by having Madeleine Loomis dress up on her. It saddens him that her dresses will go ‘unanimated.’ The use of the term is strange. He does not say that he does not want the dresses to be wasted, he is saying that he does not want them to be stationary. He wants to see them inhabited and moving, and wants the dresses to be inhabited in front of him – by Madeleine. He wants the dresses to come alive again, because he wants his mother to be alive again.

One of the bigger shocks of the series is seeing Rihanna rock up to the motel as Marion Crane. Her characterization, and survival, allows the show to remake Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ with a feminist lens. Marion is trying to survive in a male dominated world, and finds herself belittled by her male peers at work and manipulated by Sam Loomis, who has not told her that he is married. Norma manipulates Norman into killing Sam Loomis in the shower, instead of Marion. Norma tells Norman that Sam was like his father, blaming him for their misfortune.

Norman and Marion’s story converges at this point, as in killing Sam, Norman is killing someone who is representative of his own father, who was abusive to his mother, Norma. It is from his father that Norma and Norman’s problems both started, as he was abusive towards Norma. Norman was subjected to the effects of this trauma. Sam dies for the sins of man, and effectively, Norman is taking a stab at the corrupt patriarchy that abused his mother and abused Marion. Sam’s death is Norman’s attempt to retcon his previous trauma, and undo his and Norma’s crimes. Unfortunately, it is too late for that.

It is here that Norman finally realises what HE has done. The killing of Sam Loomis is the first killing committed by Norman, not Norma. While Norman is questioned about the death of Sam, in place of Norman we see Norma. Several shots show Norman staring at his reflection, that reflection being his mother. Norman has now stopped dressing up as his mother, or in other words, stopped pretending to be her. He now IS her. By having them both in shot as the same person, the idea is reinforced that they are two halves of the same person, like Heathcliff and Cathy. They both are fully amalgamated, and therefore cannot escape each other. It is here that the five year story arc reaches its completion. Norman and Norma cannot be separated. If you put their two names together it is ‘Norman’ they both converge inside Norman’s physical body, where Norman and Norma both reside. This is why Norman has to die, as he cannot survive any longer without Norma. Norman’s death affords him some sort of redemption, as he realises that what he has done is wrong.

Thanks for reading!

Featured

Raksha Bandhan: A Brief History

Raksha Bandhan is a Hindu festival that takes place every year. Although the date changes each year, traditionally the festival falls in August. This is because the festival occurs on the last day of the Hindu lunar calendar month of Shraavana. Although traditionally Hindu, the festival has been absorbed in the culture of India and is celebrated by many different faiths of the country, including Sikhism. On this day, sisters tie a decorative thread around their brother’s wrist, which is supposed to protect them. These threads are called ‘rakhis.’ The thread itself literally represents ‘the bond of protection, obligation, or care’ which actually is the meaning of the Sanksrit phrase ‘Raksha Bandhan.’ In return, brothers would give a gift to their sisters, sometimes in the form of money. The ceremony does not take place only for direct brothers and sisters, but cousin-brothers and cousin-sisters also. Some people take this one step further, and form voluntary kin relations by partaking in the festival along with those who are not blood relatives.

The relationship between brother and sister is at the heart of the festival. This is integral to the culture of India, as, for example, when young women get married and move out of the family home, the brother is supposed to act as the intermediary between their family and the in laws.

The festival itself is inspired by many different stories in Hindu scripture, but a popular one revolves around the god Vishnu. Vishnu had left his wife Lakshmi to live with King Bali. She travelled to King Bali to tie a rakhi on him, and when asked what she wanted in return, she asked for her husband to come home. This is meant to communicate the generosity of Hindus.

Another potential source for the festival is the Mahabharata. In the ancient Hindu epic, heroine Draupadi tears her sari and ties it around Krishna’s wrists to stop them bleeding. Krishna was so touched by this that in return, he vowed to protect her. Although this story is an example, there are many other religious myths that surround the festival, which causes debate amongst historians.

Another important moment in the history of Raksha Bandhan happened in the 1500s. Widowed queen Rani Karnavati sent a rakhi to the Mughal emperor asking for help defending her city. Although not explicitly brother and sister, the idea of asking for protection is still an important part of the festival.

In 1905, Rabindranath Tagore started a mass Raksha Bandhan festival to combat the Partition of Bengal. He encouraged Hindu and Muslim women to tie rakhis on Hindu and Muslim men, and take them as brothers. This was supposed to heal the divide between Hindus and Muslims that the British were encouraging. Different regions in India celebrate Raksha Bandhan in different ways. In North India, kites are often flown. Some puja and prayers are also performed. While rituals vary, the core focus of the festival remains the same: the bond between brother and sister.

Happy Raksha Bandhan!

Thanks for reading!

Featured

‘Ophelia’ 2018: An Analysis

The 2018 film ‘Ophelia’ is based on the original ‘Hamlet’ character who was the protagonist of Lisa Klein’s novel. The film tells the story of ‘Hamlet’ but from Ophelia’s perspective. The film follows Ophelia’s life from when she was a child, who first entered court, to her whereabouts at the end of the play. While remaining faithful to the source material, the film deviates from it significantly. Ophelia is generally considered to be a side character in the original play, one that exudes excessive femininity. Being a woman of the Elizabethan age the plot lines and themes that surround her focus on her sexuality, honour and madness.

The film opens with Ophelia floating in a lake. This is probably Ophelia’s most iconic scene in the play, even though it is only referenced by Gertrude and not actually seen. Gertrude’s speech, recounting Ophelia’s death, has been the subject of many paintings, by the likes of John Everett Millais and John William Waterhouse. Much like these paintings, Daisy Ridley dons red hair throughout the film. This immediately makes her standout at court, and as a child, she is forced to be washed and wear fine clothes. The court domesticates her, implying that, before entering court, Ophelia was not the feminine beauty that is depicted in the play. Her dancing is also likened to a ‘goat’… which does not paint the most feminine picture.

Ophelia is regularly seen with her hair open, perhaps a reference to her infamous mad scene in Act 4 scene 5. In Elizabethan theatre, open, messy hair was associated with madness and acted as a sign of sexual discordancy.

From the get go, Ophelia’s affiliations with nature are made explicit. She is frequently seen swimming in a lake, and runs to nature for solace. This is where she meets Hamlet as an adult, when he returns from his studies at the University of Wittenberg. She is mocked for wearing flowers in her hair. Ophelia’s later use of flowers in her mad scene are referenced here. Ophelia’s identification with nature emphasise her untameable and free spirit, as well as her child-like innocence. This innocence is further emphasised by her reading of romantic texts. It appears that she dreams about romance and love, and its only upon Hamlet’s return that these wishes are fulfilled.

In the play, Ophelia is more of a pawn used by men for their own gain. For example, Claudius uses her to assess Hamlet’s feigned madness. However in the film, she has more agency and witnesses key plot developments. She witnesses an adulterous kiss between Gertrude and is sent by Gertrude to collect tonic from a local witch named Mechtild. It is Ophelia that also sees the Ghost first – even though it is just Claudius in disguise. She becomes embroiled within the politics of Denmark from the beginning of the film, and is probably more aware of this than her original counterpart.

Ophelia also has a subtle feminist edge. While rejecting Hamlet’s advances, as she recognises that he is a Prince, Hamlet references her frailty. In response she notes that it is more likely that the trait of frailty runs within families, not exclusively womankind. Hamlet’s winning over of Ophelia in the film proves that he genuinely cares for her, something that is questioned in the original play.

The film diverts from the play with Hamlet and Ophelia’s marriage. They marry outside in a field, again referencing how comfortable Ophelia is within nature. The film also tackles the infamous ‘get thee to a nunnery’ scene, 3.1. Ophelia is aware that she is being used by Claudius to assess Hamlet’s sanity, and she is aware that Hamlet is playing up to it. He is concerned for her welfare, and advises her to flee Denmark. In the play he is unsympathetic towards her, and even though Hamlet might be faking his assault of Ophelia, there is no apology or repentance afterwards.

Hamlet puts his plan in motion when he engineers the Dumb Show, a play that re-enacts the murder of his father by Claudius. It is here that he catches ‘the conscience of the King,’ meaning that effectively, he confirms Claudius’ guilt. Hamlet lunges to kill Claudius, but it is Ophelia that stops him – again, she is central to the action. In the play, Hamlet stops himself from killing Claudius when he hears Claudius praying for forgiveness, and absolving his sins.

The next chain of events occurs quickly. Hamlet is carted off to England, and is thought to be killed by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Ophelia is forced to wed another, and when she refuses she is thrown in jail. Ophelia here pretends to be mad, to elicit sympathy from Gertrude, which proves effective. This again emphasises Ophelia’s agency and ingenuity. When she hands out her flowers, she dishes out rue, which is for remembrance. Whereas in the play her choice of flowers are thought to be the results of madness, the film makes it clear that Ophelia is being strategic, as she subtly insults the King and Queen through her use of foliage.

Ophelia then fakes her death, by taking a strong sleeping draught. There is no mention of the ‘willow’ and Ophelia’s fall from it, but like in the original play, it is through Gertrude that we discover that Ophelia has died in a lake. Horatio then digs up Ophelia’s grave, finding her alive. After learning the truth from Mechtild, she returns to Hamlet to tell him that Claudius is indeed guilty of killing King Hamlet. Ophelia resolves this instrumental plot thread, which heightens her importance in the film.

The portrayal of Gertrude also impacts Ophelia. Naomi Watts plays Gertrude and Mechtild, and the two characters are sisters. Mechtild was considered a witch because she had a miscarriage. The death of her baby was thought to be the work of the devil, and so she was to be burned at the stake. Interestingly, the child was Claudius’. However, she faked her death and escaped. What does this mean, that both characters are played by Watts? Perhaps it is two different extremes of womanhood, the outcast and the queen. Ophelia inhabits some sort of space between the two, as the future king of Denmark’s wife, and the fleeing outcast. Unlike in the play, where Gertrude accidentally drinks the poisoned wine, she kills Claudius. She stabs him with a sword which pushes through the back of his throne. The white throne and spurt of blood may be a reference to penetration. This reverse act of penetration, as female penetrates the male, is dangerous and deadly to Claudius. Gertrude reclaims her narrative, in an act that appears to reclaim her sexuality. It is only after this that Gertrude poisons herself. She dies in control of her story, as does Ophelia. The difference is, Ophelia lives.

Ophelia notes that she ‘did not lose my way to vengeance.’ By the end of the film, and play, someone is baying for the blood of someone else. Throughout the play, Ophelia was never vengeful, and the film retains this key character trait. It is her inherent goodness that saves her. Ophelia gives birth to a daughter, and lives with her in a convent. Ophelia is safe in a female-dominated environment, and it is here that she is able to flourish. Gertrude is starved of this. The film is suggesting that it is men who use and corrupt women, it is their fault that women fall.

Thanks for reading!

Featured

Christian Allegory in ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’

C. S. Lewis’ 1950 children’s classic has been adapted multiple times for stage and screen. While the novel is consistently cited as a fan favourite, what is less obviously cited is the Christian allusions within it. Some adaptations play this up more than others, and after re-reading the book, I would say that they do have an ambiguous quality. Such allusions would probably only be recognised by those who understand and have knowledge of Christianity. Lewis himself stated that such allusions were not intentional, but modern critics have nonetheless identified that they are there.

An obvious reference to Genesis is the Pevensie children’s statuses as Daughters of Eve, and Sons of Adam. I was never entirely sure what this meant, but perhaps the use of Adam and Eve was meant to emphasise the humanity, and therefore purity, of the four children when in comparison to figures such as the White Witch. The children’s status as descendants of the first men and women seem fitting, as it is they who take seat at Cair Paravel and restore harmony to the kingdom of Narnia.

However, it is also Adam and Eve that bring sin into the world. Perhaps Lucy brings sin to Mr Tumnus, by placing herself in his way and tempting him to betray her to the White Witch. Susan and Lucy fit the image of the subservient Eve, as majority of the arduous physical activities are left to the men. What they lack in physical action they do make up for in kindness and compassion and serve as council to their brothers.

When looking at Milton’s depiction of Eve in ‘Paradise Lost,’ one may draw some similarities between her and Susan. Jumping forward to ‘The Last Battle,’ the last book in the series, Susan comes under fire for her growing obsession with ‘nylons and lipstick and invitations.’[1] She is no longer deemed a friend of Narnia. It appears that Susan has grown up, and has essentially become a stereotypical, teenage girl. It is implied that she is particularly materialistic and selfish. Perhaps her obsession with looking pretty and attracting invitations, maybe a reference to the attention of boys, might imply her growing promiscuity? This may be a bit of a jump, but in the way that Milton sees Eve as a sinner, Lewis appears to imply that Susan has become a sinner. She has fallen from grace much like Eve. It is unclear whether she makes it to Aslan’s country in the end, and her barring from heaven may be a result of a combination of materialism, hedonism, immaturity, and promiscuity.

Both Susan and Lucy are side-lined slightly by Peter and Edmund. Peter fills the role of the apostle, much like his biblical namesake. St. Peter is given his name by Christ, as Peter is given the name Sir Peter Wolfsbane by Aslan.

When talking about sinners, Edmund is the obvious contender. While he does not commit any form of fratricide, his feud with brother Peter, and betrayal of all the Pevensies can be likened to the conflict between Cain and Abel. A more obvious allusion is to that of Judas, who betrays Christ with a kiss. Edmund’s betrayal is more unceremonious, as he just sneaks out of the Beavers dam. Allusions between Edmund and Eve can also be drawn, as he is tempted by a food product, Turkish Delight. It is his indulgence in this food that acts as a metaphor for the betrayal of his siblings.

Speaking of Judas, the main contender for the role of Christ is Aslan. This allusion is brought to the fore when he sacrifices himself for the sins of mankind, as represented by Edmund, and is promptly resurrected. It is he who is supposed to save Narnia, and does so by guiding the children in the right direction to do so. It also makes sense for Aslan’s country to be heaven, the children’s final destination. Lucy and Susan’s witnessing of Aslan’s death places them in the role of the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalen, who watched Jesus die on the Cross.

It also Aslan who also defeats the Witch, who is evil personified. While the novel notes that the two of them ‘rolled around’ on the battlefield, it does not explicitly say how the Witch dies.[2] In the 2005 film adaptation, Aslan explicitly bites her head off. While not very Christ-like, it is finite and it does hammer the point home that good has triumphed over evil. The Witch’s status as ice, and Aslan’s orange mane as fire also adds to the image of evil being extinguished.

The White Witch’s origins are touched on briefly in the text, and she is described to be a daughter of Lillith, Adam’s first wife, and descended from giants. Lilith is traditionally portrayed as some sort of she-demon, so it is obvious that Lewis is trying to explain where the Witch gets her nefariousness from. The Beavers recount that there is no ‘Human blood in the Witch.’[3] This again asserts the superiority and purity of the Pevensie children.

Her backstory of further elaborated upon in ‘The Magicians Nephew.’ While her family ruled as the kings and queens of Charn, the Witch’s uttering of the ‘Deplorable World’ wiped out all life in Charn except her own. After being resurrected by Polly and Digory, she attempt to conquer the human world, and then is transported to Narnia at the moment of its creation by Aslan. Here she tries to battle Aslan with a fragment of a London lamp post… yes this is true. After the lam post is fairly ineffective, no surprises there, she flees to a garden on a mountain west of Narnia and eats an apple that she believes will grant her immortality. It does, but as a result, her skin is bleached white and the evil in her heart causes her eternal misery. One thousand Narnian years later, Lucy stumbles upon the same fragment of the lamppost, which has grown into a fully working one. The garden conjures up thoughts about the Garden of Eden, and Adam and Eve’s fall from grace. It could also allude to the Jesus’ time in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus suffered emotional turmoil before his arrest. I could not tell you if the Witch goes through some existential crisis in the garden, as I have not read ‘The Magicians Nephew’ in a while, but surely some thought must have led to her decision to eat the fruit?

Thanks for reading!


[1] C. S. Lewis The Last Battle (London: HarperCollins, 2009).

[2] C. S. Lewis The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (London: HarperCollins, 1998) p. 185.

[3] Ibid., p. 88.

Featured

Colonialism and the Crusades: Evaluating Joshua Prawer’s and Lucy Anne Hunt’s interpretations

This essay will critically evaluate two historiographical approaches to the nature of the crusades. An examination of these approaches will focus particularly on the concept of colonialism. Prawer’s 1973 work on the subject identified the Crusades as the ‘first European colonial society,’ due to the crusaders policy of non-integration with the natives.[1] Hans Mayer’s ‘Latins, Muslims and Greeks in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem,’ published six years after Prawer’s work, largely agrees with Prawer’s views, that the Kingdom of Jerusalem was a colonial state, as proved through the examination of social and legal divides.[2] However Lucy Anne Hunts 1991 work on ‘the Problem of ‘Crusader’ art’ argues that artistic development during the Crusades demonstrates a degree of cultural hybridity which would negate the idea of colonialist separatism. This essay will examine the respective arguments, methodologies and limitations of Mayer and Hunt with respect to their contribution to the existing arguments concerning the nature of colonialism at the time of the Crusades.

Mayer and Hunt have distinctly different arguments concerning the nature of the crusader states. Mayer asserts that the crusader states were colonialist states, like Prawer. Although the word ‘colonialist’ is not used, Mayer paints a picture of a world in which the native Muslims were ‘devoid of political rights,’ and that there were many divisions within the crusader societies.[3] His assertion that Muslims were perceived to be simply ‘objects of taxation’ by the crusaders reinforces the perception of native inferiority, and does not illustrate a harmonious picture between conqueror and conquered.[4] Mayer explores the exploitation of the natives by looking at the law. When assessing property, throughout the crusader states, if a family had ten gold pieces worth of property, they were forced to pay one percent of this money as tax. However, the rich manipulated this rule, and by declaring that they had been overcharged, and swearing the value of their property under oath, their property could not be extorted. The rich would therefore swear that their property was worth less than what was originally judged, allowing them to keep their money. The native Muslims were not afforded this loophole and were therefore exploited by the crusaders.[5] Mayer appears to select appropriate evidence when making his argument, as it is clear that the rich were willing to manipulate and exploit the poor native Muslims for their own financial gain. This would naturally create an imbalance of social and legal equality, as the Muslims were treated as inferiors by the colonisers.

Hunt’s article concerning artistic developments in contrast argues that cultural mixing occurred within the crusader states. She argues that art can tell us about local traditions and change in taste, proposing that religion is the cause for cultural change.[6] Hunt uses the Church of the nativity to epitomize this, which was completed in 1169.[7] The Church demonstrates the collaboration between the king of Jerusalem and the Byzantine emperor, and from this Hunt argues that crusader art can be termed neither exclusively western or Byzantine.[8] She uses S. Bochner to support her view, who argued that different cultures ‘mutually exert influence on each other’s ethnicity.’[9] Hunt and Bochner both agree that the colonialists and Byzantinists were influenced by each other, and therefore adopted each other’s artistic styles. The arguments of both historians concerning the crusades are radically different, as Mayer asserts the view that the crusader states maintained legal and social divides, much like the colonial states, whereas Hunt argues that through art, the crusader states were places of cultural mixing and hybridity.

The methodologies and evidence of both interpreters also differ. Mayer primarily uses written and eyewitness accounts to support his view. Mayer cites the account of Fulcher of Chartres, who notes that the Saracens mourned the death of King Baldwin I in 1118, along with the Franks and Syrians.[10] Chartres was a chronicler of Baldwin I, and by citing this account Mayer affirms his belief that there were social divides within the crusader states, as he notes that Muslims could only participate in public life upon the death of a king.[11] Another written source comes from William of Tyre, who reported that Muslims also attended the funeral of King Baldwin III.[12] Prawer too had mentioned this six years previously in his work, arguing that the only function of the indigenous Muslim population was to mourn the deaths of Frankish kings.[13] Mayer’s methodology, and information about the social and legal standing of the natives, comes purely from first-hand accounts and written texts, which differs greatly from Hunt’s evidence, who prioritises that of physical buildings.

Hunt uses the inscriptions in the Church of the Nativity in Jerusalem to further her argument. Inscribed in the nave is the name Basil, and Ephraim in the south side of the apse.[14] Ephraim was a monk and artist, who completed his work in the Church in 1169.[15] Cutler describes Ephraim as a byzantine mosaicist who was called from Constantinople by the Byzantine Emperor Manuel.[16] This western influence can be seen in the Church. Western saints, such as the Virgin, are heavily featured and represented, as is St John the Baptist, whose Jordan monastery was also restored by Manuel.[17] The abundance of Christian iconography, Hunt believes, demonstrates that there was not one distinct culture in the crusader states that influenced the building of the Church of the Nativity.[18] Basil’s own inscription appeared twenty years after Ephraim’s, in Syriac, an unspoken language affiliated with the orthodox church.[19] Hunt asserts that Basil was a Syrian Melkite, who could have been a deacon controlled by the Latin clergy, as Orthodox Syrians were favoured by the Latins over the Greeks.[20] The differing heritage of the artists demonstrates, in Hunt’s eyes, that the crusaders adopted different cultural and artistic techniques in the crusader states, proving them to be areas of cultural mixing and hybridity. She described the Church of the Nativity to be the epitome of such ideas, as both native and western artists worked on the Church, as inferred from the artists’ inscriptions and the western art itself. This appears logical, as one can visually understand and see the artists’ difference in heritage and design, which clearly demonstrates the amalgamation of western and Byzantine ideas within the crusader states.

However, when critically assessing the articles, both present limitations. Mayer focuses on an account from a Spanish traveller, Ibn Jubayr, who travelled to Acre, in 1184.[21] The account reinforces the idea that there was separation between different groups of people in the Kingdom of Jerusalem at the time of the crusades, but paints an idyllic view of their life, particularly in the coastal regions.[22] One can criticise Mayer’s selection of evidence here, as there is conflict between maximalist and minimalist interpretations. When taking the maximalist approach, one could argue that the source has worth as there are accurate descriptions of the ruling class within it, and it supports the colonialist argument, much like Prawer. However, one could downplay the value of the source as Jubayr takes a minimalist view, as he makes generic assumptions about the entire kingdom based on one village that he very briefly visited. He was an elite Muslim himself, and it is unlikely that he was shown areas of squalor and suffering on his tour, proving that Jubayr only provides a snapshot of life within Jerusalem. Written accounts are also open to interpretation, as proved by Jubayr’s mentioning of a functioning Mosque in Acre.[23] From this one can ascertain that Mosques were allowed by the Latin settlers in major urban settlements such as Acre, but this begs the question as to whether they were permitted in other places. Jubayr’s account does not provide an explicit answer, as he did not travel enough of the kingdom to ascertain this knowledge. The source therefore is open to interpretation and cannot reliably be used to learn about the crusader states as a whole.

Hunts use of physical evidence too presents problems, as well as her own background. Dumbarton Oaks is an American research institute, focussing on Byzantine studies. Hunt herself is a Byzantinist, and therefore may be biased and willing to over highlight the importance of the Byzantine images within the Church of the Nativity. Her main problem is that art is subjective, and that Hunt cannot categorically confirm how the art was received at the time. Like some of Mayer’s chosen texts, she provides a snapshot of the conditions and excludes other communities in the process, such as religious ones. Her article would be further improved if she looked at artistic developments over an extended period of time, and widened her sources. The Church of the Nativity is a special case, as it is an important site, its presence does not mean that all artwork in the Kingdom of Jerusalem displayed such cultural integration. It is also worth noting that such huge artistic works would have been designed by the elite, and perhaps used for political gain, as it was the elite groups in society that decided how cultural integration was perceived and represented.[24] Response art and graffiti would have also been helpful to Hunt. The presence of such in art in churches, like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, could demonstrate the presence of other cultures and strengthen her argument.

Despite these limitations, there is a brief crossover between the two sources, as Mayer notes the different figures that contributed to the repairing of the Church of the Nativity. Emperor Manuel I was the protector of the Greek church by office and extended this protection to the crusader states.[25] The merging of the kingdom of Jerusalem with the Byzantine was influenced by the marriage of King Amaury of Jerusalem to Byzantine princess Maria Komnene, sparking an alliance with Emperor Manuel.[26] Following the couples’ state visit to Constantinople, Emperor Manuel repaired parts of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and in 1169, ordered the building of new mosaics in the Church of the Nativity. The Latin inscriptions mention the ‘payments of the Emperor,’ and the Greek inscriptions mention the ‘overlordship of the Emperor.’[27] This demonstrates that there was collaboration between the Latins and the Byzantinists in repairing the Church, advocating the presence of hybridity in the crusader states. Manuel himself too was painted in various places around the church as a reward from the Bishop of Bethlehem for his work.[28] Although the arguments of Hunt and Mayer differ, the evidence cited by Mayer can be used to support the idea of cultural hybridity within the crusader states.

Both articles appear to contribute to the already existing arguments about the crusader states. As noted previously, although Mayer’s article does not include the word ‘colonial’ it appears to be heavily influenced by the work of Prawer. Speaking in 1984 at a symposium, Prawer maintained that the crusader states were forged with a ‘colonial attitude,’ and that invaders did not accept local cultures and would not integrate with the Muslims, resulting in an ‘apartheid.’[29] Mayer’s findings about the legal and social divides within the crusader states harks back to Prawer’s idea, and contributes to it. Art was not explicitly mentioned at the symposium, but Hunt’s advocation of cultural hybridity within the crusader states, was reflected in the words of Professor Moses Finley, who criticised Prawer and noted that the rulers of the Kingdom of Jerusalem asked the west for help, and maintained many links with Europe which could have led to cultural mixing between the two.[30] Finley rejects the idea that the aim of the crusader states was independence, and although he does not discuss art as explicitly as Hunt does, her idea that the crusader states were not devoid of Byzantine influence can be linked back to Finley’s ideas.

The work of both Mayer and Hunt are indirectly cited in a 2017 book by Andrew Jotischky, demonstrating their continued relevance. Again, Mayer’s ideas are explored through the work of Prawer, as Jotischky discusses the legal and social institutions in place in crusader states. His assertion, based on Prawer’s, that the indigenous population were marginalised by the crusaders, too echoes back to the work and argument of Mayer, even though Mayer is not explicitly mentioned.[31] Jotischky also mentions the artistic culture within the crusader states, implying that the work of Hunt may have been present in his mind. Jotischky uses the example of the Church of the Nativity like Hunt, and notes that, due to the amalgamation of eastern and western artistry, the Church displays ‘cultural synthesis.’[32] The presence of western artistry is confirmed by the presence of western saints, perhaps showing Hunt’s influence on Jotischky’s work. Jotischky also cites the background of the artists Ephraim and Basil as Hunt does, to illustrate the hybridity of culture within the church. The similarities in the works of Hunt and Jotischky imply that the latter was directly influenced by the former, demonstrating the relevance of Hunt’s work and its impact upon the wider critical debate.

The works of both Mayer and Hunt differ greatly in their arguments and methodology. They both sit at opposite ends of the spectrum when discussing whether the crusader states can be seen as colonial states or states that allowed cultural mixing. Both works are well researched and argued, but are also both flawed. Written texts appear to lack credibility upon interpretation, and the subjectivity of art should not be ignored, but also should not dampen the significance of Meyer and Hunt’s work. Such flaws can perhaps explain why the debate about the true nature of the crusader states continues. Despite their differences and flaws, the work and arguments of Mayer and Hunt are clearly still relevant to the crusader debate, as they can be seen to, indirectly and directly, influence Jotischky’s recent work on the topic.


[1] B.Z Kedar (ed.), ‘The Crusading Kingdom of Jerusalem – The First European Colonial Society? A Symposium’, in The Horns of Hattin (Jerusalem, 1992), p. 341.

[2] H.E. Mayer, ‘Latins, Muslims and Greeks in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem’, History, Vol.63 (1978), p. 175.

[3] Ibid., p. 175.

[4] Ibid., p. 177.

[5] Ibid., p. 178

[6] L-A Hunt, ‘Art and Colonialism: The Mosaics of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (1169) and the Problem of ‘Crusader’ Art’, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Vol. 45 (1991), p. 71.

[7] Ibid., p. 71.

[8] Ibid., p. 69.

[9] Ibid., p. 71.

[10] Mayer, ‘Latins, Muslims and Greeks in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem’, p. 180.

[11] Ibid., p. 180

[12] Ibid., p. 180

[13] A. Jotischky, Crusading and the Crusader States, (London, 2017), p. 17.

[14] Hunt, ‘Art and Colonialism: The Mosaics of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (1169) and the Problem of ‘Crusader’ Art’, p. 74.

[15] Ibid., p. 74.

[16] Ibid., p. 75.

[17] Ibid., p. 76.

[18] Ibid., p. 77.

[19] Ibid., p. 75.

[20] Ibid., p. 76.

[21] Mayer, ‘Latins, Muslims and Greeks in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem’, p. 181.

[22] Ibid., p. 181.

[23] Ibid., p. 186, n. 41.

[24] Hunt, ‘Art and Colonialism: The Mosaics of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (1169) and the Problem of ‘Crusader’ Art’, p. 70.

[25] Ibid., p. 190.

[26] Ibid., p. 190.

[27] Ibid., p. 190.

[28] Ibid., p. 190.

[29] B.Z. Kedar (ed.), The Horns of Hattin, p. 364.

[30] Ibid., p. 345.

[31] Jotischky, Crusading and the Crusader States, p. 18.

[32] Ibid., p. 158.

Featured

Queer coded villains in children’s films

Every film, especially children’s ones, have a good villain. It is a key part of the plot. While these characters are feared, respected and enjoyed, it is modern criticism that has now pointed out that majority of these villains have been ‘queerly coded.’ But what does this mean? Effectively, queer coding a character means that said character is implied to be queer, perhaps through their speech of mannerisms. Their homosexuality is not explicitly confirmed, but implied in the subtext. In children’s films, it is common for these characters to be portrayed as villains, creating an unhealthy, and unnerving link between queerness and villainy.

Why might characters be queer coded? Well, in 1934, Will H. Hays produced the ‘Motion Picture Production Code.’ These contained guidelines for self-censorship of content, and warned against depicting, what was then classed as, the ‘perversion’ of homosexuality. Homosexuality was banned from being explicitly depicted, and therefore it was implied. Homosexuality was implied through stereotypical and at times, derogatory mannerisms. Although the Hays Code, as it was colloquially known, was officially abandoned in the late 60s, these stereotypical traits and characters continued to bleed through. These films do not imply that certain villains are evil because of their queerness, but it does create an unethical relationship between queerness and villainy, a relationship which is regularly seen in children’s films.

While more of a family film, the Child Catcher in ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,’ is queer coded. The Child Catcher was played by Robert Helpmann, an openly gay ballet. It is undeniable that the character has camp mannerisms, and because of this some commentators have argued that the character fills the stereotypical role of the ‘gay paedophile.’ It is this that makes the character even more scary, and dangerous, towards children. This stereotype does seem to imply a relationship between queerness and villainy. Interestingly, The Child Catcher does not appear in Fleming’s original novel, and instead was fully fleshed out by the director, Ken Hughes. Perhaps the Child Catcher was played this way to act as a foil to Dick Van Dyke’s character, Caractacus Potts.

Turning our attention to Disney now, two notable, queerly-coded villains include Jafar and Scar. Both were animated by Andreas Deja, who himself was gay. This led many to believe that Jafar and Scar were based on him, something that Deja himself has denied. Deja claimed that Jafar’s appearance was based on Conrad Veidt. Jafar’s voice actor, Jonathan Freeman, also claimed that his work was inspired by Vincent Price and Boris Karloff. Both latter actors were famous for their villainous roles. Although Jafar does possess stereotypical camp mannerisms, throughout the film he is motivated by a potential marriage to Jasmine. This might complicate things, and based on Deja’s comments, perhaps means that Jafar has not been queer coded. Maybe it is our perception that has foisted this upon him.

In terms of Scar, again, Dejas said that he based the character on Jeremy Irons. Scar’s limp paw, and melodramatic tendencies, is what probably leads people to suggest that he may be queer, but again, like Jafar, he pursues a heterosexual relationship with Simba’s mother. Perhaps motivations and characteristics are not related… and if they are not related, then maybe queerness is not related to villainy? Again, perhaps it is just our outdated perceptions. Deja did also animate Gaston, whose villainy is based on his toxic masculinity, so perhaps Deja is truthful when he says that Scar and Jafar were unintentionally queer. Scar and Jafar also tap into ideas about colourism, as in their respective films, their skin colour is darker than the other characters in their respective films.

Maleficent and Ursula also join the line-up. Ursula appears as the stereotypical butch lesbian, and was based upon drag queen Divine, who regularly appeared in film. Due to this, Ursula herself has become a gay icon. Given Ursula’s movements and voice, and her appearance as Vanessa, it is clear that the production team wanted Ursula to have some sort of seductive, alluring quality. Maleficent possesses the same quality, and although is villainous, is not exactly ugly. It has long suggested that her appearance was based on Maila Nurmi’s turn as Vampira, a camp icon of the 1950s. While Maleficent is not as animated, and camp as Ursula, both are portrayed as much paler and sallower than their opposites, Ariel and Aurora. Both are outcasts, witches and determined to thwart romantic, specifically heterosexual, relationships. Perhaps this is implying some sort of queer-jealousy? A hatred of heterosexual relationships due to their own queerness?

I would also like to throw Miss Trunchbull into the mix. Again, she matches Ursula and fulfils the butch lesbian stereotype, but her behaviour pushes this trope a bit further. She appears obsessed with the feminine Matilda and Miss Honey, and berates Amanda for her excessive femininity, symbolised by her pretty pigtails. She is slightly Child Catcher-esque, as the film appears to suggest that queer people cannot be trusted around children. Again though, she does enter into a heterosexual relationship with Miss Honey’s uncle, as Jafar and Scar sought to do. Although Pam Ferris played her in the film, a man, Bertie Carvel, played her in the musical adaptation, perhaps in an attempt to push the butch lesbian trope further.

One character that appears devoid of sexuality, and is not involved in any sort of relationship is Cruella de Vil. Perhaps this is supposed to suggest her asexuality, but as other critics noted, it appeared that in Disney, characters were either explicitly heterosexual, or nothing. Again, she has a greyer complexion than characters such as Anita and Roger. In fact, all Disney villains I have commented on have a much more different complexion than the heroes of their films. Perhaps this is meant to show that they are devoid of heterosexual feeling and/or love? Or was it purely to point out that they were the films big bad, marked through their physical difference? Either option is probably just as bad as the other.

Perhaps Shrek can save us… or maybe not. While some critics identify Prince Charming as a metrosexual, others have argued that he is queer coded due to his dubious motivations. Does he really want Fiona, or does he just want his mother’s approval? Or does he just want glory? If he is actually attracted to Fiona, then fair enough, perhaps we can put his queer coded-ness to bed, but if not, does it leave him more open to interpretation, as the stereotypical ‘mummy’s boy.’

So… what conclusions do we draw from this? Would it be worth asking why these villains have all been portrayed in this way? Perhaps it is simply because producers wanted to create a foil between the virile, masculine hero and his villainous counterpart. In terms of female villains this also applies, they are not nearly as beautiful and feminine as the heroines of the film. Although this clearly does mark a divide, and flag up who is ‘bad’ and who is not, it does not make it right. Perhaps the audience is at fault, for still adhering to age-old stereotypes. Whether intentional or not, it does create an unhealthy link between queerness and villainy, something that does need to be addressed.

Thanks for reading!

Featured

How was individual identity expressed materially in Tudor England?

This essay will argue that different forms of material culture allowed the people of Tudor England to express different aspects of their individual identity. A persons ‘identity’ is influenced by several different affiliations. The people of Tudor England were associated with concepts such as heraldry and social standing, religion, and gender. Each of these different concepts were expressed through different material means. Firstly, this essay will examine how architecture allowed the Tudors to express their social identity. Secondly, the essay will discuss how books allows the Tudors to express their religious identity. Thirdly, the essay will recognise that activities, such as needlework, allowed people to assert their gender identity. By studying material culture, historians can understand the individual identities of the people of Tudor England.

It was the inclusion of heraldic imagery within architecture that allowed the Tudors to express their social identity.  ‘Social identity’ refers to how people relate to different social groups within society. Examples of heraldic images can be seen in what Sir John Summerson calls ‘prodigy houses.’ This describes large houses that were built to house, and impress, Elizabeth I and her entourage when she toured the country on progresses. John Guy notes that, courtiers competed to build more impressive houses, with the aim of winning the favour of the queen. This is demonstrated by Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire, which was designed by Robert Smythson for Bess Hardwick, and was built between 1590 and 1597. The chimney piece boasts Bess of Hardwick’s coat of arms, which appears several times throughout the building. They also appear on the house’s exterior in stone. By including this image throughout the hall, Hardwick expresses her social identity, as she is clearly pointing out her familial heritage using visual imagery. Those who recognised the crest would have ascertained that Hardwick came from a rich and respected family. Due to this, Hardwick’s inclusion of her family crest allows her to express her social superiority to her contemporaries.

In the High Great Chamber, Hardwick included the royal coat of arms of Elizabeth I. The High Great Chamber was used to receive important guests, and the presence of the arms would have indicated to them that Hardwick herself was affiliated with the crown. This connection to the crown would have enhanced Hardwick’s social status further. As well as asserting her own authority amongst her peers through this royal connection, Hardwick’s inclusion of the royal arms also demonstrates her loyalty to Elizabeth I. Tara Hamling notes that displays of the royal coat of arms were common in urban areas, especially in gentry houses. This allowed members of the gentry to assert their higher social standing in contrast to others within the locality. The use of heraldic devices allowed Hardwick and members of the gentry to enhance their social authority within the community, as this was elevated by their connections to the crown.

A stained-glass window at Montacute House in Somerset also demonstrates that architecture was used to express social identity. The house was owned by Edward Phelips, designed by William Arnold and built in 1598. The window depicts the coats of arms of fourteen local families. This visual imagery allowed Phelips to demonstrate his multiple social connections, which he had acquired through numerous familial marriages. As well as displaying his connections, this window would have encouraged people to recognise the authority and influence that Phelips held within the community. The placing of the shields on a window meant that they were clearly visible to all who walked past, meaning that Phelip showcased his social identity. To understand which arms represented which families, people would have needed a book of heraldry. Inclusion in such a book would only enhance one’s social status within the community, as it would only validate the families’ respectability.

Books were used to express religious identity. An example of this is a Book of Hours, which was popular before the Henrician reformation. These decorative books would contain prayers and psalms, as well as instructions as to when these prayers should be recited during the day. Books of Hours were created for the purpose of private religious practises. They were usually owned by members of the elite, who would have them personalised. An example is Anne Boleyn’s Book of Hours, which was made in Paris in 1500 and is currently held in the British Library. The pages are parchment and are particularly notable due to the personal messages inscribed inside. On a page depicting Christ suffering from the wounds of his crucifixion, Henry VIII wrote in French ‘If you remember my love in your prayers as strongly as I adore you, I shall hardly be forgotten, for I am yours. Henry R forever.’ Henry implies that his yearning for Anne is of a similar pain to Christ’s afflictions. Anne Boleyn replies with ‘by daily proof you shall me find, To be to you both loving and kind.’ This is inscribed on an image of the angel Gabriel telling the Virgin Mary that she will birth the son of God. Anne is using this religious imagery to tell Henry VIII that she is loyal and faithful to him, and that she will deliver him a son. As well as facilitating her romance with Henry, this book allowed Anne to privately express her religious identity and piety.

Following the reformation, Puritans, such as Nehemiah Wallington used notebooks to express their religious identity. Wallington filled fifty notebooks from 1618 to 1684, and detailed sermon notes to divine judgements. ‘A Record of Gods Marcys, or a Thankfull Remembrance’ was written by Wallington during the 1620s and 1630s, and was part diary and part commonplace book. In it, Wallington writes that he has ‘lived in sinne all my childhood heitherto. Likwise I knew that these sinnes were against the expres commandment of God in Exodus 20.’ Jonathan Willis recognises that Wallington’s focus on the Decalogue speaks to the Puritan desire to follow the word of God, which Puritans believed should be considered in all aspects of life. Wallington’s writings uphold the Puritan belief that they should be introspective about the word of God and their own lives. Andrew Cambers recognises that keeping notebooks was a ‘key component’ of Puritanism, as notebooks facilitated their deep contemplation of faith, as they provided Puritans with a space to write their feelings down. Wallington’s activities validate this idea, and prove that material objects were essential to the construction of religious identity. Books facilitated the expression of peoples’ religious identity by allowing them to engage in private devotion.

Susan Frye recognises that undertaking of activities allowed individuals to express their gender identity. This is supported by a linen needlework sampler, sewn in 1598 by Jane Bostocke. It is held in the V&A, and measures 42.6cm by 36.2 cm. It was made to commemorate the birth of her cousin, Alice Lee, two years earlier, and contains imagery relating to the Lee and Bostocke family crests. There are also demonstrations of different stitches. The V&A recognises that originally, samplers were used as reference pieces, but during the seventeenth century, they were used as a way of recording the maker’s skill. Embroidery was an encouraged occupation for young girls in gentry families. They would begin with samplers, then progress to caskets and embroidered pictures. Frye notes that needlework was seen as an exclusively domestic pursuit, which allowed young women to express agency and identity. Such an activity inculcates gender roles, as the domesticity that this activity encouraged informed girls of their place within the home: as the housewife. Susan Dwyer Amussen recognises the family as the basis for political and social order, suggesting that this was the reason women were encouraged to undertake tasks that educated them in domesticity from a young age. Matthew Johnson argues that gender roles were performed through action, and this sampler examples this.

Johnson provides another example of how performative action allowed people to express their gender identity. Johnson describes a folk custom from the Yorkshire Dales in which women would clean the flagged stone floor of their threshold with sand. Wives would lay out the sand in different patterns, which would remain until they were cleared in the afternoon. Johnson argues that the preservation of these patterns establishes the integrity of the household and wife, which is made visible to the community. Even though these patterns do not survive, Johnson’s recounting of this activity provides an example in which women expressed their gender identity, and drew authority from their role as housewife.

I have demonstrated that different forms of material culture were essential to expressing different aspects of individual identity. Architecture, specifically heraldic imagery, was used to express peoples’ social identity and peoples’ authority within the community. Books, in facilitating people’s worship and contemplation, allowed people to express their religious identity. Certain activities, such as needlework allowed people to express their gender identity. This proves value of studying material culture, and how it can be used to improve current historians’ understanding of the people living within Tudor England.

Featured

My Dissertation: ‘It’s too late!’ An exploration of the conflicts that Tess Durbeyfield and Catherine Earnshaw encounter in ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ and ‘Wuthering Heights’

‘It’s too late!’[1] Tess Durbeyfield’s haunting utterance comes at the climax of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891) and expresses Tess’s anguish at her husband, Angel Clare’s, return. Although Angel and Tess wish to reunite, they cannot, as Tess has become the mistress of Alec D’Urberville, the man who sexually abused her in her youth, in exchange for financial support for her family. Catherine Earnshaw in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847) finds herself in a similar scenario, as she cannot reunite with her lover, Heathcliff, upon his return, because she is married to Edgar Linton. As well as being unable to reconcile with their romantic preferences, Catherine and Tess find themselves in conflict with different conceptions of womanhood and social expectations of how they should behave and appear. This conflict is caused by Catherine’s and Tess’s experiences of Alec, Angel, Edgar and Heathcliff. Tess must contend with Alec’s and Angel’s contrasting perceptions of her body, leading Penny Boumelha to liken Tess to a ‘blank space’ who is subjected to their views.[2] In contrast, Gilbert and Gubar recognise that Catherine’s conflict revolves around the different conceptions of ‘ladyhood’ that Edgar and Heathcliff are associated with.[3] The effect of this is both heroines’ realisation that these different conceptions of womanhood are restrictive to them. Catherine and Tess also come into conflict with Christian religious orthodoxy, which is caused by their associations with the natural world. Shirley A. Stave attributes Tess’s conflict with religious orthodoxy to her paganism, describing these systems of belief as antithetical to one another.[4] It is Parson Tringham who alerts Tess to her incompatibility with religious orthodoxy. Similarly, Francis Fike recognises that Catherine comes into conflict with the ‘religious formalities’ that servant Joseph forces upon her.[5] The effect of Catherine’s and Tess’s associations with the natural world is their rejection of religious orthodoxy. The outcome of these conflicts is Catherine’s and Tess’s deaths. I will first explore the cause, effect and outcome of Catherine’s and Tess’s conflict with religious orthodoxy, by drawing on the views of Stave and Fike. Then, I will explore the cause, effect and outcome of Catherine’s and Tess’s conflict with different conceptions of womanhood, by drawing on the views of Boumelha, Gilbert and Gubar. Finally, I will recognise that Catherine’s daughter Cathy Linton and Tess’s sister Liza Lu do not possess their predecessors’ flaws, meaning that they are able to avoid the conflicts that their predecessors encountered. This extended essay will explore the conflicts that Catherine and Tess encounter in conjunction with each other, a task that the above critics have not undertaken. By examining the conflicts that Catherine and Tess encounter in relation to each other, this essay will argue that both novels detail the stories of two heroines who are in constant conflict with the male dominated societies that they inhabit, which prevents them from living as their primal selves.

Catherine’s and Tess’s associations with the natural world cause their conflict with religious orthodoxy. Tess’s associations with the natural world are demonstrated by her paganism. Stave argues that Hardy’s conception of paganism describes a scenario in which humanity cannot be separated from the natural world.[6]  When Tess is introduced, she is partaking in the ‘local Cerealia’ (p. 13). This ancient festival celebrates the Roman goddess of agriculture, Ceres (p. 403, n. 3). In celebrating agriculture, Stave recognises that the Cerealia celebrates the fertility of the Earth.[7] By observing the Cerealia, Tess appears to be recognising Ceres, the Earth Goddess, as her principal source of divine authority.[8] The continuing practice of the Cerealia implies that Tess’s village, Marlott, has not yet been exposed to religious orthodoxy. As it is ‘solely women’ (p. 13) who partake in the Cerealia, it appears as an exclusive, female space which connects Tess to her matrilineal heritage.[9] The Cerealia is illustrative of a prelapsarian world, in which Tess is in a state of innocence as she is shielded from men.[10] The Cerealia takes place during springtime, a season which is associated with rejuvenation and growth. Tess’s body mirrors these ideas, as she displays a ‘handsome womanliness’ (p. 15). Tess’s body is maturing from that of a child into that of a woman, in conjunction with the foliage that surrounds her. This association implies that, she will soon be fertile like the natural landscape. Tess’s worshipping of nature and her reflection of it make her indistinguishable from the natural world because it informs key aspects of her life, thus affirming her paganism.

In contrast, it is Catherine’s character that mirrors the natural landscape. Wuthering Heights is subjected to an ‘atmospheric tumult.’[11] ‘Tumult’ refers to the din caused by the volatile weather, and also implies its uncontrollability. Servant Nelly recounts that, one of Catherine and Heathcliff’s ‘chief amusements [was] to run away to the moors in the morning and remain there all day, and the after punishment grew a mere thing to laugh at’ (p. 46). Catherine’s desire to ‘run away’ from Wuthering Heights indicates that she uses the moors to escape from the ‘punishment’ that her brother Hindley and Joseph inflict upon her. Catherine’s defiance of their authority is implied by her laughing at it. This suggests that Catherine herself is untameable, much like the natural landscape that surrounds her. Catherine and Heathcliff plan to ‘grow up as rude as savages’ (p. 46). ‘Savages’ in this simile refers to the unconstrained nature of man before the advent of organised society and implies that the children intend to disregard the propriety that society encourages. In desiring to grow up as a savage, Catherine wishes to live a life in which she does not have to answer to authority. Catherine recognises that the moors facilitate this life, as only she and Heathcliff are present there. The natural landscape is therefore essential to Catherine and explains why she and Heathcliff ‘remain there all day.’ By running to the moors, Catherine is retreating from society in order to live an unconstrained life based upon her primal impulses. In contrast to Tess, it is only Catherine’s character that mirrors the natural landscape, meaning that Catherine’s paganism is not as explicit as Tess’s. Despite this, it is still apparent that Catherine’s and Tess’s associations with nature constitute a primal aspect of their beings.

The effect of Catherine’s and Tess’s associations with nature is their rejection of religious orthodoxy. After being raped by Alec D’Urberville, Tess gives birth to their son Sorrow the following spring. By giving birth, Tess exhibits the fertility that was celebrated at the Cerealia and is associated with springtime. However, Parson Tringham refuses to bury Sorrow in consecrated ground for the ‘liturgical reasons’ (p. 97) that he has not been baptised within the Church, but by Tess. This was because Sorrow lacked ‘legitimacy’ (p. 93), as he was born out of wedlock. For this reason, religious orthodoxy does not celebrate Tess’s fertility. In focusing on whether Sorrow has been baptised, Parson Tringham ignores the fact that Sorrow is not to blame for the violence enacted upon his mother’s body. In an attempt to get Parson Tringham to sympathise with her, Tess asks him not to ‘speak as saint to sinner, but as you yourself, to me myself!’ (p. 97). Tess implores Parson Tringham to abandon the religious orthodoxy which endorses the binary of ‘saint and sinner,’ because it does not account for the complexity of her situation, as her fertility was realised by an act of rape. Religious orthodoxy punishes Tess for the sins of Alec, which exposes the patriarchal nature of the Church.[12] This contrasts with the matriarchal nature of the Cerealia, indicating that Tess’s paganism is irreconcilable with religious orthodoxy.[13] By refusing to bury Sorrow, Parson Tringham punishes Tess, prompting her to exclaim that she will ‘never come to your church no more!’ (p. 97). This double negative emphasises Tess’s desire to reject the church, but her distress, implied by the exclamation mark, affects the clarity of her speech. Although it is Tess’s distress that motivates her decision to reject religious orthodoxy, Hardy implies that this rejection occurs as a result of Tess’s overt paganism.

Like Tess, Catherine rejects the religious orthodoxy that is forced upon her. After attending church, Joseph berates Catherine and Heathcliff as ‘t’ sound o’ t’ gospeil still I’ yer lugs, and ye darr be laiking! […] sit ye down, and think o’ yer sowls!’ (p. 21). Joseph is angered to find Catherine and Heathcliff ‘laiking,’ meaning ‘larking about,’ so soon after hearing the ‘gospeil.’ Joseph believes that hearing the gospel should encourage the children to restrain their unruly behaviour. What Joseph considers unruly behaviour however could be compared to innocent, childish mischievousness. Joseph’s aggression suggests to the children that their behaviour is incompatible with religious orthodoxy, as it is immediately after church that he reprimands them for their behaviour. In an attempt to restrain them, Joseph orders the children to ‘sit ye down, and think o’ yer sowls!’ Brontë’s use of eye dialect draws attention to Joseph’s Yorkshire accent, and his elongation of the diphthong in ‘soul’ places greater emphasis on the word. Joseph’s focusing on the children’s ‘sowls’ implies that he believes their current behaviour will prevent them from achieving salvation.[14] In response to Joseph’s orders, Catherine ‘riven th’ back off ‘The Helmet o’ Salvation’ (p. 21). Catherine violently tears off the back cover of the religious book that Joseph has instructed her to read. In defacing a book about salvation, Catherine specifically rejects the doctrine of salvation that Joseph had previously used to threaten her. Fike recognises that in order to live as she chooses, Catherine must reject the religious orthodoxy that Joseph uses to constrain her, as it does not account for her character or chosen way of life.[15] Catherine’s and Tess’s rejection of religious orthodoxy confirms their incompatibility with it.

The outcome of Catherine’s conflict with religious orthodoxy is the creation of her own belief system that is based upon her connection with Heathcliff. Catherine recognises that ‘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 into a mighty stranger’ (p. 82). The personification of the ‘universe’ as a ‘stranger’ implies that, without Heathcliff, everything that exists would become unfamiliar to Catherine. Catherine’s understanding of the world is dependent on Heathcliff’s presence, as is her own existence. Catherine idolises Heathcliff and displaces the faith she is encouraged to have in religious orthodoxy with her faith in Heathcliff. The presence of Catherine’s ghost at the start of the novel validates her belief that she will ‘still continue to be’ as long as Heathcliff does also. Catherine’s ghost tries to enter through the window of her childhood bedroom at Wuthering Heights, repeating the phrase: ‘Let me in!’ (p. 25). This repetition emphasises Catherine’s desperation to re-enter Wuthering Heights. Catherine explains that she has been a ‘waif for twenty years!’ (p. 25). A ‘waif’ is an abandoned child, confirming that without Heathcliff, Catherine is left to wander the moors alone. Without Heathcliff, Catherine’s ghost cannot be at rest, which explains her desperation to be let back inside Wuthering Heights, so that she can reunite with him. Following Heathcliff’s death at the end of the novel, Nelly meets a boy who claims to have seen the ghosts of Catherine and Heathcliff wandering the moors. Catherine’s belief in Heathcliff is rewarded, as in death, they are reunited. Catherine and Heathcliff’s afterlife does not conform to the ideas of heaven and hell that Joseph and religious orthodoxy endorsed, as it is exclusively based upon Catherine’s faith in Heathcliff. Although this does not reconcile Catherine with religious orthodoxy, it offers a resolution that allows both conflicting forces to co-exist. Tess is not afforded such a resolution.

The outcome of Tess’s conflict with religious orthodoxy is her death. Before her death, Tess’s conflict with religious orthodoxy intensifies. Stave recognises that at the core of Hardy’s works is a story about the ‘Sky God interacting with an Earth Goddess.’[16]  Tess becomes this Earth Goddess when she baptises Sorrow, in a ceremony that ‘apotheosized her; it set upon her face a flowing irradiation’ (p. 95). ‘Apotheosized’ implies that baptising Sorrow imbued Tess with divine power. ‘Irradiation’ suggests that she possesses this divine power in such excess that it flows out from her. This is noticed by her siblings, who ‘gazed up at her’ (p. 95). The spatial distance between Tess and her siblings speaks to their difference in divinity, as Tess is now viewed by them with ‘more and more reverence’ (p. 95). Tess’s siblings recognise Tess’s power as Tess recognised the power of the Earth Goddess at the Cerealia. As Tess draws her divine power from the role that Nature assigns to her, the role of mother, she becomes the Earth Goddess. Tess’s status as the Earth Goddess is also strengthened by her associations with nature, as outlined previously. Stave argues that Hardy’s Sky God is typically the ‘Christian triune God,’ implying that the novel is driven by the conflict between Tess, a divine matriarchal force, and the Christian God, an antithetical patriarchal force.[17] Tess’s newfound divine power intensifies her conflict with religious orthodoxy, as it grants her the ability to transcend it, and rival the power of the Christian God.

At the end of the novel, Tess murders Alec, and flees with Angel. They come across Stonehenge, which Tess recognises as a ‘heathen temple’ (p. 393). ‘Heathen’ describes something that does not belong to a widely recognised religion, thus identifying Stonehenge as a pagan temple. Tess recalls that ‘one of my mother’s people was a shepherd hereabouts’ (p. 393). Hardy implies that, at the end of her life, Tess’s natural inclinations have led her to the seat of her pagan and matrilineal heritage. Angel points out that Tess is ‘lying on an altar’ (p. 393), and explains that in ancient times, people would make sacrifices to the sun at Stonehenge. By lying on the altar ‘in the direction of the sun’ (p. 394), Tess unconsciously places herself in the role of the pagan sacrificial victim. The rising of the Sun at the moment in which the police officers approach to arrest Tess is symbolic of the Sun rising to claim its pagan sacrifice.

Following her hanging, Hardy writes that the ‘President of the Immortals (in Æschylean phrase) had ended his sport with Tess’ (p. 397). In Aeschylus’s tragedy, Prometheus Bound, the cause of all suffering was a supreme deity who Hardy calls the ‘President of the Immortals’ (p. 461, n. 2). In likening Tess to ‘sport’ Hardy implies that she has been reduced to the plaything of a supreme God and has lost her life as a result. If this were the case, Tess was not drawn to Stonehenge by her natural inclinations, but by a supreme deity that has been influencing her throughout the entirety of the novel. This theory deprives Tess of agency, by suggesting that she was never fully in control of her life. The presence of religious orthodoxy, and Stave’s observations, suggest that this supreme deity is the Christian God. This would mean that Tess was led to Stonehenge by, and sacrificed to, the Christian God, who sought to neutralise His divine rival. The outcome of Tess’s conflict with religious orthodoxy is her death.

Richard Nemesvari describes Tess’s death as a ‘call to change the social order that has generated the situation that kills her.’[18] Parson Tringham and Joseph subjected Catherine and Tess to religious orthodoxy, in attempts to maintain ‘social order.’ Social order is again contested through different conceptions of womanhood which, like religious orthodoxy, are communicated to Catherine and Tess by men. Catherine’s and Tess’s conflict with different conceptions of womanhood is caused by their experiences of Alec, Angel, Edgar and Heathcliff.

Tess’s conflict with different conceptions of womanhood is caused by Alec and Angel’s differing perceptions of her body. When first meeting Tess, Alec’s eyes ‘rivet themselves upon her. It was a luxuriance of aspect, a fulness of growth (p. 42). Alec’s stare is unmoving because of Tess’s physical ‘luxuriance’ and ‘fulness,’ which refer to Tess’s developed breasts. This emphasises her femininity, and therefore beauty, to Alec. ‘Luxuriance’ suggests that Tess possesses physical beauty in abundance. This makes her attractive to Alec, which leads him to sexualise her. As mentioned in the introduction, Boumelha likened Tess to a ‘blank space for the imposition of male, or authorial fantasies.’ Alec simulates his fantasies about Tess by forcing strawberries into her mouth, which, ‘In slight distress she parted her lips and took it in’ (p. 42). Alec’s refusal to let Tess eat the strawberries herself implies his desire to control her body. Alec’s forcing of strawberries into Tess’s mouth alludes to the act of penetrative sex and proves to Alec that Tess can be subdued by him, which would allow him to enact his sexual fantasies upon her. Tess’s ‘distress’ also foreshadows the pain that she will suffer as a result of Alec’s realising of his sexual fantasies. In fulfilling his sexual fantasies about Tess by raping her, Alec also induces Tess’s fall from the prelapsarian world of the Cerealia. Alec’s actions towards Tess are repercussions of his perception of her body, which he sexualises.

In contrast, Angel perceives Tess’s body to be indicative of her purity. On their wedding night, Angel explains to Tess that he ‘loved spotlessness, and hated impurity’ (p. 224). Angel’s idiosyncratic ideology is based on ‘spotlessness,’ indicating that he loves all things that are spiritually and physically untainted. Angel asks Tess to marry him because, based on her appearance, Angel believes that Tess complies with his ideology of spotlessness. This explains why Angel called Tess ‘Artemis, Demeter’ (p. 130). Artemis and Demeter are the Greek goddesses of chastity and fertility, respectively (p. 426, n. 5). Angel’s choosing of Artemis implies that Angel equates purity with the physical state of being a virgin. Tess is viewed by Angel as a set of ideals, specifically the ideals of virginity and fertility, as characterised by these faceless Goddesses. Angel’s obsession with purity blinds him to Tess’s status as a complex, physical being, not one of transcendence. To assert her individuality, Tess asks Angel to ‘call me Tess’ (p. 130). Tess implies that her given name most accurately captures her complexity, unlike the unobtainable ideals that Artemis and Demeter represent. It is Tess’s experiences of Alec and Angel that subject her to two different conceptions of womanhood, one that sexualises her and one that recognises her purity, based upon their perception of her body.

Catherine’s experience of Edgar Linton introduces her to a conception of womanhood that is based on propriety. After Catherine is bitten by the Lintons dog Skulker, she is forced to recuperate with them at Thrushcross Grange. The influence of the Grange upon Catherine is indicated by her appearance. Upon Catherine’s return, Nelly states that she ‘should scarcely have known you – you look like a lady’ (p. 53). By calling Catherine a ‘lady,’ Nelly implies that Catherine looks more feminine, in contrast to the ‘hatless little savage’ (p. 53) of her youth. ‘Lady’ also implies that Catherine looks like a higher social class of person. This separates her from Heathcliff, who in her absence, has been reduced to Hindley’s servant. When reunited with Heathcliff, Catherine exclaims: ‘Why, how very black and cross you look! and how – how funny and grim!’ (p. 54). Heathcliff’s untidy appearance is now unbecoming to Catherine, as she has become accustomed to the civilised inhabitants of the Grange. This is also reflected by the changes in Catherine’s personality.

Nelly describes that, when with Edgar, Catherine ‘had no temptation to show her rough side in their company, and had the sense to be ashamed of being rude where she experienced such invariable courtesy’ (p. 67). Catherine’s lack of ‘temptation’ implies that her time at the Grange has matured her, as she now represses the mischievous impulses of her youth. Catherine recognises the unwavering kindness that Edgar offers her, and in response refrains herself from displaying discourtesy towards him, for fear of embarrassment. Catherine’s newfound sense of propriety wins her a marriage proposal from Edgar, which she is tempted to accept because ‘he will be rich, and I shall like to be the greatest woman of the neighbourhood’ (p. 78). Catherine is drawn to the material wealth that Edgar possesses. The superlative of ‘greatest’ suggests that it is specifically the superior social status that this wealth would grant Catherine that she is attracted to. Edgar’s proposal demonstrates that, Catherine is rewarded by conforming to his conception of womanhood, specifically with the prospect of social advancement.

The life that Catherine would live at Thrushcross Grange directly contrasts with the childhood that she enjoyed with Heathcliff. As previously mentioned, in her youth, Catherine rejected the propriety that society encouraged. Due to this, Heathcliff did not have a conception of womanhood that he expected Catherine to conform to, and instead encouraged Catherine to live as her authentic self. However, following her maturation at the Grange, Catherine now understands that ‘it would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now’ (p. 81), as she would be marrying below her station and consigning herself to a life of penury. Nelly recognises that Catherine has a ‘double character’ (p. 67), Catherine Linton and Catherine Earnshaw. These two personas are indicative of the two different conceptions of womanhood that Edgar and Heathcliff are associated with. Catherine’s ability to conform to these different conceptions of womanhood demonstrates her capacity to adapt to reflect the dominant male in her life. Unlike Catherine, Tess does not adapt to conform to these conceptions of womanhood but is adapted to them by Alec and Angel.The effect of Catherine’s and Tess’s experiences of men is their realisation that different conceptions of womanhood are restrictive to them.

The effect of Tess’s experiences of Alec and Angel is her realisation that different conceptions of womanhood are restrictive to her. Tess registers this when she learns that she has been misunderstood by those around her. When Tess tells Angel about her rape, Angel concedes that he loved ‘another woman in your shape’ (p. 229). As Angel learns that Tess is not the spiritual ideal that he envisioned, he protests that her physical appearance was deceptive, as it misrepresented her. Tess believed that Angel loved ‘me – me, my very self!’ (p. 228). Up until this point, Angel has never fully understood Tess, as he did not know about her past. Boumelha recognises that although Tess has never advertised herself as ‘virginal or sexually available’ it is these ideas that inform all experiences in her life.[19] Tess cannot help that her body appears to conform to multiple conceptions of womanhood, meaning that she cannot choose how people perceive her and is instead subjected to their interpretation. Elizabeth Bronfen recognises that these differing interpretations cause a ‘division’ within Tess’s character, horrifying Angel.[20] Ironically, it is Angel who divides Tess’s character by only recognising her spiritual purity, not her status as a complex, physical being. Angel renders Tess as irreconcilable with his conception of womanhood, as she is not physically pure. As Tess no longer possesses the purity that Angel loved, he abandons her. Angel’s conception of womanhood, when applied to Tess, is ultimately reductive, as it does not account for her complexity. In an attempt to conform to Angel’s conception of womanhood, Tess ‘mercilessly nipped her eyebrows off’ (p. 280). Tess believes that it was her beauty that resulted in the loss of her purity, and therefore Angel. To prevent further sexualisation of her body, Tess attempts to make herself less sexually appealing. However, Tess’s defacement of herself does not negate her physical impurity. Tess’s inability to conform to one exclusive conception of womanhood means that they are all restrictive to her, and that she will never be accepted for who she really is, complexities and all.

The effect of Catherine’s experiences of Edgar and Heathcliff is her internal conflict, as she is unable to reconcile her two personas of Catherine Linton and Catherine Earnshaw. Catherine is aware that if she were to marry Edgar, she would be separated from Heathcliff. Catherine is reluctant to be separated from Heathcliff because she loves him. To Nelly, Catherine describes that her ‘love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees’ (p. 82). Brontë uses elemental imagery to explain that Catherine’s love for Edgar is impermanent, and will deplete over time, as foliage depletes and dies in the winter. In contrast, her love for Heathcliff ‘resembles the eternal rocks beneath – a source of little visible delight but necessary’ (p. 82). Although the rocks may not be as beautiful as the foliage, they are permanent, as is Catherine’s love for Heathcliff. ‘Eternal’ recognises that this love is endless, unlike Catherine’s fleeting love for Edgar.

As well as loving Heathcliff, Catherine notes that he constitutes a primal part of her being. Catherine recognises that ‘whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same, and Linton’s is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire’ (p. 81). Catherine understands that her and Edgar’s souls are the antithesis of each other and are therefore incompatible. Based on Catherine’s exclamation of ‘I am Heathcliff!’ (p. 82), Gilbert and Gubar argue that the relationship of Catherine and Heathcliff is androgynous, as Catherine asserts that they are the same person.[21] It is therefore ironic that Catherine would marry Edgar, as she is not only betraying Heathcliff, but also betraying herself by depriving herself of Heathcliff. Heathcliff hears Catherine’s words and abruptly leaves Wuthering Heights. This temporarily resolves Catherine’s internal conflict, as with Heathcliff’s absence Catherine has no other choice but to marry Edgar, and no choice but to embrace the persona of Catherine Linton. Catherine’s and Tess’s inability to conform exclusively to one conception of womanhood forces them to realise that all conceptions of womanhood are restrictive to them. These restrictive conceptions of womanhood prevent Catherine and Tess from living the lives that they desire to, as demonstrated by the loss of their romantic preferences. The returns of Heathcliff and Angel reignite the conflicts of Catherine and Tess, the outcome of which is their self-destruction.

The outcome of Catherine’s conflict with different conceptions of womanhood is her self-destruction. Catherine realises that she cannot reunite with Heathcliff, and so resolves to ‘break their hearts by breaking my own’ (p. 116). Catherine blames Edgar and Heathcliff for the predicament that she finds herself in, and in an attempt to hurt them, she harms herself by refusing to eat. In delirium, Catherine tells Nelly ‘that is not my Heathcliff. I shall love mine yet; and take him with me: he’s in my soul… the thing that irks me most is this shattered prison, after all. I’m tired, tired of being enclosed here’ (p. 161). By telling Nelly ‘that is not my Heathcliff,’ Catherine explains that she seeks to reunite with the Heathcliff of her childhood, not the one that has returned. This version of Heathcliff is in Catherine’s ‘soul,’ and in order to free it, she must escape from the ‘shattered prison’ of her body. ‘Shattered’ suggests that, in starving herself, Catherine’s body has physically weakened. ‘Shattered’ may also refer to Catherine’s fractured identity, which has now become unsalvageable due to her separation from Heathcliff. Without the destruction of her body Catherine cannot be free to reunite with Heathcliff.

Catherine’s mention that she is ‘enclosed’ is reminiscent of her confinement in pregnancy, and also suggests that she feels trapped within Thrushcross Grange.[22] This implies that Catherine specifically feels trapped by her role as the lady of the Grange. Despite desiring the social prestige that this role granted her, Catherine now wants to reject this conception of womanhood, as she rejected societal propriety as a child. Catherine’s desire to reunite with the Heathcliff of her childhood demonstrates that she wishes to return to the freedom of her childhood with Heathcliff. This desire prompts Gilbert and Gubar to recognise Catherine’s childhood as a ‘prelapsarian world.’[23] Catherine fell from innocence when she was bitten by Skulker and was forced to enter into the Grange. This began her maturation to adulthood, which was completed by her marriage to Edgar. Effectively, it was the influence of Edgar that tore Catherine away from her childhood, and by extension, her primal self. Catherine now believes that she can only return to her childhood self by dying. After her death, Nelly takes a lock of Heathcliff’s and Edgar’s hair and ‘twisted the two and enclosed them’ (p. 170) in a locket around Catherine’s neck. This symbolises a reconciliation between the men who informed Catherine’s conflicting identities. This implies that Catherine’s death was the inevitable outcome of her conflict with different conceptions of womanhood, as some form of reconciliation can only occur when she herself is dead.

The outcome of Tess’s conflict with different conceptions of womanhood is similarly self-destructive. Tess explains that she murdered Alec ‘for the wrong he did to me in my simple youth’ (p. 384). Tess now recognises that it was Alec’s sexualisation, and subsequent rape of her, that destroyed the purity that Angel saw in her. In Tess’s mind, Alec is responsible for her loss of Angel. Tess therefore believes that it is appropriate that Alec’s life should be taken, as hers was by him. She explains to Angel that ‘I was unable to bear you not loving me! Say you do now, dear, dear husband; say you do, now I have killed him!’ (p. 385). Alec is a physical reminder of Tess’s rape and is therefore an obstacle between her and Angel. By killing him, Tess removes this obstacle, and believes that her physical impurity will die with him. As this will negate any division within herself, Tess believes that Alec’s death should restore Angel’s love for her. Tess’s repetition of ‘say you do’ emphasises that Angel’s love is all that she desires. Ironically, Alec’s death destroys Tess’s entire body, the site upon which his violence was originally enacted, as she is hanged for his murder.[24] It is Catherine’s and Tess’s desire to reunite with their romantic preferences that motivates their self-destructive behaviour. Although Tess does not seek to destroy herself as explicitly as Catherine does, both women’s actions highlight the extreme lengths that they feel they must go to in order to break free of the restrictive conceptions of womanhood that they have been subjected to. The conflicts that Catherine and Tess have encountered throughout their lives finally extinguishes them.

Catherine and Tess are survived by Cathy Linton and Liza Lu, who do not possess their predecessors’ flaws. Gilbert and Gubar recognise that Catherine’s flaw was her confusion over her identity, as this is what drew her away from Heathcliff.[25] Cathy never deserts the belief that Thrushcross Grange is her home.[26] This influences her behaviour, as she exclusively conforms to Edgar’s conception of womanhood. It seems that Cathy is rewarded for her behaviour, as unlike her mother, she is able to fulfil her romantic preference, by marrying her cousin Hareton Earnshaw. The couple are so united that they could ‘brave satan and all his legions’ (p. 337). This implies that the couples’ love is so strong that they could overcome the devil himself, negating the possibility of any separation between the two. In marrying Hareton and moving back to Thrushcross Grange, Cathy reconciles the Linton’s and Earnshaw’s, succeeding in the task that killed her mother.

Liza Lu has the capacity to avoid the conflicts that Tess encountered. Tess asks Angel to marry Liza Lu after her death, describing her as ‘the best of me without the bad of me’ (p. 394). ‘The best of me’ refers to Liza Lu’s appearance, which mirrors Tess’s purity. Liza Lu does not just appear pure, but is so, as she does not possess the ‘bad,’ or flaw, in Tess’s character: her rape. Liza Lu resembles the Tess that attended the Cerealia, meaning that she can be fully reconciled with Angel’s ideology of purity. Cathy and Liza Lu are portrayed as perfected versions of their maligned predecessors, as they are used to highlight Catherine’s and Tess’s flaws. Cathy and Liza Lu are the socially acceptable versions of Catherine and Tess, as they, along with Hareton and Angel, have the ability to avoid the conflicts that Catherine and Tess encountered.

Religious orthodoxy and different conceptions of womanhood were key aspects of Catherine’s and Tess’s lives, and it was these concepts that both women found themselves in conflict with. Religious orthodoxy attempted to force Catherine and Tess to conform to social laws that they were incompatible with. The different conceptions of womanhood that they had to compete with did not recognise their complexity and were therefore restrictive. The outcome of these conflicts was Catherine’s and Tess’s deaths. These two social institutions drew Catherine and Tess away from their childhood, in which they lived freely as their primal selves. This demonstrates that, despite their differences, Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Wuthering Heights both depict societies in which women are oppressed and subdued, and ultimately punished, if they did not conform. The instruction to conform was forced upon Catherine and Tess by the men that surrounded them, whose appearance also induced both women to fall from the innocence of their childhoods. This paints religious orthodoxy, and different conceptions of womanhood as two institutions that are explicitly connected by their purpose to serve male interest. In this respect, I conclude that it is Catherine’s and Tess’s inability to conform specifically to the views and desires of men that leads to their destruction. As Catherine and Tess were subjected to patriarchal societies from birth, unfortunately for them it was always ‘too late!’

Thanks for reading my dissertation!

Congratulations to my fellow 2021 graduates!


[1] Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D’Urbervilles (London: Penguin Classics, 2003), p. 378.Subsequent references will be given in parentheses in the text.

[2] Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles: A Sourcebook, ed. by Scott McEathron, (Oxfordshire: Routledge, 2005), p. 50.

[3] Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2000), p. 269.

[4] Shirley A. Stave, The Decline of the Goddess: Nature, Culture and Women in Thomas Hardy’s Fiction (Westport, Connecticut: Prager Publishers, 1995), p. 6.

[5] Francis Fike, ‘Bitter Herbs and Wholesome Medicines: Love as Theological Affirmation in Wuthering Heights’, Nineteenth-Century Fiction, 23(2) (1968), 127-149, (p. 148).

[6] Stave, The Decline of the Goddess: Nature, Culture and Women in Thomas Hardy’s Fiction, p. 3.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., p. 4

[10] Ibid., p. 7.

[11] Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights (London: Penguin Classics, 2003), p. 4.Subsequent references will be given in parentheses in the text.

[12] Stave, The Decline of the Goddess: Nature, Culture and Women in Thomas Hardy’s Fiction, p. 6.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Fike, ‘Bitter Herbs and Wholesome Medicines: Love as Theological Affirmation in Wuthering Heights’, p. 129.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Stave, The Decline of the Goddess: Nature, Culture and Women in Thomas Hardy’s Fiction, p. 1.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Richard Nemesvari, ‘The Thing must be Male, we suppose’: Erotic Triangles and Masculine Identity in Tess of the d’Urberville and Melville’s Billy Budd’ in Thomas Hardy: Texts and Contexts, ed. by Philip Mallett, (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), pp. 87-110, (p. 107).

[19] Penny Boumelha, Thomas Hardy and Women: Sexual Ideology and Narrative Form (Totowa, New Jersey: Barnes and Noble, 1982), p. 124.

[20] Elizabeth Bronfen, ‘Exchanges of Bodies and Signs’ in The Sense of Sex: Feminist Perspectives on Hardy, ed. by Margaret R. Higonnet, (Champaign, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1993), pp. 75-87, (p. 81).

[21] Gilbert and Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination, p. 265.

[22] David Punter and Glennis Byron, The Gothic (New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwell, 2004) p. 212.

[23] Gilbert and Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination, p. 268.

[24] Bronfen, ‘Exchanges of Bodies’, p. 82.

[25] Gilbert and Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination, p. 300.

[26] Ibid., p. 276.

Featured

Pop Art: A Brief History

Pop Art is known for being visceral, bright and eye-catching. Although it has been around for less than one hundred years, it is probably one of the most instantly recognisable art movements. Originally developed in both Britain and America, Pop art was intended to move away from abstract expressionism, a movement which utilises grand, gestural brush strokes giving the appearance of spontaneity. Pop Art sought to make art more relatable to the viewer, and move away from the fairly ambiguous works of expressionists such as William de Kooning.

The Independent Group, founded in London in 1952, is generally seen as the birth of the Pop Art movement. This group sought to move away from abstract works and instead focus on popular culture, elements of mass advertising, comics and movies. This ensured that the work would be instantly recongisable and relatable to the viewer. Veteran pop artist Richard Hamilton described Pop Art as the following to friends Peter and Alison Smithson:

‘Pop Art is: Popular (designed for a mass audience), Transient (short-term solution), Expendable (easily forgotten), Low cost, Mass produced, Young (aimed at youth), Witty, Sexy, Gimmicky, Glamorous, Big business.’

Pop Art in America really took off in the 60s, and also aimed to reflect popular culture back to the audience to enhance its relatability. This brought art closer to the general public, and attempted to distract them from the Cold War that had plagued the 50s. Some modernists disliked the movement because of depictions of mass media images, and at times, content that was deemed cheap. However, the movement captured the imagination of the public, as it had intended.

American artist Andy Warhol was a big figure in the movement and is probably one of the most famous. His work ‘Campbell’s Soup Cans’ exemplifies the movements ability to reflect popular culture back to the audience, and it’s bright colours make it for vibrant viewing. The piece made Warhol famous, and sparked debate over the merits, or lack of merits, that the work exhibited as well as Warhol’s ethics and ability as an artist. The works’ mundane and realistic nature directly combated abstract expressionism.

Roy Lichtenstein’s work is different to that of Warhol’s but their focus on colour still emphasises their important within the Pop Art movement. Lichtenstein was an American artist, who was inspired by the idea of parody and comic books. Lichtenstein focused on ‘strengthening of the formal aspects of the composition, a stylization of motif, and a ‘freezing’ of both emotion and actions.’ This snapshot of drama and emotion can be seen in his famed ‘Drowning Girl,’ an image which focuses on a girl engulfed by waves. She claims that she would rather drown than call ‘Brad for help!’ Lichtenstein used Ben-day dots to create the piece, a printing technique dating from 1879. This demonstrates that Pop Art used and responded to the art and technology that had preceded it. The effect is commonly used in comic books. The scene itself was inspired by one, ‘Secret Hearts.’ The image itself builds on emotion and melodrama, and the colours and outlines make it instantly recognisable.

Drowning Girl - Wikipedia
‘Drowning Girl’

Lichtenstein’s other work ‘M-Maybe’ also follows the same ideas and is in the style of a comic book. The beautiful heroine, as Lichtenstein’s often were, has her own thought bubble, and bright yellow hair, which contrasts with the blue, red and white backgrounds. The story cannot be contained in a singular panel, and her speech indicates that there is a past and future to the singular image, much like ‘Drowned Girl.’ Her worry and anticipation heightens the melodrama, and it is implied that the heroine is in some sort of emotional turmoil.

M-Maybe - Wikipedia
‘M-Maybe’

Traditional Pop Art survives today in the form of mainstream comic books, and in other artwork that shares the same ideas of eye-catching colour. Jeff Koon’s balloon animals are an example of this, and also provide relatable images for the viewer, as the original movement intended to do.

Thanks for reading!

Featured

Close Analysis: A Tudor Witch Bottle

The object is a salt-glazed witches bottle, which was discovered in Greenwich in 2004. Inside was a sample of human urine, bent nails and pins, a pierced leather heart, fingernail clippings, naval fluff and hair and sulphur and brimstone. The presence of these materials was illuminated by Joseph Blagrave’s ‘Astrological Practice of Physic’ which noted that the objects in the bottle would ‘endanger’ a witches life, ‘making their water with great difficulty.’ This implies that the bottle was used to ward of witchcraft,

The early modern witch craze led to 90,000 trials between 1450 and 1750, and was inspired by beliefs in malign magic. The clergy deemed that all form of magic was evil, as the Devil was behind it. Conversely, popular belief in magic recognised that the magic of cunning folk had healing powers. It was ‘Maleficia’ that caused the most concern, as this was the kind of witchcraft that was harmful, as it was practised by witches who were serving the Devil. It was believed that witches had the power to injure people and ruin livestock, only needing substances containing a person’s vital spirit to harm them. Witches were also aided by Familiars as described in James VI 1597 work, ‘Daemonologie.’ Emma Vilbey roots this tradition in popular folklore, and notes that Familiar’s would appear as small animals like cats and dogs. Vilbey notes witches would feed their Familiars, indicating the ‘depraved’ relationship, and contract, between the two.

Other measures to keep witchcraft at bay included the concealing of garments. As the witch required an object that contained the essence of a person to harm them, when clothes deteriorated, people would bury them inside the walls of their house, to hide them from witches. Ritual markings also deterred witches, such as images of the eternal trinity. The letter ‘V’ was also used, for its association with the Virgin Mary. This inscription has been found in different houses of different social ranks. Iron nails were placed strategically around the house as it was thought to be repelling. Popular, and official religious belief, in the supernatural is further explored by the presence of the Ghost in ‘Hamlet.’

‘Hamlet’ is thought to be written in the late 1590s, and the Ghost recognises the presence of purgatory. The Ghost is ‘doomed to fast in fires,’ and was ‘cut off in the blossoms of my sin,’ meaning that the Ghost was not given the last rites, implying that this is a Catholic ghost. Before the Protestant reformation the Catholic church advocated the existence of Purgatory, and argued that souls of the dead may return from Purgatory with unfinished business. This is reflected in ‘Hamlet,’ as the Ghost tasks Hamlet with revenging his ‘foul and most unnatural murder.’ Keith Thomas noted that medieval ghosts would also return to confess their crimes and testify to punishments for sin to gain rewards in the afterlife. The presence of the Ghost therefore linked to salvation and raised questions about whether one would go to Heaven or Hell, and how one could change their destination. ‘Hamlet’ as a play is rare, as Hamlet himself questions the validity of the ghost and whether it just seeks to draw him into ‘madness.’

Protestants asserted, following the Reformation, that Ghosts were not the souls of the dead returning, but were an elaborate ruse constructed by corrupt Catholic priests. Protestants cited the authority of the Bible to assert this, as in Deuteronomy, Isaiah and the Israelites were warned not to consult with the dead. Jacobean bishop Thomas Morton said that Catholics had some infatuation with ‘ghostly apparitions, which Protestants dare not beleeve.’ Protestants also rejected Purgatory, due to its lack of scriptural basis. However, this did not quell popular beliefs, which made it more difficult for Protestants to explain supposed sightings. They concluded that it was unlikely that such apparitions were angels, as such incidences only occurred in the Old Testament. They even attributed sightings to Elizabethan melancholy, blaming madmen, the sick and menstruating women. They asserted that ghosts were no longer a problem in England, as they had been vanquished by Protestantism, a view articulated by reformer Robert Wisdom in 1543.

Popular beliefs still maintained that ghosts existed, and Keith Thomas argued that people believed that ghosts would return to rectify social arrangements, such as restoring stolen goods. The presence of the supernatural, in the form of the witches bottle and in ‘Hamlet’ tells us that fears of the supernatural occurred across all levels of society, and were affected by the changing religious face of England.

Thanks for reading!

Featured

The Ghostly Cycle in ‘A Tale of Two Cities,’ ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ and ‘Rip Van Winkle’

Perhaps no character is ‘recalled to life’ so forcefully as the Headless Horseman in Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1820). The Horseman returns to the land of the living but does so without his head. In losing his head, he is physically deprived of an integral part of his being, and is therefore impaired. The Horseman’s possession of the traits of being able to return, and having an impairment, make him a prime example of a ghost. ‘Recalled to life’ is first spoken by Jarvis Lorry to Jerry Cruncher in Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities (1859).[1] Lorry is referring to Doctor Alexandre Manette, a French physician who has been released from the Bastille after an eighteen-year incarceration. Both Lorry and Cruncher plan to smuggle Doctor Manette out of France to reunite him with his daughter, Lucie Manette. It is Cruncher and Lorry who are recalling Doctor Manette back to life, by reuniting him with a vital connection that he was deprived of in prison: his family. Doctor Manette’s experience has left him a ghost of his former self. Like Doctor Manette, Rip Van Winkle in Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle (1819) is deprived of his family for a similar amount of time and is also recalled to life by being restored to his family. The traits that make the Horseman a ghost are noticeable in a variety of characters in the works of Dickens and Irving, including those who are living. As well as being a ghost, the Horseman repeatedly returns, and is sighted within Sleepy Hollow. Even after his rescue, Doctor Manette has a tendency to revert back to his former ghostly self. Some characters’ actions imply that they are caught within their own repetitive cycles. As these characters are ghostly, these cycles can be recognised as ghostly cycles. What appears to affect ghostliness, and the ghostly cycle, is the force of devotional love. This devotional love, in both texts, can be motivated by familial or friendly connections. This essay will examine the representation of the key characters in the works of Dickens and Irving, which suggests that the characters are caught in their own impenetrable ghostly cycles. It is devotional love, specifically the devotional love of daughters that is able to cure ghostliness, and break these ghostly cycles.

Irving’s Horseman is introduced as an ‘apparition’ (p. 313). The inhabitants of Sleepy Hollow recognise the abnormality of the Horseman as he lacks the possession of a head, and is not a physical being of flesh and blood. The Horseman is a mercenary ‘Hessian trooper, whose head has been carried away by a cannon ball’ during the American War of Independence.[2] The inhabitants note that the Horseman ‘rides forth to the scene of battle in a nightly quest for his head (p. 314). The gap in his physical body, realised by his lost head, speaks to the gap in time between his death and the present.[3] His ability to travel across multiple generations confirms his status as a ghost, as he has returned from the past to the present. As the Horseman tries to reunite with his head ‘nightly,’ he is caught in his own ghostly cycle, in which he continually tries to remedy his physical impairment. Without his head he lacks an identity, and instead appears as a relentless, faceless force that is representative of the revolutionary violence that was exacted upon him, and that he exacted upon others. The traits of the Horseman provide the definition of a ghost, as he has the ability to return, and has done so with the purpose of recovering something that is lost to him.

Rip Van Winkle becomes a ghost when he awakens from a twenty-year slumber in the Catskill mountains. When walking back into his village, Rip notices that people stare at him, and ‘invariably stroked their chins’ (p. 41). The villagers point out Rip’s ‘foot long’ (p. 41) beard, due to its abnormality. The length of Rip’s beard is symbolic of the length of time of his absence, prompting him to realise that he does not belong in the present time that he currently finds himself in. Rip is a remnant of the past that has returned to the present. ‘Rip’s heart died away at hearing these sad changes in his home and friends’ (p. 44). Rip realises that his friends have all moved on or died. Rip does not lose a physical aspect of himself like the Horseman does, but instead loses the physical beings that once surrounded him. Rip is now deprived, or impaired, of a key aspect of his being: his friends, who constituted his society. As the Horseman has lost his identity by losing his head, Rip has lost an aspect of his identity by losing his society. Rip finds himself alone in the world, questioning in despair ‘Does nobody here know Rip Van Winkle?’ (p. 44). It should be noted that Rip only returns once, and so is not caught in a repetitive cycle of returning like the Horseman is. However, at the end of the novella, Irving notes that Rip ‘used to tell his story to every stranger that arrived’ (p. 47). Rip’s return leads to the generation of a cycle which sees his story repeatedly return, as Rip repeatedly tells it. Rip’s ability to return, and to do so with an impairment, make him a ghost, who is caught within his own ghostly cycle, much like Doctor Manette.

Due to his lengthy imprisonment, Doctor Manette’s bones ‘seemed transparent’ (p. 43). Doctor Manette seems to lack the physical properties that make him recognisable as a human being. Instead, he appears as an ‘apparition’ like the Horseman. Doctor Manette also exhibits a ‘hollowness and thinness’ (p. 42). Doctor Manette’s physical ‘thinness’ implies that he has been starved of nourishment. This explains his extreme frailty, and why he looks ‘transparent.’ Doctor Manette’s ‘hollowness’ implies that he is empty inside. This may be due to his lack of nourishment, but also his emotional deprivation as a result of being separated from his family. When asked his name, Doctor Manette replies with ‘One Hundred and Five, North Tower’ (p. 44). Doctor Manette substitutes his name for his prison cell identification. In doing so, he removes an aspect of his own identity. Dickens concludes that Doctor Manette has ‘faded away into a poor weak stain’ (p. 42). Doctor Manette’s lack of physical and emotional nourishment, as well as his lack of identity, prompts Dickens to remark that he has evanesced to the point at which he is no longer recognisable as a human being anymore. Doctor Manette’s time in prison has impaired him of his humanity.

When hearing that her father is alive, Lucie notes that ‘I have been free, I have been happy, yet his Ghost has never haunted me!’ (p. 28). Lucie had previously believed her father to be dead and until now has been ‘free’ and ‘happy,’ as this belief has not been disputed. In hearing that Doctor Manette is alive, Lucie feels ‘haunted’ by him, as in her mind, he has returned from the dead. Doctor Manette’s ability to return, coupled with his impairment make him a ghost.

When Lucie is reunited with her father, he is obsessively making shoes. Later in the novel, Doctor Manette explains that ‘My mind is a blank, from some time – I cannot even say what time – when I employed myself, in my captivity, in making shoes, to the time when I found myself living in London with my dear daughter here’ (p. 76). Doctor Manette implies that he began making shoes to distract himself from the horrors of his imprisonment. When asked about his imprisonment, Doctor Manette draws a ‘blank’ meaning that his shoemaking has been successful in blocking out the memories of his incarceration. Doctor Manette takes his tools back with him to England, and takes up shoemaking again when Lucie and Charles Darnay go on their honeymoon in a relapse that lasted for ‘nine days’ (p. 204). Doctor Manette does not just return to this activity to forget his imprisonment, but uses it as a coping mechanism in times of anxiety. In this instance, it is the loss of Lucie that causes his anxiety. Although Doctor Manette has been rescued from his imprisonment, his continual relapse into shoemaking demonstrates that he is caught in his own ghostly cycle, as are the peasants of Saint Antoine.

In the street, ‘a large cask of wine’ (p. 30) drops and breaks, and in order to consume the wine, the peasants ‘made scoops’ of it in their hands. The wine runs ‘out between their fingers’ (p. 31). This technique of drinking the wine is inefficient, as some of it is wasted. The peasants’ use of this technique emphasises their desperation to consume the wine immediately.  This draws attention to their extreme hunger and suggests that they are impaired of nourishment. The peasants are described as ‘men with bare arms, matted locks, and cadaverous faces, who had emerged into winter light from cellars’ (p. 31). Their ‘cadaverous faces,’ imply that the peasants look like living corpses. The peasants’ travelling across the spatial distance between the cellar below to the street above alludes to the image of corpses rising from the grave, to the ‘light’ of the land of the living. The peasants return from the cellar to remedy their impairment of nourishment, by drinking the wine. After the wine has been drunk, the peasants ‘descend again; and a gloom gathered on the scene that appeared more natural than sunshine’ (p. 32). The repetition of the peasants’ journey to the streets demonstrates that they are caught in their own ghostly cycle. The fact that Saint Antoine is more accustomed to ‘gloom’ than ‘natural sunshine’ suggests that the town is devoid of vitality, which is confirmed by the presence of the ghostly peasants.

While the town is devoid of vitality, Madame Defarge is devoid of family. Madame Defarge tells Sydney Carton that several of her relatives were murdered by the Marquis St. Evrémonde, explaining that ‘those dead are my dead, and that summons to answer for those things descends to me!’ (p. 354). Madame Defarge’s repetition of personal pronouns demonstrates that she takes ownership of the plight of her relatives and is fiercely protective of them. She recognises that the responsibility of avenging her dead relatives ‘descends’ to her. The use of ‘descends’ likens this desire for revenge to an inheritance, which has travelled down the familial line to her. This inheritance drives Madame Defarge throughout the novel and has done so since ‘childhood’ (p. 375). Although Madame Defarge does not return from a different setting or time as other characters do, by retaining the same desire for revenge in the present as she did in the past, and by living for the purpose of avenging her family, Madame Defarge herself lives in the past. She returns from this past to remedy her impairment: the family that was taken from her.

It is Madame Defarge’s continual desire to avenge her family that generates her own ghostly cycle. Madame Defarge demands that the ‘Evrémonde people are to be exterminated’ (p. 373). ‘People’ demonstrates that Madame Defarge views the Evrémondes as collectively responsible for the sufferings of her family, and therefore requires them to be ‘exterminated,’ meaning totally destroyed.[4] Madame Defarge’s revengeful wrath is directed at Charles Darnay throughout the novel. Darnay is a member of the Evrémonde family, and although he has relinquished all ties with them, Madame Defarge fights for his execution, and that of his ‘wife and child’ (p. 373). Madame Defarge’s desire to destroy the Evrémondes blinds her to the fact that Darnay and his family are not responsible for the murder of her relatives. Madame Defarge’s plans to eradicate the Evrémondes demonstrate that she possesses a ferocity that is synonymous with the French revolution itself, making her appear like an unrestrained force of nature, that could be likened to the Horseman. In wishing to execute Darnay and his family as compensation for the death of her family, Madame Defarge desires the completion of her own ghostly cycle of revenge.

Sydney Carton enters into his own ghostly cycle by sacrificing himself for Darnay at the end of the novel. When swapping places with Darnay in jail, Carton describes himself as ‘the resurrection and the life’ (p. 325). Dickens likens Carton to Jesus, as like Jesus, Carton is dying for the sins of others: the Evrémondes (p. 483, n. 4). Like Jesus, Carton believes that he will be resurrected. On the scaffold, Carton speaks about Darnay and Lucie’s future, including a child ‘who bore my name, a man, winning his way up in that path of life which was once mine’ (p. 390). Carton assumes that Lucie and Darnay will name a son after him, and that this will facilitate Carton’s resurrection. As well as this, Darnay’s son will take the ‘life which was once mine,’ indicating that, Darnay’s son will live the life that Carton has surrendered for his survival. This will allow Carton to live vicariously through Darnay’s son, meaning that Darnay’s survival means Carton’s survival. Carton believes that he will be ever-present in the lives of the Darnay’s following his death. This presence can be likened to a haunting. However, Carton does not wish to torment the Darnay family, as the Horseman torments the inhabitants of Sleepy Hollow. Carton merely wishes to be included in the Darnay’s’ life, as recompense for his sacrifice. In continually returning to the Darnay’s, Carton would possess the ghostly trait of being able to return, and would be caught in his own ghostly cycle.

Carton’s words on the scaffold suggest that some of the revolutionaries will be caught in their own ghostly cycle. Carton condemns the violence of the revolutionaries, saying that they will meet their end by the ‘retributive’ Guillotine (p. 389). Carton mentions The Vengeance, who is first introduced as a ‘lieutenant’ who ‘had already earned the complimentary name of The Vengeance’ (p. 231). It was common for revolutionaries to be named after concepts of the revolution (p. 231, n. 1). Her being referred to as a ‘lieutenant’ implies that the vengeful force that she possesses is greater than the vengeful force of her fellow revolutionaries. She is seen ‘uttering terrific shrieks, and flinging her arms about her head like all the forty Furies at once, tearing from house to house, rousing the women’ (p. 232). The verbs ‘flinging,’ ‘tearing’ and ‘rousing’ emphasise the erratic and volatile nature of her movements. Her comparison to the ‘Furies,’ the Greek deities of vengeance, emphasise that she personifies vengeance. As the reader can only use her name and behaviour to identify her, she appears not as a person, but as a symbolic force of the revolution. If Carton were correct in predicting that The Vengeance would be guillotined, in death she would mirror the Headless Horseman. Like the Horseman, the Vengeance would be impaired of a head and identity, and therefore would appear as a faceless, force of violence. Although the Horseman did not possess any political affiliations, The Vengeance, like him, would be a casualty of a revolutionary war, who would continually return to the present to retrieve her lost head, and thus be caught in her own ghostly cycle.

Miss Pross’s killing of Madame Defarge means that Madame Defarge could be caught in another ghostly cycle. This altercation occurs at the end of the novel, when Miss Pross fights Madame Defarge to protect Lucie and her child. After Madame Defarge’s gun goes off, ‘the smoke cleared, leaving an awful stillness, it passed out on the air, like the soul of the furious woman whose body lay lifeless on the ground’ (p. 383). Dickens notes that the smoke dissipated much like the way in which Madame Defarge’s ‘soul’ exited her ‘lifeless’ body. It is unclear where Madame Defarge has been shot, meaning that she could have been shot in the head, perhaps entirely removing it. If this were the case, Madame Defarge’s story would resemble the Horseman’s. Madame Defarge would be impaired of a head, like the Horseman, and will also still be impaired of her family. She would return in search of her head, but also to remedy the impairment of her family by avenging them, an endeavour that she failed to accomplish in life. In facilitating the creation of another ghostly cycle, Miss Pross condemns herself to a ghostly existence.

Due to the sound of the gunshot, Miss Pross ‘never will hear anything else in the world’ (p. 384). Miss Pross is left impaired of her hearing. As well as this, just as Carton believes he will be ever present in the minds of the Darnay’s, the significance of the loss of Miss Pross’s hearing suggests that Madame Defarge will be ever present in Miss Pross’s mind, because it was the altercation with her that caused Miss Pross’s deafness. The idea that Madame Defarge will forever haunt Miss Pross only strengthens the formers likeness to the Horseman. Although Miss Pross’s impairment renders her as ghostly, she does succeed in preventing Madame Defarge’s ghostly cycle of revenge from coming to completion, by stopping Madame Defarge from taking the life of Lucie and her child.

Miss Pross is able to do this because she is driven by the ‘vigorous tenacity of love, always so much stronger than hate’ (p. 383). By personifying love as tenacious, Dickens implies that Miss Pross’s devotional love for Lucie is what gives her the strength to kill Madame Defarge. Michael Slater claims that Dickens associates Madame Defarge with hate because her devotional love for her family has transformed into a desire for revenge, whereas Miss Pross’s devotional love for Lucie does not change, and remains as devotional love.[5] This makes Miss Pross ‘stronger’ than Madame Defarge. Miss Pross’s devotional love for Lucie is strong enough to stop the completion of Madame Defarge’s ghostly cycle of revenge, as is Carton’s.

Like Miss Pross, Carton also halts Madame Defarge’s ghostly cycle of revenge, by ensuring that other revolutionaries do not complete it after her death. Carton’s sacrifice was foreshadowed when he told Lucie that he ‘would give his life to keep a life you love beside you!’ (p. 159). Although his love is unrequited, Carton is so devoted to Lucie that he is willing to die so that she can live her fullest life. ‘A life you love’ may refer to Darnay, as his life is vital to Lucie’s life, as her ‘love.’ As the crowd believe that Carton is Darnay, their appetite for revenge is satisfied, thus freeing Darnay and Lucie from further persecution. It is Carton’s devotional love for Lucie that motivates his sacrifice. Devin Griffiths argues that once the violence of revolution has erupted, the wound that it causes cannot be ‘closed, only adjusted.’[6] Miss Pross and Carton validate this idea, as, although their devotional love for Lucie is able to halt Madame Defarge’s ghostly cycle, it does not prevent them from becoming ghostly, and generating other ghostly cycles.

However, Griffins views are invalidated by the presence of devotional, daughterly love, which breaks the ghostly cycle. When wandering through his village, Rip comes across his son, also called Rip. In his son, Rip sees his ‘precise counterpart’ (p. 44). As Rip senior is looking at himself in Rip junior, the latter does not inspire any memories for him, as at this point Rip is unsure of his own identity. Rip then sees his daughter, whispering ‘hush Rip’ (p. 45) to her child. ‘The name of the child, the air of the mother, the tone of her voice all awakened a train of recollections in his mind’ (p. 45). The sight of Rip’s daughter encompasses four generations of Rip’s family: Rip himself, his daughter, grandchild, and wife. In recognising his family, Rip is able to identify himself, by reasserting himself back into the familial structure as patriarch, which is shown by his exclamation of ‘I am your father!’ (p. 45).[7] Rip’s realisation of who he is, prompted by the sight of his daughter, resolves his identity crisis. Rip’s daughter then takes ‘him home to live with her’ (p. 46). Although Rip’s daughter does not cure the ghostly cycle of storytelling, as Rip himself chooses to continue this, her devotional love for him is enough to cure his ghostliness, allowing him to be fully ‘recalled to life.’

Lucie’s devotional love for Doctor Manette recalls him back to life. When meeting him in France, he ‘took off a blackened string with a scrap of folded rag attached to it […] it contained a very little quantity of hair: not more than one or two long golden hairs’ (p. 47). The hair belonged to Doctor Manette’s wife, Lucie’s mother. It is his recognition of Lucie’s golden hair that prompts Doctor Manette to realise that his kin that stands before him. Elizabeth Gitter likens Lucie’s hair to a halo which secures Doctor Manette within the ‘vital family network.’[8] Gitter implies that the sight of Lucie’s hair allows Doctor Manette to recognise himself, as Lucie’s father, and it is this that reintroduces him into the family network. This restores part of his lost identity. Gitter’s use of ‘vital’ also emphasises the importance of familial love, due to its role in healing Doctor Manette. After returning to England, Lucie is recognised as the ‘the golden thread that united him to a Past beyond his misery, and to a Present beyond his misery’ (p. 83). This metaphor implies that Lucie is representative of the happiest parts of Doctor Manette’s life: the time before and after his imprisonment. The memories in-between are negated by Lucie’s presence, as she was absent from him during his imprisonment. When Lucie departs for her honeymoon, Doctor Manette relapses into shoemaking. Miss Pross and Lorry destroy the shoemaker’s bench to end this relapse. It is only in Lucie’s ‘name’ (p. 212) that Doctor Manette allows this. This demonstrates that only Lucie’s love is able to cure Doctor Manette’s ghostliness and break his ghostly cycle.

In crafting characters that have the ability to return, but do so with some sort of impairment, Dickens and Irving have created novels that are populated with ghostly characters. The repetitive actions of these ghostly characters confirm the presence of multiple, impenetrable ghostly cycles within the authors’ works. The action within these works centres around people’s ability to affect the ghostly cycle. Dickens and Irving use the ghostly cycle to discuss the consequences and implications of historical revolutionary violence. The very nature of revolution requires a total upheaval of the previous regime, and as demonstrated in these texts, revolution mirrors the violence of the regime that preceded it. The ghostly cycles reflect the cyclical nature of revolution, and demonstrate the futility of revolution, by recognising its inherent destructiveness. Instead of advocating revolutionary war to end tyranny, Dickens and Irving advocate the power of devotional, daughterly love, as it is this force that frees people from their ghostly cycles, allowing them to be fully ‘recalled to life.’

Thanks for reading!


[1] Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (London: Penguin Classics, 2004).Subsequent references will be given in parentheses in the text.

[2] Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories (London: Penguin Classics, 2004) p. 313. Subsequent references will be given in parentheses in the text.

[3] Robert Hughes, ‘Sleepy Hollow: Fearful Pleasures and the Nightmare of History’, Arizona Quarterly, 61(3) (2005), 1-26, (p. 15).

[4] Cates Baldridge, ‘Alternatives to Bourgeois Individualism in A Tale of Two Cities’, Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, 30(4) (1990) 633-654, (p. 639).

[5] Catherine J. Golden, ‘Late-Twentieth-Century Readers in Search of a Dickensian Heroine: Angels, Fallen Sisters, and Eccentric Women, Modern Language Studies, 30(2) (2000), 5-19, (p. 14).

[6] Devin Griffiths, ‘The Comparative History of A Tale of Two Cities’, ELH, 80(3) (2013), 811-838, (p. 829).

[7] Michael Warner, ‘Irving’s Posterity’, ELH, 67(3) (2000), 773-799, (p. 788).

[8] Elisabeth G. Gitter, ‘The Power of Women’s Hair in the Victorian Imagination,’ PMLA, 99(5) (1984), 936-954, (p. 944).

Featured

‘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.

Featured

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!

Featured

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.

Featured

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.

Featured

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).

Featured

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.

Thanks for reading!

Featured

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]

Thanks for reading!


[1] All quotes from:

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

Featured

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.

Featured

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.

Featured

‘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.