Close Analysis: A Tudor Witch Bottle

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TW: Sexual Assault

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

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

[2] Ibid., p. 74.

[3] Ibid., p. 95.

[4] Ibid., p. 99.

[5] Ibid., p. 249.

[6] Ibid., p. 444.

The ‘Femme Fatale’ on Screen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

Historical Fiction: Can it make sense?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

[1] Reith Lectures, 2017.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[1] All quotes from:

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

[2] All quotes from:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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[1] All quotes from:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And my own knowledge.