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.

205 Years On: Why did Napoleon fail at Waterloo?

Napoleon was initially successful in his European campaign, which spanned from 1803 to 1815, but this changed for the worse overtime. It was Napoleon’s own poor decision making that led to the depletion of the Grand Armée over time, which allowed the Coalition to eventually defeat him at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Napoleon turned France into an aggressive military power, by mobilising majority of the population, beginning in 1791.[1] At this point revolutionary France had an army of 200,000 men.[2] Napoleon ensured that newcomers learned the traditional methods of warfare, which maintained a high level of discipline and order within the army.[3] He also ordered that his armies march in columns, allowing them to advance further on the battlefield and attack the enemy with close range musket fire, causing greater devastation.[4] These new tactics allowed him to initially exact continuous victories upon his enemies.

However, this didn’t last. Napoleon’s constant refusals of peace caused his forces to deplete further. Austrian diplomat Klemens von Metternich wished to negotiate peace between Russia and France, through the Armistice of Plaswitz, 1813.[5] The Coalition wanted Napoleon to agree to strict terms, which included evacuating the French army from Germany and Italy, and giving up the Grand Duchy of Warsaw.[6] Napoleon refused peace, thus prolonging the wars which would continue to drain his supplies.[7] Metternich was aware that if peace was not negotiated, it would be ‘too late.’[8] Napoleon’s arguments with Metternich and refusal to attend peace conferences led to a series of bipartisan agreements signed at Teplitz on the 9th of September 1813 by the Coalition.[9] This cemented an alliance between Russia, Austria and Prussia, which directly threatened France.[10] If peace had been negotiated, the Coalition would not have united against Napoleon, and Waterloo might have been avoided. By continuing to facilitate war, Napoleon allowed the supplies of his army to further deplete.

Napoleon’s errors in military leadership also contributed to the depletion of the French army. An example of this can be seen when looking at the Battle of Borodino, in September 1812. Napoleon advised his army to attack the Russian forces in a full frontal assault, instead of enveloping them.[11] This led to massive French casualties, as they were gunned down by musket fire.[12] Napoleon also decided not to employ the Imperial Guard, a force totalling 18,000 men, which may have swung the result of the battle in his favour. This poor strategy, coupled with Napoleon’s refusal to make peace with the Coalition, prompted historian Charles Esdaile to argue that Napoleon betrayed France.[13] Similar mistakes were made at the Battle of Leipzeig, in October 1813. Towards the end of the battle, the inaction of the Coalition allowed the majority of Napoleon’s forces to escape the battlefield.[14] However, due to miscommunication amongst the French forces, the causeway that the French used to escape the battlefield was destroyed, resulting in 30,000 deaths.[15] This figure added to the 38,000 causalities that the French had suffered over the three day course of the battle.[16]

The size of the Grande Armée was also an issue, as it could not move quickly enough to encircle an enemy, and Napoleon found the huge force difficult to control.[17] ‘Total war’ refers to warfare that includes all the population and resources of a nation, which Napoleon adhered to by mobilising the entire population of France in the 1790s. David Bell notes that although Napoleon initially made use of the army to wage total war in Europe, he eventually became a victim of total warfare himself.[18] French General Antoine-Henri Jomini too concurred that the size of the Grande Armée became increasingly problematic, advocating smaller sized armies as they were easier to manage.[19]

The size of the Grande Armée led to conflict amongst the generals, as the French high command found themselves disagreeing about how to best deploy the huge force. This lack of cooperation acted as a detrimental factor to the French forces, in contrast to the unity of the Coalition. Before his abdication, in 1814, Napoleon was stationed at Fontainebleau with 60,000 men.[20] Napoleon planned to fight the Coalition, bargaining on a military victory, but his commanders refused to comply and ordered him to abdicate.[21] Napoleon lost support from his generals and commanders due to his previous poor tactics in battle, as well as his inability to negotiate peace with the Coalition. Jacques MacDonald, one of Napoleon’s commanders, staunchly refused Napoleon’s orders, declaring that the French nation was ‘determined to make an end’ of the war with the Coalition.[22]

Napoleon’s ill-fated invasion of Russia just made things worse. Before the Battle of Borodino, Napoleon had already lost supplies due thunderstorms and blizzards, depleting his army before the battle took place.[23] Imperial Guard member Captain Coignet noted that the weather caused a loss in supplies, as the ‘ground was covered with horses frozen to death.’[24] Further supplies were lost due to dysentery, and 10,000 horses died due to malnourishment.[25] Twenty-four year old infantryman Jakob Walter noted that the army was reduced to eating ‘uncooked’ horsemeat.[26] At Borodino, Napoleon prepared to fight against Russia’s 121,000 men, with his 130,000.[27] The French and Russians lost 30,000 and 40,000 men respectively. Although neither side can declare victory in such a situation it is conceivable to think that if Napoleon had not lost so many supplies on the way to Borodino, he would have had a greater chance of winning the battle due to his strength in numbers.

The Coalition, in contrast got stronger, and developed their own tactics to combat Napoleon, and also sought to replicate Napoleon’s in order to defeat him. Upon the French advance into Moscow, the Russians adopted the tactic of ‘scorched earth,’ and set Moscow alight.[28] This exacerbated the precarious position of Napoleon following the Battle of Borodino and cost him even more supplies. Napoleon instructed his troops to ‘live off the land,’ so they survived on the resources of the towns that they plundered.[29] In order to combat this, Russian agents set Moscow alight, reducing the city ‘to ashes.’[30] Russian general Kutuzov then cut the French columns in two repeatedly, inflicting major deaths upon the retreating French army.[31] Due to the lack of food and cohesion of the French forces, Russia was able to exact victories over the French, by attacking them on all sides in November.[32] The French were forced to flee, leaving valuables such as guns behind.[33] Napoleon escaped Russia with 20,000, as opposed to the 130,000 which he led into battle at Borodino. [34] French losses amounted to half a million, which could have been prevented if the French army was well supplied and did not need to rely on the land to live. [35] In response to Napoleon’s failed invasion of Russia, the Coalition adopted Napoleon’s tactic of conscription.[36]

Despite each nations’ own personal aims, the Coalition agreed on March 1st 1814 that their universal goal was to defeat Napoleon.[37] This demonstrates the cooperation of the Coalition, as nations were willing to put their own priorities aside and prioritise dealing with the threat. This cooperation can be seen at Waterloo. During the climax of the battle, Wellington’s troops were reinforced by two Prussian corps, led by Gebhard Leberecht von Blucher.[38] This combined strength overpowered Napoleon, and what was left of his army.

It seems that Napoleon tried to reach too far, as his own ambition, and refusal to desist caused his army to get smaller and smaller, leading to his eventual defeat at Waterloo.

Thanks for reading!

[1] M. Broers, ‘Changes in War: The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars’ in H. Strachan and S. Scheipers (eds.), The Changing Character of War (Oxford, 2011), p. 3.

[2] Ibid., p. 3.

[3] Ibid., p. 5.

[4] Ibid., p. 5.

[5] C. Esdaile, Napoleon’s Wars (London, 2007), p. 504.

[6] Ibid., p. 504.

[7] Ibid., p. 504.

[8] M.A Klinkowstrom, and A. Napier, (trans.) Memoirs of Prince Metternich, vol. 1, New York (1880), c.f. Esdaile, Napoleon’s Wars, p.505 n. 68.

[9] Esdaile, Napoleon’s Wars,p. 509.

[10] Ibid., p. 509.

[11] Ibid., p. 478.

[12] Ibid., p. 478

[13] C. Esdaile, The Wars of Napoleon (London, 1995)

[14] Esdaile, Napoleon’s Wars, p. 515.

[15] Ibid., p. 515.

[16] Ibid., p. 515.

[17] Ibid., p. 468.

[18] D. A. Bell, The First Total War: Napoleon’s Europe and the Birth of Modern Warfare (London, 2007), p. 8.

[19] H. Strachan, European Armies and the Conduct of War (London, 1983), p. 64.

[20] Esdaile, Napoleon’s Wars, p. 528.

[21] Ibid., p. 528.

[22] Found in M. Glover, The Napoleonic Wars: An Illustrated History 1792-1815 (London, 1979), p. 205.

[23] Esdaile, Napoleon’s Wars, p. 463.

[24] J. Fortescue (ed.), The Notebooks of Captain Coignet, Soldier of the Empire (London, 1989), p. 207, c.f. Esdaile, Napoleon’s Wars, p. 463 n. 5.

[25] Esdaile, Napoleon’s Wars, p. 463.

[26] A. S. Raeff, pp. 41-42 c.f. Esdaile, Napoleon’s Wars, p. 463 n. 6.

[27] Esdaile, Napoleon’s Wars, p. 476.

[28] Ibid., p. 478.

[29] Broers, ‘Changes in War’, p. 6.

[30] Esdaile, Napoleon’s Wars, p. 474.

[31] Ibid., p. 478.

[32] Esdaile, The Wars of Napoleon, p. 260.

[33] Esdaile, Napoleon’s Wars, p. 479.

[34] Ibid., p. 479.

[35] Ibid., p. 479.

[36] Ibid., p. 478.

[37] Glover, The Napoleonic Wars: An Illustrated History 1792-1815, pg. 203.

[38] Ibid., p. 215.

Lucrezia Borgia: Incest, Poison and Sexual Scandal?

Lucrezia Borgia’s reputation precedes her, as the debauched daughter of Rodrigo Borgia, more commonly known as Pope Alexander VI. The Borgia family dominated Renaissance Italy, and some describe them as Italy’s original crime family. What an iconic bunch. Lucrezia gets a lot of attention, especially in relation to her three marriages, and reputation as an avid poisoner. Were these rumours true? As juicy as the details may sound, most historians agree that they weren’t, and that she was in fact the target of slander… but then again… although the theories have never been proved… they have never been disproved… see what I did there?

One of the most heinous crimes she is accused of is committing is incest with her brother Cesare, and her father. The accusations came from her first husband, Giovanni Sforza, whom she married in 1493. The marriage was a political one, and originally helped Alexander forge some powerful ties with the Duke of Milan, Giovanni’s uncle. Here, Lucrezia appears as more of a political pawn than a femme fatale, as she was thirteen at the time, and Giovanni was twenty-six. This marriage was annulled in 1497, much to Giovanni’s anger, because Alexander, in a political move, decided to back a French candidate to become the King of Naples. The Sforzas were the enemies of the royal family of Naples, and Giovanni was not happy, so Alexander sent him packing. In an attempt to preserve Lucrezia’s chastity, Alexander argued that Giovanni was impotent.

This was not true, as his first wife died in childbirth. Top marks, Alexander. In response to the whole situation, Giovanni accused Lucrezia of incest with her father and brother. The family weren’t much liked anyway, especially as they had come from Spain, and Italy was automatically suspicious of any outsiders. Enemies of the influential family lapped up the incest rumours, and rumours about Lucrezia’s general sexual discordancy and diabolical nature were rife. Freud would be having a field day. This is ironic, as she was named after the Roman noble woman Lucretia, who killed herself after she was raped by Sextus Tarquinius, in order to preserve her dignity and chastity.

Her reputation as a poisoner was tied to all the mysterious deaths that occurred around the Borgia family, including her own brother, Juan. It was rumoured she wore a hollow ring, containing poison, which she would deploy at parties to bump people off. Poison was popular in Renaissance Europe, as it left a lack of evidence, and was therefore difficult to trace. That’s why it’s popular with Shakespeare. It was probably tied to Lucrezia because poison was tied to women in general. It’s not as violent, subtle or ‘manly’ as thrusting a sword into someone, so a female poisoner was doubly scary, as a woman had easy access to all realms of the domestic sphere.

Gross sexual indecency continued to follow Lucrezia, even after the death of her second husband, Alfonso of Aragon. He was attacked and strangled in his bed, by an agent of her brother, Cesare in 1500. This only bolstered the incest rumours. Then, cue, Eastenders ‘duff duff,’ an illegitimate Borgia baby rocked up in 1501, whose parents were never officially disclosed. Who’s the mummy? Who’s the daddy? Was he Lucrezia’s, with her rumoured lover Perotto who mysteriously died two years before? Was the boy the son of Alexander and Lucrezia? Was it the son of Cesare and Lucrezia? Two Papal Bulls were issued, one saying that Alexander was the father, the other stating that Cesare was. Lucrezia acknowledged him as her half-brother. [1]

The rumoured Banquet of Chestnuts also spread of rumours of sexual discordancy within the family, as Johann Burchard describes:

“On the evening of the last day of October, 1501, Cesare Borgia arranged a banquet in his chambers in the Vatican with “fifty honest prostitutes”,called courtesans, who danced after dinner with the attendants and others who were present, at first in their garments, then naked. After dinner the candelabra with the burning candles were taken from the tables and placed on the floor, and chestnuts were strewn around, which the naked courtesans picked up, creeping on hands and knees between the chandeliers, while the Pope, Cesare, and his sister Lucretia looked on. Finally, prizes were announced for those who could perform the act most often with the courtesans, such as tunics of silk, shoes, barrets, and other things.[2]

… I have no words… which I know is rare.

Lucrezia’s reputation, and status as a mother, caught up with her by her third marriage to Alfonso d’Este in December 1501. It took a large dowry of a hundred thousand ducats to secure the marriage, because of said reputation. She was reluctant to marry again, telling her father that her ‘husbands had been very unlucky.’[3] A bit of an understatement, Lucrezia.

Alexander also paid a medical practitioner to attest that Lucrezia was a virgin. The presence of her son Rodrigo, by her second husband, may have been a slight giveaway. Lucrezia was forced to leave her son behind when moving to Ferrara for her third marriage. She would never see him again. Although this was a political move, Lucrezia was slated for it, with people claiming that she was a child abandoner devoid of maternal affection. I mean, she had eight children with her third husband so… Her image also wasn’t helped by the fact that she allegedly had affairs with poet Pietro Bembo, and her brother in law, Francesco Gonzago.[4]

Apparently, Alexandre Dumas, author of ‘The Three Musketeers’ weighed in, stating that Lucrezia:

“… had a wild imagination, was an unfaithful woman by nature and was the daughter and mistress of her father while also engaging in intimate relations with her brother”

I mean… how would he know? It’s not like they ever met.

Even poet legend Lord Byron had a thing for her, stating that her love letters were the ‘prettiest in the world,’ in 1816. He also claimed that he stole a lock of Lucrezia’s hair which was on display in the Ambrosian Library of Milan, calling it the ‘prettiest and fairest imaginable.’ For goodness sake, Byron.[5]

If we take all of these rumours as fact, we would have a woman who murdered people, committed incest, and discarded her child. She literally would be antithetical to anything found in the Bible, and more importantly the Virgin Mary. People probably classed her as a she-Devil, as the crimes she was accused of were of the most heinous. All this comes with the added irony that her father was the Pope! It’s not hard to understand why Lucrezia, and the Borgias, had such an infamous image. Even though it is believed that all of the rumours surrounding Lucrezia are untrue, even if they can ever be proved or unproved, it still makes for gripping reading.

Hope you thought so too! Thanks!

[1] All information from:

History Extra: ‘Lucrezia Borgia: Is Her Bad Reputation Deserved?’

Available at:

[2] Found in J. Burchard, Pope Alexander VI and His Court – Extracts from the Latin Diary of John Burchard (ed.) F.L Glaser (New York, 2018).

[3] A. A. Berger, The Art of the Seductress: Techniques of the Great Seductresses from Biblical Times to the Postmodern Era (Indiana, 2002) p. 59.

[4] All information from:

History Extra: ‘Lucrezia Borgia: Is Her Bad Reputation Deserved?’

Available at:

[5] ‘Letter from Byron to Augusta Leigh,’ Milan, 15 October 1816, in. Lord Byron’s Letters and Journals, Chapter 5: Separation and Exile.

Available at:

Alec D’Urberville: Religious Fanaticism, Temptation and the Bible

Alec D’Urberville is ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ big bad, as his rape of Tess sets all of the events of the novel in motion, leading Tess down a path of misery which ends in her death and his. Alec is initially portrayed as a bit of a moustachioed pantomime villain, but his later resurgence in the sixth phase of the novel shows that he has changed massively… or has he? I mean one thing that has definitely changed is, his moustache… that’s gone for good.[1]

Tess is understandably distressed to see Alec preaching, as he comes across as a massive hypocrite. We are told that he hasn’t just changed, but that he’s undergone a whole ‘transfiguration.’ This is quite an aggressive reference to the Transfiguration of Jesus, perhaps prompting us to compare Alec to Jesus. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would actually do that, but Thomas Hardy wants us to believe that this man is totally different to the one that we originally met… but is he? Hardy is very descriptive about the whole thing, as he always is, but the most striking oxymoron is his note that Alec’s ‘animalism had become fanaticism.’ One minute Alec is the aggressive, forceful animal that raped Tess, next he is the religious zealot seeking salvation. Alec takes the ‘blame’ for Tess’ despair, and promptly wants to resolve the issue by deploying a ‘marriage license.’[2] He wants to marry Tess so that the rape effectively doesn’t count. Any sexual intercourse between them, pre marriage, wouldn’t really matter, as they would be husband and wife. Even before this, their sexual contact, consented or unconsented, would lead Victorian readers to believe that they were married in the eyes of the church. That’s Victorian sexual politics for you. Tess is married to Angel at this point, so naturally she doesn’t agree, and even though Alec’s attempts at making it up to Tess are extremely misguided, in his mind, he is trying to atone. Yes, to modern readers this sounds pretty crazy, but in his mind, and in the minds of Victorian readers, Alec is trying to do the right thing.

This falls flat though, even when he tries not to be tempted. Alec notes that he has a ‘fear’ of ‘women’s faces,’ because of how they tempt him.[3] He even has the audacity to ask Tess to ‘swear’ that she won’t tempt him again.[4] Tess may be tempting, but it isn’t her fault that Alec sexually assaulted her, so even though he is trying to atone, it appears that he still doesn’t realise that he is responsible for his own mistakes. Even though, we are told, that Alec has changed, and from this point is dedicated to his religion, it seems that he still doesn’t understand his past fully. But this conflicts with his declaration that he was to blame for Tess’ misery, so… he kind of atones but doesn’t fully understand how? It’s a tricky one.

This all becomes a bit clearer when his attempts to resist temptation fully break down. He promptly ditches preaching to give way to his ‘passion’ for Tess.[5] So, before we could even fully understand Alec’s supposed conversion, he basically slips back into his old ways. Seeing Tess prompts a revelatory outburst, which adds to the complexity of the character, and makes for dramatically gripping reading:

‘I was on my way to salvation till I saw you again! He said, feverishly shaking her, as if she were a child. ‘And why then have you tempted me? I was firm as a man could be till I saw those eyes and that mouth again – surely there never was such a maddening mouth since Eve’s!’ His voice sank, and a hot archness shot from his own black eyes. ‘You temptress Tess; you dear witch of Babylon – I could not resist you as soon as I met you again!’[6]

He’s gone on a full U-turn here, and goes back to blaming Tess for everything, after initially saying that she was blameless. He again, says that she tempted him, when in fact, she’s spent the last number of pages trying to shake him off. He casts her as a bit of a femme fatale. A lot in the novel is left up to chance, and if Tess hadn’t stumbled upon Alec again, perhaps he would have gone on to fully atone. It’s difficult to tell. Now, we know that Alec’s conversion is really just meant to criticise the hypocrisy of the church, as although it preaches forgiveness and love, Alec has been accepted even though he raped Tess. She suffers and loses faith throughout the novel, prompted by the refusal of the church to baptise her illegitimate child by Alec.[7] Tess is unprotected by everyone in the novel, including the church. Where someone from the church should support her and help her, the church instead gives her the man who ruined her life, the difference being now that he has the backing of divine authority. It is incredibly hypocritical and insulting, and just reinforces Tess’ purity in contrast to the other characters within the novel. Even Angel, foretold as her guardian angel, is no saint. This girl cannot catch a break.

Alec certainly packs in a few Biblical references in his tirade, which is not uncommon throughout the whole novel. His likening of Tess to Eve demonstrates her uniqueness, and the pedestal that he places her on, seeing her as the first woman, and incomparable to all others. She isn’t just a woman, she’s the living embodiment of ‘woman.’ Obviously, Eve is tied up with temptation, and it seems that Alec has it in his mind that she was tempted by him.[8] She did say that she found him handsome, but this obviously does not translate to consent. On the surface it seems pretty clear that Alec is the snake in the Garden of Eden. Tess’ association with Eve prompts the reader to wonder who her Adam is, and this is made even more complex when people debate if Angel is just as bad as Alec, and therefore unworthy of that title. Who sits in the Garden of Eden with Tess? Is it even Eden, considering how badly she is treated?

By the time anyone has the chance to figure out any of these questions, presuming that there is an answer, it is, as Tess says, ‘too late.’[9]

Thanks for reading!

Stay safe, stay inside. Read something cheerful.

[1] Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, (London, Penguin Classics, 2003) p. 305.

[2] Ibid., p. 313.

[3] Ibid., p. 310.

[4] Ibid., p. 311.

[5] Ibid., p. 322.

[6] Ibid., p. 323.

[7] Ibid., p. 96

[8] Ibid., p. 77.

[9] Ibid., p. 378.

Plutarch on the real Antony and Cleopatra

It’s difficult to separate the fact from the fiction, when dealing with Mark Antony and Cleopatra, as so little sources survive about their love affair. One that does and is fairly accessible, is that of Plutarch, a renowned Roman philosopher and biographer. Now, he was not alive to witness these events first-hand, but his account is frequently cited by historians. I didn’t get the impression that Plutarch was biased in favour of the Romans, and he appeared to portray Antony and Cleopatra both as real people. Shakespeare certainly took the events Plutarch describes as fact, so let us see what he has to say.

On first view, Mark Antony seems like a bit of a jack the lad. From a young age, he is embroiled in ‘drinking bouts, love-affairs and reckless spending.’[1] This continues throughout most of his adult life, but does come into conflict with his ‘love of honour.’[2] On one occasion, before meeting with a senator in the morning, Antony got so drunk the night before that he vomited in his toga in the senators’ presence. Now fellow students, we can relate.[3] This whole party hard lifestyle matched well with Antony’s philosophy to also work hard, as he was a well-respected politician and general, and under Julius Caesar, became one of the most powerful men in Rome.[4] Antony, controversially, boasted that he descended from Hercules, which shows that he was a bit full of himself, but he still was able to accept the ‘good humour and jokes’ that people made about him.’[5] So, he probably sounds like that typical Uni lad, that we all know. It’s clear from his youth that he definitely has a ‘weakness for the opposite sex,’ and this certainly destroys Antony later on. Enter Cleopatra.

Plutarch credits Cleo with having the ‘strongest influence’ over Antony.[6] When they first meet, she’s twenty-eight, and has already had an affair with Julius Caesar, a union which secured her position as queen of Egypt.[7] She meets Antony in 41 BC in Tarsus, Turkey, and travels to him on the river Cyndus, under a ‘canopy of cloth of gold, dressed in the character of Venus.’[8] This was a piece of dramatic, political theatre, as Cleo demonstrated her wealth and power to the stunned Antony, in an attempt to woo him and secure his support, and vice versa. Cleo had a great ‘physical presence,’ and Plutarch rightly portrays her as not just a femme fatale, but a skilled political figure, who used her femininity and beauty for political gain. As well as this beauty, Plutarch writes that she had a certain ‘charm,’[9] and that ‘Plato speaks of four kinds of flattery, but Cleopatra knew a thousand.’[10] Antony is then whisked away to Alexandria by Cleo without hesitation.[11] Her charm is demonstrated in one particular story, in which, at one of her lavish parties, she bet Antony that she could consume a meal worth 10 million silver coins. To do this, she dissolved her pearl earring in a cup of vinegar wine and drank it.[12] It’s beauty and wit that seem to define Cleopatra.

Plutarch highlights the playfulness of their relationship. Cleo often humoured Antony, and when he would go on late night strolls through Alexandria, she would dress up as a maidservant and play along in his silly games.[13] Cleo appeared to bring out this childlike side to Antony, as the Alexandrians observed that he had a ‘tragic mask for the Romans, and a comic one for them.’[14]

The lovers’ ending is romantic and iconic. Their union was controversial and the favour that Antony continually bestowed on Cleo, at times in detriment to the Roman empire, angered the senate, making an enemy of Antony’s brother in law, Octavius.[15] Eventually Octavius declares war on Antony, after denouncing him in the senate.[16] Antony and Cleo recognised their impending doom, and formed a club named the ‘Order of the Inseparable Death,’ pledging to ‘end their lives together.’[17] In preparation, Cleo busied herself with testing poisons, and ascertained that the ‘bite of an asp’ was the most ‘painless.’[18]

The affair takes a dark and betraying turn, when Antony kills himself upon the news that Cleo had done the same.[19] Plutarch doesn’t really give his thoughts on why Cleo did this. It is difficult to see them both as genuine lovers when Cleo makes such a bold political move, knowing that her association with Antony is what is killing them both. His body is ‘hauled’ up the walls of Cleopatra’s monument, where she had retreated to for safety.[20] Cleopatra in anguish tore her dress and lay it over Antony, and ‘beat and lacerated her breasts, and smeared her face with the blood of his wounds.’[21] There’s genuine pain and love here, which contrasts with her previous callous moves. I think that Cleo told Antony she was dead for political reasons, but this doesn’t mean that it’s not tearing her up inside. It’s not a cold-blooded killing but a sacrifice for Egypt, and her heritage. Plutarch portrays her as a complex woman, and maybe it’s part of the point that Plutarch, and by extension the reader, don’t fully understand her motivations, and never will.

Now, in true tragic fashion, we know that she poisoned herself, but it is unclear how the asp was brought to her. What is in a basket of figs? Did she provoke it with a spindle?[22] It’s certainly a striking image. Cleo’s handmaiden, before she too killed herself, noted that ‘It is well done, and fitting for a princess descended of so many royal kings.’[23] Cleo gets the last laugh, as Octavius was reportedly ‘vexed’ that he could not parade her around Egypt as a spoil of the war that her death had ended.[24] Octavius believed that the asp bit Cleo, citing puncture marks in her arm as evidence.[25] In his victory procession, he had a statue built of Cleo with an asp clinging to her.[26]

This article doesn’t cover half of the political drama, blood, lust and betrayal that went on behind closed doors during the lives of Antony and Cleopatra, but even if it did, I think I would still reach the same conclusion that Antony and Cleopatra both ‘lost the world for love.’[27]

Thanks for reading!

Stay safe, stay inside. Read something cheerful.

[1] Plutarch, Makers of the Rome. Translated by Ian Scott-Kilver (London, Penguin Classics, 2004), p. 272.

[2] Ibid., p. 273.

[3] Ibid., p. 279.

[4] Ibid., p. 272.

[5] Ibid., p. 274.

[6] Ibid., p. 292.

[7] Ibid., p. 292.

[8] Ibid., p. 293.

[9] Ibid., p. 294.

[10] Ibid., p. 296.

[11] Ibid., p. 294.

[12] ‘Cleopatra: Mother, Mistress, Murderer, Queen’ Channel 5 Documentary:

[13] Plutarch, Makers of Rome, p. 296.

[14] Ibid., p. 296.

[15] Ibid., p. 321.

[16] Ibid., p. 322.

[17] Ibid., p. 337.

[18] Ibid., p. 337.

[19] Ibid., p. 341.

[20] Ibid., p. 341.

[21] Ibid., p. 342.

[22] Ibid., p. 348.

[23] Ibid., p. 348.

[24] Ibid., p. 348.

[25] Ibid., p. 348.

[26] Ibid., p. 348.

[27] Ibid., p. 355.

Body Horror, Justice and Covid-19 in ‘Jurassic Park’

‘Entertainment is antithetical to reality’[1]

Michael Crichton’s novel ‘Jurassic Park’ is certainly that, to the point where the readers are relieved by it. Crichton’s novel about genetically engineered dinosaurs running amok is a thrilling read, even if it’s not quite the same as actually seeing the dinosaurs for real on the big screen. What is omitted from the novel is the mass amounts of blood and body horror, which serve well to emphasise the threat, and nature, of the Jurassic monsters that roam the novels’ pages.

I mean, we aren’t even ten pages in and there’s already ‘blood everywhere’ after a worker is attacked by a Velociraptor.[2] Next thing you know there’s baby dinosaurs tearing out ‘a ragged chunk of flesh from a baby’ in a hospital.[3] These early scenes set up the threat of the dinosaurs, and tell the reader, before any character sets foot on the island, that the park is a big, bad idea. These initial incidences of violence don’t compare to the fate of Dennis Nedry however, who is caught by a dinosaur on his way to deliver stolen embryos to a rival company.

In the film, we know the dinosaur attacks Nedry, but we only see this through the translucent front window of his jeep. The book is far more graphic, with Nedry first going ‘blind’ after being covered in the Dilophosaurus’ acidic saliva. He then realises that his stomach has been ‘torn’ open by the dinosaur, and that his ‘intestines’ were ‘in his hands.’[4] Lovely stuff. It’s one thing to marvel at a dinosaur, but it’s another thing to come up close to it, and the frankest man in the novel, Ian Malcolm, astutely reminds John Hammond that these dinosaurs are ‘alive,’ they are not passive objects to be stared at.[5]

Henry Wu too suffers later on in the novel but instead at the claws of the Velociraptors, who tear open Wu’s stomach and begin to munch on his intestines while he ‘was still alive.’[6] This is quite different to the film as Wu doesn’t actually die, and has popped up more recently in Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World films. There is a real obsession with intestines in the novel to be honest, and we even get a glimpse of a Velociraptors’ insides later on… but I thought two rounds of intestines was enough. It’s obvious as to why the novel is so bloody, as it’s trying to drum home the majority of Ian Malcolm’s remarks, that dinosaurs cannot be controlled. Wu claimed that they could be and look what happened to him. The novel is an exciting one, but to me it appeared primarily as a warning against genetic research, and more importantly, as a warning against messing with Mother Nature.

There’s a strange sort of natural justice in the novel, as the creator of the park himself is eaten by Compsognathus’. Note that this doesn’t happen in the film. John Hammond is oddly chilled about being eaten alive in the novel, and only feels a ‘slight pain’ when the dinosaurs begin to ‘chew his neck.’[7] Hammond didn’t really accept that his park was massively flawed in the novel and remained faithful to the last. It’s kind of fitting that he is consumed by the world that he wished to revive and recreate. He finds himself at the mercy of the Jurassic world, and it seems that he is honoured by this, as recreating the Jurassic era was his dream. In recreating the Jurassic world he was also responsible for all of the sufferings of the dinosaurs at the hands of humanity within the novel, so there is some sort of justice in there, as the dinosaurs take out the man that brought them back, caused them pain, and sort to use them in some crazy prehistoric circus.

We jump to Covid-19 now, and my ability to pretty much link anything to it. When commenting on the chaos within the park, Ian Malcolm notes that they ‘can’t see the other side until you’re there.’[8] We don’t know what the country, or even the world, will look like following the end of this crisis, and therefore maybe it’s best not to worry. It doesn’t really do much good for anyone’s mental health. We don’t know what will happen, and how everyone will emerge, we just have to wait until we get there. Even though the wait may still be quite long, try to rest easy, as the reality of the situation is that, as we see in ‘Jurassic Park,’ ‘life finds a way.’[9]

Thanks for reading!

Stay safe, stay inside. Read something cheerful.

[1] Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park, (London, Arrow Publishing, 1991) p. 123.

[2] Ibid., p. 7.

[3] Ibid., p. 27.

[4] Ibid., p. 196.

[5] Ibid., p. 305.

[6] Ibid., p. 334.

[7] Ibid., p. 392.

[8] Ibid., p. 313.

[9] Ibid., p. 161.

The Changing Nature of Witchcraft in the 16th and 17th Centuries

Up to 40,000 people died during the early modern witch craze.[1] Throughout this time, peoples’ understanding of witches frequently changed, in relation to ‘maleficia’ and the nature of witches, their gender, the law, the Reformation and the scepticism that emerged during the Enlightenment.

It was originally believed that witches practised magic, or ‘maleficia,’ on their own.[2] Theologians and lawyers later argued that the ‘essence’ of witchcraft was a pact with the Devil.[3] Now this was worse than previous ideas, and more ludicrous, as people were accused of secretly meeting with the Devil at sabbaths.[4] At these ceremonies, they would take part in rituals that mocked the mass.[5] Through this activity, witches directly threatened Christendom, as they took part in heretical practices.[6] It was the Devil who brought all sin into the world, and Protestants and Catholics sought to eliminate Him.[7] The Devil’s collusion with ordinary people meant that the threat of evil was ever present. See the change? First witches work alone, now they work with the Devil. This belief led to an increase in witch hunts, as peoples’ fear of witches, as well as the religious desire to stamp out evil, increased.

At first, people thought that only females could be witches… sorry ladies. This belief was solidified in Heinrich Kramer’s ‘Malleus Maleficarum,’ published in 1486, which claimed that women were more ‘impressionable’ to the charms of the Devil, due to their ‘fragile feminine sex.’[8] 75 to 85 percent of tried witches were female, which showcases the impact of Kramer’s work.[9] Apparently women were better placed to carry out the Devil’s work, as their domestic roles in the household, such as cooks and midwives, gave them the opportunity to poison food and kill new-born babies.[10] Accused women also did not conform to the ideal image of passive womanhood.[11] The indictment against Scot Margaret Lidster in 1662 described her as a ‘witch, a charmer and a libber,’ the latter term being a negative connotation of a ‘liberated’ and free-thinking woman.’[12] The idea that witches were women rebelling against the social norm was a prominent one throughout the sixteenth century.

However, Christina Larner argued that ‘witchcraft was not sex specific,’ and this was true.[13] Catholics and Protestants acknowledged this, attributing the idea to the gender ambiguous Biblical quote ‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.’[14] Catholics noted that men could also attend sabbaths, explaining the rise in male prosecution for witchcraft.[15] Rita Voltmer demonstrates this change when examining the Rhine-Meuse region in the city of Trier, where a number of boys claimed to have attended the sabbath in order to provide musical entertainment.[16] This reflected the male role in village life, as men were pipers and drummers.[17] The idea spread due to the publication of the ‘Tractatus de confessionibus maleficorum et sagarum,’ in 1589 by Peter Binsfield, the Bishop of Trier, which recounted his experience of the Rhine-Meuse trials.[18] This led to an increase of printed images and etchings of men at the sabbath, meaning that both men and women could be convicted and condemned.[19] That’s some twisted gender equality right there. Male witches also inverted the traditional values of their sex, as women did, as the former were depicted as poor husbands and father figures, and effeminate, weak men.[20]  The Devil suddenly became even more scary as he could corrupt men and women.

Changes to the law allowed a greater rise in witch hunts, as people became more willing to accuse their peers of witchcraft.[21] Traditionally witches were tried using accusatorial methods, in which the suspect knew the accuser.[22] Said accuser could also be put on trial if the charges against the defendant turned out to be a load of rubbish.[23] As the accuser was at risk, people were unwilling to testify. The inquisitorial method remedied this.[24] Under this system, only legal authorities could bring cases forward, and a confession was required before execution, which was usually obtained through intense questioning and torture.[25] Torture was used as lawyers did not believe that witches acted alone, and they sought the names of their conspirators.[26] This change encouraged people to accuse others, as those doing the accusing were not put at risk themselves.[27] The inquisitorial Method led to more deaths in Germany, Switzerland and Southern France.[28] So, changes in the law meant big changes for witches.

Differing Catholic and Protestant ideas too affected witches. Protestants believed that the threat of the Devil was forever present.[29] They downplayed the threat of witchcraft and instead were more concerned with the threat of Satan.[30] Catholics agreed about the threat of the Devil, but some believed that the rival Protestant faith was itself the work of the Devil, leading to accusations of heresy and heightened religious conflict.[31] Catholics continued to persecute Protestants in order to purify the world of Satan’s heresy, and planned to do so internally by resisting temptation, and externally, by prosecuting witches and heretics.[32] Witch hunting was severe in places that harboured conflict between Catholics and Protestants, and especially affected religious minorities living on the boundaries of states with different religions, such as Germany and Scotland.[33] The world officially went nuts.

Scepticism and enlightened attitudes also played a role. Some witch hunts ended due to the ludicrous nature of the accusations, and the lack of proper evidence for witchcraft.[34] This was supported by peoples’ doubts over the existence of witchcraft, such as Johann Weyer and Reginald Scot.[35] This led to tighter controls being issued by the superior central courts, such as the Parlement of Paris.[36] The Parlement decreed that all witchcraft convictions needed judicial review, which was adopted in 1604.[37] With proper restrictions placed on witch trials, practices such as torture to obtain confessions were halted, leading to a decrease in prosecutions. The legal constraints made it harder for the authorities to obtain a guilty verdict. People stopped accusing others of witchcraft, believing that their case would be dismissed.[38] Therefore, cases declined… mainly because people started to engage their brains.

Religious ideas about the Devil too aided the decline of prosecutions. Leading Protestant thinkers, such as Luther and Calvin, maintained that God was sovereign and would always prevail against the Devil, as stated in the Bible.[39] Protestants took the Bible as the word of God, and discarded ideas that were not explicitly recorded in it as invalid.[40] The Bible did not mention Devil worship, and instead detailed how God actively restrains the Devil, which prompted Protestants to argue that witchcraft was not a threat.[41]

From gender to religion, law to scepticism, beliefs about witches and their nature changed frequently throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. It’s lucky that common sense prevailed and eventually led to the decline of witchcraft prosecutions.

Thanks for reading!

Stay safe, stay inside. Read something cheerful.

[1] T. Blanning, The Pursuit if Glory: Europe 1648-1815, (London 2008), pg. 464

[2] B. Levack, The Witch Hunt in Early Modern Europe, (London, 2006), pg. 8.

[3] M. Wiesner-Hanks, Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789, (London, 2013), pg. 434.

[4] Ibid., p. 434.

[5] Ibid., p. 434.

[6] Levack, The Witch Hunt in Early Modern Europe, p. 8.

[7] R. Scribner, ‘The Reformation, Popular Magic, and the “Disenchantment of the World”’, The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 23 (1993), p. 479.

[8] Wiesner-Hanks, Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789, p. 434.

[9] Ibid., p. 433.

[10] Ibid., p. 433.

[11] Ibid., p. 437.

[12] Ibid., p. 437.

[13] A. Rowlands, ‘Witchcraft and Gender in Early Modern Europe’ in B. Levack (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe and Colonial America (England, 2013), pp. 449-467, p. 453.

[14] Ibid., p. 455.

[15] Ibid., p. 455.

[16] Ibid., p. 455.

[17] Ibid., p. 456.

[18] Ibid., p. 456.

[19] Ibid., p. 456.

[20] Ibid., p. 457.

[21] Wiesner-Hanks, Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789, p. 434.

[22] Ibid., p. 434.

[23] Ibid., p. 434.

[24] Ibid., p. 434.

[25] Ibid., p. 434.

[26] Ibid., p. 434.

[27] Ibid., p. 434.

[29] Levack, The Witch Hunt in Early Modern Europe, p. 112.

[28] B. Levack, The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe and Colonial America, p. 473

[30] Ibid., p. 113.

[31] Ibid., p. 114.

[32] Ibid., p. 114.

[33] Ibid., p. 122.

[34] Wiesner-Hanks, Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789, p. 439.

[35] Ibid., p. 439.

[36] B. Levack, ‘The Decline of Witchcraft Prosecutions’ in D. Oldbridge (eds.) The Witchcraft Reader (London, 2008), pp. 341-348, p. 342.

[37] Ibid., p. 342.

[38] Wiesner-Hanks, Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789, p. 439.

[39] Levack, The Witch Hunt in Early Modern Europe, p. 128.

[40] Wiesner-Hanks, Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789, p. 129.

[41] Ibid., p. 129.

The Queer Displacement of Desire in ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘Dracula’

Today we navigate through the dangerously queer displacements of desire in ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘Dracula’! Before we start, some definitions:

‘Displacement’ originates from Freud and is defined as the unconscious ‘shifting of energy’ from one person to another, the ‘energy’ in question being desire. [1]

‘Queer’ refers to anything that opposes the dominant ideals that humanity is supposed to conform to.[2]

Victor Frankenstein’s creature and Dracula are therefore queer, as they subvert the conceptional ideals of humanity, being an artificially created monster and an undead vampire. I know, scary stuff.  The queer displacement of desire involves the subconscious, a lack of control, the invasion of the mind and body, the formation of a network of queer, non-heteronormative relationships and finally, death. Read on if you dare!

The queer displacement of desire first pops up via the subconscious in ‘Frankenstein.’ Victor Frankenstein’s established love for Elizabeth Lavenza is pitted against his desire to animate the creature. The queer displacement of Victor’s desire is first explained in Victor’s dream, in which, after kissing her, Elizabeth transforms into Victor’s mother, before he catches sight of the ‘miserable monster.’[3] In Victor’s subconscious mind, his desire for Elizabeth is displaced by his obsession with the creature. His kissing of Elizabeth offsets the events within the dream, creating an ideal image of heterosexual relations. This romantic gesture upholds heteronormative ideals, but quickly rejects them when the creature appears, as he becomes the object of Victor’s romantic desire. This relationship fully subverts heteronormativity, and is queer, as Victor appears to have romantic feelings for an artificially created being of the same gender. The shifting images in Victor’s dream directly correlate to the queer displacing of his desire, in favour of the creature. Haggarty validates this, arguing that queerly displaced desire raises questions about male homosexual desires.[4] Victor’s queer, non-heteronormative desire for the creature, displaces his desire for Elizabeth, as outlined by his subconscious mind. Victor cannot control this, suggesting that he cannot control the queer displacement of his desire. All in all, dreams are complicated and crazy things.

A lack of control in relation to the queer displacement of desire is also apparent for Jonathan Harker in ‘Dracula.’ Jonathan’s heterosexual desire for his fiancé Mina Murray is displaced in favour of the Brides of Dracula, which is displaced further by an encounter with Dracula himself, leading Maurice Hindle to assert that ambiguous desires drive the novel.[5]

Jonathan’s desire to marry Mina allows the reader to understand the magnitude of his displaced desire, as he finds himself thrilled and repulsed by the Brides of Dracula.[6] Jonathan describes that their teeth ‘shone like pearls against the ruby’ of their lips. The references to jewels suggest that their beauty is artificial, unnatural and downright creepy. Despite their queer appearance, Jonathan still has a ‘burning desire’ to be kissed by them, emphasising that his desire has fully shifted away from Mina in favour of the Brides.

Jonathan lacks control in this scenario as he takes the place of the female, as he ‘waited,’[7] and wanted, to be penetrated.[8] Jonathan refers to the Brides as animalistic, implying their role as predator and his as their prey.[9] His masculinity is fully subverted by the Brides, who adopt this masculinity by being sexually dominant. Jonathan instead displays a ‘feminine passivity’ towards them.[10] This example of ‘sexual inversion’ further emphasises the queer nature of Jonathan’s displaced desire, as he has entered into a relationship that has disrupted heteronormative gender roles, as the women are sexually dominant, and the male is submissive.[11] This is some real old fashioned thinking here.

Jonathan’s lack of control, and desire to be penetrated, is further explored by Dracula’s entrance. Dracula interrupts the Brides’ seduction of Jonathan by declaring that ‘this man belongs to me,’ taking full ownership and control of Jonathan.[12] At this point Jonathan loses control fully, as he falls ‘unconscious’ and is at the mercy of Dracula.[13] He later wakes up in his ‘own bed,’ to find that his ‘clothes were folded and laid on the bed.’[14] This implies that Jonathan was undressed by Dracula. It appears that Dracula’s claiming of Jonathan refers to Dracula’s sexual ownership of Jonathan, and control over his body. This hints at another queer displacement of desire that is non-heteronormative, due to the homoerotic undertones. Christopher Craft recognises the implication, arguing that Dracula’s penetration of another male is ‘threatened’ throughout the text.’[15] Craft’s use of ‘threatened’ implies that he recognises that no homosexual sex is explicitly stated, but also confirms that Craft believes this idea to be disruptive to the norm.

Mina too lacks control in her relationship with Dracula, and this results in the forced invasion of her mind. After forcing her to feed on him, Dracula declares that Mina shall come to his ‘call’ as he has forged a telepathic connection with her.  Dracula declares that Mina is now of his ‘flesh,’ implying that they are the same person, in a scenario that Hindle compares to ‘forced enslavement.’   As a result of her displaced desire, Mina’s mind is invaded by Dracula, allowing him to take full ownership of her, and enslave her. Dracula’s connections with Mina and Jonathan lead to a complicated network of queer, non-heteronormative relationships.

The pairing of Jonathan and Dracula, and Dracula’s assault of Mina leads to the development of a network of queer, non-heteronormative relationships. Mina is found with her face forced in Dracula’s ‘bosom,’ and her ‘white nightdress smeared with blood.’[16] We don’t know whether Jonathan and Mina have consummated their marriage, and her encounter with Dracula hints to this action, subverting her traditional union with her husband. Robert Tracy speculates that this scene represents consummation, as Dracula’s bite is seen to be penetrative and therefore sexual.[17] The white of Mina’s nightdress, which is representative of her purity, is stained by blood, a reference to the breaking of her hymen and loss of her virginity, creating an unholy union between herself and Dracula. Tracy recognises the queer nature of this, explaining that this ‘consummation’ creates a triangle that transcends and disrupts the loyalties of marriage, the bond between husband and wife.[18] Dracula’s encounters with Mina, and Jonathan, and the various queer displacing of the characters’ desires, disrupts the institution of marriage, creating a network of queer and non-heteronormative relationships. Similar networks are also formed in ‘Frankenstein,’ between Victor, the creature and Elizabeth, as outlined by Victor’s dream.

The network of queer, non-heteronormative relationships between Dracula, Jonathan and Mina are forged due to Dracula’s overpowering sexuality, which is an important aspect of the queer displacement of desire. Despite her distress, Mina notes that she ‘did not want to hinder’ Dracula, when he forced her to feed on him.[19] Here she changes from an unwilling to willing participant in this action, implying that Dracula unlocks her sexual desires, and that she indulges in them with him. Her desire for Jonathan is queerly displaced in favour of Dracula in this moment. Judith Weissman is unsurprised by this, citing Dracula’s unprecedented, unmatched sexual performance as the reason why Mina succumbs to him.[20] Such a union between a human and supernatural being is especially queer, as Mina is supposed to be one of ‘God’s women,’ a figure that would be antithetical to the ‘devilish’ Count.[21] [22] It appears that the overall sexiness of vampires is overpowering yet attractive to humans, as demonstrated by Jonathan’s encounter with the Brides, and Mina’s with Dracula… and apparently ‘Twilight.’ This is queer, as the satanic-like vampires are able to seduce even the purest of humanity, such as Mina. To varied extents, both Mina and Jonathan indulge and allow this unholy sexual union, emphasising the queer nature of their displaced desires.

Death is the outcome of the queer displacement of desire within the Gothic novel. Victor’s dream implies that he has created death instead of life, as after kissing Elizabeth, she becomes ‘livid with the hue of death.’[23] This foreshadows her death at Victor’s hands, as he has prioritised the creature over her. Haggarty too observes this, noting that Victor’s displaced desire for the creature and his neglect of Elizabeth leads to her death.[24] This is highlighted by Victor’s misinterpretation of the creature’s warning, that he shall be with Victor on his ‘wedding night.’ Victor rudely forgets that Elizabeth will too be present on their wedding night, as traditionally it is when the marriage is consummated. Duh. This supports the idea that Victor harbours homosexual feelings for the creature, as Victor chooses to delay the consummation of his marriage and pursue the creature instead. This implies that Victor’s desire has been fully displaced away from Elizabeth, leaving her vulnerable. Unsurprisingly, Elizabeth is later found ‘lifeless and inanimate.’ Elizabeth’s death is the result of Victor’s queerly displaced desire, and her demise frees Victor to pursue the creature for the rest of the novel. Elizabeth’s death is similar to that of Mina’s assault in ‘Dracula,’ demonstrating that the tension caused by the queer displacement of desire reaches its peak at moments that are sexually charged, as like the creature, Dracula throws ‘his victim back upon the bed.’[25] Ultimately, the displacement of desire describes a shift in lustful thoughts from one to another, and it is unsurprising that the climax of such conflicting desires sometimes results in death.

The queer displacement of desire away from the heteronormative is dangerous within the Gothic novel, as it just causes a load of grief and sometimes death. Just steer clear of vampires and artificially created monsters, and you’ll be fine.

Thanks for reading!

Stay safe, stay inside. Read something cheerful.

[1] Salman Akhtar, Comprehensive Dictionary of Psychoanalysis (London: Karnac Books, 2009) p. 263.

[2] David Halperin, Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997) p. 62.

[3] Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (Oxford: Oxford World Classics, 2009), p. 39.

[4] George Haggarty, Queer Gothic, (Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2006) p. 58.

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

[6] Ibid., p. 45

[7] Ibid., p. 45.

[8] David Punter and Glennis Byron, The Gothic (New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwell, 2004) p. 232.

[9] Ibid., p. 45.

[10] Ibid., p. 232.

[11] Bram Stoker, Dracula (London: Penguin Clothbound Classics, 2011) p. 232.

[12] Ibid., p. 45.

[13] Ibid., p. 45.

[14] Ibid., p. 48.

[15] David Punter and Glennis Byron, The Gothic (New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwell, 2004) p. 232.

[16] Bram Stoker, Dracula (London: Penguin Clothbound Classics, 2011), p. 300.

[17] Robert Tracy, ‘Loving You Always: Vamps, Vamps, Vampires, Necrophiles, Necrofilles in Nineteenth-Century Fiction’ in Sex and Death and Victorian Literature, ed. by Regina Barreca, (London: Macmillan, 1990) pp. 32-59. p. 34.

[18] Ibid., p. 44.

[19] Bram Stoker, Dracula (London: Penguin Clothbound Classics, 2011), p. 306.

[20] Ibid., p. xxxiii.

[21] Ibid., p. 201.

[22] Ibid., p. 300.

[23] Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (Oxford: Oxford World Classics, 2009), p. 39.

[24] George Haggarty, Queer Gothic, (Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2006) p. 58.

[25] Bram Stoker, Dracula (London: Penguin Clothbound Classics, 2011), p. 301.

Defeating Covid-19 with ‘Little Women’

This post contains full spoilers about ‘Little Women’!

Louisa May Alcott’s semi-autobiographical novel has charmed the hearts of Americans for generations. I only took notice of it following the release of Greta Gerwig’s adaptation in December 2019, which prompted me to read the book. Although I wouldn’t describe it as the most gripping read, it has heart, and I can understand why so many readers care greatly for the four March sisters. Their own distinct characters ensure they are individuals, who stand apart from one another. Each could probably have their own novel, and it’s surprising that Alcott can pull off such distinctly different women in a world and time where women were mainly domesticated and marginalised. There are timeless lessons that one can pick up from the novel, which, in this period of uncertainty are really more relevant than ever.

The novel also succeeds in being a feminist novel without having the need to ram it down your throat. Its tender and touching emphasis on the matriarchy and its importance is well handled on several occasions, see here:

‘They all drew to the fire, mother in the big chair with Beth at her feet, Meg and Amy perched on either arm of the chair, and Jo leaning on the back, where no one would see any sign of emotion if the letter should happen to be touching’[1]

The image of the ‘little women’ crowding around their mother is a heart-warming one, which subtly tells the reader that, although they want their father, they don’t need necessarily him. In other words, a family doesn’t need a strong, patriarchal figure to ensure all hell doesn’t break lose. It’s subtle, but it’s there. The girls and their mother form an interconnected network of sisterhood, which gives them enough strength to overcome to the trials and tribulations within the novel. With their mother at the centre, these girls feel they can face anything, which is a true testament to the power of motherhood and the matriarchy. Laurie too benefits from this, as before the sisters came to him, he was a lonely, ‘solitary’ figure.[2] This emphasises the benefits of the matriarchy, and the healing power that it brings. This also, by extension, explains the benefits of family, and how we need to rely on each other in times of crisis, such as Covid-19.

Although some people may think that the novel is written about women for women, the lessons within can be universally applied. Meg, the eldest March daughter takes some time away from her home to be with friends but is ridiculed and is the subject of ‘foolish gossip.’[3] Mother March swoops in to comfort her distressed daughter, to emphasise that, above all else, the happiness of her daughters is of primary importance.[4] From this we learn what is important in life, that people are happy. It also teaches people that women shouldn’t tear down other women, and by extension no one should tear down or mock anyone else. Especially in times of crisis such as this, people should be supportive of one another, but this gesture also should extend to the normal as well as the abnormal. Some people criticise Meg, as her dream is to be a loving wife and mother. People jump in to say that this is anti-feminist, as her desire essentially is to serve. However, surely feminism advocates the idea that women should be allowed to do what they want to do, and this is what Meg does. Her dreams are no more or no less than any other character, and Mother March’s sentiment that, all she wants is for her daughters to be happy, emphasises the importance of motherly love and subtly advocates autonomy for all, regardless of gender.

The novel’s enduring message is one of hope, as following Beth’s death, things appear pretty bleak for the March family. Styled as the most innocent and pure of all the sisters, several incidences of foreshadowing implied to me that Beth may not survive. Despite this major disruption to the March family dynamic, through relying on the lessons their mother has taught them, and by binding together as a family, the end of the novel seems hopeful. Meg, Jo and Amy are happily married, which is what they wanted, and their parents are pleased with this development also. The family’s reliance on each other is what pulls them through their grief, and it appears that this message in particular is more relevant than ever. The last image echoes that of the earlier pages, with Mrs March gathering her family together, expressing her love and devotion to her children. This again, emphasises the importance of family, and its ability to act as a constant in all of our lives. Although Beth’s untimely death disrupted this constant, the maintenance of the March’s remaining family networks, bonds between mother and daughter, sister and sister, wife and husband and all other familial ties, ensured that the March family returned to stability, through their resilience, strength and undying hope.

So, in these troubled times, take a lesson from the ‘little women,’ support each other, have faith and have hope.

Thanks for reading!

Stay safe, stay inside. Read something cheerful.

[1] Lousia May Alcott, Little Women, (London, Penguin English Library, 2018) p. 13.

[2] Ibid., p. 69.

[3] Ibid., p. 112.

[4] Ibid., p. 114.

Being a Conscious Reader, the Consciousness and Hamlet

The term ‘consciousness’ is used to describe a person’s perception or awareness of something else, and as an English literature student, exploring the conscious mind of a character is how one truly gets to know them. By exploring their innermost fears, desires and loves, the true nature of a character’s personality can be revealed. The writer provides the consciousness of the character, and then the conscious reader will have to be susceptible enough to make good use of it. It is also important as a reader to be conscious of symbols and motifs in novels, so that we can understand the text in full. These motifs and symbols could be anything from colours to Biblical references.

The conscious reader would be able to recognise Thomas Hardy’s use of colour in his 1891 novel ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles,’ as the title character’s frequent association with the colours of red and white is clearly a reference to her dual personality as whore and chaste virgin. Red represents sexuality, and white represents purity. The conscious reader would develop this further, perhaps in reference to Freud’s ‘Madonna-whore complex,’ a dichotomy that explores the two personas that a woman could conform to. For more on that, follow the footnote![1]

For example, in Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel ‘Frankenstein,’ the Monster refers to himself as Adam. The conscious student will recognise that this is a reference to the first man placed on Earth, Adam, placing Frankenstein as God the creator, and the Monster as his first human creation. This analysis aids our understanding of the story as a whole, and the mentality of the Monster as he considers himself to be the first and only member of his own kind in existence.

The above two examples demonstrate the importance of being a conscious reader, and what a conscious reader will be able to find when interrogating a text. The above example of Frankenstein can be used to bridge the gap between the conscious reader and the consciousness of a character. Shelley provides an insight into the consciousness of the Monster by allowing him to refer to himself as Adam, and the conscious reader will then pick this up, explore it and end up with a better understanding of the Monster. Still following?

Another text that utilises the idea of consciousness in order to allow the audience to understand the characters involved more fully, is Shakespeare’s iconic tragedy ‘Hamlet.’ Hamlet’s own psyche and consciousness is explored through his seven soliloquies; seven speeches that the character delivers when he is alone on stage, explaining his inner thoughts, feelings and struggles. These seven speeches revolving around the consciousness of Hamlet provide plenty of material for the conscious reader to scrutinise.

Hamlet is set on a revenge mission to kill his uncle king Claudius, who had previously murdered Hamlet’s father and former king. Shakespeare draws inspiration from traditional revenge tragedies in the writing of the play, but also uses Hamlet’s own consciousness to break such conventions.

In traditional Greek tragedy, the act of revenge would occur quickly within the narrative, thus prompting the end of the play. Hamlet deliberates for five acts, and keeps the audience updated on the goings on within his mind via his seven soliloquies. This allows the play to develop on the traditional idea of Greek tragedy and address bigger questions.

The play itself is not just about the act of revenge but is more about the inner workings of Hamlet’s mind. His famous declaration of ‘to be or not to be’ is proof of this, as Hamlet explains to the audience that he is contemplating suicide. Without such insights into the characters mind, our understanding of the play would be greatly affected. Shakespeare utilises the idea, and literary technique, of ‘consciousness’ within the play to offer a tragedy that is of greater psychological complexity than the tragedies that have gone before.

Shakespeare is given this merit through the deployment of the seven soliloquies, and insight into the consciousness of Hamlet. Through the addition of these seven speeches, Shakespeare ensures that the audience can fully understand the character of Hamlet and his inner turmoil, thus reinventing the idea of a Greek tragedy. This is a clever move from Shakespeare, as the technique he deploys is one that gives the play greater depth.

‘Hamlet’ is widely praised for its complexity, and Shakespeare’s active interest into the conscious mind of his characters explains why. Hamlet is conscious of the fact that he has been asked to commit murder, and that he cannot carry this out without sufficient evidence. It is this struggle that he disseminates to the audience via his soliloquies.

Hamlet’s reputation as a great philosopher, and his tendency to contemplate the larger questions in life, stem from his soliloquies, which stemmed from Shakespeare’s desire to create a revenge tragedy that explored and interrogated the consciousness of its characters.

Thanks for reading!

Stay safe, stay inside. Read something cheerful.