Moll Flanders: Subverting Romance Conventions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] Congreve, Incognita, A5v sig.

[4] Ibid., A5v sig.

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

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

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

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

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

[10] Behn, Oroonoko, p. 20.

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

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

Valentine’s Day: A Brief History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Him who worth in Women overtrusting,

Lets her Will rule; restraint she will not brook,

And left to herself, if evil thence ensue,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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[1] Ibid., p. 18.

[2] Ibid., p. 32.

[3] Ibid., p. 56.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[11] Ibid., p. 32.

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

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

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

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

[16] Ibid., p. 173.

[17] Ibid., p. 172.

[18] Ibid., p. 207.

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

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

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

[22] Ibid., p. 338.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘The Wife, where danger and dishonour lurks,

Safest and seemliest by her Husband staies,

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

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

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

 ‘That space the Evil One abstracted stood

From his own evil, and from the time remained,

Stupidly good.’ (IX. 463-465).

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

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

Thanks for reading! Part two next week!


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

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

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

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

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

[6] Ibid., p. 134.

[7] Ibid., p. 135.

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

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

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

[11] Ibid., p. 66.

[12] Ibid., p. 71.

The ‘supreme’ Tudor monarch and material culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Bhangra: A Brief History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


[1] Information taken from:

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

https://learnbhangra.com/history

And my own knowledge.

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

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

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

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

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

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


[1] All information taken from:

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

And my own knowledge.

Female Suffering in Shakespeare: Ophelia and Juliet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!


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

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

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

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

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

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

[7] Ibid., p. 72.

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

[9] Ibid., p. 115

[10] Ibid., p. 114

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!


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

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

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

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

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

[6] Morrison, Beloved, p. 236.

[7] Ibid., p. 66.

[8] Ibid., p. 67.

[9] Ibid., p. 67.

[10] Ibid., p. 67.

[11] Ibid., p. 157.

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

[13] Morrison, Beloved, p. 21.

[14] Ibid., p. 18.

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

[16] Ibid., p. 181.

[17] Ibid., p. 178.

[18] Ibid., p. 110.

[19] Ibid., p. 110.

[20] Ibid., p. 110.

[21] Ibid., p. 110.

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

[23] Ibid., p. 253.

[24] Ibid., p. 252.

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

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

[27] Ibid., p. 1.

[28] Ibid., p. 3.

[29] Ibid., p. 169.

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

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

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

[33] Ibid., p. 138.

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

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

[36] Morrison, Beloved, p. 248.

[37] Ibid., p. 256.

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

[39] Ibid., p. 479.

[40] Morrison, Beloved, p. 323.

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

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

[43] Ibid., p. 147

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

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

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

[47] Frosh, ‘The Other,’ p. 394.

[48] Morrison, Beloved, p. 236.

[49] Ibid., p. 215.

[50] Ibid., p. 179.

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

[52] Morrison, Beloved, p. 295.

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

[54] Morrison, Beloved, p. 237.

[55] Ibid., p. 295.

[56] Ibid., p. 295.

[57] Ibid., p. 294.

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

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

[60] Ibid., p. 292.

Dickens and the classic Victorian Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas, thanks for reading!


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