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.

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.

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!

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.

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!’

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[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.

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.

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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.

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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).

‘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.

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!