Ambrosio and Irony in ‘The Monk’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!


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

[2] Ibid., p. 13.

[3] Ibid., p. 23.

[4] Ibid., p. 23.

[5] Ibid., p. 74.

[6] Ibid., p. 69.

[7] Ibid., p. 429.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!


[1] All information taken from:

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

And my own knowledge.

Lady Susan and Subverting Gender Roles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!


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

[2] Ibid., p. 4.

[3] Ibid., p. 26.

[4] Ibid., p. 4.

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

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

[7] Ibid., p. 4.

[8] Ibid., p. 4.

[9] Ibid., p.4.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[16] Ibid., p.164.

[17] Ibid., p. 164.

The Gothic in ‘Jane Eyre’

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

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

‘… long gallery…’

‘… vault-like air…’

‘… cheerless ideas of space and solitude…’

‘… eerie impression…’

‘… dark and spacious staircase…’

‘… long, cold gallery…’[1]

‘… stepped over the threshold…’[2]

‘… battlements…’[3]

… return to stagnation…’[4]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!


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

[2] Ibid., p. 117.

[3] Ibid., p. 118.

[4] Ibid., p. 137.

[5] Ibid., p 327.

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

[7] Ibid., p. xxii.

[8] Ibid., p. xiv.

[9] Ibid., p. 338.

Magna Carta and Religious Change in the Tudor Era

Magna Carta was drawn up in 1215 with the intention of limiting the power of the crown and has since been used to defend individual liberties.[1] It was used frequently with the intention of affecting religious change during the Tudor period.

Magna Carta was primarily used to aid the learning of young lawyers at the Inns of Court.[2] Tutors, named ‘readers,’ would choose a clause, and use it to teach pupils through means of assessment and discussion.[3] Magna Carta provided students with an inactive legal statute to study, as the Charter was not seen as a living constitution.[4] Lawyers were taught at an early age that the king and governing classes should prioritise ‘matters concerning God and the Church,’ as described in a Reading dating back to the early 1530s.[5] As lawyers were taught that the king should prioritise the Church above all else; they, as well as opposers to religious reform, were provided with a legitimate document that they could use to discredit religious change, in the form of Magna Carta. This explains why Magna Carta was used with the intention of affecting religious change throughout the Tudor period, in response to events like The Break with Rome.

The Break with Rome was prompted by Pope Clement VII’s refusal to grant Henry VIII a divorce from Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn.[6] In response to this, Henry sought to obtain Royal Supremacy, which would grant him absolute power over church policy within England, thus allowing him to grant himself a divorce.[7] Parliament had to pass a series of laws to facilitate The Break with Rome, which led to the formation of the Church of England.[8] Churches which still had ties to the Roman Catholic Church were stripped of their land and value, their riches being added to the king’s coffers in an act known as the Dissolution of the Monasteries.[9] The Dissolution led to outrage and encouraged people to cite the first clause of Magna Carta in attempts to affect the current religious changes.[10]

The first clause stated that the ‘English Church shall be free and shall have all its rights undiminished and its liberties unimpaired.’[11] In 1532, the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Warham, wrote a speech opposing the proposed reforms to the churches in England, to be delivered to the House of Lords.[12] He argued that the ‘liberties of the Church are guaranteed by Magna Charta,’ signalling a resurgence in peoples’ use of the document in attempts to affect religious change.[13] Warham’s successor, Matthew Parker, too cited Magna Carta to defend the state church against the religious reforms.

Magna Carta was also cited by the fifty thousand people taking part in the Pilgrimage of Grace,[14] a mass northern uprising led specifically to combat the ‘suppression’ of the churches.[15] Leader Robert Aske specifically cited Magna Carta as the rioters’ ‘warrant for rebellion,’ as they argued that they were defending the freedoms of the church, which were outlined in Magna Carta.[16] As well as citing Clause 1 of Magna Carta, Clause 29 was also referenced to ensure the liberty of the people, defending them from unlawful imprisonment. Clause 29 stated that ‘No man shall in future be arrested or imprisoned […] except by lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.’[17] Despite the efforts of those above, the Dissolution of the Monasteries continued and the government quashed the Pilgrimage of Grace, executing Robert Aske in 1537.[18]

Thomas More cited Magna Carta as a form of personal defence against the law. More was a conservative Catholic, who opposed The Break with Rome and Henry’s divorce.[19] This prompted More to resign as chancellor in May 1532.[20] The 1534 Act of Succession, demanded that everyone swear to the validity of Henry’s marriage to Anne, prioritising any of their children as legitimate heirs to the throne.[21] More refused to comply, and in response was imprisoned.[22] At his trial, More referenced Magna Carta, declaring that the indictment against him and the treatment of the church was ‘both contrary to the laws and statues of this our land yet unrepealed, as they might evidently perceive in Magna Charta.’[23] More used Magna Carta to justify his own religious beliefs, and his belief in the freedom of the church, both of which were being attacked by the proposed religious reforms.[24] However, his citing of the document did not help to win his cause, as he was executed in 1535.[25]

When she came to the throne in 1558, Henry and Anne’s daughter Elizabeth I inherited a divided England.[26] Her predecessor, Mary I, had attempted to restore the Catholic faith and stamp out Protestantism by restoring England to the Roman Catholic Church.[27] This led to the formation of an extremist Protestant faction, known as the Puritans, based in the heart of Elizabeth’s government, who tried to prioritise their own interests to the detriment of the remaining Catholics in England.[28] Elizabeth proclaimed herself the Supreme Governor of the Church of England under her Act of Uniformity in 1559, breaking with the Roman Catholic Church as her father Henry did.[29] Elizabeth’s religious settlement was less harsh than total Protestant uniformity, which discomforted the Puritans.[30] Elizabeth appointed John Whitgift as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1583, who was tasked with dealing with those Puritans who opposed Elizabeth’s milder religious settlement.[31]

Whitgift forced all suspected Puritans to take an ex officio oath, swearing to Elizabeth’s Act of Uniformity, and thus acknowledging Elizabeth’s milder religious settlement.[32] To facilitate this, the Court of High Commission was created in 1559.[33] The Court fined those suspected of heresy and incarcerated them without bail, powers which were not given to ordinary spiritual courts.[34] In response to this, attorney James Morice used Magna Carta to defend Puritan sympathiser Robert Cawdry in 1591, declaring that there was an imbalance of equality between lay ecclesiastical jurisdiction, as the Court drew power from the crown, an unchecked power.[35] Diplomat Robert Beale acted similarly in 1593, using Magna Carta to defend the Puritans while criticising Whitgift and the Court.[36] Beale argued that the oath and the Court came into conflict with Clause 29 of Magna Carta,[37] which stated that one could not be starved of their liberties without being judged by the law.[38] Both Beale and Morice believed that the Court of High Commission should not be given the authority to ‘change or alter the lawes of this Realme,’ which were detailed in Magna Carta.[39] Despite Beale and Morice’s protests, and attempts to use Magna Carta to ensure that the rights of the Puritans were not unlawfully encroached upon, they were ignored and the Court of High Commission continued to practice until 1641.[40]

Magna Carta was frequently cited within the Tudor period with the intention of affecting religious change. However, its lack of success, evidenced by the failure of the Pilgrimage of Grace, More’s execution and the continuing practices of the Court of the High Commission, confirm that it was correctly viewed by those it was used to educate, as an in inactive document.

Thanks for reading!


[1] RV. Turner, Magna Carta Through the Ages (New York, 2003), p. 8.

[2] M. McGlynn, ‘From Charter to common law: the rights and liberties of the pre Reformation Church’ in Griffith-Jones, R. & Hill, M. (eds.), Magna Carta, Religion and the Rule of Law (Cambridge, 2015), p. 57.

[3] Ibid., p. 57.

[4] J. Baker, The Reinvention of Magna Carta 1216 – 1616 (Cambridge, 2017), p. 86.

[5] ‘Reading 10, circa 1530’, in M. McGlynn, The Rights and Liberties of the English Church: Readings from the Pre-Reformation Inns of Court (London, 2015), p 141.

[6] J. Guy, Tudor England (Oxford, 2000), p. 116.

[7] Ibid., p. 39.

[8] Guy, Tudor England, p. 116.

[9] Ibid., p. 14.

[10] F. Thompson, Magna Carta: Its Role in the Making of the English Constitution (Minnesota, 1972), p. 140.

[11] Magna Carta (1225), Clause 1, trans. in H. Rothwell (ed.), English Historical Documents Volume III, (London, 1995), p.333-338.

[12] Thompson, Magna Carta, p. 140.

[13] ‘Undelivered speech to the Parliament of England, August 1532,’ in F. Thompson, Magna Carta, p. 140.

[14] S. Lipscomb, 1536: The Year that Changed Henry VIII (London, 2009), p. 148.

[15] Ibid., p. 156.

[16] Thompson, Magna Carta, p. 141.

[17] Magna Carta (1225), Clause 29.

[18] Lipscomb, 1536, p. 166.

[19] Guy, Tudor England, p.141.

[20] D. Starkey, Six Queens: The Wives of Henry VIII (New York, 2004), p. 450.

[21] Lipscomb, 1536, p. 41.

[22] Guy, Tudor England, p. 40.

[23] ‘Speech of Thomas More at Westminster Hall, July 1535,’ in F. Thompson, Magna Carta, p. 140.

[24] Guy, Tudor England, p. 141.

[25] Ibid., p. 139.

[26] A. Weir, Elizabeth the Queen (London, 2009), p. 3.

[27] Ibid., p. 2.

[28] Ibid., p. 3.

[29] JP. Somerville, Royalists and Patriots: Politics and Ideology in England (New York, 1986), p. 94.

[30] Guy, Tudor England, p. 261.

[31] Weir, Elizabeth the Queen, p. 347.

[32] Thompson, Magna Carta, p. 212.

[33] J. Baker, ‘Magna Carta and personal liberty’ in Griffith-Jones, R. & Hill, M. (eds.), Magna Carta, Religion and the Rule of Law (Cambridge, 2015), p. 98.

[34] Ibid., p. 98.

[35] Thompson, Magna Carta, p. 219.

[36] Baker, ‘Magna Carta and personal liberty’, p. 100.

[37] Ibid., p. 100.

[38] Magna Carta (1225), Clause 29.

[39] James Morice, Brief Treatise of Oathes Exacted by Ordinaries and Ecclesiasticall Judges, trans. in F. Thompson, Magna Carta, p. 219.

[40] Baker, ‘Magna Carta and personal liberty’, p. 100.

Lucy Westenra’s Transformation in ‘Dracula’

Lucy and Mina are the two main female characters in the Gothic novel ‘Dracula,’ and both have very different roles. Mina is dark haired, Lucy is fair haired, Mina is the brains, Lucy is the progressive thinker, in terms of relationships and sex. Together they are ‘woman,’ and individually form two sides of the same coin. Both fall victim to Dracula, but for Lucy this is fatal. Before her death however, Lucy is described as a highly sexualised and voracious female vampire. She’s an example of the ‘sexy vampire’ trope, and becomes a creature that is antithetical to the idealized image of woman and mother.

We already know that Lucy is confronting Victorian sexual codes when the reader realises that she is universally desired. She has three suitors, in the forms of Quincey Morris, Arthur Holmwood and Dr John Seward.[1] She confesses that if she could, she would marry all three, but settles for Arthur. This seems like innocent girl-talk with her best mate Mina, but to Victorian readers, Lucy saying that she wants to marry three men is basically the same thing as saying that she wants to have sex with the three men. For Victorians, this is hugely scandalous, and so from very early on in the book, everyone is under the impression that Lucy has an untapped sexual desire, waiting to break free. Cue Dracula.

Dracula basically rocks up, takes advantage and enhances Lucy’s tendency to sleep walk, and begins feeding from her. Mina notices that her friend is getting ill, and at this point, Van Helsing is called in. Long story short, she gets weaker and weaker, and receives blood transfusions from all three of her suitors.[2] Dracula keeps draining her, creating a slightly nauseating flow of blood between the five of them. It’s worth noting that Victorians believed that, during sex, the couples’ blood would become intermingled. Based on this ridiculous fact, the Victorians would have believed that these five characters… well you can guess the rest. Lucy becomes increasingly ‘bloodless,’ and eventually dies.[3]

Alarm bells ring early on though, in the run up to the funeral, Quincey, Arthur, Seward and Van Helsing notice that Lucy’s coffin is frequently empty.[4] When she’s inside, however, and they do catch a glimpse of her, Seward notes that:

‘There lay Lucy, seemingly just as we had seen her the night before her funeral. She was, if possible, more radiantly beautiful than ever; and I could not believe that she was dead. The lips were red, nay redder than before; and on the cheeks was a delicate bloom.’[5]

So… Lucy looks better dead than alive? Strange. She’s highly sexualised and basically becomes the perfect example of Victorian female beauty in her death. Her lips are red, her skin pale, her cheeks rosy. Serious Snow White vibes here. She’s also laid to rest in her coffin in her wedding dress. White obviously signifies purity, and the contrast of this with the red of her lips is an obvious reference to the Madonna-Whore complex. Lucy also becomes a tad more demanding in death, commanding Arthur:

‘Come to me, Arthur. Leave these others and come to me. My arms are hungry for you. Come, and we can rest together. Come, my husband, come!’[6]

Lucy has all of the men’s blood inside her, so all men respond to her call. She’s less innocent here and has more agency when acting on her sexual desires. Her sexual desires are heightened in her vampiric state. She tries to be a femme fatale here, but it doesn’t quite work as Arthur, although tempted, doesn’t submit. Lucy’s actions and character here play to the dichotomies of pain and pleasure, danger and attraction. Stoker does a good job of encapsulating all of these big ideas into one character, making sure the reader knows that Lucy is not one set ‘thing.’

Stoker then goes on to add the ‘anti-mother’ to the list. Back in the day, women were expected to be subservient, and bear children. Lucy directly subverts the ideal of the perfect mother, as she is seen to be feeding off the blood of a ‘fair-haired’ child.[7] Lucy’s ‘sweetness was turned to adamantine, heartless cruelty, and the purity to voluptuous wantonness.’[8] Again Stoker notes Lucy’s new, overt sexuality here, but the ‘heartless cruelty’ here is worth noting. She’s carrying a baby and drinking its blood. That’s not something mothers do. Carolyn Dever argues that mothers in the Gothic narrative are ‘constructed as an emblem of safety.’[9] In this case, Lucy isn’t. Usually mothers protect their children in the Gothic novel from other forces that would harm them, but Lucy’s not quite up for that. She is the force that harms the child.

Her death climaxes a lot of these themes, especially that of her sexuality. The driving of a stake through her heart by her beloved Arthur works as some kind of strange, sexual release. The blood that spurts from her body is a reference to Arthur taking her virginity. But, as she is not conscious when he drives the stake in, it’s also a reference to rape. Lucy’s death acts as a punishment for her, by Victorian standards, unnatural sexual desires. In this weird, sex act Lucy’s soul is saved as she is no longer a vampire. Lucy’s portrayal in ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula,’ 1992, by Sadie Frost is probably the most iconic and accurate to the book.

Sadie Frost as Lucy Westenra in ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula,’ 1992

And that’s pretty much it for Lucy. Here lies a thoroughly modern woman gone too soon, punished and criticised by the Victorian sexual codes and patriarchal society that she found herself stuck in. Lucy dies about halfway through the novel, so even though she isn’t around for long, she is important. Her death spurs on the others, particularly Mina, to hunt Dracula down and kill him.

Thanks for reading!


[1] Bram Stoker, Dracula (London: Penguin Clothbound Classics, 2011), p. 64.

[2] Ibid., p. 131.

[3] Ibid., p. 121.

[4] Ibid., p. 210.

[5] Ibid., p. 213.

[6] Ibid., p. 226.

[7] Ibid., p. 225.

[8] Ibid., p. 225.

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

Henry VIII and Donald Trump: More alike than not?

Henry VIII and Donald Trump are probably two of the most famous men in history… but don’t tell them that or we’ll never hear the end of it. On the surface, I didn’t think they would have much in common, but there was more there than I thought.

Beginnings

Both are second sons, so were not intended to inherit their father’s empire. Henry’s older brother Arthur died, as did Trump’s. Trump’s brother, Fred Jr, died of alcoholism, leaving Trump to take over the family business. Both men ascended to positions of power at a young age, and spent a lot of money that their fathers had saved for them. Both use this money to build their own personal empire, deploying the ancient art of propaganda.

Personality and Propaganda

Henry commissioned a painting by Holbein, featuring himself, his mother and father, and Jane Seymour. In contrast to his son, Henry VII looks weak and feeble, and is seen leaning on a pillar. Henry wants to be better than his father and uses artistic propaganda to perpetuate this image. Written on the pillar on which Henry VII leans, the text is inscribed: ‘the son was born to a greater dynasty.’ Henry spent more money on lavish jousting tournaments and builds 60 palaces just because he could.

Copy in oils of the Whitehall Mural, commissioned by Charles II in 1667. Artist: Remigius Van Leemput.

Trump’s version of this, is to become the president of his father’s, Fred Trump’s, construction empire. Trump bought a lot of property, and to build his own personal brand, stamped his name all over it. Trump opens a gaming industry, casinos, naming one ‘Trump’s Castle.’ He clearly thinks he’s the King. He then opened Trump tower in 1983. Basically, the modern equivalent of lots of paintings, right? There’s a degree of showmanship on both sides here.

Advisors and Governing

Trump and Henry also had the ability to make and break their advisors. Henry had Wolsey and Cromwell, and initially, Trump had Roy Cohn, who was feared throughout Manhattan. In both incidences, both Trump and Henry made their advisors and gave them a degree of power. This means that Wolsey, Cromwell and Roy Cohn all completely depended on those that they served, and if they should cross them… well two out of the three ended up losing their heads. Steven Bannon masterminded Trump’s campaign, and I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen him anywhere near Trump recently, as he was fired. Henry himself was responsible for 300 executions, and both Henry and Trump appear to govern by fear. Trump has his finger on the ‘nuclear’ button, Henry could cut off heads. Trump noted that his administration was ‘different,’ and warned people not to ‘underestimate’ him, or they will be met with ‘fire and fury.’ Scary stuff. Dominic Sandbrook argues that both Henry and Trump have encouraged a hyper nationalism, ensuring that those who they govern are focused on their country and their country alone, we see this in Trump’s slogan ‘Make America Great Again.’

First Marriage

Trump and Henry both have had tumultuous relationships with women. Both men also don’t like to be upstaged by their wives either. Catherine of Aragon and Henry married in 1509, and had a happy marriage. She even used to sew his shirts by hand. On one occasion, while Henry is away, Catherine fends of a Scottish invasion, noting that the battle was ‘worth more than anything you could achieve in France.’ Catherine’s success outshone Henry’s in France, which probably did not go down well. 500 years later, Trump fell for Ivana Zelnickova, who he later left her in charge with refurbishing and relaunching the Plaza Hotel. Judging by the video footage, Trump is there as an accessory at the opening party, and he doesn’t exactly look happy. With Ivana at the fore, perhaps Trump also felt upstaged.

Divorce

Both men would go through some messy divorces. Henry cast Catherine of Aragon aside in favour of Anne Boleyn, and formally separated from the Roman Catholic Church in order to marry her. This was a very public divorce battle, with Catherine of Aragon, at one point, openly storming out of the divorce court. Trump follows suit by having a very public affair with Marla Maples, which leads to a messy divorce battle with Ivana. Both of these don’t last though, as Anne’s marriage with Henry sours after a riding accident in 1536, which leaves him cantankerous and lacking mobility. Henry’s lack of activity makes him pile on the pounds, eating 5000 calories a day. Anne’s three miscarriages exacerbated the already strained relationship between the pair. All of this culminates in Anne’s execution, in May 1536, which was carefully crafted by Henry’s advisor Thomas Cromwell. Trump and Mala’s relationship also deteriorated, when the papers reported that the pair were regularly have fierce arguments, partly because of Trump’s unhealthy lifestyle. They divorced in 1991.

Mid Life Crisis?

Both men later married younger women, which Matt Frei identifies as a way to rejuvenate themselves. Henry marriages teenager Catherine Howard in 1540, and Trump married Melania, who was 24 years his junior, in 2005.

Campaigning, Fake News and Personal Politics

You wouldn’t think it, but Henry has also had a brush with the old fake news. The printing press was a relatively new invention in Tudor England, and Henry used it to launch and aid his break from Rome. However, he gained some bad press about the war with Scotland, with sources citing that there were mass killings of women and children. Henry fought pamphlet with pamphlet, and went around sticking signs on the inflammatory pamphlets, stating that they were fables… in other words… fake news. Joanne Paul notes that we are told to believe that only those in power hold the truth. Matt Frei argues that Trump’s use of Twitter allows him to communicate directly with the electorate. Both Henry and Trump ensured that politics became personal, and that their own image was at the forefront. Referring back to ‘Personality and Propaganda’…

Germaphobes

Matt Frei notes that Trump is a germaphobe, and its well documented that Henry would cook up all kinds of remedies to combat diseases like the Sweating Sickness. Suzannah Lipscomb goes further, calling Henry a hypochondriac.

Women and Violence

Both men have not treated women well. For Henry, this mainly concerns his advocation of beheading his wives, including 17 year old Catherine Howard. In terms of Trump, rumours about sexual misconduct were, and are, rife. In 2015, videos filmed in 2005 of him speaking about sexually molesting women came to light, and since he has come to office, 20 women have come forward to report sexual assault. He denied all claims. Ivana, Trump’s first wife, reported that he raped her at trump tower, although she later said she did not mean rape in the literal sense. Whatever she meant, Henry and Trump’s behaviour to women is and was unacceptable.

Next in line?

From a young age, Henry and Anne Boleyn’s daughter Elizabeth learnt what it meant to grow up in an unstable political climate. Her arrest at a young age, at the hands of her sister Mary I, made her realise the dangers of ruling, as Mary suspected that Elizabeth was part of a political uprising to overthrow her. Matt Frei sees Ivanka Trump in the same way, arguing that Trump is preparing her to take over the family dynasty. She is always at his side, is his senior advisor and is her own independent businesswoman. Perhaps like their fathers, Elizabeth and Ivanka have some things in common?[1]

They may have these similarities, but will Trump have the same legacy as Henry VIII? Only time will tell.

Thanks for reading!


[1] All information taken from:

‘Henry VIII & Trump: History Repeating?’ Channel 5 Documentary:

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt12158188/

And my own knowledge.

Navigating Love in D. H. Lawrence’s ‘Sons and Lovers’

D. H. Lawrence’s semi auto-biographical novel ‘Sons and Lovers’ is very complex, so much so that part of me thinks I need to read it again. The story revolves around Paul Morel, and his relationships with three women, his mother, Miriam Leivers and Clara Dawes. All three are different, all three impact the others. Paul loves them all in different ways, even though sometimes between them can cross and blur. Lawrence’s writing at times is so subtle that it’s tricky to keep track of what Paul is thinking. Other times it is clear but it chops and changes so much that it’s just as difficult. Each woman acts as a sort of stimuli to a part of Paul’s character, propelling him to discover more about himself, his sexuality and ultimately, love.

It’s funny that, originally, Paul’s mother Gertrude always preferred her older son William. However, when William pops his clogs, she moves on to favour Paul. Paul’s closeness with his mother impacts his relationship with Miriam, his first long term girlfriend. Gertrude’s dislike of Miriam makes Paul dislike her in turn, showing Gertrude’s influence over her child. It’s Gertrude’s jealousy that breaks Miriam and Paul up, which gives us real Oedipus vibes. Freud developed the Oedipus Complex based on the Greek tale of Oedipus, and it basically refers to a child having sexual desire towards the parent. Paul and Gertrude’s relationship does link to this idea, as he sometimes to Miriam as ‘another mother,’ when he does break up with her.[1] Hashtag, weird. His breaking up with Miriam shows that he wants to get away from his mother, as he compares the two, but also doesn’t want to upset his mother further by staying with Miriam. Even Paul is subconsciously conflicted about his relationship with his mother, and the love he bears her.

The title ‘Sons and Lovers,’ is equally strange as it’s not fully clear. Are the words two separate ones, for two separate groups? Or is it saying that the sons are lovers? This may not seem that strange because Paul is lover to both Miriam and Clara… but could we throw his mum into the mix? He is Gertrude’s son; is it implied that he is her lover too? Does Paul operate on both levels? Let’s dial down on the weirdness…

On to Paul’s first love, Miriam Leivers. Miriam is the conservative and spiritual type, believing that everyone should be the same. She’s complicated, but essentially hers and Paul’s relationship is one of intellect and one of the mind. Her aversion to sex and physical contact does drive a wedge between them. Paul even questions that their desire to keep purity between them is ‘fierce,’ and that perhaps this is unnecessary.[2] Paul does convince Miriam to have sex with him, even though she confesses that she is ‘afraid’ of it.[3] She gives her virginity to Paul not for herself but for him. She treats it as a ‘sacrifice’ so that Paul can have pleasure.[4] She redefines sex in her mind, by saying that it’s just the concentration and peak of emotion, which she attaches some divinity to.[5] So even though they are physically intimate with each other, Paul and Miriam treat sex very differently. Although physical contact distresses Miriam, she feels that Paul will always come back to her, as together they form some kind of intellectual super couple. They bring out the best in each other intellectually, so she believes that Paul will always belong to her. Paul says that he feels ‘naked’ before her, as he literally lays his soul bare to her.[6] In a way it’s the purest love out there, unaffected by sexual desire. They love each other for their minds, and personalities. But Paul discovered that this type of love was not enough for him. Even though Paul recognises that his soul will always belong to Miriam, the question of his body is left unanswered… until the entrance of Clara Dawes.

Clara Dawes is a modern woman, and she carries some real feminist ideas. She’s a Suffragette for starters. She’s also married when she starts an affair with Paul, which is quite scandalous. She provides a kind of excitement that Miriam didn’t, and Paul becomes attracted to her very quickly, and very soon after he leaves Miriam. In fact, Miriam introduced them. Harsh, Paul. Clara and Paul have an intense physical relationship, even though intellectually, there’s not much common ground there. See where Lawrence is going with this? Later on in the novel, even when the two have sex, it’s just not that great because Clara doesn’t feel Paul has fully committed to her, but Miriam is still on Paul’s mind.[7] Paul’s indecisiveness rightly bugs Clara, and eventually pushes her to reconcile with her husband Baxter, leaving Paul all on his lonesome. It’s heavily implied that this will happen, as Clara doesn’t feel that her and Paul will last.[8] She also feels that Baxter, belongs to her, and that this tie can’t be severed.[9] She also feels guilty about how she treated him, even though he cheated on her. He does emotionally mature though, with Paul’s help. Paul was just a bit of a distraction for Clara, until she realised that she wanted something more permanent, prompting her U-turn back to Baxter. Perhaps Laurence is implying that Paul needs a woman who has both the intellectual qualities of Miriam, and the sexual appeal of Clara…?

Paul spends half of the time being confused, and only manages to find his definition of love 400 pages in, saying that love basically means ‘freedom.’[10] Maybe Paul gets the freedom fully when his mother dies. I say dies… but Paul and his sister Annie euthanise her… without her consent.[11] The two of them see that their mother is in pain, crush up all her pills and feed them to her in a glass of milk.[12] There’s a weird kind of inversion here, as usually it’s the mother feeding her child milk, to get her child healthy and strong. Here, we see the child feeding his mother milk, but using it poison her. It’s all very strange. Paul contemplates suicide after this, but overcomes it, deciding to return to the town, to begin the next chapter of his life.[13] Maybe without his mother, Miriam and Clara Paul can finally be free? Maybe he’s learnt enough about women to get it right next time.

Thanks for reading!


[1] D. H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers (Oxford, Oxford World Classics, 2009), p. 335.

[2] Ibid., p. 318.

[3] Ibid., p. 322.

[4] Ibid., p. 321.

[5] Ibid., p. 322.

[6] Ibid., p. 319.

[7] Ibid., p. 400.

[8] Ibid., p. 407.

[9] Ibid., p. 406.

[10] Ibid., p. 407.

[11] Ibid., p. 444.

[12] Ibid., p. 444.

[13] Ibid., p. 474.

Murder! Victorian Crime Firsts

The Victorians really would’ve loved all the crime channels we have nowadays. It was in this era that the thirst for all things crime really took off, and newspaper companies noticed this in their sales. Papers would see spikes in sales when reporting high profile crimes, which was bolstered by people’s belief in the Criminal Class, a group of people who were predisposed to committing crimes due to their social standing. As well as being some of the first people in the country to truly love their real-life crime thrillers, there were plenty of other firsts for crime in the Victorian era.[1]

The First Railway Murder

“This train will be stopping at Fenchurch, MURDER and Chalk Farm…”

People became much more suspicious of trains as the century progressed, with some women so fearful of them that they put pins in their mouths to halt unwanted advances. I’ve never seen a woman do that on the Met line. People went truly nuts over the murder of 69-year-old Thomas Briggs, the first man to be killed on a train. He was found on the 9th of July 1864, on the embankment next to the train lines. Briggs died several hours later of his injuries. Suspicions fell on German born Franz Muller, after he was caught trying to flog Briggs’ watch and chain. After stealing them from Briggs, Muller had thrown him out of the compartment. The authorities chased Muller to New York, and for the crime he was hanged on the 14th of November, in front of 50,000 people. He protested his innocence until his last moment, saying on the scaffold: ‘I did it.’ The public reaction resulted in the creation of the communication cord on trains, which was a hotline from the passengers to the railway crew. This was required by the Regulation of Railways Act 1868. Railway carriages with side corridors followed, which allowed passengers to move from their compartments while the train was moving.

Britain’s Most Prolific Serial Killer? A Baby Farmer

At aged 33 Amelia Dyer took to baby farming to support herself. She took illegitimate and unwanted children into her care, for a small fee. At first, she let them die of natural causes, but later she began to murder them, usually by strangulation. She did this for about 30 years, taking on new children under different names, ensuring she got paid in full before the children died. Creepily, she later stated that she ‘used to like to watch them with the tape around their neck, but it was soon all over with them.’ What a psycho. The discovery of the corpse of six-year-old Doris Marmon, found in a box in the Thames, led the police to Amelia’s door. She was arrested in 1896, 27 years after she became a baby farmer. She was hanged on the 10th of June for the murder of 200 to 400 children, six of which were confirmed. This makes her one of Britain’s most prolific serial killers, and one that shocked nation. She was known as the ‘Ogress of Reading’… which I think is deserved. Some even speculated that she was Jack the Ripper… but that guy deserves his own post.

The Brides in the Bath Murders – Forensic Fastidiousness

This hellish set of events takes us from the Victorian to the Edwardian era. George Joseph Smith was a serial bigamist and had seven bigamous marriages under several names between 1908 and 1914 as he was constantly short on funds. He killed six of his wives in total, all of which had died in especially strange circumstances. They had allegedly had a fit and drowned in the bath. Several coincidences about the circumstances of the deaths caught the attention of forensic pathologist Bernard Spilsbury. A lot if Spilsbury’s case rested on Bessie Mundy’s unusual grip on a bar of soap, which she maintained even in death. He also noted the goose bumps on her legs, a sure sign of drowning. He took the measurements of the recent victims and the bath they drowned in and used medical knowledge about epilepsy to try and suss out the case. When looking at another victim, Bessie Williams, Spilsbury concluded that the stiffening of the body, caused by a fit, would’ve pushed Williams’ head above water. Spilsbury brought in several female divers to test the theory, which confirmed that the tub was too small for the victims to drown in in this way. Spilsbury conducted his own experiment, and without warning, grabbed one of the divers’ legs and pulled her under water. It took half an hour to revive her, and when she awoke, all she could remember was a cold rush of water. That was Spilbury’s theory confirmed. George Joseph Smith himself had brought the bath as a wedding present for each wife, then promptly returned it after he had murdered said wife in it. It was probably the first time that police detection in a case of multiple murders and forensic investigation had come together to secure a conviction. After this, people hailed Spilsbury as the real Sherlock Holmes.[2]

Luckily horror stories like this didn’t last too much longer, as Robert Peel’s police force, formed in 1829, became more efficient and disciplined. Society itself became less violent, and even though crime did decrease in the latter half of the century, the Victorians themselves still loved and lapped up the drama.[3]

Thanks for reading!


[1] All information taken from BBC History Magazine:

R. Crone, ‘Was Victorian Life Really So Grim?’ The Story of the Victorians, 2019.

[2] All information taken from BBC History Magazine:

C. Bloom, ‘Crime Scandals,’ The Story of the Victorians, 2019.

[3] All information taken from BBC History Magazine:

R. Crone, ‘Was Victorian Life Really So Grim?’ The Story of the Victorians, 2019.

Lydia Gwilt in ‘Armadale’: Flame-Haired Femme Fatale

Lydia Gwilt is the standout character of Wilkie Collins’s ‘Armadale,’ so much so that her wicked ways horrified Victorian readers. It’s no surprise given her status in the story as a liar, bigamist, husband poisoner and temptress. She was truly the antithesis of the demure, domestic and good-natured Victorian woman. I mean, in her first appearance she notes that she does ‘hate’ women… which is strange enough as usually, women club together and support each other in bonds of sisterhood.[1] Lydia’s having none of it.

We know Lydia is antithetical to the desired Victorian woman by her physical appearance as well as her character. Ozias Midwinter is horrified by her hair, noting that ‘It was red.’ This short sentence emphasises the drama of the revelation, which is also signposted by the italics. The modern reader will probably think why? What’s wrong with a redhead? Unfortunately, Victorians associated red locks with female villainy. It’s interesting that Collins wanted John Everett Millais to illustrate the novel, as he was an important member of the Pre Raphaelite brotherhood.[2] This revolutionary group, established in 1848, were known for their detailed, intensely coloured work. Majority of their paintings featured red haired, beautiful women, with intricate and dynamic features. They recycled their life models, so majority of the paintings bear resemblance to the others. A lot of the women depicted in the paintings with red hair, are associated with dangerous or immoral women, such as Ophelia from Hamlet, or Lilith. Collins portrays Lydia in the same vein in the text, and it seems he wanted to in the illustrations. That’s probably why Penguin Classics slapped ‘Madeleine Undressing,’ by John Everett Millais on the front cover. It’s also the header for this article. Even though the figure in the painting isn’t Lydia Gwilt, to me, that’s how Collins wanted her to look, and that’s how I imagine her.

The story of the novel is complex, and Lydia’s plans drive the plot. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but in short, there are two Allan Armadale’s. In the novel, one of them is known as Allan Armadale, the other as Ozias Midwinter. Ozias’ father killed Allan’s father, as the latter stole his proposed bride. Allan’s father did this, as his father before him, gave Allan’s fortune to Ozias’ father. Still with me? Lydia helped Allan’s father steal Ozias fathers’ proposed bride. Her plan? Marry Allan Armadale and get some of his fortune. This falls through. Her new plan? Marry Ozias Midwinter, whose real name is also Allan Armadale, somehow bump off the other Allan Armadale, and pose as his widow, cashing in in the process. Ok, breathe. Murder and deceit? Classic femme fatale tactics.

Lydia’s true nature is exposed when she successfully ensnares Ozias Midwinter after her first plan falls through. In desperation, she sycophantically simpers over Ozias Midwinter and plays the victim in true femme fatale fashion. He notes the ‘magnetic influence of her touch,’ and like a true femme fatale, she uses her femininity and sexuality to lure him in.[3] Collins describes Lydia’s antics as ‘sexual sorcery,’ implying that Lydia’s witch-like power is drawn from her sexual appeal and femininity.[4] Collins is telling us that beauty, when used, can be dangerous, and that men are susceptible enough to fall for it. According to Collins, men love a woman in need, and Ozias ‘yielded’ to her charms, proposing marriage, which she later accepts.[5] However when he leaves, the ‘colour faded out of her cheeks; the beauty died out of her eyes; her face hardened horribly with a silent despair.’[6] This is the real Lydia Gwilt. She is at her most beautiful when she is at her most devious. This subverts traditional ideas of beauty and femininity, and shows a massive contradiction in her character and appearance. Lydia’s true features are worn, hardened and devoid of life, much like her soul.

But is it? Lydia is a complex figure, and perhaps isn’t quite a clear-cut femme fatale, I mean, their known for being morally ambiguous. Considering her part in the plot, between Ozias and Allan’s fathers, is she deserving of a cut of the money? To be honest, it looks like she willingly helped Allan’s father, but her life was pretty rubbish after that. We don’t learn about her backstory until much later into the novel, so the mystery surrounding her is maintained for majority of it. This is also a classic femme fatale trope. Lydia’s first husband suspected her of stealing and whacked her with a horsewhip, then her second husband Manuel spent all her money and then ran off.[7] This does haunt her for the remainder of the novel, especially when Manuel rocks up again, asking her for more money.[8] It’s abnormal for her to have a man love her, truly, and Ozias Midwinter appears to fill that void in her life. She thinks him stupid at first, and pities his affections, as she never expected anyone to genuinely care for her. She slowly comes round to him and falls for him.[9] Although she is the novel’s main villainess, Collins does try to imply there is more to her, in trying to explain her motivations. She’s been abandoned, discarded and used by men surrounding her, so is it fair that she wants a slice of the action?

Her ending is somewhat tragic. She poses as a patient in a Sanitorium and lures Allan Armadale and Ozias Midwinter to her. For their stay Lydia places Allan Armadale in room four, and Ozias Midwinter in room three. She rigs room four, planning to flood it with poisonous gas, and in true Lydia fashion hisses ‘I shall be your widow […] in half-an-hour!’ through the door. It’s interesting that the Sanitorium is one that seeks to cure feminine hysteria.[10] Lydia’s fate is hinted at here, as she’s trusting an establishment that, in the real world, would seek to silence her. The idea of feminine hysteria belittled women in general throughout history, as their genuine mental health issues were dismissed as just another weakness of the female sex. Feminists in the 80’s described it as an agent of female oppression. This does not bode well for Lydia.

Lydia’s pretty scary for readers because of the idea of the domestic poisoner. Lydia’s story takes inspiration from several high profile female killers at the time, whose cases scandalised and scared Victorian society. Female domestic poisoners were particularly feared as they had access to all areas of the home. The evidence of poison is pretty easy to dispose of, it’s not like a bloody knife. The fact that a woman could so easily get into the home and exact some monstrosity was even more terrifying than your average serial killer. Again, this type of woman is antithetical to the ideal Victorian woman. Collins tried hard to make people like Lydia, but, to please the masses, there was only one way her story could end.

Allan Armadale and Ozias Midwinter swap rooms, meaning that Ozias Midwinter is the one set to meet his maker. Lydia realises the mix up, pulls Midwinter out, and manages to save him. Feeling guilty, and seeking ‘atonement,’ Lydia shuts herself in room four and dies.[11] So, does being in the Sanitorium cure her? I mean, she repents right? ‘Even my wickedness has one merit – it has not prospered. I have never been a happy woman,’ she says.[12] Collins kind of has to kill her and make her repent to satisfy the Victorian masses, who don’t want to see Lydia win. If Lydia wins, evil is triumphing over good. And the Victorians aren’t down for that. In a way I see where they’re coming from, especially with Lydia, as throughout the majority of the novel she is evil and unforgiving. So, should she win? Really? Having said that, I was sad to see her go, and upon the event of her death even Collins was ‘upset.’[13] Despite this, throughout the novel she runs rings around majority of the men and maintains this control even in death, in true, iconic Lydia fashion.

Side note, she also dies on page 666… freaky coincidence.

Thanks for reading!


[1] Wilkie Collins, Armadale (London, Penguin Classics, 1995), p. 162.

[2] Ibid., p. xxxi.

[3] Ibid., p. 383.

[4] Ibid., p. 383.

[5] Ibid., p. 385.

[6] Ibid., p. 388.

[7] Ibid., p. 536.

[8] Ibid., p. 566.

[9] Ibid., p. 665.

[10] Ibid., p. 661.

[11] Ibid., p. 666.

[12] Ibid., p. 666.

[13] Ibid., p. xxxi.