Why does Hamlet delay his revenge?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[1] All quotes from:

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

How did Britain gain control of India?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

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

[2] Information taken from

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

[3] Information taken from:

And my own knowledge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[1] All quotes from:

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

Was there political instability in Elizabeth I’s government?

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

All information taken from:

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

And my own knowledge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

All information taken from:

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

And my own knowledge.

Ambrosio and Irony in ‘The Monk’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

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

[2] Ibid., p. 13.

[3] Ibid., p. 23.

[4] Ibid., p. 23.

[5] Ibid., p. 74.

[6] Ibid., p. 69.

[7] Ibid., p. 429.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

[1] All information taken from:

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

And my own knowledge.

Lady Susan and Subverting Gender Roles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

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

[2] Ibid., p. 4.

[3] Ibid., p. 26.

[4] Ibid., p. 4.

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

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

[7] Ibid., p. 4.

[8] Ibid., p. 4.

[9] Ibid., p.4.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[16] Ibid., p.164.

[17] Ibid., p. 164.

The Gothic in ‘Jane Eyre’

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

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

‘… long gallery…’

‘… vault-like air…’

‘… cheerless ideas of space and solitude…’

‘… eerie impression…’

‘… dark and spacious staircase…’

‘… long, cold gallery…’[1]

‘… stepped over the threshold…’[2]

‘… battlements…’[3]

… return to stagnation…’[4]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

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

[2] Ibid., p. 117.

[3] Ibid., p. 118.

[4] Ibid., p. 137.

[5] Ibid., p 327.

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

[7] Ibid., p. xxii.

[8] Ibid., p. xiv.

[9] Ibid., p. 338.